Sunday, February 8, 2015


Just as the past few weeks have been a time of turbulence, it has also been a time of newness - a new year, a new house, and a new yard. The relocation, while unexpected and abrupt, was very, very welcome, but the transition period has been challenging simply because of the unexpectedness and abruptness. Still, birds have been there through it all.

It was difficult to say goodbye to the backyard birds I'd known so well, in particular the covey of California quail that I've loved seeing grow each year, as well as this year's family of western scrub-jays - quite the quarrelsome group, but all the more engaging because of it. Moving right before the holidays meant added stress and prioritizing what had to get done, what should get done, and what could be done without, and it wasn't until January 1 that the first of the new bird feeders were added to the new yard.

My first guests, the first day they arrived.
The new yard may not look like much for now (an empty palette I am thrilled to be able to remake as a bird-friendly sanctuary and certified wildlife habitat), and it did take a few days for the feeders to be noticed. I'd already noted, of course, that the new neighborhood was better suited to birds - the old, stuffy neighborhood relied far too greatly on chemical assistance for immaculate lawns and precise pruning for showy landscaping, neither of which is bird-friendly - and I eagerly awaited the first visitors. The wait, while agonizing for me, wasn't actually that long, and I'm thrilled to say that house finches were the first visitors to the new house, followed swiftly by dark-eyed juncos, a winter visitor I'm glad to have in greater abundance than ever, since I'd sorely miss them if they weren't in evidence.

In just over a month of tracking the birds in this new backyard, I've welcomed almost all the usual visitors (in order of appearance):
While I haven't yet seen all the visitors I'd like (the quail being the most conspicuous absentees, and American robins overdue for an appearance as well), I'm pleased with this beginning. May it be just the start of a a fantastic flock, one I'm eager to welcome and hope to treasure for years.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Life Interfering With Lifers

It's been a crazy time for the past few weeks - time that you never believe you'd endure, for reasons you never thought would come true. In the end, you carry on and do what must be done, but each day can be a struggle. To that end, a planned vacation was fraught with unplanned stress and will be long remembered as one of the worst getaways, but for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the getaway itself.

Yet birds always seem to be there to remind me that life, and lifers, go on.

I don't remember much about the getaway, save the official details of where, when, how. A few snatches of delicious meals, of rambling walks, of beautiful water, but nothing more - except for one splash of bright yellow wing patches, a shaggy black crest and a long tail with yellow outer feathers. Standing on the Lido deck of the Carnival Miracle, I noticed those distinctive markings from a few birds mixed in with a grackle flock as we were docked in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and because they were so distinctive, the investigative birder in me just had to puzzle it out.

Study the field guide, peer through the binoculars. Study some more. Another tree, another glimpse. Ooops, there's one flying for a moment, yup, look at those wings. Come on, baby, come into the sunlight - thank you, there's that pale bill. Oh, yes, stretch those wings and show me that yellow rump, you sexy lifer you! Turn your head - note the shaggy, thin crest. Check the field guide again, compare range maps - yup, only one bird it could be.

With that dedicated Lido deck study (I'd have left the ship to get closer to the adjacent trees where the birds were gathering at sunset, but we were due to depart and passengers were no longer allowed to disembark), I added the yellow-winged cacique to my life list; an unexpected and pleasant surprise for a cruise I've done before, when I wasn't expecting any lifers at all. With all that overshadowed that vacation, this one bird still remains a bright, clear point of the trip, and a reminder that amid all the turmoil life can throw at us, and even as the sun sets on one part of life, there is still reason to spread our wings, to take flight, to fly.

I hope, one day soon, I can leave the ground again.