American Robin sings in the sun. (Margo Hearne photo)

On the Wing: Pocket Birding and Being Insignificant

by Margo Hearne

We are letting the sunshine in. It’s been lovely for a day or so after the rain. Changeable weather can bring the birds down from the sky so we did a little ‘pocket birding’ in spots where songbirds might congregate. Of course, they have such a large territory to hide on island that there is no place in particular to go to find them. It’s usually a matter of luck and timing. In one patch of shelter, a group of Dark-eyed Juncos flitted low through the spruce. Then a few Orange-crowned Warblers appeared, some Lincoln’s Sparrows and a few chickadees. There they were, and there they were not. Had we been in that particular place a few minutes earlier or later we wouldn’t have seen them at all. That’s the thing about birds, they do what they like, go where they like and don’t give a darn about how we feel about it. It’s so liberating not to be in charge of anything.

A recent book by Kyo Mclear “Birds Art Life” (Anchor Canada 2017) landed in the house recently. A gift from Peter. The author decided to learn about birds following a family illness that ‘unmoored me and remained the subtext of my days.’ A chapter entitled ‘love’ was ‘on falling in love with birds and discovering other lessons in insignificance.’ She contacted a birder and arranged to meet him for a bird walk. He told her that he took up birding to get him out of his studio and out of his head. “I wanted to be admired,” he said. “I wanted to be significant! I wallowed in a real sense of insecurity most of the time. Now I spend hours trying to spot tiny distant creatures that don’t give a s..t if I see them or not. I spend most of my time loving something that won’t ever love me back. Talk about a lesson in insignificance.” Her birder friend had managed to separate himself from the competitive world and from the imperative to feel tragic about things, but otherwise he was still a familiar duck who lived in the world like the rest of us. So, she wandered the paths with him to learn what she could from birds about life.

In another distant pocket we found another group of birds. Townsend’s Warblers, robins, chickadees, other things. Again, we had about a three-minute break and the conditions were perfect. Calm, cool, sunny; some bush, some open areas. The birds fed busily and kept flitting through the brush and there was hardly a second when they were motionless enough for us to even see them. Warblers do that on migration. They land quickly, fill their tiny bodies with nutrients and keep going. They don’t have time to waste, there’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk on the wing; the weather’s going to change. It did. The wind rose, the leaves shook and the birds left.

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