The Comfort of Bird Songs

In these troubling times, it’s easy to lose sight of the good stuff in life and get caught up in all the fear and anxiety. I am not immune to such feelings and I think it’s quite human to be afraid and uncertain about the future right now.

I am guilty of checking Twitter and Facebook for updates on COVID-19 far too often throughout the night because I’m afraid of things like lockdowns and shelter in place orders. Mind you, I already don’t leave my house much because I work from home and don’t have a social life to speak of, but somehow the idea of not being “allowed” to leave my house is unsettling. However, no matter how much tunnel-vision I periodically feel when reading the news, there’s always something that widens my view: the continuing arrival of spring.

There’s one thing that always helps to ease the fears I’ve built up overnight and that’s the coming of a new day. As the sky begins to lighten with sunrise, and even before sometimes, the birds begin chirping in the huge maple tree and pine tree outside my bedroom windows. The first birds are always the robins and they’re followed closely by the eastern bluebirds which stick around all year on my property.

It’s not just in the mornings that I hear bird songs, I hear them all day long and I know who sings most of them. I have a nice flock of goldfinches that are always happily chirping away, some cardinals that sing “pretty, pretty, pretty” frequently, blue jays that sing/screech in their unique way, red-winged blackbirds, wrens, crows, woodpeckers, nuthatches, tufted titmouse, a variety of sparrows, and many more.

Some of my resident goldfinches from a few years ago.

I’m happy that I’ve figured out as many bird songs as I have because I remember growing up that my dad knew lots of bird songs. I remember walking through a park somewhere and hearing a rather distinct bird song and not knowing what it was. Without even seeing the bird, my dad said it was a Scarlet Tanager. We walked a bit more and sure enough, we eventually saw the bright red body of a Scarlet Tanager high up in the pine tree branches.

Scarlet Tanager image courtesy of All About

I remember being so amazed that my father knew the bird by its song and I promised myself that someday I’d have that same ability. I’ve spent years listening to and figuring out bird songs and now whenever I go on walks with my girls I can tell them which birds they’re hearing. I feel an immense sense of pride knowing that I’ve managed to follow in my father’s footsteps in that regard.

Hearing my feathered friends singing brings me great comfort throughout the day and reminds me constantly that the world is still spinning and life continues to renew with spring. When the weather permits, I will continue to go on daily walks and take in and enjoy the beauty of nature around me. Nature is receiving a bit of a break with less people driving their cars and such and I’m sure it appreciates it. We must never lose sight of the blessings around us and the fact that we’re just a very small part of a vast, unknowable universe.

The return of familiar songs and soaring

Adult male Red-winged Blackbird

There was snow on the ground yesterday morning but today started out warmer than it had been for the last week and it just got better from there! The forecast calls for 50’s and 60’s all week with plenty of sunshine and the occasional rain. Rain is fine because we need it for things to start growing and to wash off the roads that are still white with salt.

When Jaycie and I headed out for the bus this morning there was a hawk soaring in the sky and he glided from west to east upon the breeze as we watched. I told her that I gauge the arrival of spring by when I see the first turkey vulture because they don’t stick around our area all winter. When turkey vultures return and start gliding through the skies on their huge wings searching for roadkill and carcasses, then I believe that spring is truly on its way.

Turkey vulture

A few hours after Jaycie got on the bus, a turkey vulture soared over the trees across the road and I smiled feeling as if the universe had heard my words this morning. Now that I’ve seen those familiar scavengers soaring in the sky I’m certain that spring is coming and that this nice weather isn’t just some cruel trick. I spent the morning working on my writing projects inside but by noon, I couldn’t resist the call of the beautiful outdoors any longer. I got Jazzmin strapped in her backpack, tied up my sneakers and grabbed a light sweatshirt because while it was 53, the wind gusts were making it a bit cool to go without a coat.

As Jazzmin and I walked, I heard the familiar songs of birds that had returned from their winter vacation to the south. I heard the songs of robins, red-winged blackbirds and killdeers. Although the “Winter Wonderland” song states “gone away is the bluebird” a few of my bluebirds never left and I heard their song all winter long. Now that it’s warmer, there will be more bugs around for the bluebirds to eat and they will be more plentiful,  which always makes me happy.

