Easter weekend couldn’t come fast enough. After an entire week of rain and cold temperatures, the weather finally called for warmth and sun. The Boyfriend’s roommate was having his whole family visit for the holidays, which was great – if I couldn’t be with my own family for Easter, at least someone’s family would be there! Amid the ruckus however, caused by any extended family stay, The Boyfriend and I wheeled bicycles out of the garage and slipped away for the afternoon.
Pedaling the five miles to First Landing State Park (points for avoiding the car!), we began our nearly four hour excursion, and my first trip identifying over ten bird species in one day! This may not be a feat for many birders, especially one couple I read about on a birding website who have already identified 315 bird species - this year. 10 birds for me was amazing, and we saw them at every stage of our mini-trip.
I followed Brian as we maneuvered through neighborhoods, around cars, and across one incredibly busy bridge. Just within the nearby neighborhoods I spotted a pair of cardinals, a blue jay, robins, and many mockingbirds, all on my awesome wheels (borrowed from Brian’s other roommate. I was able to borrow the bike on strict instructions not to run into anything. Oh if only I had that kind of control. Looking up to find birds in the trees above doesn’t exactly keep my eyes on the road either!). Species one, two, three, and four, all within the first half hour. Sure, they were four species that I see nearly every day I spend in Virginia Beach, but the thrill of correct identification remains!
On our way, we pulled over at a seafood place right on the water. Not bothering to go in, we rolled down to the pier, where boaters can pull up and park instead of driving their cars or trucks. In case you were wondering, it is much more fun to casually pull up to a eatery via water. Covering the dock was a half dozen Brown Pelicans, ruffling their feathers and preening in the sun. I have a love affair with Pelicans, and would have happily have stayed their snapping the exact same photo of the birds if The Boyfriend hadn’t insisted on moving us along. Five.
Entering the park, we dodged dog walkers, joggers, and other bicylists until we pulled up to the visitor’s center. After I jumped not-so-gracefully to the ground, Brian locked my bike with his and threaded the helmets through my backpack straps so they swung as we walked. It is a beautiful park, with a myriad of trails threading their way through the woods and around cyprus swams, rooty cyprus knees jutting up out of the dark water. We were on the main trail, which was quite busy on a warm Saturday, but still we found ourselves suddenly feeling rural. When we were alone on the trail it was completely quiet, though the roads were only a few miles away through the trees.
In one such break between the other walkers/ joggers, a pair of black and white woodpeckers flew across the path, landing in large pine trees to our right. We heard them thwack briefly as I tried desperately to focus my camera quick enough to catch some defining features. Though we got a good look at them, the camera had no such luck, and they had flown again before allowing themselves to be captured on film. Still, it was a good start to our walk!
I always insist we take the Kingfisher Trail. Not only is it named after one of my favorite birds, the Kingfisher trail cuts out of the wood and brings its travelors right next to the ocean, trading the dirt and soil of the forest floor for white sand. Walking towards the shore, we quieted suddenly to locate a high pitched cheep coming from the trees around us. Squinting, we finally made out a small Yellow-Rumped Warbler, one of the only warblers I can easily identify because it is a) yellow, so it sticks out from the brush and I can see it in the first place, and b) it has a very obvious yellow spot on its back. We crept behind it softly as it jumped from perch to perch among the saplings growing close to the trail before it decided to jet off away from us. Six.
The trees in front of us opened up, revealing the bright ocean water sparkling in the spring sun. While the forest still felt a little cool, the wind was down and the sun was out on the shore, and I unzipped my jacket, jealous of Brian’s foresight in merely donning a T-shirt that morning. The birds started coming fast and furious now. Though I couldn’t identify the piper/plover that we saw in the shore grass (merely looking at the pages and pages of the different options in my bird book is enough to send my head spinning in circles) Brian pointed to a Great Egret taking flight on the other end of the marsh. Seven.
Arriving at a small bridge, we could see the outline of a large bird sitting next to its equally large nest. Getting as close as the trail would allow, we then bush-whacked to the edge of the water to get even closer. From our vantage point we identified a lone Osprey, surveying its watery kingdom below. Though I’ve seen dozens of Osprey in flight, I’ve hardly ever seen one up close in its nest, at rest. They really are majestic birds, and I felt like he was looking right at us as we approached. Eight.
He wasn’t the only one eyeing us. As we made out way back to the trail, a pack of other walkers passed by, raising their eyes at the pair of us emerging from the woods. Who knows what they assumed we had been doing, and even after Brian tried to explain we had only been getting a closer look at an Osprey one of the passers-by laughed and yelled back at us, “Don’t worry, none of us saw you go to the bathroom!” Ew. Even if that had been necessary I think we would have made it farther than thirty feet off the main path!
