First of Year

January 1 is a special day for many of us birders. As soon as we down our first cup of coffee, we stagger blearily to the window and look for the very first bird to appear. That bird becomes FOY: First of the Year.

For many of us, the FOY becomes the year’s birding theme. If Mother Nature sends us a good bird, we gleefully brag to all our birding friends. If she sends us one we don’t like – say, a bird introduced to the US from another country (eg., a European Starling), or a bird we associate with bad vibes (eg., a gull from the local dump, or a blackbird strolling around the K-Mart parking lot) – we despondently seek comfort from our birding friends. Everyone always commiserates with the unlucky birder, but secretly we’re glad that bird wasn’t wished on us.

I don’t wait for a quality bird as FOY because if I did, it would *always* be a crow. Crows have their fans, but I am not a big one. To avoid having one Crow Year after another, my husband and I engage in long discussions in late December about which strategy we should pursue to see a bird before the crow tide flows out of the current roost in the cemetery at 7:29 a.m.

This year, he told me he has been seeing a “fluffy, fuzzy, owly kind of thing” fly out from a tiny nook between the beams of the Center for Urban Horticulture building in the early mornings. John is not a birder by choice or by nature: he loves to watch birds’ behavior but cares nothing about identifying species. You might say his lack of interest in listing is zen-like in its purity.

While I admire his dedication to ideals, I have to admit it’s frustrating at times, too. This Jan. 1 was one of those times, when it would have been great if he had been able to provide a few more details about his nook bird. But his description was good enough to determine our plan for FOY: get to the CUH before first light and try to identify what was lurking in the nook.

So there we were in the dead of a dark January 1 morning, creeping up on the CUH building as silently as we could, dressed in dark clothing, with a flashlight and various optics strewn about our persons. My best hope was that none of the neighbors would report us to security (remembering the eco-terrorists who set the building on fire some years ago). I get so nervous when questioned by authority figures. I start to babble, and the more I babble, the more suspicious I appear. Been there, done that – no desire to repeat.

Anyway, despite our stealth, no one was at home in the nook, so there we stood, plan shot to pieces. Now what? We headed over to the Lagoon to look for ducks, but the night was so dark even my Nikons couldn’t pick up enough photons to make out a bird from a buoy. We decamped to the New Wooden Bridge to discuss. There, in the brightness of the light standards, were five Pied-billed Grebes paddling around in the puddle of orange light shining on the water. Great birds, no gendarmes, and a whole day of surprises still ahead. Who could ask for more?