Backyard Brief: Little White King

The other day, my husband spotted another striking, first-time visitor to our house, a male white-crowned sparrow. One day in rain, the next in sunshine, he stuck to the grass to forage for fallen seed.

According to my slightly outdated North American birds guide, we’re in His Majesty’s winter range. Perhaps he has been dethroned and is migrating northward to a new seat of power. I wonder if he is related to the White King in my Alice novel. Look closely: This fancy little monarch even wears white eyeliner on his lower lids.

He must be French, or maybe Quebecois.

Backyard Brief: What’s New?

This spring I’ve added a new bird feeder to the party, and there are some new arrivals not before seen, plus others not seen in a while. Some migratory, some residential. Most of the birds that visit seem to prefer the finch seed mix to the black oil sunflower seed, but they are two different brands, so I suppose quality could be a factor. I’ll have to mix the two in both feeders to spread the sights and delights. Happy Earth Day.

New this year
  • song sparrow – Smaller than the house sparrow, with a narrower beak, buff and brown streaking with a black chest spot and eye line stripes, he makes beautiful music all day. The song sparrow perches in our weeping cherry tree beneath the bedroom window, in the tops of the trees (hazelnut?) lining the street sidewalk, in the evergreen of the neighbor’s yard behind us, and hops in the grass below our large backyard feeder. I think there may be more than one. He just seems to be everywhere these days, and it’s a welcome addition.
  • brown-headed cowbird – brief glimpses in the vicinity, seen and heard (loud, bright, high-pitched chip) 4/21/17 on our gazebo structure. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the camera in time. Shy fella.
New this season
  • chipping sparrow – Two males! Also petite like the song sparrow, with a ruddy skull cap and grayish cheeks with an eye stripe, he can easily hide even in the freshly mowed grass. I might have seen females without realizing they weren’t female house finches or house sparrows. Those all tend to blur together. Although I did see a male chipping sparrow last June, the one I thought I saw in May 2016 turned out to be a female red-winged blackbird. These guys appeared 4/21/17.
  • red-winged blackbird – Usually a transient visitor, this time with female in tow; several males spotted, three at once on one occasion this week.
Other less regular visitors seen lately
  • downy woodpecker – Sometimes upside down as necessary, feeding on the suet. Female downy confirmed and pictured below. The other possibility was female hairy (longer beak, larger bird, no black bars on outer tail feathers). 3/31/17
  • common grackle – He keeps trying to alight on the squirrel-buster feeder without success. I haven’t captured his image yet, though. 4/21/17
  • European starling – Usually in flocks, they tend to prefer the suet as well.
IMG_0487_starling-triptych

starling triptych

American goldfinches are in the process of molting for their brighter seasonal black and yellow. The rosy house finches and house sparrows are as ruthless competitors as ever, northern cardinals have come around now and then in mated pairs, and the docile mourning doves have made themselves at home in the bed below our pagoda dogwood. The American robins continue to dominate, as expected.

Backyard Brief: The Yellow Eye

Backyard Brief from shots taken March 14, 2017

As much as I pulled the trigger, this lone winter goldfinch graced only my closest third look with true color–which I then enhanced.

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
by Emily Dickinson

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun - 
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified - 
And carried Me away - 

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods - 
And now We hunt the Doe - 
And every time I speak for Him 
The Mountains straight reply - 

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And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

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And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master's Head - 
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

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To foe of His - I'm deadly foe - 
None stir the second time - 
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye - 
Or an emphatic Thumb -

IMG_0258_edits-goldfinch_auto-equalize_eye-visible

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I - 
For I have but the power to kill,
Without - the power to die -

IMG_0254_edits-goldfinch-yellow-eye-squared

Backyard Brief: Great Blue Birthday

January 21, 2017

Blessed on a mild, mid-winter Saturday by a close encounter with a great blue heron, we spotted him from the bridge over Tuscarawas Race. We paused at the threshold between the Coventry Oaks and Tuscarawas Meadows areas of Firestone Metropark in Akron, Ohio.

After a vigorous hill walk with views of downtown and a water tower, we came upon deer and dog tracks and droppings at the base of the bare field. Ahead, whispering, my husband called me to the bridge, toward the woods.

Shielded by leafless branches, the gray, reflecting apparition scarcely twitched before us, though our own insides leapt at the sight.

The long and short of it: 

Caught fishing, eating the fish, and switching banks to fish some more.

Wading, spying, preening, going about his business, he seemed to get used to us lingering there on the bridge as our crouched legs cramped up. Along with my shoulders and hands, they stiffened as I strained to capture, to hold, to know something I did not yet know.

With better sense, my husband stood before I did, and soon a rowdy family came along the path beside the great blue’s bank.

I finally rose but could not unbend without help; all my leg muscles and joints seemed to rebel as one mob. Grace belonged wholly to the heron.

