Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Life on the Wing

 black-capped chickadee
Avian travelers are returning to warm afternoons and false spring in the Rocky Mountains.

In New England, it's vivid January, nor'easter winds and snow fall. I can still feel Maine island in my bones: cabin fever with yet more shoveling of walkways as snow drifts muffle form and sound.

I say, warm in the Rockies, but watching birds at the feeder means shearling bonnet, down jacket, gloves, camp chair and a quilt. There's still snow on north slopes and shady places.

The birds begin to accept me as part of the garden architecture, as I muse 1.5m from the feeder set high in an arching piñon pine.

Chickadees, singing chickadee.dee.dee, do their tidy business of extracting one sunflower seed, flitting to a neighboring branch and doing beak-jackhammer to extract the morsel.

Ditto the tufted titmouse, a pert little bird. One used to dart to my parents' back porch and eat seed from Mama's hand:
The messier munchers scatter seed and ground-hopping birds tidy up around my feet, tilting their heads---Is it safe?---to make sure I'm still doing St. Francis in the garden quietude.

A nearly crow-sized piñon jay, too big for feeder gymnastics, hops around my boots. Long beak for extracting pine nuts from cones, he tracks fallen seed and watches my watching him.

Gold finches, brightening into spring breeding coloration from winter-dun to a startling canary yellow, flit among the branches. Though dainty, they make a royal mess, rooting around for the perfect munch-ette.

Flashes of rose-breast, another small finch, bring color to the browns and drab of winter:

The evening grosbeaks have arrived en masse, i.e., fat beaks, snouts in a herd of piglets. A big heavy bird with a beetle brow. To restrict their gorp-out access to the trough, I chose a bird feeder designed for the weight and size of smaller songbirds. Grosbeaks still manage to insert snouts and scatter seed:


I add millet and such to the seed offerings and the outdoors becomes an open air aviary. I watch a new arrival, a flicker, a woodpecker with long beak. They like ants, but those critters have tunneled below frost line.

Back in farm days, I woke on the third floor to apparent construction site racket, just horrible pounding noise. Barely dawn, and in the back of the beyond, I peeked around the window. A flicker, just out of reach, busy drilling itself a nest opening in an old weatherboard!

I sent out a distress wail and a friend arrived with a longggg extension ladder and long leather gloves at oh-dark-thirty. He reached into the HOLE in the house wall and pulled out the flicker; put it in a big jar; nailed screen over the hole as a temporary measure. We released the bird in a forest far far away.

The flicker this morning is ground-hopping and picking up small seeds, beautiful bird with a black bib and speckles. Can spring be far away? Ask New England and Northern Europe!

I sit with high elevation sun warming my back, entertained and delighted. So much of life, the showing up, is actually free!

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