Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Brings More Colorful Birds
April 24, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Our world is turning green again. The trees are budding, forsythia is in bloom, and flowers are dotting the landscape. The flowering trees are already bursting with colorful blooms and the stage is being set for the spring bird migration.

     The orioles, warblers, grosbeaks, buntings, tanagers other neotropical migrants will soon bring more color to our area and to the birders who anxiously await their arrival. Our friend and fellow birder, Doug Chickering of Newburyport, has an interesting theory about us birders, and these colorful birds that are headed our way:

     “I have a theory. Not one that has been tested and verified by experiment or careful documentation, but one that comes from my observations and impressions. My theory is that a large majority of birders have a special, heightened sensitivity to color. A sensitivity so ingrained and powerful that it constitutes a powerful elemental force that draws us into our birding. One of several factors of course, but real and powerful altogether.

     “Yesterday I was on Plum Island looking for migrants when I came upon a perched Purple Finch, silhouetted against the early morning sun. It was little more than a black outline but at times the head would move so that the bright sun shone over the top of its head. And in that moment, there was a positive bright red glow at the crest of his crown. I have witnessed this phenomenon before, with Bay-breasted Warbler. The effect is arresting, and breathtaking. A brilliant ethereal effect, magical and beyond ordinary description.

     “Although this event is unusual it is also representative of the intense and varied colors of nature; colors that really strike us as we emerge from the monochromatic blandness of winter. The forsythia shines bright yellow against the background of dull brown tangles. The flowering trees bring forth their flowers of white and subtle pink. There is one fruit tree that I see occasionally that I particularly cherish with white blossoms tinted in blue and even with the mere hint of gray in them.

     “I see and appreciate all of these colors but wait for the birds the primary carriers of the pure colors of nature. And these colors are not adequately described by language. There is the yellow on a Goldfinch and on a Yellow Warbler and on the throat of a Chat and the nape of a Prothonotary Warbler. All yellows, all pure and brilliant but each one a little different from the other.

     “And it is thus with the other colors. The Blue on a Jay is different than that on an Indigo Bunting and different than that on a Bluebird and a Black-throated Blue Warbler. All fantastic and all just slightly and subtly unique.

     “I have seen some fantastic photographs of birds from magazines and from talented photographers and from friends. Yet they all seem to fall a little short of the real thing. I don’t really know why.

     “It might have something to do with the fact that all photographs and paintings cannot escape the reality that they are two dimensional representations of a three dimensional world and perhaps this loss of dimension may create a loss of purity. It might be that because the views we have of birds is fleeting so it has a transient dimension to them. Or maybe it is just a peculiarity confined to my perceptions. I don’t really know.

     “What I do know is that time of the spring renewal is upon us and the mounting excitement of seeing the birds is here. And for me there are two species that I am anxious to see. If I don’t get a good prolonged look at a Blackburnian Warbler and a Scarlet Tanager my life will be a little diminished.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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