Hard to explain.

April 15th, 2012

There’s a tree outside my window, and in April it’s got sapsuckers. Spring is sapsucker season.

Seeing them on cue like this confirms that there’s a reassuring continuity in the way the world works.

The bird I saw today reminded me of a sapsucker from my past…

There was a time when I spent April and all other months in a Chicago skyscraper. I had a job on the 26th floor.

Any birding I did in those days was confined to weekend forests, where there were sapsuckers and other species I’d note on a list.

"...where a sapsucker belongs."

But one morning when I was in my skyscraper, I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker over my shoulder.

It was clinging to the building outside my window.

I went to the glass. We stared at each other.

This curiously named bird actually has a yellow belly.

What was surprising, though, is that it and its belly were 26 floors up.

After our moment of eye contact the sapsucker took off, dipping away in the roller-coaster style that’s typical of its kind.

Why had he come to my window, up there on the concrete?

The April sapsucker in the tree outside my house this morning was where a sapsucker belongs, and he was easy to explain.

But, the one that came to see me years ago when I was at work, well, that guy’s hard to explain.

Lonesome Dove.

April 8th, 2012

This is a bird review. And a book review. It’s even a review of the word “review.”

Here’s how it came about…

I saw a solitary Mourning Dove in early April.

It would have been nice if this were a sign of spring, the way Robins used to be.

But a few doves don’t migrate, and are here even through the cold months.

True to its name, the bird looked mournful.

I thought, “Another cold, lonesome dove.”

That brought to mind a huge, old novel called “Lonesome Dove,” by Larry McMurtry. I read this book years ago.

It was pretty damn good. Suddenly, I wanted to read it again.

Most people would say that re-reading a book is a waste of time. I’m not so sure.

Just because you saw a Mourning Dove once, doesn’t mean you don’t look at another one. If you saw a Scarlet Tanager last May, you still want to see one again this May.

“Lonesome Dove” is a book worth reliving: Two-fisted people, wild animals, dusty trail drives, banjo music, beans, biscuits, bandits, snakes, sportin’ women, big skies, and pigs that aren’t for rent.

That’s my book review.

It ought to make you want to read “Lonesome Dove.” And if you already have read it, well, hell, do it again.

As for the word “review,” it clearly says “re-view.” Which is what I did with that cold Mourning Dove I saw.

And it’s what I might do with the book I just told you about. “Lonesome Dove” was worth a good review. And, like an interesting bird, it’s also worth a good re-view.

Go peck yourself.

April 4th, 2012

This spring there seems to be more talk of birds attacking birds.

Well, it’s not birds getting attacked, exactly. It’s their own reflections.

And the attackers leave a hell of a mess splattered around.

I’ve had to park my car in the garage. If I leave it out, a crazed Robin goes at the windows and mirror. I’ve caught him in the act.

Friends ask me about this.

(I get a lot of bird questions. I don’t know which makes me feel more odd: that I get these questions, or that I might have some answers.)

Anyway. Friends have heard knocking on their glass doors, only to find beak marks and bird droppings.

There was a story built around this subject a while back in our “Bird Detective” section. It’s called, “Knock Knock Mystery.”

I’ve seen Cardinals as well as Robins knock themselves cuckoo trying to fight an imaginary male that they think is on their turf.

But I’ve never seen a Cuckoo do this. Those birds are smart enough to stay mostly in the wild.

The wild is where it’s at for birds. Or where it should be.

In the meantime, I’ll be parking in the garage. You’ll be wondering who’s pecking at the glass in your door.

And a lot of male birds will be sitting in nearby trees with headaches.

Why I Bird

April 2nd, 2012

A new birder weighs in on reasons for starting out.

By Megan Morgan

You read correctly: “bird” can be used as a verb, and not necessarily by the birds themselves. Birds don’t bird. I bird. And I’m quite human.

The action of birding generally means watching wild birds in their natural environments. But “bird watching” is just too passive an expression, I think. If I want to watch something, I’ll watch a Thunder basketball game.

