Twitter: Bed of Moss

A red-winged blackbird has come to visit. What a surprise.

Over the din of construction equipment and yard tools, the male red-winged blackbird calls for a mate.

The red-winged blackbird seems to be serenading a pair of courting mourning doves.

A feather floats to the ground. Whose?

Even after I forget who I am, I think I will remember birds.

Today, my Turin horse was a pair of bluebirds trying to nest in a construction zone.

The next time you see a bird, know that part of me is with you.

I kept one thousand words in a cage, then I set them free.

On new asphalt, the muddy tracks of Canada geese look like hieroglyphs.

Unable to accept what is, I tried to will a dead goldfinch back to life today.

If I hold your neck, will it unbreak? If I open your eyes, will you see? If I run my fingers along your feathers, will you fly? Summer is coming, your brightest season. Now you lay in my hand, your toes curling as if around a branch. I breathe and you don’t.

Today, my Turin horse was a small bird who died because he tried to fly into the reflection of a tree.

I laid the goldfinch to rest on a bed of moss and covered him with dried hydrangea blossoms.

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

Twitter: Geometry

I found a heronry today near my home.

Birds froze to things last night: utility lines, branches, feeders. They left feathers behind when they flew away.

Geometry: two northern flickers — one on the utility pole, one in the sweetgum — and me, below, standing between them.

A European starling found a white feather and dropped it in the birdbath.

A blue jay used a peanut shell to bully other blue jays. He wielded it like a little sword.

Overhead, a single herring gull flew behind several ring-billed gulls.

I am as fussy as an American goldfinch.

I don’t know where the birds go at night, but I want to go there, too.

Songbirds slid off iced branches this morning.

The correct image is always a seed — it contains its own explanation, and defines itself. — Charles Wright

The ground has thawed. Squirrels play in the wet grass.

Morning: A squirrel drags a dried hydrangea blossom to his nest in the silver maple.

The grackles arrived this morning. In the near distance, hundreds of Canada geese are moving north. Only a handful of juncos remain. One sings from the back fence.

I hear tapping on a nearby tree. Two red-bellied woodpeckers jag through the air. They needle the sweetgums then disappear.

I am mildly interested in leaving the house but only to go watch birds somewhere else.

Sunny and warm. Clear skies. Two geese fly past the tornado siren tower.

I live knowing there is a Turin horse in my future, a suffering so great it will finally break me.

Bird Roll Call: February 10, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Belted kingfisher2
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose3
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • Eastern bluebird1
  • European starling1,3
  • Gull sp.1,3
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker (two males)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female)1
  • Red-tailed hawk1
  • White-throated sparrow1

I woke late. Several house finches were already piled into the dogwood for a mid-morning nap. The male red-bellied woodpecker was filling a rotted-out sweetgum branch with food. Squirrels were purging old material from their nest in the other sweetgum tree. The detritus fell to the ground and scared the dark-eyed juncos.

A red-tailed hawk made a brief appearance, and the birds only acted half scared. This hawk looked much younger than the last one who visited. Its eyes were barely pigmented enough to be called citrine, and its feathers were in pristine condition. The hawk didn’t stay long. After it left, the songbirds returned to their business which, on a frigid day like this, amounted to eating as much as possible to provide the calories needed for the long, cold night ahead. I read that birds can lose up to ten percent of their body weight on winter nights. Foods like suet, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds provide the fats that are essential this time of year.

Two male northern flickers arrived in the yard at about the same time. They seemed to size each other up. I don’t know if these are the same two males who were vying for the female’s attention a little while back or if the area is overrun with these fellows. The two sat on the fence together for a little bit then separated and did their own thing, one staying on the fence and the other foraging in the garden despite the mild protestations of mourning doves.

Eastern bluebirds arrived in the afternoon. I put peanut butter bits out for them, but they haven’t found them yet. They primarily visit for the water, which is in short supply when everything freezes.

My partner and I went out looking for a suitable branch to append to the main feeder pole. We ended up behind a lawn and garden store in an area that overlooks part of Indian Creek. I stepped to the edge of the cut bank just as a belted kingfisher flew across the water with a fish in its mouth. We rounded out the day with a few Canada geese before returning home with a branch that had broken off a flowering tree in a Walmart parking lot. It wasn’t easy to cram the branch into the car, but it was worth the effort. The birds are going to love their new perch.

Locations — in my backyard, at Indian Creek near 103rd and Roe, and at Indian Creek near 103rd and Metcalf.

1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Indian Creek near 103rd and Nall
3. Seen at Indian Creek near 103rd and Metcalf

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 24, 2018

  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin2
  • Black-capped chickadee2
  • Blue jay1
  • Brown creeper2
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Carolina wren2
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Cooper’s / sharp-shinned hawk (one perched and one soaring)2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-headed woodpecker*2
  • Red-tailed hawk (overhead)2
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

There were no birds in my yard when I woke, which was a little later than usual. I decided to sit at the window anyway. I thought I could spend some time meditating at the very least. Moments after I sat down, more than one hundred Canada geese flew by overhead. Their motion and sound brought the sky to life. I felt my spirits lift. Slowly, birds arrived in the yard, but not in the numbers I usually see. I don’t know if hawks were keeping them away or if the warmer weather makes things like my birdbath and feeders less appealing. Notably, I didn’t see any black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, or northern flickers today. I didn’t even hear a wren, which is unusual. Perhaps I simply woke too late to hear the birds sing.

