“Daily Sightings” A Blog

What’s in a name.

Saturday, July 6th, 2024

Midday in a Midwest meadow. The sun is strong. A warm wind rustles the grasses. Nearby you notice an Eastern Kingbird. More brightly colored than its cousin the Western Kingbird.

This kingbird is stark white and black with a slight crest and an erect posture that’s unusual among perching birds. He looks haughty, like he wouldn’t take any crap.

The toughest kid in our tough high school had the nickname “King.” He had scars on his face. He also looked like he wouldn’t take any crap. We wondered if he acted tough because his nickname was “King,” or if the name came only after he earned it.

Do these black and white Eastern Kingbirds look cocky because they’re “king” birds? A pointless musing. They don’t know what we call them and wouldn’t care.

I saw a Yellow-breasted Chat in the nearby trees, a bird with a name I wouldn’t brag about. It was sprightly but suggested little dignity. In the same prairie I’ve seen Dickcissels. I have no idea what they thought of themselves.

I prefer names like “Red-headed Woodpecker.” The head’s red and the guy’s pecking wood. Done. “Indigo Bunting” is a pretentious name. If you tell somebody you saw an Indigo Bunting they do a double take.

You know this. You think some names are pretty silly. Dickcissel. C’mon.

But Kingbird? That’s a name to take seriously. Just look at one. If you’re lucky enough to be granted a chance.

 

Footnote:

A similar mention of this bird appeared here 14 years ago and elicited this comment from a two-fisted birdwatcher in Grand Forks: “I saw an Eastern Kingbird and a Western Kingbird sitting on a wire with the Eastern to the east and the Western to the west. How did they  know?”

 

Time and a memorable bird

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2024

Take your kids to Disney World over the years, and they change like time-lapse photography.

This place makes you notice time passing. You also notice birds. Including a favorite, which I’ll get to in a minute.

First, quick impressions: A Mockingbird on an umbrella table. A pair of Ospreys hunting over Bay Lake. They don’t care if the lake’s manmade. Its fish are real.

Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants are on the shoreline. White Ibises walk among crowds. Long-legged tropical birds acting like pigeons. Goofy.

Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures watch. Maybe a goofy Ibis is dead. Or a feral pig rots in the palmettos. There’s a lot to eat at Disney World.

A Wild Turkey walks the golf course. Boat-tailed Grackles are common. American Coots float in Fantasy Land. A Bald Eagle circles above it all.

Then there’s an all-time favorite bird. He was around when you were a kid and still is. Things change, but not him.

The invisible bird

Tuesday, June 25th, 2024

There’s a bird singing in the tree above you. You look up, but the leaves are thick in early summer and you can’t see through them. The song is clear and close.

You’re drawn to find out who’s behind it. You crane your neck. It’s right overhead in a tangle of green. Your dog waits patiently. It’s his dawn walk, not a bird hike. But even he seems interested.

You know some bird calls. Cardinal, robin, wren and dove…raucous jays. This invisible bird sings a different tune.

You stare at the spot from where the music comes. But see no bird there. The song moves and you follow. Why are you so determined?

This makes you think of Rima the bird girl in W.H. Hudson’s classic novel, “Green Mansions.”

You liked that adventure story even though the language was Victorian, purely out of English lit class.

Later, you also liked the ‘59 film version of it. Young Audrey Hepburn beautifully cast as the mysterious Rima.

A real girl or fever dream?

She sang an avian siren-song, drawing a man (along with the rest of us) into forbidden jungle. Her music was magnetic, but where was she?

Back in the moment: the invisible bird is calling. And you guess: a concealed scarlet tanager? Its throaty robin-like notes make this a real possibility. And you’d like a glimpse.

Nothing.

You think: Rima lives again. This gorgeous ghost from a dusty library has come to your neighborhood to taunt you in a tall tree.

You move away and start the day. But throughout it you remember the invisible bird. And the haunting young Audrey Hepburn, Rima the bird girl.