But I’m not out in my backyard squinting and straining my neck in order to sit back and simply watch birds. I bird to experience birds.

So what does this mean? Admittedly, it sounds a little new age-y, but birding gives me a sense of wonder that almost nothing else can.

Once, when observing an American Robin scrabble around in the undergrowth, a species of woodpecker flew into my binocular range. I had never seen this species before. Leaves shifted overhead, and then the shocking contrast of the woodpecker’s clearly defined black, white, and bright red was suddenly in the sunny spotlight.

The scene made it look like all the colors in the world were turned up a few notches. It brought tears to my eyes. This made the rest of the observation slightly blurry, but that brief moment when I was caught off-guard and slapped in the face by natural beauty was all I needed. I was hooked on birds, and the feeling of awe that they give me when I truly pay attention to them.

And to think, this scene would have played out in the exact same way had I not been crouched there with my binoculars, watching. I find it humbling that daily dramas in nature play out constantly whether or not mankind is around to see them.

Look around, really, I started to tell myself. Once I started noticing birds, it now seems like they are everywhere. Some people might go to the zoo to see animals, but in truth, we are absolutely surrounded by highly visible ones every day.

When I started to take the time to see them for what they are, when the easily dismissed “short, black bird” became the lovable “loud-mouthed European Starling,” even the commonplace pigeon became suddenly fascinating. (Pigeons all seem to be colored differently! And they clearly know what they’re doing if they’ve successfully adapted to so many kinds of life all over the world!)

It makes me wonder what else I’m missing out there. There’s such incredible diversity right in front of our faces, and within our everyday soundscapes. How did I never before notice that bird calls and songs have provided a soundtrack to my entire life? Never again will I delegate the Carolina Chickadee’s clear-as-a-bell, four-noted song or the Northern Cardinal’s car-alarm call to the background. Because even when you can’t see them or find out where they are, birds are noisy creatures and you will always know they’re around.

Birds make me really consider my own humanity, too. Bird for too long, and I start thinking that they have figured out something about life that I haven’t. They gotta do what they gotta do, and they always know what they’ve gotta do. I’m jealous of that apparent assuredness and life-direction. That might be when I’ve really “gone to the birds,” so to speak.

So, I have my reasons. Just give me some more time out there, and I’ll be as hardcore as the rest of you two-fisters. Bird on.

Man O’ War

March 28th, 2012

I went to spring training camps in Florida a while back. This was unrelated to bird watching. But then, most things are.

I was recording impromptu public service radio spots with ball players. I wasn’t there to look at a bird. No matter what kind.

I was in street clothes, carrying a tape recorder. Nothing makes an ordinary guy feel dorkier than being on a ball field with real, professional jocks.

I ignored the Man O’ War in the sky.

Athletes like to be in commercials, so I had been cleared by Major League Baseball to make recordings with players between innings, if they agreed.

The huge bird wasn’t much of a distraction.

I convinced some big-name stars to read my scripts as I held the microphone. They were good guys, and I was getting good stuff.

Florida was tropical, with birds that were new to me. But so what. They can’t compete with a bat cracking a ball.

That’s why what happened is tough to recount.

I approached a shortstop, a famous guy whose name I won’t mention. Overhead the Man O’ War circled.

This shortstop was a hot-tempered, tobacco-chewing, scar-faced, wrecking machine, known for scrapes on and off the field.

While I’m asking him to read my script, I glance up. He follows my eyes. “What you lookin’ at?”

I say, “Just a bird.” He squints at me, then spits on the ground, a big glob. And walks away without another word.

This was a long time ago. But it’s spring again, baseball’s starting, and I think about the Man O’ War I saw in Florida.

And how he spit on the ground rather than deal with a dork that didn’t belong on a ball field.

Out of the fog.

March 24th, 2012

Sometimes, the sighting of a bird is old news. This happens because the bird is common, an everyday thing.

I thought about that today while hanging around a small, woodland lake.

White fog came in, and things became quiet. The water was flat and gray. Overhanging branches were barely visible through the mist.

A pair of Canada Geese swam into view.

