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Bird Watching

Yesterday, I sat in the nature center at Whitewater State Park, looking out the wall of windows at the birdfeeders’ whirr of activity. I began to relax, my mind drifting to the birds feasting on sunflower and thistle seeds, drifting away until it was no longer connected and was out to sea with the flitting of birds. I become a part of it. With a flash of brilliant red, a cardinal darts to the platform feeder and back to a tree limb above and behind the feeder station. His feathery body is a ribbon adorning the dormant tree. Large, plump blue jays demand respect as self-proclaimed kings of the wooded yard, robed in a range of blues. As princes of the realm, they expect to eat first and bully any who stand in their way. A smaller bird, the chickadee with his yellow chest and black cap, sings his name as he lands on the feeder. The splash of red on a big red-bellied woodpecker, like the cardinal, adds dazzling color to the otherwise dreary wooded yard. Goldfinches, no longer gold but a graying yellow, fly past the platform feeder with its sunflower seeds to the cylindrical feeder with tiny perches to feast on thistle seed. The nervous, twitchy nuthatch walks about the platform feeder, in a watchful stance, taking note of everything, popping sunflowers seeds between glances about. The behavior is amusing and almost comical to me as I continue to observe its movements. My attention is diverted by the checkered jacket of a downy woodpecker and red patch on the back of his head.  Lacking the nervous posture of the nuthatch, he lands on the feeder with more confidence. Observing woodpeckers seems like a special treat, they have a beauty and air about them that leaves an observer in awe.

Sigurd F. Olson was one of the greatest environmentalists of the twentieth century, his writing as been a source of inspiration for me. He believed if one viewed nature from a window one would miss something very important; “I have always felt that views through windows leave much to be desired, that to really enjoy a view it should be undimmed by glass or frame. While a scene might be beautiful from the inside, something important is always lost there, for a vista divorced from the open air and the smells and sounds and feelings around you is only partially enjoyed. If we could see all there was to see from indoors, if we became content to have the beauty around us encompassed by the four walls of the cabin, we would lose what we came to find, and that we must never do.”  – Listening Point, 20.

Nature shouldn’t be viewed from a window alone, a person should walk outdoors and keep walking until they find themselves completely immersed in nature. To become a part of it, to connect with it on a spiritual level and feel it coursing through one’s veins. I am not content to simply view nature through a window, I am not content to simply view nature anyway, instead I much rather set out into nature and feel it all around me, soak into my soul, and allow my spirit to become one with the natural world. Windows that provides me a glimpse of the outdoors give me, however small, a link to nature when being indoors can’t be avoided for various reasons. Indeed, if I must be indoors, I have to be near a window so I can allow my mind to drift outside with the wind, birds, and trees while my body remains trapped. Viewing the birds from the window does have the advantage of seeing them up close, but I feel it is necessary to go for a walk and have the birds sing their greeting and truly become one with their world.

Watching the birds at my feeders in the backyard is a source of great joy, comfort and contentment on winter days whether ill health, weather or work keeps me inside. Mesmerized, I could sit and watching the feasting, joyful birds for a long time. Observing the diversity of birds at the feeder brings delight. I was thrilled to note ten species visiting the feeders just today. The largest group was the sparrows. They come in flocks to the feeders, filling the orchard with their happy song. Chipping sparrows seemed the most abundant, brown-striped back and brown-capped head bobbing from branch to feeder and back again. I have a particular fondness for these sparrows, unlike most birds, I can get very close to individuals when they visit the greenhouses. A sparrow cocks its head to the side peering at me when I talk to it, there is such beauty in that graceful movement. The eye spot above the eye gives away the male white-throated sparrows. House sparrows also visit. This morning I noticed a sparrow of a more red brown color, particularly its chest and breast, something I had never seen before. I promptly pointed it out to Mom, she identified it as a song sparrow which she said was unusual since they don’t normally come to the feeders here. A bird with a pinkish red breast, chin, cheeks and head landed in the apple tree, a brushed house finch. A downy woodpecker favors the same apple tree, after visiting the feeder, it clings to the side of the trunk. (A few days ago, I saw a bigger bird that looked almost exactly like the downy, it was a hairy woodpecker who liked the same spot on the apple tree as the downy.) Juncos, a very cute bird with their back and head dark, slate gray and light gray bellies, hop around on the snow picking up seeds that are dropped by the other birds. Blue jays behave the same at my feeders as they do at Whitewater State Park feeders, big bullies that can scare other birds by merely landing on the feeders. Finally, one of my favorites for their enticing and enchanting whistle, cardinals come to the feeders, often in pairs. Although the male is a gorgeous color, his mate is stunning, breathtaking in her regal beauty. Her brown feathers seems to shimmer, the dash of red above her eye an on her wings with the black mask make for a stately bird, tied together by the way the feathers on the top of her head curves up. Seeing her is like seeing the fairest maiden in all land, a marvelous privilege. We have been lucky enough to see several such beauties this winter.

The orchard is filled with voices from the many birds. The sparrows were the chattiest of the bunch; of course their numbers far outdid those of any other birds. I listened to their cheery song in the early afternoon. The chickadee sweetly sang its name over and over again in an endearing melody. The blue jay would add its opinion to the mix. The juncos and cardinals were quiet this afternoon. Bird song, happy tunes, are a part of bird watching; it is uplifting to hear them sing and chatter, adding to the beauty and wonderment of the experience.

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