Sunday morning, six o’clock, before sun-up. The air is ringing with the sounds of birds, all around, set against the stillness of the trees.
In amongst all the sounds I immediately recognize the cardinals –two males, in full clear call and response.
Later on, one of them visits me, and comes closer, much closer than usual, to a point hardly six feet from me where I put a few seeds on a lid for that very purpose –for those birds that feel confident enough, or who trust me (and of course, for all the others who don’t quite trust me …yet. Something for them to aspire to.)
Most of the trees are on the verge of budding, though the Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) at the bottom of the garden won’t really start for at least another month.
As I’m looking at it, something quite startling catches my eye. A larger bird –about Jay-sized I would say– is working its way quite quickly up the trunk, a Woodpecker, I discover from my bird-book, with bright red feathers on the top of its head, and on its back and wings a dramatic black and white, a checkerboard-ish sort of effect.
The Woodpecker darts from spot to spot on the trunk –in search of insects? Probably. It is very active and animated.
Then I notice another much smaller bird –sparrow sized, with light dunn coloring– follow behind, like a partner. Possibly picking up some of the insects: I have to research this.
Other birds, new birds for the garden, are around. A pair of infrequent BlueJays swoop in boldly to the feeder, select a few black sunflower seeds, and then retreat to the Ailanthus branches.
A tiny Finch, smaller than a sparrow, has sparrow-like coloring, but with a red crown: a companion, probably female, doesn’t have the red crown. Both birds are quite confident and curious, and dart about on the ground and at the feeders. They have been coming for the last few days, and I remember them from last year.
Another bird, sparrow-sized if not slightly bigger, and quite plump, has black plumage, but with a large rich deep red patch –on the breast, or on the sides (I don’t get a long-enough look)– and a bold white stripe. (Oddly enough, the sense of rich color and texture reminds me of an old baseball jacket.)
Over among the cherry and apple trees across the way, a most curious sound –a rapid hammering, something like a mallet on a mariba-like woodblock. D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-Dit (twelve knocks in rapid succession, I figure as I play it back in my mind). Then, pause. Then repeat. And keep repeating. I get out on the roadway with the binoculars, but the apple and cherry branches are so thick with incipient buds that it is not possible to see through to where the sound seemed to be coming from.
But the thought occurs to me: that must be some sort of Woodpecker, perhaps even the one I had seen earlier.
This early hour does seem to be the time for interesting observations among an increasingly diverse bird population. And one cannot help but be impressed with the largely live-and-let-live avian ethos.
The only two areas of discord –if that is the right term– are, one, among certain Mourning Doves who will fight off other doves from the feeder with sharp clips of their wings, and –if driven– pecks of a beak which mostly result in a small curved dove feather drifting in the air slowly groundwards.
The second “discord” I suppose is implied in the cardinal territory and mate competitions that go on, although one has to ask “How else would they settle these things. The species is strengthened, presumably…..etc etc.” (Now I’m going to have to read up on the different explanations, and see what seems most reasonable to me…)
Three grackles light briefly on the telephone wire. They seem in a playful mood, and take off again, soon enough. Two starlings land high up in the Ailanthus, on its topmost branches, but quite separate from each other. They survey the scene below, and preen and groom intermittently. They are not unaware of each other’s presence. One of them signals “imminent departure” several times, causing the other to be “on its toes” so to speak. And they depart soon enough.
A single starling does show up later at the feeder –I admire its shiny black plumage and that intriguing rich brown crown which flows down and merges effortlessly with the black.
But it is the grackle that I wish would land –I very much enjoy its splendid if restrained plumage. Quite beautiful and elegant.
Who knows, maybe they will grace he feeder and the other avian facilities this year. (Maybe they do already when I am not there!)
Footnote: I thought you might be interested to see a listing of my birdwatching equipment. I have the Bushnell binoculars that my friend Hanna gave me. I have my new tiny Canon digital camera (SD 1000) –my one big (for me) expenditure in the last year. I have the Yamaha keyboard for the ongoing musical experiments. There is a radio. And I have two books, the National Geographic Book of American Birds, and a another book that I knew I had somewhere but just found yesterday, “A Guide to Observing Insect Lives” by Donald W. Stokes. It was a gift from Caroline and Gould, from the mid eighties, inscribed “To M., the constant observer.” A much-valued compliment, but one that fails utterly to convey how little I know –something that this blog no doubt corrects every time I write.
But –let me leave you with a thought: “Education makes a man fit company for himself.”
(You will find it and many other wise observations, in my “Collection of English Proverbs.”)