Bird Roll Call: March 18, 2018

  • American crow1
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Bufflehead (three pairs)2
  • Canada goose2
  • Common grackle1,2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1,2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Killdeer2
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1
  • White-throated sparrow1
  • Wood duck2

Today, I saw two American robins leaping off a neighbor’s roof over and over again. They would land on the roof, run over to its edge, leap down to the ground, and fly back up to the roof. While all of this was going on, a blue jay was riffling through leaves in the home’s gutter. It was all very enteratining.

I also saw a male northern cardinal feed a safflower seed to a female. He flew over to the fence where she was perched. She responded by hopping away from him. He pursued her and extended his seed-filled beak. She took the seed and held it in her beak until another male flew to the other side of her. She dropped the seed and flew away.

At Meadowbrook Park, we saw a dead mallard lying by the trail. The red-tailed hawk perched in a nearby tree told us all we needed to know. The hawk wasn’t able to return to the duck, at least not while we were there, because it got caught up in what appeared to be an altercation with two other red-tailed hawks.

Locations — in my backyard and at Meadowbrook Park.

1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Meadowbrook Park

Bird Roll Call: February 9, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin (including a leucistic male**)
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • Gull sp. (overhead)
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

I saw a leucistic male American robin at the birdbath while I was outside with my dog. His head was fully pigmented, but his breast, belly and back were covered in white patches. I heard an American goldfinch’s call for the second time in as many days. I looked up at the sweetgum tree and saw a male goldfinch sitting on a branch, talking away. Four white-throated sparrows were present today, which is more than I’ve seen in the yard for some time.

Location — in my backyard. A double asterisk indicates first sighting in my yard.

Bird Roll Call: January 30, 2018

  • American crow 2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose (overhead)1
  • Cooper’s hawk1
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1,2
  • Gull sp.2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1
  • Red-tailed hawk1
  • Rock pigeon2
  • White-throated sparrow1

The red-tailed hawk was absent this morning, and the Cooper’s hawk was present. She was perched in one of my sweetgums when I went out to the feeding station at the back of the property. When I turned to come inside, she was gone. An hour later, she returned. My clue was the thirty or so mourning doves suddenly scattering from the yard. A few birds who weren’t able to fly away in time huddled in a rose of Sharon by the fence. The hawk moved on after a few minutes.

Free to move about the yard again, an American robin and a house finch bowed to each other at the birdbath. They were just bending down to drink water, but I liked the idea of them engaging in a Buddhist ritual. I read that birds set aside their differences at the birdbath because water is critical to every bird’s survival. Foes in other contexts are cordial to one another when drinking and bathing. So they aren’t actually bowing to one another, but their civility contains an intrinsic bow.

The female northern flicker came back today with her suitor in tow. She preened then worked her way up a branch. He hopped closer to her. She ignored him. Given her real or feigned indifference, I suspect she hasn’t yet chosen him as a mate. When he tried getting even closer, she flew into another tree. He followed. She flew out of the yard. Again, he followed. I imagined him spending his entire day moving from tree to tree and yard to yard in pursuit of her. That’s probably exactly what he did.

Nine northern cardinals made their way to the yard throughout the day — four males and five females. The house finch with light orange plumage visited the finch feeding station, as did the house finch with missing wing feathers.

In the afternoon, I saw the red-tailed hawk flying over the neighbor’s yard and out of sight. Later, the Cooper’s hawk came back and landed in another neighbor’s tree. I noticed that our winter lawn, pocked by squirrels, had turned the color of infected mucus.

Locations — in my backyard and while driving through town.

1. Seen at home
2. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 28, 2018

  • Accipiter sp.2
  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American kestrel2
  • American robin1,2,3
  • American tree sparrow2
  • Black-capped chickadee1,2
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose1,3
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1
  • Fox sparrow2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1,2,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Pine siskin2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • Rock pigeon3
  • Song sparrow2
  • Thrush sp.2
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-throated sparrow1
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

A blue jay sat in one of the sweetgums while I carried shell peanuts out to the wreath feeder. It swooped down as soon as I turned around. I wasn’t even back to the house when it dislodged a shell and flew off.

