Friday, April 25, 2014

Apr 24 (Day 114) - Squeaking out a few more High Island birds, birding as therapy?

Given the strong south winds last night, I figured that this morning would be very slow birding. My suspicions were confirmed as I was able to find only 4 warbler species in 3+ hours of woodland birding this morning. Since the birding was so painfully slow, I made the 1/2 mile run down to the coast to check for White-rumped sandpiper. I struck out on this bird, but I did find a particularly cooperative Short-billed dowitcher who posed for some photos. This guy had only 1 leg, and as a result he spent much time hopping around with his wings outstretched for additional balance. This gave me the chance to get some really nice shots of his underwing and tail patterns at point blank range. I returned to the woodlands after this diversion to find a few more common warblers. I ended up with just 8 species for the morning.

Short-billed dowitcher

Victor Emanuel and his long time friend Dennis met me for lunch at Smith Oaks Sanctuary around noon. Most of the larger tour groups had long since disappeared to forage for themselves. As a result, the sanctuary felt rather empty as we took to the trails after we had finished our own midday meal. We immediately encountered a nice mixed flock that was comprised of various species. Dennis shortly called out that he had a spotted a Blackpoll warbler. He immediately got me onto the bird for year bird #329! This is a bird for which I have been diligently looking, but have managed to miss up to this point. I think everyone at High Island but me saw this bird yesterday! My other target bird for the day was Bay-Breasted warbler (I somehow missed this bird yesterday as well). We found a beautiful male of this species shortly after the Blackpoll disappeared. This was year bird #330 and can be identified in the rather poor photo below. These were two birds that I was starting to worry I might miss, so getting these nailed down today was a big relief. Warbler activity remained high throughout the afternoon and peaked right at sundown. When all was said and done, I racked up a very good list of warblers for a day that started off so slowly. This is just another example of how it pays to keep pounding the trail knowing that eventually you'll find something. I also tacked on Western kingbird for #331. I will surely see thousands more of these as I move further west.

Dennis and Victor in action!

A treetop Bay-breasted warbler!

Blackpoll warbler - Taken in Newfoundland last year.
Note the bright orange legs on this guy!

My warbler list for the day (20 species)
Common yellowthroat
Northern waterthrush
Worm-eating warbler
Kentucky warbler
Hooded warbler
Tennessee warbler
Black-and-white warbler
Magnolia warbler
Yellow warbler
Black-throated green warbler
Blackpoll warbler
Bay-breasted warbler
Chestnut-sided warbler
Blackburnian warbler
Golden-winged warbler (at least 3)
American redstart
Cerulean warbler (1 male)
Prothonotary warbler
Northern Parula

One thought that I had today was the possible use of birding as a therapeutic for various physical, mental, or emotional abnormalities. For example, I know that art has been used to help people improve their emotional states, and I understand that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a recognized treatment option in some instances. I feel like birding could be used to accomplish similar ends as some of these practices. Birds are beautiful, and they are certainly a living, animate part of almost every landscape on the planet. I find birding in its most basic form to be incredibly relaxing. I feel more connected to the natural world, and I generally feel less stressed when I am in the outdoors. Birding also provides a moderate amount of exercise, and exercise is well-established practice for the attenuation of both physical and emotional states. This is not coming from any sort of professional opinion on my part. I was just wondered what affect a really good introduction to birding might have on folks who are unfortunate enough to be afflicted with either physical or emotional challenges. Learning about birds, their identification, and their life histories would be a tangible and structured project that might actually benefit some people. I have no idea if this is completely crazy, but I do know that birding is like therapy for me. It reminds me that material things and just that, and that I am part of a living planet that stretches far beyond other human beings. Just how far is what I think birding can start to show people.

How birding makes me feel!

I will be pounding the trails at High Island all day again tomorrow. I am hoping to find Black-billed cuckoo or Yellow-bellied flycatcher. I thought I had found the latter bird at the end of the day today, but I think the setting sun made the Empid appear artificially yellow. I did not have time to go through the other marks before it disappeared, so this bird will remain as 'unidentified'. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.


  1. Completely agree about using birding as therapy for mental illness. OCD or others could focus their strengths on avian observations as therapy. Bipolar types can train themselves in patience. Etc. maybe talk to some social workers about if this has been used like art therapy ? Might be very rewarding.

  2. I hear you about birding being therapy. As an engineer during the day, my brain is wrapped around a computer and trying to figure out solutions for software/systems issues. So when I grab the binocs and camera, it lets my mind unravel and think in a completely different way.

    Hey, I'm headed to Austin on Sunday on my way to Ft. Hood. I'm going to be hitting Balcones Canyonlands NWR. Not sure of your route after the coast, but two rarities that only exist in this part of Texas are there breeding right now: golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. Maybe I'll pass ya along the roads. Keep truckin. Maybe see ya in California near the end of Sept. Let me know what goal-birds you have while in that area. I have some hidden spots for a Cal Gnat and wrentit if you dont' see them elsewhere.