Posted by: Dan | April 30, 2009

The Birds Around Us – I and the Bird #99

As per my own tastes, I chose to base the 99th I and the Bird on an excerpt from “The Changing Year” in Rachel Carson’s 1951 book The Sea Around Us, drastically re-written to accommodate this week’s contributions and renaming it “The Birds Around Us.”

For the world as a whole, the alteration of day and night, the passage of the seasons, the procession of the years, are overwhelmed by their endless flux. The face of the seasons are always changing. Crossed by colors, lights, and sudden rains, sparkling in the sun, mysterious in twilight, ephemeral lakes become temporary oases. The days stir to the breath of the winds, and provide respite from the hum-drum of work – a place where one can fall asleep at the wheel, only to be awoken by a raven’s call. Most of all, they change with the advance of the seasons. Spring moves over the temperate lands of our Northern Hemisphere in a tide of new life, of pushing green shoots and unfolding buds for the coming warblers, all its mysteries and meanings symbolized in the northward migration of the birds, the different sound of the wind stirs the young leaves where a month ago it rattled the bare branches. These things we associate with the land, and it is easy to suppose that at sea there could be no such feeling of advancing spring. But the signs are there, and seen with understanding eye, they bring the same magical sense of awakening in all regions.

On land, as in the sea, spring is a time for the renewal of life. During the long months of winter in the temperate zones the finches have frequented our feeders. Now some old cemetaries become new playgrounds for the birds, while old parks bring new surprises. Trees that have been bereft of leaf and berry for months open up – some with mulberries for grosbeaks who are joined by all manner of warbler; others with more exotic fruits for a diversity of parrots. The small birds themselves become a meal for a Cooper’s hawk. Nothing is wasted on the birds; every feeder is visited, first by one bird, then by another.

These, then, are the elements of the vernal blooming of the sea: the seeds of the awakening plants, the insects that flourish with the warmth of the spring sun, and the thawed habitats that once were frozen.

In a sudden awakening, incredible in its swiftness, the creatures of spring begin to multiply. Their increase is of astronomical proportions. The spring renewal belongs at first to the budding trees and to all the other plant life. In the fierce intensity of their growth they cover vast areas of land and water with bright green growth. Mile after mile may turn this shade of bright green, the whole surface of the land taking on the color of the infinitesimal grains of pigment contained in each of the plant cells. And even from the skies we can track the birds from our radar screens.

The birds have undisputed sway in the streets for a short time. Almost at once their feathers burst into bright colors of all hues. And even at nighttime we can see their half-second call notes. It is the nesting time of many migrants – tree swallows migrate thousands of miles for it early on; while Red-Shouldered Hawks and Great Horned Owls got started even earlier. Now in the spring the woods, fields, and wetlands become vast nurseries. From the hills and valleys of the continent lying all around, and from the scattered streams and banks, gaggles of geese still flock to the north.

But from the wintering grounds, the jungles are not yet depleted. The many species become more and more scarce, still there are brief surprises of one or another form, of those who remained.

And to the watchful eye comes discoveries of ridiculously elongate avian trachea, such things to strange to have imagined. For the ornithologist come workshops in hummingbird heaven, with richness of diversity to amaze. Or in the cycle of life, a curious mind may answer where have all the ducklings gone?

In the spring the sea is filled with migrating fishes, some of them bound for the mouths of great rivers, which they will ascend to deposit their spawn. Such are the spring-run chinooks coming in from the deep Pacific feeding grounds to breast the rolling flood of the Columbia, the shad moving into the Chesapeake and the Hudson and the Connecticut, the alewives seeking a hundred coastal streams of New England, the salmon feeling their way to the Penobscot and the Kennebec. For months or years these fish have known only the vast spaces of the ocean. Now the spring sea and the maturing of their own bodies lead them back to the rivers of their birth.

Other mysterious comings and goings are linked with the artful sketchings of butter butt invasions. Birds whose winter feeding territory may have encompassed the whole Atlantic or the whole Pacific converge upon some small island, the entire breeding population arriving within the space of a few days. Whales suddenly appear off the slopes of the coastal banks where the swarms of shrimplike krill are spawning, the whales having come from no one knows where, by no one knows what route.

