Sunday, February 12, 2017

Changes


Northern Cardinal

As the length of daylight increases, physiological changes begin to occur in birds. Perhaps during a recent morning walk you've noticed the increased vocalizations of Northern Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees. It's fascinating how seasonal song behavior is synchronized with the photoperiod. It's thought that the pineal gland helps convey photoperiodic information to the vocal control system of birds, which regulates song behavior. But the avian circadian clock system is even more complex than that.

Recognizing avian phenology is one of many enjoyable aspects about birding and being a birder. On birding listservs and social media groups, birders begin to announce these subtle behavioral queues as part of a trend of something more to come. Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Song Sparrows are among the first to return. One by one, new arrivals and enthusiastic missives accumulate and culminate into the unbridled joy that is the apex of spring migration.

Regardless of experience, birders of any level of expertise enjoy sharing their observations. In all of my other interests, hobbies, and pursuits, I've never found a more sharing group of people. Even if perfect strangers, when one group of birders encounters another in the field, a cordial exchange of sightings and information is virtually guaranteed.

Having said that, I do know that envy occasionally comes into play when a birder passes on an exceptional discovery, especially when its conveyed that the bird probably can't be re-found. Out of politeness, a birder will almost always respond “Oh, nice!” or “How lucky!” or “Cool!” But on the inside they're boiling with jealousy and thinking “Damn it, I want one!”

Even in the case of a stringer, skepticism is generally restrained, that is, until eBird reviewers get a hold of the report! There have been times I've been given absolutely absurd reports that prompted me to question the observation. I recall a verbal report of over a dozen Connecticut Warblers in one area along the creek corridor of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Well, they were Nashville Warblers and the birder took the suggestion with humility and gratitude.

However, there are situations when it's very likely someone made an incorrect field identification and humility is utterly absent. There really isn't much you can do. You can play the skeptic cop only so far and eventually you've got to let it go. Plus, in the scheme of things, does it really matter if someone wants to believe they found a Boreal Chickadee in southern Wisconsin? I mean, it's possible, right?

When it's a patch you frequent, like Pheasant Branch Conservancy for me, you want the data to be accurate. There can be a certain possessiveness about it. Having a new bird species for the conservancy list is exciting, just so long as it's legitimate. For example, there really was a Black-throated Gray Warbler at the conservancy several years ago that multiple birders got to see and photograph, and I missed it by mere minutes. I'm glad it's on the list, but I really wanted to see that bird. For as much time as I spend there, didn't I deserve it? No. Timing is everything.

Spring is just around the corner. But because it's Wisconsin, I'm sure we're good for another wintery blast or two from the arctic. As each week passes, we know whatever snow we do get probably won't last for very long. Though cold snaps can harm the neotropical insectivores of April and May, the birds of February and March are pretty hardy species. Do not fret for the robin in the snow!


American Robin

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

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