Northern oriole.

ENE Blog: Birding My Way Through the Pandemic

Text & Photos By Tom Richardson

I’ve been a birder since elementary school, although never a serious one. I don’t maintain a “life list,” and am routinely flummoxed when attempting to identify sandpipers and sea ducks. Yet, I remain fascinated by birds, this year in particular, as they seem to offer comfort during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps the arrival of the familiar warm-weather species brings with it the reassurance that at least some things remain normal. The birds simply go about their lives, doing their avian things, and I gather a good measure of comfort from their existence.

As I write, a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds are flitting about the fucsia-flowered crab-apple trees outside my office window. A flash of orange in the upper branches of the elm reminds me that the orioles are back in town. A pair of scrappy chipping sparrows are battling (or maybe mating) in the grass. The doughty Carolina wrens are creating an outsized racket along the stone wall. Barn swallows dart and dip in pursuit of unseen insects.

Yellow warblers.

All the summer visitors are back and in full throat, along with a few surprise guests. The other day I spent some time wandering along the edge of the woods behind my house. It didn’t take long to spy a pair of common yellowthroat among the dense brush, followed by an American redstart in the higher branches. A loud “chewink” betrayed a towhee scratching for a meal on the forest floor. Careful observation revealed the presence of a delicate nest being tended by a pair of yellow warblers. An osprey soared overhead, a large herring clutched in its talons.

From deeper in the woods, I heard the whirling “zeer, zeer, zeer” of a veery and the “witchy, witchy, witchy” crescendo of an ovenbird. And then, the most marvelous deep-woods call of all: the ethereal song of a wood thrush. To quote Thoreau in Walden: “Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring.” Couldn’t agree more!

Chipping sparrow

I am blessed in that I live near the coast, as well as the woods, and this provides me with a host of other species to observe. Oystercatchers are nesting on the sandy crown of a small island where I often kayak, while noisy willet call from the marsh banks. I’m keeping an eye out for the rare yellow-crowned night heron I saw in the tidal creek last summer, and there are always roseate and common terns dipping for baitfish in the cove. In recent years, there’s even the chance of spotting a bald eagle, as I have observed them stealing fish from unsuspecting osprey by harassing the hapless fish hawks into dropping their catch.

 

Yes, birds are everywhere, doing their thing, and I for one am thankful for it!