They’re all too common around here, and have been for years. A good example of a bird that’s become old news.

Yet, they didn’t seem like old news as they glided out of the fog. Their gray, black and white colors matched the background.

Their reflections in the flat water made them anything but an everyday sight. Hell, they were a painting. Could’ve been in a museum.

A memory came back…

I’m maybe ten or twelve, wandering through a dismal prairie south of Chicago. Rail tracks, weeds, garbage, a pond formed by recent rain.

One Canada Goose landed there, and was resting.

This was rare. We never had Canada Geese back then. I watched the big, wild bird, and I thought: pretty cool.

A teenage kid from our nearby industrial neighborhood waded into the knee-deep water with a shotgun.

I’d never seen a gun fired outside of the movies.

One wing got blasted off. The goose fluttered on the pond’s surface, crying out, splashing in a circle. It was unmoving when the older kid got to it.

Now, a lifetime later, as two geese glided out of the fog on the little lake where I hike, I remembered that ugly scene.

These birds might have become old news around here most days. But at the moment, watching them, I thought: pretty cool.


A bird watcher in Ireland.

March 17th, 2012

Some thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day, 2012, after a Jameson and Guinness…

Due to an improbable toss of the ancestral dice, my paternal bloodline runs through Dublin.

"...James Joyce's old neighborhood."

Not long ago, we went there to see where our dad grew up.

Visited the James Joyce neighborhood of his childhood, then headed to open lands.

All travel, when done right, is also about bird watching. I intended to do some.

In a green meadow, there was a bird we don’t have back home.

But wait. Something happened the night before.

We were in a rural hotel’s sitting room with drinks, a fire and piano player. One of the men in the room began to sing. The piano player stopped. Listened. Then accompanied him.

The guy was no entertainer, just another patron. In a strong Irish tenor voice, he gave the spellbound room “Rose of Tralee” in its entirety.

Afterward, he gestured to a pretty dark-haired woman next to him, and told us all, “That was for my wife, Rose, on our anniversary. And we live up the road…in Tralee.

"...Irish fiddle."

True. That town, made famous by this song, was in the vicinity. We raised glasses and the room glowed.

But back to the bird…

Was it a Green Woodpecker? Shoulda been. They’re all over Europe. Ironically, none are found on that green island. The bird I saw wasn’t green.

Next night, we’re having Guinness in a crowded pub when a ragtag combo starts. Piper, banjo, old piano, a girl with wild blonde hair playing a fiddle.

They’re doing something Gaelic and quick.

Men and women around us quietly tap with their heels. Just heels. No other body movement. Then, the heels get louder. Suddenly, everyone, as if on cue, stands and starts that Irish foot-clopping dance. The room vibrates.

"...Kelly green."

But the bird, the bird…

Every day I wandered a bit in meadows and forests. The forests had some trees with Kelly green moss. I looked for birds. Didn’t see many.

I saw Magpies, but they’re in America, too. I saw English Sparrows, nothing unique in them. Okay, here’s my report. The only bird we couldn’t see back home: Hooded Crow.

These gray and black guys are pretty common in Europe. I wasn’t real impressed. I glared at him. He glared back. He wasn’t impressed with me, either.

They say there are no snakes in Ireland. St. Patrick drove them out. Could be folklore, but it’s true about there being no snakes.

Maybe birds left, too. Sure, there are some. But avian diversity is wanting.

Look at any field guide to Europe and you’ll see bird-range maps that leave the little oval island west of Britain empty of color.

Well, it may be empty of birds, but it ain’t empty of color.

Waiting game.

March 14th, 2012

“It’s all about chicks. It’s all about turf. No, it’s all about both.

When I say chicks, I don’t mean nestlings. I mean chicks. Hey, testosterone’s running high. It’s also about kicking butt if other guys come near.

I’m the Red-winged Blackbird you see every morning in the reeds along your highway cloverleaf…”


This imaginary monologue rings true.

The bird is there every day.

And one like him has been at that spot each year since you’ve been taking this route to work.

He represents a rite of spring. You know winter’s coming to an end.