Mid-morning I decided to see if a friend wanted to accompany me to Leawood City Park, where I hoped there would be more activity than there was in my yard. Things were relatively slow there, too. There was no sign of the hairy woodpeckers, ring-billed ducks, or wood ducks. My friend did, however, make an excellent discovery: a red-headed woodpecker on a branch at the top of a tree. This was her second time birding. What a find for a second outing! This was my first time seeing a red-headed woodpecker in real life. It is even more beautiful than any photo could suggest. Its head feathers were the color of red velvet cake and looked like they were as soft as actual velvet. Its folded wings gave its back the appearance of being half black, half white. Its rump and underparts were as white as the snow that still dotted drifts of leaves near the path. Its black, forked tail was pressed hard against the branch as it drilled holes in the wood with the precision and consideration of an artist painting Chinese characters on a handscroll.

Red-headed woodpeckers have been listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN since 2004, which means the species could be threatened with extinction in the near future. I wish that weren’t the case. That knowledge affected my experience today. I was incredibly happy to see a rare bird but extremely upset about the circumstances that have contributed to declining numbers in these birds, namely loss and degradation of its habitats.

Another interesting find was a turtle sunning on a stick protruding from the creek. I believe it was a red-eared slider. They brumate this time of year, but the warmer weather we’ve been having may have enticed this one to come to the surface.

When I got home, the birds in my yard were busy at the feeders. Still no black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, or northern flickers anywhere in sight. After the northern cardinals and mourning doves called it a night, I ambled out to the birdbath and changed out the water for tomorrow’s visitors. It’s going to be warm. I’m not sure I’ll have much company, but I’ll sit at the window and wait.

Locations — in my backyard and at Leawood City Park. A single asterisk indicates first sighting.

1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Leawood City Park

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 18, 2018

  • American crow (flying one block over)
  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Carolina wren
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Ring-billed gull
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to see that the northern flicker had learned how to stand on my feeder’s raccoon baffle and flick his long tongue into the ports to retrieve seeds. Once he grew bored of that activity and moved on, I turned my attention to the ground, where several types of birds were eating the seed the flicker had spilled. I was able to identify a first-winter white-throated sparrow mingling with the group. I am learning how to see and interpret important markings on birds that help with identification. In the case of this particular bird, these markings include slightly streaked flanks and a smudged central breast spot, as compared with the clean gray breast of the adult. (It helped that there was an adult present for comparison.)

The Carolina wren appeared for a breakfast of plain suet. I was hoping he’d sing after he ate. He didn’t disappoint. At the front of the house, he launched into a three-note tune that I haven’t yet documented. The first note was an A-flat, and the final was a G-natural. The middle note fell between the half step. He repeated the notes three or four times for the most part before pausing and then beginning a new set. When he first started singing, I thought I detected an additional element between sets — a refrain of two buzzed notes with the same pitch. As he went on, the buzzing disappeared and he stuck with the main song. I was running to the front of the house at the time in order to hear him better, so I wasn’t able to document the pitch of the buzzed notes.

All morning, the sky was streaked with European starlings flying west. By 10 a.m., the ground rippled with the shadows of Canada geese. A little later, gulls flew over in the opposite direction. I thought of clouds passing by on warm summer days, but this was not that. This was winter, through and through.

Late morning, the Cooper’s hawk flew into my neighbor’s yard in pursuit of something it saw from the sky. She missed whatever she was after and flew to a nearby tree before flying up and over my house.

I saw a red-tailed hawk fly over the house twice today, or perhaps I saw two red-tailed hawks fly over once each. As of yesterday, I know I have two in the immediate area.

Watching these birds is like flipping through an old illustrated book, one that’s yellowed with time and holds great mystery.

Location — in my backyard.

Twitter: Road Ends in Water

The snow is frosting sprinkled with nyjer seed.

Geese fly by so low I’m afraid they’ll get snagged on the sweetgums.

Crack. Crack. Swallow. Crack. Crack. Swallow. A blue jay shells peanuts and caches them in his expandable throat.

What is the yellow-bellied sapsucker still doing here?

There’s a sweetness to birders, like the time two women barreled across Heritage Park to make sure I’d seen the bald eagle.

Sign: Road ends in water.

Ice on a lake sings like someone playing one thousand saws.

Next to a white horse, a brown horse with a white face.

Out in the freshly tilled field: meadowlarks.

Through the dead grass, I see a man fishing.

A funeral procession passes as I stand in the field looking at meadowlarks.

Because the water is frozen, snow geese have landed in a field.

From a sparrow identification guide: The field sparrow’s song “sounds like a ball bouncing down to rest.”

I met a birder today on top of a dam. Her name is a combination of the words candelabra and mandolin. We saw pelicans.

Meadowlarks and starlings fly back and forth — low in the field — as if performing reiki on the earth.

Home: glass strike; no body. I am lousy with concern.

The woman with the beautiful name taught me how to pronounce the word merganser.

Rock pigeons stand on a frozen marsh.

Rural Kansas: the geometry of utility poles and power lines.

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.