I finally heard the Carolina wren today after several days’ absence. He was singing a three-note song, a variation on his usual two-note offering. I believe the notes were B-flat descending to G-flat then up to A-flat. He repeated this series three times, with an additional B-flat, G-flat, and rest at the end. Rhythmically, the song was structured like this:

| — — — | — — — | — — — | — — } |
Key: …..| = bar …..— = note …..} = rest

After I heard the wren, I saw him at one of my feeders. He flew to the ground, into my neighbor’s woodpile, onto my fence, up to the top of the utility pole at the back of the property, and into one of the sweetgums before flying away. He sang his two-note song while flitting about (B-flat descending to G-flat). A little while later, I saw him on my neighbor’s roof, where he scaled the satellite dish and surveyed his territory. It looked like he was standing at a pulpit, ready to deliver a sermon.

The squirrel who has been attempting to carry twigs up one of my trees took that activity up again this morning. I’ve decided that there is no utility in what he is doing. He seems to be acting compulsively. He’s also destroying the tree by breaking off twigs day after day. I wondered how long I would have to watch his pitiful display.

The sun came out and turned the yard into a sepia-toned photograph like the ones my partner used to take in the ’90s. American goldfinches floated in like soap bubbles and took my attention off the squirrel. A slate-colored dark-eyed junco landed on the window sill a few inches from me. Up close, I could see how much brown was mixed in with the bird’s gray plumage. These are the kinds of details you can’t observe from a distance.

The first to bathe today was a male American robin. When he was finished, the adult and first-winter white-throated sparrows flew down for a drink. They are so delightful, especially the juvenile with its skinny legs and sprightly attitude.

After watching the birds in the yard, my partner and I headed out to Kill Creek Park. Almost all the birds I saw there were concentrated in one spot just off a parking lot near a stand of cattails next to the lake. When blue jays saw a hawk and sounded the alarm, the birds flushed from their spots and scudded past me toward the water. A sparrow almost hit me in the face. Hardly any people were there, which was lovely, just a sprinkling of men fishing or walking their dogs.

Locations — in my backyard, at Kill Creek Park, and while driving to and from these locations.

1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Kill Creek Park
3. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 25, 2018

  • American crow3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2,4
  • Black-capped chickadee4
  • Blue jay1,4
  • Cackling goose2
  • Canada goose1,2,4,5
  • Carolina wren (heard)1,4
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2,4
  • Duck sp. (overhead)5
  • Downy woodpecker1,4
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1,3,4,5
  • Falcon sp.5
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2,3
  • Hairy woodpecker2
  • Herring gull2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2,4,5
  • Mourning dove1,3,4,5
  • Northern cardinal1,4
  • Northern flicker1,2
  • Pine siskin (juvenile, I believe)2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,4
  • Red-headed woodpecker4
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3,4
  • Ring-billed gull1,2,4
  • Rock pigeon6
  • Tufted titmouse2,4
  • White-throated sparrow1,4
  • Wood duck4
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

The faint “pip, pip, pip” of juncos woke me this morning. Just as I sat down to watch birds, an American robin appeared on a utility line out of nowhere. (They’re stealthy like that: not there and then there and then not there again.) Northern cardinals ate from the safflower seed feeder. A group of four dark-eyed juncos — the source of at least some of the pipping — gathered to feed on spilled nyjer seed. Gulls flew over and all the birds disappeared.

Who am I? What do I believe? What do I value? What is my worth? These are questions I wrote in the margins of my bird journal. I had things to work through as I watched the birds today. Make that every day.

Squirrels raced up and down the trees like fleas over a dog’s back. I thought about a study with crows at the University of Washington that showed fear of harmful people was passed down through generations. Participants in the study wore a specific mask while trapping and banding crows, something the crows aren’t fond of. Thereafter, the crows would scold anyone they saw wearing the same mask. Eleven years after the study, the crows on the UW campus still reacted negatively to anyone with the mask on, even though they themselves never had any direct experience with the masked individuals. (That is, they had never been trapped or banded by anyone wearing the mask.) I thought about trauma in humans and how it’s passed down from one generation to the next. Birds appear to have a region in their brains that is not unlike the human amygdala, an area of the brain that is believed to show increased activity in people who have experienced trauma.

The female northern flicker landed on one of my sweetgums. A male followed. He initiated a mating dance. She hopped away. He hopped closer. He tried the mating dance again. She did not reciprocate. They flew off together after a blue jay came crashing down near them.

Nobody’s opinions define or defile my opinions. Nobody’s beliefs nullify my beliefs. Nobody’s experiences supplant my experiences. Nobody’s approaches discredit the approaches that work for me.

