Bird brained stories!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Of broken wings and strong roots

There is a saying, give your children roots and give them wings. Certainly, the nesting birds I see now are trying to do just that; grounding their fledglings in the protective instincts needed for survival and the family values that separate a Grackle from a Robin.

But sometimes, the young try to fly and their wings don't work quite right. They fly off in a direction that portends danger, perhaps near a cat lurking in the shadowy depths, waiting to snap them up into their lair and eat them up whole, spitting out the feathers and consuming the rest. Sometimes the cat manages to snatch the young, and they might suffer some damage...but they manage to escape. Damaged, but not completely broken. The roots they've been given for survival served them this time, allowing them to break free.

They're free at the moment, but without the loving care needed to rehabiliate and fix that wing, it's only a matter of time before the cat strikes again and is successful.

Sometimes our baby birds need that care and rehabilitation to prevent them from being taken again and eaten up whole. Sometimes our baby birds need a bit of a scare in their lives to help them learn to be more cautious around the lurking cat. There may be those out there who want to display the baby bird as an "example," before the bird has received the healing it needs to be strong again. This is where those roots are so important to help carry them through the tough spots before they can truly fly free, strong and safe.

I'm so glad my baby birds have strong roots.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Meow! There's no place like home!

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I am constantly amazed at how far one can travel in search of birds--or anything, for that matter--only to discover they never really needed to go that far. Maybe this should be called the "Dorothy Syndrome?" At any rate, I was reminded again a couple days ago that I don't need to burn up the gasoline at $2.07/gallon in search of birds to watch. I've spent the last couple evenings pleasantly enjoying the activity a whole half mile from my house.

My husband wanted to soak a couple barrels to get the wood to expand, and the best way to do this is to dump them in a lake. This is the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, meaning the glaciers never came and made any lakes. Still, we do have rivers, and one, the LaCrosse River, has been dammed, creating a recreational area, Lake Neshonoc. We went down to the boat landing, where Dick soaked barrels while I went looking, binocs and camera in hand.

My goodness! Yellow Warblers everywhere! American Redstarts right overhead. A cute young Song Sparrow, still without a song but possessed of a really loud chirp and no common sense when it comes to large beings on two legs. Quite entertaining were some young Catbirds, meowing away in the tangled brush. They weren't shy, either, unlike their more wary parents.

In the name of saving nonrenewable energy sources, I plan to ride my bike down here regularly throughout the summer, along with my bike trail route through the wetlands.

There's no place like home, I hear!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Little surprises

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Sometimes when one is birding, it's important to look for the little surprises out there. That's what happened to me Saturday night. I headed down to the Myrick Marsh, this time working my way back and forth along the Wood Duck Trail on the south edge of the marsh. This is a heavily wooded area, with second growth trees and large bunches of willow, especially dense at the east end of the trail. Many families of ducks were out enjoying the evening along with me; Wood Ducks, Blue Winged Teal and of course, Mallards. Working back and forth, I confirmed an auditory sighting visually of my first Green Heron of the year. Redstarts, Orioles and all the regulars were working the leafed out trees and my binoculars overtime.

Three times--yes, three--I was unknowingly within five feet of foraging Great Blue Herons, just on the other side of all that dense willow thicket. Though I didn't see them, they must have seen me, as they spooked and flew right overhead, just above the trees, screeching and doing their best to impersonate pterodactyls. My, but they're huge! It was one of the herons that I was trying to capture in pixels that led to my little surprise. I'd seen it browsing photogenically in an opening where the spring fed stream comes into the marsh, with that sweet evening light hitting it just so. Unfortunately, it was well beyond decent reach of even my monster lens, so I worked my way back, hoping to find a closer vantage point from which to shoot. I found a little passage at one point about halfway back, and started to walk carefully to water's edge. I had one of those moments where some small voice said, "Look down." Right in front of me, no more than a couple feet, were these two ducklings, seemingly unconcerned with my presence. Working slowly and quietly, I was able to take a couple shots before they waddled to the other side of the weeds, where Mama Duck and the sibs were waiting.

I never did find a good vantage point for my heron shot. I'd have liked a bit clearer foreground to keep the blades of grass from bisecting my ducklings. Picky, aren't I? Still, it gave me another moment's pause to reflect on all the things I must miss in life because I'm in a hurry, or too intent on some objective to stop and look around at my world. All in all, an evening enjoying nature, a moment's reflection on Life's Big Questions and a cute photo to show for it is still a pretty sweet deal.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

You looking at me?

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Sounding like a robin with a sore throat, I looked up into my black walnut tree on a bright May day, and saw a bird with which I was very familiar but had never seen..a Scarlet Tanager. The brilliant flash of red, even more intense than the male Cardinal, is unmistakable. With zoom lens in hand, I shot off almost two rolls of film, capturing some of the inevitable bird butt photos, but also some nice images. I later did a scrapbook layout using my favorite photos, and in my journaling, pondered whether or not I'd have to wait another half century to see one.

