Birdwatching during the lockdown

How looking out of the window saved my sanity – a quarantine birdwatching tale

The lockdown/quarantine started the same way for me as for most others; the excitement about getting that crucial extra half hour of sleep that I was missing, the part of not having to drive thirty minutes one way every day, and that opportunity to set up my home office the way I wanted.

A gorgeous male Eastern Bluebird basks in the winter sunshine

However, a couple of months into this life, things started to sour. I was heading straight to my home office right out of the bed, and staying there till bedtime. Stuff that could have got done by just walking over to someone’s desk started needing calendar slots. Staying on top of things now required dedicated time, instead of a chat at the coffee machine with teammates. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were gobbled in a hurry or at my desk. My day would end at bedtime, with my shoulders and neck stiff from hunching down at the keyboard all day. Fitbit showed that my resting heart rate was 10 beats per minute over my average for the last year. I was burning out.

Sometime around May, I heard a high pitched crescendo from outside my window. A bird call that sounded like “Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle”, made me look outside. I have been filling up my bird feeders in the backyard for years now, but after the initial excitement waned, I had stopped caring about what turned up at the feeders. I couldn’t see who the singer was, but I got myself a cup of tea and stood gazing out of the window. Spring is nesting time for many birds, and I noticed a flurry of activity on the feeders.

A Common Grackle, when in the right kind of light, shows off its breathtaking colors

On the suggestion of my friend and birdwatching mentor Beej, I started keeping notes of the birds I saw from the window. Within a couple of days, I had spotted more than 20 species of birds in my tiny urban backyard. Soon, I made a routine of picking a fifteen to thirty minute slot during my 14-hour workday to sit on the back porch and just watch and photograph the bird life turning up.

A Northern Mockingbird feeds its offspring

I would hear hatchlings from the thickets all around the house. Soon, I would see baby birds with colorful gapes being fed, and taught to feed, by the parents. I would watch these fledglings grow up and then stop coming to the feeder one fine day, finding other pastures. Come July and August, the visitors at the feeder would dwindle due to the bountiful availability of food elsewhere. However, in October, they were back, in swarms. With them were numerous other passage migrants as the birds from up north moved en masse, in search of warmth.

A Pine Warbler, a winter migrant in these parts, perches on a twig

In eight months, I ended up taking thousands of photographs and had recorded 40 species of birds in the backyard. That half-hour that I spent outside made me stop hunching over my desk for hours, and provided the detox my brain was craving.

The sun shines through the trees, illuminating a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Just looking out of the window had saved my sanity, in a year when things just wouldn’t go right.

Sandy

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