I’m afraid The Doldrums have arrived. You know the time between January 1 and that day when you have seen all the winter birds you are going to see. Oh, you might pick up one new species here and there, but in all actuality you are now going to wait until mid-March when the first calling Brown Thrasher or the flight of a Tree Swallow over a partially frozen pond signals the start of spring migration.
But until then I’m afraid it might be feeder watching time.
The official date for The Doldrums varies. On one of those very cold, snowy, frozen years it can be as early as January 1. The kind of year where you go out and see all the local birds on New Year’s Day. And with everything already headed south, you aren’t going to see anything new for a while.
The Doldrums officially hit me last week weekend. I spent the day with Don and Doug looking for new species in a couple of areas. It was cold and windy. The water for the most part was froze over. The birds weren’t calling or flying. The only real action was at a feeder east of Goose Pond. We heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch in some pines but that was it.
So what do The Doldrums look like?
Being as it was slow I got very few photos. And since I have a degree in teaching history (never used if you want to know) I’ll explain The Doldrums.
I most often hear people reference The Doldrums in relation to feeling depressed. As in “I feel I’m in The Doldrums since I haven’t seen a new bird in weeks”. But The Doldrums really reference a zone around the equator where the wind might not blow for weeks. And in the days of sailing ships this could be the kiss of death.
We now recognize The Doldrums are really parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone. From Wikipedia – “a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. The Doldrums are also noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks.”
So do The Doldrums also hit in the mid-June to late July period? For some, but not me. First I usually take a bird trip in mid-June. And I’m a hot weather person and enjoy checking out things in the summer. Plus we have the two-month IAS Summer Count which always adds extra incentive to be out in the hot weather.
This might seem sacrilegious on a birding blog, but I’m glad fall migration is about over. I’ll miss viewing the vireos, thrushes, and shorebirds as they move through.
But not warblers.
It’s not that I can’t ID warblers. That’s not the problem. It’s just that they never seem to give a good look. Just a quick view and they move on. Even sparrows cooperate better.
And this is supposed to be birdwatching, not birdglimpsing.
I have never developed the love of the bright warblers that others have. Yes, most are usually stunning when you can get a glimpse of one. But the time and effort and brief look is usually not worth the half-second glance.
I have decided over the years that taking a few hours on a Saturday morning in the vain attempt to see warblers is just not as satisfying as viewing larger birds. I see why people specialize in gulls or hawks. They usually give a good long, look. And with gulls there are usually numerous ones sitting out in the open to check out.
Even American Robins or Eastern Bluebirds are more welcome as they sit for a few minutes in a tree, well exposed. Or most woodpeckers, a bird that usually sits out in the open.
But not the singular warbler darting through the undergrowth. Just not that fun.
Maybe if I was more of a lister this would be important. Taking the time to make sure I get a warbler for a list might make the time spent looking worth it.
So I’m looking forward to getting back to large raptors and large waterfowl and even winter sparrows. Birds I can see and ID.
Last Sunday I happened to stumble upon a flock of sparrows working their way through the brush of a local stream. I knew they were up ahead because I heard the songs of both White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows. When I came around the bend there was a mad scramble from the grass back into the brush telling me there was a good number of sparrows.
I tried to observe as many of the sparrows as I could. It paid off with a good view of a Lincoln’s Sparrow back a few feet in the brush. Even though I haven’t seen very many Lincoln’s Sparrows it was obvious with it’s smaller size than a Song Sparrow, plainer face, and buffy breast with thin stripes.
I watched the White-throated Sparrows fly out of the brush to feed on the grass and then fly back in. I finally decided to try to photograph one since they were all showing some of the brightest colors I have seen.
I have watched American Goldfinch eat dandelions but never sparrows.