Monday, May 5, 2008

Heard but not Seen

LGB - little grey (green) bird. BVD - better view desired. HBNS - heard but not seen. Birders have been using these message shortcuts for ages, long before text messaging. LGB is mostly reserved for the fall, when the new hatch of warblers, the immatures, do not have breeding plumage and you can hardly tell one kind from another.

Spring is easier. Last year's immature LGB's are adults now. This morning I had a number of BVD's - the spring warbler invasion is in full cry down at Cannon Creek Park, a decent walk from my house. There they were flitting about the tops of the trees along the creek. Warblers just won't stay still enough for a definite ID that far away, but connected with their songs, I could make a safe guess at two of them - black and white warbler, chestnut sided warbler.

Whatever, it's a delight to be able to walk to the park with field glasses slung over my shoulder, to enjoy the sights and sounds of the creek, and try to catch a better glimpse of those flighty little creatures.

Back home, I took my tea outside, along with a notebook, for some prayer and writing. There was a bird singing. Now it is at this time of the year that I am frustrated by not being able to remember from one year to the next all the songs of the birds that arrive in the spring and leave in the fall. Robins, blue jays, mockingbirds, house sparrows, mourning doves, woodpeckers - those I know. But that clear, bell like series of notes were just on the tip of my brain.

I kept panning my fieldglasses over the trees across the street, from where the song was coming. I caught a glimpse, but the bird was hidden by leaves.

Suddenly, I remembered - May, last year, same thing, I KNOW THAT SONG! The Northern Oriole (formerly called the Baltimore Oriole). The song was all around me - it was either more than one or that bird was flying from tree to tree without me being able to see it. HBNS. It wasn't going to stay still, outside the cover of leaves, long enough for me to see it.

Then, loud, really loud, and clear in my right ear - I looked to the top of the great tree in a neighbor's back yard - there he was. I didn't even need field glasses to see his brilliant orangey chest against the black back with white markings. Back again, at the same time as last year. I wonder, as I did last year, if he will find a mate in the neighborhood and build a nest.

This week I've been wondering if the chimney swifts would be returning to nest in our chimney. This morning I couldn't remember when they arrived last year. I hadn't seen any in the sky. Just as I caught sight of the oriole, I saw the swifts. So they return at the same time as the oriole. The babies will be HBNS, their chirping heard in the living room as food is brought to them in the chimney nest.

On the fence opposite me, a chipping sparrow perches, with his russet cap and clear breast. Overhead, a red bellied woodpecker. After its flyby, I could hear it in a yard a few houses away. Not bad for a morning walk and tea time.

Of course, birding is addictive. I'm wishing I brought my fieldglasses with me to the office. I'm considering cutting my hour stakeout at Starbucks to return to the creek. Why do I have to work at all? I called Newlin, who is in Watkins Glen this week, to tell him about the oriole. He told me that when he was unpacking the car last night he heard the screech owl. OHHHH I was jealous! I said, it's time for me to quit, take early retirement, try to live on the little I'll get from pension, (which is impossible, by the way - it won't even cover the rent on the house!) work supply or half time, but let me be in Watkins Glen whenever I want to be, where I can go to sleep with the sound of the screech and great horned owls. (Don't panic, Grace Church readers! We all have these moments, don't we.)

It's never enough. A great morning, and already I want more, more, more! There is something about birds that I do not understand. Maybe it's something like my quest for the face of God: always just around the corner, but never enough, never quite there, always LGB, BVD, HBNS. But still I show up, with or without field glasses, making whatever connections I can with the elusive and ethereal and wild.

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