Thus ended the suspense as it withdrew in silent flight down the race, perching on a stone in the water, perhaps to fish again. Our day was complete, our own next meal an easy catch.

A happy “10 and 30th” birthday to another seeker, indeed. And, with this photo gallery of its signature bird, happy 3rd anniversary to the fledgling pond called Philosofishal.


All images © C. L. Tangenberg

Backyard Brief, January 2017

January 18, 2017 – Titmice, chickadees, house finches, and the ubiquitous house sparrow have been competing with squirrels for our backyard fodder. Hubby watched two squirrels crowd the suet feeder, one impatiently waiting for the other to get the bushy tail off.

Of sparrows, mice, chicks, houses, tufts, finches, caps, food, tits and a squirrel-proof feeder –

Happy backyard birding and squirrelling, and remember, brevity is the soul of tit.


P.S. To All Scots, Scotch Descendants, and Lovers of Scotland and Poetry, Happy January 25th. Have an excellent Burns Night supper!

ICYMI: Here’s my post about Burns’ “To a Mouse” poem.

Backyard Brief: Sparrow Sparring

Fierce  feathered  flying  feeding  frenzy

Backyard Brief, July 2016

Without any encouragement besides the lush flower beds planted, and perhaps the weather, unusual creatures have come around recently. First, a tree frog on our siding above one of the ferns. Then, a HUGE moth in the middle of a spectacular thunderstorm, perched on our front door frame near the doorbell button.

We don’t live near many trees, and shade is scarce. Our neighborhood is young, and most of the trees are ornamental on individual properties. Across the street, behind the new house just built, where new neighbors just moved in, there are woods, albeit hacked away to make room for more clear land in their backyard.

We planted a serviceberry tree in the spring in honor of our beloved dog Elyse, buried near it in the backyard, and for our love of birds, and we have a pagoda dogwood on the other side of the backyard. Our weeping cherry rounds out the sum total of trees on our actual property. The devil strip on the other side of the front sidewalk by the street, of course, bears a line of chestnut or hazelnut (?) trees throughout much of the neighborhood.

So what on earth a tree frog was doing clinging to the side of the house at dusk last week I’m not sure. A cute little bugger, though.

DSCN1835

without flash, flashlight aided

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with flash and flashlight

The moth startled me by its presence, for I almost mistook it for a flying mammal, i.e., a bat. And certainly, I was unsure at first as to whether or not it was a moth. I called my husband to bear witness. The lightning warranted our seeking views of its performance, so I had moved from the back of the house to the front to look out the windows beside the front door.

The moth had very large black eyes and that alien-looking head shape to make it seem other-worldly. I wonder if it had been blown off course by the approaching storm, or due to its size, thought nothing of simply attaching itself to a wall to wait out the wind, lightning and thunder.

It stayed there through many flashes of my camera until finally its wings began to throttle and eventually carry it up the side of the house and away into the night. The picture below provides a nice sense of scale with the window frame and the doorbell fixture behind the alien creature.

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Today, I was delighted to see a behavior among the sparrows I had not observed before. A female was taking pellets of seed from the newly replenished bird feeder and shooting it down for mouth-to-mouth feeding, first with one and, then, two of her brood. Normally, I can’t tell the difference between regular adult female sparrows and juveniles, but the size difference became apparent once I realized what she was doing.

The youth were still quite demanding, despite having learned to fly and acquired a full set of normal-looking plumage, especially the first, fluttering its wings against the grass and chirping incessantly for more grub. It could anticipate when Mama was about to descend and deliver, which triggered its opening and holding open its little beak while it continued to beat its wings to the ground.

The second juvenile was more industrious, seeking dropped seed on its own in the grass directly under the feeder. After a few more feedings for both, however, the mother flew off toward the front of the house, and her two young ones immediately followed. Other sparrows had arrived and were splitting their attentions between feeder perch and earth.

Yesterday, there was a ruckus as a dark brown, fluffy cat high-tailed it through the backyard of the neighbor directly behind us, pursued closely by the two nuisance chihuahuas from two doors down. They all disappeared behind the front of that neighbor’s house, and I smiled briefly as I continued dead-heading my flowers.

Then I thought, again, how ridiculous it is that the dog owners never use a leash, don’t have a fence, and don’t ever tie up the dogs in the yard. The pair had assaulted my dog on a walk last year, and I’ve seen them do it again at least twice with other people’s dogs since then.

Not so much biting, but barking and terrorizing. The larger dogs (most would be), taken aback, try to get away from the onslaught, and the ill-mannered dogs’ owners run after them as if they’re surprised each time by their quickness and propensity for trouble.

I only hope that when we get another dog, they’ll either have better control of those two or . . . the problem will somehow be . . . removed. In jest, in jest, but see my five ways to skin a cat; our fantasy could easily apply to the big trouble in tiny packaging.

Still, the majority of the vast number of dogs in the neighborhood are well behaved and well controlled, and so we must count ourselves lucky.