The flickers came back. She wouldn’t dance with him. She preened. She preened some more, her beak plunging into her rump feathers and dragging along the entire length of her tail feathers. He watched her. She ate the peanut bark I’d spread in a knot on the sweetgum’s trunk. He flew to a lower branch to be closer to her. She continued eating while he landed on the ground and ate what had fallen from her beak, which I found at once sweet and miserable.

I value what I perceive. I value what I have learned. I value what I have overcome. I value my strength.

Squirrels mated in a branch above the flickers. European starlings mobbed the peanut bark. From the ground, the flickers watched the intruders squabble for a few minutes before flying into the silver maple. Fifteen Canada geese flew by. A blue jay sounded the alarm call. Others joined in. I couldn’t see the threat, but most of the birds in the yard cleared out. The jays quieted down, though they continued to patrol the yard. Seven more geese flew by.

Locations — in my backyard, at Lake Olathe, at Sprint Wetlands, at Leawood City Park, and driving to and from these locations.

1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Lake Olathe
3. Seen at Sprint Wetlands
4. Seen at Leawood City Park
5. Seen at Meadowbrook Park
6. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 21, 2018

  • American crow2
  • American kestrel2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2
  • American tree sparrow2
  • Bald eagle (overhead)2
  • Black-capped chickadee1,2
  • Blue jay1,2,3
  • Canada goose1,2,3
  • Carolina wren 2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird (male and female)2
  • European starling1,2,3
  • Gull sp. (overhead)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-tailed hawk1,2,3
  • Rock pigeon3
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-breasted nuthatch2
  • White-throated sparrow (including first-winter birds)1
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

It was so nice this morning that I decided to clean up around the feeders. Then I sat outside until the birds stopped noticing me. It’s lovely to observe them without any boundary and to hear their songs and calls. I watched blue jays eat the peanuts I left out for them. I watched American robins alight on various branches. (We’ve had American robins in the yard again for the past few days, but only one or two at a time. I was delighted to hear their calls echoing all over the neighborhood this morning.) I watched northern cardinals feed from a tube feeder and forage on the ground. The littles came in a few at a time — dark-eyed juncos, house finches, and house sparrows. Canada geese flew over. Below, overcome with delight, a blue jay belted out its most melodic call while taking a bath. (Melodic is a relative term when applied to blue jay vocalizations. This particular call is almost euphonic.) At one point, the blue jay attempted to sing while its bill was submerged. The result was muffled, distorted, and just plain silly. I laughed.

In warmer weather, the birds don’t have to feverishly devour all the calories they can get in order to survive the harsh conditions overnight. Today, they had the luxury of taking things at a more leisurely pace. The activity in the yard didn’t reach its peak until just before noon when swaths of the dormant lawn undulated with one type of bird or another and the birdbath was transformed into a whir of twisting, flapping feathers. “Joy, joy, joy,” the whole yard seemed to exclaim.

That’s how I left the birds today when my partner and I headed out for Heritage Park. They were perfect. They were happy. They were free.

On our way out, we heard a red-tailed hawk screaming high above. The sound drifted to the east and was gone.

Locations — in my backyard, at Heritage Park, and while driving to and from these locations.

1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Heritage Park
3. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 19, 2018

  • American crow1,2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee2,3
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose (overhead)2
  • Carolina wren2
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Cooper’s / sharp-shinned hawk4
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2,3
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2
  • Golden-crowned kinglet*2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Hairy woodpecker (two, both male)*2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1,2
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2,3
  • Northern flicker1,3
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2,3
  • Red-tailed hawk2
  • Ring-billed gull (overhead)1,3
  • Ring-necked duck2
  • Swainson’s thrush*2
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-breasted nuthatch2,3
  • White-throated sparrow (including first-winter birds)2,3
  • Wood duck2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

After watching the birds at my house in the morning, I drove to Leawood City Park. I wanted to take advantage of the warmer weather by staying out for the better part of the day.

I crossed over the first bridge at the park and headed toward a viewing area overlooking the creek. I saw a great blue heron surrounded by several species of ducks. The heron looked like a chess piece. The ducks looked like fancy marbles. I looked up and saw a red-bellied woodpecker hollowing out a nest cavity in a nearby tree, his rump and tail protruding from the trunk. A few feet down the path and to my right, I saw my first-ever golden-crowned kinglet. At first, I assumed it was a black-capped chickadee, but it was smaller and the markings were all wrong. I was delighted when the bird lowered its head and revealed its gleaming crest. “Hello,” I said, because I talk to birds now.

