Sometimes extraordinary things happen. There’s no other way to say it. What should have been the most ordinary, verging on boring, birding outing turned into a moment of magic. While we were in Oshawa, overlooking an enormous marsh (conveniently named Second Marsh, though I have no idea where or if First Marsh exists) with approximately a million Cormorants fluttering about, punctuated by a few Great Blue Herons and a lone juvenile Bald Eagle, I succumbed to a few seconds of boredom and turned my attention away from the marsh and toward a tree. And suddenly I saw a small, brownish bird with whitish wingbars and a cream-colored breast, and immediately recognized it as a Flycatcher! We had just banded a few the day before, and the bird’s coloring was fresh in my mind — the bird reminds me of JCrew catalog clothing that accentuates the understated elegance of khaki shades mediated by white or off-white tones. Back in the days when I bought “teaching clothes”, I now realize I was dressing like a Traill’s Flycatcher. (Don’t worry, my hair looked quite a bit better than this toupee-like version below.) Who knew?
Since the bird didn’t sing for us, we weren’t able to determine whether it was an Alder or a Willow Flycatcher (they look identical and are only distinguishable by song), so we went with the banding station nomenclature (thanks Pyle!) and called it a Traill’s. (Thankfully the flycatcher didn’t emit a sound; I haven’t yet learned the calls and definitely wouldn’t have been able to tell the alder and willow apart!) Yep. That was my unexpected moment of glory on Saturday morning! I recognized an Empidonax, which would have seemed like a random drab brownish bird just a few months ago! The regal, authoritative sounding genus “Empidonax” actually means “king of gnats”, which shatters some, but not all, of its mystique. I suppose it’s better to be a king of gnats than a servant of gnats; if I’m going to be anywhere in the gnat hierarchy, King is where I’d rather be.
Anyhow, I digress. Cormorants aside, it turned into a fabulous morning. I also correctly ID’d the song of the Caspian tern, which isn’t overly difficult because it sounds like a cross between a dog barking and a squirrel screaming. A hideous sound for such a gorgeous bird. But thankfully extremely easy to remember: nothing else sounds quite so grating and downright ugly. Thanks, Caspian Tern. I’ve just added you to my “memorized bird song” list! Woohoo!
The morning also included a dozen Wild Turkeys hanging out in the middle of a country road, completely unintimidated by our presence, a grey-blue gnatcatcher (!!), a few cardinals, crows, hungry chickadees, a least sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, a Stilt sandpiper, which I couldn’t get excited about properly because I had to rush off to get ready for a wedding and was already starting to fret about my upcoming evening toilette (here at Birds and Words, we don’t get out that often…). And I also saw my first fall warbler: a glowing Magnolia. I’m already excited about autumn!
An unexpectedly beautiful day. My Tilley hat got a workout, and I couldn’t be more grateful for these wonderful (humidity-free!) last days of summer.