Male red-wings return early, and alone. They scout a location, defend it. Then wait. Sensible females don’t want to freeze their pretty tails off, so they arrive later.

Meanwhile, the males…wait.

Those that have claimed a good place will get the best females. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, check out the odd word: “lek.”

Girls choose males that offer the best package: Best location. Best looks.

This recalls your youth. Leaning on the wall in high school as girls pass. Or hanging out in a bar, hoping to catch some female’s eye.

It’s human nature. Red-wing nature.

You understand this. And every morning on the way to work you see that same sucker on the reed. You feel sorry for him.

No girl’s gonna want to live that close to the road.

“Show me the grebe.”

March 7th, 2012

I woke up thinking: I’m going  to see a Pied-billed Grebe. I went to the pond near here and said: “Show me the grebe.”

Before we go on, let me point out that nobody in my old neighborhood has ever said, “Show me the grebe.”

Or in my current neighborhood, I guess. I had the thought that I was the only guy on the planet thinking those fairly absurd words.

Screw it. I was thinking them. And I had a gut feel.

Gamblers know that feel. In the 1974 film, “The Gambler,” a troubled guy at the blackjack table bets his whole life on the fall of a card.

Everything is hanging on his drawing a three. The actor (James Caan) is filmed from below. Behind him we see the Vegas casino’s ornate ceiling with a round, gold design. It glows over the guy’s head, his halo.

The dealer tries to talk him out of calling for a hit while holding eighteen. The guy quietly says, “Show me the three.”

With that halo going for him, we knew what we were going to see. The dealer slides a three out of the deck.

There I am, at the side of this little green pond, with the gambler’s gut feel that there’s a Pied-billed Grebe there on this day.

I say silently, at least I hope it was silently, “Show me the grebe.”

Pied-billed Grebes are diving birds. It’s possible that one could have been under the surface. Possible that one could’ve popped up on cue.

Like that three.

Did it happen? C’mon, we’re not in a movie. And if we were, it wouldn’t be about grebes. Still, it was a nice moment, there by the water.

"C'mon. We're not in a movie..."

The Yin and Yang of Being Lost.

March 3rd, 2012

I’ve been lost. Sometimes it feels free. Like you’re relieved of duties.

I thought about this because of a Western Tanager. More about him in a moment.

You can be lost in nature, a city, at work. Once, I was lost in a million-acre forest near Lake Superior. That’s where the two-fisted idea popped up.

And I was lost in the Eiffel tower. Didn’t want to ride down in a crowded elevator. Took the stairs, and wound up in an engine room with no legal exit.

I was lost at work when a boss gave orders I couldn’t follow. Had to quit to find out where I was.

A Western Tanager belongs in the west during warm weather. This winter, one has been showing up in New England. How it got there is a drama only it knows.

When you’re lost, you feel two things. Uncomfortable. And free.

Uncomfortable, because you face danger, maybe death. Free, because you’re off your own grid. That can be a nice break in the action.

Nothing is purely one thing or another. There’s always the Yin and Yang of it.

"I'm goin' east..."

This Western Tanager would look at you like you’re nuts if you said “Yin and Yang.” But what does he know? He’s at a snowy feeder in Connecticut. Two thousand miles from home.

He might simply have a screw loose. But, maybe not. Birds have free will, and free whim.

Maybe he said, “What the hell. I’ll go east instead of south.” He found food. He didn’t freeze his butt. Could be, he just wanted a break in the action.

It was cold and scary. Yet, for a while, it might’ve been fun to live off his own grid.

No upgrades in the woods.

February 25th, 2012

Here’s another reason to go in the woods: No computers.

And no computer problems. This underscores how good it feels to wander the anti-techno world of wildness.

There’s a Cardinal on a snowy branch. You’ve seen a thousand Cardinals, so seeing him doesn’t make it a red-letter day. Just a red bird day.

And you think: now there’s something that never needs a system upgrade.

The Cardinal on a branch in front of you could be the same Cardinal that was on a branch in front of John Audubon, a tough guy who walked across Illinois in 1811.

