When we moved to Plato Center last year, one of the benefits that was apparent pretty quickly was the amount and variety of birds around us. We live on an acre lot, surrounded by trees (rare enough on the Illinois prairie) with a creek on the southern border of our property, all providing a nice habitat for a variety of fauna - raccoons and squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits, foxes and maybe a wild ferret or two. Most of all, though, were the birds. My grandmother, Grace Safford, was a marvelous birder. She knew birds, all kinds of birds, at a glance. She knew their names, their calls, their eating habits, their nesting habits, their migratory habits, their Latin names. She could do the same with flowers (although not the whole Latin thing, I think) but I was always more impressed with her ability to identify birds.
I have always wanted to be able to do the same thing. I can identify a number of birds by their calls - robins and blue jays and cardinals and red-wing blackbirds and cowbirds and the sweet, two-note call of the phoebe. I can identify more by their look, their color and markings. The folks who had lived here before us had a couple bird feeders and a hummingbird feeder out back, and the traffic was lively, but the press of events kept my attention elsewhere.
Late last summer, I encountered, up close, a small owl. I was quite close, no more than three feet away, and it ignored me completely as it went about its hunting, nabbing a mouse or mole in the grass after gliding past me from the branch where it had been sitting. Over the winter, we kept up the seed in the feeders, adding a couple suet feeders for woodpeckers, and all through the long months of cold and snow we had downy woodpeckers, chickadees, mourning doves, and a host of junkos, the last of whom fed exclusively on the ground, which meant tossing quite a bit on the ground.
As spring arrived, we noticed an uptick in interesting birds. First, the red-headed woodpeckers stopped by, for a bit. Once or twice a pileated woodpecker would grace us. The sparrows became thick, regulars at the trough. Then, a couple weeks back, Lisa snapped the following picture.
One of our long-time regulars, a downy woodpecker. I should name it Norm, after the character on Cheers.
Being here is a great opportunity to indulge in a hobby that is fun, adds some beauty and life to our lives here, connects me to the local wildlife, and is something I have always wanted to do. I am learning something new, which is always a new thing, but also something I have always wanted to do and connects me to my grandmother in a way I think she would have appreciated.
I know this has nothing to do with being a Christian, or politics, or much of anything else. Self-indulgence, usually, should be avoided, but the birds are far too beautiful not to share.
Even the cowbird.
UPDATE: The picture below was taken less than five minutes ago, at an oriole feeder my wife set up. Just . . . wow, how beautiful are these guys?