Birding is soul food
It's been a long time since I can say I've actually been out birding. I've looked for birds while doing other things, like geocaching, but as far as actually going out into the field, binoculars at the ready with the express purpose of observing---long, long time. Life has gotten in the way the past few months, I'm afraid. Yesterday I finally got out there again, just to bird---in foreign habitat.
I was hired to do a storytelling program in the little town of Vesper Wisconsin on Thursday night. I decided that rather than drive home after dark, risking collision with deer, I'd treat myself to a bed and breakfast stay, then spend Friday birding the Buena Vista Grasslands. I've been there once before, to sit in the bird blinds and watch the spectacle of the Greater Prairie Chickens. This time, I'd see what else this area had to offer up.
As I pulled off the minimum maintenance road to wander down a trail in the middle of the prairie, a sense of near helplessness hit me. I haven't really been birding in so long, remembering most effective use of my binoculars came slowly. Listening for birds needed to be relearned. On top of all that, this is habitat that is so different from the wetland, forest/bluff and river habitats with which I'm so familiar. How do I look for these birds on this wide open landscape?
I assured myself that I'd find them, and reminded myself of my goal as a birder; not to see lots of birds, but to see the birds well. I started off doing just that, as a bird flew to a treetop and sang. Knowing it was some sort of sparrow, and thinking by the song it might be new to me, I spent close to 30 minutes with it, watching and photographing. My conclusion? A Song Sparrow with a varied song! So much for new birds, but maybe approaching every bird as if it's new yields rewards. Would I have spent so much time with it, had I realized right away it was "common?"
I managed to flush a Prairie Chicken as I walked slowly along the trail. Sandhill Cranes could be heard bugling all around me. Meadowlarks, too, including Western Meadowlarks. That was a new bird for me, but I couldn't find it to see it! I spent much time on that task, enjoying Savannahs and Grasshoppers singing as I searched. At last I did get a good look at a singing Western Meadowlark.
I wandered about the grasslands this way, eventually stopping to look at other places along the road. At my last stop, along one of the drainage ditches placed in the area, I was about ready to head home. Middle of the day, the birds are quiet. Something compelled me to keep on walking, though. Along the drainage ditch, a huge mound of dirt had been built up and overgrown, creating a long berm. I decided to see what I could see from that vantage point. Further down the ditch, a Sandhill Crane was feeding. There was a little bridge behind him, making for quaint pictures, so I continued to slowly advance, snapping with each stop.
As I closed to about a city block's distance, something along the banks caught my eye. Another crane stretched her neck out. His mate on her nest! I'd taken numerous photos with her in the frame, not even seeing her until she moved. I didn't move any closer once I realized she was on her nest, but enjoyed the chance to really observe.
Walking out to my car and heading home at last, I reflected on how relaxed and fulfilled I was feeling. It's been a long time away, and perhaps the lesson I've learned is that even if life throws us nasty curve balls, we need to find a way to make time for those things that feed our soul.
Why the nesting crane is so difficult to see