Bird swings and (veggie) burgers
Birds are the only things that matter in May, obviously. We spend a lot of nights checking BirdCast and live radars to predict the next day’s birding. We go out daily, often a few times a day. It’s nearly compulsory. As such, life maintenance is put on hold. The laundry and dishes pile up, the house fills with clutter, and weeds sprout across the yard.
Cooking is also a challenge because we’re so focused on getting outdoors that we usually eat on the go. I’m embarrassed to admit that even with this pandemic, we’ve ordered more takeout meals than we had in previous months. This includes fast-food drive-thrus. Well, to be exact, Burger King. It’s easier to eat their Impossible Whopper than to decode the ingredients of other fast-food menus.
For several reasons – from calorie intake to environmental impact – fast food is not sustainable, but sometimes it’s necessary. Consider two birders’ lives during spring migration to illustrate this.
The ebb and flow of migration
Spring migration is sporadic and sudden. Since it happens in waves, you’re searching some days for a specific shorebird, and the other days you have mixed, vibrant flocks and a singing cacophony. The exciting part of May is waiting for the time when birds can literally be found all over. It’s magnificent when it comes. By the last week of May, however, all the migrants have gone, and you’re left with the usual breeding birds.
These extreme highs and lows of birding are what Jonathan and I like to call “bird swings.” Bird swings are abrupt and seemingly unaccountable changes in bird abundance and diversity, as well as the mood of a birder.
Just as migration is bound to the weather, so are bird swings. This is how it goes: Rain tonight and tomorrow (😑). Easterly to westerly winds (🤔). Cold weather, slow birding (😒). South winds through the night, clear skies in the morning (😀). BOOM! Heavy migration (🤯).
We definitely had our filling of bird swings this spring. Initially, the birding was slow due to several cold fronts. With the 2020 Biggest Week in American Birding canceled, our camping trip to Northwest Ohio was pointless. We then missed a 24-hour cycling birdathon because it finally went forward following many rain delays, and though we’re working from home, we couldn’t take off at the last minute.
The good news is that, between May 9 to 20, we saw some pretty exciting birds: Eastern Whip-poor-will, Short-billed Dowitchers, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, a Least Bittern, and a Cape May Warbler singing in our yard. While staying local and walking and riding bikes, we expanded our 5-mile radius and county life lists. We enjoyed our corner of the world so much that our birding friends had to peer pressure us into a 32-mile drive (one way) to see a Ruff – a Eurasian visitor, found only in Indiana every few years.
An alternative to the impossible
I’m so glad we chased the Ruff! Found the day before, it was amazing that it stuck around. We overlapped with some birders from Kentucky and Ohio who traveled a few hours to see it. And the rare shorebird led us to a bonus White-rumped Sandpiper.
When we got into the car, it was about 4 p.m. We had already birded twice that day. We were hungry. After seeing the Ruff, the responsible thing would have been to go back home and make some plant-based burgers. But we hadn’t grocery shopped in over a week. Hence, Burger King.
When the birding is going well, even green-minded birders cut a few healthy-eating corners. We may be cheating our eco-centric goals a little, but it’s justified to achieve our often larger birding goals, isn’t it? At the end of each birding day, we hope we can look back and say that we made good decisions, if not the best.
As tasty as Impossible Whoppers are, a scratch-made patty is a healthier, meatless alternative. So, one week later, we made my go-to Smoky Black Bean Patties. These veggie burgers are easy to make. Apart from the ingredients, a food processor and a skillet are the only tools you need.
Our favorite condiments are Just Mayo, Creamy Original Chao Slices, and organic ketchup — all of which are deliciously and surprisingly vegan. Give them a try! Not only are these better options (no artificial additives, high-fructose corn sugars, etc.), you are supporting a sustainable food chain through your purchases of Hampton Creek, Field Roast, and Annie’s goods.
Now that migration is largely over, we can pick up the house and start working on the yard. Perhaps while birding at a leisurely pace, we’ll find some of the birds we missed, such as a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, or a breeding Prairie Warbler for a Boone County warbler sweep.
Smoky Black Bean Patties
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes 4 burgers
- 15 oz. can no salt added black beans, drained and liquid reserved
- Medium yellow onion
- ½ cup quick-cooking rolled oats
- ¼ cup walnuts
- 1 ½ tsp. smoked paprika (or 2 tsp. chili powder)
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. oregano
- Pinch each of salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 4 pretzel buns (or any hamburger buns as desired), toasted
- Leafy greens
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 2 red onion slices, separated
- Desired condiments of your choosing
- In a food processor, combine the first eight ingredients (through salt and pepper). Cover and pulse until chunky. Don’t overdo it! If the mixture is too dry, add a small quantity of reserved liquid, a teaspoon at a time. The mixture should be chunky but not puréed, and moist but not wet.
- Spoon the mixture into four balls, then flatten each into a patty. They should be about ¾ inch thick, with smooth versus cracked edges. Chill the patties for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook for 5 minutes or until lightly browned, then carefully flip and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Serve on toasted buns with leafy greens, tomato, and onion slices, and desired condiments.
- Even after chilling, the patties are going to be pretty soft during cooking. Because of this, I sometimes cook two at a time to give ample space in the skillet for the spatula.
- You will have two remaining patties if you’re cooking for two people. The rest of the cooked patties can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days.
- For toppings, we typically add spring mix salad greens, a tomato slice, and cornichons. Avocado chunks, chipotle mayo, mustard, garlic aioli, or a homemade coleslaw can switch it up.