Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lunchtime in Forsyth

Alas, I'm neither a field biologist nor an ornithologist, having discovered birding during graduate school, traveling down an entirely different path. But while I don't get to spend nearly as much time outdoors as I'd like during the week, I do try and make the best possible use of the one hour a day that I can claim during my lunch breaks. Since a month and a half ago, I've had the good fortune of working in an office building exactly one short block from Forsyth Park, the largest and greenest public space in downtown Savannah, meaning that I can get to where the birds are without wasting any time at all.

The Forsyth Park Fountain... probably the least imaginative name for a fountain ever, but still neat
Forsyth is a product of the same movement that led to the establishment of Central Park in NYC, although it's considerably smaller. The south end is undeveloped, but cleared to make way for frolicking and various sorts of athletic merriment. The north end, around where I work, is laid with numerous tree-lined pathways, dripping with Spanish moss, and all leading to a central fountain. The fountain itself apparently draws a certain inspiration from nature, featuring, among other figures, herons feeding among cattails. 

Forsyth Park Fountain

Cast iron herons cavort among the cattails

Upon my daily strolls, the birdlife is often salient, with Robins sometimes laying claim to the fountain as their very own gigantic bathhouse. The incessant stream of foot traffic from tourists and other passersby has inured many of the birds to the presence of people, and I sometimes find White-throated Sparrows digging the leaf right beside where I sit. 

White-throated Sparrow

Various monuments to the state's Confederate past pepper the park, as indeed, the rest of the city... apparently without the least trace of irony or shame
I don't take my binoculars with me when I leave for work, so these days have mostly been an exercise in naked birding. However, over the course of a week I brought our digital point-and-shoot camera in order to try and document my lunch break experience. Maureen typically takes 99.9% of the photos on the website, but the proximity and trusting nature of the birds doesn't require the more heavy duty equipment that she uses. In further illustration of that fact, all of the pictures shown here are left uncropped. The short video below serves a montage of some of the sights that I've encountered. 

An American Robin surveys the park

American Robin

Savannah is a peculiar place, populated by peculiar people -- if you doubt it, it's time for you to rewatch Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There's also a prominent art school downtown, and you can often find students setting up all sorts of strange projects in the park. Now, I've long ago lost any sense of embarrassment when I bird in public, but even if I hadn't, my repeated crouching and videotaping beside dark recesses of the shrubs would still seem perfectly ordinary within the larger context, making even the most self-aware birder would feel at home. 

A Brown Thrasher reflecting philosophically
Pondering his own existence

Anyway, this is where I get to spend my lunches, which hopefully means that I won't have to let spring migration pass me while I put in my 40 hours a week. What about you? Does anybody else get the opportunity to get any birding in during the week?

 A Carolina Wren preparing to serenade me

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren


  1. This is an exceptional post Mr. Martens.
    It's very well written and thorough, enough to make Forsyth Park seem like a national birding destination in its own right, one teeming with serenading wrens and philosophical thrashers. To that effect, I'd love to see some White-Throated Sparrows and Brown Thrashers like that, though I guess here in AZ we've got the White-Crowned Sparrows and Curve-Billed Thrashers instead.

    Having the more urban birding environments has been a life-saver for me this year. I cannot bird during my lunchtime, but I'll often stop by some of the city parks or gardens after work to get in some power birding. The diversity of species is always impressive, and as you mention they often tolerate a much closer proximity than birds in a more wild environment.

    Thanks for sharing. I've really been enjoying all of the posts you hipsters have been putting up--way to keep birding cool

    P.S. I did see a new bird (Lark Sparrow) at work once after school. I grabbed my camera from my car and started shooting away. Unfortunately, I am a 4th grade teacher, and here I was laying down in the grass, in a shirt and tie, while various colleagues and students are driving by this apparent creeper (me) to exit the parking lot. I don't know that my reputation will ever be the same, but it was totally worth it!

  2. Thank you for the high praise, Laurence! White-crowned Sparrows and Curve-billed Thrashers sound pretty good to me. We haven't been birding west of Houston, yet, but it's pretty tantalizing knowing how many goodies are waiting for us out there.

    The Lark Sparrow sounds like it put you in quite the compromising position! I'm sure you made the right call, but it's hilarious the things that we birders will put ourselves through for the sake of the perfect capture. Awesome story - thanks for sharing!

  3. Funny story indeed! I've had my share of moments when I'm laying across a boardwalk with people practically stepping over me or crouched in some grasses on the beach. I don't think I looked so much like a creeper as much as a crazy person. Oh well! I got great shots, though!