Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Easiest Way To Bird

Glossy Ibis Flying Over Morris Arboretum. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

The easiest way to bird, and to see unusual birds, is to arrive somewhere, state that such and such a rare bird might be around and then find it. Of course this method is not guaranteed to work all of the time, or even most of the time. But it's nice when it does.

When Jerene and I arrived at the wetlands of Morris Arboretum on Sunday we saw a very high soaring bird. It turned out to be a Great Blue Heron, not an unusual bird for the wetlands. But it reminded me that someone had recently reported seeing some Glossy Ibis in Pennsylvania. So I said to Jerene that we should keep our eye out for them.

We've never seen them in flight here but they are a common sight in Cape May, NJ this time of year. We've seen a lot of flyovers over the wetlands. I'm not sure if this is because it's just a large open space, with plenty of room to see what's above you, whether it's due to the appeal of the pond, or perhaps something else. Morris is very close to the hawk watch at Militia Hill in Fort Washington State Park. Perhaps it's just a particular flyway. In any case it made me think that a Glossy Ibis was a possibility, though a rare one.

Soon after we saw the Great Blue we ran into some birders and I repeated the idea that we'd never seen a Glossy Ibis there. But it didn't seem unreasonable. Less than an hour later, while I was trying to find what I thought was a singing Yellow Warbler Jerene said 'I think that's a Glossy Ibis.' Sure enough very high above us, but still clear enough to see, was a Glossy Ibis.

I tried to get some photos but found it very difficult to focus at such a distance. Still I did get one that was good enough to serve as the model for the small watercolor study above.

The second easiest way to bird, and one that is a bit more reliable, is to just sit still, perhaps start talking to someone or sit down and just look around. That was the case yesterday at Carpenter's Woods. As I talked to someone about local birding and other things first my first of year Black and White Warbler appeared nearby and then my first of year Yellow Warbler appeared. The Yellow Warbler also solved a mystery. Earlier I'd seen a strikingly yellow bird high in the canopy. I was sure it was a warbler but I couldn't figure out which one. The visual clues didn't add up to a specific species. Once we saw the Yellow Warbler I was pretty sure that's what it was, even though it was far higher than I'm used to seeing them. When I got home a distant photo confirmed it.

Numerous times I've seen late fall Ospreys, a fairly unusual bird, fly by while I was talking to someone along Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon. The best look we've ever had at a Golden-winged Warbler occurred as we sat and had lunch on a log near a Witch Hazel at the Pocono Environmental Education Center.

Many birders know this but it often looks like few practice it. But we continue to practice and enjoy the Sit Still method of birding.

Because it's such a busy time of year, between newly arriving birds, newly flowering wild flowers and a garden that needs planting I'm not doing much art now. But inspiration is accumulating every day. Eventually it will appear in my art.

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