A Few Words About Birds

A recent opinion piece in The Virginian-Pilot, Virginia’s largest daily newspaper, began with the words: “First of all, thank you for reading.” I’d like to begin, here, the same way. First of all, thank you for reading. I mean that, sincerely.

“We’ve mentioned the passing of Caroll Spinney and our love for Big Bird, but we’ve given poor Oscar the Grouch short shrift. Here he is marching in that same North Carolina parade. As I indicated earlier, Oscar is my favorite Sesame Street character.

Oscar the Grouch
Oscar the Grouch

OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and while some of you are scratching your heads, I’d like to briefly note some of the bird-related signs of spring out and about.

Signs of Spring

I wrote the following to Facebook birding friends on 1/22/20: “Hi everyone, Today marked our first bird-related sign of spring. Near our busy feeders, a Pine Warbler sang out both loud and clear. When I lived in Boston it was the arrival of Red-winged Blackbirds in late Feb. Here in Chesapeake, it’s the singing of Pine Warblers in late Jan. (or early Feb.).” I also wrote elsewhere: “I think birds anticipate spring every bit as much as we do.”

There are other bird-related signs of spring around, as well. Here in Virginia, there are reports of American Woodcocks displaying, Red-tailed Hawks pairing up, and Canada Geese escorting goslings. In Maryland, American Goldfinches with bright yellow patches have shown up in a few spots, and several Bald Eagle pairs have started nesting. In Massachusetts, there are reports of Northern Cardinals in full-throated song.

We mentioned Pine Warblers. Here’s a nice environmental shot of a Virginia Beach, VA Pine Warbler, courtesy of Betty Sue Cohen. This would not only be beauty through her lens but beauty to any beholder.

Pine Warbler
Pine Warbler

The Aesthetics of Birding

I’m reminded, as I so often am, of the “aesthetics of birding.” In my opinion, birds’ visual appeal is one of the main things that draws folks into the field to watch them and/or to photograph them. I love “Blind Birder” Martha Steele’s thoughts, here. She wrote the following in her column in the latest issue of the acclaimed bimonthly New England birding journal, Bird Observer:

And why do I love birds? This is sort of like asking why I love my husband, my mother, my brothers, my cousins, my friends. Beyond the profound enjoyment of being in the presence of birds, I am often awed by their beauty, their spectacular courtship displays, their bouncy, buzzy, mournful, or (add your adjective) songs, their diversity, and their otherworldly behaviors and abilities that include biannual migrations spanning thousands of miles.

I also think of the title of Bob & Bonnie Buxton’s 12/30/19 email to the Massachusetts birding community: “Blessed with avian color in Merrimac.” And then there’s Doug Chickering’s description of seeing a Cape May Warbler in a bush in his 2019 recap email to that same community.

Doug wrote, “There was something in me that suddenly burst open as watched it; so close so fantastically beautiful. It fed leisurely and pretty much out in the open. I watched it with my binoculars still hanging from my neck. A moment that seemed transcendent at the time, so stunningly beautiful that I thought I would weep.”

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler

I recently told a great group of folks I lead on a winter bird walk at Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth, Virginia that few things in all of nature are as beautiful as a soaring raptor or a skein of geese. I captured neither of those here, but this photo of a Canada Goose pair landing in Lakeside Park in Chesapeake, Virginia should give you some idea of what I’m talking about. Note the dragonfly hugging the right edge.

Canada Geese landing in water
Synchronized landing

Bird Photography

The photo above was a contest winner in the 2020 Keep Chesapeake Beautiful Photo Calendar Contest. I don’t say that to boast but to encourage you photographers out there to always bring your cameras. The morning I took this shot was overcast, thus lighting was far from ideal. I almost left home with only binoculars and a field guide. I also say that to encourage you to take your photo gear to city parks where birds often concentrate—unlike in a state park or National Wildlife refuge—and where they are often within easy reach of even a medium telephoto lens. Also, keep in mind as spring approaches that many birds nest in city parks and that these parks abound in opportunities to photograph nesting activity, nestlings, fledglings, and juveniles. But always, ALWAYS exercise care when taking advantage of those opportunities. Better yet, study and keep in mind these National Audubon Society guidelines to ethical bird photography.

And This Just In

Many thanks to photographer Brian Smith for providing the Cape May Warbler photo above. Brian has a definite penchant for capturing small birds.

Quip, Question, Quote

Thank you, and rest in peace, Terry Jones, Mary Higgins Clark, Kobe and Gigi Bryant, and Fay Vale. I loved what John Cleese wrote upon the passing of Jones, his Monty Python colleague: ‘‘It feels strange that a man of so many talents and such endless enthusiasm, should have faded so gently away…” Joe Paluzzi wrote in a similar vein upon the passing of beloved Massachusetts birder, Fay Vale: “Rest peacefully in your eternal life Fay and fly high and far among your dear friends with wings.” The notion that people like these or talents like Mary Higgins Clark or Kobe Bryant, or for that matter any who were dear to us, just vanish into nothingness at life’s end, has always, and I mean always, seemed folly to me.



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