Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Fox and the Cold Front

 [Northern Waterthrush at Higbee Beach, Cape May, NJ this morning. Notice how the throat shows fine streaking up to the chin, one good mark to separate this bird from Louisiana Waterthrush. The small bill, eyestripe narrowing behind the eye, and yellowish wash below are all good for that, too. Click to enlarge photos.]

With almost no wind to speak of overnight, I figured Higbee Beach WMA, Cape May, NJ would have a few birds, but not many. That it was cool overnight, down to 50-something, inspired me to get up and give it a go. Northwest wind or not, cool nighttime temperatures inspire migration, and I strategized that a cool dawn would bring birds to the sunlit edges. Sometimes the slower days at Higbee are perversely better, in one sense, for birding - instead of the frantic movement and brief glimpses that characterize a super-busy morning, on days like today the birds seem to linger a bit, allowing better views.

Sure. As a law professor advised me once long ago, all reasoning is rationalization. If I want it to be a good day at Higbee, or anywhere, I'll find myself the reasons to make it so. It'll be like Aesop's the fox and the grapes next. The fox and the cold front, I didn't want one anyway. . .

Visions of Golden-winged Warbler danced in my head this morning, to no avail, but the first bird I got glass on in the pre-sunrise light was a bright Blue-winged Warbler. Then came a real highlight, a Mourning Warbler in the shrubby patch in the middle of the first field. A few this's and that's followed, but truly not much. My eBird list from the morning has 41 species on it, including 10 species of warblers, as follows:

Northern Waterthrush  4
Blue-winged Warbler  1
Black-and-white Warbler  2
Nashville Warbler  1
Mourning Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  8
American Redstart  4
Northern Parula  4
Magnolia Warbler  1
Yellow Warbler  1

27 individual warblers is not spectacular for 2.5 hours of looking, but not terrible. You get jaded by the big days, for example last Wednesday there were 800 American Redstarts in the first hour at Morning Flight at Higbee. 27 individual warblers was still worth getting up for. Here I go rationalizing again. The average warbler is what, a third of an ounce? So 9 ounces of warblers is what I saw this morning.

When is anything worth it? Was it worth an early wake-up on a blissful cool clear morning, and 2.5 hours of slow stalking for the birds I got? Worth missing a sleep-in? Hell, it's Roar to the Shore weekend, I could have been borrowing someone's Harley and rumbling into Wildwood instead of patrolling a quiet Higbee Beach WMA. I'm confident my rationalizing wouldn't convince the Roar crowd that the way I spend my Saturday morning was worth the time.

But you, dear reader, are not part of the Roar to the Shore crowd, I'm guessing. Or maybe you are, I have known a motorcyclist/birder or three.

Right. Higbee had some birds, and it was worth it.

Here's another thing I've been ruminating on: pictures. Or the lack thereof. This morning among these 41 species, 10 warblers, I managed photos of 3, count 'em, 3 species. They're the photos in this blog. Now maybe I'm not going to grab the camera for every bird I see, I've got a lot of catbird and redstart pictures for example, but how come I didn't photograph the Mourning Warbler or the Nashville or the Blue-winged? It's because I couldn't, that's why. Birds pop up, drop down, camera refuses to focus on them, it's too dark, operator error. . .and I'm still a birder who carries a camera, not a photographer who watches birds, which means when a bird pops up, it's the binoculars that come up first, not the camera. That's not good or bad, it's just how it is.

The fox and the photograph. . .

 [A Veery drawn to a native Arrowwood Viburnum's fruits, Higbee Beach today.]

[Look at that eyering, and yellow below, it's got to be a Nashville or even a Connecticut. . . except if it's a Magnolia Warbler instead.]

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