A living ember
GREENE CO., MO. — Lunch just having ended, I walked into my room and glanced out the window. Two House Finches and a Chipping Sparrow hopped on the ground. A little bird flew into the lowest branch of the feeder tree — a Blackburnian Warbler! I recognized its brilliant orange face and throat immediately, even without binoculars. I grabbed for the binocs and watched him hop up, peck at a gnat, and flit away as quickly as he had come.
My appetite was whet, of course, so I kept looking out the window over the next couple of hours. The bluebird pair was hunting actively, and I finally located their four recently fledged youngsters huddled high in an oak. I went outside with my camera and tripod to photograph them, but the endeavor was not too successful. They were distant and not very tolerant of my presence.
A Black-throated Green Warbler dropped into view, a tiny green caterpillar grasped in the vise of his slender bill. The caterpillar disappeared, and the warbler moved deliberately along the oak branches. His colors glowed — radiant gold, deep black, pure white.
The Blackburnian Warbler reappeared, burning like a live coal among the rich green leaves.
Nearly five years ago — May 26, 2000 — I saw my life Blackburnian Warbler in this yard. That was our first spring here, and that was the spring my desultory interest in birds flamed into a passion that’s never gone away.
It started with a vaguely yellowish warbler that I never could identify. Warblers was a section of the field guide I’d never paid much attention to. Then, on April 2, a tiny brown bird flitted through the top of a still-naked elm. I saw a bright patch of yellow just above its tail. Next were a parula and a Nashville Warbler on the 25th.
Each bird that appeared was a challenge to name; I studied them thoroughly and pored over my field guides. There were singing Tennessees, a Bay-breasted Warbler one Sunday, a blackpoll, a redstart. They kept coming through the month of May, and then on June 3 I joined Greater Ozarks Audubon for a field trip — my first ever. I never looked back: I was a birder.
The blackburnian moved slowly through our trees this afternoon. It’s hard to believe five years have passed. High school is gone, and now college is gone. I’ve birded from coast to coast and north to south. I’m about to leave my home and my country. But this afternoon, I am here, and so is this Blackburnian Warbler.