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: 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 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.

Bird Roll Call: January 11, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Carolina wren
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Ring-billed gull
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to church bells. It was cold and growing colder. Over the course of the day, water turned into ice. Frozen droplets hung from the silver maple’s scaled bark and clung to every branch. They looked like one thousand crystal balls portending one thousand potential futures. Pellets of ice fell from the sky like flour being shaken through a sieve.

The ice amplified noise from adjacent streets. Roads cracked and howled as traffic passed. Eventually, the wind kicked up and did its own share of howling.

Early in the day, the dark-eyed juncos’ tails were splayed, gray and white fans half folded, half spread. Perhaps their feathers froze in these positions overnight and needed time to thaw.

A wet cardinal flew near my cracked window. His wings sounded like the pages of a flipbook being thumbed.

The birds seemed panicked, frenzied. Yesterday’s animato had given way to today’s agitato. There were skirmishes at the window feeder all day. The northern flicker devoured the suet he rarely touches, the red patch on the back of his head water-tousled. His pecking on the suet cake sounded like someone hammering numbers into a license plate. A few feet away, the red-bellied woodpecker’s drumming on the silver maple sounded like a tin sign being tapped with a penny nail.

Gulls flew over, paper cutouts on a paper-white sky. A male northern cardinal used a teal Adirondack chair for cover.

European starlings acted lost, dejected. They wanted to eat the suet, but the northern flicker wouldn’t let them. He would bite their legs and pin them to the ground when they approached. They wandered through a plate of seed I’d left on the patio, uninterested, before clomping around in the vinca below the suet feeder, their heads pulled tight against their bodies. One let out a half-hearted “tee-ka-tuh-dee, tuh-dee-doh” before taking off for the back fence. Was it a complaint? A protest? The bird equivalent of cursing?

The red-bellied woodpecker flew off in the erratic path of a pilot who doesn’t trust his own instruments. With a flash of his gold-leaf undersides, the northern flicker flew up and over the patio roof. A single American goldfinch remained perched on the patio’ nyjer feeder.

With the northern flicker gone, a starling went for the suet. Then another and another. I let them.

Location — in my backyard.

Twitter: Midfield

Midfield, / attached to nothing, / the skylark singing. — Basho

First snow, first junco tracks.

A spot of clean ground. This is where the rabbit laid while snow fell.

Sapphire sky beneath a sheet of vellum.

The winter sky has netted a colony of ring-billed gulls.

The chill carried a pine siskin to my yard.

Christmas morning. The Carolina wren sings.

At the top of the sweetgum tree, a tail flicks.

Winter: The dogwood blooms with finches.

House finch: Your crown is dried blood.

Northern flicker: You carry the sun under your wings.

All day I saw the Carolina wren. Still, I felt such loneliness.

We’ve been apart for so long that I can finally think of you fondly.

A little boy rides his new toy up and down the street.

One of the juncos drags its long toenails through the snow.

There and then not there: the chickadee.

The blue jays have me surrounded.

Now the blue jays are gone. They’re off mobbing a hawk.

No shadow like a hawk’s shadow.

When I’m with birds, it doesn’t matter that I’m not with people.

The songbirds exit stage right. The Cooper’s hawk enters stage left.

Winter: A great blue heron slips on a frozen marsh.

Today, a man touched me on the arm. I did not know him.