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First Birds of Spring


by Clay Sutton

Cape May, 2003 - It is the peak time of year for firsts. There is something about the human psyche, and maybe the human spirit, that commemorates firsts. We all remember the first time for any major milestone in life -- our first two wheel bike, our first car, our first kiss. Firsts stand out, in our memory, and in stature, usually even better than the best of their kind. That first car might have been a junker, a wreck, the first kiss a disaster, but we'll never forget them.

You might not remember the first time you saw every bird on your life list, but I bet you can remember the details of most. And many, if not most birders will immortalize that inaugural sighting, their "lifer," with an honored place and date in the margin of their well-worn Peterson (or Robbins, or Sibley, or whichever....).

Firsts of the Season

Firsts are a key part of each season as well. This is particularly true in spring. Sure, you note and remember autumn's first Sharp-shinned Hawk and White-throated Sparrow. (Remember when the first flock of Canada Geese heralded the fall? Wow, we've come a long way...., but that's another story). You always remember the first Evening Grosbeak of winter, the first Snowy Owl that arrives from the north, even if you didn't see it yourself, but firsts are, inarguably, most important in spring.

Warblers arriving

So now it's showtime! Yesterday, I had my first Black and White Warblers of the spring, the day before that, my first Veery. This morning, on my daily walk, I heard my first Prairie Warbler and Ovenbird of the new season. More telling, in the few hours between writing this piece and editing it, a short walk turned up my first House Wren and Great-crested Flycatcher!

Throughout the long coming year, for each, I'll remember the specifics of where and when I saw these firsts, and I'll bet you will too for your favorite spring birds. They may not be lifers, but they are "year birds".

For the wren and the flycatcher, someone, no doubt, has beat me to it, reporting an earlier date for these species, but that doesn't matter -- they were my first, and therefore and forever special. In spring, every day, indeed every outing, is a clean slate, waiting, begging to be filled with wonder. Don't miss it. All too soon, firsts will inexorably become lasts....even if we, predictably, won't realize it.


Clay Sutton is a noted Cape May birder and author.

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