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Sometimes the best birding happens when you don't see any birds.

posted by CarlIngwell at
on Friday, January 6, 2012 

Yesterday I got my binoculars ready, I strapped on my sturdiest pair of hiking boots, filled the water bottle, and was ready to go on a hiking/birding adventure. I chose Yellow Fork Canyon because I was looking to find Golden-Crowned Kinglets, Juniper Titmouse (titmice?), Bushtits, a few grouse, Wild Turkey, and hopefully a Pacific Wren or Goshawk. It was going to be a great day of birding.

The minute I got out of the car at the trailhead parking lot, I noticed that things seemed pretty quiet. Usually there is some pretty decent bird activity in the shrub just off the parking lot; today there was nothing. A bit of pishing didn't even bring up a Song Sparrow.

When I started walking, a Rough-Legged Hawk flew overhead. Alright! finally a sign of life. I thought that things would start picking up as I got deeper in.

When I got about 1/2 a mile in, the only bird I had seen was the one Rough-Legged Hawk. I decided that nothing was happening, so I took a spur trail off to the left. I'd only been on this trail once before, but the last time I was on it, I saw a flock of 10 Golden-Crowned Kinglets. Obviously if you see a species of bird in a particular location you'll see that same species the next time you visit that spot, right?

Things picked up a bit when I took the side trail. I had a few Juniper Titmouse (Titmice?) along the side of the trail, a couple mute Solitaire were posing atop Gambel Oak, and Western Scrub-Jays were shrieking back and forth.

I kept walking and walking. I just thought that if I kept walking, the birding would get better. It stayed about the same. After an hour or so, I started to realize that I had walked rather far. The vegetation was starting to change, I was getting into some pretty deep shadows, and it was starting to get colder. I looked ahead of myself, and there was a somewhat significant peak about a mile in the distance.

I had never been this far on the trail, and I wanted to know where it ended up. By this time, the bird life had dropped into non-existence, so I figured I'd go for a hike.

I was disappointed when the trail curved just left of the large, rocky peak, but I still pressed on. I really wanted to know where the trail ended up. Finally, I made it to the top of another rocky, sparsely populated by Juniper, wind-whipped peak. The view was beautiful; from the top you could see most of the Wasatch Range on the other side of the valley (and unfortunately you could see the thick belt of smog that is covering the valley), and you could see all the other canyons that run parallel and perpendicular to Yellow Fork.

Since it was a rather nice day up there, I sat down on a rock, enjoyed some water and pulled out a novel that I had been reading. I enjoyed the sun, the book, and the view for over an hour. I had completely forgotten about birding. I was glad to be alive, and I was glad to be up there. I could've spent the night had I brought some dinner.

On the way back to the car I didn't see any birds, or mammals (except for one human runner). I got down just before dark and it was starting to get cold.

On the hike down, I really thought about all the times that I've gone out with birding in mind, and enjoyed something completely different. Sometimes my best experiences "birding" are when I forget birding altogether, and fully immerse myself into some other activity.

Life is good.

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4 Comments:
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

PS: I couldn't take any pictures because my damn camera broke last week.

January 6, 2012 at 3:46 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

How did your camera break, and what is the issue....maybe I can help

Thanks for the post, always fun to read your stuff

January 6, 2012 at 7:35 PM  
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

I don't know what happened to the thing. It's just a cheapy point and shoot. The screen went purple & I thought it was just the screen that broke. I continued to take pictures with it, but when I got it home and uploaded all the photos, it was just a purple square on the computer screen. It's weird. I think maybe something is up with the lens.

January 7, 2012 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Shyloh Monster said...

Great post Carl!

This is a topic I think about often and I had a similar experience this week on the Mueller Park trail. Last summer, I made frequent visits to the area in an effort to learn more about our mountain birds and their songs. It's a great spot, but I haven't been back since the middle of autumn. I was hoping to catch a handful of FOY birds but it was DEAD SILENT. I sat in my usual off trail spot where I like to 'plop a squat and listen' and practice the ever elusive skill of just being there. Besides chasing birds, I reckon I also chase habitat. We're fortunate in Utah to have an abundance of diverse habitats within reach.

As I sat, a couple of crows came by and I watched a ghostly Steller's Jay glide down the mountainside. Other than than two Mtn. Chickadees, I didn't see any other birds. However, the place made its impression and I felt as though Mother Nature was giving me a warm hug on a winter's day. It reminded me of another day up there where I got ZERO birds. I sat on the bridge, listened to the water, and wrote in my birding journal. I just re-read what I wrote and think it fits right in with this post:

"While in my patch today I saw zero birds. The sunlight has cleared the area, but it's still early. I was imagining that I heard the various songs, calls, and general chatter of various birds off in the distance. On the way down, I decided they were apparitions and remnants of birds gone past. I feel in touch with nature and blessed to know her power. I enjoy the heightened senses and understand that right now is the only time, and right here is the only place. As I bear witness to millions of years of natural history and evolution unfolding in front of me, I feel connected to the whole and my soul has never been more content. The true definition of heaven has been made real. I will leave this place inspired."

You're right: "Sometimes the best birding happens when you don't see any birds."

Enjoy your enjoys...

January 7, 2012 at 5:02 PM  

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