Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Not to Need

Winter Wren

Most birders who list, whether it be for a particular patch, county or state, can often be heard saying "I need that for the year" in reference to a particular species. I can certainly relate to this mindset. I sure "needed" a helluva a lot of birds last year when I was doing a Wisconsin Big Year as well as trying to be top eBirder in my home county.  However the exaggerated joy-sorrow dichotomy attached to the "need" for any living creature be it a bird, human being, pet or other animal is enough to make this birder come unglued.  I find it highly unbalanced and about as far away from Zen-birding as one could get...to need a bird, A BIRD!

For me, as 2014 seeps in, I sense a swelling sea change in my birding style.  The "bigness" of 2013 exhausted me.  Furthermore, I ushered in 2014 by spending an embarrassing amount of time and gas on chasing what would have been a Wisconsin and ABA lifer Gyrfalcon. After five attempts, I dipped. I believe it was then I was cured of ever "needing" another bird.

I was contemplating this notion of need-based birding as I strolled the creek corridor at Pheasant Branch Conservancy late morning today, I wondered if I would see my first-of-the-year Yellow-rumped Warbler, but felt at peace with the knowledge I did not need one. I am working on letting go of expectations, to accept what birds may come my way, to ignore the numbers, to ignore others numbers and to recognize the beauty before me.

The less I expect, the more I come to realize that in nature what might be considered common place or redundant can surprise the senses. As I reflect on the whole concept of "need" I acknowledge I am a work in progress as I experience this world. I believe what I am learning in nature can apply to the greater context of my life.  How grand would it be to abandon all need other than basics required to sustain life? I have been fighting the gravity of need all my life and will continue to do so.

But let's get back to the birds and where I birded today...

I had my camera in tow as the birds in the creek corridor are often quite obliging for photography. While most of the birds I encountered are ones I've been seeing or hearing for the past week, the treasure is in discovering which species will delight me with outstanding looks on any given day. It's always changing.

Birding alone afforded me greater stealth in my observations.  As such I had the experience of birds coming within close range of me as I quietly meandered the paths. Golden-crowned and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets were foraging at my feet.


Golden-crowned Kinglet


 A Winter Wren that alluded me with but a snippet of its call the other day, perched, foraged and sang around me for a good 20 minutes today.

Winter Wren
A resident Downy Woodpecker spent the entire hour or so I was in the corridor excavating its presumed nesting hole, oblivious to my intrusion near its home.  The Carolina Wren's song carried exuberantly along the corridor, though on this day I did not visually locate this resonating songster. The American Crows, as they often are, were displeased with a Red-tailed Hawk flying low in the area.

Red-tailed Hawk and American Crow
Brown Creepers, my favorite among the usual suspects, scaled the trees picking out tiny nutritional nuggets in the crevices of the bark.

Brown Creeper
Sometimes I divert my gaze away from the birds and simply tilt my head back to peer up at the trees.  I enjoy studying the arthritic patterns of the tree branches against the blue sky.


While looking up today, I discovered leaf buds are beginning to emerge from some of the trees.  Soon many of the places I bird will be foliated in various shades of green. As this transformation unfolds, it will obscure the warblers during peak migration and we will all be bitching about "warbler-neck."



In some ways my outing today was subdued by my mood of over-mentating the trials of my life.  However the birds are often quite gifted in rescuing me from myself by "distracting" me toward simply experiencing the joy in what is before me in the moment.  Today it was the kinglets, wrens, creepers and hawk that pulled me into mindfulness in the now, not in the "need" for the future or the disappointment of the past. I shall not "need" anything when it comes to birding. However on this day I did "get" the Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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