Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Ordinary Marvel

If we open our eyes and unstop our ears, earth presents us with such ordinary, everyyear wonders, like the routine migrations of animals.

One ancient cycle––the great seasonal pulse of migrating birds––can strike a chord of deep awe in those of us who are fortunate to witness it. Who hasn't rushed outdoors when the primordial rattle of cranes or cry of swans seeps through the windows of daily life? After a long, dark, frozen winter, whose heart hasn't leapt at the appearance of the first hummingbird of the spring, as the tiny glittering miracle hovers for an instant at the kitchen window? 

Scarlet Tanager in Dogwood (Acrylics by Narca)

Over the years, Costa Rica has gifted our tour groups with riveting experiences of migration. Consider: it is April in the lowland rainforest of Selva Verde. A blustery spring storm descends, drenching the forest. We venture out anyway, and find that the storm has grounded a large flight of Eastern Kingbirds and Scarlet Tanagers. In just the trees that encircle us, we count at least 50 of the brilliant male tanagers. The green females are much harder to detect in the confusion of leaves, although we manage to find a couple. (In many of the passerines, the males migrate a week or two before the females, and that may be happening with these tanagers.)

In mid-afternoon the storm finally lifts, and migrating Swainson's Hawks immediately take to the skies, rising by the hundreds from the surrounding forest. I expect that the tanagers and kingbirds will lift off at nightfall, joining the hawks in the river of birds which wing their way north each spring.

Have you been especially impressed and delighted by one of your encounters with migrant birds? I welcome your comments.

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