Saturday, April 26, 2008

Saturday Nature Notes

I awoke this morning to the rhythmic tap, tap, tapping of a Northern Flicker on the side of our house. Every spring, the flickers start drumming on our cedar siding just as soon as the sun rises. I like waking early, but sometimes that monotonous steady tapping is akin to the Chinese water torture! When the flickers first start this in the spring, I often mistake the taps for knocks at the door. More than once, I have opened the front door to find no one there, and then I realize that it was only the flickers I heard. Melissa and I will sometimes have enough of it, and we'll go bang on the wall or slide open the window to scare the bird away briefly. They promptly return. Those flickers are persistent!

The big surprise on waking this morning was the clear blue sky! Last night, the weather report still showed cloudy skies with possible morning showers, so I was elated and energized when I saw the sun rising over the eastern hill in a cloudless sky.

Every Saturday morning we have chocolate chip scones, so the first thing I did when I got up was to slip some jeans under my nightgown and head to the kitchen to get busy. I turned on a very familiar morning CD, Bach for Book Lovers (I love hearing Bach in the morning), and got to work. When the scones were almost ready to come out of the oven, I ground some Sumatran coffee beans and brewed them in my French press. Coffee is not a daily thing for me anymore, but I always have it on Saturday with my scones. I grabbed my Bible, my journal, and my current morning quiet time reading (I'm re-reading the journals of Alexander Schmemann, who is very much a kindred spirit as far as what matters and what is meaningful to him) and sat down at the counter with Melissa.

The flicker started tapping on the wall once again, so I decided to see if I could sneak up on him. I managed to open the door and tiptoe across the porch without scaring him away (the flickers are quite attuned and ready to dart away at the slightest disturbance). I was even able to slowly peek my head around the corner for a closeup view of the flicker drilling a hole into our siding. In just a moment, though, the flicker flew away in a fluttery panic.

As I turned to go back into the house, I heard the loud, distinctive call of my favorite Greater Sandhill Cranes (the largest of all sandhill cranes). The call is so loud it can be heard miles away, thanks to a modified windpipe that has been likened to a French horn.

I scanned the meadow in the places where I can usually find the cranes, but I couldn't make them out, so I ran indoors to grab the binoculars. When I came back outside, still in my nightgown and jeans, with very unkempt hair, Melissa followed me with her camera. I looked and looked through the binoculars, but didn't see any sign of the cranes. I walked back and forth along the fence across the road, and suddenly, there they were. Melissa came over to snap some photos (as she said with her camera "seriously zoomed," hence pictures that are slightly hazy). We moved onto the neighbor's property and down their fenceline to get a closer look, but the cranes were still far in the distance. Now the little neighbor girl, who had seen us through her window, joined us. We all watched the cranes for awhile and then went back to our houses.

As I walked back to the house, another formation of birds (I'd seen several that morning) came flying toward us. I watched through binoculars, and Melissa took a picture or two. Ignorant, as usual, I have no idea what they were. They sounded and acted like some kind of water birds.

It was time to feed the dogs, and as I walked to the kennel down at the barn, I happily breathed in the morning air and enjoyed that special early light. There's nothing like morning, really. It feels better to me than any other time of day. As I walked back toward the house, I listened to a veritable symphony of singing birds all around me. One song stood out. I noticed a bird sitting on a wire, singing a nice, bubbly song. Another bird landed to face it on a nearby wire, and they proceeded to sing to each other and have a nice conversation.

Again, ignorant as to what they were, I ran inside to grab the binoculars (maybe I should keep them around my neck). And, also again, Melissa followed me outside with the camera. I watched and watched. I have no idea what this bird is, but I was flipping through my favorite bird books (SIbley, Birds of Oregon, and the gigantic Audubon encyclopia) to find out. No luck. There was a bird in the guides that looked something like the ones I saw, but the wings and tail seemed different, and the head was not so totally black. I know there are huge variations in particular birds, though...

Does anyone know what this is? For now, I'll be content to live within E.O. Wilson's advice in his book, Naturalist:

"...better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend stretches of time just searching and dreaming."

When my kids lived here, I counted on them to act as living field guides for me. All I had to say was, "What's that?" and not only would I get an answer but also a nice narration on the behaviour of that particular bird. I have been lazy, and this is so apparent now that I'm fending for myself, bird-wise. I'll figure this stuff out eventually, but my first step will be simply to watch and enjoy. I'll be that "untutored savage" EO Wilson mentioned (the sound of that quite appeals to me, actually!). I do look through field guides because it's all interesting, but at the moment, I'm not very good at the specifics of birding.

Well, it's a lovely, lovely day on the high desert. I'll be going out to hang some sheets on the line as soon as the washer has finished it's cycle, and doubtless I'll see and hear much more out in God's beautiful world.