Magnolia Warbler

As the country contends with an epidemic, there will be vexing disappointments and many curtailed social gatherings. Travel to far away places is discouraged, if not impossible, luxury cruise liners are docked, and many anticipated sporting events have been cancelled. The thought of being isolated or quarantined can be disquieting, but such a time without the ubiquitous distractions of the secular world can afford one opportunities for more contemplative activities and hobbies to pursue at home. And, to quote Mr. Browning, it is most fortuitous that “the year is at spring, and the lark’s on the wing,” and it is an opportune time for bird watching. Spring migration is underway, and this annual wonder of nature can be witnessed in one’s own backyard.

Neo-tropical migratory birds that winter in the tropics, Central America and South America, will be winging their way through the area for the next few weeks. Some of these birds will choose to stay, build a nest, and raise their young in the Magnolia State, but many will be just passing through on their way to more northern climes. If one’s backyard is hospitable, these birds will stop to refuel. The migratory journey is an arduous one, and a garden can be a much-needed safe haven for these weary travelers.

Springtime migration is also a wonderful time to see and identify birds, especially warblers that are only transitory. During migration in the fall, many of the warblers have subdued plumage and are more difficult to identify. (In Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide, he refers to them as “those confusing fall warblers.”) However, in the spring, these warblers will be sporting colorful feathers and characteristics, which make identification much simpler. These lively warblers can be found in the treetops flitting from branch to branch. The only essentials required for bird watching are a decent pair of binoculars, a reputable field guide, patience, and practice.

When it comes to binoculars, buy the best you can afford. Some binoculars are rather pricey, but now days, even the median-priced binoculars offer remarkable quality. A good pair of binoculars will open your eyes to the beauty and amazing features of birds that one would never see with the naked eye.

There are many good field guides, but the Earth Lady recommends, The Sibley Field Guide, The Peterson Field Guide, or National Geographic’s Complete Birds. All of these field guides have illustrations, which are really better for identification purposes than photographs, and the artwork in these books is really quite stunning.

Of course, there are birding Apps, but technology in the field can be a distraction. To hone one’s skills of observation takes time and practice.

Almost all field guides come with maps, which identify the range of each particular bird. The color-coded maps show the seasonal occurrence of birds throughout the area. For example, after correctly identifying a Magnolia Warbler and consulting one’s field guide, a Mississippi bird watcher learns that this lovely little warbler, in spite of its name, will not be nesting in the Magnolia State but is on its way to the Boreal Forests of the Far North.

Being homebound does not have to breed ennui. There are letters to write, and there are books to read. (How long has “War and Peace” been sitting on the shelf?) And outside awaits the magical migration of birds that has been going on since birds first took wing. This annual spring journey of our avian friends is fraught with peril, but in spite of adversity, the odyssey is filled with beauty, birdsong, and inspiration. Bird watching is a compelling, life-long hobby that will bring you many hours of joy and give solace in troubled times.

THE EARTH LADY by Margaret Gratz appears once a month in the Daily Journal.

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