By GENE BULLOCK
For five years, my wife and I traveled in our motorhome for up to 11 months at a time, planning our entire timetable around bird watching. We called ourselves “Geritol gypsies.” We interspersed visits to birding hotspots with stops along the way to visit family and friends. One year our bird-watching forays took us all the way from Belize to the Arctic Circle. Along the way we saw some amazing birds.
For peak bird watching, location and timing is key. As retirees, we had the luxury of timing our travels so we could be in the right places at the right time. You’d think we’d be too jaded by now to appreciate all-season birding close to home; but we still get excited when the first Rufous Hummingbird of the season shows up at our feeder in March. For hard-core birders, there is nothing like the thrill of watching waves of warblers and spring migrants en route to their nesting grounds in the Arctic tundra and boreal forests of North America.
The arrival of spring and its symphony of sounds and flowering shrubs is mixed with wistful good byes to our departing loons, grebes, scoters and other aquatic birds as they transform themselves into breeding splendor for their courting rituals further north.
For those tuned in to the music, spring is when the birds find their voices and fill the air with song. Even the plainest plumages and simplest songs stir the hearts of their female counterparts. Of course, their lyrical choruses and dazzling displays are not for us, but for the mates they hope to woo and the rivals they hope to best. But drab is the human spirit that doesn’t thrill to these wonderful sounds and vivacious displays.
As refugees from the East Coast, we miss the spring spectacle as dozens of species of warblers and song birds wing their way north to the bug-rich forests of northern New England and Canada. But the West Coast has its own unique charms and wildlife specialties that we envied when we lived on the other coast. During our motor-rambling days we circled the country several times and found that every region has its own special treasures. When East Coast visitors come to Washington, they are awed and thrilled by sights we take for granted. It works both ways, so we feel especially blessed to have lived on both coasts and birded so many special places — from Maine to California, and Belize to the Arctic Circle.
While folks in the southern United States tout their great winter birding, those in the Pacific Northwest live in the middle of a coastal flyway that hosts massive annual shifts in bird populations. Spring and fall migrations provide an endless parade of opportunities for those who love birds and savor their special seat at this annual feast for the eyes and ears.