New dog, new world
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According to my slightly outdated North American birds guide, we’re in His Majesty’s winter range.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.
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.
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.
As it gets colder in the northern hemisphere, though we are over the hump of winter solstice, I thought I’d share a little figurative fire to brighten your holiday. I first drafted this poem from field notes written as an exercise at the nature writers’ conference I attended at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in October 2016. Here are some excerpts.
Happy New Year. And Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service.
Giddy beige feathers of tall, unnamed fronds perched at a tilt, sprout their crowns in fanned-out spikes, forging two beings into one: fire and ashy aftermath. Two heads' lengths above these frozen flames, the color starts. Green, rounded leaves of chartreuse underbellies and grey- green backs, or faces—I can't tell which—huddle in discarded half-arches, craft of the stone mason who made too many, just in case. A half-hearted bow only at their very tops, partly praising a fractional work. On ground farther back, a grander stage presents the proud, living burns of orange-tipped yellow dancers. Some like to sway more than others, some feel the fueling wind. A tree not yet bronzed stands apart, flushed with a green, pre-fire readiness, and here, at the edge of its leaf clusters, starts to catch. Beside, with lifeless pallor, bored out, burnt out, by burning beetle fever, the fire of hunger— too-soon wintered, emaciated, desolate—ash trees jealously watch their flaming neighbors. And foraging over all heads, some unseen spirit slurps up and bloats full with grey smoke from all this combustion below, from above, with the yellow- white smoke of sunlight. The wind roars like a terrible conflagration, and the grey, not white, smoke is winning. Stone-piles at my feet see up to the short spray of grasses, hints of feathers on higher fliers, and my shadow. Blown quiet, I walk most unhurried, back, into no fire.
. . . It’s a space station.
My husband pointed out a “bunny” he saw in the neighbor’s yard as he left for his soccer game this morning. “Bunny” hardly fits this behemoth. He’s huge! Gorging on grass, leaping back and forth from his den among the ornamental grasses, he could not escape my camera’s sport continuous mode. Holding the door open, I snapped several shots from the threshold.
Especially in those frontal shots, he looks more like a jackalope to me. I should keep an eye on the new flowers, lest the muncher’s tractor beam engage.
In my post last Monday about the wildlife in my backyard, I mentioned I was uncertain about the identity of one of the birds frequenting my feeders. As it turns out, it was neither a chipping sparrow nor a white-crowned sparrow, as I had conjectured. In fact, it wasn’t a sparrow at all–it was a female red-winged blackbird!
Using my bird guide books, I was able to sleuth it out and identify her. The books mentioned that female red-winged blackbirds are commonly mistaken for sparrows. Here’s what Mrs. Red-Winged Blackbird looks like in my backyard.
She’s the first of the 4 birds from top in the above group photo, followed by a mourning dove pair and a male house sparrow.
She was darker than I had remembered, with heavy brown streaking along breast and belly and a bright white eyebrow against that darkness. A buff or gray cheek and reddish shading on her throat also help to distinguish her. The beak is longer, narrower, and pointier than a sparrow’s, and the tail is longer and more fanned. There is also the distinctive tail bobbing behavior, and she is a larger bird.
Although of similar shape and behavior, her mate, in addition to being larger than his lady, looks rather different. . . .
Another male is hanging out with these two, but it is a duller black, almost brown, and without a prominent yellow wing stripe of maturity, so I think that’s a juvenile.
On the 13th of the month! This week, I’m doubling back on the Emily Dickinson quotes and renewing a little Halloween spirit, if for no other reason than it’s far too soon to be stringing up Christmas lights (next-door neighbor! #LetTheTurkeyCool), and because it works. Dickinson had a knack for the morbid. See Five-Phrase Friday (2) for the first round featuring her unique turns of phrase.
1. "a tighter breathing and zero at the bone" - from "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" 2. "in horrid-hooting stanza" - from "I Like to See It Lap the Miles" 3. "a druidic difference" - from "Further in Summer Than the Birds" 4. "on whom I lay a yellow eye" - from "My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun" 5. "I heard a fly buzz when I died" - from "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died"
Note the personification of the train in the title of 2, the subsequent line being “and lick the valleys up.” Metaphors also abound in Dickinson’s work. One of the more interesting ones is her equating of life and a loaded gun.
Until next week, enjoy resisting the holiday season!