I’ve been thinking a lot about my neck recently. So much of birding is focused on the act of looking up, and learning how to navigate that act with as little pain as possible. I never imagined that birding would transform me into a great massage-therapy patient, but it has. With warbler season coming to an end, the need to crane and contort my neck is also thankfully being put on hold for the next six months.
Seeing warblers comes at a price, but I’ve never thought to question whether the attending neck trauma is worth it. You see, there’s something lofty about looking up. High up. The pursuit seems inherently noble and elevating. I’m learning to see what others don’t have access to, learning to decipher (or just plain read) the intricacies of the world around me.
And yet, I’m beginning to recognize that the importance of looking down might be underrated. This isn’t just because about a month ago I inadvertently found myself chest-deep in a well while looking examining a Wilson’s warbler high up in a tree. I got so caught up in his plumage, his general vivacity and playfulness that I forgot to look down as I took a step behind me. Well, actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, I wasn’t just caught up in the Wilson’s warbler’s beauty. For a brief moment, I think I was in love with the fact that I had found this Wilson’s warbler by my self, and once I saw him I couldn’t stop at just one warbler. Greed overcame me and I wanted another sighting as quickly as possible. And when one wants and needs another warbler on the day’s list who has the mental agility to not walk with one’s binoculars and head pointed straight into the heavens? Alas, not I.
And down I fell into the well. All things considered, I fell as well as one could hope because I came away with no injuries save some minor bruises.
Anyhow, this weekend, I experimented with looking down as well as up, and there were rewards to reap for doing so. While in Barrie, looking up into the sky for the lone Parasitic Jaeger allegedly circling around the bay and chasing ring-billed gulls, I put my binoculars down and asked my bird leader about the bird at my feet: a brown patchy strange-looking “immature gull” who looked like it might have been crossbred with a nighthawk.
You guessed it. There was the Parasitic Jaeger we had come to see. Fumbling about on the shore, no more than ten feet from us. And had I not thought to look down? (Again, in the spirit of 100% honesty, I probably looked down because I got tired of looking up, but still.) There’s beauty–and payoff–in remembering to look down.