Birdwatching Up Close

Pat Fish

"Pat, you will love it.  Wear plenty of warm clothes and bring a thermos of hot coffee."

I  listened to  my friend Beth's  descriptions and reminders  regarding the upcoming birdwatching jaunt in which she wanted me to join.  I shivered as I considered the chilly early morn when we would be meeting at a local Denny's. All sorts of doubts filled my head and I paid attention to Beth with only half a mind.

"Pat, the first time you see a bird up close, and you will. . .this particular trip has an excellent guide. . . .you'll forget all your discomfort."

The half of my mind that wasn't listening to Beth took me away to a warm sunny afternoon.  I was sitting on my porch, watching the flowers grow and minding the antics of the yard birds.  Suddenly, a female titmouse lands on the porch rail in front of me.  I am surprised at how close she is to me, but I was even more surprised by what happened next.  For she regarded me with those curious black eyes, then lifted herself up from the porch rail and "helicopter-flew" over to my head.  With this unusual development, I held my breath even as I felt her wings fluttering against the nape of my neck.   Whatever on earth was this little bird doing? Before I could jump up from my chair and thrash my hands madly about my head to send birds that fly about my hair back to the skies, the little titmouse grabbed a strand of my hair.  And before this interesting concept could register, she flew up to the  telephone wire to join her scolding mate, a prized strand of hair, beloved by the titmouse for nestbuilding, held proudly in her beak.

"The last time I went on this birdwatching trip, Pat, I was able to watch a hawk come down from the skies to grab a mouse lunch.  Imagine being that close and seeing this!"

That other half of my mind took me somewhere again.  It was a cold day in early Winter and I was preparing dinner. On one of my occasional glances out to the birdfeeders immediately adjacent to my kitchen, I was surprised to see a large sharpskinned hawk sitting peacefully on the branch of a Winter-bare oak.  Even as the hawk sat and surveyed its surround, the birds flew to the feeders, unconcerned.  Over a two-hour period I watched the hawk, who sat on the branch and paid no mind to the birds flying about.  "Must be looking for a mouse," I thought as explanation for the birds' nonchalant manner re the hawk.

As I carried a pot of boiling water to the sink, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye.  Quickly setting the pot down, I  hurried to the window;  just in time  to see the sharpskinned hawk fly away, a struggling mourning dove clamped firmly in its talons.  The hawk flew several trees away from its original perch but still easily within my eyesight.  As I watched, the hawk furiously ripped the feathers from the dove.  The feathers flew around the hawk as if a furious hurricane.  The hawk then consumed its meal.

"One other time I went, Pat, I actually got to see all the birds in the woods flushed out when an owl landed right nearby.  It was amazing, all those birds flying and squawking."

There went my mind again.  It took me back this time to an early Spring morning.  The spirea bush was in full bloom.  I sat on the porch to enjoy its heady fragrance and drink my morning coffee.  The scream of a blue jay pierced the air.  Soon, about 20 blue jays all descended raucously on the spirea bush and all of them were screaming their heads off.  Before anything could register, birds were coming from everywhere.  Robins landed  on oak limbs and barked displeasure.  Chickadees  buzzed about the spirea, seriously scolding something that was in the spirea.  House finches flew in to chirp and worry about the spirea.  Red cardinals "clicked" in and dived recklessly into the bush.  Even the peaceful mourning doves flew in to cluck impatiently at the contents of the bush.

My teenaged daughter came running out.  The screams of  the birds had awakened even this sound teen sleeper.  In response to her puzzled look, I told her something was in the spirea that was troubling the birds.  She offered to go look.

Soon, as my daughter bent below the dripping floral branches of the bush, the sound of teenaged female screams would join the chirps, howls, clucks, and barks of the angry birds.  A ten-foot black snake was curled peacefully around the trunk of the spirea, ostensibly to take a sunny nap but greatly disturbed by the noisy birds and now this silly human.

"Pat, you won't be sorry you agreed to go on this birdwatching trip."

I turned my full mind to the telephone and my friend Beth.  Of course, I agreed to sign up for the birdwatching expedition. Where else could I ever find all this bird action?



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