If you are like me, then you are, several times a day, seeing a term that most of us hadn’t ever heard before – social distancing. In the effort to curb the viral scourge, all good people are being asked to keep at least six feet away from each other when practicable.
If we pull this off, untold lives may be saved. But it won’t be easy – the isolation, the cabin fever, the inevitable references to the Shining. But if there’s one group of people who know how to do social distancing right, it’s birders and other nature lovers. So I present here your Cape and Islands Guide to social distancing.
I know a lot of birders who have been practicing social distancing their whole lives, probably including myself if I’m being honest. Folks who are never happier than when standing alone on some wind-battered bluff counting passing seabirds or solo birding local hotspots when they can get away. Nature can be an escape, a refuge for the introvert. Don’t get me wrong, lots of birders are extremely social and prefer to bird in flocks, noting that it’s always better to share a sighting with a friend. But I feel like there are a lot of people who prefer the company of animals at times. We are the ones who will survive this unscathed – it’s the city folks I worry about.
While Mass Audubon and other nature centers are closed, trails are open. So whether alone or with your immediately family, those with whom you inevitably share germs, get out and go birding, hike, identify plants, hunt for rocks – whatever your bag is. While bird club meetings and walks are cancelled over at least the next few weeks, some folks are meeting up informally, while hopefully maintaining a safe distance from each other and not sharing rides. Or take this opportunity to explore your own neighborhood, as I did last weekend with dog and toddler in tow. With very little effort we found a Mourning Dove nest with two eggs, at least a week or two earlier than I would expect, as well as the skeleton of a coyote that met its end in the woods fringing the local golf course. What’s out there to be discovered in your neck of the woods?
If you’re mainly hanging at home, keep those feeders cleaned and stocked, and enjoy the show. Just this morning I noticed a Yellow-rumped Warbler under my feeder that I had not seen before, as evidenced by the band on its leg, one placed there by a licensed bird bander. I assume it was banded this past fall at either the Monomoy or Wing Island banding stations a few miles in either direction from my house. I next noticed my local pair of Blue Jays, and watched as they confirmed their relationship status with a bit of nuptial food-sharing. According to the literature, their mating rituals even include “kissing”, so watch for that, too, if it doesn’t make you feel too much the voyeur.
Whatever you do in this time of social distancing, just remember that nature is still a thing you can get close to and feel good about it. So get in touch with your inner introvert, and let nature keep you company.