Posts Tagged ‘birds’

It was Wednesday, a day predicted to be cloudy and cold with possible snow showers in the afternoon. The perfect day to be inside as I had a good project to focus on. But first, something lovely to light my day. I realized, after I’d taken a few pictures, that the sparkle of a tea light in the unique beauty of mercury glass could not easily be captured with a camera. It’s quite magical, so I’ll offer my best try, and you can imagine the light shimmering within.

At a certain point in the late morning I felt restless and too much inside. The sky had been a nearly colorless grey-white since daybreak and was less than inviting, but I needed some fresh air. I opened the side door to my porch and was greeted by a chorus of happy song. The many sparrows that abound around the house raised their small voices to the sky from the privet hedge and cheered my heart. Soon I heard  the nasal call of a Canada goose overhead, then three, then perhaps seven or so, as they winged their way southward, dark silhouettes against the paleness.

Despite the faded grey skies, I felt inspired to step outside, even if for a little while. The privet hedge nearest my driveway remains green for a surprisingly long time. However, with the temperatures now dipping to 18 degrees at night, even these leaves are turning and starting to fall.

Before the spring earlier this year, I had an arborist come out to trim it and cut back the vines that insinuate themselves among the gentler stalks of the hedge. There is no killing the intruders as all their roots are totally entangled, but once cut back, I can keep a better eye on the vines and continue cutting them to the ground. I watched the arborist out my tall office window – he was an artisan with a ladder, clipping here and there, then climbing down and standing back, assessing his work, much like an artist at an easel. It was a delight to watch him trim the branches so carefully to their natural inclinations. When done, he assured me that it would look beautiful and grow wonderfully in the spring because privet hedge loves to be cut back. He was right.

The tall tree in the furthest corner of the yard was a pattern of lace in the sky, also still holding on to some of its last leaves. In the foreground to the left is more privet hedge which the owner lets grow tall and wild for privacy. Totally untended for a while now, however, it has slender maples growing here and there, and I wonder if they might choke it out at some point. On the occasions that the hedge was trimmed, it was always with a chainsaw, so I suspect my little area of privet along the driveway may be counting itself lucky indeed.

At the corner of my front porch is a tall shrub, perhaps some sort of hemlock. From the recent rains, it was covered with droplets of water, sparkling without the benefit of sun, just catching whatever light they could, and looking quite festive.

Also still wet from the rains of the night before, the branches of this evergreen glistened with moisture, cradling several of the now crisp maple leaves that have flown by from neighboring trees. This shrub has quadrupled in size since I’ve lived here – it’s in a very happy spot. It didn’t get its chainsaw shaping this year, so I hand trimmed it myself to keep its nice natural shape. Still, I suspect it will need more attention come spring; it has a very expansive nature and gets just the right amount of sun to fulfill its dreams.

Holding on to its once-bright green leaves is another shrub, sporting its cheery red berries. The branches are a tangle of dark criss-crossing patterns, and the leaves have now turned coral and copper, soon to join the slumbering grass below.

I didn’t venture far. It wasn’t that kind of day. But the caroling sparrows and gently changing plant life around my house and yard brightened my spirit, and invited me back into myself.




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Yes, I find crows magical, and I am a fan. Whoa, whoa! OK, all you farmers out there – I see you throwing your hands up in the air with a loud and unified “OY!” But hear me out. Let’s look at these magnificent creatures from three standpoints – science, myth and magic, and personal experience.

First a little science. Did you know that crows and ravens (same family) and macaws have the highest brain to skull ratio of any bird on the planet? In fact, their brain to skull ratio is higher than in humans! This in part accounts for their high intelligence, not to mention they have been on the planet for 60-65 million years.  Crows also have a skill accorded to one of the most intelligent mammals on earth, the great apes, i.e. they create and use tools. Crows also will gather around one of their own when it has died to try and determine the cause of its death. They will  learn the facial configuration of a mean human and teach all other crows to know it as such and avoid that human. When a crow leaves its flock and joins another, it immediately acquires their “dialect” by taking on the characteristics of the most popular crows in that flock. No intellectual slouches, these crows. Learn more about them.

