Here’s my latest For the Birds column. It runs every Thursday in The Hour newspaper in Norwalk, CT, and every Monday in The Keene Sentinel in Keene, N.H.
This one happened to be my 600th column. Seems like I started it yesterday …
Something didn’t match up.
There I was in my shorts and T-shirt playing baseball with the boys. Andrew didn’t even have shoes on. Yet my ears were listening for winter birds.
It was Election Day so I wasn’t due at the office until the afternoon. The boys didn’t have school. It was 65 degrees. Break out the balls and bats, no arm twisting necessary.
I was the pitcher so between chasing line drives and waiting for errant pitches or foul balls to be thrown back, I did what I always do: I listened for birds. But my ears were not tuned into spring warblers or the cheerful tunes uttered by songbirds during the breeding season. Rather, I was listening for the dry chips of juncos, white-throated sparrows, kinglets and other birds normally associated with winter.
Not that I’m complaining. I’ll take a sunny 65 degree day to play with the boys any day. The weather just seemed strange for the second week of November, especially since many people in the state still didn’t have power because of a snowstorm two weeks ago.
At one point Andrew hit a ball to a fence behind me. As I retrieved the ball I heard a rustling in the leaves on the other side of the fence. I assumed it was a squirrel, but soon discovered it was actually about a dozen white-throated sparrows searching for morsels among the fallen leaves. I’m used to seeing white-throated sparrows in mid November, but not when it’s shorts-wearing weather. White-throated sparrows will remain with us throughout the winter, but I’m afraid our days are numbered of seeing them while its 60-plus degrees out.
I’ve made this point before but it’s worth repeating: One of the great things about birdwatching is that it doesn’t matter what the weather is. Warm and sunny? Fine. Cold and cloudy? Fine. Rainy? Not ideal, but what the heck, go birding anyway. Snowy? I love birding when it’s snowing.
There’s never a time of year or weather condition when the birds disappear. If all of our birds disappeared in the winter, I would dread the season to no end. If the summer was void of birdlife, I’d dread that season. But each season holds its own regulars and surprises in terms of birdlife. Personally, I love the winter for birdwatching. The parks are not crowded, the birds are easier to find (no leaves on the trees) and winter is the best time to find ducks. As the weather gets crisper, the ducks start arriving. That’s good news, especially for those of us who love to watch ducks. Hooded mergansers — one of my favorite types of birds — are showing up on ponds every day now. It will only get better as the calendar progresses.
If there is a negative to a warm November day, it’s that it might delay the duck migration. Many ducks migrate according to the weather and travel south only as far as they have to. Warm weather is always nice, but colder weather brings them to us more quickly. See what I mean about birdwatching being a great hobby regardless of the weather?
Don’t worry, I’ll keep you informed of the ducks I’m seeing. Drop me a line to let me know what you’re seeing out there. Stay warm.