Cool bird. Bad name.

Thursday, June 20th, 2024

Put the word “house” in front of something, and it somehow reduces any punch the next word has. “House cat” means a tame tabby, no tiger. A house fly is a citified pest. When ordering a drink, house bourbon is redeye, not the good stuff. Grandma used to wear a house coat, whatever the hell that is. House means, what? Tame? Mundane? Everyday?

But c’mon, those dull vibes are unfair and unwelcome when it comes to the House Finch you just saw in June sunlight today. The bird caught your eye because of its bright red face and chest. Its cool brown side-streaks. Its spunk as it hopped—nowhere near a bird house, but in wild pines.

These birds avoid bird houses and rarely nest in them. Once again, avian name gurus screwed up and chose wrong.

Still—put that aside for a moment—this was a cool sighting, and unexpected. Sure, you’ve seen countless House Finches in a life of birdwatching. But not recently, and then there was that sun hitting this bird’s bright red! You remember reading somewhere that girl House Finches prefer to mate with the reddest males they find. Cool.

That was today’s Daily Sighting. When the day started, we had no idea a House Finch would brighten it. And grousing about the bird’s bad name just made it a little more fun. Hope you see a House Finch, too. They’re everywhere. Except near a bird house, of course.

Father’s Day Flicker.

Sunday, June 16th, 2024

My dad had signed us up for a nature hike led by a bossy guy in a ranger outfit.

I was ten, and looking for arrowheads. But I noticed an interesting bird in the underbrush.

It flew to a tall tree ahead of us on the trail. There was white on its back, a red dot on its head. And gold flashes under its wings.

I thought I might know what it was. We’d been studying birds in school that year.

I said to our guide, “What bird has yellow wings?”

This annoyed him. I was a punk looking for arrowheads. He sighed, “No bird.” And resumed lecturing to the adults.

I said, “What if it’s under the wings.”

“Son, no bird has yellow under the wings.”

Under my breath, I said to my dad, “Flicker.”

My dad, who would later tease me for life because I once identified a titmouse, looked at me, eyebrows raised.

He said, “What’d you call that guy?”

Eventually, we neared the tall tree. As the bird moved, yellow feathers under its wings became obvious.

Our guide noticed. He stopped the group and pointed, “Okay, everybody, up here we have something interesting…” As though he’d discovered it.

“Flicker,” I whispered to my dad again.

My dad gave me a look.

“Yellow-shafted,” I added.

~

This true story about a father-son hike appeared here a while back. We figure it’s worth another look because a Flicker is always fun. But, especially, because today is Father’s Day.

Frozen in time.

Wednesday, June 12th, 2024

Two-Fisted Bird Watcher started as a blog when social media was less of a thing.  “Blogging” itself was still somewhat new.

But we had a statement to make in defense of the rugged sport of  birdwatching. So we went online to share views, news, even fun fiction.

After a decent run, we took a break for a few years. (Like a decade!) But started posting here again last November.

Today’s web world is so different. Wildly popular social platforms offer daily fun and contact for millions. We joined that communal conversation in our own way, mainly to notify you that we’re writing things here once again.

We even “boosted” our original Facebook page. And explored other platforms. But y’know? All that posting and chatting didn’t feel like…us.  Our digital personality, we gotta admit, is frozen in time.

So we’re going to concentrate on doing things the old way. Simple, informative notices (with a link) on our original Facebook page. And then–new writing right here with little fanfare.

Social media is great. If there were a thing called anti-social media, that’s probably where we’d belong. But if you choose to visit this site occasionally—we’ll be glad to notify you by email when we post something new. Just use the sign up gizmo, and it’ll be like old times. Old, frozen times.

A striking memory.

Monday, May 27th, 2024

You don’t see people strike matches much any more. When I was a kid, my dad would light a cigarette even when we were walking in the woods.

I remember hiking with him, and a few steps away a flash of flame would be there in the foliage as my dad’s match flared. It was gone in a blink. But the memory’s not gone.

