Monday, May 13, 2013

The world is alive at 6:30 am

I don't make the best birder because I have a hard time waking up at 4:30am when most of my birding friends set out for the morning. When my colleague told me his work day began at 5:45am everyday, I sheepishly asked if it was even light at that time. "Yes, it's perfectly light and the rest of the world is awake except for you...." This morning I was at my birding location at 6am, and the sun was barely up. Blue gray gnatcatchers called from the canopy, but the bird world was not awake at that time, so I kept drinking coffee in the parking lot.

As the morning progressed, the birds came to life. Birdsong started with the gnatcatchers, then the Eastern wood pewees began, the Nashville warblers, the Northern parulas, and an entire cacophony of bird song that represented what seemed like 5,000 birds in a very localized area. The sun streamed through to the woodland floor riddled in thick stands of Camassia scillioides which has come on like proverbial gangbusters in the often burned woods, and the glade flora was backlit with the creamy morning sun. If I'm prudent enough the night beforehand to be asleep by 10pm, I can be in the woods by 6am, but I now require 7 hours of solid sleep to function properly, so late nights working and early morning birding are incoincident with one another.

The early morning clouds finally burned off by 7am and the sun availed itself to us in order that we could have perfect views of summer tanagers on exposed limbs of old growth post oaks. As my colleague's 5 year old son says, "they're cardinals without the mohawk." I promised folks in my group that we would hear prairie warblers and field sparrows in the woods, and as though on cue, a prairie warbler called with its buzzy trill followed by the more deliberate trill of the field sparrow. I was reminded of my Peterson's Eastern Birds cd wherein the author groups similar sounding birds together. Catbirds and mockingbirds are grouped together, ovenbird and Carolina wren are together, and a whole suite of buzzy little warblers are clumped into a section called "Trillers and Buzzers."

Migration is such an incredible time in Missouri. On Saturday I saw a gray cheeked thrush right next to a Nashville warbler as two Eastern kingbirds flitted to my left. Word from the World Bird Sanctuary is that they have banded record numbers of Nashville and Tennessee warblers this spring, huge numbers of warblers in the state right now. It's always well worth it to wake up early before the world is alive to hear birdsong at daybreak, but for me it takes a little planning the night before.

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