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My Life’s Birds: #369

January 20, 2010

May 21, 1995 – Christian Co, Mo – How lucky are North American birders, really, that we get to spend our springs and summers with a variety of colorful wood-warblers?  Though sadly few of us may make it to the actual honest-to-goodness tropics in our lives, may never view a trogon or a chlorophonia or any other of the technicolor birds for which the New World tropics are famous around the world, but every year we’re presented with a small taste, a fraction of the bounty found there, viewed from the comfort of our local patch or backyard.  To get a sense of how bizarre this situation is, look at our colleagues over in the Eastern Hemisphere.  At approximately the same latitude that hosts singing Cape May Warblers or Yellow-breasted Chats they have a multitude of subtly plumaged thrushes and a brown-backed, eye-lined myriad that they call “Warblers”.  Not that they don’t provide Old World birders with the same joy as our birds and not that we don’t have our fair share of browny gray birds too, but again, and this can’t be overstated, how lucky are we?

I mean, that we expect their annual return such that it hardly seems odd for us Western Hemisphere types that a bird as knee-bucklingly beautiful as, for instance, a Blackburnian Warbler would be so accessible, downright common even, is mind-blowing once you step outside of your expectations as a North American birder.  If we did not make our acquaintence with the Blackburnian Warbler every year, if we didn’t become familiar with its stunning halloweeny color scheme and orange beyond orange throat, it would be the stuff of legend.  It would grace, in full-page glossy glory, the cover of bird tour guide catalogs offering trips to its remote breeding grounds.  People would speak of Blackburnian Warblers in hushed tones the way they now speak about Resplendent Quetzals and Paradise Tanagers and Ornate Hawk-Eagles.  As a bird that makes a destination.

That such a stunning bird can be considered so mundane means that birders new to the craft can partake of something that seems truly other-worldy.  That it can be found in their local nature park every spring means that accessibility can lead to serendipitous discovery, leading down a path that opens up in an entire world for a novice birder, one just beyond their door.   Which leads to concern and conservation and good things for birds.

So really, how lucky can we be?

photo by gavatron via flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

  1. January 20, 2010 10:17 am

    I agree wholeheartedly. I saw my first Blackburnian the way I have seen most of my warblers, at High Island last spring. You know how you look at some birds and stop getting excited after the umpteenth bird? Didn’t happen last spring. Every time I saw one, I would get the camera and keep on shooting.

    No good story about your first one? BTW I really like these entries about your lifebirds.

  2. Nate permalink*
    January 20, 2010 10:35 am

    @DDolan- Thanks! I don’t really have a great story about my first Blackburnian. My notes say I saw it in the backyard of the old Linden house my family lived in when I was young, I birded back there quite a bit. But sadly I don’t have a strong enough memory of it to turn into that kind of post so I considered a meditation on the bird itself.

    I have much better memories of the bird since then, it’s probably my favorite warbler. I always really enjoy seeing them.

  3. January 20, 2010 11:20 am

    I love that the bird is named after someone named Blackburn but that the name still fits because that orange is like fire.

  4. January 20, 2010 11:36 am

    Amen to that! Please send a Blackburnian Warbler toward Idaho!

  5. Nate permalink*
    January 20, 2010 8:34 pm

    @Corey- That’s really cool. I never thought about it that way.

    @Robert- How bout I trade you for a Townsend’s Warbler. 🙂

  6. January 21, 2010 7:04 pm

    Always enjoy these posts….
    one of my fav. warblers…

  7. January 22, 2010 10:07 am

    Absolutely true! Indeed, how lucky. (Though I’m a tad jealous that they only pass through here. Always in a hurry to go someplace…)

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