No kidding about the walking: he’s said to have crossed the bottom of the state in a couple of days. A hundred and fifty miles without roads.

Crows fly over, making noise, and you’re glad to see them. Audubon might’ve seen the same kind of birds. He also might have seen Passenger Pigeons, now discontinued. But, you’re in no mood for annoying thoughts of discontinued systems just now.

There’s a lot of prints on recent snow. You hope there’s bobcat or even mountain lion tracks in with the coyote and deer. They were here in Audubon’s time, and they’re rumored to still be here. So you look.

Not today. But the word “lion” brings to mind a new Mac operating system that’s a fierce son of a bitch, and you don’t want to go there.

Forget it. You see a surprising spot of blue at the edge of the woods. A Blue Jay? You check it out.

No. Turns out to be an Eastern Bluebird. Not uncommon, but early when snow’s on the ground. You lean against a tree and enjoy the quiet. This is a pretty good place. You never want it to change.

And it doesn’t. Some things need no upgrades.

Free Whim.

February 19th, 2012

Saw a story about a man on 9/11 who was told to go back to work in the tower that hadn’t yet been hit.

He got on the elevator, but before the doors closed he jumped back out and left the building. He resisted authority.

If you like resisting authority, you might be drawn to birds. They symbolize free will. This is covered in our Viewpoints section. Check out “No Rules.” Don’t worry; it’s short.

Meanwhile, the thought occurred again, when I noticed birds on this unnaturally warm February Sunday.

Canada Geese walking around like they own the place. And odd ducks. (Odd, because it’s winter in Chicago. But these guys do what they please).

Also, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Hairy, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, none standing still. An American Kestrel, a Red-tail, American Goldfinches.

"I'm out of here..."

All are studies in disobedience.

If you told an American Kestrel to get on an elevator and go to work, he’d zip past and drop something on your shoulder.

Birds fly. They’re creatures of whim.

Free whim. The cousin of free will.

They’re the ultimate in civil disobedience. I think that’s why I got interested as a kid, looking out the window of a confining schoolroom, envying street birds because they could take off.

Yeah, you don’t have to be a bird nut to admire birds. You can simply be someone who likes to spit in the eye of authority.

And who recognizes a kindred spirit.

Lucky with a camera.

February 15th, 2012

People say there’s a dinosaur in the Congo. Mokele-mbembe.

Trouble is, sightings are by guys who don’t have cameras. Or who aren’t lucky with them.

I thought about this when I heard about shots of a Snowy Owl battling a Peregrine Falcon near Chicago’s lakefront. Taken by a guy who had luck with his camera.


They appeared on a popular birding website, and made the site even more popular overnight by going viral.

Take a look, and read the guy’s story, if you’re interested.


My sons used to ask me: who’d win in a fight, crocodile or shark, grizzly or lion, boxer or Ninja. Good, solid two-fisted questions.

To this list, we can add the falcon and the owl. Both have talons and speed.

Lucky for us there was a guy with talent and speed who captured the action.

Too bad he hadn’t been in the Congo when mokele-mbembe kept showing up.

At least we’ve got his pictures on North American Birding. And besides, as we know, birds are dinosaurs.


February 11th, 2012

As a kid I went to a zoo that had a rookery. Didn’t know the word. Boring cages. Birds. Never figured it out.

Now, I’m more aware of words and birds. A rookery is where there are rooks. What they call crows in England.

But there are rooks on my chessboard, too. This is a word with more than one definition. Here’s a third…

Yeah, right...

I felt rooked—cheated—today, because birds weren’t in the wild.

They were in my yard. We put out seeds, and every bird in the world came.

Being a guy who believes that two-fisted bird watching is properly done away from civilization, I had mixed feelings about this.

So I left home, and I walked through nearby wilds to do some real birding. But they were dead quiet.

Snow, bare trees, freezing wind. No wildlife.

Back in my yard there was a buck with a full rack of antlers. Coyote tracks. Fearless raccoons.

