Bird Roll Call: January 31, 2018

  • American crow3
  • American goldfinch1,4
  • American robin1,2,4
  • American tree sparrow3
  • Bald eagle3
  • Black-capped chickadee2
  • Blue jay1
  • Carolina wren
  • Common goldeneye3
  • Dark-eyed junco1,4
  • Downy woodpecker1,3
  • Eastern bluebird
  • European starling1,2,4,5
  • Gull sp. (overhead)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1,4
  • Mallard4
  • Mourning dove1,4
  • Northern cardinal1,3,4
  • Northern flicker
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,4
  • Red-headed woodpecker4
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Rock pigeon2,5
  • White-breasted nuthatch4
  • White-throated sparrow1,4
  • Wood duck4
  • Yellow-rumped warbler4

Locations — in my backyard, near 75th and Wornall, in Bonner Springs (at Lake of the Forest and on Nelson Island), at Leawood City Park, and while driving to and from these locations.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen near 75th and Wornall
3. Seen at Lake of the Forest and on Nelson Island
4. Seen at Leawood City Park
5. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 30, 2018

  • American crow 2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose (overhead)1
  • Cooper’s hawk1
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1,2
  • Gull sp.2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1
  • Red-tailed hawk1
  • Rock pigeon2
  • White-throated sparrow1

The red-tailed hawk was absent this morning, and the Cooper’s hawk was present. She was perched in one of my sweetgums when I went out to the feeding station at the back of the property. When I turned to come inside, she was gone. An hour later, she returned. My clue was the thirty or so mourning doves suddenly scattering from the yard. A few birds who weren’t able to fly away in time huddled in a rose of Sharon by the fence. The hawk moved on after a few minutes.

Free to move about the yard again, an American robin and a house finch bowed to each other at the birdbath. They were just bending down to drink water, but I liked the idea of them engaging in a Buddhist ritual. I read that birds set aside their differences at the birdbath because water is critical to every bird’s survival. Foes in other contexts are cordial to one another when drinking and bathing. So they aren’t actually bowing to one another, but their civility contains an intrinsic bow.

The female northern flicker came back today with her suitor in tow. She preened then worked her way up a branch. He hopped closer to her. She ignored him. Given her real or feigned indifference, I suspect she hasn’t yet chosen him as a mate. When he tried getting even closer, she flew into another tree. He followed. She flew out of the yard. Again, he followed. I imagined him spending his entire day moving from tree to tree and yard to yard in pursuit of her. That’s probably exactly what he did.

Nine northern cardinals made their way to the yard throughout the day — four males and five females. The house finch with light orange plumage visited the finch feeding station, as did the house finch with missing wing feathers.

In the afternoon, I saw the red-tailed hawk flying over the neighbor’s yard and out of sight. Later, the Cooper’s hawk came back and landed in another neighbor’s tree. I noticed that our winter lawn, pocked by squirrels, had turned the color of infected mucus.

Location — in my backyard and while driving through town.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 29, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Carolina wren (heard)
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • White-throated sparrow

Every morning, I scan the yard to see which species are present and to watch their antics. This morning, I looked first at the ground and the feeders. I saw eight species merrily going about their business. I looked up to see who might be in the shrubs and trees. To my surprise, the red-tailed hawk I’d seen a few days ago was relaxing on a low branch in my neighbor’s silver maple, its big white stomach shining like a piece of porcelain. None of the birds were at all concerned about the hawk’s presence, not even the blue jays. Everyone was acting like the hawk wasn’t there. Northern cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, and house finches even perched nonchalantly in the nearby magnolia. Several more species visited while the hawk was present. They ate. They drank water. They flew this way and that. It’s like they’d all come to an agreement: the hawk would visit the area each morning to rest and nothing more, and the birds would allow it because the hawk had agreed to hunt elsewhere.

I’ve read that red-tailed hawks aren’t as much of a threat to songbirds as Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. A chart from the 1945 publication Birds of Kansas titled “What Hawks Eat” states that only 9.2 percent of a red-tailed hawk’s diet consists of small birds, compared with 55 percent and 96.4 percent for Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks respectively. Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks definitely pose more of a risk to songbirds than red-tailed hawks, but still — 9.2 percent is significant. If I were a songbird, I would be uneasy about having a red-tailed hawk in my vicinity, even if it seemed to have struck a deal with birds like me. Maybe having the red-tailed hawk around is beneficial in some way. Its presence might keep the Cooper’s hawk who frequents the area from paying a visit. Having a red-tailed hawk around as opposed to a Cooper’s hawk would definitely be a move in the right direction where the songbirds are concerned. The latter is five times more likely to eat them.

