I have to go when I can go. So I went up to the town forest a couple mornings ago, when I had some time to do it. If I had total flexibility I might have gone the day before, when the sky was clear. But I have to work, and I have a family and, you know, life stuff. So I went when I had time.
May is the month to find migrating birds. And, currently, it is May. So up I went to see what is passing through, or what has arrived for the summer. There was some fog down low, but as I drove up the hill, the fog got thicker. Up at the small parking area it was a bit socked in. I could see, mind you, just not very far. Tree tops were obscured, so I had to listen more than look.
When I go birding I usually listen more than look anyway, so it was natural. I have to remind myself sometimes to look up, in fact. There is just so much sound that birds make–songs and calls and drumming and chips and peeps. On this day I heard plenty of birds–Winter Wrens and American Redstarts and Veeries and Mourning Warblers. The bird of the day was the Bay Breasted Warbler–one that passes through–peeking out from a spruce tree right next to the trail at head height. Cool looking little dude.
I wandered around in the fog for a while before I had to get off to work. It was a successful and satisfying morning. The fog behind the fresh greenery was a quiet portrait of spring. I was in awe. It was awesome. I sank into the landscape and, by observing closely, discovered some of the landscape’s details. Not a bad way to start the day.
Yesterday during my early morning bird survey, I heard a bird I have heard many times in that same area. I have looked it up in the past but still could not remember what bird it might be. I did not see it yesterday, but I remembered it to be yellowish in part, and I could tell it was a warbler. Of course, that hardly narrows it down. There are almost as many yellowish warblers as there are reasons I don’t want to scrub the toilet. So I had to search. Again.
I took advantage of the birders tool of choice when trying to identify that mystery species: Google. I just typed in “warbler songs and sounds” and up came several hundred thousand possible sources of just the right information. Google led me right off to All About Birds, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This is a site I have used before and it is usually right on the money. It mostly helped, but I had to search around a bit until I was sure I had the right bird.
I had in the back of my mind, a fuzzy memory from years past, that this was a Magnolia Warbler. The song included on All About Birds was close but not quite what I was hearing. The song I heard yesterday, and all the other days I have been up there, was consistent. It did not vary one bird to the next or from year to year. Two notes, two notes, three notes. One two, one two, one two three. The songs I kept finding were similar, but not all the same as each other, and not the same as I was hearing. But then, on a web site I did not mark and do not remember, I heard the song I needed to hear. It was my song.
Sure enough, I was right about Magnolia Warbler. It was the right habitat, the right range and, now that I had confirmed it, the right song. Done deal.