Thursday, February 7, 2008

I and the Bird #68 - Winter Doldrum Edition

Welcome to the 68th Edition of I and the Bird! That is, if your flight over here wasn't delayed by "inclement weather" - the polite euphemism we use for blinding snow squalls. It is the deep of winter, folks, and that means radical changes in the way we interact with our feathered friends.

Gone are the days when 20+ species of warbler dripped from the trees. Sheets of snow and ice have blanketed the mudflats that once held hundreds of migrating shorebirds. You can spend hours slogging through snowy trails while barely hearing a single chip note.

This winter birding, or lack of it, can really get you down. Do you yearn for the spring to come? Do you grieve for the birds of summers past? The winter doldrums affect everyone differently. Let's see how they affect the birders on the blogosphere.


Birders are full of denial in the dead of winter, and will go to endless lengths to forget about the cold imposing winter around them.

Some, like Eva at The Flying Mullet go In Search of a Booby, and find one: "I paid the 50 cent fee and proceeded out on the pier. There were Rock Pigeons and Boat-tailed Grackles all around. At the end of the pier was my booby!". Unfortunately, chaos theory has yet to prove that tropical seabirds flapping in Florida can change the weather in New York.

Other birders, like Amila at Gallicissa, don't have to chase tropical vagrants, because they live in the tropics. In Birding with Malcolm and Duan, Amila gets out for a thorough birding trip in Sri Lanka. He's clearly just avoiding the New York winter.

Nowhere is denial more apparent than in Rick of Aimophila Adventures. His post, Mock Spring and an AZ BTB, describes his desperate attempt to turn an Arizona winter into a midwestern spring: complete with finding his first Arizona Black-throated Blue Warbler.

In another fit of denial, Charlie of 10,000 Birds abandons his homeland in the UK for supposedly sunnier grounds in California in Following in Corey's tyre tracks. Guess what he finds in California?
As utterly beautiful as the drive to Idyllwild was - and as startlingly bright and sunny once the clouds cleared - I have to say right now that from a birding point-of-view the next few hours were a touch disappointing. I spent most of the morning gripping the steering-wheel like my life depended on it (perhaps it did) which I’m sure didn’t help, and seeing vehicles coming back down the hill covered in so much snow that they looked like mobile snowdrifts did little for my confidence.
At least he did end up seeing good birds - check out the rest of his trip.

Then there are the birders who take their denial in another direction. They relax inside next to the warm fireplace, and ruminate on the latest ornithological findings.

Drew at The Nemesis Bird talks about varying female mate choice in Lark Buntings in The fickle females of the bird world.

Gavan from Gavan Central (Gavan) dreams of summer when he asks, Do birds get sunburn? The answer is far more complex than you might think.

When I am in full-blown winter doldrum denial, I have an outlet. I dive into the Cornell Museum of Vertebrates collections, and visit the wonders of the bird world via round skin with my Ornithology class. Along the way I hope I convey there are useful birding lessons in my Molt and Plumage Lab.


Nathan of The Drinking Bird in North Carolina doesn't deny that winter is in full swing. Tempers are short, however, and when he can't take anymore of the Scott's Oriole being seen by so many in NYC, he has to go out and see his own, along with other great western vagrants, in Great Scott!

Carrie of Great Auk - Or Greatest Auk?, writes a wonderful expose on Woodcock in Meetings with Remarkable Birds, but her prose can't completely mask the underlying tension:
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll see a Woodcock. What you’ll see, most likely, is absolutely nothing. Next most likely, you’ll see a feathery explosion of WHAT THE F*@! WAS THAT whistling rapidly away while you put your foot down in the spot where a Woodcock was.
With all this anger and unreleased tension going around, it's no surprise that bird bloggers are gravitating towards the lean, mean killing machines of the bird world: raptors.

Rob of Rob's Idaho Perspective discusses The Ways of Nature at his backyard feeders with the impact of a Sharp-shinned Hawk on other birds' behavior.

Trevor of Trevor's Birding captures great photos of an Australian raptor in Great Birding Moment #33: Collared Sparrowhawk.

Katie at bogbumper describes The Kill, in which a Sparrowhawk of a her own catches a meal.


Some birders deal with the winter doldrums with cooler heads.

Liza at The Egret's Nest believes it isn't too much to ask to get a beautiful picture of a corvid morning, even in the dull gray weather.

