Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Late summer heat wave

The air conditioner has just cycled on again. I haven't been outside yet today, but I know it's hot and muggy. On days like this, you can tell what it's like with a glance through the window. There's a glaring, aggressive quality to the light. I can imagine how some of my favorite birding spots, like the Salt Creek Wetland, must look right now, colors bleached by the sun, and the space over the water jellified by the heat shimmer.

Summer has officially outstayed its welcome. Every now and then, I think of migrating warblers, but with no real sense of urgency. The heat wave is supposed to break by the weekend. There will be plenty of time to see warblers then. From time to time, I wonder if I'm just whining (I don't do heat well. At all.), and ask my dogs for a second opinion. Dogs, after all, do not complain. By definition, they are happy, eager creatures. And they love to go for walks.

So I ask them, "Hey dogs, do you want to go to the park?"

"No way, it's too hot!"
OK, I'm being silly, but they really don't like this sort of weather, either. After a couple of blocks, they start moping. Trevor, the dachshund, is the worst about it. When he's had enough of the heat, he sits down in the middle of the sidewalk and refuses to budge. It doesn't matter what I do--encourage him, plead with him, threaten to leave him there, try to bribe him with treats. He responds to all of this alike with the look:

"How can you be so cruel?"
So even though it's 95 degrees out and so humid that I can't tell the difference between my shirt and the soggy air and he's fat, I end up having to carry him home again. While he squirms in my arms giving everyone the look to make sure they know how pitiful he is.

But Trevor's look is nothing compared to my min pin mix, Dredd's. This is what he thought of going for a walk today:

"Don't even think about it."
Since the dogs agreed with me about the heat, I decided it would be OK if I stayed home today and just thought about warblers. Not only would merely thinking about warblers prevent me from getting overheated and sweaty, it would spare me the pinched nerves known as "warbler neck" and other related frustrations of trying to get a good look at tiny birds flitting non-stop at the very top of the tallest tree in the park. All I can see when this happens are brief glimpses of something kind of olive-yellow, and since they're in their non-breeding plumage, that describes almost all of them.

A reasonable person might ask, "Why do you go looking for warblers at all if it just frustrates you?" Kind of like last night, when I Greenturtle and I were peacefully reading, and every so often I announced, "This book is so stupid! It's awful! How did it even get published?" After a while he asked, "Then why do you keep reading it?"


"I want to see how it ends."

No matter how littered the trail might be with stumbling blocks, literal or otherwise, I haven't found anything yet that's better than birding. I might be vocal about the bad weather, insect bites, pinched nerves, birds that avoided me, or slobbery Bigfoot creature that chased me down the trail (well, it could happen), but that doesn't mean it wasn't fun!

Fall migration is a special time. It's not as good as spring migration, but I only have two windows of time in which to see warblers, and this is one of them. Because these birds are my favorites:

1. any life bird
2. warblers

I saw my first fall warblers this year on August 28. (Greenturtle has asked me, "Why do you call them 'fall migrants' when it's still summer?" Pause. Said I, "Well, to the warblers, it's fall already!" Just in case anyone else was wondering.)

Actually, despite the heat, I know that summer's over because of the silence. After a season of raucous birdsong and hungry fledglings, things are winding down. For every mixed flock of frenzied fall migrants, there are long patches of trail with...nothing.

I used to love fall for reasons that had nothing to do with warblers. Back to school, wondering what the semester will bring. The crisp blank pages of new notebooks. The season represented new beginnings. Now it's clear that I was completely out of touch with nature. I marked the year by school semesters rather than the seasons.

Now I'm ambivalent about fall because despite the migrating warblers and the fun stuff yet to come -- the brilliant leaves, the first frosty morning, etc. -- I see the season for what it actually is, the ending of a cycle. That's what the lack of birdsong and the flocks heading south mean. I don't mean to be morbid, but if spring means new life, then fall means--. Well, let's just say no one's getting any younger.

So I'll think about warblers. Last week, before the heat rolled in, I saw some nice ones, including three of my favorites:

1. The northern waterthrush, a dumpy creature that skulks along soggy creek margins, continually swishing its tail. What it lacks in charisma, it makes up for in being the easiest warbler to get a good look at.

2. The ovenbird, more streamlined than the waterthrush, but still not flashy. Brown on top, white, streaky belly; only the orange cap he fluffs up when alarmed gives him much color. And the ovenbird is always alarmed, twitching left and right, with a look in his eyes as if he's just seen an axe murderer.

3. The Wilson's warbler, an attractive olive-yellow fellow, with a dashing black triangle on top of his head. Like the other two, a standoffish bird, usually seen in solitude instead of with a flock. I only find a few each season. They are shy but curious, peering out from between the leaves.

So here's wishing for more warblers and cooler weather! And happy dogs!

1 comment:

  1. Love the photos! The dogs are so cute; I miss them! Your description of the ovenbird is hilarious. Up here, in the UP, it's been coolish, with the furnace kicking on some nights. Lots of thunderstorms and wind, though. I know we still have lots of birds here, but they're all so quiet and sneaky now. The most happening place for birds I've been this week is the lovely sewer ponds in Calumet. There is nothing quiet about a flock of 100 or so ringbill gulls being buzz-bombed by a pair of Northern harriers! Hope your heat wave is soon over! MOM