I remember noticing something like that years later on a solo hike. The woods were green and thick. But there was a flash of hot orange amid the leaves for a moment.

I thought of my long-gone and fondly remembered dad starting up a cigarette for relaxation back in those days when people smoked and believed it was good for them.

But what I saw wasn’t a match. It was a bird, with patches of  hot red-orange, and it was there for a second. Then gone–a memorable moment. My first sighting of an American Redstart.

Its flash of color wasn’t my dad’s match but something as quick and elusive. If you’re lucky, you see one of the these birds passing through during spring migration. Around Memorial Day.

Blowing out of hell.

Tuesday, May 21st, 2024

Dateline: somewhere north of the windy city. A “flyway” according to ornithologists, good for birdwatching. But birding will take a back seat to this story.

Although a bird waits offstage to “strut and fret…a tale told by an idiot.” Snippet from Shakespeare, sorry. But the bird IS a tale told by an idiot, you’ll see.

For now, let’s talk about wind. Hot wind. Chicago is famous for things other than pizza. One is its chilling winter wind, called “the hawk” in folklore. Icy blasts off the lake into the city are appropriately predatory.

But there’s an opposite side to that. Take today. A day in late May. A mean south wind is gusting across Chicago and into the forested outskirts with hot vengeance. A wind blowing out of hell.

Don’t turn the air on in your house, the system will break. It’s 90 out there, and the wind is coming in gales. Screens blow in. Curtains flop and slap. Every bending tree is getting stripped of twigs.

You go down to a small woodland lake and face the wind out of hell.  Even sleeping naked tonight, you’ll be miserably hot.

But late in the day, as you let the blast furnace blow your hair, carrying all the pollutants of Chicago and points south into your face, courtesy of hell itself…you notice that bird mentioned earlier.

A Green Heron nosing along the shoreline. You’ve grouched about this bird’s name before, but cranky and sweaty in the gusts from hell you say again: damn, that Green Heron ain’t green.

It was a bird named by “an idiot.” You watch it strut and fret at the edge of that wind-tossed lake and think: sorry, kid—you’re hardly green at all. But birds make a decent distraction.

For a moment, you’re not pissed off about the wind straight out of hell. And you pity anybody looking for a Green Heron, expecting it to be green. Things don’t work that way in hell.

Not so green

Forget “naked.”

Thursday, May 16th, 2024

You have binoculars but haven’t been using them recently when looking at birds. This is known among birders as “naked birding.”

It’s widely practiced by the confident, complacent and otherwise preoccupied. You could look it up. And it’s not advisable behavior in the bird-busy season of spring.

Example: in a freshly greened-up suburban neighborhood, you see a flock of birds crowding and fussing around somebody’s backyard feeder.

As far as stopping to observe all this, a part of you feels: “Been there, done that.” You know there will be some late-leaving juncos, downy woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, the usual gang.

Besides, you’re not on a quest in the woods, but merely on a neighborhood dog walk. Still, you stop.

A slightly different bird in that crowd catches your eye. You linger.  You send a mental message to that interesting bird  saying, “Don’t move.” And make a quick trip home to get your binoculars.

Minutes later you return, not naked. Old habits don’t go away easily. You take a look, focus in…

Whoa. What? A Northern Waterthrush? Ovenbird? Swainson’s Thrush? Veery? It’s on the ground, this oddly reddish bird. Got interesting markings—maybe a Wood Thrush?

Focus, man. That’s no thrush; it’s a late-migrating Fox Sparrow. An old-time personal favorite, with its streaked front, rusty plumage and long tail. Been a while since you’ve seen one. The thought hits: maybe you’re the one who’s rusty, m’friend.

But now you’re feeling like your old self. Binoculars in hand, you’re not doing the “naked birding” thing. You’re a little energized. The way you like to feel, especially in spring around here. There’s a lot going on.