With the encroachment people come directives meant to protect. And with the appreciation of bird lovers, the birds around us come to be cherished. Along the meeting places of the internets the bird bloggers meet, here with I and the Bird, sharing joys of the changing year. By next fortnight you should send your news of the birds around you Nathan Swick from the Nature Blog Network (naswick AT gmail GOT com).

A listing of this week’s contributions – hope I didn’t miss anyone!

Beautiful Nature Sounds From an Ephemeral Lake in the Desert – Listening Earth Blog
Ratatouille? – My Purple Martin Blog
Where Have All the Ducklings Done?? – Greg Laden’s Blog
Spring Means Color – The Greenbelt
Native Parrots of Singapore – The Lazy Lizard’s Tales
Bidadari Cemetery, a New Birding Playground – Bird Ecology Study Group
Upper Texas Coast Spring Migration #2 – David McDonald Photography
Asleep at the Wheel – The House & Other Arctic Musings
Birdcam Adventures 4 – Birds ‘n Such
How to See a Sound That’s a Half-Second Long – Round Robin
Finch Photos – A DC Birding Blog
Autumn Quiet – Ben Cruachan Natural History
Block Party for the Birds: Warblers and Sparrows in the Streets – Neighborhood Nature
Hummingbird Heaven – Apartment Biology
Meet “C over K” – Nature Geek Northwest
High Island Week 3 – DDolan New Birder
Panama – the Trip to the Airport – 10,000 Birds
Radar Ornithology – The Feather and the Flower
Prospect Park Outdoes itself – Great Auk – or Greatest Auk?
We Have a Nestling! – Vickie Henderson Art
Butter Butt Invasion – J.M. Oudesluys
Tree Swallows Migrate North in Early Spring to Nest – The Birder’s Report
Ridiculous super-elongate, coiled windpipes allow some birds to function like trombones – – or is it violins? – Tetrapod Zoology
The EU Birds Directive and Its Application to Cyprus – Migrations
Camera Critters: Life of a Great Horned Owl – Ecobirder
A Gaggle of Geese at Middle Creek – The Bufflehead Birder


  1. […] OK, you got me. I wrote these words to introduce a different edition of I and the Bird back in October 2006 . But now it’s spring and migration is moving me as I’m sure it moves you. Plus, our host now as then is dynamic Daniel Rhoads of Migrations. It’s exciting to realize that Dan’s last edition is separated not only by two and a half years but by thousands of miles, since these days he’s blogging out of Cyprus! What matters most, however, hasn’t changed. Enjoy Dan’s passionate paean to peregrination in I and the Bird #99. […]

  2. Beautiful pros for an excellent IATB Dan! I can’t wait to go through all the submissions but alas, I must head off to work, only to anticipate the joy of the journey tonight when I return home.

    Thanks for doing such a great job for all of us!

  3. Good post!

    Unfortunately, you somehow missed my post, “Brand-new old favourite”, , reporting on Iona Beach Regional Park.

  4. You missed my contribution sent on Tue 28 April 2:29 pm to bitesizebio address.


  5. Dan, since you probably do not get around to read the comments tonight (in Cyprus it is after mid-night as I write this), I hope you don´t mind that I am leaving a link to my contribution here.
    Endemic little brown Jobs in Central Peru. LBJ:s in Peru are pretty!
    from Gunnar Engblom in Peru
    who has been to Cyprus 6 times.Panaiamo!

  6. Susannah and Gunnar,
    I’m sorry to have missed your posts – I know that my bitesizebio email addy has been off for quite a while and not working anymore, which might’ve been the cause.

  7. A beautiful rendition of the busy activity that is so characteristic of spring. It is amazing how well-timed spring activities are for each species. I look forward to reading all these submissions!

  8. […] I and the Bird #99 […]

  9. […] I and the Bird #99 – An appropriately migratory theme at Migrations […]


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