Monday, January 30, 2012

Bird by bird, finding life among the chill

This month's kind weather patterns have brought some magnificent days to get outdoors and see what's around us. Though we had one very cold weekend and another that brought snow, Ivan and I found it relatively easy to roam around the state to collect a pretty impressive list of birds. He ends the month with 112 species, year to date, while I've got 89.

Did you ever imagine that so many different kinds of birds were roaming around in the dead of winter? I'm still astounded by what we can find hidden among the parks and refuges around the state. This weekend we were treated to the sight of a western tanager that's rarely seen in New Jersey, especially in the winter. It's a brilliant yellow bird with a hint of red in the throat, along with black wings that have diagonal white bars near the center. While we were watching it perch on a small tree at Allaire State Park, two bluebirds flew up and set down just above, almost as if they wanted to share in the attention. I don't think we could have been faulted for confusing January 29 for April 29 at that very moment.

We were reminded, too, that even during the coldest, darkest days, life renews itself. This is prime owl season, with many of them starting the breeding process in mid to late January. On an evening stroll through my suburban neighborhood, we heard a screech owl in a tree just yards from us, calling for a mate. We also happily were able to spy a barred owl sequestered high in a fir tree among the woods at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. It's downright cool to train your binoculars toward one of them and see him staring right back at you.

By its nature, birding forces you to observe what's around you. When you're out looking for different species, you can't help but notice berries on the holly bushes, or even sprouts starting to inch themselves above the soil. Best of all, you're outside, among life, when you might ordinarily have cocooned in your house, watching reruns. The days are getting longer, folks. Put on a parka... or maybe just a sweater, and get out and enjoy them.

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