The magic. When I designed my own website a number of years ago, I drew the header for it myself. The header featured none other than the crow, and I have utilized that symbol for my blogs. Why?

Because in certain cultures and mythology, the crow is believed to be the symbol of magic and creativity, something near and dear to every artist’s soul. In some cultures the crow has been the symbol of evil and/or death, juxtaposed against the white of the dove and purity. I don’t see life in black and white terms, and for all their brilliance, I like the crow’s mythology in Native American terms and Crow Medicine. As such, Crow is a guide on the path to spirituality and enlightenment and is the keeper of sacred law. It is said that Crow has known the darkness and when they appear in our lives, may be guides through our own darkness on the path to enlightenment. Granted, these may be mythological ideas, but it can be said that all religious/spiritual beliefs are mythology, just different. I am not arguing that point, just drawn to the many inspiring aspects of the beautiful and intelligent crow.

Personal experience. I have a very deep back porch, and during the day, next to my back door, is a bowl of water and dry food for my neighbor’s cat. I’m working at my computer when I hear a rather loud caw. “That sounds mighty close,” I think. I look out the back door, and there is a good-sized crow pilfering the dry food. She sees me and flies away. Not 10 minutes later, I hear the caw again. I appear and she flies away. Shortly thereafter, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of black through the side door window. She has learned in only two incidents that her caw brings me to the door, and now flies in silently. Seeing me again, her next attempt was from a different angle that I could not easily see.

Another time, I hear muted crow noises and slip quietly and unseen to watch four of them on the porch. They are talking amongst themselves and jostling for position, pushing one another away from the cat food bowl. I take their verbiage to mean “Wait your turn” and “Get out of my way.”  It is likely a dominance issue. I knock on the window and they disappear, but I could have watched their antics for hours; they were quite amusing. Now, as a result of this, I have to bring in the dry food for a while.

Occasionally, I will see a crow on my walks or on the fence near the window where I work. I always say hello and am sometimes acknowledged with a look and a “caw”. When a crow -– or any animal – appears unexpectedly and/or repeatedly in my life, I may look into its possible meaning. In the case of a crow, I might be at a crossroads, looking for or ready for a change, and need to pull more on my own intuition. Even if that has nothing to do with the crow, when is it ever a bad idea?

One last thought .. there is so much amazing art regarding crows, among them gorgeous paintings by Susan Seddon-Boulet ( above left), but also in a favorite children’s book, Crow Call by Lois Lowry and revered illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline.

The natural world is filled with wonder and beauty. Depending on the day, I could happily write about pangolins, pandas, or hammerhead sharks. Today, it’s crows.

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NewmansOwnCoffee2Once vilified as being a troublemaker to your health, coffee has been getting a whole new appraisal as of late. Its health benefits are now being recognized. An article in Prevention magazine wrote up how coffee can help lower your risk for Type-2 diabetes.

Researchers at Harvard University looked at 28 studies with more than a million combined participants and found that people who drank six 8-ounce cups of coffee daily had a 33% lower risk of diabetes. The good news is that each cup lowered your risk by 9%, so you don’t have to go crazy with coffee consumption, but just be aware of the possibilities.

What’s even more exciting is that it’s not the caffeine responsible for the effect, so if you drink decaf, this still applies to you. Researchers suspect that it’s a naturally occurring chemical in coffee called chlorogenic acid that reduces the rate at which the intestines absorb glucose.

So that’s how you can change your personal world, but how about expanding your vision and changing the world at large?

The coffee you drink can make an actual difference to the rainforest and to saving the lives of migratory and resident birds. With the advent of agri-technology, sun-grown coffee became the new big thing, but is not without a goodly number of drawbacks. Here are a few differences between your typical coffees and shade-grown coffees in their benefits to wildlife and the environment.

