Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fall diary

I have a favorite little nature reserve, a strip of old trees hemmed in by harbor and suburban streets. The birds migrating south right now find this improbable pocket of leafiness irresistible, and on a good morning the trees are just alive with tiny flitting missiles. My friend who I walk in there with suggested that we should keep a daily record of the bird life we see. Amazing things happen in the fall, and it's too easy to lose track. So, no more ignoring the alarm clock. This is to be the season of getting up early every morning and observing what happens as the cold closes in . . .

October 1
9:30 a.m. (Okay, so it isn't exactly "early morning," but it is my birthday. My 40th birthday. Have mercy!) Lovely crisp day, sunny, no wind. Never actually make it into the park, though. Become utterly obsessed by a big tree at the edge, which has 5 or 6 warblers flitting in it. I have never seen these birds before, which is always exciting. Gray with yellow sides and yellow tails except for a black band at the end. It's so hard to get a good look; they won't stop moving, like hyperactive children. Can't they tell I am there with my binoculars trying to ID them? (Neighbors by now think I'm mad.) Spend at least 30 minutes back at home poring through the warbler section of my field guide until caving and calling my friend for help. American Redstarts. Young ones, which are not red at all. Yellowstarts, I think I'll call them.

October 2
7:20 a.m. It's like being in heaven. Clear skies and winds from the north-west. Waves of tiny migrating birds surge in to refuel. As the sun comes up and warms the treetops at the edge of the park the birds descend to snack on insects amidst the leaves. People are walking their dogs and taking their kids to school; mystified, they ask what we're looking at. I'm reminded that incredible phenomena are happening all the time, if only we could see. I point upward, and birds are pinging out of the treetops like corn popping, as they zigzag from one insect to the next. In just an hour we see killdeer, cedar waxwings, northern flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, eastern phoebe, red-eyed vireo, black-and-white warbler, black-throated blue warbler (say that three times fast), black-throated green warbler, northern parula warbler, magnolia warbler, American redstart, ruby-crowned kinglet, golden-crowned kinglet, white-breasted nuthatch, and bluejay.

October 3
12:30 p.m. (All right, it's not even morning. But it's Saturday. And it's been raining all night. Have mercy!) Cloudy; no wind. Very quiet. I hear only a bluejay and have nearly given up on seeing anything interesting, except for a giant fungus.

And then I hear a chipping sound I've never heard before. That-is-a-new-bird neurons light up like a Christmas tree in my brain. The bird is down low in the understory, quite close to the trail, hopping from twig to twig. I try to be systematic in observing its features, but I always find it so hard--part of my brain daydreaming about the bird's indefinable beauty; the other part trying to break it up into its components so I can find it in the field guide. Light olive-brown, black eye and beak, a white eyebrow, a small white spot on the wing. I actually get a little bit closer this time with the field guide before I have to cave and make a phone call, which makes me ludicrously overjoyed. (It is a female black-throated blue warbler. Turns out that only the males get the fancy black throat and blue feathers.)
Tree at the edge of the park I got obsessed with when it was full of American red(yellow)starts. I am going to photograph this tree throughout the autumn to track how the leaves change color and fall.

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