Eastern Bluebird

I feel a special connection to all the birds that frequent my feeders through the winter and into the spring and who make their homes on my property. Just through watching and listening to the birds in my yard an on our walks, I’ve learned to identify various species by their song, size and plumage. Quite often I hear birds but don’t see them and I feel a small surge of satisfaction that I can recognize them just by their song. I’m still not good at identifying the different types of hawks I see around because they’re not really fond of close observation, but eventually I’ll sort them out too.

Northern Goshawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Sharp-shinned hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Right now I’m just enjoying the return of the familiar songs and soaring of spring!

Things that make you go “Awww!” in the night

Red and gray Eastern Screech-Owls

For the past couple months, when full dark has fallen, I’ve been periodically hearing a very cute sort of cooing whinnying call coming from the trees that border the huge farmer’s field behind my house. I’d done a few Google searches for things like “cooing sounds at night” and all that led me to was mourning doves. I have mourning doves flying all over my yard, I call them flying battleships, and I know quite well what they sound like. Not to mention that mourning doves are not nocturnal.

My next thought was that it was some type of owl I was hearing at night, but when I went to sights like AllAboutBirds and Audubon, none of the sounds I listened to was what I’d heard. I was beginning to think I’d never know what creature was making that noise.

Last night I heard the sound again when I took Jazzmin out for the last time until the morning. I listened to it very carefully to memorize it and because I just love the way it sounds! This morning I did another Google search for “cute cooing sounds at night” and that led me to a discussion board. On the discussion board, someone included a link to a site called eNature. I’d never visited that particular site before so I clicked on the link and scrolled down until I found the link for owl sounds.

I clicked through the first few owls listed but none of them sounded right. Finally, I clicked on the one labeled Eastern Screech-Owl and the sound was exactly what I’d been hearing! I was so happy I actually giggled and did a little chair dance! I love owls and to discover that the mystery sound belonged to an adorable little feathered friend made my morning!

Reading about Eastern Screech-Owls, I got a warm fuzzy feeling when I learned that they usually mate for life. What a sweet idea! Knowing that the cute little 10-inch tall, feathered fluffballs are out in the trees fills me with an indescribable inner light and contentment. Their presence makes the things that go bump in the night a bit less scary because I know the scary stuff doesn’t stand a chance against so much awwwwdorableness!

Blessings on Bird Wings – Part 2

Rainbow shining down on my bird oasis.

Rainbow shining down on my bird oasis.

It’s been several days since I created my wild bird oasis and it’s received ample daily winged traffic! I’ve seen all my usual feathered friends and some new attendees including a rose-breasted grosbeak and a few varieties of sparrows. The only birds causing trouble are the grackles but they’ve learned to fly off when I come outside or knock on my kitchen window. My issue with the grackles is that they scare all the other birds away and eat like flying pigs. I’m quite sure they can find food elsewhere so I shoo them.

Transforming my humble backyard bird feeder spot to a wild bird oasis wasn’t overly strenuous but it did involve properly assembling the bird bath fountain I bought. The original look of my bird feeder and bird bath is quite plain when compared to now. I’d left a dead sunflower out there because the birds used it as a perch but with the addition of some fence and new feeders, I knew they’d have plenty of spots to perch.

Single feeder, leaking birdbath and box for new bath

Single feeder, leaking birdbath and box for new bath

I was so proud of myself when I got it all together, plugged it in and the water started flowing through it just as pictured! Finding a mostly level spot was a challenge but when I set it up with the basin leaning into the rigid bird feeder hook, it was level enough to prevent water from flowing out.

Yay! The water is flowing!

Yay! The water is flowing!

While I was working on installing all the new parts of the oasis, a chickadee kept flying by rather impatiently wondering where the feeder had gone. I finally set the feeder up a ways off on a short hook and he then went happily over there to eat.

Small barn feeder in the background, set there temporarily for the chickadee

Small barn feeder in the background, set there temporarily for the chickadee

The complete bird oasis puts the original setup to shame but I’m not quite done yet. I plan on putting down mulch and containers of flowers within the fence so it’s a lovely mini garden as well as bird oasis. I didn’t get the plants yet because they wouldn’t fit in the cart with the bird bath but I’ll be adding them soon!

Oasis all set up

Oasis all set up

I couldn't resist this barrel bird house. No one is using it yet though.

I couldn’t resist this barrel bird house. No one is using it yet though.

I briefly entertained the idea of putting in butterfly attracting flowers but upon realizing the butterflies would become bird food, I nixed that idea. Some genius ideas aren’t really that bright…

Blessings on Bird Wings – Part 1

My feeders filled with finches, chickadees and sparrows.

