For the Birds: Winter’s wonderful flurries

Photo by Chris Bosak A Song Sparrow seen in Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Conn., March 2014.

You always hope for a storm, but sometimes all you get is a flurry or two.

I’m not talking about a high school student who didn’t study for a test and is praying for a snow day. I’m talking about birding, of course.

The other day I visited a preserve in southern New England for the first time. I was struck immediately by the vast fields and several small wooded areas that looked to me like islands among the grassy expanse. My first thought was that this place is probably hopping with bobolinks, bluebirds and all sorts of other birds in the spring and summer.

But this wasn’t spring or summer. It was a dreary, raw winter day and the grass was short and brownish-yellow. Lifeless. The wooded islands were void of leaves and you could see the gray sky through the tangle of trunks and branches.

My plan was to walk along the edge of the wooded areas and see what was lurking in there. The anticipation of the new walk at a new place faded over time as close to an hour had passed and a few crows cawing in the distance was the only sign of birdlife I had noticed. I wanted to zero in on the crows to see if they were mobbing a hawk, owl or some other intruder. I couldn’t even find the crows in the sky, let alone zero in on them.

The anticipation may have faded, but my appreciation of the walk remained high. I spent much of 2019 battling off-again, on-again tendinitis in my right foot and hobbling around by putting pressure on the part of my foot that hurt the least. Walks on uneven terrain were out of the question. To be able to walk pain-free is something I’ll never take for granted again.

So I was enjoying the walk, birds or not. I made plans in my mind where I would walk when I returned in the spring. I exchanged pleasant hellos with the only two other people I saw. I started thinking about where I’d grab lunch. Or should I just wait until I got home to eat? It would be cheaper that way.

Suddenly, as is often the case when on a bird walk, the birds appeared in a flurry. It started with a few sparrows. They scurried from the grass and into a thicket bordering the woods. I found one hiding among a thick tangle of branches. White-throated sparrow. I spotted a few more white-throats before a curious song sparrow took a conspicuous perch on the top of a bush. The song sparrow and white-throats started calling to each other and it was like a bugle call for all birds in the area.

A northern mockingbird emerged from the center of a tall bush and settled on a branch where I could see it. It was there the whole time, but I was daydreaming and had completely missed it. A female cardinal burst onto the scene and perched a few branches higher than the mockingbird.

A group of four eastern bluebirds flew from one nearby tree to one a bit closer. A mourning dove pushed off the ground and landed on an overhanging branch. A small flock of American goldfinches took off from various points among the thicket and flew in their undulating pattern across the field and out of view. A red-bellied woodpecker and downy woodpecker made their presence known in the woods.

Heard, but not seen, were a group of blue jays and a Carolina wren. I went from seeing nothing to seeing an entire walk’s worth of birds in a matter of seconds. The feeling of anticipation and optimism returned and I continued my walk along the edge of the wooded areas. Nothing. I walked for about another hour. Nothing. I did find the four bluebirds again as I got closer to the car, but that’s about it.

Not that I’m complaining. I did get my flurry of birds and my feet held up just fine. I’ll take it.

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