It is official. I am a birder.

I know this, because I got up at 5:30 in the freakin’ morning to go look at birds. This was a great sacrifice to a woman who moves like a winterbound bear before 9 AM, made cruel by the fact that the park, despite several signs to the contrary, did not open until 8:00 AM. While grumbling about this, and surfing the net, I found a local park that opens at dawn, which I will check out next time I decide to get up at an unholy hour.

So at 7:55 sharp, I rolled into Lake Crabtree, binoculars and two crappy guidebooks at the ready (and if anybody’s looking for what to get me for Christmas, I could REALLY use either a Sibley or Peterson guide–this “Golden Field Guide” I got for 2 bucks is death.) along with a print-out of birds oft seen in the area, and a pencil.

And lord, it was cool.

I had been there for all of ten minutes, boggling over the sparrows (I was hoping to at least identify a swamp sparrow, but failed to do so with enough accuracy to count one) when caw-caw-caw, and I turned to watch a cavalcade of crows harass a red-tailed hawk into the trees. The crows let off, and the blue jays zoomed in like tiny little fighters harassing a dreadnought. The hawk perched grimly, (long enough, however, to make an ID!) with the jays astoundingly close and apparently fearless, before making his way through the trees, accompanied by a shrieking swirl of corvids.

Spotted a Generic Female Duck of indeterminate species, and a number of great grey herons looking monsterous and Zen. Watched a kildeer come in for a landing among a bunch of unimpressed starlings. More kildeer soon joined it. Finally made an ID of the small frantic birds hopping around all the bushes–ruby-crowned kinglets! (No ruby crowns in evidence.) I know I’ve seen ’em before, but was never sure what they were. Now there’s a bouncy little bird. Lots of Carolina wrens, lots of goldfinches, and as soon as the hawk had passed, the ground came alive with slate-sided juncoes. (Been wondering when they’d return to my yard.) Another eastern towhee, which also visit my yard occasionally.

And the sapsuckers. To think I agonized over the ID of my first sapsucker. I should just have come back two days later. The guide book says it’s shy, retiring and easily overlooked. Evidentally nobody informed the sapsuckers of this. I saw at least half a dozen, two of which fought a pitched battle over who got to sit on a particular chunk of trunk. They were EVERYWHERE. I saw more sapsuckers than mockingbirds. There was a whole wall of trees alive with birds of all varieties, including the sapsuckers. If I could bird by ear, I’d probably have marked a lot more–there were all sorts of weird calls I’ve never heard before. As it is, I still saw incredible numbers.

Saw three mystery birds, and have successfully identified two, since this time I learned my lesson and scrawled down notes of every field mark I could identify. One was an Eastern Phoebe, a lifer for me, who perched on top of a small tree and sat there, practically screaming “Identify me, world!” The other was a delightful tiny little bird, who was upside down at least half the time, in top of a pine tree, with a black head stripe and a shocking lemon-yellow crown. I would probably have spent an hour agonizing over the warblers, but when looking up the ruby-crowned kinglet, there it was–a female golden crowned kinglet! The guide has no mention of them hanging out upside down, so I don’t know whether that’s a common behavior, or whether the bird was just in a weird mood today. It didn’t really seem like “I’m adapted to be upside down!” like a nuthatch, more like “I am so tiny and lightweight, gravity does not bother me!”

The third mystery bird is so far unidentified–it perched on a tall plume of grass, had a black cap, paler cheeks, grey back, and dark tail with white underside. At first I thought the breast was white, but when it flew overhead, it became obvious it was a lemony pale yellow, almost green, and dark marks from back and sides stood out very sharply against it. No eye ring. There’s a lot of things it could be, but without a better look, I’m not able to call it one way or the other.

So at the end of the day, three lifers–two kinglets and the phoebe–and a confirmation on the tentative sapsucker sighting. Also three blisters and a knee stiffened into a block of wood, but that’s not that important.

The really astonishing thing? By 9:45, when I left, it had died down dramatically. At 8:00, the hills were alive with the sounds, etc, it went strong for a good hour and some change, but then it really slowed down. Obviously you have to go birding as early as humanly possible if you want to see birds.

The fact that I am willing to contemplate getting up before dawn AGAIN scares me.

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