Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting a little perspective on your yard birds

As I packed for my summer trip to Boulder, I planned to bring my binoculars and bird book, but at the last minute, I put them both away, recognizing that I wasn't going to have time for birding. Boulder was not a birding trip. Nonetheless, when I first arrived, I noticed right away that there were many new unfamiliar bird sounds as well as some that I knew but which were slightly different, suggesting maybe a different but related species to the ones I was familiar with at home. I just listened.

Flatirons, Chautauqua
Little by little I got better at just listening, and on a day trip to Chautauqua, I sat in the woods along the trail into the Flatirons just listening. It truly was a musical delight. Only once or twice did my mind grab onto a label, or my eyes wander to the source of sound.

But I did find it odd that I couldn't see any of the birds.

James Good
Gradually that changed. I saw a Red-shafted Northern Flicker's flight feather on the ground on my walk home one morning and picked it up. I had heard them in the trees at the entrance to our building, Lincoln Hall, but I never saw them.

Coby Leuschke
Then one morning, a Hummingbird made an appearance, calling an alarm above the flowering plants around the trees at the entrance to Lincoln. I noticed that the leaves of the plants below her were waving in a pattern that at first suggested they were being fanned by her wingbeats. It took a few seconds for me to realize that something was on the ground at the base of those plants, hidden from view. Its movement along the ground caused the tops of the plants to wave. It had her quite riled up. I never discovered what it was, however, because I was about to be late to morning mediation, so I left the mystery unsolved when she flew away.

A few days later, a flock of Chickadees appeared in the trees visible through one of the windows of Shambhala Hall, our mediation room. I could tell that they weren't Carolinas, but unsure of what they were, I just listened and watched. Later, a female House Finch appeared on the roof of our apartments, in the courtyard.

Robins in Snow Lion Courtyard -- Liz Sloan
And then I noticed a female American Robin sitting on a nest in the courtyard. She eventually hatched and fledged three babies.

One day Crows and Ravens showed their tails in flight so I could tell them apart without binoculars, even without glasses. And then, on an afternoon walk, I heard the sound of the Flicker in a tree above me and looked up and saw him in a hole in one of the branches of the tree. These occasional sightings always made me feel happy and present. But beyond the occasional squirrel or raccoon on campus, and these few birds, the wildlife in Boulder was sparse to say the least.

Home garden -- GKH CC*BY
I guess I got used to it. When I got home to Austin, my first morning in the garden astounded me with the variety and numbers of birds, squirrels, lizards, snakes and frogs I saw and heard within the first few hours of waking up! Critters were everywhere -- on the ground, in the trees, in the sky, at the feeders, on the bird baths. Unperturbed and raucous, they went about their business as though I weren't there. It was the best welcome home I could imagine! Well, that and the fact that Dennis had kept my garden alive and thriving, the feeders filled, and the bird baths clean and inviting the whole time I'd been gone. No wonder the critters were at home.

I had to remind myself that these were the same birds, lizards and squirrels that I had been noting somewhat dismissively before I went to Boulder, as my usual yard inhabitants. What a difference a little perspective can make.

No comments: