Monday, January 30, 2012
The Cost Effective Solution to Maximize Birding Potential
Financially impoverished birders have two options. The first is to never take birding trips; the other is to embark on bum adventures on minimal budgets. The latter is, of course, the superior option. A five-day break before my spring semester started provided a perfect time span for such a bum trip, so my girlfriend Alison and I headed north, to the Upper Peninsula.
The Bum Code of Birding has but three rules:
1. Never spend money on unnecessary luxuries (e.g., hotels, showers, food, etc).
2. Pay for necessities (bridge fares, parking fees, coffee) with scrounged change.
3. Avoid plans. Drift.
Follow the rules, and you will enjoy abundant success.
The eastern Upper Peninsula, in the vicinity of Sault St. Marie, is a popular destination for northern specialties in the winter. We wandered the area, finding birds like Bohemian Waxwings...
...and Common Redpolls. All of these birds were at Dunbar Experimental Forest well south of the Sault. The feeders there teamed with hundreds of siskins and redpolls. Strange combinations of southern and northern birds--American Robin and Pine Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird and White-winged Crossbill--made things interesting.
A day of birding the Sault was plenty. The Sault style of birding--driving around country roads, occasionally pulling over to check out a shrike or Snow Bunting--appeals to neither Alison or me, so we moved westward, into the land of spruce and birch, to search for denizens of the boreal forest.
At Peshekee Grade, west of Marquette, we donned snowshoes and tramped through a couple feet of snow to look for Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, and Black-backed Woodpeckers. The line between walking and wallowing loses sharpness in snow of this depth--we both took our fair share of spills.
Ah, but it was worth it! The loss of a bit of dignity is certainly compensated by the sight of Boreal Chickadees, brown and raspy-sounding, clambering through the snowy spruces.
Our other targets, however, remained concealed in the frozen forest. The Gray Jays, however, were kind enough to find us the moment we began to eat lunch back at the car. They liked tortillas just fine but refused to eat Clif bars.
Many miles of hiking over the next couple days failed to produce our other quarry, the Black-backed Woodpecker. But, the remainder of our time was filled with adventure--the discovery of the most immaculate gas station bathroom in existence, the consumption of pasties that exceeded a pound in weight, and a brief jaunt "just to stretch the legs" that morphed into a ten mile hike at Pictured Rocks. I look forward to the next bum trip I will take. Where I will go and which birds I will see will remain unknown until the very moment of occurrence.