Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Flower Nerd Joins the Birders

I love birds. I really do. But there's a good reason I'm more of a wildflower nerd than an avid birder: Mostly because of bad eyesight, I just can't see the darn things! And they just won't hold still, either, so I can't get good photos of them. So I'm mighty glad that other folks can see birds better than I can, especially when those folks let me come along on their adventures, like the one led today by birding expert Rich Speidel (blue jacket) along the Bog Meadow Trail. The trip was sponsored by the regional Audubon chapter and attracted a dozen or so very knowledgeable birders, all eager to share their bird stories and expertise.

The Bog Meadow Trail, just east of Saratoga Springs, is a birder's paradise, with forested wetlands and open marshes providing superb habitat for many, many species, plus convenient boardwalks and a well-maintained trail for bird lovers to easily walk on.

Although the morning later turned dark and cold and windy, it started out faintly sunlit and calm, the better to hear the chorus of birdsong and calls resounding in the forests surrounding the marsh. Folks were calling out the names of birds they were hearing, which included just about every species of woodpecker, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Song and Swamp Sparrows, blackbirds of several kinds, and many other species. I was very grateful for this instruction, since my birding has to be done mostly by ear, rather than by eyes.
We couldn't see the birds in the woods beyond this marsh, but we certainly could hear them!

We followed the trail for well over a mile through wooded wetlands until we arrived at a wide open marsh, where several species of waterfowl were visible against the far shore, and at least three different species of swallows -- Tree, Barn, and Rough-winged -- were swooping madly over the water.

I have no photos of the open marsh, which I regret, since my companions were very excited to spot there a group of Shoveler ducks, a species seldom encountered around these parts.

Another bird that elicited extra excitement today was a Rusty Blackbird, which was spotted walking back and forth across the trail in plain sight not far ahead of where we were walking. Again, this is a bird seldom seen around here, and it counted as a first for many of the birders' life lists.

Many of the birders were anxious for me to see what they were seeing, but even through strong binoculars, my eyes could not resolve a clear image that would let me see definitive colors and markings. All I could see were dark blurry shapes against sky or water. But that was even the case today with the flowers of a tree I know perfectly well, but whose fuzzy globular blooms in black profile against the sky had me puzzling over their species.

Finally, I took a photo using flash, which revealed the rich red color, and the puzzle was resolved. Red Maple. Of course!

This little bird came so close to us we could almost touch it, but it still remained for me a black shape against the sky until I later used all the tricks of my computer's photo program to boost the color. Even so, I still cannot see the distinguishing yellow patch on the head of this Golden-crowned Kinglet. Happily, others in our group could see it perfectly well and tell me what I was looking at. Adorable little bird!

Again, if it were not for my companions expressing excitement regarding the occupants of this tree, I would have passed by unnoticing, or dismissing as ordinary, the blackbirds that were noisily displaying to each other amid the branches.

One of them was that Rusty Blackbird, visible to me at last, thanks to the zoom on my camera and the photo-enhancement tools of my computer. And without the expert knowledge of my companions today, I would have passed it off as just an ordinary Common Grackle.

Everybody in our group seemed delighted to have seen or heard a remarkable number of species today (over 35 by most accounts), and I was equally happy to have shared in the adventure. But I must admit, that after so much straining to see those elusive birds, my eyes were happy to find a resting place on these colorful rose hips, stationary in all their rosy beauty against the serene reflection of a greying sky.


Anonymous said...

Ditto! Love the birds - rarely see 'em and mostly can't attribute one call from another. At least the wildflowers stay are stationary! It is still a treat to go out on a birding hike to enjoy the enthusiasm of others.

Woodswoman Extraordinaire said...

That last photo is gorgeous.

I adore birds, wholeheartedly, devotedly. I spend utterly exasperating days searching for them, never seem to be able to photograph them, and am often infuriated by them. And yet still, I go looking for them and seek their elusive company, even when they are just flits in the trees above my head. To say the least, I sympathize with your frustration with the lively feathered fiends!

catharus said...

I'd very much encourage you to take opportunities to learn bird ID by ear -- I find it most rewarding! Seeing them becomes an extra treat but for myself, not necessary. It's simply being aware of and able to identify the diversity and beauty of the natural world around me, be it wildflowers, trees, birds, etc... Enjoy! (I know you do!!)

Kim said...

'Wildflower Nerd' hmm, I've never called myself that but the name fits me. I just found your blog and I love it! A I am 55 yrs old - a solo kayaker, hiker and botanical photographer most at home alone in the woods or on a quiet lake in the ADKs. I live in Oneida County.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for your comments, my nature-loving friends. I have noticed that wildflower enthusiasts are usually eager to see and hear birds and learn their names and habits. Avid birders, however, often seem to be more single-minded in their nature pursuits. I attempted to share some of my plant finds along the trail with my fellow birdwatchers, but only a very few indicated the slightest interest in plants.

Kim, I am so glad to make your acquaintance! Thanks for your kind words, and I hope we will stay in touch.

catharus said...

Yeh, I think you're right, that avid birders are generally more single-minded in their pursuits of nature. Unfortunate, but true. One of the reasons I enjoy your blog, is how much it contributes to my learning of plants. But more than that, I think, is its testimony to your wonder and excitement at the natural world around you -- all of it!