Showing posts with label bird watching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bird watching. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A salute to the mountain chickadee: Late in life, I take up bird watching

 As a young person, I disdained bird watchers. I thought of them as nerdy people wearing khaki shorts, long black socks, and shapeless hats, skulking around the woods looking for some obscure friggin' bird.  Pathetic!

But two events changed my view. First, I met Jim Maple of Antlers, Oklahoma, and became reacquainted with Sarah, whom I had known in high school. Jim and Sarah were bird watchers and made occasional road trips to Louisiana to enjoy its diverse birdlife.

If Jim and Sarah, two people I admire and respect, are bird watchers, I reasoned, there must be something to it.

Second, my wife and I bought a home in Baton Rouge, located only two blocks from the LSU Lakes. As I walked or biked around the lakes, I saw an amazing number of beautiful Louisiana birds: great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, kingfishers, white ibises, and white pelicans.

My family has a cabin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, located on Hondo Creek, at an elevation of 9,000 feet. Although I have visited the Sangre de Cristos since I was a child, I never looked around this high-altitude environment to notice the birds.

But I bought a New Mexico bird guide, and this fall, I observed the world around our family cabin. What did I see? First, I saw two American dippers, blue-grey birds that like to live around noisy, moving water.  Hondo Creek was the perfect place for them.

I saw mountain chickadees, which are as common as sparrows in the Sangre de Cristos' coniferous forests, but which I had never noticed. Modest little birds but beautiful.

Then I saw a Steller's Jay, which looks like a common bluejay but is larger and has an impressive feathered crest.  Of course, the name is a misnomer. These jays don't actually belong to Mr. Steller. He's just a guy who noticed one back in 1741.

I also saw grey jays. These large birds are sometimes called camp robbers because they will eat anything. I found some vile health-food mix in the cabin pantry--chia, flax, and hemp seeds--and sprinkled it on the footbridge across Hondo Creek.

I myself would never eat this crap, but the grey jays (and the chipmunks) loved it. 

Now that I have discovered birdwatching, I recommend it to you for two reasons:

First, watching birds makes us more observant. It is an activity that requires silence and a certain amount of stealth. It is hard to identify birds if you are listening to Don Lemon opine on the sins of our President.  Be silent, look around, and you will be surprised by what you will see.

Second, seeing birds opens a world of great beauty that is all around us. What can be more beautiful than a great egret standing stolidly in a Louisana marsh or a red and speckled woodpecker hammering away at a dead tree to get his breakfast? Or a group of white ibises with their soda-straw beaks?

As far as humans are concerned, most birds are useless. We eat chickens, geese, ducks, and quail, but we have no practical use for ravens, sparrows, hummingbirds, or wood storks.  But they must be on earth for some purpose.

Perhaps birds fly around us as a reminder that God made the world and created the birds for our pleasure. But then, of course, He also created black mamba snakes and crocodiles, for which humans have no need whatsoever. 

Maybe God made the birds in recompense for crocodiles and all the other evils that lurk in the world.  Perhaps St. Maximilian Kolbe, dying in a Nazi starvation bunker at Auschwitz, heard the chirp of a cardinal and was comforted.

A Steller's Jay