Despite their taunts, we were rewarded for our foray not only by the Osprey, but by two Great Blue Herons, one with its long wings beating in flight, the other tucked onto the branch of a dead marsh tree in the brackish water that connected a tiny lake with the ocean’s tides. A Snowy Egret picked among the shallow water for its prey. A Kingfisher, the namesake of the trail we were on, alighted perfectly on a bare branch, cackling away. If there’s one thing I love about a Kingfisher, it’s that I always know when one’s about! Nine. Ten. Eleven.
Feeling adventurous, we picked up a tiny trail off the main path, merely a suggestion of a route instead of the well marked thoroughway that boasted more and more walkers as the morning faded into the afternoon. Though we may have broken some park rules, and though in general it is never a good idea to stray too far off a marked path in the risk of disturbing a sensitive environment, the trail we were on had seen at least some amount of traffic, and we followed it back towards the water. Spooking a Pileated Woodpecker, it keekekeekeekeekuk-ed its away directly in front of us before swooshing off to another tree out of sight. I may be an amateur birder, but I know a Pileated when I see or hear one! Twelve.
And then, one of my favorite happenings, well, happened. In a park, on a walk, in the woods, anywhere “wild” always promises one thing: suprises. As well as you can know a place, and Brian has been to First Landing multiple times for fun and for training, there is always the latent capacity to surprise that remains. As we followed the trail, all of a sudden the trees and brush fell away and a small, completely deserted beach opened up in front of us. A plastic white chair suggested we weren’t the only ones who knew of this beach, but at the moment, it was all ours! Shucking off the rest of our warm clothes, we basked in the sunshine, watching the ducks that refused to come close enough to identify them (how many times am I going to break Rule #1, always have binoculars!) but remained entertaining as they shook their heads and dove about.
It was hard to get up to leave, but eventually our stomachs told us it was time to head back and find some food. Perhaps as some kind of a cosmic reward, a blue backed bird flitted across the path in front of us, right as it curved away from the water. With a white stomach and reddish neck, it was a striking bird, even if I did not recognize it. Snapping a photo just before it flew off, when I reached my bird book back at home we found it to be an Eastern Bluebird! Uncommon in Maine, I had never seen one before, let alone identified it! A life bird for me, rigth at the end of our walk. Bird #13 of the day.
Walking back to our bikes, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Thirteen species, identified by yours truly (and Brian of course). Maybe my amateur status would only be a passing phase, a brief beginner level before becoming the master birder like those I had witnessed on The Big Year or at the Cornell lab of Ornithology. We turned a corner, and for fifty feet or so the track led us along a canal that boaters could use to reach the open ocean. As if to confirm my suspicions about my prowess, standing atop a wooden pier-post I spotted my 14th bird!
“Brian! Look! Look! Another kind of heron!” I quickly turned on my camera and began zooming in. I hadn’t seen a heron like this before. It was smaller than a Great Blue, but larger than the Snowy Egret, a brown color that covered its whole body.
“Erika,” Brian said, turning back.
Ignoring the tone that was probably so obvious, I began taking pictures, “Do you see it? It’s right there!”
Click Click Click.
“What?” I said breathlessly, taking my eyes from my digital screen.
“Look at it again.”
I lowered my camera and complied, squinting at the bird as it stood along the water. I kept staring. It didn’t move. In fact, it hadn’t moved at all since I had first spied it. It’s not unusual for certain species, especially herons, to stand stock still, but something was wrong with this bird. I crinkled my nose, trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with the thing. Until it hit me.
It wasn’t real.
Taking a second look at my pictures confirmed it. I had just become beyond excited about a bronze statue of a heron.
“It’s there to keep other birds off the dock,” Brian said matter-of-factly, shaking his head at me.
And so, my amatuer status definitely remains! It’s not the first time I’ve been fooled by a realistic looking statue or wood carving, and I’m sure it won’t be the last! I laughed at myself and put my camera away for the rest of the walk back to our bikes, just enjoying the walk and the sunshine.
Of course, I don’t mind self-proclaiming my status as an amateur birder. If I consider myself one for the rest of my life it will not diminish how much I enjoyed an afternoon outside, like in First Landing State Park! It was my first 10+ bird day, I added the Yellow Rumped Warbler and the Eastern Bluebird to my list of identified species, and I spent the whole day in the sun! Definitely an Easter Weekend win.