In May, every minute birding is time well spent
(published 5-6-09)

According to some financial advisers, the stock market crash and lingering recession means that those of us who had hoped to retire at 60 or soon after must now work until we are 80. Ouch. By then my eyes and ears might not be so good, and I need them for birding.

I'm exaggerating, of course. No way am I reporting to an office at 80, or even 70. My golden years, hopefully, will be filled with birding. In my yard, in DuPage County and all over the country. If there's any money left, maybe a few international trips, too.

I do envy those who are already retired and those with flexible work schedules. You have the freedom to go birding a lot more often. I had a taste of that a year ago at this time when I was job searching. Naturally I devoted some of my down time to watching birds. On weekdays! What a strange but delicious experience that was after 11 straight years of going to work Monday through Friday.

One morning I went to Elsen's Hill (at West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve in Winfield) and had the place to myself. By noon I'd enjoyed outstanding views of a singing wood thrush; watched an olive-sided flycatcher catch and eat a bumblebee; and heard an odd-sounding common yellowthroat that popped into view and then morphed into my second-ever Connecticut warbler. Wow! If this is “retirement living” then count me in!

Thankfully, my job hunt ended successfully after a few months. So this migration season my time for birding during the week is limited, just like the old days. And once again, I'm looking for ways to add a little more birding time to my daily routine.

One of the great things about birding is that you can do it anywhere. Another is that it doesn't have to be time consuming. Birds are all around, especially now. It's just a matter of noticing them.

Take your lunch outside a few times this month. Sit in that green space outside your office building. Walk, if you can, to the nearest park. Drive to the closest forest preserve. Then fill your binoculars with a scarlet tanager, a Baltimore oriole or indigo bunting. If you're really fortunate, a Blackburnian warbler. But even a less dazzling migrant, like a catbird or flycatcher, can make your day. Just the sound of a catbird is enough for me.

Try to maximize your backyard birding, too. Take your morning coffee or tea outside—a few minutes on the patio can yield surprising rewards. On Easter I watched a migrating American bittern fly over my home, heading north. As “yard birds” go, this one was a complete bonus—a species I never expected to see. Timing is everything!

But it's also the magic of spring, when the treasure hunt we call birding is at its best. What will we see today? In May, the possibilities are always exciting. Keep a pair of binoculars close.

Whatever you do, get out this month and enjoy the birds. Watch them as much as you can—for a few minutes, a lunch hour or all morning long. If you're retired and have lots of time, lucky you! For the rest of us, it helps to remember that “spring migration fever” is a legitimate illness. The best remedy is a day off, weather permitting.

Copyright 2009 by Jeff Reiter. All rights reserved.