June 2019

Vol. 47, No. 3

Musings from the Blind Birder: A Day in the Life

Martha Steele


Chestnut-sided Warbler. Photograph by Sandy Selesky

It was 5:30 in the morning in mid-June 2018. I was sitting on my deck in our northeastern Vermont home, sipping a hot mug of coffee and enjoying the warm sun on my face. I was beginning to compile my list for the day. The deck overlooks a 5-acre meadow, sprinkled with apple, spruce, and larch trees, as well as patches of thickets. The meadow is bordered by a pine forest on two sides and a hardwood forest on the other sides, part of our 120-acre woodlot that is contiguous with state forest land. A small stream flows near the edge of the field, discharging several hundred yards down a steep slope to Lake Willoughby.

In just 15 minutes on the deck, I heard eight species of warblers, and an additional 18 other birds representing the different microcosms of habitats surrounding our house. An Eastern Phoebe pair was busy beneath me going back and forth feeding their nestlings above our back door. A Blackburnian Warbler was singing along the edge of the pine forest that lay just yards from one corner of our house. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was vigorously tapping on the metal roof of our barn, and a Black-billed Cuckoo surprised me with its staccato series of toots from somewhere along the edge of the field.

I was starting my day as most birders do, especially in the spring: rising early, grabbing something quick to eat, and heading out the door eager to learn who was out there for us to enjoy. I went downstairs, put the harness on my guide dog, Alvin, and started down our long driveway to begin a seven-mile walk. Because Alvin is so familiar with the area, having done all or parts of this morning’s route dozens of times, I could focus on listening for birds while Alvin focused on staying on course.

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