I continued down the path to the bridge that crosses the stream. This is a popular bathing spot for birds. Unfortunately, frigid temperatures over the past week had left the creek’s shallow edges frozen down this way. The water was flowing in the middle, but the birds aren’t able to bathe there because the water is too deep. I saw a couple of robins in this area, what I believe was another golden-crowned kinglet, and a handful of house finches.

On my way back, I heard two large animals. I thought they were dogs. When I turned, I saw two white-tailed deer coming toward me then veering to the right. They disappeared into the trees as quickly as they appeared, like someone had opened a life-sized pop-up book, then suddenly snapped it closed. Once they were gone, it didn’t seem like they’d ever been there. A blue jay began sounding its alarm call in the area where I’d seen the ducks. When I went to find out what was going on, I saw that the jay was taking a bath near a tangle of roots from a tree that had fallen into the creek. Perhaps this was the equivalent of humans singing in the shower, only louder and steeped in greater discontent. Two mallards, a male and a female, crunched through leaves as they made their way up the creek’s steep bank. A second female started to follow but quickly returned to the water. The climb seemed to be too arduous for her.

I walked off the main path and onto a dirt trail. Along the way, several Carolina wrens entertained me with their chatter and animated body language. I saw one with spots on its back, a marking I haven’t seen before. My presence flushed a red-tailed hawk from its resting spot. It flew over the creek and into a tree, where it watched a group of dawdling mallards and hooded mergansers. I worried about a male hooded merganser who seemed especially vulnerable to a potential attack. I looked back up at the hawk. It was gone. Deer tracks spilled over the cut bank and picked up again near the water’s edge. Bare branches scratched against one another in a kind of Morse code meant only for the trees. Thin roots snaked across the ground. A thought scratched inside my mind: “Can I like things just as they are?” I kept walking. On the water, the reflection of a plastic bag snagged on a branch bore a striking resemblance to the great blue heron I had just seen.

I crossed back over the first bridge and headed to the right. I saw Carolina wrens, black-capped chickadees, and white-throated sparrows. A cherubic red squirrel dozed on a teeny-tiny branch. I found several wood ducks perching in one of their favorite spots. A male downy woodpecker flitted to my left. To my right, high in a tree, I saw two male hairy woodpeckers. I watched them for a long time to make sure I was identifying them correctly. This was my first hairy woodpecker sighting. On the ground, I saw the remains of an American robin — tufts of downy orange-tipped breast feathers strewn about and a headless body with a gray tail and wings. The bird had just been killed, perhaps by the red-tailed hawk I’d seen. I had walked right into the carnage without realizing it.

Locations — in my backyard, at Leawood City Park, at Roe Park, and while driving to and from these locations. A single asterisk indicates first sighting.

1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Leawood City Park
3. Seen at Roe Park
4. Seen while driving

Essays: Baubles

This time of year, American robins move in large flocks. They adorn bare trees all over our area. Last weekend, they came to our backyard in waves. Their washed-out orange underparts made it look like our sweetgum trees were covered in apricots. Stone fruit. Flesh clinging to a hard center clinging to a branch. I haven’t seen any robins for two days, but I know if I drove out to the nearest wetlands or even cruised across town, I’d see them clutching the trees, their legs like thick stems.

Robin, by John James Audubon. Image used in accordance with U.S. public domain laws.

Last week, I learned how to tell the difference between the male and female robin. Each time half a dozen or more gathered at our birdbath, I practiced my identification skills. “Male, male, male, female, male.” Now that I know what I’m looking at, the distinction is obvious. Her coloration is so much softer, especially her head, which is greige as opposed to charcoal or sable. Still, more than four decades of my life passed before I could see anything other than a generic robin — the Platonic ideal of the bird, perhaps. I was not seeing them, only some loosely held idea of them that came to feel like seeing.

Robin. It’s a soft word, like a wool sweater on a cold night. A comfortable word for a bird who brought me comfort as a child. The muted browns. The rich oranges. These birds carried fall’s earthy color palette on their bodies along with the promise of all that fall is after the terrible brutality of a hot, dry summer — one in which emotions routinely got out of hand as oppressive days ground into stifling nights. Nothing mixed well with the heat: not exertion, not rest, not that last glass of vodka, not my parents’ dealings with one another or with me.

