Friday, November 23, 2012

November birding blahs

American white pelicans

I haven't added anything to my Year List in about two weeks. At the beginning of the month, I was giddy with visions of winter birds, especially as I had just seen winter invader Life Bird (red crossbill) and a new sighting for my Illinois list (common redpoll). Meanwhile, it seemed that every time I took a peek at ebird or one of the birding forums, someone had just seen a Bohemian waxwing, varied thrush, evening grosbeak or other winter wonder somewhere in the state. Suffice to say that I managed to work myself into a minor tizzy just thinking about it.

But life somehow always manages to even things out, which is why it's probably best to stay away from extremes to begin with. To counteract the giddiness, there was my spectacular dipping out of the varied thrush seen at the Morton Arboretum, followed by a week or so of birding boredom. (I did get a brief look at a snow bunting, which was my last addition to the list, although quite a welcome one.)

I really hate to juxtapose the words "birding" and "boredom" (although any non-birding family members who have fidgeted aimlessly while the Birder stares at distant shorebirds with a spotting scope might disagree), and the truth is, I'd rather spend a day wandering around outside looking for birds, even if I don't see many, to doing anything else.

And there have been some worthwhile moments: watching a northern harrier glide soundlessly over the prairie at Weldon Springs; enjoying the sight of a large flock of hooded mergansers drift along Clinton Lake (the hooded merganser is my favorite duck); getting a quick glimpse of a barred owl; the surprise of seeing a lingering great egret stalking the shallows by the Marina.

But still, the tally of species on this, my Ultimate Birding Year, remains at a standstill: 231. I am not going to finish up 2012 with 231 birds! There must be more!

Flipping through my past bird journals, I am not encouraged. My typical patches are likelier than not, in November, to reveal only typical November birds. And that list is discouragingly limited; for example, a two-hour stroll at Weldon Springs yesterday revealed: blue jay, cardinal, American tree sparrow, tufted titmouse, dark-eyed junco, great blue heron, house sparrow, American crow, black-capped chickadee, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, mourning dove, belted kingfisher, ring-billed gull, pied-billed grebe, American robin, American goldfinch, eastern bluebird, cedar waxwing and northern flicker.

These are all nice birds. Some -- belted kingfisher, eastern bluebird, cedar waxwing -- are among my favorite species, the ones that never fail to bring a smile to my face when I see them. But still--no surprises. No real expectation of surprises. Long stretches of trail with no birds whatsoever.

It's not just the birding blahs that bum me out about this time of year. I miss my friends. Late summer and early fall birding are very exciting, but as the season progresses, what I notice most on each outing are the species that are missing. The common yellowthroats, indigo buntings, field sparrows, dickcissels, etc., whose songs kept me company for so many weeks---one after the other, they leave. The American white pelicans that were a familiar sight on Lake Decatur, a short enough drive from my work place that I could "visit" them on my lunch break, have been absent for the past couple of weeks. Without exciting winter species to distract me, I tend to feel like the speaker in this poem:
by W. S. Merwin

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

So here is my personal remedy for escaping the Late Fall/Early winter birding blahs:

1. Bird less often. I know, it sounds crazy, but as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Chickadees and titmice are really cute birds, and if I only see them once a week, I look forward to it. If I just saw them yesterday, I tend to resent them for not being evening grosbeaks. This also makes this time of year good for working on worthwhile, non-birding pursuits such as watching reruns of Ally McBeal on Netflix reading, walking my dogs, doing yoga, working on my writing, etc.

2. Chase birds. Aggressively pursuing species for the lists is one of those things that, like field guides with photos versus drawings, seems to draw criticism from many in the birding world. And I have often praised the joys of exploring one's local patch and being open to the wonder of every bird, plant and stone you find there. That's one experience, and it's a great one. But for me, chasing birds -- driving to a new place in hopes that the rare species someone else just saw is still hanging out in the vicinity -- is a lot of fun, too. I see new places, make a little day-long adventure out of it, often running into other birders who are doing the same. It can be another way of keeping things fresh. Not to mention all the great new birds on my life list.

3. This time of year would also be ideal for birding travel. Alas, I don't have the funds for that....

Luckily, when the November birding blahs start to set in, I have three dogs to keep my life interesting.

Trevor, my little "snuggle bug"

Raven, my goofy spaniel
Leo, plotting world domination, as usual

1 comment:

  1. I feel your pain! Up here in the UP, even more beloved birds have flown the coop, so to speak, and right now those that brave the winter with us are enduring snow and strong winds...gusts up to 40 mph. Although, as someone who's Year List totals 176 birds, it's hard to work up tons of sympathy for someone bemoaning having a "mere" 231! Love the poem, and especially love the photos of my granddogs. MOM