Last Saturday, I participated in my first “bio-blitz”—an intensive period of surveying the plants and animals inhabiting a given place. Usually bio-blitzes occur over a period of about twenty-four hours. During that time teams comb a targeted area looking for evidence of as many species as they can find. In this case, I was in one of two groups searching for birds on a 118-acre tract of land recently (and almost miraculously) saved from development and designated as a natural area in the city of Virginia Beach, VA. Despite the unusually chilly, blustery weather, we identified over four dozen species.
I say “we,” though as a novice birder, I cannot claim much credit for the identification part. Two experienced birders (one of whom can identify dozens of birds by their call alone) did most of that. I carried the clipboard and recorded information (though that in itself was not an easy task with the wind whipping around and the cold drizzle dampening the pages and stiffening my fingers). Over a period of six hours, we developed a list that included not only the names of species we saw or heard but also a brief description of the habitat they were utilizing or flying over. A fourth person on our team, an accomplished photographer, brought her camera with a fabulous long-range lens. When she got a good photo, I made a note of that, too.
We caught the songs of Eastern Towhees and Pine Warblers in the maritime forest and heard a group of Clapper Rails in wetland vegetation. We spotted a Blue-gray Gnat-catcher in scrub/shrub vegetation. A Common Loon bobbed in Crab Creek, as did a Double-crested Cormorant. A pair of Nelson’s Sparrows bustled about in the tall grasses of a sandy area. Several kinds of herons showed themselves, some wading, some flying: Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Great Blues, a Tri-colored Heron, and a Green Heron. A Belted Kingfisher and two American Oyster-catchers flew over. We heard an American Crow and saw Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles (both Common and Boat-tailed), a Northern Cardinal, a Tufted Titmouse, and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. On the mud flats, we spotted several kinds of terns and gulls. And with the help of the camera, which let us zoom in even more closely than we could with our binoculars, we even saw a marvelous “necklace” on a Common Loon and the magnificent green lores (indicative of breeding season) of a Great Egret.
I came away from the experience once again awed by the variety, the diversity, and the beauty in our world—and with a renewed awareness of how much I usually do not see, not because it’s not there, but because I don’t know where, or when, or how to look and listen. I also came away grateful for those with keen and experienced eyes and ears who are willing to share what they know and to show me what I otherwise would miss. Such work is holy work, and their knowledge, developed through years of their own patient looking and listening, inspires me to continue on my own path of doing the same.
In one way or another, we are each called to open our eyes and ears. To see more deeply into the world we inhabit. To listen more closely to what we hear. Responding to that call requires not only willingness but also patience, and sometimes it involves the risk of discomfort—whether we are out watching for the birds, listening to the local or national news, hearing what a friend or loved one is telling us, or taking a good hard look into our inner selves.
Who or what is calling you to see something more closely today? May it be so.
Who helps you open your eyes and ears? Thanks be to God!