Poco-Coffee2* Migratory birds and many resident birds, (such as Poco, a rescued macaw, right), find sanctuary in the forest canopy of traditional coffee plantations, while in sun-grown coffee areas, there are 90% fewer bird species.

* Shade trees protect the coffee plants from rain and sun, help maintain soil quality, and aid in natural pest control, thanks to the birds. These traditional coffee plantations also help to conserve watersheds, leading to higher water quality and quantity for local populations. Sun grown coffee requires chemical fertilizers and pesticides and year-round labor, placing financial demands on the growers. It also leads to greater soil erosion and higher amounts of toxic runoff endangering both wildlife and people.

* Shade coffee plants can produce crops of beans for up to 50 years, while sun grown plants produce for only 10 – 15.

* The higher quality beans produced by shade grown methods produce a better tasting coffee!

FairTradeLogoWhere do you find shade-grown coffee? Most coffees marked “Organic Fair Trade” will also be shade-grown. Read the labels and check out the producers’ literature and/or web sites for details. Smaller merchants, health-oriented food stores, and, increasingly, your local supermarket now carry shade grown coffee. There is one more bonus – when you see the “Fair Trade” logo on your bag of coffee, or elsewhere, it assures you that the farmers and their families who grow the coffee are being paid a sustainable living wage for their work.

While it may be a bit more expensive than sun grown coffee, it preserves the biodiversity of our planet, the rainforest, and a multitude of bird species, plus it helps humanity. A pretty good deal all in one cup of coffee.

So you can change your personal world, and spread your wings and change a whole lot more of it.

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Chickadee2Some might also call this a sense of awe. Today, as I’m sure you’re aware, one of the most commonly used word to describe what someone really likes is awesome. I use it myself. But nowadays everything is awesome. When everything is awesome, then really, nothing is awesome.

But semantics aside, how wonderful is it to find that sense of awe, of true wonder, much like a child. It’s a gift. I stumbled across it just the other morning. I was sitting by the front windows journaling and I happened to look up to see a flutter of chickadees and a male cardinal hopping about the porch railing and in and out of an adjacent yew. The chickadees were puffed up to keep warm and quite busy with whatever they were doing.

Without moving, I just watched them, yes, in awe, of their singular beauty. I became aware that I was smiling and just sending that reverential feeling to them. And then they stopped, cardinal included, and looked directly at me. I don’t know quite what a bird can perceive through glass, but I have no doubt that it was my energy that spoke to them. And for brief moments we all seemed as one, just being, time suspended. Now that … was truly awesome.  Then time and motion resumed, them hopping, me watching.

I believe we have far too few moments like this in our lives. We are too busy, too fractured, too distracted, but the moments are there, waiting. Ask any child. And all it takes is being still, stopping and looking. Really looking.

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I was determined this morning to get some time out on one of my porches before the onslaught of work began. There’s plenty on my desk plus a scheduled quick trip to the vet.  It’s easy to get up and take care of the necessary house stuff then dive into work with nary a moment of peace on these still-cool mornings.

So I put off making breakfast and brought my coffee to the shady back porch and sketched a bit. Then I closed my eyes and just listened. I heard the gentle gurgling of the neighbor’s pond which is partially behind my home; the GUNK! of one of the froggy residents; I distinctly recognized a cat bird and a sparrow singing, and at least 5 others that I was not able to identify. There was some machine humming in the distance, an occasional vehicle some blocks away, but these were barely noticeable. There was not one human to be heard. It was peaceful.

In looking about me I saw two goldfinches zipping back and forth in tandem and a few chimney swifts flitting about high in the sky. At the edge of the porch, bumblebees were pushing their way into the lavender hosta flowers. A medium size rust beetle was seemingly trying to bury himself – or perhaps burrow – in the corner by the back door, an impossibility, of course. I couldn’t imagine his purpose but he was way off course, so I took a piece of paper and transported him down into the hosta, where at least it was a more natural environment for him.

