BIRDWATCHING DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC IN CALIFORNIA
The current global pandemic reminds me of my birdwatching experience at Spurn Point Bird Observatory in Yorkshire, England during October 1962. I stayed there for several days while there was no communication with the outside world. On the day I left the Observatory, I discovered that the world had just passed through the Cuban Missile crisis. The USSR had decided to withdraw its missiles and President Kennedy had promised not to invade the country. The possibility of nuclear war and global annihilation had come and gone while I was busy doing something else. I would love to treat COVID-19 in the same way.
However, I must admit that the pandemic has helped me with my present-day birdwatching and has allowed me to devote more time to my favorite hobby. It is not necessary to socially distance from birds, the mask is not essential, I escape the house, and hands washing no longer seems important. I enjoy the reduction in stress, the fresh air, the walking for exercise, and staring through binoculars looking for my next new species of the day . When COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, I had just returned from Costa Rica where I had spotted nearly 100 species of bird in10 days (including the rare and secretive quetzal – see the image). I have put to good use these same skills here in California.
My preferred nearby ornithological location is a short drive from my home, the creek at Corte Madera, CA. In recent months I have watched the departure of snow geese to Canada, the arrival of five types of swallow from South America, the passage of shorebirds both north and south, including sandpipers, avocets, dunlin and yellow-legs, an osprey out fishing, the splash of arriving pelicans, the twittering of song sparrows, the low-flying passage of cormorants, the varieties of duck and geese that fly in to feed, and even the spotted towhees and bluebirds that welcome my arrival by fluttering ahead of me.
At home, I sit outside, look and listen. The presence of clicking hummingbirds is permanent, the scrub jays’ screech their whereabouts, the crows complain to their friends and the crested titmice, goldfinches, siskins, chickadees, wrens and house finches are busy chattering around the bird feeder Some more unusual arrivals have appeared such as a female Nuthall’s woodpecker, a rarely-seen male Wilson’s warbler and a hummingbird chasing as kestrel.
I recommend birdwatching to effectively cope with the lock downs and avoid some of the other inconveniences of COVID-19. You may have to study the bird manual repeatedly to recall the names of birds that you have just seen, but be patient, knowledge comes with time and perseverance, and reconnecting with our feathered friends is a rewarding hobby.