Be Your Own Birder

The Birds We Miss

For many birders, spring can be both a great and a terrible time of year. When migration kicks up and colorful, welcome guests are flowing through an area in tremendous flocks, it can be amazing. But when you have no way to go birding easily – whether due to work obligations, family responsibilities, illnesses, injuries, refuge closures, poor weather, or a general lack of time – it can be disheartening to know all those birds are passing you by. But are they? The best of spring birds might be closer than you think.

American Redstart - Photo by Becky Matsubara
American Redstart – Photo by Becky Matsubara

Birding Going Nowhere

There are many times when I’m unable to “go out” birding nearly as much as I’d like. Deadlines, volunteer hours, new projects, budgetary changes, school appointments, office hours, housework, car repairs, and more might pop up in the schedule on any given day – sometimes every day – and there aren’t enough hours left to take the time and “go” birding.

Too often, however, we forget that we don’t actually have to “go” anywhere to enjoy birds. Just the other day, stuck in coronavirus lockdown with local facilities continuing to be closed, I couldn’t go to a park, refuge, or preserve, and a lengthy to-do list meant no time to venture any distance. But I could go into the yard – sitting on the patio just three feet from the back door. It’s not far, but under the right circumstances, it becomes a different world.

Two New Yard Birds

Sitting on the patio for a few minutes of peace and a breath of fresh air on a fine early summer day (it is Florida, summer comes very early), I quickly noticed flittering and fluttering in the live oak trees. I’m grateful to have such a stand, tall and lush and the perfect density for all manner of small birds to forage. I’ve spotted kinglets and vireos, warblers and jays, titmice and doves, woodpeckers and waxwings, all in these trees (admittedly, not all at the same time). But suddenly, I was spotting something new.

A flash of orange-and-black, small, darting about and probing at leaves was easy enough to identify – a male American redstart. Then, just moments later, another quick and nimble bird flew into the same close stand. The black-and-white plumage, fully dark cap, white cheeks, and pale legs left no doubt that this was a blackpoll warbler. Two new warblers, both new yard birds, within moments on the same day! Suddenly, the day wasn’t so dreadfully dreary.

Blackpoll Warbler - Photo by Scott Heron
Blackpoll Warbler – Photo by Scott Heron

The Birds I’d Been Missing

Just a few days before, I’d tried venturing out to a local park that has been one of my favorite spring warbler hotspots. Last year, the bulk of its boardwalk trail was apparently under construction, with new wooden barriers in place and keep out signage to warn off trespassing. I respected the signs and missed out on that spring birding.

This year, I’d expected the repairs to be complete and the park – a relatively large one well known to local birders – reopened and ready for enjoyment. Yet the boardwalk was still blocked off, with no apparent progress, and in fact it’s obvious the park is no longer tended – the feeder area was barren, just the forlorn remnant of its pole remaining. The small pond, a reliable water source that many small birds enjoy, was still there, but now largely blocked from view by overgrown shrubbery. Even the keep out signs were faded, warped, and damaged. At this park, I’d hoped to see a wrench of warblers (wrench being a fun name for a flock of warblers), but instead, nothing.

The Birds We Miss

Yet at home, the warblers were right at my figurative fingertips for immediate enjoyment. Not only the American redstart and blackpoll warbler, but also the black-and-white warbler foraging along different branches and a lingering yellow-rumped warbler still checking out the foliage, not to mention the northern parula seen on a neighborhood walk or the many other non-warblers that enjoy my yard, feeders, and trees on a daily basis.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher - Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher – Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

We all have different considerations in our lives, and different obligations we must tend to. But the birds are always there – maybe not the species we expect, or the birds we most want to see, or in the habitat we anticipated. Even as I write this now, typing on my keyboard, a female American redstart is making her way through the oak outside my office window, while a common ground-dove and a pair of mourning doves are foraging near the bird bath and feeder poles. A family of blue-gray gnatcatchers was in the yard the other day (very loudly so!), and I get frequent visits from northern cardinals, gray catbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, common grackles, white ibises, and northern mockingbirds.

Stop for a moment, and look out your windows. Step into your yard. Look at your trees, flowers, and hedges. Walk around your neighborhood. There are more birds than you realize, right at home. Don’t miss out on them for wanting something else.

My Warbler Trees - Photo by Melissa Mayntz
My Birding Trees – Photo by Melissa Mayntz

2 thoughts on “The Birds We Miss

  1. Tom Zeeh

    Ruby-throated hummers haven’t arrived as of 5/7 here in DeKalb, IL. Last year they showed up on 5/3. I put out sugar-water on 5/3 this year. How do you explain the delay or is it just nature’s way?

    By the way, Baltimore Orioles showed up on time same as last year. But only a breeding pair. Last year, juice and grape jelly were overrun by BOs.


  2. Michael

    Reading this post makes me feel emotional. Yes! your thought is right, all birds are fantastic, and we are happy to have it around us, We enjoy that moment because we don’t know tomorrow, they are still there, or they will leave

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