Like most people that take up birding as a past time I was obsessed with the list, finding the next new species that I hadn’t yet seen. I was a chaser and listened to the rare bird alerts weekly to get updates on the latest unusual avian visitors. In fact some of my fondest birding memories are of such treks to see rarities far from their normal ranges; a scissor-tailed flycatcher on the split rail fence along “bloody lane” at Antietam National Military Park comes immediately to mind. Or the hawk owl we missed in Vermont only to find out later that there had been one only a few miles from my parent’s home in the Poconos.
There comes a point in a birders development when it is nearly impossible to add new birds without chasing oddballs, birds that have taken a wrong turn somewhere or been blown in by a storm. Some people keep it fresh by creating multiple lists, for the yard, the county, the state the year. When we lived at the Caratunk Wildlife Sanctuary in Massachusetts there was a group of people that would visit every January 2nd to start their Massachusetts list, after having spent all of New Years Day in Rhode Island.
I’ve more or less given up on the chasing but Jackie and I do get to live vicariously through our young friend Stephen. In his early 20’s Stephen has all the zeal for birding I had 30 years ago (wow I have to admit that writing that just now made me pause for a moment). Stephen keeps lists, lots of them, and shares his sightings with us. It appears as though were I to get back into the chase this would be the year to do it. The great snowy owl invasion has captured most of the media attention but Stephen keeps us posted on the less famous though no less news worthy visitors like the white-winged scoters and redhead on Weir Lake or the northern shrike in Cherry Valley. All exciting birds to a birder but the report I enjoyed the most came from my brother John.
John is not a birder, but even he took notice of an apple tree full of robins in a driving snow storm on February 3rd. As is often the case with non birders, he was surprised to learn that there are a large number of robins that spend the winter in the Poconos. For the most part they are forest dwellers kicking through the leaf litter and eating the desiccated fruit on the winter berry and spice bush. But when a big storm blows in they often take to the trees in search of easy meals. This time they found it in the apple tree outside my brother’s window. This is one of the things I love about winter birding, even the regular birds can seem unusual when there’s a blizzard in your yard. I just hope they leave a few apples for the waxwings.