Yeah, every once in a while, you gotta bring the world into sharper view, close in on it, make it part of your day. You gotta get back to being the two-fisted birdwatcher you always were and still are.

Forget naked. Hell, you just saw a Fox Sparrow.

Early morning

Sunday, May 12th, 2024

Thanks to a guy named Thoreau, you might find yourself muttering in your mind something about a word that doesn’t exactly fit into a two-fisted lexicon and that word is “blessing.”

As another old-timer would have said, it doesn’t “roll up its sleeves, spit on its hands and get to work”. (Sandburg, writing about “slang”). Back to Thoreau. (You forget his first two names for a moment—guys of that era often went by a mouthful, no worries, they’ll hit later when you stop trying).

Back to excuse-making for the less than rugged word, “blessing.” But screw such self-editing. Thoreau said this: “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

Two-fisted or not, that sticks in the mental library if early morning walks are a routine part of your routine. And if you have a dog who needs a daily reminder that he’s house trained, you get him the hell outside early. Like “still kinda dark.” “Crepuscular” early. A ritzy word also not in any two-fisted lexicon.

But forget about whether a word has muddy boots, and just say what’s going on. Like: every freakin’ morning at dawn, you’re out there walking the pooch. Watching the eastern sky lighten over the trees sometimes in orange glow and other times in silver, and you say: hell, Henry David, you nailed it.

An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. If the word fits, wear it. You do feel blessed to see the day start, dark then light. It’s blessedly quiet, too, and in all seasons dawn smells good. And you see birds. Sometimes deer. Once in a while a coyote stares before turning with a shrug and trotting off.

This morning, on your early morning walk, there was suddenly a silent presence moving over you and your dog, a flying machine of commanding size, owning the sky, stamping an image into your day…and you know it was a Great Blue Heron rising for reasons of its own, powerfully, soundless wingbeats putting a mark on the moment and disappearing.Blue heron in flight.

You don’t want to recite in your mind that quote from Thoreau, but it floats undeniable as the heron, low and quiet. Even your downward-sniffing dog has looked up, all eyes, which you read as unlikely canine “awe” but you believe it. And get on with your day, silently thanking Mr. Thoreau for his insight and the heron for his wingspan and the dog for being the reason you’re out there on an “early morning walk.”

~

“Early Morning” is a re-run. It appeared last November, one of our first posts after coming back from a hiatus. It was in the Viewpoints category and today it reappears in Daily Sightings. With a new photo. Nothing professional, just a spontaneous iPhone shot. This added photo spurred us to re-publish the piece with a nod to Henry David Thoreau and doing things we like more than once–such as our dawn walks.

Not a bird.

Saturday, May 4th, 2024

When you’re out in the deep woods, you might focus on a woodpecker, and discover there’s a porcupine on the next branch.

Or you look at vultures picking at something in a clearing, and notice that a coyote is looking back at you from the tree line.

It’s good to get out where the birds are. More than good. It’s wild.

While birding, you might see muskrat, beaver, mink, snapping turtles, alligators. You’ll come across deer, a sure thing.

Could be you’ll see snakes, moose, elk, fox, antelope, javelinas, armadillos, wild sheep, maybe a bear.

You might spot a Pine Marten, if you’re lucky.

Marten sounds like a bird’s name. When you talk about it later, people think you’re talking about a Purple Martin, something like that.

But it’s no bird. It’s a predatory mammal, all fur, teeth and claws. It hunts in trees, and is rarely seen.

“Pine Marten” is also the name of a fiction piece in our Stories section.

Well, we call it fiction. But, like everything mentioned here, it comes from real life.

Not a bird

~

Old-time two-fisted birdwatchers might remember this tale which still appears in Daily Sightings under a different title. After eleven years or so, maybe it’s worth a second look. And it even links to a slew of  short stories. For new readers, some things to discover in the wilderness of the present. 

Hike.

