Sunday, October 18, 2009
Fallout Boy: A Rose Breasted Grosbeak at Bolen Bluff. (No, really)
I heard an NPR interview last year with a statistician who said he always started introductory classes with the following trick: he'd divide the class into two groups, leave the room, and have one group record the results of 100 actual coin tosses, and the other make up series of 100 imagined coin tosses that would look as random as possible. Both groups would then write the results of their real/imagined tosses on the board, and when he'd return, he'd try to determine which series was the real one and which the the imagined one.
He said it was always easy to tell the actual coin toss sequences from the imagined ones: the real sequences always looked implausible (a series of 20 consecutive tail tosses, for instance), while the fake sequences looked suspiciously even.
The moral? Reality is inherently implausible.
On Friday, a number of implausible but agreeable things happened: the temperature plummeted from the high 80s to the low 60s; a grand double rainbow surfaced as a took my morning run, and UF (and, as I later learned, ALL of Gainesville's public schools) shut down for UF's homecoming celebrations. (WHY grade-schoolers should get the day off because a bunch of old galoots in RVs want to relive their youth is a bit of a head-scratcher.)
On Saturday morning, I woke up to pleasantly chilly weather and clear skies—perfect for a long walk!—as well as a Badbirdz Reloaded radar report promising Tons of Migrants. But I felt none of the usual frenzy for acquisition that goes with my Saturday mornings during migration. My miserable luck over the past few weeks had beaten me into a Zen-like state of equanimity: I had broken free from the deluded belief that I could find warblers at Bolen Bluff the same way I find weird microbrews at Trader Joe's. Like the Buddha, I would desire nothing, and simply wait for the universe to do its thing. Whatever it was.
Unlike the Buddha, I still had my bins and a desire to look at birds—any birds. So I hitched up with the Alachua Audubon field trip to Bolen Bluff on Saturday morning. Since it was the last weekend of migration and the weather was so pleasant, over a dozen people showed up. And almost as soon as we hit the trail, we heard and saw a male Hooded Warbler. Not bad.
And only moments after that, we had a few American Redstarts. Nice, but unremarkable. Then a Black-and-white Warbler. Then a Magnolia Warbler. Following scolding flocks of Caroline Chickadees, we found yet more Redstarts. It was beginning to look like that radar report was spot on.
Our next treats: high in the trees was a pair of male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. And in a berry-filled camphor tree known by birders for its popularity with thrushes were—thrushes! The zone of my brain reserved for East Coast thrush ID is still a fuzzy mess, but reputable people in our group IDed several Grey-cheeked Thrushes and Wood Thrushes.
And despite the dozen of us stomping happily and loudly down the trail, the birds kept coming: we found a tree just off the trail containing about 5 warbler species, including a pair of Black-throated Green Warblers (the first and only I'd seen all season), as well as Bay-breasted and Chestnut-sided Warblers. Ovenbirds hopped around on the ground nearby, and in a nearby tree was a female Scarlet Tanager.
By now, everyone was oohing and aahing in weak-kneed joy. Our trip leader, a hard-core, seen-it-all-before local birder, was overwhelmed. This morning had made up for absolutely all the mornings of bug bites and warbler-less ennui of the preceding months.
The one area in which I didn't not get lucky yesterday was in getting pictures: the hungry warblers were high in the trees and moving fast.
Out on the prairie, we added two more to our warbler count: a Common Yellowthroat and several Palm Warblers. We looked around for Yellow and Prairie Warblers, which failed to materialize, and were beginning to wonder what our final warbler count would be. We were up to 14. Could we hit 15?
It should be mentioned that the number 15 has local relevance beyond being an a good round number: as any self-respecting college football fan knows, 15 is also Tim Tebow's number, and Saturday was UF's homecoming weekend home game, which means GO GATORS!! WOOHOO!!
(Okay, there's a municipal code requiring all Gainesville-based blogs to say that at least once a year. Now where was I?)
Oh yes, birds! There were lots of them! On our way back out of the prairie, we got good looks at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and yet more Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. We spotted another warbler that may or may not have been a Prairie—but none of use were sure enough to call it make it our #15.
Still, there were plenty more warblers on the way back out to the trailhead: more American Redstarts and Yellow-throateds and dozens of Magnolia Warblers ( we teased our leader every time he spotted something and said it was "just" a Magnolia! ) Then we saw something else: a bit like a Magnolia, but not really. Not a Prairie either. It hopped around about 20 feet in front of us for a couple of minutes while we passed a bird guide around and examined it: a Cape May!
We had hit 15! And this was a great bird to get, too: Cape Mays show up in Gainesville pretty regularly during spring migration, but rarely during the fall.
And that afternoon, the Gators won (barely) their hard-fought battle against Arkansas, with concussion-suffering #15 leading the way. Coincidence? I think not.
Gator fans, you can thank Alachua Audubon later.