Sparrows

Sitting at the kitchen table, aka my personal bird blind, I watched the [damned] house sparrows come and go from my feeders. Several dozen, back and forth from fence to feeder, feeder to ground, ground to feeder. Noticed a sparrow that was not a house sparrow. Watched it fly in and out, noted critical marks for identification – the crisp striping on the face, the white throat. It stayed at the feeder until it was knocked off by a hostile house sparrow, who followed it to the ground, spread his wings aggressively. They lunged at one another, and the house sparrow pecked the newcomer on the neck.

And left.

The grounded bird sat motionless for a long time. Long enough for me to definitely identify it as a white-throated sparrow. A bird whose song I fondly remember from childhood, not that I knew what it was then, but while learning birds as an adult, I recognized that call, remember sitting in the camphor tree outside the kitchen listening to it sing its sweet, plaintive song.

Then I realized it had sat too still for too long. That peck on the neck from the house sparrow had been a lethal spearing. My new friend was dead but hadn’t fallen over.

And then my dog Hiram walked by and ate him.

 

Hiram

Christmas Bird Count

A pair of Great Horned Owls called to one another at the cliff near the creek as I darted to my car in the dawn light. The temperature gauge read 19 degrees at 6:45 am, which is pretty darn cold for South Central Texas. One friend, who has asthma, had already phoned to say she was not going to show up after all. I wondered if anyone else would need to stay home because of the cold. But this was my first Christmas Bird Count, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Besides, being South Central Texas, chances were good it would warm up by afternoon.

Seven of us gathered at the preserve in our assigned area and we divided into two teams, one to bird the preserve, and the other to drive along roads inside our area, picking up whatever birds we saw, ending up at my place to walk and observe. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed to be stuck in a car all morning, but I was with the two best birders in the group, and besides, how would we bird my place if I wasn’t there?

So I climbed in the backseat and sucked it up. Went the extra mile and volunteered to be the recorder. Conventional wisdom has it that you learn a lot by recording and the job is often given to the least experienced birder in the group on that pretext, but I think that’s a bunch of hooey. The list is in taxonomic order, which is a total mystery to rank beginners, and even experienced birders don’t necessarily think in those terms unless they have a pretty solid background in biology. Really, the experienced birders want to be free to look for and at birds and not have to fool with paper and pen along with binoculars, but the “you’ll learn a lot by doing this” is a good way to keep the beginners in the group out of mischief. Since my companions are better birders and were in the front seat with a better view, I decided to be gracious and accept the duty. Pretty sure my feeling of nobility was showing.

Turns out the view from the backseat was just fine. I saw everything they did, and was able to point out a few birds they had missed, including a Greater Roadrunner zipping across the road – being in the front seat, they were looking for “No Trespassing” signs and missed it.

White-winged doves, black-crested titmice (this is the correct plural) abounded, along with Northern Cardinals. I was getting bored and getting writer’s cramp from noting them all. As we went higher and scrubbier, we saw a number of Western Scrub Jays – they are my favorite shade of blue and I love seeing them, despite their being an overbearing bird.

A few homeowners came out to see why a slow-moving vehicle with people peering through binoculars was in front of their homes, but amazingly, they all were friendly and gracious when we explained that we were part of an international bird count. Even the sheriff’s deputy who pulled us over for being stopped on the access road of the freeway (we were scanning a stock tank for waterfowl) was very pleasant. “I’ve seen a number of you people on the roads this morning!”

A stop near the lake yielded our first American and Lesser Goldfinches of the day, plus a female vermillion flycatcher (the male was nowhere in sight – too bad, she caught and ate a tasty caterpillar!) flitting around. Not an officially rare bird for this time of the year, but an unusual one. Have not seen the female before, that I know of, but such a long look with good birders makes it likely that I will not forget her. Is it a Say’s phoebe? A scissor-tail? We didn’t seriously consider this after more than a glance, but the rufous color on the sides did distract us. Listening to my companions speak their thoughts was incredibly helpful to me.

A sharp-shinned hawk was in the field by my gate when we pulled up. A small flock of cedar waxwings flushed up from the Lindheimer’s muhly grass as we drove down my lane. Must take Ron’s word for this – all I saw was a bunch of smallish, greyish birds and would have assumed they were some sort of sparrow, but I yield to his experience. Must remember to ask him what it is that definitively makes them waxwings. I know that when flying, their flock spreads out and crowds together in an undulating pattern, but what was so distinctive when they flushed?

Hundreds of American robins were in the riparian area, and we saw two Savannah sparrows in the large field. One of them took us a good while to identify as it was very still behind a small branch in the tree.

As we headed down the road to our meet-up with other teams at a local restaurant, a flock of birds, between thirty and forty, flew east to west, a yellow glow on their bellies.

“Meadowlarks!” cried Ron.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“They show hardly any tail when they fly,” explained Carolyn. Another piece of information for me to store and put to use on future outings. Small bird, yellow belly in flight, not much tail – likely to be meadowlarks.

This and the dozens of other bits of information passed along through the day make me grateful for the generosity of my companions, who find joy in seeing birds, have little or no ego invested in being the experts and who are at least as eager to share information as I am to learn it.

It fills my heart and gives a sense of rightness to the world.

CBC 2014 @ RockinM

CBC 2014 @ RockinM

Confession

Verbena and prickly pear

I confess that I am cranky, irritable and have a tendency to judge.