Monday, April 29th, 2024

It’s not just a walk in the wild. It’s a football snap. A pay raise. A skirt lifting. Hike is a versatile word.

But mainly it’s a walk in the wild.

You head through deep forest. There’s snow in patches and you see tracks. You think about a bobcat.

You get to a river and there’s beaver sign, wood shavings. You see Wood Ducks, wildly colored.

Under the roots of a tree is a den. Half-eaten raccoon nearby, its spinal cord pebbly. A coyote lives here, far from the trail.

You bushwhack on. A bird squawks over the water. Belted Kingfisher.

A deer with erect ears is watching you. You watch back. Three other deer become clear. They jump away, white tails up. 

You see a Great Horned Owl, tree-colored, in a tree.

You’re warm in the freezing day, pushing on.

You reach the rapids where water pours over rocks. A few years ago, your dog jumped in, and you helped her climb out, both of you soaked.

Here, time stands still. Yet time passes. Maybe the owl understands how both can be true.

Hours later you head out, bushwhacking, still bushwhacking. You think: don’t forget this hike. Write it down.

~

The above appeared in “Wild Notes – Observations about birds and other fleeting things,” a book published in 2015 by one of our writers.

 

 

But wait.

Tuesday, April 16th, 2024

It was a lousy week. The water heater cracked and flooded the basement. Home internet service kept going out. There were doctor appointments. But wait. Aren’t we going to talk about birds here? Is this a gripe column or a birding journal?

Yesterday April turned a corner. Sun warmed every bit of our world with light. A nearby lake looked like green glass. Turtles basked on logs. Canada Geese showed up, that old mix of the annoying and majestic.

But wait. That’s not what this is about. No, while still fretting about water heaters, internet service and doctors…something unexpected happened.

On this bright afternoon a Red-breasted Merganser popped up on that lake. There was its unmistakable elongated shape. Prehistoric beak. And spiky backward-tilting crest. Light and dark coloration with a reddish tinge. All that you know about a Merganser: there.

By some roll of the avian dice, it dropped in for a visit, floated around in odd-duck strangeness, and the odd duck standing on shore completely forgot—for a moment—about water heaters, internet failures and doctors.

A better name.

Saturday, April 6th, 2024

Double-crested Cormorants look like danger. They ride low in the water, unlike other swimming birds.

You see one. Then it submerges, and you lose sight of it. Keep watching. It’ll surface somewhere else.

But, you won’t see much body; just a long, skinny neck.

Like a periscope.

Today, I watched a Double-crested Cormorant on a forest pond, diving for fish.

A fascinating, two-fisted hardass. It reminded me of a comic book cover from another generation.

I’ve written about these comics before.

Their name caught my eye for obvious reasons.

And speaking of names, this diving, hunting bird needs a better one.

Forget the double crests. They’re usually not visible.

And what does “cormorant” mean, anyway?

No, this bird should be called “The Submarine Bird.”

Dot.

Saturday, March 23rd, 2024

You’re driving on a gray four-lane outside of gray Chicago. There’s wet snow in the air and low clouds. Up ahead floats a living warplane soaring over the road, losing altitude.

It’s a large gull on wide wings. White-gray against the white-gray sky. Next to the road is a tall, narrow pole. Behind it, a strip mall and retention pond of flat gray water.

You notice the bird dip and bank, drop airspeed and calmly alight precisely on the pointed tip of the tall pole. You think: an incredible feat. Then: incredible feet. How did the bird land perfectly on just the pole’s top? There’s nothing much to grip up there.

Now, with folded wings the gull sits. Chest out, head back, calmly above it all. This gray-white flyer which you know is a local Herring Gull. You drive past. Tires swish on that wet street and the odd sighting is quickly history.

But the bird leaves you with a fitting ending. You think: it “dotted the I.”

 

No new birds.

