Saturday, May 07, 2011

For The Birds (UPDATE)

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.
This is an indigo bunting. I realized that this would provide a marvelous opportunity for me to do something I have always wanted to do - some birding. Over the ensuing couple weeks, I was more careful as I watched the comings and goings of various birds. Then, yesterday morning, I was surprised to see, big as life and clear as day, an oriole. I quickly grabbed the camera and took a couple pictures.
Over the course of the day yesterday, I took several more pictures, including one of a goldfinch. Now, the goldfinches have been hanging around for about a month or so. They are frequent flyers, as it were, and we have quite a few; earlier this week I counted five individuals, three males and two females, perched in various places on and around our feeders. Every time I would grab the camera, they would fly away. I started to get paranoid about them, but I finally snapped a quick shot of a male.
Yesterday morning also saw a grossbeak making an appearance.
I decided, after that, to keep the camera close to the windows facing on the feeders. I also took some shots of some other visitors to Chez Kruse-Safford Aviary Restaurant and Lounge. A white-throated sparrow.
A cowbird, which no one seems to like, but they are an integral part of the community of birds that keep our bird-feeder area lively.
A purple finch, who isn't actually purple, kind of like the red-bud tree down south whose buds aren't actually red.

One of our long-time regulars, a downy woodpecker. I should name it Norm, after the character on Cheers.
Over the coming weeks and months, I'm going to be snapping more photos of more and different birds, teaching myself to identify them, then familiarize myself with the individuals who hang out here. My ultimate goal is to snap a picture of a hummingbird. We have had one come around to our hummingbird feeder, but I've been too nervous to even try to take a picture. I am going to try, though.

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?

Virtual Tin Cup

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