Two years later, I can happily say, no, I will not have to wait that long. Hiking that challenging bluff trail the other day, I was treated to another good look at a Scarlet Tanager, along with his nesting wife. Though he wasn't quite so accomodating as my previous model, I did get one quick shot. Though I'd liked the focus to have been better, I can't help but smile at the jaunty pose and backward glance. I hope to shorten my time between sightings to even less, now that I know where the birds are nesting. In fact, perhaps I should consider another hike. It's cooler in the woods, and maybe the family is now complete. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Freezing a feathered moment in time

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Birding as I climbed the rugged bluff trail in Hixon Forest yesterday, I reflected on why more Americans should take up birding. Time. You need to slow down and take time if you hope to hear or see anything. There's no other way around that fact. I'd figured this out a few years ago during my near daily bike rides on the LaCrosse River Bike Trail. If I kept going at 10-15 mph, I never saw a thing. If I stopped for a while, sat and watched, I'd see all kinds of life in those wetlands. Geese and other waterfowl. Turtles lounging on fallen trees. A Green Heron hunting.
A beaver swimming by before slapping his tail and scaring me with the noise.

Birding is even more like this. The difficulty of the trail I was taking demanded that I stop every so often to catch my breath. Usually I'd choose to stop at points where I was hearing more birdsong. Because the woods are fully leafed out, spotting birds is challenging, but I can identify more and more of them by song now. At one stop, listening across the wooded coulee, I could hear the song of my first Wood Thrush of the year. A Red-Eyed Vireo, another first this season, was singing compulsively. Once I'd reached the heights of the trail and started to move from the woods to the goat prairie, I stopped again. Transitional settings often have new things to observe. Sure enough, off in the distance I heard the distinct "drink your tea" call of the Rufous Sided Towhee, another first for the year.

I've been fortunate in my life to travel to many places around the globe; Kenya, Australia, various places in Europe and the British Isles. I hope to be able to visit many more places before I leave this earth. Something that has struck me wherever I travel is how unconcerned with time the rest of the world is. Oh, plays in London start on time, but people don't get all fussed about time in the same fashion as turbo-charged Americans seem to do. For some reason, the United States has developed this frenetic sense of time, that there's always the next place to be or the next thing to do. There's a reason the whole "voluntary simplicity" movement is such a force in this country, and it's coming from those who want to buck this need for more and faster.

Birding will help you do this. With the exception of "more" as it relates to the number of birds on your lists, you need to slow down and take your time if you hope to add more to that list. If I'd have charged up that bluff, I would never have heard those songs, or seen that flash of red that was my first Scarlet Tanager of the season. Even if I'd seen it--it's pretty hard to miss against all the green of the trees--had I not slowed down, I would have missed his partner, working on her nest nearby to bring food to the tiny peeps of the babies, unseen and barely even heard.

If you feel that your life has taken on a frantic pace, this is the perfect time to slow down, turn off your electronic entertainment and go out--slowly--into the world, binocs and field guide in hand.
If you have a camera, you can even freeze a feathered moment in time.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Pass with caution!

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Please, just one new bird. One new photo.

I think my career got in the way of my birding this spring, and I've missed out. I've seen a grand total of two new birds this year since May 17, when the migration was heaviest through the flyway. Ruddy Ducks and a Peregrine Falcon. Two birds! I suppose if I could identify any of the various flycatchers I've seen, I could add to that list, but none of them seem inclined to sing, leaving them listed as "empid" on my list.

Photography is becoming more challenging as well. The leaves have filled out, and all I can see are flashes of movement, if even that. The one good thing that might be said about this is that my ability to bird by ear is improving.

I went out tonight along the LaCrosse River Bike Trail, a favorite haunt of mine. Instead of continuing toward LaCrosse, I took the side trip toward Veterans Park. I figured maybe, just maybe, I could spot a few new things in all the sedge meadow there. When I'd last been in those reaches, it was winter, I was on skis and I could get right into the dogwood. Not so easy tonight, though the flowering dogwood attracted lots of activity. Most commonly seen were the ubiquitous Red-Winged Blackbirds, along with yet more "empids," refusing to sing but behaving in very much the flycatcher fashion, perching high, flitting off, then returning to their preferred perch. Bunches of bright yellow warblers, as yet unidentified, but lacking the red breast stripes of the Yellows, so who knows?

The only photos taken were distant shots for ID purposes, nothing of worth photographically. The light was right, but nothing else was. In fact, I'd have to say my last decent photo was one taken about a week ago in the Myrick Marsh, as I tried to move along the trail, left standing as a family of geese browsed at their pace along the trail. I've met quite a few of these families lately.
Do you realize how big the giant race of Canada Geese are, especially as they hold their ground, extend their necks and hiss at you? So far, I've been able to pass by these little family groups without getting anything more than a photograph. Hopefully, activity will pick up again as birds finish nesting and come out to play once more. I need to add to my list, the one whose number I refuse to reveal as it may incriminate me!

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