It’s New Year’s Day, and my headlights are cutting a path through the dense fog at 6:30 am. There are times where I can see at best two stripes and one reflective spot in front of me, and then there are times where the fog was so dense I could barely see the front of my car. I am questioning the sanity of my decision to sacrifice staying up to greet the new year in order to get up early and drive through these conditions, but I made this decision to be true to my intention to do more birding in 2024. I am traveling 40 minutes southeast of my house, towards Brazos Bend State Park to meet a more experienced birding friend who invited me to join him. He wanted to meet at sunrise, which is the best time to start a birding adventure. I planned to break off after a couple of hours of this to go hiking with my hiking group.
We met at the 40 Acre Lake parking lot. I had gotten there first and was ogling a Ruby Crowned Kinglet when he arrived. We walked a couple of loops around the first little patch of woods by the bathrooms in hopes that the Prairie Warbler would appear, but this rare bird did not show today. Then we started our slow journey around the lake heading towards the observation tower, then continued along the spillway to Elm Lake. We were armed with our binoculars and our phones, using eBird to log our finds and Merlin to “listen” for and help pinpoint where to look and who to look for. As birds of a feather tend to flock together, sometimes so do birders, and we ended up walking and spotting birds with a couple and occasionally a lady who was wearing a Gulf Coast Bird Observatory shirt.
One highlight of our walk was when I was looking at Spanish moss hanging from the trees and realized one spot was not shaped like the others. When I got a look with my binoculars at it, I realized it was a Barred Owl. We saw a lot of the usual suspects and a few birds I had not logged before or weren’t sure what they were, so it was helpful to have my birding friend confirm an ID for me. We had taken a right at the intersection with Elm Lake, and the tree line next to us was very birdy. One of the birds we identified in that group was a Black and White Warbler, which was a fun find.
Around this time, it was time for me to turn around to go meet up with my group. As I approached the spillway, a large number of ducks started flying over the lake, and I struggled to identify them. At this point, I wished i had brought my camera to get a photo to examine later. All I have now is my imperfect memory and a list of birds from eBird that are likely to be seen this time of year, but I cannot confirm that any of the ducks that are supposed to be there this time of year are truly what I saw. I ran into my birding friend Steven later, when I was hiking with my group, and I asked him if he had seen those ducks but he had not. It might always remain a mystery what they were.
I’ve been thinking about those ducks ever since, and about mysteries, and about intentions. Lately, I started talking to a therapist about some personal issues. One of the tools he had recently taught me was to “catch a thought”, and examine it for truth. Sometimes when we ask ourselves “Is this true?”, it is like driving through that fog on the way to the park or looking at pictures of possible duck suspects on Google in that the answer isn’t always clear.
Same with trying to cast a vision of the upcoming year. We can state our intentions or make resolutions, but in the end, the way the year will unfold will be somewhat of a mystery. Last year I told myself I was going to concentrate less on hiking and more on birding, but in the end, I went hiking 80 times and I only logged 16 birding checklists on eBird. I also started the year with an idea of which friends that I wanted to be intentional in spending time with, but at the end of the summer, I found a new group of special “unicorn” friends that ended up being a wonderful surprise. One has turned out to be a “new best friend”, and she met up with me on this group hike and we went to lunch together afterwards. I am going to hold this door open for the potential of more wonderful surprises like that, and treasures like this great morning looking for birds at “first light” with an old geocaching friend.