I confess to not knowing my own strength, wit-wise.

I am judgmental and opinionated yet I have self-esteem issues.

Forgiveness is not my strong suit.

I care more about my dogs than I care about most people.

I accumulate things I do not need.

I have little discipline, especially in regard to sweets.

The ditty, We are here to help others. I am not sure why the others are here resonates with me.

Self-righteous people irritate the snot out of me yet I am as self-righteous as most of them. The difference is that I am correct.

I confess that I care way more about any of my dogs than I do about many people.

A morning at the kitchen table with binoculars surveying the bird feeders and leafless pecan trees is a morning well spent.

Project Feederwatch is the highlight of my year.

I watch the power lines for birds while I exceed the speed limit on I-10. A morning with local birders lifts my heart in a way that church services never have. I believe house sparrows are the scourge of the earth.

I confess that I am happy to send money to worthy causes and am concerned about and pray for the oppressed in the world but don’t do much more than that.

I confess that while I own a terrific property with a variety of areas that provide great birding, I only bird from the kitchen window or my seating area by the creek. Long walks on the property belong to my dogs, who scare off all the birds.

I confess using glue traps to catch field mice. This is a house, they belong in the field. Sorry.

I am a gossip. I pick my nose in the car.

I usually wash my hands after using the bathroom but not always.

Participating in NaBloPoMo

I’m new to blogging. Had only just gotten this thing set up when I heard about NaBloPoMo – National Blog Post [everyday for a] Month. I hopped aboard and am glad I did, although I am not sure will do so again.

The discipline has been good for me – sit down and post SOMETHING every day. Nicholson Baker is not the first writer whose best advice is to write every day. Good advice. The muse won’t show up if we are not receptive and poised. That being said, the muse might or might not show up every time we sit down to write. Muses are like that. While we wait, we can practice – writing shitty first drafts, trying out ideas that might or might work, writing something that is good to get off our chests but not necessarily something that needs to be made public. Like talking, not every thought one thinks is worth sharing. It just isn’t.

That’s why it is called a writing practice.

I am grateful I made the commitment. Lack of follow-through on optional stuff is a bad habit of mine. So assuming I post something the next two days, I will have kept this commitment to myself. Gold star, me!

The daily writing has shown me that I like and need time to write, for thoughts to develop. Time to see where things go – freedom to begin with one idea in mind and ending up in a totally different place. Daily writing and putting something up does not afford me this. Yes, I need to set more time aside for writing, and this month has pointed out that I do not set such a priority. So, note to self, set aside more writing time.

But it is a balance. Writing needs to be one of my priorities, but so does having a life. Getting away from the computer and doing something worth writing about, observing things and events, is also important. Balance, it always comes down to balance.

So, having seen the mostly dashed, hurried, shallow posts of the last month, but seeing that I can do it, my new commitment is to post 3 times a week, and in between posts, get out and do something.

Poem I Like

Ode to Skimpy Clothes and August in the Deep South

A young woman is walking with her boyfriend, and it’s deep
summer in the South, like being in a sauna
but hotter and stickier, and she’s wearing a tank top
and a cotton skirt so thin I can see her black
underpants, and this is the way I dressed in my early twenties,
partly from poverty and partly because my body
was so fresh that I couldn’t imagine not showing it off—
marzipan arms, breasts like pink cones of vanilla
soft-serve ice cream, hips more like brioche than flesh,
and the sound track to those times I can conjure
on my inner radio on a day in August—”Wild Horses,”
and “All I Want,” Joni Mitchell and Mick Jagger
singing a duet for me, but I was in love with Bartok, too,
and Beethoven’s trios, moving through those sultry days
to that celestial music, going to the campus cinema for the air
conditioning and Wild Strawberries and La Dolce Vita,
skin brown from taking the Chevy pickup to the coast,
at night putting the fan in the window and reading
thick novels until three or four, and one morning waking at noon
to a cardinal screaming, the red male hovering,
flying above, my cat with the brown female in her mouth,
and when I release the bird she falls on the grass as if dead,
but she’s in shock, and I hold the cat, who wants her again,
but then the female comes to, hops across the grass
and flies off with her mate, and seeing that girl’s black panties
under her skirt brings back those days with such a fierce ache
that I might as well be lost in the outskirts of Rome, a little girl
making up a story of seeing the Virgin and everyone
wanting to believe that God has appeared in the parking lot
of an abandoned store, the graffiti a message, something
divine in the plastic bags and fast-food boxes rolling in the wind.

By Barbara Hamby at www.poems.com

Grandbaby, end of first trimester

Grandbaby, end of first trimester

Grandbaby, end off first trimester

Somehow I only saw the sonogram image of Grandfetus’s sweet, infinitesimal foot when Daughter messaged us the latest image. So I was stunned to walk into her house and see a series of images on the door of their fridge. An image of the little thing safely nestled in Daughter’s womb. Curled, hand near mouth (thumb-sucking already?). Another showing the head, with a dark shadow around it. The kids are calling the infant “Ninja Baby”.

It took my breath away. A baby. My daughter and son-in-law’s baby. I’m stunned at how stunning it is. The only words that even come close to describing the magnitude of my feelings are trite. Hackneyed phrases. True nonetheless. Hope. New beginning. A chance to do things differently, better. To redeem myself for my own parenting mistakes, which seem too many to count. To watch my daughter know the joys of parenting, the gift she gave me just by being born.