Where the Wild Things Are

I have no idea how I could manage such a crappy photo. Good luck identifying the bird. The thing that looks like a bird to the right appears to be mitigation measures to keep the nest safe.

I don’t know how many robins hang around our yard; it could be just one very busy bird, or perhaps it’s entire swarms that put in their appearance one bird at a time. Either way, a robin is a bird I recognize easily — a plus for my nascent bird-watching hobby.

As hobbies go, it really isn’t much of one. It’s more of an intentioned hobby, as in: Someday I will get around to getting serious about watching birds. Someday I might buy a book with pictures of birds in it. Someday I might do more than pick up my binoculars to focus on the newly-arrived visitor to our pond and think, “Cool. That’s a crane. Or a heron.”

In the meantime there is the robin, singular, who does not let my presence nearby detract from her worm extrication attempts and who appears to have figured out that my irrigation project has multiple benefits for her, including a refreshing shower and the encouragement of easy food access.

[When it’s a lawn, people refer to this as “watering.” When it’s an acre of weed-ridden hay and an investment of trees and shrubs intended to aid the environment, it becomes irrigating, which I’m sure is highly irresponsible in a dry year like this.]

Otherwise, my bird watching is haphazard at best. I didn’t really intend for it to become a hobby. We did, after all, have birds in town who loved our mature landscape, and I never paid them a whole lot of attention.

But then we moved out here, and one of the first things fellow country friends advised was attracting hummingbirds, to help keep the mosquitos at bay. I tried that, diligently, for one summer. It turns out those pleasant-looking feeders are a gooey, sticky mess that attract ants (which we have in abundance) and other insects. As well as lots of other birds who like dipping their beaks into sugar water.

My enthusiastic hummingbird effort that first summer was further tempered by the arrival of Rufus, the rufous hummer who drove off all his kinsmen and women. There might have been two of them, one out front and the other out back, but either way he/they became it. So my enthusiasm for sticky sugar water waned considerably last summer, and appears to have vanished completely this year.

Seeing the other birds enjoying the fare, though, I bought my first-ever bag of birdseed while at Tractor Supply. I’ve continued to buy birdseed, even though it’s now every bit as expensive as feeding cats and dogs. (I paid $3/pound last weekend.)

And I built my bird post, which became more of a deer feeder since I conveniently located the feeders right at nose height. After the inconsiderate deer and the even more inconsiderate wind broke my feeders, I started putting the seed on the platform up top, which I had originally intended to be the base for a bird house.

That left the deer with only the leavings the birds spilled, except for the darn wind, which kept knocking my birdpost over until it buckled in the middle and would no longer stand upright.

By then, though, my short-lived wood-working hobby, about which I was far more enthusiastic than bird watching, was over. I got two bookcases out of the deal, so maybe I shouldn’t complain, but I’m rather sad about the demise of my short-lived incursion into the world of wood.

Instead I just scatter birdseed on the ground where the post once resided. I offer up the tops of my breakfast strawberries too, although one day I watched birds hop obliviously over the fresh fruit to go after the dried fruit in my “no-waste” blend of hull-free nuts and seeds.

But the strawberries eventually disappear, perhaps at the mouths of the deer. One night this dry winter I watched a fox spend a great deal of time at the feeding ground, and this spring when I turned on the deck light to look for Marrakesh I was a bit taken aback to see a skunk, 10 feet away from me, gobbling up the goods.

The light, which I turned on several times in an effort to see if the skunk had moved on before running into our cat, did not phase him one bit but when Kesh materialized on the deck, unscented, and Lynn cracked the door to let him in, the skunk bolted.

So even though I don’t have a birdpost, I am still feeding birds, most of which I can’t identify (magpies and the robin, okay). I only saw the one crane/heron this year, down considerably from last year’s tally. I also had one lone sighting of a baby geese, not really a baby anymore, most likely a “tween,” but that was more than I’ve seen the last couple years.

Before we built our house we saw at least two little flocks of baby geeses on the pond out here, but I haven’t seen any since — until the other day when I spotted a youngster following mom across our property, moving sedately at first and then picking up speed until they were sprinting, the younger one a fuzzy wash of down.

I have to say, I don’t understand geese. If I had wings I would use them all the time, but around here they seem to like walking. They go from the middle pond south of our property to the north pond across Riverwalk Drive, all of it at an undulating walk — or, in the case of mom and kid, a solid sprint.

I realize as I type this that those two were my last goose sighting. I don’t really want to know why Mom only ended up with one hatchling (see: fox and skunk above), but perhaps Baby was the reason these were the last two to launch on their continuing journey north. I can only wish them safe travels.

The babies I am most excited about now I’m probably never going to see, and because I didn’t buy a bird book I can’t tell you what they’re going to be.

Lynn came home one day and asked if I’d seen the “condor nest” just south of the Greater Riverwalk Complex. I don’t know how I missed it: out in the middle of the most exposed field in the world, on top of a utility pole, is a large nest. Maybe not condor sized, but it seems close.

It also looks like whatever agency owns the pole took some precautionary measures to move wires away from the nest. I wish they had installed a baby cam while they were at it.

The few times Lynn or I have seen a bird in the nest — while the nest is quite visible, it’s because one is driving past on a highway filled with traffic — we thought we’d spied a white head atop a brown body. Bald eagle, perhaps.

But the other day as I drove into work I saw not one but two birds in the nest, which was enough for me to turn the car around for what I knew would be a fairly futile effort at photojournalism. Right as I stopped the car, one of the birds took wing — I assume on the hunt for breakfast, perhaps lunch — and it had a completely white belly. So, not bald eagles, and me without a book to tell you what they might otherwise be. Big, and apparently unafraid of the effects of electricity on their young.

Like my goose sighting, I haven’t seen anybody in the nest since my photo-op. I would love to see fledglings, but I suppose like so much of nature it will happen without me ever noticing. That’s the way it works when your hobby is really more of a wing and a prayer.

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