Category Archives: birds

Birds and a Sailor

In my first view of the ocean upon arriving at the coast,
I could see whitecaps.

Velella velella

But the wind wasn’t too bad down on the beach, and I encountered new creatures: Long-billed Curlews and a By-the-wind Sailor (Velella velella). After I took a few blurry pictures of the wind-blown Sailor, a wave rushed up and snatched it back into the deep. Lucky for me I had seen a (much better) picture of that same species of “gelatinous animal” just last week. The one I saw in person was probably less than 2 cm. in diameter.

The curlews reminded me of the Godwits I’d seen last summer. But the bills of Godwits curve upward, and those of the Curlews curve downward. There are many other differences, I’m sure, such as, the Godwits seem smaller and leggier — but the bill was the thing that helped narrow my search. Here is a better photo from the internet.

Dozens of geese flew overhead in a ragged and strung out V. They were no doubt fighting the wind up there as I was doing below.

My drive to and from the coast was through lush farmland and pastures, with black-and-white cows grazing on green green grass. And mustard twice as tall as at my last viewing.

Oh, what a day! Glory to God!

Tough love for birds.

Healthy Pine Siskin

The local pine siskins are experiencing an epidemic, and I feel very bad about it for their sake and mine. Watching the birds at the feeders in my back yard, seeing the number of species increase every season, learning to identify and recognize most of them — it’s all been a steady comfort and joy. But now I need to encourage them to go elsewhere and find food in other, larger spaces.

It appears that in the case of the pine siskins, and in some places goldfinches, when they unnaturally congregate at feeders they keep spreading salmonella around. I’ve read news articles from British Columbia, Oregon, and California, all saying basically the same thing:

“Salmonellosis is an infection caused by bacteria of the genus Salmonella. These bacteria primarily attack the digestive system, notably the throat, making it difficult for the birds to feed. The symptoms are not always obvious in wild animals, but infected birds may appear thin, fluffed up, and lethargic.

Pine Siskin at my feeder last week.

“How you can help birds avoid disease:

“Salmonellosis is primarily transmitted by fecal contamination of food and water by sick birds, although it can also be transmitted through bird-to-bird contact.

“High traffic spots, such as bird feeders, create a source point of transmission and can exacerbate the spread of this deadly disease. Removing the feeders completely is the best solution to encourage birds to disperse, thereby minimizing the potential for infection. If you choose to keep your feeders up, they must be properly maintained to foster a healthy bird environment.”

They make it sound as though the outbreak has developed this winter, but now that I’ve seen images and descriptions of sick birds compared with healthy, I’m pretty sure that last winter some of the pine siskins (which I thought then were sparrows) at my feeders were ill.

Just last week I encountered one at the tray feeder who I now understand was “lethargic.” At the time, and back in 2019, I only wondered at how calm and friendly they were. I also thought it strange that some of them would sit contemplatively on the hopper feeder, doing nothing. Now I get that they were too weak to fly away.

The Cooper’s Hawk that has been coming around more boldly all the time, taking advantage of the flocks of finches, will probably stop visiting. I plan to stop feeding the birds at least until next winter. I am not the tidiest housekeeper anywhere, and if I need to disinfect the birdbath, fountain and feeders regularly in order to be a good bird-feeding friend, I think it best to revert to nature.

How can I explain to these creatures about the changes? “This hurts me more than it does you!” I do have lots of plants with seeds or fruit that various birds can enjoy, and have been eating all along. Plus insects — yes, a good supply of those. Many birds pay little attention to my seed offerings.

And I still have the hummingbird feeder!

On another garden topic, the daphne by the front door is getting really big and is covered with blooms right now. When the sun shines on it in the morning the scent wafts up at me when I go in or out, and I swoon.

Morning Melange

As I was getting dressed and forgetting to make my bed this morning, I listened to Fr. Michael Gillis of Praying in the Rain blog, on his podcast of the same name, an episode in which he “deconstructs the notion that choice translates into freedom.” I really liked him, and the message. His recent blog post about fleeing to the desert (a little bit), is really helpful, too. How can we flee to the desert when many of us aren’t leaving our houses? It’s a provoking meditation, in the best way.

Before sunrise, I had trekked downstairs in my slippers to check on the greenhouse heater that I finally installed last week. The thermostat was set so that it should have come on, going by my phone, where I read that the outdoor temperature was 32 degrees. Yes! Success!

Last night I had defrosted a container of the tiny snow peas I toiled over preserving last spring. They were incredibly labor intensive at every stage, and I vowed never to buy from that seed company again, and only to use seeds that were likely to produce large pea pods.

But this morning the peas I’d saved were a welcome addition to the pan to which I added eggs, and this seasoning mix from Trader Joe’s that I seem to be sprinkling on everything lately.

I ate a giant pink grapefruit, too, which made me think about my childhood when I didn’t like that fruit, and about the funny name of it, which was easy to learn in Turkish because they call it greypfrut. Who named it first? I couldn’t remember, so I looked it up in this wonderful book that was my grandfather’s. He was a citrus farmer, too, and when he was visiting our family, there was no chance of any child getting out of eating grapefruit for breakfast. We were allowed to put honey on it, but in my case that didn’t help much.

That book, The World in Your Garden, is the source of the pretty picture at top. It says that the name originated in Jamaica!

Grapefruit is one thing I wouldn’t try to eat while sitting at the computer, so I watched the birds. All the larger species were visiting, doves, and the blue jay, and even the flickers. I’m pretty sure I saw the Cooper’s Hawk, too, spying out his breakfast.

I’ve been trying to find the right food to scatter on the patio for the doves and other ground-feeders. So many blends I have tried in the past have some ingredients that are ignored, and go to waste. My latest offering is something designed for pigeons, and many of the birds have been eating most of that mix. There are still some split peas, they look like, that go untouched so far. When this bag is gone, I will just buy some plain millet; that’s what I have been looking for for a year, but haven’t found it yet.

I’m leaving soon to drive to the beach — again! I have been doing it a lot, and plan to start a sort of Beach Diary page here on my blog. But being on the beach is taking time away from writing… By the time I get there, morning will have turned to afternoon, and I hope the sun will be shining.

Blessings to all from my corner of the cosmos.

One Song

ONE SONG
After Rumi

A cardinal, the very essence of red, stabs
the hedgerow with his piercing notes;
a chickadee adds three short beats,
part of the percussion section, and a white-
throated sparrow moves the melody along.
Last night, at a concert, crashing waves
of Prokofiev; later, the soft rain falling
steadily and a train whistle off in the distance.
And today, the sun, waiting for its cue,
comes out from the clouds for a short sweet
solo, then sits back down, rests between turns.
On the other side of the world, night’s black
bass fiddle rosins its bow, draws it over
the strings, resonates with the breath
of sleepers, animal, vegetable, human.
All the world breathes in, breathes out.
It hums, it throbs, it improvises.  So many voices.
Only one song.

-Barbara Crooker

Here’s a video from Britain that provides a lovely audiovisual accompaniment:

Bird Sounds