I spent the early morning today at Kenilworth Aquatic Garden, freezing, shivering in the occasional snow flurry, and looking in vain for some of the more interesting birds that have been seen here recently. The blustery wind off the marsh on the overlooks at the boardwalk trail reminded me very clearly why I prefer butterflies and botanizing to birding.
I grew up birding, and it’s still one of my great passions. But there are four things that genetically predispose me to other forms of nature study:
1) I admit it: I like to sleep in. So do butterflies. Plants don’t care if I look for them at noon or midnight.
2) I freeze easily. Give me a steaming hot summer day any time. You don’t look for butterflies when it’s five below zero. On the other hand, days like this convince birders that irruptive northern finches could be in any overgrown field or conifer and REI has a rush on fleece underwear.
3) I get seasick. There are no pelagic trips for butterflies or trilliums.
4) I have no ear for warbler songs, the stock in trade for spring birding. Butterflies don’t sing (at least not in a range I have to worry about).
On the other hand, you can bird if you must from before sun-up to midnight, on cloudy days, even in relatively substantial rain. You can botanize 24/7 too if you have a flashlight, but I don’t recommend it. Butterflies are notoriously fickle; most of them pull a disappearing act the minute the sun goes behind a cloud, or the temperature dips into the 50s. And don’t even start comparing the number of great field guides and electronic birding apps with the meager selection of ID options for butterflies. And how about an eButterfly complement to eBird?
So birding makes a great wintertime substitute for butterflies and wildflowers — and one might on rare occasions be out on warm winter days looking for hermit thrushes or winter wrens and stumble on a mourning cloak or anglewing, if you’re really lucky. Otherwise, I’ll trade in my close-focus bins for a spotting scope and freeze next weekend, standing on the headland looking out over the bay for Barrow’s goldeneye…