This will probably be the last time I can be focused enough to write complete sentences before we’re off to Ohio for that little birding festival. Oh who am I kidding, it’s HUGE! We’ll just be two of an expected 75,000 people coming from all over the country to witness the magic of spring migration on the south shore of Lake Erie. If you want to get a feel for the excitement as we count down the last few days, go to the Facebook page for the Biggest Week in American Birding.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what this festival means to me. Of course it’s mostly about the wonder and mystery of bird migration, but there’s much more to it than that. If you’re not a birder, or even a backyard bird feeder type of person, you may have a certain stereotypical image of birders. And as with any stereotype, there’s some truth to it. Yes, a minority of birders are fanatics, willing to drop everything and drive any distance to see a special bird. Many more of us, though, are just deeply appreciative of the connection birds give us to the natural world, and are happy to enjoy them at a less frenetic pace.
I’ve always been pleasantly surprised to find that group birding walks usually end up being about more than just watching the birds. There are often people looking at butterflies and wildflowers too; on one outing I almost tripped over two people kneeling on the ground studying some kind of insect with a magnifying glass. And the best part about it was that nobody thought it was odd at all. I love that. People who love all aspects of the natural world, communing together, learning from each other and helping to broaden each others’ horizons.
Since I became a birder I’ve also started paying more attention to tiny wildflowers in the woods, and all those little butterflies that most of us barely notice in our daily lives. There is just SO much going on in nature if you just….get quiet, slow down, and pay attention.
I’ve even started looking differently at mosquitoes, of all things. I’ve always been a favorite target of those blood-suckers, so never cared much for them. But this year I was surprised to find myself feeling glad they were around so the early migrating birds would have plenty of food. You see, some years the earliest birds that come north get stuck in a bad situation when the weather turns cold again and kills off any insects that might have been a source of life-giving energy for them. So I’ve begun to see the interconnection of life forms in a way I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Even the so-called undesirable insects have an important purpose in the ring of life.
Think about it. If we killed off all the insects, the insect-eating birds would die off. Without the birds to spread the seeds of plants, many of our flowers, trees and grasses would die off. And if you follow this line of thinking, it’s not long before you realize that humans would be doomed in that scenario.
As I write this, there are hundreds of messages being exchanged via Facebook, email, text, and more, between birders anxious to find times to meet up with old and new friends while they’re in Ohio. I’m looking forward to meeting some of my fellow Official Blog Team members, hopefully at a group gathering we’re trying to arrange. I know I’ll see some of my Michigan birding friends down there, as I did last year. This year I hope to remember to take more pictures of the crowds of people so I can give you a better feel for what it’s like to be right in the middle of it all.
And everyone please keep your fingers crossed that another Kirtland’s Warbler shows up this year. We missed all the excitement last year when one showed up right after we’d left. But we made up for it by going up to see the Kirtland nesting grounds near Grayling, Michigan a couple weeks later. That’s where I got this photo of a singing male Kirtland’s Warbler on his territory — a day I’ll never forget.
And if all this talk about the spectacle of bird migration has gotten you interested (I hope!), don’t worry if you can’t get to a migration hotspot this year. You can find migrating birds just about anywhere right now, so take a pair of binoculars to a local park (or even your own backyard) and just sit down and watch what’s flying around your neighborhood. You might be surprised — but you’ll definitely be enriched by the experience. And I’d love to hear about it!