On March 1, when I started hunting for spring for real, I set myself up for a challenge: Find and record a bird every day until Easter. I called it a naturalist’s Lenten promise at first, but it was soon nicknamed birdaday.
The idea was to keep hopeful in the knowledge that spring would come, even as the weather teased us with warm days intermingled with snow storms, ice and cold snaps. The birds teased me even more.
I thought it would be easy to spot them, since I am out walking every day and because I always notice birds. Problem is that my guaranteed walk, with the dog, still takes place in the dark of morning. That’s OK, I thought, I’ll add a midday walk at work, which has paths and roads and a pond.
The birds mocked me. It was cold. It was windy. I couldn’t even find a pigeon, let alone a robin or sparrow. The seagulls I saw driving in to work in the morning had disappeared by the time I took my walk.
I took pictures of my chickens and my ducks or the geese on the pond — easy targets. Then I started taking pictures of paintings, pictures of block prints.
Once it did warm up, the birds mocked me some more — I could hear flocks singing in the eaves of buildings, but couldn’t see any. I could glimpse one high in a tree, but all my camera caught was branches.
One day as I headed to the pond I saw a magnificent heron standing on the path right in front of me. I pulled out my camera — OK, it’s my phone — and shot. I got a gray blob on a gray path.
I started posting the “trust me” series, as in “trust me, it’s a robin,” on a photo of a tiny silhouette in a tangle of branches. Or “trust me, it’s three cowbirds” on one of the murky shapes on a brown lawn. My walking partner laughed at my ability to scare off crows and starlings.
Meanwhile, my photographer friends were mocking me too, posting stunning photos of herons in flight or perching hawks and owls, while I was still getting blotches and streaks.
Even the calendar mocked me. I was under the assumption that Lent is 40 days, but this year it’s 46. That’s a lot of bird hunting.
Last weekend when I visited my sister, I filled her bird feeder and waited. A chickadee came. And another. Then some tufted titmice, a cardinal and some juncos. Three turtle doves showed up, and a bluebird. Out in her woods we could see an enormous hawk perched in an oak.
I didn’t get too many photos, but it was nice to be watching together.
I guess it’s spring now. Enjoy the birds.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on April 30. Reach Margaret Hartley at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. You can see her lame birdaday photos on Instagram @margaretbhartley. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.