Just outdoors, all around us, magic is happening again. (Photos: (1) Pine Warbler; (2) White-breasted Nuthatch, (3) Palm Warbler, (4) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; all Clandestine Wren Photography)
Another day of isolation ahead. Three weeks down, another few months likely to go. But, at least these ones, the three months of spring. The morning dawns, sunlight beginning to peak through the trees to the east. Walking out the door, the air is chilled and fresh. No people are about. But it is not quiet. Crossing the street, going through the neighbor’s yard and into the park, the dawn chorus is in full swing. Cardinals calling insistently from seemingly everywhere. Carolina Wren’s blaring out teakettle, teakettle, teakettle! The nasal caw of a Fish Crow in the distance. Blue Jays doing their metallic, echo-y calls. The loud quirrr of a Red-bellied Woodpecker. These are the songs of the residents, and all in the first few hundred yards.
Walking the paved trail through the woods, anticipation builds. What’s around the next tree? Who will come into view? What song will be heard for the first time this spring? Fluttering in the brush — more White-throated Sparrows, who’ve been here all winter, but will soon be gone, headed north toward New England, taking their plaintive poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody with them. Above, the leaves, blessedly, are only just barely emerging. For a few, too short weeks, spring migrants will still be easy to spot, unobscured by all the green to come. Tiny movements in the branches. A Golden-crowned Kinglet. No, two. Three. They are here in winter, but suddenly are everywhere, massing before moving northward.
The path opens into the fields, sunlight now touching the grasses and flowering trees. An Eastern Bluebird pair sits on a branch not far from a nest box. Sharp-looking Chipping Sparrows, two weeks ago never seen, are now all about. Overhead and recently returned as well, an Osprey flies by.
A sycamore just off the path holds a little treasure. From the left, a male White-breasted Nuthatch flies across the grass to an outer branch and pauses. In a flash, he is on the trunk at a nest cavity, passing a morsel to his mate inside. Then, he’s off again for more.
The nuthatches have been here all winter, though. Will there be a first-of-the-year bird this morning? A brilliant yellow Pine Warbler flits nearby. A stunning Palm Warbler sits in the grass, of all places. Neither, a first this year but pulse-quickening harbingers of the mass migration of warblers soon to come.
And then, there it is, just like that, moving rapidly as it feeds among the low branches. The tiny, but strikingly dapper Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, one of the earliest neotropical migrants to arrive. A first of 2020.
What is it about this time outdoors and these moments of intense observation? Birding cultivates a constant alertness, a never-ending scanning of sound, movement, and habitat, an eagerness to find and learn something new. It is a feeling of living fully. And it is magnified a hundred times over in spring, as every single day brings something new. Almost three full months of Christmas morning every day.
Spring migration is an antidote for the mundane — needed even more in this year. Just outside our doors and windows, in the city, in our yards, in a local park, everywhere in the Chesapeake watershed and beyond, magic is happening. The spring chorus gains new members daily. Who will join tomorrow?