There aren’t many days that I can spend the whole day outdoors with the birds, flowers and trees. Like most people I have work, chores and other things to attend to that demand my time and attention. I generally get outdoors every day for at least an hour or two, but long, lazy days to spend just meandering are rare and wonderful days that I save up for like some people save up for fancy things.
This past week I had two such days. One day I spent with a friend checking out some of my favorite spots for migrant birds and wildflowers and the other I spent with a team of birders from Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program for the 2019 Bird-a-thon. Lucky for me, they were both beautiful spring days, rich and full of everything I could hope for.
For those that don’t wander about looking for birds, birdwatching can seem like a strange, even funny occupation. For me, it is a joy I found in childhood that makes every walk a delight. I am not generally a person who keeps a list of the birds I see. I just like seeing and learning about them.
I have no interest in doing a Big Year or even a big week. I do, however, enjoy doing the big day of the Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon. Each team spends 24 hours traveling to different locations hoping to score a decent number of species for their team. Each bird must be seen or heard by at least two competent birders and questionable sightings must be backed up by data and photos when possible. Rain or shine, we go. Some years can be a real challenge.
We begin in the evening, promptly at 6 p.m. Our first sightings are often of common birds such as robins, mourning doves and American crows. As is our habit, we started in the marsh, headed down to a bayside beach, traveled down the road to a saltwater creek, then to a meadow and then home for a few hours of sleep before heading out at dawn the following day. During this time our list grew and grew.
At dawn we gathered in a parking lot and one of our youngest birders, my grandson, pointed to a hawk that had landed in the grass nearby. It was scarfing down night crawlers like they were French fries. It was a red-shouldered hawk, a great bird to start off our day. We would add other hawks, lots of warblers, woodpeckers and ducks before the day was done. We’d add some herons and thrushes, chase down a winter wren and watch the antics of displaying bobolinks and meadowlarks as well.
We didn’t just see birds, of course. We found lots of wild violets, both bird-foot violets and wild purple violets. There were sweet white anemones and lovely wild oats. Trees were leafing out all over with those wonderful early spring pinks and lime greens. It had rained overnight so the trees were dark against the light spring colors, a beautiful contrast that added even more ambience to our morning.
A flurry of angry crows calling caught our attention and as we watched, a fisher emerged from the woods at a full run, crows right behind it. It ran across the road and slipped into the woods on the other side. We lost sight of it, but we could still hear the crows, so they knew where it was. We saw a raccoon at dusk and saw lots of deer prints, rabbits and squirrels.
We saw turtles, including several very large snappers, taking in the sun. We heard frogs and toads, saw fish jumping and swallows swooping. Butterflies flitted by us and bees buzzed lazily as they moved from flower to flower.
There’s something about a day outdoors that resets me. My busy days slowly slip away, and my mind focuses only on the beauty and synchronicity evident all around me. In the end our team found 110 species, a record for us. We’ve done this for many years, using the same route but this was the best year we’ve had in terms of finding birds. It was a special day, but then, a day spent hanging out with birds, butterflies, trees and turtles is always a special day, especially when shared with special people.