Week of May 21, 2023 – May 27, 2023

staff member Anna Stunkel Environmental Educator

by Anna Stunkel, Environmental Educator

Recent days have been filled with birds as many spring arrivals flew in at Baltimore Woods and beyond. Last Friday morning, I led a program all about rediscovering the joys of childhood in springtime as an adult. As we grow older, many of the simple joys that we experience as children can become clouded by stress or mental health struggles. We are often thinking about the future and our long to-do lists. By taking even a few moments each day to experience nature through a child-like perspective, we can do so much to help rejuvenate our hearts and minds. During Friday’s program, we shared memories that sparked our love of nature as children, and then went out on the trails to discover more springtime joys.

Among our findings were a great variety of newly arriving springtime birds. A Chestnut-sided Warbler threw his head back and burst into song in a treetop, where we admired his rufous sides and golden forehead. A tiny masked Common Yellowthroat flitted around in the underbrush right next to the trail. And all around us, a chorus of birds sang in the treetops. What is it about birds that does so much to warm our hearts?

Studies have shown that there are great benefits to seeing and hearing birds in our environment. Observing birds has proven to help the wellbeing of people with depression, anxiety, and stress in their lives. We often associate birds with springtime, which is when their activity amps up and they are busy migrating and nesting all around us. Birds are also easy to observe, whether you live in the heart of a city or in a woodland cabin. Even if you don’t know what species of bird you’re seeing or hearing, experiencing birds’ beauty can help us to relax and be present.

At this time of year, birds are everywhere you look. Last Saturday, I led some bird walks at Derby Hill, and peoples’ faces lit up upon finding some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers building a nest. These little birds are not much larger than hummingbirds, and they build delicate nests of spider silk, fluffy plant seeds, and lichens. As we watch birds raise their families with care, embark on long journeys, and take risks to survive, we can reflect on how they are not too different from us.

That Saturday evening I finished the day with a trip to Sunset Bay Park, taking some time to hang out below the apple trees. This is a peaceful spot on the shore of Lake Ontario where you can bring a lawnchair and just sit, waiting for the birds to come to you as they busily sing and catch insects. As soon as I stepped out of the car, a beautiful Cape May Warbler was hopping among the apple blossoms and busily catching caterpillars. I watched the bird for quite some time, marveling at his boldly marked yellow, red, black, and white feathers.

Sometimes all it takes is a small moment enjoying birds to make my day a little brighter. It could be listening to a chickadee’s whistle as I have some morning coffee, sharing the sight of a bluebird with a group of children, or watching the Cooper’s Hawk pair land in a tree behind our nature center. As spring is in full swing all around us, I hope you can take some time to slow down and appreciate some moments like this with our feathered friends, too.