When I did get to breakfast, I made sure to include one of the fresh peaches from my local farm stand. This quiet morning was a great start. The only downside? I couldn’t stay for hours.

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Something unusual has been happening on my back porch. I’d love to get a photograph of it, but it’s not going to happen. Well, not unless I suddenly have the time to sit out there stock-still for extended periods of time. But first let me show you the photo I can get. Not very exciting, I know. But to know what I can’t photograph, you can see the other half of the picture – the stationary items.

These are the food and water bowls on my back porch adjacent to my back door. They’re there to feed aforementioned feral cat, Little Fee, and the cats next door whenever they’re inspired. The other day while busy working, I heard a nasal, one syllable, repeated caw. I knew it was a crow, but he sounded mighty close. Where was he?

I tip-toed slowly back to the kitchen, and there he was, sitting on the railing, eyeing the cat food. I stationed myself at the back door and watched as he, after surveying his surroundings for safety, dropped to the porch deck and ate a few pieces of food. This was new! And then he flew away. That’s one of the photographs I would like to have gotten. Maybe a week earlier, I had spotted a blue jay – same routine – but he took one piece and flew away, and returned some time later for more. Whether or not it was the same jay, I’ll never know, but that was also a great shot I’ll never get.

The day following the first crow’s appearance, I heard more crow chat on the back porch, and now there were two – one eating from the bowl, and another on the railing. The latter soon hopped down, pushed the other aside, and ate a bunch. I guess the word is out, so I may have to adjust what I do with the food – I don’t really need to be feeding high quality, holistic cat food to the local crow population, nor do I need them on my porch, as much as I love crows.

Did you know that crows have the highest brain-to-skull ratio of any living bird? They are considered one of the most intelligent birds alive with several species topping the avian IQ scale and as demonstrated by their construction and use of tools, creation of mid-air games such as jousting and “air-chicken” to determine the pecking order, and other feats. It is reported that although humans cannot generally tell individual crows apart, crows have been shown to have the ability to visually recognize individual humans, and to transmit information about “bad” humans by squawking to one another.

Although crows are, and have been, viewed in many different ways throughout history to the present, their presence is often thought to be symbolic of magic and creativity. (Ted Andrews discusses this at length in Animal Speak.)

Will I ever get a photograph of the crows on my porch? I’m sure not, but maybe someday I’ll be in the right spot at the right time in some other location to get just the right photo. Meanwhile, I think I have to look out for Little Fee, and make sure his food supply is not commandeered by these opportunistic black beauties.

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This morning I watched a female cardinal on my front porch railing. With the warmer weather having arrived early, she is already quite sleek. As she hopped along the rail I couldn’t help but admire the beauty in the subtlety of her coloration … the muted olives and golds edged with red and the bright persimmon of her beak.

I went along my morning and was still thinking … now of the beautiful coloration of the peahen. She may pale alongside the brilliant shades of turquoise and green of her male counterpart, the peacock, much as the female cardinal does when compared to the bright red male, but her beauty isn’t in the flashiness of her color. It’s in the quiet richness, with just a necklace of iridescent aquamarine.

There’s a certain pleasure in subtle beauty. In our media-driven culture, the biggest, brightest and flashiest is always being foisted upon us and honestly? I sometimes find it draining. Don’t you? Admittedly, I can be distracted by shiny objects … nothing wrong with that from time to time, but as a steady diet, the loud, the bold and the dazzling wears thin.

I will always take delight in the bright plumage of a male Cardinal or Peacock. But I also appreciate the ladies.  They have a disdain for flash. And yet are undeniably beautiful. Maybe they’re a bit more like most of us.


Photos: Cardinal courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, Penelope Peahen courtesy of Popcorn Park


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