My mother loved robins and would shrill “Robin! Robin!” whenever she saw one at the birdbath. Not all birds received such a ceremonious reception. The robin was on my mother’s bird-celebrity shortlist, along with the northern cardinal and, in the number one spot, the scissor-tailed flycatcher, who was our state bird. I’m not sure how any birds made their way to that birdbath, let alone the ones my mother loved most. My father had bulldozed the backyard and veneered the soil with concrete. Like frosting, he skimmed the concrete with a mixture of pebbles and epoxy. He left two trees standing — a magnolia and a sweetgum. The latter died, most likely from the abuse of having its surface roots constricted. My mother put a birdbath where the sweetgum had been. Like its surroundings, the bath was made of concrete. She placed rust-colored lava rocks on the circle of exposed earth that had surrounded the tree. The birdbath rose from the rocks like a whimsical headstone. Bird sightings were few and far between, but now and again a desperate winged creature would traverse the concrete jungle for a few sips of water and a bath on a feverous day.

That was my introduction to birds. Ultimately, they were baubles to my mother, as I was her bauble. She never moved beyond her initial excitement about seeing birds to actually watching them. Like everything, they were accessories. Bird. Child. Earrings. A pair of strappy sandals into which she wedged her tumid feet. Each played the same role and had the same status. Birds were something to chirpily declare having seen — “I saw a cardinal today!” — as if, as an extension of herself, the birds made her more valuable than she was on her own. They weren’t something to care for, to learn about, to appreciate, to protect. They certainly weren’t something to be with or to go out of one’s way for. My mother never went into the woods or fields or grasslands looking for birds, leaving her own world in order to get a glimpse of theirs. With the exception of my father, everything that came and went in her life did so on her terms. She was a planet. Everything else was a celestial object pulled for a time into her orbit. So I grew up with vague impressions of a few birds, namely my mother’s favorites.

What my father contributed to my understanding of birds amounted to coddling purple martins while attempting to starve European starlings. The martins got a fancy hotel in the sky, as blinding in the sun as the crest of a wave on a bright day. Below, he set a trap for the starlings: a wire cage that allowed them to enter but not exit. The device was not unlike the hanging cages used in Europe during the medieval period. I ended the torture the day after my father caught his first starling. I couldn’t bear witness to that barbaric form of execution and not do something. I found an older child in the neighborhood who was able to reach the trap and convinced her to open it. I knew I’d pay later. I didn’t care. The bird flew off, and that meant everything to me. My father stopped putting the purple martin house up after that. Its green and white facade languished in the back corner of our property until he died, and for two decades thereafter. My mother hated it but couldn’t bring herself to remove it. Unlike the starling he tried to starve, my father died quickly. Heart attack. Two words like stones that I didn’t know until I knew them and he was gone, a bird set free from a trap.

We had two juvenile robins in our yard this summer. That was before I was serious about watching birds. These were just two of the animals we inherited when we purchased our house in June. They were adorable in the way baby birds always seem to be. They don’t know quite what to make of the world or their place in it. I can’t imagine experiencing and processing so much so quickly. Every day for them is life and death, not that they think about it in those terms. But something in them knows already, if “knows” is the right word, to be on alert. If they used language, verbs like “fly,” “dart,” and “take cover” would be central to their vocabulary. They would be governed by a lexicon of imperatives.

It’s hard to look at birds and not think about the trauma I’ve experienced and the ways it’s shaped me. My working vocabulary is not unlike the one I’ve imposed on them. I, too, dart and take cover when I sense danger, even when no danger is present. Perhaps this is why I feel so protective of birds, why I whisper prayers for them under my breath or plead with them to hang in there. “Please make it through the day,” I would say to the juvenile robins. “Just try.” Then I would look for them the next day and, seeing them, smile.

My relationship with the young robins was quieter and more intimate than the one I have with the flocks who’ve visited the yard recently. Those adults have come by the dozens for the sole purpose of drinking water then moving on. With each wave, a handful of starlings also arrived. They seemed to be shadowing the robins, perhaps to take advantage of their ability to find resources. Between the robins and the starlings, the whole yard was mobbed. It looked like a pointillist painting, each bird a dab of black or brown ink. My partner was intimidated by the crowd. I’m not sure the smaller birds appreciated it, either.

