I presented iNaturalist with my Hardscrabble Mountain gray flycatchers, and the app performed flawlessly. Not just the adults teed up in textbook fashion atop junipers; but also the fledglings, nearly featureless blobs of downy softness.
The second half of 2020 is going to be difficult, and I have no intention of downplaying or dismissing that reality. But I wonder if something quietly wondrous is beginning to happen: an awakening of community, of shared responsibility, of devotion to a cause greater than ourselves.
Seeing the bird was bittersweet for me. Sweet: What’s not to like about seeing a rock wren, indeed seeing and hearing and experiencing an entire landscape come alive with these blithe, brown birds? Bitter: I wish I’d been there with my friends from Camp Colorado, understandably canceled out of concern for the health of would-be campers and the broader community.
The bird was a grasshopper sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum, singing, as grasshopper sparrows are wont to do, in the middle of the night. The time was 12:26 am. The full moon peeked through the haze and persistent cloud cover, but it was to be of no use in actually seeing the sparrow. Which was the whole point of this exercise. My companion and I had come to this place specifically to hear the unseen bird.
One doesn’t ordinarily go to the Wyoming Hereford Ranch in search of workaday western kingbirds. No, the ranch is best known as a “vagrant trap,” a magnet for rarities. But I had a hankering this sunny Saturday afternoon for an encounter with a kingbird.
If there’s a silver lining in the cloud of the coronavirus, it’s that so many people are noticing birds for the first time. Even in this era of social distancing, people are also noticing other birders and engaging the broader birding community. Some of them will find their way to the ABA. But even those who do not will, at least to some degree, find themselves within the ABA’s sphere of influence.
I miss the spring bird festivals and road trips to vagrant traps, but I’m also enjoying Q. T. with common birds as never before. It can be hard to stay sane and centered in these trying times, and I don’t mean to minimize that reality; but it is also gratifying that, even though we cannot go far away to see them right now, birds are more comforting and more wonderful than ever.
We had an ice storm earlier in the month, as good an excuse as any to go out for a bit of birding. Camera?–check. Sanitizer?–check. Mask?–check. I saw a birding friend out there, Vasu, and we struck up a conversation—from a distance of well over six feet. The new normal.
True to form, the backyard solitaire is, well, solitary. This is a species that had the social distancing thing perfected long before social distancing was a human thing. Prediction: The Merriam–Webster Word of the Year for 2020 is going to be "social distancing." Either that or "shelter in place." That’s another behavior our backyard solitaire has down.
This is a type 2 red crossbill because it sounds like one, looks like one, and acts like one. But check this out: We didn’t know any of that stuff when I started birding close to 40 years ago. Bird populations are changing, and so is our knowledge of bird populations.