Friday, September 19, 2008

"Just" a Redstart

I did it today. Over my lunch hour I sneaked in a quick walk on one of my favorite trails by one of my favorite streams not really expecting to see any birds but clutching a pair of binoculars, nevertheless, since hope springs eternal(ly.) I walked for the allowed time in one direction and then headed back--in my office shoes, not a good idea. The only real activity was at one bend in the trail where the distinctive sharp chips of a small flock of Northern Cardinals drew my attention. Reluctant to hurry back to work I decided to watch them for a while and just enjoy the moment. Suddenly a quick flash of color as a smaller bird joined the scene caused me to raise my binoculars. After a glimpse of black and orange I thought "Redstart. Seen it."

I stopped and thought about it.

Way back, seemingly ages ago and yet just like yesterday, I started semi-seriously looking for birds in a real jewel of a natural area near my office that I've managed to not notice for over a decade. When I embarked on my own during last spring's warbler wave there was a memorable day when I spent a good amount of time on one of the bridges watching several Redstarts. At the time they were new, interesting and beautiful. Eventually I realized they weren't all that uncommon or hard to find. And then today, apparently, I arrived at the conclusion that they aren't as interesting or worthy of admiration as they were last spring. What a big mistake.

The American Redstart is a stunning bird. Both the male and female have wide yellow bands on the sides of their tails that remind me of the markings on military aircraft. When flitting from branch to branch in search of their prey they spread their tails and display these bands prominently. Consequently, they are easy to identify and fun to watch. I promise I won't just brush off a Redstart sighting ever again. And I also offer here a list of birds that, despite their "common" nature I truly love and always enjoy finding in the wild:

  • Gray Catbird - Dignified monochromatic feathers and a beautiful face

  • House Wren - Dynamite comes in little packages

  • Downy Woodpecker - I just find them charming

  • Black-capped Chickadee - All business and very much in charge of their space

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