Now is the month of warblering

It’s the first weekend in May, which to most birders means one thing: migrants! I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t been looking forward to this weekend for a while now. Jenny came over yesterday evening so that we could be up and at ’em at an indecent hour and we went out for Korean food at Natural Tofu (I tried soondubu jigae for the first time—tasty, despite the fact that the soft tofu’s texture reminded me a little too much of undercooked egg). Then we took her on a tour of our local supermarket (it’s a hopping social life we have), and settled in for the night, getting ready to wake up at 6 AM the next morning for what I hoped would be a productive day of birding in Central Park. Key word is hoped.

In general when I go birding, I tend not to get annoyed at so-called “trash birds”—those ubiquitous, “boring,” often year-round birds that so crowd your field of vision and prevent you from adding new species to your list. Now, I do keep lists, but I’m not going to discount a perfectly good bird just because I saw it last week. Honestly, it’s usually exciting enough to me to be out in the field enjoying and observing nature. If I can see a bird that I’m not familiar with and identify it correctly, then my day is made.

But today. Today. It is May 5 and I live in New York City. This week and the next should be peak migration for our area, the best weeks for warblers passing through on their way north, especially in Central Park. It’s a big swath of green in the middle of a concrete jungle and is the perfect place to refuel. It should be teeming with migrating songbirds. But it hasn’t been, due to some combination of stubborn fronts, wayward winds, and a too-cold spring. Checking the listserv and eBird, I knew that the forecast was pretty dismal, but I think I still held out some vain hope that maybe we would be blessed with a change in wind and see some movement.

After three hours of combing through the Ramble, we had a grand total of 25 species, featuring such luminaries as…European starling! Blue jay! House sparrow! Canada goose! American robin! And, lest we forget the star of the morning…the illusive rock pigeon! Sigh.

It wasn’t a total disappointment, though. We did see some good birds, but they were in such low numbers that you wouldn’t think that it was May: yellow warbler, warbling vireo, ruby-crowned kinglet, two black-crowned night-herons (one roosting high in a tree, the other with a fish in its beak), American goldfinch, Baltimore oriole, and some nice views of a prairie warbler, a lifer for me. All birds that I would personally be very happy to see any day of the week, but when you run into real experts who basically do this for a living and they ask, “Did you see the yellow warbler? Did you see it??” you know things are bad for everyone. So that was one consolation, I guess. Instead of birdsong, the woods were filled with the moans and grumbles of depressed birders. Sweet music!

In any case, I will be keeping an eye out on the weather and the reports, and if conditions seem favorable then you can bet I will be dragging Elizabeth out there again. I will not be discouraged! But I’m also not about to wake up up at 6 AM on a weekend if I know the rewards won’t be good. Does that make me a bad birder? Perhaps, but I fell asleep for a good 3 hours when I came home this afternoon—clearly that means something!

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