Bright red Cardinals and their brownish wives, winter goldfinches. Upside down nuthatches; titmice, juncos.

My kid claims he saw a Pileated Woodpecker on our feeder, but I have doubts about that.

Hell, I want birds to be in the wild. Instead, they’re here, and only here. The wilderness is empty.

I’ve been rooked.

Lone trail.

February 7th, 2012

Dogs can be lousy bird-watching companions.

I walked a trail this morning, alone. Because it was just me with no dog, I was able to go slow and use binoculars on birds I saw.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker. An out-of-season Belted Kingfisher over the unfrozen river. A Red-winged Blackbird with no red on its wings. Two kinds of nuthatches. All seen close up.

When I’d walked this same trail with my dog a while back, she set the pace, and I couldn’t stop to get my fists around binoculars.

(Two fists around binoculars…one reason behind this website’s name).

Yeah, the dog kept us moving fast, and we made noise, too. Speed and noise are the enemies of two-fisted bird watching.

Today, I was without the dog. And I had the birds.

Actually, that was small consolation. I’ve seen these birds before, and I’ve seen them a lot. I like seeing them, and want to keep seeing them on this or any trail for as long as I can.

But my dog wasn’t with me because she’s gone now.

And the thought occurred: On this winter morning, I’d rather have been with a lousy bird-watching companion.

Screw the birds. It would’ve been nice to be with the dog.

Basketball and birds.

February 4th, 2012

Today was warm for winter. I noticed my basketball near the garage, where there’s a hoop.

Grabbed a sweatshirt, and shot some baskets. But I missed a few, due to birds.

When you aim at the basket, you look up. Sometimes a bird’s up there in the distance, and you notice it.

This breaks your concentration. You miss.

Today, while shooting a routine fifteen-footer, I saw a Turkey Vulture circling. Big, ominous, with splayed wingtips.

They’re not seen much around here this time of year, but there he was.

He was looking at me, thinking: Hmm, driveway basketball players aren’t seen much this time of year, but there he is. Maybe he’ll become dinner.

Later, when I was going in for a Derrick Rose-style spinning layup, I got a glimpse of small birds in the top branches of a tree over the garage, and missed.

No big deal. I’ve made a million layups. The birds were Cedar Waxwings, and I haven’t seen a million of them. At least not on the tree over my garage.

In the past, I’ve missed baskets because of squawking Sandhill Cranes overhead. And last summer, a Cooper’s Hawk threw my shot off.

That’s okay. I’m glad to be outside, shooting around, jumping toward the hoop, defying gravity (think Derrick Rose, again).

And watching other gravity defying things. Like birds. They get racked up on a mental list I keep each season.

And they give me an excuse when I miss.

Coyote Burnout

January 28th, 2012

Went out to get the paper at the head of the driveway and noticed coyote tracks. Seen ‘em before. No big deal.

Then, I thought: hey, coyote tracks used to be a big deal.

When coyotes started showing up around Chicago in the 1980s, I went looking for them. These animals were the stuff of cowboy movies. And now they were here.

...stuff of cowboy movies

But over the last few years, I’ve seen plenty of coyotes. One trotted across our yard a week ago. I’ve seen them from the car.

The excitement is gone.

I guess I’ve got coyote burnout.

On a river in Alaska, we saw so many eagles that the same thing happened.

I remember the first Bald Eagle I saw in the wild. It was in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula somewhere in the woods. Hell, it’s all woods up there. That eagle was a big deal.

But on the river in Alaska, after seeing about a hundred eagles, I wanted to get into our rattling old Jeep and head back to town for a beer.

Eagle burnout. Now: coyote burnout.

Is this the way things work? What other kind of burnout lies in wait?

Woods burnout? Will I get tired of going into the wild and hanging out alone by a river? I hope not. I like doing that.

Blog burnout? Will I get tired of doing this writing, and end it?

Ah, those coyote prints got me in a weird mood. Native Americans say the coyote is a trickster, and plays with your head.

Looks like even his prints can do the same thing.

The Someplace-Else Owl

January 24th, 2012

I keep hearing about a Snowy Owl being sighted someplace else.

