Bird brained stories!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Conquering Birder!

After an incredibly irritating weekend of backyard birding, in which none of the cool birds showed up for the Great Backyard Bird Count--until today!--I was happy to be out again, hiking the trails in Hixon Forest. I'd thought momentarily about cross country skiing, but chose instead to move slowly through the woods. Just as well. Most of the people skiing today must have been prepping for the American Birkebeiner. You can just tell---all dressed in the skiier's equivalent of NASCAR gear, spandex bodysuits with all kinds of brand names all over them, ski-skating by at Mach 3. I'd have simply been a hindrance to their training.

Instead, I chose to move slowly through the new snow, taking in the sights and sounds. Almost immediately, I heard new sounds. Training my binoculars toward movement, I spotted a Red-Breasted Nuthatch. Louder than that one was a pair of Tufted Titmice--singing! The percussion section--the Downys, Hairys and Red-Bellieds--were in full force as well. It was great to be outdoors in the sun, listening to nature's symphony. While these members of the percussion family were playing snare drum, my quarry was the tympani. The Pileated Woodpecker, my perennial jinx bird.

The feeder station was active as usual, and a seed bell had been added. It was the source of much enjoyment, as the Tufted Titmice would hang on while it spun in circles under their weight. They spotted me and the scolding I received was nothing like the sweet clear music they'd been singing earlier. It's hard to believe the same bird can make such different sounds, but it does.

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While it's fun to watch the antics at the feeders, I was intent. That bird was out here somewhere. I'd seen the signs. More trees with bark chips at the base. In fact, when I'd been listening to discern the source of the Red Breasted Nuthatch calls, just beyond my awareness I'd heard louder drumming. Too bad I didn't practice a bit of mindfulness right then, because when I went just a short distance down the trail, I saw fresh bark and the characteristic holes. It had been right there! This is why this bird is my jinx bird!

It didn't matter. Nothing could ruin my day. Having been forced inside due to record cold temps, I was basking in the 30 degree heat. Brown Creepers were tinkling in the trees above, the Chickadees playing everywhere. Climbing up the snow covered bluff, I decided to stay on the Hickory Trail, where I've had the most luck spotting my friend. I hadn't heard the laughter at all. Hmm. Playing the stealth game with me? We'll see about that.

Rounding a turn down into a valley, then past a gully and back up, I saw a brilliant flash of soaring white overhead against the blue sky. Red-Tailed Hawks, a pair, almost as white from below as the snow, save for the blush of tail feathers. Watching them soar away, I almost missed the prehistoric flight of a large black bird overhead. Almost.

Watching through the brush, I spotted the brilliant red crest. A female Pileated it was, quiet and working her way up the side of a tree. I watched as she hitched the entire length of the tree, then crested the top branch. Hoping she'd fly back my way, instead she sailed to the next large tree. I couldn't take any chances. Distant though she might be, the light was nice. Very nice. Waiting, watching, I had one single shot.

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A little Photoshop magic courtesy of the amazing Cindy Mead makes it better!

Though it's cropped to within an inch of its life, I got another photo of my jinx bird, my second ever, before she took off once more, flying into the brush. Though I saw the area she landed, she was just impossible to find, even with that scarlet topknot.

My meeting with my jinx bird today was nothing like my encounter in northern Minnesota last month at close range. Still, anytime I am allowed to share space with one of nature's creatures I consider to be a gift. Anytime I can be out in the natural world, alone with my thoughts and the music of the birds, is a gift. It's a gift I hope I never take for granted, knowing how quickly the bulldozers could take another corner of wildness away.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Come to this exclusive birding festival!

Amy of "Wild Bird on the Fly" invites us all to join her at this exclusive birding festival for "I and the Bird #17."

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Next edition will be hosted by Rob of 'Birdchaser." Get your nominations to him or Mike before February 28.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A time and place for one's thoughts

It had snowed here at last. Putting my cross country skis in the car and driving in anticipation of finally enjoying the trails again, I was disheartened to discover that snowfall on the trails was minimal. Disappointed but undaunted, I shifted gears and instead headed into the trails of the forest in search of my jinx bird, along with any other enjoyable sights of nature that might present themselves.

I spent hours. Hours. Yes, I did spot my friend the jinx bird, but only briefly. It haunted me my whole afternoon, laughing in a mocking sort of way. Too bad for him! I just trained my camera onto more willing subjects. Like this one.....

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Or perhaps this one...

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Maybe even this perky little fellow...

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In various spots throughout the forest, a veritable symphony of woodpecker drumming could be heard. A small suet feeder hangs in a clearing near the confluence of several trails, and much free entertainment could be had watching all these birds jockey for position. Those waiting nearby proclaimed their stake with drumming, and hearing anywhere from 30-40 Downy, Hairy and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers drumming at once is an experience not to be missed!

My time in the woods was spent in the company of such as these, along with several white-tail deer, but as I headed reluctantly back to civilization, the sky opened up and presented a show better than anything that might have been streaming online or broadcast late afternoon.

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I can't help but think that if those people who tear up our landscape in the name of "progress" would spend some time away from that progress, an appreciation for what is being lost might develop. One cannot spend time walking deliberately through the forest, alone with your thoughts and the creatures who make it their home, and not see its value. Where some see "increased tax base," I see only "less wild places." Somehow, I much prefer my sunset framed by trees and grasslands instead of skyscrapers and McMansions.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tag! You're it!

Cindy at Woodsong had a "tag" post. I read it, so I guess I was "tagged."

Here are the rules:

1. Go into your archives.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Post the fifth sentence (or closest to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same thing

"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." It doesn't sound like a sentence from a birding blog, but trust me, it is. The post was titled "Meow! There's no place like home!" and it told about birding at the lake within walking distance of our home, featuring a photo of a young Catbird.

So consider yourself tagged now! Tag! You're it!

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