Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Passing It On

This week I've had the privilege to share my love for birds and birding with others on two different occasions. Once in the classroom and once in the field, a good reminder of the well-rounded nature of this hobby. The deeper I get into the world of birding, the more I want to share it with others. I've undoubtedly talked more openly about this hobby/obsession in the last year than ever before, and the response has been interesting. For some its contagious. I've had countless people tell me recently that they pay more attention to birds now than they ever have before because of how much I talk about them - I call that a win! There's even a student on campus who has set up a bird feeder outside his window, and watching his eyes light up as he described his first Eastern Towhee last week has been one of the highlights of my semester.

Of course, others just don't get it. They consistently roll their eyes or make funny faces when I share how I spent my weekend or day off, waiting for the day that I actually going to do something "productive" with my spare time. It hurts a little, not because I'm offended, but just because an appreciation for the natural world in general is on the decline, and I know the joys they're missing out on. Some people refuse to be enchanted.

So, when I was actually asked to come talk about my passion for birding, I couldn't help but jump at the chance!

Monday morning I had the opportunity to spend some time with Class 2 at Clapham School, where my wife works. They're currently doing a unit on birds and asked me to come talk with them about my love for birds and how I got into birding. This was a brilliant, adorable, and inquisitive little group with an impressive knowledge base and eagerness to ask great questions; they were truly a delight to be with.

Unfortunately, the weather prohibited us from getting to go on our scheduled field trip to Lincoln Marsh, so we're rescheduling for later in May. But we still had a productive time looking at field guides and talking through the finer points of bird identification. I was already in love with birds by the time I was their age, so I knew the looks of fascination on their faces as they paged through Sibley for the first time were genuine and full of wonder. They had been already working on the calls of common local birds, and when I quizzed them they were spot on! I got to see the skull of a rat that they extracted from an owl pellet recently - awesome. The class had also memorized a couple poems about birds and enthusiastically recited them for me at the end of our time together. I was thoroughly charmed! Here they are in their natural habitat, kindly welcoming an oversized visitor. Seriously, they're too cute. And now they're a little bit closer to getting hooked on birds.

Then this morning it was on to the bigger kids. Dan Haas teaches at Wheaton Graduate School, home schools his two sons Chris and Ben, and for some reason reads and enjoys my blog. And he's a good friend (not just because he reads my blog). I appreciate Dan because he easily sees beauty in the world, slows down enough to take things in, and has an entire blog devoted to the whimsical. We had been trying to figure out a time to go out together this year, and now that he's on a bird unit with Chris and Ben, we decided to make it happen.

So today before work, we headed to Elsen's Hill, one of my favorite local spots for migrants. And boy did we start out with a bang! At the first pond, there was a decent sized flock of mixed passerines, dominated by Yellow-rumps, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Dan stopped and pointed, asking what was flitting directly above us. I looked up to see a couple Yellow-rumps, then - woah! Cerulean Warbler!! The clean white underside combined with that brilliant blue back and distinct wing bars were unmistakable, but how could one already be around? I got a couple more glimpses of it and ended up seeing it from pretty much every angle, each one confirming that it was a Cerulean, I couldn't believe it! I wish I had managed a picture, but it was moving quickly and the dark, dreary conditions were not optimal for keeping up with little warblers. I still felt weird about having one in April (though it is the last day), so when I got home I was happy to see that someone had a Cerulean in Lake County a couple days ago, too.

The flock also included a Pine, several Palm, and my FOY Nashville Warbler. By the back pond, a Black-and-white and my first Blue-winged of the year sang out. A Prothonotary sang infrequently and actually lead me to a Northern Waterthrush skulking along the shore. Everything else was pretty normal and expected, and the conditions grew rainier the longer we stayed. All in all the birds were present, they just weren't very cooperative this morning. Still a solid outing my book though!

Thanks to those who let me come spend some time sharing one of my passions this week. I hope some are lucky enough to fall into the world of birding and never look back!

ABA 2014: 237

Illinois 2014: 215

DuPage, IL: 109