A few flakes of snow teased the air. Ten mourning doves composed a simple song on the utility lines. Imagine each line as part of a musical staff and the doves as notes. They were positioned in the equivalent of the F-natural and A-natural positions. The song they created looked like this:

| — _ — — | _ — — _ | } — } } |
.
.
Key: …..| = bar …..— = A-natural ….._ = F-natural …..} = rest

At one point, a mourning dove landed on the utility line above the second dove from the left. They formed a dyad comprised of F-natural and A-natural.

The hawk flew away just under half an hour after I’d first seen it, parting the songbirds as it went.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 28, 2018

  • Accipiter sp.2
  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American kestrel2
  • American robin1,2,3
  • American tree sparrow2
  • Black-capped chickadee1,2
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose1,3
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1
  • Fox sparrow2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1,2,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Pine siskin2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • Rock pigeon3
  • Song sparrow2
  • Thrush sp.2
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-throated sparrow1
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

A blue jay sat in one of the sweetgums while I carried shell peanuts out to the wreath feeder. It swooped down as soon as I turned around. I wasn’t even back to the house when it dislodged a shell and flew off.

I finally heard the Carolina wren today after several days’ absence. He was singing a three-note song, a variation on his usual two-note offering. I believe the notes were B-flat descending to G-flat then up to A-flat. He repeated this series three times, with an additional B-flat, G-flat, and rest at the end. Rhythmically, the song was structured like this:

| — — — | — — — | — — — | — — } |
.
.
Key: …..| = bar …..— = note …..} = rest

After I heard the wren, I saw him at one of my feeders. He flew to the ground, into my neighbor’s woodpile, onto my fence, up to the top of the utility pole at the back of the property, and into one of the sweetgums before flying away. He sang his two-note song while flitting about (B-flat descending to G-flat). A little while later, I saw him on my neighbor’s roof, where he scaled the satellite dish and surveyed his territory. It looked like he was standing at a pulpit, ready to deliver a sermon.

The squirrel who has been attempting to carry twigs up one of my trees took that activity up again this morning. I’ve decided that there is no utility in what he is doing. He seems to be acting compulsively. He’s also destroying the tree by breaking off twigs day after day. I wondered how long I would have to watch his pitiful display.

The sun came out and turned the yard into a sepia-toned photograph like the ones my partner used to take in the ’90s. American goldfinches floated in like soap bubbles and took my attention off the squirrel. A slate-colored dark-eyed junco landed on the window sill a few inches from me. Up close, I could see how much brown was mixed in with the bird’s gray plumage. These are the kinds of details you can’t observe from a distance.

The first to bathe today was a male American robin. When he was finished, the adult and first-winter white-throated sparrows flew down for a drink. They are so delightful, especially the juvenile with its skinny legs and sprightly attitude.

After watching the birds in the yard, my partner and I headed out to Kill Creek Park. Almost all the birds I saw there were concentrated in one spot just off a parking lot near a stand of cattails next to the lake. When blue jays saw a hawk and sounded the alarm, the birds flushed from their spots and scudded past me toward the water. A sparrow almost hit me in the face. Hardly any people were there, which was lovely, just a sprinkling of men fishing or walking their dogs.

Locations — in my backyard, at Kill Creek Park, and while driving to and from these locations.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Kill Creek Park
3. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 27, 2018

  • American crow (overhead)1,2,4
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,3
  • Black-capped chickadee2
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Brown creeper2
  • Canada goose1,3
  • Carolina wren2
  • Cooper’s hawk1
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1,3,4
  • Gull sp. (overhead)1
  • Hairy woodpecker2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1,2,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Purple finch (female)2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-shouldered hawk2
  • Red-tailed hawk4
  • Rock pigeon4
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-breasted nuthatch2,3
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

A downy woodpecker’s call woke me at 7 a.m. I cleaned the birdbath with a bleach solution last night, so I had to take it back outside this morning and fill it with fresh water. It’s important to keep all feeders and birdbaths clean so birds don’t transmit diseases to one another. I’ve decided to wash everything weekly so I don’t expose any of the birds who visit my yard to unsanitary conditions. Trudging outside in the cold first thing in the morning wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but it had to be done, so I did it.

