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In Mourning

June 1, 2009
by

Every birder knows that missing the bird is as crucial a part of the birding experience as finding the bird. It’s the little spoken of yin to the twitcher yang. For every story of the the amazing chase, the miraculous find at the last second, the lifer experience pulled from the clutches of mediocrity, the there’s the long drive home, head held low, tail between legs.

It’s an essential aspect of birding. What makes birds, especially those in spring, so fascinating to many of us is their fleeting nature, the here one day gone the next, I can’t believe I found it experiences that lead to bull sessions into the morning among certain like minded souls. But those stories are tempered and made epic by the misses, they require empty hands and unchecked boxes.

I had a small moment of cheer earlier this spring when I turned up a Wilson’s Warbler, not an every year kind of bird, at my local stomping grounds. But since the baby has come I haven’t had just a whole lot of time to kick up the hot warbler spots at the end of the season. Cause while Wilson’s Warbler is a pretty good bird for the area, the intrepid and hard-working birder can possibly turn up a bigger prize for the state. A certain gray-headed warbler that flits about on the edge of our consciousness. It takes real effort, skill and no small bit of luck, or if you don’t have time for those, you can do what I did, and chase one someone else already found.

When a Mourning Warbler was reported from a small city park in Greensboro I didn’t think my wife would let me go. After all, with a two week old baby in the house, I had every reason to think I would have to write this one off. But my wife is awesome, and she gave me the go-ahead so long as I didn’t take longer than three hours total, which after a one hour each way drive would leave me only an hour to find the bird. The park was small, however, so I figured an hour was all I needed.

Mourning Warbler is not a life bird for me. It was one of those birds that my dad and I would turn up in Missouri nearly every spring. But I had never gotten a really good look at one, and as it had been well over ten years since my last I was feeling a serious jones for this specific warbler.

Greensboro Bog Garden is not a large park. A well-maintained boardwalk takes you on a barely quarter mile loop through some thick growth and by a sizable pond, packed as it was by those suburban regulars Canada Geese and Mallards of appropriately unknown heritage, as well as a couple Green Herons and several Rough-winged Swallows. The rain was light, but steady, reminding me no small bit of rain birding in the neotropics, so thick was the undergrowth.

I ran into several Greensboro area birders pacing the wooden walkway and we soon joined forces to stake out the spot where the bird had put on a show the day before. I’d like to tell you luck was with me, but after an hour of circling the loop and finding nothing but the typical contingent of eastern avifauna, and no warblers at all, my time ran out and I had to return to my wife and baby. The bird was never refound by anyone.

I would have loved to see it, but the pain was metered somewhat by the fact that the Mourning isn’t a lifer, but I still hold out hope one of these days I’ll stumble upon a gray-headed ghost on a late spring morning somewhere in the state.

At the very least, the miss will make the inevitable triumph far more interesting.

7 Comments
  1. corey permalink
    June 1, 2009 7:35 am

    I feel your pain…no I’m also mourning my lack of a Mourning so far this spring.

  2. Mike permalink
    June 1, 2009 8:08 am

    I feel the same way. I made two runs at MOWA this month and missed both times. Since this bird would be a lifer for me, I feel a bit less blithe about the situation than you do!

  3. John permalink
    June 1, 2009 10:04 am

    I’ve only ever seen one, and that was at least two years ago.

  4. Christopher permalink
    June 1, 2009 10:24 am

    I’m in the same boat as you guys – no Mourning Warbler for me yet this year either. At least twice this year I have missed one by a few minutes, and searched for at least an hour each time with no luck. Haven’t seen one for years – and my experience is – hey there’s a Mourn… it’s gone.

  5. Nate permalink
    June 1, 2009 9:18 pm

    @all- You guys should talk to my dad, he had half a dozen this year. Apparently, Missouri is Mourning Warbler central.

  6. nishiki_85 permalink
    June 1, 2009 11:39 pm

    I too missed a Mourning Warbler one day while visiting a local warbler hot spot. Birders were sharing their observations like hockey cards that day. It would have been a lifer.

  7. Jochen permalink
    June 4, 2009 3:57 am

    Yay, your wife IS awesome!

    Sorry you didn't find the Mourning, but as with all Oporornis warblers, missing them a few times or searching really, really hard is part of the experience.

    By the way, it's all in the scientific name of the genus:

    O-por-ornis = Oh, poor Ornis (with Ornis being the short form of Ornithologists or birders. In fact German birders call themselves "Orni" even though in this global age this is being increasingly replaced with "Birder" even in German)

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