Birding in the Time of Social Distancing

John Bloomfield
Mar 28 · 3 min read

By John Bloomfield

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Ring-necked Duck

The other day I went birding with a friend — for the first time since the term social distancing entered my lexicon. We took separate cars and were careful not to stand too close together. It wasn’t as awkward as I thought. After a while it seemed almost natural. Perhaps in time it will be.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

It was good to be outside on an early spring day. Northern Parulas were buzzing and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were making their little wheezy noises everywhere. Brown-headed Nuthatches did their rubber-duck imitation. White-eyed Vireos were singing as if in a chorus. Most of the shorebirds had packed up and left, but we did spy a few Dunlin and two Spotted Sandpipers steadily working the mud bank in front of a marsh beginning to green up with the warmer weather. A few Red-throated Loons, Eared Grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers remained on the Beaufort side of Port Royal Sound, some starting to sport their springtime colors.

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Bell Rock, Sedona, Arizona

Just a couple of weeks ago I was scampering around Bell Rock in Sedona and photographing Gambel’s Quails in Arizona. Our plans were to continue over to Southern California to catch some early spring migration, but everything screeched to a sudden halt as America awakened to the escalating threat of COVID-19. Hotels and restaurants — shuttered. Workers furloughed or told to work from home. Schools closed. Financial markets gyrating up and down.

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Gambel’s Quail

We scrambled to change some flights and headed for home, where the new reality set in.

Hilton Head did not seem like a tourist destination ready for spring break, Easter and the Heritage Classic. And you know what the grocery stores were like. We found what we needed and tuned into the TV, switching between Netflix and the news.

But there’s only so long you can do that. Getting outside provided welcome breaks, as it always does. Looking for birds. Digging in the dirt. Soaking up the light of our lengthening days. We started cooking more and found it good to reconnect with favorite recipes. We woke up each morning to crowded bird feeders, an ever-louder dawn chorus and our first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds of the year.

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Little Blue Heron

Funny how life just goes on for birds. They’re focused on what they need to do — just the basics, none of the frills. It’s easy to get used to the frills, but times like this make you appreciate the basics a lot more.

So when a friend reached out and suggested a little birding, I was right there with him. Walking the woods and marshes brought a feeling of comfort, much like digging your feet in the sand of a warm beach.

Even standing six feet apart, my friend and I shared a common bond in this frenzied time. The love of birds is powerful medicine. Try to take a dose whenever you can.

Just be safe and respect everyone’s need for a little more room.

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Great Egret in breeding plumage

The feathered trail

Life rediscovered on the Audubon highway

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