Well, this is an article that has been written and rewritten three times since the beginning of March when all this started. How easy it is in these trying times to have a long list of “things to do” and not get to them. Hours flow into days, days flow into weeks, and weeks flow into months. Junk drawers to sort, closets to clean, years of old photographs to organize…oh, maybe tomorrow.
Our therapy has been birdwatching – a soothing and fantastic pastime that you can do alone! As Ed and I stayed close to home since early March when all this started, we’ve spent endless hours walking and hiking. We’ve made it a game to see how many bird species we can identify.
Ed challenged himself to see how many species he could photograph. He’s up to 171 now with a Swallow-tailed Kite, a nice companion to the Mississippi Kite we saw in May. He calls it the 2020 Pandemic Birdathon! Considering I recorded 182 species on eBird during this time, not bad for my hubby the photographer!
Early March was pretty scary. Local parks in our town closed and we couldn’t go for walks. So, we found places near home with few people and out of the way trails. Some early discoveries were following the progress of a breeding Osprey pair, being thrilled when a Broad-winged Hawk circled overhead, and being patient to not just hear but to find and photograph the elusive vireos.
Another destination was country roads with cattle ponds that are an eBird hotspot and magnets for migrating shorebirds, totally without people! A special visitor was a rare Wilson’s Phalarope that gave us great looks. Bobolink were spectacular in the spring flowers. And who would have guessed we’d see a Snowy Egret and Cattle Egret, so common at Seabrook, in the GA pastures! It was like a box of chocolates each time – we never knew what treat we would get.
With all the traveling we’ve done through the years to bird and photograph, we’ve not stayed put long enough to really appreciate our feeders. We border a Corps of Engineers property, and the variety of migrating and breeding birds was a wonder. Brown Thrashers and Gray Catbirds were daily visitors to the feeders, and nested in the woods along with an elusive Wood Thrush we discovered. Scarlet Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers graced our trees.
Our favorites to the feeders were the migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. In April we started with two, and grew to ten!!! They came consistently for over three weeks!! We photographed as many as eight at one time, but we know there were at least ten by their different plumages. They waited patiently for us on the deck at 6:45 each morning to put out the feeders. We became good friends with these striking birds, and were sad when they decided to fly north to breed.
Searching for migrating warblers was like a scavenger hunt, and we found 23 total from March to June. These are always a challenge for Ed to photograph – they don’t sit up and pose. Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky, Worm-eating were some favorites. We found Cape May and Blackpoll Warblers in our backyard, have these always been here? AND… an ever-elusive life bird for us both, the Connecticut Warbler found by a birder in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta!! Whaaaatttt??? We made tracks immediately to the city!
There’s a theme in this article about taking more time, being patient and really absorbing the nature around us on our walks. We’ve heard friends say that this is a positive of the pandemic. In May and June we carefully hunted for nests -Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers with chicks were treats. And while we were out there, we began to photograph and identify spring and summer wildflowers – an interesting challenge too. PlantNet and iNaturalist Apps will identify things for you from a photograph on your phone.
So that is our story during this unsettling time. Solace in our birds and the beauty of nature.
To view Ed’s photos of our 2020 Pandemic Birdathon, click or cut and paste to your browser this URL for Ed’s Flickr page. The 171 species are on pages 1 and 2 of the “Photostream” homepage, and also in the first Album.
Article by Aija Konrad, Photos by Ed Konrad