I won’t head over there. Not my style. Not what I stubbornly call two-fisted birding.

Most birding I do is done alone, in my territory.

Mountain lions also have territories that they hunt in. Hunting and bird watching are different sides of the same coin.

My territory covers many square miles. I range all over it. And like any wild beast, when nobody’s looking, I’ll mark a tree.

Within these woods and fields along a river, I see many things that are possible around here. But I let sightings come to me.

(I do the same when hanging with humans. At a party, I get a drink and settle into one spot. People come and go, the ones I want to talk to.)

So, yeah, I see birds on my turf and on my terms.

You don’t need rarities to enjoy birding. But I get somewhat rare ones, sometimes.

“See ya. Someplace else.”

Ospreys and Pileated Woodpeckers, distant Bald Eagles. A Lazuli Bunting. Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Shrinking groups of Bobolinks. Uncommon Summer Tanagers, an American Bittern. Whooping Cranes overhead.

But I’ve never seen a Snowy Owl.

My territory’s big enough. Let the owl come here, if it wants to get seen.

I’m not going to read about one on a beach near a nuclear plant in the next county, and drive to it.

I’d like to meet one of these owls this winter.

But, so far, the bird’s always turning up someplace else.

Well, it’s a someplace-else owl. And we’re not on each other’s life list yet.

Too easy.

January 20th, 2012

It’s freezing, and I’ve been buying cakes of fat.

I don’t mind the cold. There’s thick air in every breath, so you feel good. But cakes of fat?

They’re for the birds. We put these cakes in little holders, and hang them in front of our windows. Birds are so frozen and hungry, they leave the wild and come close.

For people, congealed fat can be bad news. But for birds it’s money in the bank. So we buy cakes of it, encrusted with seeds and bits of fruit.

We’re surprised at how many birds it draws, and how many different kinds.

What’s also surprising is that I don’t feel this is real bird watching.

Fish in a barrel

Yeah, it’s good to give the birds a hand when it’s freezing. But spotting birds at a feeder isn’t birding; it’s shooting fish in a barrel.

Today there was a big Red-bellied Woodpecker on the other side of the glass. Lured with fat and seeds.

Also, countless American Goldfinches in sparrow-like winter plumage, Dark-eyed Juncos, Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. A single lost Mourning Dove.

My yard’s become something like a zoo. (If you see a gorilla in a zoo, you don’t feel like you saw a gorilla. You feel bummed.)

If I want to do some real bird watching, I’ll put on a coat, boots, a stupid-looking hat, and get my freezing butt into the woods somewhere.

There won’t be many birds. But if I see a Red-bellied Woodpecker, it’ll mean something.


January 13th, 2012

A big, tough guy is guiding us through swamps in the Everglades. He points out some White Ibises, but they’re not white.

“That’s because they’re juveniles,” he says.

Juvenile White Ibis

This is correct. He had no way of knowing that we already knew that, because, c’mon, it’s not the kind of thing most people know.

Most people don’t know an Ibis from their elbow. And they’d call it a stork anyway.

The word “juvenile” sounded funny coming from this tattooed bruiser. But he had it right.

This brought up thoughts of life cycles. We’re all just walking life-cycles. Ibises. People. Anything that can have a biography.

(Biographies are fascinating books, yet can be downers, too. This is because you know the demise of the subject before he or she knows it).


Yeah, we’re all walking life cycles. Babies get born, kids grow up, young turns old, old turns really old.

Mature White Ibis

Hell, it’s good to get away from these sobering realities.

One great way to do this is to lose yourself for a while in a wild place.

Like the Everglades. But then, there’s this guy talking about juvenile Ibises.

You start thinking about how they’ll become mature soon enough, with mature plumage.

They’ll hook up with hot Ibises of the opposite sex, make more juvenile Ibises, then fade into the sunset.

The juveniles we just saw will start the cycle all over again, and it’ll keep going.

On the garbage can near the trailhead, there’s a sign that says, “please recycle.” Ibises got the message. We all got that message.