Birding as meditation.

For this week’s blog, several titles came to mind: “the return of Summer”, because temperatures have soared back to unexpected and unseasonal warmth; or, “a time of transition”, as new species have started to arrive.

According to the American Birding Association (, there are “a million ways to bird”, a certain encouragement to enjoy birds in multiple and varied ways. And so, as an example, birding can be done as meditation in the outdoors. At its core, meditation is “simply” to pay attention, which is not so simple, of course. Paying attention, being aware, alert, is also at the core of birding: what was that call? Did I see a silhouette behind those trees? What colours made up the furtive shape which flew across the road?

But, meditation is paying attention with equanimity, that is, with a mental calmness, an even mind, a state of stability and composure. And this is where birding can part ways from meditation: the excitement, the search for the rare birds, or, conversely, the disappointment in not seeing much, or the same old, same old local birds. But, this is also where meditation can enhance our birdwatching experience by accepting what may (or may not) come our way.

Accepting the slowness of migration with a calm mind, walking the census path for an hour in a state of steady alertness, regardless of how few birds are seen or heard, opening one’s eyes and ears to the infinite possibilities of an early morning.

Is this pseudo-philosophical discourse another way to say that migration is still slow at Cabot Head? You betcha! Maybe migration is simply delayed, as noted in other bird observatories, like Long Point? It’s possible, but most species do have a time window through which they migrate, which is not infinitely extensible, especially for long-distance migrants. We are nonetheless still getting quite a diversity of warblers, as well as a few flycatchers.

Among the latter, we have banded four Yellow-bellied Flycatchers; a species never captured in large numbers at Cabot Head (seasonal totals typically ranging from one to seven birds). Between 2002 and 2018, 85% of the Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were captured before September 16, indicative of the early migration of this long-distance migrant. This Fall, however, three of the four birds were captured from September 16 onwards.

At the fall equinox, this unique time when day length is equal to night everywhere on Earth, we reached the monitoring halfway period. This is also when a new suite of bird species is slowly making their appearance: the short-distance migrants. This week, we witnessed the arrival of Palm Warblers, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, and one Dark-eyed Junco.

The first White-crowned Sparrow, a young individual, was captured on September 21. It is a late date for the first detection of this species, with only two Fall seasons (in the previous 17) having had later dates: September 24 in 2012 and September 27 in 2002.

So, maybe migration is delayed for some species after all and many birds are biding their time. We will be ready to welcome them with open nets and open minds.