The One Constant

“There are 2 things I can’t imagine being without: birds and music. OK, there might be a 3rd: potato chips.”

I jotted those words down in my journal a while back. It’s fun and important to write things down.

Antique fountain pen

But what I wrote there doesn’t reflect how I rank the things that matter. Religion, which wasn’t mentioned, comes first. Potato chips come later—but not much later. Birds and music are almost right up there with religion. I also jotted down: “Birds are emissaries of hope.”

With that last thought in mind, I think again of Liz Pease’s words: “It is incredibly comforting to me to know that nature is just going about its business as usual.” And those words make me think of this Anne Frank Center tweet: “Anne Frank found comfort in the solace of nature and presumed it’s the one constant that would be there ‘forever.'”

Immature Ring-billed Gull
Immature Ring-billed Gull

Nature is the one constant. Despite all the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic, birds are returning, staking out territory, pairing up, and starting to nest. I like to joke that, unlike us, they’re not sheltering in place.

Birds Are Arriving

I love Carolyn Lorié’s description of what’s happening and what’s behind it, even if some details don’t apply to us in the Mid-Atlantic: “The urgency to reproduce drives birds to arrive in the Northeast during a relatively short window of time. There is an almost explosive quality to the arrival of songbirds in March and April. One day we wake to the usual quiet of winter, and then the next there is a riot of trilling, chirping, calling, and singing.”

When I think of the urgency, the short window, and much of the rest, I think of the Osprey. Here’s a pair fulfilling the urge on that nest I’ve been watching on the Elizabeth River steel pile.

Osprey pair copulating
Osprey pair copulating

A Quick Aside

I’m not usually keen on photos of birds facing away. But the perspective here is unique, I like the wing position of the male, and there’s little question the birds are making cloacal contact.

Here’s the male building the nest a week or so earlier. The female hasn’t arrived. Notice the nest’s smaller size.

Male Osprey building a nest
Male Osprey

Now, when I think of the arrival of songbirds and that riot of singing, I think not of the Osprey, but of the Common Yellowthroat.

Common Yellowthroat singing
Common Yellowthroat

This bird’s cheery, rollicking song announces the coming of spring. You’ll also hear the voices of a neighboring Northern Flicker and Carolina Wren. All 3 are claiming territory at Elizabeth River Project’s Money Point restoration site.

I also think of the primary song of the Tufted Titmouse. Talk about explosive. Tufted Titmice begin singing here in early to mid-March. The few faint “growls” you hear in the background are Green Heron advertising songs. We’ll hear more of those, including a seldom-heard duet, in the next blog.

And This Just In

Please consider making a donation to the Cornell Lab to help common birds. You can do so by using the Paypal button in the sidebar. Donors of any amount will receive a copy of a premium-quality postcard featuring the White-throated Sparrow that is asking us for our help.

You’ll recall my encounter with the “banded and reportable” Royal Tern in “A Hopeful Time.” Here’s a modified version of the original photo with an insert showing the band.

Banded Royal Tern
Banded Royal Tern

I wanted to report the tern, so I sent the original along with the data (date, time, place, etc.) to the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program. Meryl Friedrich, a field biologist with the program, just responded.

Hi David, Thanks for reporting this banded tern and sending a great photo! 183 was given a white band on June 14, 2018 on the South Island of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel by researchers from Virginia Tech. It was originally banded as a chick with a metal band on July 5, 2001 by another banding group on the coast of Virginia (37.08333, -75.91667). Very cool sighting! Thanks again and let me know if you have any questions.

I didn’t know it, but Royal Terns are one of the program’s “project” species. You might enjoy reading their short piece that explains.

You probably noticed there’s a metal band on the bird’s right leg (actually foot). That’s in all likelihood a federal band.

Here’s another photo of the tern. Neither leg band is visible.

Royal Tern
Royal Tern

Quip, Question, Quote

Why did I place a photo of a “seagull” after the Anne Frank Center tweet? Here’s an entry from Anne’s diary that explains: “The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.”

Anne also wrote elsewhere: “Where there is hope, there is life.”



12 thoughts on “The One Constant

  1. Another lovely column, Dave. Spring is definitely exploding — at least in terms of birds, if not weather — here in the Northeast. I love hearing the Carolina Wrens, among others, as you mention. The Carolina wren is a bird which was never in this area in my childhood, although it is the bird I credit with inspiring my interest in birding. In college (UVa), I placed a feeder out on my balcony to entertain my indoor cat, and I soon began hearing the loudest, most insistent, enthusiastic bird song — over and over and over until I thought I’d go nuts wondering what it was. I grabbed a bird book at the UVa bookstore, and pored over every single page trying to find a written description of birdsong that matched what I was hearing. (This was before internet access and all these wonder birding apps we have now.) Unsurprisingly, I was not successful, but it certainly got me well acquainted with the layout of the bird book! Eventually, that wren visited by expanding collection of feeders, and was one of many birds that graced my feeders and the woods beyond that year — everything from “everyday birds” to a red-shouldered hawk and a pileated woodpecker… The pileated sent me to the (corded!) phone to call my mother back in Massachusetts, I was so astounded by it and so excited to see it!


  2. Great photos and encouraging words. Very timely article. From one that regularly attended three church services a week, down to only viewing online, we really do begin to see what we hold dear (or should have been holding dear!). William — “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.” Psalms 104 The Message


  3. During this time of Covid19, I have been grateful for restorative time to tend my borders, plant seedlings in pots, and walk the beach, boardwalk, feeder road, or First Landing trails. In the morning with coffee and the late afternoon with a cocktail, I adore sitting on my 2nd story deck to watch birds and flowers. Nature has so much to teach me!


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