Saturday, March 2nd, 2024

You get to a point where you’ve seen ‘em all. Just takes being in the game long enough. One afternoon a neighbor phones to tell you there’s a “Bald Eagle on the deck behind your house.” Huh? You look out the kitchen window. Eagle. Eye contact. It flies off with wide wings that make you recall scenes shot on an aircraft carrier.

And it goes on. A Pileated Woodpecker flies alongside your car not far away in place or time. You remember a Groove-billed Ani on a Caribbean Island and a White Wagtail in Scandinavia. The “Doctor Bird” in Jamaica, a storied long-tailed hummer.

“The boys are back…”

So much history. Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, Cuckoos. All the thrushes including routine robins from kid-hood on. Grouse, grebes and egret types. Pheasants and one wobbling Woodcock. Kestrels, falcons, most every kind of warbler, woodpecker and flicker, a passel of passerines! Including the flashy favorite tanagers.

So many checked off and remembered. The wish list became the life list. Your motive to score something new feels honestly extinct. You wonder if the thrill is gone.

Then yesterday you see a feisty Red-winged Blackbird, first one of early spring. Big male, waiting for female companionship to arrive. You take note of this. Why? A common sighting; you’ve seen a million in a life of two-fisted birdwatching. But you smile and hum: “The boys are back in town…” homage to the earthy rock classic by Thin Lizzy from the 1970s. A soundtrack to this moment. Who cares if there are no new birds; you’ve still got the old ones and they’ve got you.

Souvenir on a freezing morning

Saturday, February 24th, 2024

Your early morning dog-walk combined with late winter snow today, and brought you not just into a mundane Midwestern neighborhood, but also into Norway. Norway in your mind.

You’re no world traveler, but years ago circumstances allowed for a trip to this place of fairytales and fjords, far from the beaten paths of Paris, London or Rome.

You were in a Norwegian neighborhood with similar snow and silver sky. You’re mentally back for a visit. Now in two places at once. The place where you and your dog are rooted in reality…and the place where you once felt stupidly amazed at how “They have pine trees just like ours,” and “There’s a cottage with a picket fence, a Norman Rockwell scene, but we’re in freakin’ NORWAY.”

And so, yeah, you’re in the Midwest morning, but also in that other one far away in miles and time. There’s a bird there. Of course. This is a “Daily Sightings” column. It ranges free, but there are usually gonna be birds.

And the bird could be a real one, say a winter Robin on your neighbor’s lawn. But it also could be a memory, the “White Wagtail” you saw perched on that picket fence in front of the Norwegian cottage.

Fun to remember the moment, to see that non-American bird in your mind again. And to surprise yourself again by knowing its name.

You’re there in far-away Norway, on a hilltop street overlooking Oslo, while others in your party visit a nearby museum where they’ll come out marveling at Norse carvings or something.

But you have chosen a neighborhood walk. And you see a White Wagtail. Two things about this are notable. One: you’re there—a place you never thought you’d be on this planet. Two: you know the name of that bird.

How? Why? You’ve never seen one before. Only in “birds-of-the-world” books, probably. Maybe the Hall of Birds in Chicago’s Field Museum? You cannot imagine why you knew the name of that bird. Then, or even now. You just did, and just do. White Wagtail.

On this snowy morning north of Chicago, there it is again, this “memory-bird” joining you and your dog, a souvenir better than anything from a museum in that country of pine trees, Norman Rockwell scenes, friendly folk and birds that somehow—for unfathomable reasons—you know by name.

Back to the woods.

Saturday, February 17th, 2024

“Whose woods these are I think I know…” You do, huh? Okay, Robert Frost, I also know. They’re mine. And by the way, gotta say: you are one hell of a two-fisted poet. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a favorite around here. Maybe it’s the woodland setting. You’re good at taking us there—avoiding the “road not taken” if you don’t mind an allusion to another of your cool poems.

So, Robert, yesterday I’m in the frost-chilled woods. The “frost” thing has nothing to do with you, everything to do with February weather.

