Yesterday was the Christmas Bird Count, an annual Audubon event begun in 1900 by ornithologist Frank Chapman as an alternative to hunting. Through the Fyke Nature Association, I’ve been participating in this for almost a decade. It is one of my favorite days of the year. What could be better than to spend an entire day doing something I love, with other people who love doing it too? The information we glean from poking around fields and forests also becomes part of the information database for bird populations and our environment, so it’s win-win-win.
We look for birds, talk about birds, think about birds, reminisce about birds, and remind each other of where we saw the Ruffed Grouse four years ago, or over there is the tree with the hole in it where Jody spotted the Screech Owl two years ago. We train our binoculars at the dark hole, just in case history might repeat itself. But birding is not about what is expected. It is about preparing, learning, exploring and hoping. It is being open to whatever might happen in the moment, and believing that anything could.
We hunted for birds all day, in fields, frozen ponds and woods. Our assigned territory for our team is not rich in habitat diversity, so we will never have the high number of species the shore teams get. And while I will go out of my way to see a bird, I am not aggressive. It’s like swimming in the ocean: some folks jump in and reach out right away, stroke for stroke, kicking and moving and struggling with the current toward their goal. I am so happy to be in the sea at all that I let the tide take me where it will for a few moments. I fill up with the awareness of the cold water against my skin, look down into the swirling grayness at the tiny fishes poking at my toes, feel the weightlessness of my heart as my body is carried over from one wave to the next. As a birder, I peer into the branches and bushes like everyone else, but get caught up in the fact of the very existence of BIRDS. I am dazzled by the speckled breast of a starling, the flash of a Blue Jay’s wings, the rattle of a Belted Kingfisher near a winter stream. I could sit by myself in the snow in the middle of an overgrown field and be happy for hours.
Well now; what a good idea.