Birders know that the spring migration is as ephemeral as the season’s flowers. It is here and gone before you know it.
Spring migration has a predictable flow. It moves along regardless of one’s ability to get out and participate in it much the same as spring’s blooms progress in the garden. For flowers the first sign of spring’s imminent arrival is snowdrops and scilla, then daffodils and tulips followed by lilacs and iris with many other blooms betwixt and between. In the avian world waterfowl herald spring’s advance followed by red-winged blackbirds and common grackles. Then come warblers with the insectivore families – flycatchers, swallows and vireos - not far behind.
The inevitability of this migratory progression, and the speed at which it occurs, can create in birders something akin to panic. There is this underlying fear of missing something if you’re not constantly out there. Of course this can wreak havoc with other aspects of one’s life. In the yard and garden, just because you’re away birding doesn’t mean the weeds stop growing, that lawn mowing can be put off and garden beds don’t need to be turned and planted. A colleague who is like me accursed with the double affliction of being both a gardener and birder said as we staked out a raptor’s eyrie looking for signs of nesting, “I know I should be home gardening, but if I was, I’d then be wishing I was out here.” As I look out the window at a yard that more resembles something more akin to a tall grass prairie than a lawn, I can empathize all too well.
This spring, I spent more time out in the field than in previous years. This was because I led or co-hosted a larger than usual number of field trips on behalf of NH Audubon’s Mascoma Chapter while at the same time trying to keep tabs on some of my regular sites such as the Ompompanoosuc River’s Kendall Station and Campbell Flats area in Norwich and Lyme’s Chaffee Wildlife Sanctuary at Post Pond. It wasn’t as much time afield as some of my birding peers judging by the number of reports they filed, but in the end, the impact on my gardening and other household chores was predictable. Did I mention, I’m considering leasing my lawn out as pasture?
There are people who might reasonably say there is something behaviorally obsessive about the feverish urge that grips a birder in May causing him or her to chase around the Upper Valley following sighting reports of an orchard oriole or a red-necked grebe. This affliction was intensified all the more this year by winter’s refusal to depart. That circumstance compressed the spring migration’s time frame. Many bird species arrived later than usual, but that didn’t mean that those passing through stayed around longer. Their start may have been delayed, but they kept moving. The serious business of raising a family remained before them.
Yes, there is some compulsiveness about tracking spring migration, but there is more to spring birding than going out and racking up species counts. Last Friday at 7:00 A.M., eleven of us gathered at Union Village Dam Park in Thetford Center. The temperature was a comfortable 60 degrees, the air was stirred by a gentle breeze and mostly sunny conditions prevailed. We walked along a deserted Buzzell Bridge Road taking in the newly greening fields and leafed out trees surrounded by a chorus of early morning bird song. You don’t have to be a birder to know how special that direct experience of nature is.
Spring migration is a time to renew "friendships" with our seasonal visitors and to delight in their presence. There's nothing quite like first spring glimpse of the scarlet tanager's blazingly red plumage glowing in the sun. The first hearing of the hermit thrush's haunting, flute-like song never fails to enchant. and it sends all thoughts of winter fleeing with its promise summer is coming.
For many of us birders those moments are all the more compelling, because we know they are so fleeting. They appear like spring wood flowers that for a few days dazzles with their beauty and then are gone until next year. That brief display gives joy in the moment, but its passing creates a certain sorrow. But that sadness is set aside by the hope what has been lost now will be renewed next spring. It is the eternal cycle of life, death and hopefulness from the promise of renewal.
It is in that same spirit we eagerly await and then revel in spring migration. It is a time that offers moments of startling beauty that bring us delight. It is a time to be embraced and savored, because we know those moments will pass all too quickly. But beyond that, we have fond memories of this season to cherish, and we find hope in the sure knowledge that next year's spring migration will renew our joy.
Photo caption:There's nothing like the season's first glimpse of a Baltimore oriole to lift the spirit. Photo Credit: Brenda Martin