You Could Look (It) Up

peck's skippermagnolia warbler
I think I might just be relieved that the warbler season is coming to a close. My neck is worn out from looking way up into the tops of the trees. Bird-watchers or, birders for those in the know, work themselves into a frenzy each spring during migration to see these little birds as they pass through. When you do see one, the attraction becomes clear, since they are generally very pretty and have appealing mannerisms to boot. Warblers tend to be yellow, or yellow in combination with other colors. But there are other hues as well, and really quite a wide number of variations. Coupled with the fact that these birds tend to be about three inches long, they present an identification challenge to even sophisticated birder-types. Once your birding appetite is whetted, you can’t get enough of them. black-throated blue warbler

You can always tell if there is a warbler above if you see a group of people with binoculars (funny hats seem to go with this picture too, but that’s another story) looking straight up over head with their necks arched back as far as they will go. Since the target (the warbler) is prancing from branch to branch like the bouncing ball on televised lyrics, there is usually also some shouting to the effect of “I have it at three o’clock, no, it’s behind the branch sticking out from the left near the maples on the right”. As a rule, there are at least three or four people in the group shouting out similar hints. The warbler has spent the night flying through the dark and only a short while ago landed for some food and a break. He is in no mood to take the mooks down on the ground seriously, so he just goes on eating and popping around for all he’s worth. It’s great, good fun. Seriously.

Birders will sometimes stare into the trees like this, shouting, for a long, long time. Having done this many times myself I can tell you it’s rough on your arms. Though after the blood completely drains out of your hands it gets easier. But as far as I know, there is nothing you can do to mitigate the blinding pain you get from staring straight above yourself with your head resting between your shoulder blades for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Over the course of a morning’s birding, you may do it countless times. To be honest, every time is completely worth it, except maybe the last fifteen or twenty. At that point, were there a heavenly delegation straight from the Lord hovering above me, I might be tempted just to hang my head and reach for the Advil.

common yellowthroatBut it’s an addiction. Birds grab you that way and they don’t let go. Before you know it, you’re buying the funny hat and your shelf is full of birding books. And there’s more. Once the migration has trickled away and the resident nesting birds are raising young, suddenly butterflies start flitting around everywhere. Birders who know their resident birds don’t spend much time hunting them down during the summer, but they still have a pricey pair of binoculars. Butterflies are beautiful, winged and fun to chase around. They’re outdoors. What could be better for the grounded birder?

Hill-Stead is a terrific butterflying location. Just ask the Connecticut Butterfly common ringletAssociation, who are coming out to do a walk here in July. Only yesterday on a short walk I counted Little Wood Satyr, Common Ringlet, Long Dash, Peck’s Skipper, Tiger Swallowtail, Pearl Crescent and Cabbage White. Earlier in the season were Mourning Cloaks and Tortoiseshells. As the weather progresses and different plants come out, the butterfly selection grows.pearl crescent Again, you’re going to need a bunch of books, because these guys are small and sometimes the distinguishing marks are a little obscure. Not unlike warblers, just smaller. If you are like me, you’ll sometimes have to settle for enjoying their lovely colors. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll have a nice walk outside among wildflowers. And you can always set yourself down in the meadow and pour through your butterfly book in the sunshine and see if you can learn a new one. You can also join us on July 11 at 10 am for the butterfly walk. Personally, I can’t wait. And butterflies are so much easier on the neck.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist

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2 Responses to “You Could Look (It) Up”

  1. Junjie Says:

    Great introduction to the world of bird-watching. You’ve got me curious now, but also given me enough warning of my fate should I ever get TOO curious! 🙂

    • hillsteadnatureblog Says:

      Terrific! Birding is such a satisfying pastime. I’ve been at it since I was seven or eight and it is still interesting and relaxing for me. Cheers! Diane Tucker

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