The woods are “mine” for reasons rooted in no legal ownership, other than spending a lifetime in their familiar wilderness that’s deep enough to attract the solitary Pileated Woodpecker. They’re a half-day out of Chicago along a river and broken by swaths of prairie, but mainly they’re old growth Eastern broadleaf forest, dense and lively. Plus, I’ve given names to many locations within them, a kind of “staking of claims,” which we’ll see.

I hadn’t been back for a bit—call it a hiatus—but it was like I’d never left. My woods hadn’t changed if you don’t count a few fallen trees. No, there were things I recognized, and realized with a smile that I’d named privately. You don’t forget something when you give it a name.

I hiked past places I’d dubbed “Dead Deer Fork” and ”Raccoon Vomit Trail.” There was “Fat Beaver Beach.” And one of my favorites, “Coyote-Stare Ridge”“ I won’t bore us with explanations. You can guess the origins of such names, especially if you’re a two-fisted woods walker yourself, with your own private grab bag of funky place names.

We’ll stop, but first, gotta give a quick nod to “Scarlet Tanager Cottonwood” and “Last Meadowlark Creek.” Plus it’s fun to mention “Praying Mantis Rock”…and the “Pileated Police Pullover” at an unforgettable weedy roadside.

Point is, you just can’t help remembering a place when it’s linked to a moment, and that becomes its “name.” After a bit of a hiatus, it was great to get back to the woods and revisit those names, still there in the quiet, dependable wilderness.

How and why to find a Mountain Bluebird

Monday, February 5th, 2024

 

Picture the Rocky Mountain wilds. If you’re not from around those parts, you’re not likely to have seen a little all-blue bird known as a “Mountain Bluebird.”

 You’ve seen other bluebirds (Eastern) and Jays (Blue) and Indigo Buntings (cool!). But your life list needs a Mountain Bluebird.

So on a trip West you drop out of society and spend a few rugged days wandering Colorado’s high country.

You get your shot of a Mountain Bluebird, but it sucks.

Your photography lacks skill. The subject is too far, and the focus is fuzzy. The little bluebird seems to know this, the way it glowers at you—eyes burning with disapproval. But you saw your Mountain Bluebird. And the photo, though poor, is proof.

Yeah, and while you were out there in the high country, you happened to snap a shot of a full-curl ram. You don’t see those guys back home. This shot—though still somewhat of an amateur effort, commands a bit more attention.

And you never would have gotten it if you hadn’t been roaming around the Rockies looking for a tiny blue bird. As the Two-Fisted Birdwatcher said somewhere, “it ain’t always about birds, but it’s always about watching.”

Cakes of fat

Saturday, January 20th, 2024

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

Personally, you don’t mind the cold. Every breath is rich in oxygen. This makes you feel good. But cakes of fat? Yeah, also known as “suet.” Birds love to eat it.

You put these square cakes in little holders, and hang them outside near a window. Birds are so frozen and hungry, they leave the wild and come close.

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

It’s surprising how many birds this draws, and how many different kinds.

What’s also surprising is that you might not feel this is real bird watching. Definitely not “Two-Fisted.” Too easy. But at the moment, who cares?

           Fish in a barrel

It’s good to give the birds a hand when it’s freezing. Even if spotting birds at a feeder is kinda like shooting fish in a barrel.

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

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

Your 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 kinda sad.)

You tell yourself that if you want to do some real bird watching, you’ll put on a coat, boots, a stupid-looking hat, and get your freezing butt into the woods.

It won’t be “too easy” to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker there. But if you do, it’ll mean something. And if you don’t, maybe that’s because the bird’s in your backyard, bopping around in front of a kitchen window.

Footnote: The above post was adapted from one that ran in 2012, so if it looks familiar, thanks for having a two-fisted memory. The original  was titled “Too Easy,” a critique about that “fish in a barrel” thing. Somehow, in this era of declining bird populations and on this day of sub-zero wind chills, we’re not as concerned about sightings being “too easy,” and we’re pleased to keep those cakes of fat in the game.