Friday, November 30, 2012

Your Friendly Neighborhood Conifer Stand

This fall and winter has been jam-packed with irruptions of almost every sought after bird for this time of year. We've had insurgences of Red-breasted Nuthatches, incursions of Crossbills of all types, and invasions of Evening and Pine Grosbeaks. Even Hoary Redpolls are in greater-than-average abundance.

Red Crossbill Sightings Since October. Orange pins are sightings from within 30 days of today (11/30)

Not only have the birds been in a frenzy, but birders have been flocking together and sharing some great information about the birds irrupting, like a post made on eBird about Red Crossbill types by one of America's foremost crossbill-type experts, Cornell's Matt Young. Whatever the reasons for the irruptions, birders are maintaining a steady stream of sightings to keep one ever informed. Good starting places for the sightings are the American Birding Association's new Birding News site, which is a compilation of numerous birding listservs from every state and even out of the U.S. Another good starting place is eBird's Range Maps, which you can use to construct maps like the one I made above and to check recent sightings.

But once you've done this, the only thing left to do is to go out and FIND THE BIRDS, and to do this, you need your handy neighborhood conifer stand. This is where you'll find some of those gorgeous little rarities from the North. Some days, conifer stands can be bursting with avian life. Picture this: The sun is shining, with very little wind, and a chorus of bird vocalizations and wing-sounds chokes out even the sound of your footsteps. You're in heaven. Like in a gorgeous winter version of the ebullience of picking through a flock of Springtime warblers, you sift through the flock in your lenses, seeing colors of blue, pale green, yellow, brown, pulsing along the rippling, ever-present deep-green consistency of their evergreen backdrop. It's beautiful. Forgetting the addition of whatever species to whatever list, you stand in awe of the exceptional event that is occurring around you: the convergence of the annual cycles of emblematic arctic animations--but no alliteration can capture the power of what's really happening. These little, feathered organisms have wandered in groups for thousands of years, and only here and there in these long-scale cycles, they all come together just because their very survival happens to depend on it. You are there for one of them, and might never witness it again. These are the kinds of blessings that birders, naturalists, and scientists alike crave for; they foster learning, curiosity, and a connection with the living world around you. It really doesn't get much better than that, folks.

My friendly neighborhood conifer stand
But today was not that day for me. It's true that all places can be alive with birdlife, or totally "dead", as we birders like to put it, but for some reason, conifer stands seem the more dead than anywhere else when they don't harbor any avifauna. I think it's the oppressive (or sometimes relieving) silence they force that only the wind manages to defy here and there. When you come upon a conifer stand that's totally devoid of life other than the statue-like trees themselves, it makes one feel like life will never return again. But persist, my friend. The birds will return. Enthusiasts have been finding Pine Grosbeaks, Red Crossbills, and White-winged Crossbills in their neighborhood conifer stands with both frequency and consistency, so you never know which boreal nomads you'll come across.

Remember, it just takes getting out there to discover something!

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