Time is precious, particularly in today's fast paced, high pressure culture. Earlier this month, I put aside several hours for the explicit purpose of birding, with the hopes of adding the barn owl to my life list (a gross lack among the birds I've seen). I made sure my work was caught up, planned my route carefully, researched recent sightings at an appropriate hotspot, and gauged my timing to coincide with the times others had reported these elusive raptors.
It was an exciting moment, setting off for the first time in months to travel a distance - nearly an hour's drive one way - with the hopes of successful birding. It was a race against the sun as well, as it crept closer to the mountains and the light dwindled. I'd need sufficient light for proper identification, but if I arrived too early, the birds wouldn't be active.
I arrived right on time, with a glorious pink sunset lighting up the fields in great relief. My skin tingled with more than cold as I donned my gear - camera bag on the left, field bag on the right, binns in their harness. Hat - check. Fingerless gloves - check. Warm boots - check. I could see every hummock of snow, broken chunk of ice, and frost-covered fence post as I picked my way over the uneven ice onto the roadway (gated on a Sunday, but publicly accessible) and began scanning for birds.
That's what I didn't see - birds. There was a long-tailed flutter near the parking area that might have been a sparrow or a towhee, but it vanished and was not inclined to reappear no matter how much I pished. Further on, in a solitary tree, an unusual lump might have been a large raptor, but it was gone by the time I was close enough for a decent look. Far to the west I saw a large bird flying away, already too distant for identification. To the north, on a radar tower, another large raptor perched, but the distance was far too great in the failing light to note any markings. In three hours - mostly driving, and the rest during a darkening, temperature dropping walk - that was the sum total of my sightings: four might-be-birds that couldn't be identified.
This is the discouraging side of birding. Birds have wings and will use them, and no matter how prepared we may be to see them, they don't always care to be seen. Unfortunately in the these particular circumstances, I didn't have the time or inclination (bloody cold it was) to instead appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, and it felt very much like time wasted, time when I could have been doing many other things on my never-ending must-do list. It's hard enough to carve out a bit of time by myself, and harder still when that time isn't as productive as the anticipation.
Still, as the year continues, I hope to find more time to waste. Maybe one time there'll be a bird in it.