Birding Slump

With the end of May, spring migration is petering out here in the South. But for me, it never really began. It feels like I’ve barely seen any migrants this year. That would be understandable if I hadn’t been birding at all this season, but that’s not the case, though I may not have been out as much as I have in past years.

There’s a ten acre “nature preserve” in our neighborhood with fairly good habitat and a nice trail running through it. Every spring and fall during migration, I try to take a stroll through it on weekdays before work. I usually end up birding it 10-20 days per season, for about an hour at a time.

Understand, it is no migrant trap. Five species of warblers is a very good day. But what it lacks in sheer numbers (other than cardinals, they’re all over the place), it makes up for in diversity. In six years, I’ve recorded over 30 species of warblers there. And day-to-day, you can almost count on seeing something different. I may have a slow day, but it was always enjoyable.

But not this year. I don’t know where the birds were, but they weren’t here. Sure, the “usuals” showed up: several White-eyed Vireos on territory, a Kentucky Warbler singing most every day (but haven’t seen him this year), Northern Waterthrushes bobbing along the water-filled ditches beside the trail. But there were very few days that I encountered anything different. And some days the place seemed devoid of birds altogether.

I don’t know why this spring was so different. The preserve hasn’t changed in any appreciable way that I can tell. Are there simply fewer birds? I know that most neotropical migrants are declining, some severely, but you wouldn’t expect that to manifest itself in the numbers at just one site in a single year. Maybe it was simply an off year?

I hope so, because otherwise I would have to entertain the possibility that it was me. Were the birds still there, but I wasn’t able to find them?

One result is that I didn’t enjoy my time birding nearly as much as I usually do. I appreciate any time that I’m able to spend in the field, and I still enjoy the “usual” birds. But I just couldn’t help but be disappointed most days. Enough so, that after several slow days in the middle of the month, while seemingly everyone else in the area was finding Connecticut Warblers, I was wondering what the point would be of going back. I lost the will to bird. And that bothers me immensely.

Has anyone else ever felt this way? And more importantly, how do you get over it?

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