BIRDWATCHING DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC IN CALIFORNIA
The current global pandemic reminds me of an early birdwatching experience at Spurn Point Bird Observatory in Yorkshire, England where I visited for several days during October 1962. There were no communications with the outside world, and on the day I left the Observatory, I discovered that the newscasters were reporting the settlement of the Cuban Missile crisis. The USSR had decided to withdraw its missiles from Cuba in return for President Kennedy promising never to invade Cuba. The possibility of nuclear war and global annihilation had come and gone while I remained totally ignorant of the danger, thanks to my hobby of birdwatching. Like the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis had the potential to alter the world and change society.
To hope for a similar way today to deal with the coronavirus crisis is naïve. However, it does not stop me birdwatching and I continue to social distance while spotting birds. I particularly enjoy the absence of stress when I sit outside waiting and looking for the next bird to come along. Recently I returned from Costa Rica where during two weeks I spotted nearly 100 different bird species, including the rare and secretive quetzal (image provided).
My local ornithological site for the joy of birds is a short drive from my address, and a walk along the nearby creek in Corte Madera, CA. I take my miniature schnauzer, Winston, with me in case my presence is challenged, allowing my life among the birds to continue as normal. It seems the perfect thing to do under the circumstances. I have watched the departure of snow geese to Canada; the arrival of the five types of swallow from South America; listened to the song of the song sparrow, the high pitched keek of the black-necked stilt and the vigorous one or two short notes followed by the trill of the male spotted towhee; I have watched the many shorebirds, gulls, ducks, grebes, cormorants and loons come and go, and followed the western bluebird as it repeatedly perches and then hovers or flies across the park in search of insects.
At home, I sit outside and look and listen. The hummingbirds are back, the scrub jays’ swoop and screech their presence, the crows complain and the crested titmouses are busy in the bird box feeding their young. There are also unusual sightings; a female Nuthall’s woodpecker inspects my fir tree (acorn woodpeckers and northern flickers are more common); a hummingbird risks its life by chasing an American kestrel (kestrels are known to eat hummingbirds), and a rarely-seen male Wilson’s warbler is picking insects from among some yellow flowers.
I look forward to birdwatching as an effective coping mechanism and an approved, if not essential, activity in California, and hope that the public and politicians will use the same level of determination they are using to fight the virus, to prospectively protect the habitat of birds and safeguard them against the effects of global warming. As many as 25 percent of bird species in the U.S. are believed to be on the road to extinction. Please stay safe.