So I went back, looking for bird truth, whether in the form of elusive birds, capricious birds, theoretical birds, vocal birds, no birds, too many birds, not enough birds, cautious birds, hidden birds, bird coalitions, independent birds, beautiful and drab birds, mellifluous and strident birds.
—Henry David Thoreau (not really)
May, that spring concoction with a pinch of winter and a sprig of summer, is a matter of record now. For me it was mostly defined, as usual, by the influx of migrating birds and the success or failure of my attempts to see them, whether in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge or in the woods of the Brooks Estate in Medford.
I began a post two weeks ago representing three stages of that event. First, whetted by my frustration with not being able to match the bird movement in a given spot with the same spot seen through my binoculars—I looked instead for the elusive "truth of birds": the reality that birds inhabit as birds, as distinct from the celebrity spotting that is the birder's game, fueled by the lure of, say, the throat flame of a Blackburnian warbler in a treetop or the sweet sweet chew chew of an all-blue indigo bunting.
Bird truth is an ascetic pursuit, the equivalent of munching Essene bread. It requires a broad consideration of the bird's environment or a deep consideration of the bird's behaviour—with a u—the impulse driving the catbird's beatnik colloquy, for example, or the nuthatch's nervous but dogged energy (even though you'd trade a Talmud of catbird truth for a momentary gander at an indigo bunting turning from turquoise to ultramarine in changing light).
But then there is the parable of the three birds—on a morning when I went to Brooks, third week of May, the bushes and trees still lousy with warblers. And I saw one, and it was good!— a common yellowthroat. Little bandit with the black mask, skulking in a bush, olive and yellow, being furtive but allowing itself to be seen. So I continued to the pocket meadow and along the trail through a copse of trees and shrubs called Warbler Walk and lo! I beheld a magnolia warbler in good light, among the leaves, and it was very good—brilliant yellow, etched with black streaks and marshmallow white. High definition, sufficing for a treeful of barely glimpsed rarities. So, emboldened by the good yellowthroat and very good magnolia, I betook me to the Lounge, a clearing where two trails T and many species of passing passerines are known to hang out, and behold! there was a black-throated blue warbler at the end of a twig, inky head tipped back, singing its arcane rising zoo zoo zoo zee, not any competition for a thrush, but giving its all. And it was enough. Three good birds can a merry May make.
There wasn't really a third stage to my Birder's Progress, except maybe a reconciliation of bird truth and celebrity spotting: See what you can see. Which may be what a lot of those warblers are singing. See...see? (Get it? Got it?)