If you weren't aware before, we weren't really hard-core birders when the year started. Sure, we were casual birders, but nothing like we are now. I know I've always kept a house list with my myriad of feeders, and I had been in a lab with real ornithologists (I worked on beetles) for about 12 years, but I hadn't really gone out and been a birder.
That all has changed.
I can't speak for Paul, but in reality, all it took was going out consistently birding and every week it seemed I was at least twice as good as I was the week before. It happened slowly, but for the first couple of months I was gaining in my birding ability and, most importantly, comfort in birding and being around other birders. But migration was approaching and I was dreading the influx of warblers.
How silly is that? Dreading having to figure out the warblers? Seriously? It just seemed intimidating, but I went out and soon I had to deal with the warblers.
And I loved every minute of it.
It was those special days in April and May when I would go out and the woods would be alive with birds that made me understand it all. I would walk through the woods and I felt like my eyes would burst with tears from all the beauty, all the wonder of nature. I felt alive, I felt aware, and I felt a little sad that I hadn't been doing this my whole life. There was no dread of warblers anymore, but instead there was joy and thrill at trying to find them. I had been birding since the beginning of the year, but warblers made me feel like I was a Birder.
That isn't a trite thing either. Sure, people like to watch for soaring hawks. Sure, people like to watch ducks in their scopes. But it just feels like what makes a birder a birder is the warblers. They are challenging, but with a little study and practice they are conquerable. They are variable and beautiful and there are lots of them. They can be figured out by sight or by sound, so if you are weak in bird songs you can still revel in the thrill of the chase just as much as those who are listening for them.
They are birds that are the secret passwords to let others know you are also a birder. If it is migration time and you ask someone if they've seen something good, all they have to do is answer their warblers and you know you are around your people (though, unfortunately, most people will answer something about Great Blue Herons).
Warblers are wonderful, and since it is unlikely we will see any more in the winter, let's take a look at how Paul and I did with our warbler counts this year!
I'm sure in future years we will laugh at our lowish warbler count, but I think we did pretty well for a first year of birding.
Warblers that both Paul and Damon have seen:
-Black-throated Blue Warbler
-Black-throated Green Warbler
Warblers that only Paul has seen:
-Cape May Warbler
Warblers that only Damon has seen:
It is an interesting list, and I'm glad there is a broad overlap between the two lists. Let's try to analyze the ones that one of us missed. I missed the Nashville and Cape May, and Nashville Warblers do breed around Paul and Cape May Warblers not far north of him, so if I didn't get them during migration I wasn't going to get them at all.
For the ones that Paul didn't get, the Blue-winged, Prairie, Yellow-throated, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Yellow-breasted Chat are more southern birds that never get up to where Paul lives, so he has that disadvantage. The Connecticut Warbler usually doesn't pass through either of our areas (mine was a fluke, and it must have been a region-wide one because there were reports of them scattered around that week or so), and while the Orange-crowned usually hits both of us only in migration, I saw one that appears to be a resident down in Cape May. There really is no excuse for Paul not getting an Ovenbird, though.
Finally, let's look at "Fall gets" for both of us. These are birds that we missed in the spring migration, but got on their way south. Fall birding is interesting because there is a sense of desperation, because if you missed them in spring then this is your last chance.
Paul's Fall Gets: Nashville, Cape May, Bay-breasted, Black-throated Blue.
Damon's Fall Gets: Chestnut-sided, Connecticut, Orange-crowned
Interestingly, Paul's include numbers 1 and 2 in my Warblers: Ranked list. I just can't believe I didn't see a Chestnut-sided in spring. I can't believe I didn't see a Hooded or Prothonotary at all. Shameful!