Since I was a young boy one of my most unwavering beliefs in life has been that any time spent outdoors is almost always better than any time spent indoors. Growing up in the Meadowlands from my early schooldays, later to workdays, and still today, I have always felt more at home outside than in.
As John Muir once said, “Going to the Mountains is going home.” Only to me going home was and is going to the Meadowlands. So with that unwavering philosophy in mind it would also stand to reason that birding in the rain is time very well spent.
Now getting to enjoy birding in the rain usually begins with throwing any semblance of common sense to the wind. After all, to purposely go out and get wet when every ancient instinct tells you to go to shelter and stay dry does take some practice. But first we should discuss two proven methods of birding in the rain.
The First method is called “Accidental birding in the rain.” This method depends on either the weatherman being totally wrong or the birder ignoring the weather report all together. Now truth be told birders have a much more accurate method of forecasting the weather. It’s called “sticking your head out the door and seeing for yourself what it’s like outside.”
Now this system of meteorology, though 100% accurate short term, can often go awry long term, resulting in “Birding in the Rain.” Add to that the precipitation percentage seems to go way up when you leave the house without a raincoat or boots. Yet for all the times I have squeezed my wallet out like a sponge and removed my wet socks off my feet like peeling a banana I am still sure I would not have changed anything about those accidental damp days.
After all if I would have opted for staying inside I may have never seen a Great Horned Owl wet as could be and never knew how small it looks when the feathers are drenched due to its special silent flying feather not being able to shed the rain well. And I know I would have missed a “Gray Ghost” Northern Harrier on a very wet Meadowlands morning perched on a low stump as I stumbled upon him and we looked each other in the eye, me more surprised than him.
And I know for sure I would have missed that special day when an old friend joined me on a Meadowlands trail as a thunderstorm came in. We grinned at each other like two mischievous school boys and kept birding despite it all. Someone once said, “Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your best friend is an adventure.”
And then of course there is the second method of birding in the rain. The mornings when despite the showers you gather your rain gear, put on your boots and hat, remember the cloth to wipe the raindrops from your binoculars, and fill the thermos with hot coffee. Of course these are the days it usually clears up and stops raining before you get out of your car. But even if it continues to sprinkle from the heavens this may be the morning when it’s raining warblers and thrushes.
Or it may be when you get to see a Bald Eagle, feathers tussled from the constant rain, fishing on the river; watch a Chickadee feeding its young despite the hardships of the day; or wonder at a Fox Sparrow turning over the wet leaves for its next morsel of food.
Despite the days when we frail humans tend to seek shelter wildlife and our birds are still there trying to eke out a living. Nature is out there for us no matter the weather. Despite our distractions, stresses, failures and successes nature remains our true constant connection to the rest of world. It is our solace and our comfort, our therapist and healer, our history and our future.
Get outside and enjoy it, now more than ever before, and try a little birding in the rain. I bet it will do your heart some good.
See you in the Meadowlands