Everything was nearly copacetic. Spring had sprung, the grass had ris. I wondered where the birdies is.
We have spring, summer, winter, and at least 37 other seasons in Minnesota including: sprimmer, winfall, roadwork, bad sledding, fly and tick, election, and salt. We get ice. That’s why we have all those signs reading, “George Washington slipped here.” We’re too wet and we’re too dry, just like most other places. I don’t complain about the weather. What good would it do? The weather doesn’t care what I think of it. Our weather is quirky, just as are 79.4 percent of the birders I know.
Spring is when I herald the return of the meadowlark and the killdeer. They herald right back at me.
I was a leader on one of those “There’s a tick on me!” buses. We stopped at birdy places and visited restrooms. It wasn’t long before I heard a passenger say, “There’s a tick on me!”
I’d phoned a neighbor to invite him to ride along. His name is Still Bill; he makes more dust than miles. He’s the CEO of Torpor World. I drive stakes beside him to see if he’s moving. I wanted to say, “Grab your crampons—there’s a bird mountain to climb.” He didn’t answer his phone. You can’t wake someone who is pretending to sleep. I wanted to slobber a bibful about the research done by the University of Exeter, which found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature each week are more likely to report good health and higher psychological well-being than those not visiting nature regularly.
The birds came out in flying colors. There were warblers and sparrows galore that afflicted us with ASD—Attention Surplus Disorder.
The day after the successful birding bus trip, I walked beaucoup land miles in new hiking boots because I was unable to find a short pier on which to take a long walk, as had been suggested. Several people on the bus had pointed out that my old shoes had become more duct tape than footwear. My feet are substantial, size 14, and the store had measured my dogs. You get what you measure, but the new boots weren’t up to the task of serious locomotion due to improper infrastructure. They were too short. I didn’t notice the problem right away, because I’m lacking in the sensitivity department. By the time I recognized the problem, my tootsies were tender.
I sat in my office, considering my tortured trotters. I wasn’t licking my wounds because they were on my big toes and my second-in-command toes I looked out the window to see a tufted titmouse. It was the second one I’d ever seen in my yard. The icing on that birding cake was a golden-crowned kinglet. It’s a regular bird of passage in my yard, but I could never see enough of that endearing bird. One of the many great things about being a birder is that often, birds find me. My sore feet had grounded me so birds were able to come near. I wanted to gaze admiringly at those birds, but my feet got in the way. I returned the footwear I didn’t have for long because they weren’t long enough. I traded them in for proper boots that silenced my barking dogs. Comfortable shoes, an important part of birding, put a spring in my step.
I walk because I’m addicted to a Fitbit. It’s called a Fitbit because in an attempt to become fit, I’ll risk being bitten by mosquitoes, black flies, and bears. W.C. Fields said, “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore, always carry a small snake.” I carry vanilla to discourage black flies, and the smell makes everyone think I’ve been baking. I can afford to travel because people pay me to put steps on their Fitbits.
It rained so much as I headed to the park that it had been impossible for me to finish a bowl of tomato soup at an outdoor cafe. I didn’t carry an umbrella because I don’t look good being dry and warm. Some men can pull that off, but not me. Staying dry was as difficult as sewing buttons on ice cream. I wore a baseball cap advertising an optics company, but, weighed down by rain, it became a 10-gallon hat. I was scheduled to lead a spring bird walk while soaked to both the socks I was wearing and those at home in a drawer. I was pleased when a few steadfast participants showed up.
Cold and wet spring weather makes for hungry warblers. I had no Purina Warbler Chow for them. A New York Times article claimed there are 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans, but not that day. There were few flying insects, and those were wearing parkas. A Blackburnian warbler landed near my boot and tried to pull a small earthworm from the ground a foot from my foot. If it hadn’t been for bad weather, I wouldn’t have experienced a close-up of that charming bird.
Sore feet and nasty weather make for good birding, just as happy feet and nice weather do.
Al Batt is a writer, speaker, storyteller, and humorist who lives in Hartland, Minnesota. His first book is a collection of his stories, A Life Gone to the Birds, published by BWD Press. Get your copy at Redstart Birding »
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest. Not a subscriber? Get one year (six issues) for only $19.99. Subscribe today »