I and the Bird

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

#8 Hamilton College Glen

Ah yes, the early days.
A mere 200 yards from the door of my senior year fac-ap (which, by second semester, was just me and my roommate Mudie living in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom + common room and kitchen on-campus mansion and partyspot) was the Hamilton College Glen. A glen, for those of you not versed in Romantic poetry (versed, get it?) is a "a long, U-shaped valley with a waterway running through." Such a valley, when covered with woods, is a perfect place for birds.

Between late March and early May I must have taken 100 walks through the glen looking for birds. This was back when I was just beginning to learn about different species, and therefore I would stop and stare with wonder at every single flutter in the bush. Unlike now, when I've become quickly jaded to the more common birds, in the glen I would take 10 minutes to identify a chipping sparrow and then congratulate myself when I concluded. Less than a year later, I already look back on this blissfully-ignorant period with fondness and wish I could feel that excitement of discovery again. I suspect that most all birders feel nostalgia for these early days.

The best time in the Glen was one of the first. It was still cold and there were no leaves on the trees. I went for a late-afternoon walk with my girlfriend, Kate, and said to her, without any evidence, "I bet today would be a good day to see an owl." After about five minutes, a beautiful large grey owl flushed unseen from a treebranch and landed again up ahead. Needless to say, we were amazed. An owl! The most mythical birds! It was beautiful, so large and silent through the forest. We followed it until it finally lost us, about 20 minutes, and by then had identified it as a Barred Owl, a species, though common, that I had never heard of until then. I was on the frontier of discovery! Incredible!

There is a list, mostly complete, of birds I identified for the first time in the Hamilton College Glen: Red-Tailed Hawk, both northern Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Brown-Headed Cowbird, Chipping Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Chimney Swift, Pileated, Red-Breasted, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Killdeer, House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, DE Junco, Tufted Titmouse, American Kestrel.
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