One of my favorite things about birding is being out and about enjoying the day while the rest of the world sleeps. Dawn is not only great because of the chorus of birds that greets the early birder in spring, but because the dew or the rain of the night before give the whole world a freshly-washed feel, and, of course, because of the gorgeous skies that occur at sunrise. There is less traffic noise, no small thing in New York City, and anyone else who is up has their own agenda and therefore cares not a whit about why a guy with binoculars is staring into the sky.
In the last several years since I took up birding I have seen more sunrises than at any time in my life since my early twenties when I was seeing sunrises from the other direction, that is, on my way to sleep after a night’s activities. Those sunrises, viewed through the bleary eyes of one who had imbibed too much, were nice too, but they were more of a signal that it was time to go to bed. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up all night to see a sunrise, and, while I sometimes miss those days, I appreciate even more the sunrises I get up early to see, both because I am sober when seeing them and because dawn means much more to me now that I associate it with birdsong.
At dawn birds get active – singing, preening, making their way to foraging areas, and exuberating in having made it through another night. There is something in the primitive parts of my human brain that makes me want to not so much sing as yell to the world that I am alive as well, that I made it through the night, that I am here and this is my place. Maybe this is the remnant of the monkey brain from which we have not fully evolved? The night is scary when predators hunt and mortality is greater in the dark hours. Who can blame a creature for wanting the world know that once more it is witnessing the sun rise? And who can hear the dawn chorus and not be thrilled to be alive for yet another spin around the earth’s axis?
I have been trying get up early at least twice a week in order to take a nice walk around Meadow Lake and enjoy the dawn. The skies of late have been great, and the birds, though common, have been inspiring, even when they are not at close range. Watching a flock of starlings or pigeons against a dramatic sky can be as rewarding a sight as a rare wood-warbler, if one is hoping to see something beautiful and not worry so much about a checklist. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am still going to be twitching rarities and working on my Queens list, my life list, and my year list, but I am also going to make sure that I don’t let my listing interfere with enjoying the commoners.
I’ve also been using my early morning walks to hone my skills in tracking birds in flight to get recognizable shots of them on the wing. I figure practicing on Barn Swallows, Chimney Swifts, and Mourning Doves will prep me for when a Cave Swallow, a Common Swift, or a White-winged Dove show up in my viewfinder.
But, mostly, I just enjoy the morning, stopping and looking at whatever catches my fancy, and then meandering home in time for Desi to wake up and see his daddy. It’s a tough life, but someone has to live it.