Sunday, January 18, 2009

Attack of the Flying Metaphor

The infamous Harris' Sparrow deigns to make an appearance for me.

My birding expectations for this weekend were pretty low. For one, I've had a nasty cold and laryngitis for the past week and a half, and thought it would be wise to spend the weekend resting. Second, there didn't seem to be that many interesting birds being found locally—there was a sighting of a Masked Duck, which would have been a lifer for me—but I didn't feel up to driving halfway to Tallahassee to look for it.

I hate being sick.

But I hate being stuck indoors even more. This morning, when I heard the first Cardinal chipping outside my window, I got up and decided to return to La Chua Trail. I had been there twice in the past week, and I knew I wasn't likely to see anything now that I didn't see then. I just needed to get out.

Getting out, however, took longer than I expected. It has been crazy cold for for the past few days, and there has been frost on the ground most mornings as of late. But today, I went outside and found my car fully encrusted in frost. Big thick layers of it obscured both windshields.

When I lived in Canada, my friends there teased me for not keeping an ice scraper in my car. But somehow, I managed to survive three years in Vancouver without one.

And it never occurred to me to get one when I moved to Florida.

Still, I managed to get the ice off my car and get to La Chua just before 9:00. When I stepped out of the car, I was glad I came: I could hear birds everywhere: Robins, Red-bellied and Downey Woodpeckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Carolina Chickadees... all ordinary birds, but in unusual numbers. Down the trail, a Hermit Thrush popped up, Northern Cardinals were singing loudly, and huge numbers of Palm Warblers jumped around in the leaf litter, flicking their tails.

I had set a low-level goal of looking for White-throated Sparrows: they were supposed to be regular winter birds at La Chua, but I had never seen one. A White-throated Sparrow would be a lifer for me, and I wanted one. But I wasn't expecting much: it was already on the late side for sparrows (according to local wisdom, the sparrows at La Chua are most active and visible early in the morning; after 9:00 it's too late). And I had tried and failed to relocate the visiting Harris' Sparrow twice the previous weekend and hadn't heard any news of it all week, so I assumed it had taken off as well.

I was thinking about this while checking out a flock of singing White-crowned Sparrows mingling with a few Savannah Sparrows. The birds were unusually bold, and I managed to get fairly close to them. Then out of nowhere came...the Harris' Sparrow! And he landed in a bare bush directly in front of me, and sat—nearly stationary—for several minutes, allowing me to take several pictures.

Weirdly, I wasn't even terribly surprised by this. My first thought was something like, "Well, it's about time, you evil little bastard!" But then I felt—just happy. I just stood there and watched the little bird twitch about on the branch, thinking of how lucky I was to be right there at that very time.

Then it occurred to me that just about all the truly cool stuff in my life—my friends, my hobbies, my academic research—all came to me much as that Harris' Sparrow did: by happy accident, often after I'd given up looking for something or was obsessed with getting something else. While I constantly badger my students to Stay Organized, Be Responsible, and Plan Ahead, I'm coming to the realization that all the planning the the world won't always get you what you want ( yup, I'm a slow learner). And some of the things I didn't plan for have led me to amazing places—like to Gainesville, and to a bare bush with a strange sparrow in it.

To paraphrase John Lennon, "Lifers are what happens when you're making other plans."


dAwN said...

How very cool! What a good lesson for us all!
I hope we will be able to swing by gainsville on our way to the panhandle to see the cranes and maybe the harris..

Felicia said...

Cool! Let me know if you do!