A wood stork appeared on the far reaches of Guilford County this past June, north just above the big lakes. Wood storks are not considered rarities in these parts, but they are uncommon.
I had heard about the sighting through a listserv. If you are new to birding finding a club or a listserv is a great way to discover birds in your area. The email regarding the wood stork came on a Saturday morning and I headed out just before noon to find the bird.
With only a brief description of where to find the bird along a 3-mile stretch of trails, I headed out eyes searching the adjacent wetland for giant, ugly birds with snow white feathers.
I knew this trail well and could pinpoint the location that was described in the email. I was headed about ¾ of a mile down the trail to the very end of a wide marsh area, prime territory for beavers and ducks.
The trail meanders about 20 yards from the water and is elevated revealing a unique ecosystem of reeds, water, and muck. Trees spot the landscape and make great perches for Great Blue Heron. Along the way I made a point to stop and scan the waterway whenever an opening in the trees presented itself.
Each vista point revealed no wood storks. In fact, it was mid-day in June and there wasn’t any wildlife activity aside from a few rogue cardinals. I continued and eventually made it to the spot that was described. I carefully and methodically scanned the area. But there was nothing to be found, just a thick grove of trees and brush sitting knee deep in water and entwined like a fortress.
So I waited.
This is a common scenario for many birders. While you wait you continue to look and listen. You notice the sticky stillness of the summer air. You notice the poison ivy growing just off the trail. You consider the futility of searching for winged creatures in your spare time.
Minutes pass and you ask yourself, “ How long do I plan to sit here waiting for a bird that may have moved on hours ago?”
At the insistence of this question you give yourself 5 more minutes. If the wood stork doesn’t show in 5 minutes, you’ll leave. And so the 5 minutes come and go and you resign yourself to head back down the trail. You could stop once more at the overlooks and scan the wetland for life, but would it really make a difference?
Instead, give up. Stop looking. Walk with your head down in defeat!
This is what I did. I moved down trail quietly and preoccupied with thought. I was no longer concerned with birds or finding what I was looking for. I was hot and sweaty and ready to get home and eat lunch.
It’s sometimes these moments that lead to discovery.
Nearly 300 yards into my retreat I happened to look up and see a large white bird gliding noiselessly over the reeds. It flew straight to where I had previously stood, making the entire distance without flapping its wings once.
I walked the distance back as quickly and quietly as I could. And through the branches, standing upright in the water was the wood stork–the bird for which I was looking. It very well could’ve been the only wood stork within 100 miles and it happened to reappear in the exact location that was described.
Many times I’ve sought out specific birds, obsessed over checking a species off a list or getting a good photo. I’ve searched and not found what I was looking for.
There are moments though when the search ceases that you find exactly what you’re looking for.