Lost Birds

With some spare time before classes, I headed out into the woods for a quick survey of the South Crum. Having gone on walks exclusively in the mostly quiet afternoons, I’d almost forgotten what it was like to go birding in the mornings, and the riot of birdsong and the crisp air was absolutely exhilarating. I’ve heard it said that birding gives the same sort of spiritual emotion as writing poetry or hearing great music, and I can totally believe that. Those pale, bookish English majors don’t know what they’re missing.

I also had a new piece of equipment with me – a hat! I used to absolutely despise hats; I thought I looked incredibly stupid with them on. Recently I realized that I look pretty stupid anyways. So it couldn’t hurt to wear one just for the sun-blocking and contrast-enhancing qualities. We’ll give it a shot.

As great as the morning was however, I couldn’t find any particularly exciting birds. Though in the past I’ve seen some great birds in the South Crum, such as Redstarts, Orioles, and Wood Ducks, it’s simply not measuring up to the great diversity that I’ve been able to find in the Wister Forest. The Crum Meadow and the floodplain forest around Skunk Cabbage Hollow seem to have the potential for some great birds, including some like Indigo Bunting and Orchard Oriole that I wouldn’t expect to find in the Wister. But that potential has always been frustrating for me, as I always find many common birds in the South Crum, but few of the exciting neotropical migrants that give me a rush of adrenaline every time I’m in the depths of the Wister Forest. Crum Meadow is the most unique habitat available in the woods, yet that unique habitat doesn’t seem to bring a unique species distribution along with it. I almost wonder if I’m wasting precious morning hours in the South Crum, when those hours could be spent chasing exciting warblers and vireos elsewhere.

Indigo Bunting, a perfect bird for the meadows and floodplains of the South Crum, yet never found. Photo by Bill Schmoker.

Janet Williams’ original route truly puzzles me now, as very little of her route has proved to be particularly productive for me. Is this because of changes in the Crum itself over the years? Was it simply a convenient route for the group? I’m amazed that over 100 species could be found along such a route, especially birds such as Gray-cheeked Thrush that would seem to prefer the undisturbed forest of the Wister to the landscaped ampitheater area or traffic-heavy meadow, and even then have eluded my excursions so far. Janet Williams must’ve been an incredible birder. Hats off to her.

Most of the maples, tulip poplars, and other early leafers are almost fully leafed out now, with the numerous oaks and beeches to hopefully follow soon.

  • 1 Wood Thrush – Upper Wister Draw this morning, in a quick stop before class. Probably an early arrival who isn’t singing yet.
  • 4 Chimney Swift – first heard, then seen wheeling above Sharples at dusk. The DVOC checklist says that this is extremely early for them, but not unlikely. I have some doubts that my sighting was accurate, they could easily have been swallows, but I did hear their characteristic twittering, and the flight style seemed consistent. This is why I really need to have binoculars with me 24/7.
  • 1 Ring-billed Gull – lone bird flying over the athletic fields in the rain. Possibly the most puzzling aspect of the 1992 checklist is how these were ‘common’ in the Crum. Where’s the habitat for them? This was obviously just a transient bird, and such an occurence can’t be considered ‘common’.
  • 2 Mourning Dove – building a nest near the railroad bridge

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