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Monday, May 15, 2006


Sometimes, when all the stars line up, everything comes together and you get into the birding groove. Its almost magical.

Friday on the birdathon, my officemate Jim Sheehan picked up a Nashville Warbler singing in a mixed flock of warblers. The birds were impossible to see, but somehow, I managed to spot the bird singing from deep within a tree. Nashvilles often do this, and don't seem to move around as much as other warblers, so I was pretty happy to have been able to spot the bird.

An hour later, Jim's great ears picked up a singing Mourning Warbler. We rushed to the spot where the bird was singing from deep within a low patch of multiflora rose. These warblers often stay deep in the brush, and can be really difficult to see. I managed to spot the bird moving up into the lower branches of a tree. Or actually, I saw a small shape moving up that way. Then the singing stopped and the bird was gone. A few moments later, the bird sang from farther back in the woods. We searched for it, but couldn't see it. A few moments later, I spotted a Hooded Warbler pop up for a few seconds, but then it was gone before anyone else could see it. Turned out to be the only Hooded Warbler we found all weekend. Then, turning around, I happened to spot a bird 15 feet up in some vines--pink bill, gray hood with darker flecks on the gray bib, yellow underparts, no eye-rinig--Mourning Warbler. Unfortunately, it flew as I was trying to get the other guys onto it...but there it was as if by magic.

On Saturday, we went searching for a Barred Owl seen earlier in the morning by a birding team in Fairmount Park. We got to the spot on the trail where it had been seen, and it looked like it would be impossible to find the bird. But, I hiked off the trail up a small creek. The huge trees and dense leaves reminded me a lot of where I'd seen Spotted Owls in Arizona this past fall. And just like that search, I stopped for a moment and sat on a rock and just happened to look in exactly the right spot to see the Barred Owl 40 feet up near the trunk of a hemlock tree. No real reason I should have seen this bird at the distance it was, but that's part of the magic. I was able to get Jim onto the bird, but then it flew while I was trying to get another birder on it. So I hooted a Barred Owl call, and the bird flew in closer, perching 20 feet above us and calling vociferously. It was clearly agitated, so we the bird a sense of power in its ability to drive off three large and ugly rivals.

Sometimes it all comes together. For me, when I can slow down enough, I seem to be able to get into a grove where the birds just appear. Car birding, and rushed birding, often keep this from happening, so I cherish these magic moments--and scheme up ways to spend more time with the birds so that I can enjoy more of these experiences.

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