Katie at RSPB Notes on Nature, asks, Do you have a Swede in your garden?, because one day you might just find 16 imported Blackbirds in your backyard.

Behind the Bins knows winter drives a hard bargain, but is willing to pay the price with a Long Wait for the Hoary Redpoll, a life bird.


Sometimes there is nothing left after all the blustering and bargaining... sometimes you just have to except the fact that there are many more months of cold gray bird-deprived chill ahead of you...

Grrlscientist tries to stave off the depression by posting a video of The Tiny Secrets Inside of a Hummingbird's Nest, because: "it seems appropriate for today, considering that winter has closed her icy hand around us all."

The Ridger at The Greenbelt finds that when "it's cold enough to numb your fingers" you can still see Little gray birds on a cold gray day.

Sometimes it isn't the weather that gets you down, but the failures when you do get out birding. Mike at The Feather and the Flower describes an unsuccessful chase for a Ross's Gull that he shared with over a hundred of other birders around the northeast (myself included). Mike tried hard to remain upbeat in his post, Pretty in Pink, while I summed the trip up simply as:


Some birders quietly deny the icy grip of winter around them, others lash out by chasing birds or flying to faraway places. Eventually though, we all reach the point of acceptance, and get out and enjoy the winter birding to its fullest extent!

At Alis Volat Propriis, Leigh Kicks-off the year right, by getting out there and birding!

Tai at Earth, Wind & Water puts some additional observations into a previous sighting of an Ani in Carib specialty - redux.

Susannah from Wanderin' Weeta (With Waterfowl and Weeds) also gets out and about, in Birding in Three Stages. She even finds real glimmers of spring ahead!

The Wrenaissance Woman of Wrenaissance Reflections proves that even common feeder birds should never be ignored in her study of the finches at her feeder on a Finchy Friday

True acceptance of winter is mastered not when we just when we get out there and bird, but when we get out and bird for a purpose.

Birdfreak heavily promotes Citizen Science, while Island Rambles participates in the Yearly Bird Count for Victoria, BC and Patrick of The Hawk Owl's Nest joins in an Eagle Fest.

Sorry Duncan! Duncan's post at Ben Cruachan Blog slipped through the first pass. His post, A wander around the wetlands, goes to show that it ain't winter everywhere in the world.

Well, that about concludes this edition of I and the Bird! I hope you all have gotten over the winter blues and come to accept the fact that winter can be some really great birding! Now get out there and find some Snowy Owls or Gyrfalcons or Hoary Redpolls or refind that cursed Ross's Gull at Niagara!

All interpretations of people's moods are fictional (unless you guys really are angry and depressed?). Let me know if there are any problems/broken links/forgotten entries/questions/comments/hate mail at nds22 AT cornell DOT edu. Thanks!

The next I and the Bird, #69, will be hosted by GrrlScientist. Email submissions to grrlscientist AT gmail DOT com by Feb. 19th!


  1. Beautiful edition of IatB! I love your theme. (And I'm glad you put me in "acceptance".)

    Thanks for all the hard work.

  2. Nice job Nick. You got me right.

    So angry!!! ; )

  3. Terrific job! I'm not entirely depressed - but it would be nice to see something besides juncos, sparrows, and starlings - and the elusive glimpse of a cardinal can only lift my spirits for so long...

  4. Bravo! Thanks for hosting. I am with you on the winter doldrums!

  5. Great edition! I'm so glad I don't live further north in the snowy reaches. brrrr!

  6. Nice job! Spring is just around the corner... it was 62 in NJ yesterday...

  7. Really great, and timely, presentation! Though I still hold out hope to see some irruptive birds in my yard, I'm ready for the first northward migrants to appear. And I thought I was hiding my depression pretty well. Sigh.
    - Mike

  8. I'm not angry yet, but if it's below freezing on Sunday when I bike to the shore to look for Purple Sandpipers, I will be!

    Love the round-up. Thanks for hosting this.

  9. Great job with this Nick! Many wonderful post that I need to check out now!

  10. Thank you for all the kind comments! I'm glad you all liked it.

    ~ Nick

  11. That's all right Nick, I don't mind being forgotten. ;-) Nice job mate.

  12. I didn't know there are that many people out there shooting birds with cameras :)!

    And what a neat story :D!