Monday, September 26, 2011

Downtime, Tea, Birding, and Warblers

The term downtime or down time has two uses. In computing and information technology, or when referring to any sort of technology or machines, downtime refers to the time on which a system or machine is down or out of operation. In human terms, however, downtime can refer to a period of rest or relaxation. I hesitate to use the term "non-productive" because I find rest to be of paramount importance in productivity. In fact, one of the things I most like about drinking tea is that the time to make and then drink tea provides a break. Even if you drink tea at a desk, while working on other things, the act of pausing to take a sip provides a microbreak; these tiny breaks can reduce the risk of work-related injury, as well as enhancing your concentration and focus.

Today, however, I took more than a microbreak. After starting work fairly early, the servers that RateTea and a number of other websites that I run are hosted on experienced some downtime. While this was slightly annoying, the problem was fixed relatively quickly. During this time, however, I was unable to do the work I wanted to do. Given that it is still during the peak warbler migration season, I headed outside to Woodlands Cemetery to do some birdwatching.

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera on me; the above pictures are all pictures I have taken, of warblers, at various times. Today I saw a black-throated blue warbler, pictured upper-right, and a northern parula, pictured lower-left, and a black-and-white warbler, pictured top left. The other bird pictured here, yellow-rumped warbler, I did not see today (they tend to arrive in large numbers in a few weeks), but I also saw a chestnut-sided warbler, pine warbler, bay-breasted warbler, magnolia warbler, and American redstart. All in all, I saw 8 species of warbler and 23 total species of birds. Given that this was just a casual walk around an urban cemetery, and not a planned trip where I tried to see as many birds as possible, I find this amount of biodiversity staggering.

When I returned, the servers were back up. This was down time for me, but I was still working in a sense. I systematically gathered data on what birds I saw, and entered the data into eBird, which is a joint effort of the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. eBird solicits data from casual volunteers as well as scientists and people conducting systematic bird surveys, and collects it into one master database, a lot like I collect data on tea into the master database at RateTea. If you birdwatch, eBird is an invaluable resource, but even if you just find wild birds interesting and want to learn more about them, I would also recommend checking out this site.

Warblers, Other Birds and Tea?

What do warblers, or birds in general, have to do with tea? I've noticed that a number of tea bloggers write about birds from time to time, and I've noticed that people who are interested in wild birds tend to be more likely to be interested in tea, and vice versa. Why? Often, I find tea bloggers mention birds when they mention changes in seasons, as the changes in which birds are present and in the birds' songs and behavior marks the changing of seasons.

But I also find that birds and tea actually have some more things in common, possibly because they are both organic or natural, dealing with living organisms: they both have a similar type of diversity. And both birding and tea appreciation involve honing one's perception. With tea, it's mainly smell and taste, and with birds, it's sight and hearing, that one develops. When one starts drinking tea, it's pretty easy to see and taste the difference between black tea and green tea. When starting to watch birds, it is also pretty easy to tell a crow from a sparrow.

The warblers, on the other hand, are often among the most challenging birds to identify. Many of them only arrive during a brief 3-week window of migration, once in the spring, and again in the fall. A large number of warblers have different plumage in different seasons, and have different male and female plumage. Furthermore, they're tiny, and most of them move very quickly; many of them tend to spend most of their time high in trees, where they are often backlit or hidden by branches or foliage. Learning to identify these birds is a lot like learning the differences between one tea garden and another, or being able to just look at a steeped oolong leaf and know what cultivar it came from. Birding and tea are both areas where one can continually learn more, developing greater skill and greater nuance in perception.

How about you?

Do you value down time? Have you ever experienced server downtime? Do you think one of the most valuable aspects of tea is way it provides a restful break? Do you pay attention at all to wild birds? Have you ever been birdwatching, had a bird feeder, and you ever heard of eBird?

Let me know!


  1. I suppose what I find casual bird watching and tea to have in common could be classified as similar ways of enjoying human downtime. While I enjoy the ocassional film to relax, enjoying a cup of tea and enjoying a natural environment provide calming moments. This sort of downtime for me is more productive and stimulating than activities such as watching a film. I am able to collect my thoughts and put life back into perspective. The best though, would have to be enjoying a mug of tea, on the porch in the early evening hours- listening to birds and other wildlife. :)

  2. Downtime and the tea man goes birding,
    nice way to spend the time.

  3. I am but a casual birdwatcher, being a lazy soul, but even I have been able to distinguish some warblers and sparrows. I have bird feeders and am part of the Cornell feeder watch program. One summer, we were priveleged to watch a pair of bluebirds raise 2 sets of young, as they came each eveneing to feed in our lawn. last summer it was a tree swallow family and this whole year has been filled with finches, blue jays and wood peckers. For me the natural world is one of wonder, solace, beauty, sometimes sorrow, but always I need it around me.

  4. I really love reading about birds in your blog, Marlena. I think even knowing what a warbler is separates you from the most casual birdwatchers, certainly, being able to distinguish a few of them does. =)

    I also feel similarly about the natural world...