Accidental Warblers

Blue-winged warbler by A. Reago & C. McClarren / Wikimedia.

On a recent lunch break, I walked down one hill and up three others to drop off a starfish sansevieria pup to a fellow plant mama living one neighborhood over. “I’m delivering a baby,” I messaged her, cackling over the cryptic lack of further explanation. 

I took the long way home, off the main drag, preferring a romp on the urban trail to the steep pavement incline past the house where my mother was raised. And I thought about how Mrs. Clark described the Family Circus-style paths she’d take through Marietta’s Norwood neighborhood to get to and from school every day. And I recalled stories of my great-grandmother getting dropped off across the river to go grocery shopping, then walking her purchases all the way back home. Or vice versa. Or entirely misremembered. In any case, we have a family history of roaming this town’s narrow streets and uneven sidewalks. The day’s little chaotic-good addition brought me joy. 

On the trail, in the woods, as I was reflecting on this bipedal legacy, an olive-yellow bird came into view in the thicket to my right. Which? I pondered, losing the warbler and seeing it replaced by a chickadee and a titmouse with a nutty morsel in its bill. I chose to pause, removing the oversized sunglasses that I hoped would protect my lacrimal glands from salt-seeking midges, trying to get a better sense of color in case this stranger made a second appearance. And was soon rewarded by the sight of another bird: a brighter, yellow-colored warbler wearing particularly fierce eyeliner.

Blue-winged warbler photo by Wwcsig / Wikimedia.

 Blue-winged, a quick Google search confirmed. A pair of them. Lucky me.  

Typically, when I want to see warblers, I have to wake up early on a mid- to late spring day with a high bird activity forecast, go out of my way to visit a well-known hotspot, and have at least two patient birders at my side to point my gaze in the correct direction. It’s pathetic. 

This blue-winged warbler sighting, however, marked the third accidental warbler sighting I’d enjoyed in two weeks.  

Hooded warbler photo by N. Hale / Wikimedia.

The first was a male hooded warbler that popped into a bush just a few yards in front of me on another forest trail in my neighborhood. That hike, too, was a mid-day jaunt, taken purely for fresh air and stretched legs, without any real birding planned. Most auspiciously, I had brought my compact binocular along, just in case. It validated my amazement at seeing this one bold bird. Such an unlikely occurrence. Meanwhile, smaller avian forms seemed to flick behind leaves without revealing themselves, refusing to give me the satisfaction of additional rare looks. 

The second was even more improbable: A leisurely stroll along the river after dipping downtown one weekend afternoon returned a glimpse of a yellow-throated warbler perched on a wire beside the Harmar train bridge. Its namesake plumage and distinctive Lemmy muttonchops removed the need for bins or a smartphone for confirmation. I wasn’t even trying. There was minimal nature involved. 

Yellow-throated warbler by D. Sherony / Wikimedia.

How could I be so blessed, without even asking? 

It’s nice to think that these unexpected sightings are some gift balm from the universe, a salve gently applied to this trauma or that.  

Or are supportive signals that indicate a recent decision made was definitely the right one.  

Or are ghostly greetings from lost friends sending warm regards from beyond the grave.  

But I’ve learned directly from watching birds that most actions and choices (made by avifauna or humans) are really just compulsory performances and part of much larger patterns that transcend the individual. Even minor movements fulfill specific needs, ideally to better ensure collective survival. A person’s momentary headspace can project synchronicity all it wants. 

So I can’t say with any certainty that seeing these accidental warblers had anything to do with me at all.  

Could have, though. Lucky either way. 

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