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Monday Mystery 121420

My Column: The Joys of Unexpected Birding

_MG_2307 (2)My column for The Record and other USA Today newspapers in New Jersey is about the unexpected joys of winter birding -- inspired by a recent walk where I happened upon a cornucopia of birds, including the Pileated Woodpecker.

You can read how to pronounce "pileated" here.

You can read the column here:

By Jim Wright

Special to The Record

Blame it on our recent balmy weather, climate change or dumb luck, but I‘ve found bird-watching unexpectedly rewarding for this time of year.

I’ve taken to walking several miles a day during the pandemic, and I’ve learned to bring my binoculars most times. One recent afternoon walk stands out because I was walking along the edge of an industrial park, and didn’t expect to see much of interest.

The first hint of treats to come was a red-tailed hawk perched along the edge of the nearby woods. As I rounded a corner, I saw lots of birds in a crabapple tree and dozens more on adjacent limbs. 

An avian advance scout must have discovered the fruit-filled tree because dozens of other birds were hanging around -- mostly starlings and American robins. I had not seen that many robins at once in months.

I wondered whether the robins were stragglers that should have headed south or new arrivals from Canada or ones that spend their winters here. Then I realized that since we are living in a land of new normals these days, maybe some robins hang around North Jersey all the time.

At the risk of sounding bird-nerdy, I became excited by the whistle-call of a brown-headed cowbird. I hadn’t seen one in so long I felt like I had encountered a long-lost friend. The strange thing is that I am no fan of cowbirds, notorious for laying their eggs in other birds’ nests so the other birds will hatch and raise their young.

To top it off, I saw two pileateds, the largest and perhaps loudest woodpecker species in North America. They are dynamic birds, no matter how you pronounce their name, and they pounded away at a fallen tree long enough for me to walk home, fetch my camera, 0001come back and take their photo.

As I stood on the edge of the woods and basked in the variety of birds, I forgot all about the pandemic and other worldly worries. It just goes to show...

Sometimes the most rewarding birding is the serendipitous kind, The times when you are out for a walk and stumble on one of nature’s many surprises are often more satisfying that actively looking for birds. These days, indulging your sense of wonder is especially therapeutic. 

The moral of my story. Get outside and go walk in nature, no matter the time of year. And bring a pair of binoculars. You never know what you might see.

Outdoors writer Kev Reynolds once made a comment about walking that applies equally to bird-watching: “[It’s] a year-round activity, … for there is as much beauty to be found in the countryside in the leafless months of winter as in vibrant spring and the golden days of autumn.”

The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at [email protected].