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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Birding Providence

My house is right on Providence Rd, in the township of Nether Providence in Pennsylvania, so when I am yard birding, I am literally birding Providence.
Birding Providence

But that's not the Providence I'm thinking of this week, after some interesting birding experiences.  For centuries, Providence has been used as a name for Deity, or for the foresight or beneficial intervention of God.  No matter your theology about Providence (there are even naturalistic or atheist traditions addressing it), it is fun to ponder and consider the magic that sometimes happens in birding.  Here are two examples from just one day this week.

1) My wife woke me up at 12:30 in the morning because she needed help with something.  While I am a Latter-day Saint, I am no angel, and am especially grumpy after being awoken from a deep sleep.  But after I composed myself, I got out of bed and helped her for half an hour.  After that, since I was already awake, I decided I would listen to my NFC microphone recording in progress, to see what might be migrating over my house.  I fell asleep with the earbuds in, but was awoken again just after 3am by the distinct loud churr call of a King Rail migrating over my house.  This is a very rare bird in my county, with very few records after their local breeding habitat was mostly destroyed by a Philadelphia airport expansion project over 20 years ago. If I hadn't gotten up to help my wife, I wouldn't have put in the earbuds, and I wouldn't have heard this cool bird and added it to my year and county list. So that was very Providential!

King Rail CHURRR call, Nether Providence, PA

2) Later that day several of us were social-distance birding together at the Delaware River behind the Philadelphia airport.  One of my friends went home for lunch, and missed a pair of Least Terns, rare for the county, as they flew past us.  We commented on how sometimes we make the wrong choices.  He texted us a few minutes later, with cell phone pics of a Mississippi Kite, another rare and hard to find migrant in the region, that had just flown over his house while he was doing yard work! Maybe he didn't make the wrong choice after all!  Forty-five minutes later, I had the thought that I should let my friends in Haverford know about the kite sighting.  They went outside as soon as they got my text, and almost immediately saw and photographed a Mississippi Kite flying over their yard!  This was ten miles away from where the bird was first seen, and its impossible to know if it is the same bird--what would the chances be? And what are the chances that I would think to text them at the exact moment they would need to go outside to see the bird--a lifer for one of them?  And my birding friend that missed the terns?  He later rejoined us just in time to see a second pair of Least Terns fly by. Amazing! Providential!

Of course it doesn't always happen that way.  Sometimes we don't see the bird.  Sometimes we barely miss it.  But it happens often enough that whether you call it God or karma or whatever, magic like this happens.  Sometimes you think of an unlikely bird, and then see one shortly thereafter. Or bizarre "coincidences" happen to put you in just the right place at just the right time to have a completely unexpected, yet providential, bird sighting. That's one of the things that I love most about birding--the skill, hard work, luck, and dare I say Providence, that has to come together to find a bird you are looking for, or to discover one that you couldn't expect.

Birding Providence.  One of my great joys of birding.


Unknown said...

Maybe you could change your address to Synchranicity Rd?:)

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Unknown said...

Hi Rob, this my first time checking in on your blog. My friend Steve Bonta mentioned it and suggested I pay you a virtual visit. Congratulations on your King Rail - I am quite jealous. Although I did get a very nice county record the other day (Here in Iron County, Utah) of an Eastern Phoebe. It was also a lifer for me, very fun bird. I watched it for maybe a minute as it fluttered back and forth around scrub willows picking off gnats. I'll try and check in when I remember. It's nice to know of kindred LDS naturalists. Cheers,
Sam (

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