Birding in a Pandemic


Boat-tailed Grackle are rare in Alabama away from salt marsh habitat in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, but they now appear to be established at Damon Pond in Geneva County. I photographed this bird on my day out, with not human contact, during the virus pandemic of 2020.

I am totally committed to social isolation as we face the worst pandemic in 100 years, but I also want to keep birding. Fortunately,I don’t see any conflict in Alabama. The nice thing about suburban living in Alabama is that everyone is already spaced out. Consider my escape from my house in Auburn, Alabama versus the attempted birding escape of someone in Manhatten. I go out to my exclusive-use car in my carport and drive out of Auburn with no reason to ever roll down my window and interact with anyone. The New Yorker, probably, leaves an apartment into a hallway where many people have passed to move to an elevator where buttons have to be pushed outside the elevator and inside the elevator. Then out to the street where some human contacts are impossible to avoid to a parking garage with interactions with an attendant. Then a drive through Manhattan with tolls and more human interaction likely to a park with more people. My experience is totally different, meaning that I can isolate and bird at the same time.

I did a trip on Monday for which I packed my lunch, water, and coffee. I gassed up my car before I went at a self-service station where I put my hand into a plastic bag through which I held the gas pump and pushed button on the keypad. I through the bag away as I left. That was it for my contact with the world.

I drove down to Geneva County and had a great day birding without going to any public parks or getting near anyone. I had Boat-tailed Grackles at Damon Pond, where they have now been recorded for 5 years and are apparently an established breeder. Also at Damon Pond, an American Bittern started making their distinctive pumping call and I watched Wilson’s Snipe and Greater Yellowlegs fly around shallow pond shore. I went to Iroquois Rd which can be good for shorebirds during high water years, but it was bone, blowing-sand dry. As wet as it has been in north and central Alabama, south Alabama is dry. However, as I was scratching my head, wishing for shorebirds, a small flock of Horned Larks flew over and proceeded to sing and display right in front of me in the dry fields along the road.

As I birded my way around Geneva county, I ran into more recently arrived migrants than I expected. I recorded Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Hooded Warbler, and Prothontory Warbler. On the day I had four species of vireos and ten species of warblers—not bad for mid-March. I also recorded the first Geneva County record for White-winged Dove (in downtown Hartford) and entered a series of checklist for a very under-represented month for Geneva County. I got out of the house and I’m pretty sure I didn’t put myself or anyone else at any risk of the Coronavirus.

I suggest that we continue to get out and go birding, but do it carefully.

© 2015 Geoffrey Hill

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