I love watching week by week as all the different bird species return from wherever they spend the cold winter months. Today, the sky is overcast, the new spring leaves persist in shining with yellow green perfection, grass is growing profusely, flowers are blooming, and I am doing housework. Cats in the front picture window catch my attention, I follow their unwavering gaze out to the bird feeders in the front lawn. Perched, bright and beautiful is a male Rose Breasted Grosbeak, pecking seed for his meal. Black head, white belly, black and white wing bars, and as suggested and large beak and a bright red chest. The females are subdued, brown and white and never far away from the males. This to me is more of a sign of spring’s arrival than the typical robin. They show up when it’s still snowing, but a Rose Breasted Grosbeak means summer is on its way!
I am standing at a giant picture window many stories above the ground, looking out across the undulating landscape, under an overcast sky. A flitting movement catches my eye, dragging my gaze downward, but is gone before I can really see what it was. I stare, transfixed, until a small brown bird swoops back into view. I stand watching the place it materialized, and a few minutes later it (or its mate)returns carrying a twig in its beak. I watch for maybe half an hour as these birds make numerous trips carrying small sticks to ledge I can not see from this vantage point. But it is fascinating to witness their determination for building their nest to keep their future eggs and chicks safe and warm.
In my flannel pajamas, fleece robe, and wool slippers, sitting in a rocker on the porch, drinking coffee, both hands wrapped around the mug soaking up its comforting warmth, watching wet bedraggled chick-a-dees and juncos flit around the feeder. The morning is grey, sodden, and chilly, just the tiniest green buds are visible on the leafless trees. Spring feels a million miles away, but I will sit right here (im)patiently and wait for it, as long as I have coffee in my cup. I refuse to think of all the things I want to do in the yard when the rainy cold mist finally abates or any of the thousands of indoor projects large and small that need doing but I have no interest in starting. I just want to absorb here and now, observing tiny black and white birds enjoying this grey day. A raucous caw grabs my attention, dragging it across the road, up above the wet grey trees. There he is, a giant black crow, silhouetted against a brightening grey sky, water on his feathers glistening deepest black, a pulling black hole I could fall into, perched atop a bright white branchless dead birch tree. These polar opposites, black and white, shining in the sky, a reverse beacon that has pulled all color from this rainy world leaving only grey, wet, and chill. There is sunshine behinds the wall of fog masquerading as the sky, trying to burn through with its intense silver fire, too bright to look as directly. That glistening deepest black crow calls again, takes flight, and disappears into the the shimmering silver abyss. I sit still, listen to the water drip off the roof and trees, watch the chick-a-dees, smiling.
There is a two mile walk up the road I live on that I like to do for exercise and meditation. The road through the hollow follows the our creek half a mile up to a one lane bridge that was rebuilt more than a year after Hurricane Irene destroyed it. The next half mile is a one lane dirt road up a steep spring fed small rushing creek, a tributary to our creek. Up and back is a peaceful two mile serene walk full of natural wonders if ones is quiet enough in mind and spirit to notice them. Down the road there is an open meadow between a house and the water, and a wide flat wooded island at a bend of the creek’s flow. This is where the king fishers hang out when they come back in the spring. A medium sized bird with blue grey wings, a white chest and a black necklace, they have a distinctive flight pattern, and a unique call, a chittering chirping that rings out across the hollow and can be heard over the sound of the rushing water. As I walked down the road toward home, one took flight from the bare branches above me gliding over to the next tree down the road, call ringing out in the sunlight. I tracked his flight, watched him perch, and wait until I was too close. Once again he take off chittering and gliding to the next tree down the road. This slow motion chase replayed five or six times before he deviated course by flying out over the field closer to the water, and upstream toward where we had come from. There he was joined by another king fisher, they danced around each other in the air before flying separate ways, still chittering. Is that a territory thing? I hear them calling as I continue down the road.
Wet, chilly day, bird feeders hanging up to give them some extra energy on this grey day and to give our indoor cats something to watch. I am sitting on the sofa working on the laptop when a loud resounding thud startles me and the cat sitting on the window sill. It’s the distinctive sound of a bird who has flown into the window. I stand, the cat is also standing and very interested in something on the porch below the window. Oh no, that whack was too hard for it to have survived. I go outside to remove the poor thing from the porch. It’s down behind some miscellaneous stuff behind the rocking chairs. I see the grackle curled, one wing splayed, and head limp. Its beautiful feathers shining even in this grey light. I look up and see where it hit the window, a wet circular smudge in the dust on the pane, the cat on the other side watching me. I start moving objects out of the way so I can reach the poor little creature. I start to reach down to pick him (or her) up when he blinks at me. I pull my hand away, noticing how large and pointed its beak is. I can hardly believe he is still alive, and think maybe its wing is broken. I put on some gardening gloves and gently pick him up. He struggles only slightly against my efforts, in the process folding both wings back in a natural normal way. I set him down on the pillow on the rocking chair, quickly grab a small tangerine crate and some soft rags, make a impromptu bed, carefully place the grackle in it (his struggle a little less feeble this time), and softly cover him hoping to keep him warm and dry. I back away and watch him watching me. We stay that way for a long while, he tilts his head and blinks at me some more. Eventually he hops out of the box, scattering the rags that had covered him. He jumps to the wood pile testing his wings. Miraculously they seem to be uninjured,. He bobs his head a couple of times as it gathering the strength and courage to step back into the rain and takes flight, flapping a few times, and landing in a nearby tree. A few moments later he takes off and disappears from view out over the creek. This is the grackle that lived!
Driving slowly along the muddy road I live on, looking at the high rushing brown water in the raging creek, I notice notice two mergansers in the deeper swiftly flowing channel next to the island. I stop the car and watch their merriment. The male is flashing black and white and the female is an elegant smooth grey with a spicy cinnamon head. They are paddling furiously with their little webbed feet, occasionally flapping wings just enough to walk on the water but not take flight splashing water in every direction. Slowly with much effort they are pushing upstream through the waves and riffles, using small eddies behind rocks to help their upstream travel. Then they dive into the churning water, disappearing for long moments, only to pop up in the fast current, sliding downstream through the rapids. I sit watching this spectacle for many long minutes. I know how they feel, the sheer joy of navigating whitewater!
I step out onto the porch into a frosty morning. The pure bright sunlight illuminates a clear blue sky and the snow covered hills and fields across the creek and valley, but our house and yard will be in shadow for a few more hours. Breath in the fresh clean cold air, stings the nose and wakes up the lungs. There are chickadees and juncos on the feeders, blue jays and doves in the tree branches across the road. I hear bird song. Many birds calling, ones I can see, and ones invisible to my eyes here on the porch. Chirp, churr, whistle, whine, buzz, sing, the frozen hollow is alive with the sounds of spring!