Birds are complicated. They aren’t the simplistic trinkets my mother took them for. What I know about them is changing with each day, each encounter. I’ve learned that they don’t sound the same from place to place. The dark-eyed juncos use calls in the country that they don’t use in my backyard. They don’t act the same, either. Within a species, some birds are bolder than others. Some appear to be teachers while others are more apt to watch and learn. Some take the opportunity to feed while others are sleeping. Some experiment while others go by the books. Complexity exists at the group level as well. Case in point: The sparrows are fighting right next to me at the window feeder. Hierarchy is being established and defended. One’s place in the hierarchy can mean the difference between surviving the winter and succumbing to its cruelties. As I watched the flocks of robins who swarmed my yard, I realized there were more social dynamics among them than I would ever understand. My knowledge of them is akin to looking into a room through a cracked door. I see some of the details, but I have no idea what the room really looks like.

My relationship with birds is growing more complicated. I thought I’d signed up for learning their names and how to identify them. But now I’m involved. I’m moving away from my mother’s “Robin! Robin!” approach and into something else. “Bird” is coming to mean something richer, stranger and more mysterious than it ever did when I was a child staring at a cement birdbath girdled by a cement lawn, a single bird writhing in the shallow water — though now that I think about it, the birds I watched as a child were just as rich, strange and mysterious as any. Fancy that.

Twitter: Cabinet of Curiosities

My neighbor’s back porch looks like a cabinet of curiosities.

Note from an eBird user: American tree sparrow seen near artificial flowers at roadside memorial.

Church bells in the morning. Train whistle at night.

I follow a falling leaf almost all the way to the ground before realizing it’s not a bird.

The day is a glass marble being rolled toward the light.

Cardinal: You glow like a ruby in a tarnished ring.

A tree grows inside an old silo.

We just rescued a yellow-rumped warbler who was stuck in a park toilet.

American robin: You look like a stone fruit.

Spurred by a crow’s alert, more than thirty cedar waxwings shook off the Bradford pear in which they had flickered and lolled.

Meadowlarks bound through a freshly cut field as if directing a singalong.

Brown creeper: You look like a small knot on this Brobdingnagian tree.

In the quiet field, flying sparrows sound like cards being riffle-shuffled.

Western meadowlark: You’ve thrown your drab office blazer over your couture evening dress.

I look up to see the birds in my yard flying between bubbles. I look over to see a neighbor and her child playing with a soap bubble machine.

Canada goose: On takeoff, your wings sound like umbrellas opening and closing at full tilt.

Chickadee at Old Longview Lake: Your deformed foot doesn’t keep you from vaulting like an aerialist.

I saw an orange house finch today. I think this is the fellow who sings me awake each morning.

The blue jays seem to be testing shell peanuts for weight before making their selections.

Twenty-eight robins just landed in my sweetgum tree.

Two house sparrows fight over a feather.

Evening: The birds darken.

Two Carolina wrens hunt for spiders in my silver maple’s trunk flares.

This is the best thing I’ve read all day: “Carolina wrens defend their territories with constant singing.”

It’s not a ghost / which keeps you up at night / It’s certainty — Jeff Schwaner

Twitter: A Desolating Experience

I wish birds could read. Then I’d have my preferred audience.

T. H. White wrote about nature because he didn’t fit in with people. Same.

Falling in love is a desolating experience, but not when it is with a countryside. — T. H. White

Humans are the only species to which I have fallen prey.

In this world / we walk on the roof of hell, / gazing at flowers. — Issa

Strong wind. Crackling house. A conversation.

Thorns and seeds in glass jars. A tackle box packed with toys. Two journals: one practical, one desperate. These will remain when I’m gone.

I just learned that blue jays are the architects of America’s oak forests. Amazing.

The wind tonight is straight out of The Turin Horse.

Every leaf a bird. Every bough a bird. Bird, the wind. Bird, the air. Motion before thought is the bird inside you — scratch marks on stone.

Winter is when I cry a little every night, mostly about the suffering of animals.

Canada geese glide through the air’s church bells.

As I learn the names of birds, I am forgetting the names of people.

I know some birds by their shadows.

Some people feel like glue traps.

The closer you get to real matter, rock, air, firewood, boy, the more spiritual the world is. — Jack Kerouac

The day after Donald Trump won the election, I walked into a canyon.

I’m not sure what all the American robins were doing in my backyard this afternoon, but it appeared to be some sort of flash mob.

We got the tube feeder and heated birdbath set up just in time for winter. New visitors include cedar waxwings and black-capped chickadees.

This morning, I saw a squirrel sitting like Buddha at the base of my sweetgum tree.

When the last mourning dove disappeared, I was more alone than ever.