Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Slowing down

Today, as I was working in my garden, I heard the "squeaky brake" call of the blackpoll warbler. I've been hearing Old Blackpoll alot this week, singing high in the trees near my office and around the yard.

If you can find it you would see a bird that looks a lot like a chickadee but does not flit about as the 'dee does. This is the male blackpoll and he is a slow and steady gleaner of bugs in the upper tree canopy. So is the female but she is alot plainer, as most female birds are so they can blend in while on the nest.

Blackpolls have always impressed me because they have one of the longest migration routes of any bird, including other warblers.

But here is the significance of the blackpoll for me: It is one of the last of the warblers to pass through my area northbound. That means from now on, migration is slowing down.

Oh, there will still be birds passing through for a few more weeks. Also, places like the Great Swamp and Delaware Water Gap will host numbers of breeding birds through the summer.

But for me it isn't the same as spring, when you hear your first black-throated green of the season.

This year has been different.

This year, I haven't heard a black-throated green. When I read the bird reports I learn northern New England and southern Canada are seeing influxes of birds weeks earlier than usual. Were they pushed up by the wacky weather we had this spring, strong winds from the west and south or the unexpected warm days making them think they'd better get a move on?

This year seems different for me, too.

Maybe I'M the one slowing down. I am getting older. My neck hurts more and longer when I look up at treetops for too long, my legs tire from what seems like endless stops and starts and it gets harder to wake at dawn on a Saturday after a busy, busy work week.

Are you working harder than ever to keep your family fed and bills paid nowadays? Me, too. The pressures never end.

Intense work-week pressures used to send me into the woods on weekends. But I am at another job now and, while busy, things are not as intense.

Or perhaps I am even getting a bit bored with the eastern birds I find each year. I surprised myself to realize that with the exception of the Wilson's warbler in spring and the Connecticut warbler that tends to pass through my area in fall I've seen and/or heard every Eastern warbler, including the Swainson's that I saw a year ago on a Florida barrier island.

That trip might've been the highlight of my birding life thus far. Lovely sunrises, as you can see above. Great food on the Panhandle. You could stand still and within 30 minutes see 30 birds, some at eye level. It was my first time seeing (rather than hearing) a worm-eating warbler, for instance.

After that, trying to see a flitting shape high in the leafed-out trees on a cold spring morning through binoculars you can't get focused fast enough seems very old indeed.

MH told me he is relieved I am slowing down, that I am less obsessed by birding and can "take it or leave it" and do more resting on the weekends.

My husband sees that as a good thing, but as I listened to the blackpoll today for some reason the thought left me rather sad.