My feeders filled with finches, chickadees and sparrows.

I love watching the birds at my back feeder. It’s a daily reminder of how blessed I am and how precious life is. Watching the birds has taught me new levels of patience, observation and silence. I’ve learned so much by just being still and allowing nature to continue in its normal routine around me.

As I eagerly looked forward to spring a few months ago, I had the neat idea to transform my little bird feeder area into something more. As the snow continued to fly, I imagined creating a little fenced in garden at the base of my bird feeders so that I could look at lovely flowers and my feathered friends from my kitchen window. A framed garden also means not having to mow so close to the feeder pole that I whack my head.

Well I’m still waiting for spring to actually arrive and stick around in Upstate NY but yesterday I decided to set my plan in motion. I felt I could at least get a new fountain style bird bath and a second shepherd’s hook for hanging more of my feeders in one central location. I found exactly what I needed running errands yesterday and got some great ideas for flowers once I figure out how my little garden design.

I’ll explain the process of my new arrangement in a later post (hence the Part 1) but for this post, I thought showing pictures of my feathered friends would be more fun. A picture is worth a thousand words as they say and I figure a video must be worth about a million for demonstrating exactly how my birds reacted to the new birdie oasis. If you don’t want to watch the whole video, just skip ahead to 1:16 to see proof that sitting still and watching has amazing rewards!

The male cardinal landed but wasn't sure about the new set up...

The male cardinal landed but wasn’t sure about the new set up…

He's still not sure and eventually flew off.

He’s still not sure and eventually flew off.

A male finch investigates and then lands. Followed soon by his friends.

The goldfinches were only a little bit hesitant at first, then they dug in!

finch scope2 flurry of finches

The Serenity of Birds

Male goldfinch on my feeder hanger.

Male goldfinch on my feeder hanger.

I walked Jazz the different direction we’ve been going lately and it wasn’t the best time of day for it. The weather was beautiful with warm sunshine and bright blue sky, but the traffic was awful. The road we walked is the main drag to and from the school and at 4 p.m. it’s excessively busy with cars and trucks going 55+ mph. There’s a shoulder Jazz and I can duck into most of the way but the roar of cars going by interfered with the enjoyment of the walk.

Jazzmin and I got our exercise in but the walk wasn’t as relaxing as usual and I was quite relieved to get back home to my quiet house on the hill. I put Jazz inside with some fresh water and went out on the deck to sit in the sunshine and re-center myself. As I sat on the rear steps of my side deck, I reveled in the lack of traffic noise. The only “noise” in fact was the sound of the various bird songs as my feathered friends fluttered around the back yard.I recognized the songs of chickadees, cardinals, finches, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and the elusive bluebird that refuses to eat  from my feeder.

Most of the birds were hesitant to come to my back feeders with me sitting within 15 feet of them but the brave chickadee came and went several times.Eventually a male goldfinch landed atop the shepherds hook holding my red barn feeder and he watched me for a bit before flitting down for some seeds. He didn’t stay long before flying into a side tree where I’d been listening to and watching a male cardinal sing one of his many songs. There was another cardinal answering him in the distance and I smiled at him and assured him that it was safe to eat.

He landed but was still cautious...

He landed but was still cautious…

He's keeping his eye on me...

He’s keeping his eye on me…

Decided it's safe to eat and the chickadee is waiting in line below him.

Decided it’s safe to eat and the chickadee is waiting in line below him.

The best part of sitting on those steps in the sunshine watching the birds was that I’d remembered to bring my camera out with me. Every time a bird would land on my feeder I’d pick up my camera and snap a photo or two. The zoom is decent enough from that distance to show details of the birds and I was thrilled that so many members of my usual “peeps” were dropping by for a bite. I rediscovered my peace as I enjoyed the serenity of birds and I know I’d be lost without their daily visits!

A small sample of my usual peeps.

A small sample of my usual peeps.

Can you spot the sparrow?

Can you spot the sparrow?

After the last of the birds flew off for a break, I stood up from my step and saw the moon in the bright blue sky. I also realized that my largest maple tree appears to be on the verge of sprouting leaves and that made me almost giddy! It’s so wonderful that spring is finally, truly on its way and that I managed to capture today’s beauty as a ray of sunshine on the rainy days.

spring moon