Autumn is a special time of year, when a smattering of wood-warblers from east of the Rockies wander to the Pacific coast. And so I and my friend and birding partner David go looking for some of these accidentals.
The search is fun in the extreme, and a great way to enjoy the outdoors.
Warblers favor streams, springs, ponds, marshes, forested areas—alive places . . . To search for warblers is to stand among cottonwoods, willows, and oaks, watching with all your might for a flash of color from a small being who’s come for a drink or is chasing down mayflies or mosquitoes.(from The Oasis This Time: Living and Dying with Water in the West, Torrey House Press, 2019)
Hikers passing by (as we’re standing with binoculars aimed at various types of foliage) often ask what we’re searching for.
“Wood-warblers from the east coast,” David answers. “They shouldn’t be here.”
They’re windblown wanderers, some might say lost. In birders’ parlance, they’re vagrants. Or accidentals.
Right now the warblers should be working their way south along the eastern front of the Rockies in good snowbird fashion. Instead, strong northeast winds related to a monumental hurricane season on the Atlantic seaboard have diverted some migrants to the Pacific coast.(from The Oasis This Time: Living and Dying with Water in the West, Torrey House Press, 2019)
When I first learned about accidental species many years ago, I was horrified. They were so far from home. How would they get back to their communities to breed? What the heck was wrong with them? Was something off in their brains?
One of the hikers wonders these same sorts of things about the Cape May warbler we’re looking for. She asks how the vagrants will find potential mates.
“Well, they won’t,” David says. “The smart ones will follow the coast. Others will just fly out to sea.”
“They’re the end of the line,” I add, perhaps too dramatically, and the woman gasps.
Some research shows that vagrant birds might actually be pioneers, expanding their range in small numbers.
(Link: Scientific American on vagrant birds as portends of climate change.)
But as explorers, they’re not alone. Accidentals in musical parlance are tones played outside of a song’s key. They’re notated with sharp and flat signs (♯ and ♭) and can change measure to measure.
The music wanders, but it doesn’t get lost. It explores, you know? Then it returns to the melody, much . . . deeper. It dives in more than if it hadn’t strayed. Like the rewards are greater for all that searching. The sweetness is sweeter, or shininess shinier . . .(from “The Wish,” Steelies and Other Endangered Species: Stories on Water, Little Curlew Press, 2014)