By Terry Grabill
During this spring of “social distancing” and “shelter in place”, there is a group of us birders that are really struggling. For many of us, spring means migration and the excitement of welcoming back our seasonal travelers passing through on their way north or setting up housekeeping in our backyards.
As I’ve described in past articles, these north-bound birds come in a relatively predictable sequence. I’m one that celebrates spring migration by travelling to migration “traps” where these little gems are packed together, and bird numbers can be tremendous. Birder numbers can also be tremendous, which creates a social distancing problem. As a result, all the Great Lakes region’s birding festivals have been cancelled. Well, the birds are still migrating and visible. They don’t care about COVID19! So, I’m always watching for new migrants to arrive in my yard and I go short distances to “hotspots” where I can look at the travelers. But SOMETHING just isn’t right. Something about my version of birding is missing.
First, I must confess that I’m a terrible record keeper. I have a friend named Dick who has a small notebook that he carries and with this he can reference sightings and conditions along with locations and dates. I have, well, a birder’s journal where I’ve checked off my life list. Regardless of the lack of detail in my journal, I do have a brief statement by each life-bird I’ve counted. You’d think I’d have location, date, weather conditions, associated species…you know, details. As I flip through this journal, I lament my lack of detail attention because it would be really great to know when and under what conditions I found this “lifer”. Instead, what I find is the key to why this spring is difficult for my birding.
Going through my journal, I have notes about the sighting and virtually every one of them has mention of who I was with when I saw it! Stilt sandpiper “met Jim Markam”, great black-backed gull “with Ruscos”, golden plover “with Kenn and Kim Kaufman”, black-crowned night heron “with Greg Miller”, “with Ted Gostomski”, “with D.W.”, “with Brennan”, and most often “with Andrea”. It literally JUST occurred to me this spring that birding, to me, is more about the people I’m sharing the experience with than the birds. I have NO idea what the weather was like when I saw my first Eurasian tree sparrow (or even the date!), but my records show that Trevor and I were together!
So, this year I remember welcoming spring arrivals as they make their pilgrimage north to breed but this “something” that’s missing is the personal relationships that arise from pursuing a common interest; sharing the experience with new friends; bumping into these new friends in places where birds congregate… and so do birders.
For Birdgoober, I’m Terry Grabill.
As a footnote, Trevor tells me it was sunny, windy, and in the high 50s when we saw the Eurasian Tree Sparrow!