Last weekend was the Great Backyard Bird Count and as of this writing over 12 million individual birds were tallied on over 87,000 checklists submitted from all over the US and Canada. I don’t know what the organizers think, but it seems like the event was a rousing success.

The weather here over the weekend was quite nice and the results from Oak Park showed a respectable 23 different species on 15 checklists. I can vouch for three of those checklists that were gathered on brief errands around town. I had nothing more dramatic than a Cardinal or a Mourning Dove, but each vote counts here in Cook County, my friend. I had better luck when E and I went for a hike Saturday at Crabtree Nature Center.

It was a lovely day but once we got past their bird feeders we just weren’t seeing any birds at all. But as we were nearing the trail’s end we suddenly were treated to a passing aerial display of 32 crows swooping and squawking overhead.  I thought they might be in pusuit of a hawk or owl, but they just seemed to be raising a ruckus for the fun of it.  

The sight of the crows left us feeling the hike wasn’t in vain, but E had the find of the day (and of the year) by spotting a Northen Harrier hunting over an old field as we were driving away. It was the first time I’d ever seen one, and an excellent addition to E’s checklist for the afternoon.  

For me, birding is a little like fishing. You go out with your gear, usually in pursuit of a certain fish. As often as not – in my experience, anyway – you don’t catch the thing you wanted. (Note: maybe this means I need to work on my fishing skills) So maybe you didn’t catch what you wanted, but the outing was still a good one because you encountered something unexpected and wondrous. 

In that light, the GBBC – like fishing – is a prop, an excuse, a reason to get out and poke around the countryside. It’s these little unexpected events that keep us coming back for more. Prior to West Nile Virus the sight of a couple dozen crows wasn’t news. But it is now. So that encounter will be remembered, and it happened right outside the door.

And that is why we keep looking up.    

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Dave Coulter

I have been a horticulturist for thirty years working in the Chicago area and beyond. I have lived in Oak Park for over thirteen years. My writing has recently appeared in the journal Ecological Restoration...