Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The First Robins of Spring!

This winter has been crazy! It is cold, windy and snowing where I am and a few days ago it was sunny and the temperature was around 50 degrees. The birds are as confused as I am. There were four fat robins in the tree one morning a couple of days ago, huddling against the cold and blowing snow. Is it actually spring? Because it sure doesn't look or feel like spring.

As I meditate on the idea of spring I remember the maxim "Hope springs eternal." The word "hope" has been bandied about for the past two years. But isn't hope based on a real possibility? Nowadays we are hearing more about the time it might take to repair the damage of greed and an economy made of air and deception.

Still, spring does always come. We will do what we need to do to survive and even thrive in the midst of chaos and change - remembering the Chinese word for "crisis" includes parts of the words for "danger" and "opportunity". Many times in known history we have been on the brink of disaster. According to Malthus, for example, there are too many of us to actually feed. Yet somehow we are still here - all 7 billion of us!

We will find ways to live more in harmony with our beautiful Earth. Who knows, we may seed other planets in the future.

The Odd Duck

After my last post I received information from a number of readers. What resonates is the word from a professional ornithologist that the "odd duck" was most likely a juvenile cormorant. It doesn't seem likely . . . but my neighbor did see a cormorant on her daily walk about the same time. Whatever it was, it was out of its normal environment.

Whenever I see something that strikingly out of place, and so blatantly communicating with me (the bird stared at me the whole time it was sitting in the tree outside my window - a couple of minutes ), I know there is a message for me. In this case, I remember one of the first rattles I made out of rawhide. I didn't know what I had done until a friend saw it and said "You've made a cormorant!" The bird-rattle head was lifted higher than the wings. Likewise, the cormorant flies with its head elevated, the only bird I know that does this. When I made the rattle, I had no knowledge that there was such a bird, let alone how it flies!

Since it has appeared in my life, I did look up cormorant, and found some interesting facts. They catch and eat fish underwater. They do the impossible, diving as deep as 100 feet because their bones are heavier than most birds, they swallow pebbles, and they squeeze the air out of their feathers. Long ago the Chinese and until recently the Japanese kept domesticated cormorants to catch fish. They tied a string or a ring around the necks to keep the birds from swallowing their catch of fish.

Ted Andrews in his book Animal-Wise says that when cormorant appears there will be a teaching or new opportunity that enable us to accomplish what doesn't seem possible. It is a reminder to me to do what I have been hesitating about. I am grateful for the reminder!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Feed the Birds

Where I live we have had a hard winter. Yes, I know much of the United States had a hard winter. Where I grew up in the Midwest, we expected hard winters. Now I live in the Pacific Northwest, where we seldom have snow, and almost never have snow feet deep and lasting for more than a day or two. In the small town where I live the main street is the only one plowed. I haven't asked, but I suspect it is actually the state that plows that street - it is the end of a state highway and also leads right to a border crossing between the States and Canada.

After the snow, there were floods. My apartment was an island in the midst of water varying from 2 inches to 2 - 3 feet. Thankfully, nothing in our building was harmed.

However, I was thinking about the birds. I had put out a bird feeder before all the weather came on. But I decided I would add some suet. At the beginning, the birds were Juncos and Swallows eating seed. Then I saw Finches. Next there were two Flickers, pecking away at the suet. Soon after that, the Starlings found the feeders and descended in droves. And then today, I saw a Steller's Jay.

I love watching them, and so does my cat friend Bowser. He sits in the window a lot, sometimes making Akkk-aakkkk noises - you know, those sounds cat make when stalking prey. At first the birds would leave when he was visible, but by now they just ignore him.

There is one bird I have not been able to identify, despite looking not only through my two books (Sibley's and Audubon), but several others that friends had and a search on the internet. This was fairly early on. When I saw the bird, I thought "That is an odd duck!" Well, it didn't look like a duck, or any other bird I have ever seen. I had the uncomfortable feeling it was out of time and space.

This bird was slender, about two feet tip to tail, with a long dark decurved (downward arching) bill and a longish tail. I first saw it sideways to me and it was looking right at me - directly into my eyes. I saw its head and back, which were dark with greenish iridescence. Then it turned and showed me its whitish speckled breast. And flew away.

The only birds I saw in my research that looked at all like this bird were birds that do not live in the part of the world where I live: like the Little Black Cormorant, which wouldn't be perching in a tree anyway! None really looked quite like this bird. I am stumped. If you have an idea, let me know. I still think it was an odd duck - perhaps sending me a message that I have not yet decoded.

Please remember your feathered and furred friends. If we have had a hard winter, remember they had less shelter and more challenge in finding food.