Crows cawed overhead. A few dozen starlings passed over. Gulls flew by. Their mottled underparts resembled quail eggs. I believe they were juvenile ring-billed gulls. The crows came into view just above the treeline, smudges of wet black paint.

Blue jays began snapping up the shell peanuts I placed in the wreath feeder. I saw that at least one was caching the nuts under leaves strewn about the yard. I knew blue jays buried acorns. For this reason, they are considered the architects of our country’s great oak forests. A single blue jay can hide between three thousand and five thousand nuts each season. Of these, many go uncollected. The oak forests would not have spread as quickly as they did after the last glacial period without the essential contributions of blue jays. But this isn’t an oak forest. It’s just my yard. I had no idea a blue jay would hide shell peanuts in a suburban environment.

The squirrel who couldn’t figure out how to carry twigs up the sweetgum made several more unsuccessful attempts to do so this morning. While I was watching that tragicomedy play out, the Cooper’s hawk landed in the other sweetgum, where a second squirrel body-slammed her in an attempt to oust her from the area. Above, in their matching collard robes, a choir of blue jays sat atop my neighbor’s pin oak wailing at the hawk. Eventually, she flew away. Between the rumbling squirrel and the cacophonous blue jays, hanging around wasn’t worth the effort.

I got out my flute and played Vivaldi while I watched the birds. All those rollicking notes made me feel a bit like a bird and less like a human.

My partner and I met a friend at the Overland Park Arboretum where, to my dismay, I failed to locate the nesting pileated woodpeckers. I tried to traverse a washed-out section of the trail with nearly disastrous results before walking alongside white-tailed deer for a while when I thought I was lost but wasn’t.

On the drive home, we saw a coyote roving in a field. Two red-tailed hawks sat like knots on a tree’s bare limbs. The sky turned the color of a male house finch’s breast. Then it was dark.

Locations — in my backyard, at the Overland Park Arboretum, at South Lake Park, and while driving to and from these locations.


1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at the Overland Park Arboretum
3. Seen at South Lake Park
4. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 26, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • Gull sp. (overhead)
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow

As I sat down to watch birds, I saw the male northern flicker looking for the female again today. She was nowhere to be found. I haven’t seen her or the male she appears to have partnered with since the day they became an item.

A red-tailed hawk landed on a low branch in one of my sweetgum trees. I noted its yellow eyes, the brown stingray patterning on its breast feathers, the speckles on its belly feathers. A blue jay approached the hawk and began cheeping at it like a small songbird. I’d never seen that strategy employed before and wondered why the blue jay chose this approach over sounding an alarm call. Unfazed, the hawk settled in for a long rest, its body spreading out until it took on the shape of a Foghorn Leghorn cookie jar. A second blue jay arrived on the scene and began making a “meh, meh, meh” sound — not exactly the alarm call, but at least something a little more assertive than cheeping. This was followed by silence, then the second blue jay cycled into a different call. I believe it was the first call listed on The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds page.

After a few minutes, the blue jays left the hawk in peace. It looked to the right without moving its head, its right pupil gliding toward its beak. I could see that its brown head was mottled and resembled depleted soil on the side of an asphalt road.

Only the northern cardinals remained. The hawk’s feathers blew in the wind. It leaned forward a few times but didn’t fly. Its pupil held the sun. Above, gulls looked like gashes in the sky’s sateen. Dark-eyed juncos, oblivious to the hawk’s presence, gathered at the birdbath. The blue jays returned and dove at the hawk; one hit it on the crown. The hawk scratched its head with its left foot then tucked the foot into its body, a sign that it was insistent on relaxing. A second red-tailed hawk called from above. The sound was quickly swallowed by silence. The wind picked up and spread the hawk’s feathers farther apart. It swayed side to side with the undulating branch.

The neighbor’s dog came outside and flapped his ears. The hawk paid no attention. A squirrel chattered from the cavity in the silver maple. The hawk didn’t care. What interested him was high above. Its eyes traced two lines through the sky: contrails from a jet. It cocked its head one way then the other, as if trying to put the strange white streaks into a “hawk” context. How were these lines relevant to its life? Once the jet was gone, the hawk turned its head around backward and angled it downward. I imagined it taking inventory of what was pertinent: finch, finch, dove, squirrel.

The blue jays returned again and finally sounded the alarm call, but in a half-hearted way, as if they were merely doing what was expected of them as opposed to what they felt compelled to do. A squirrel nearly fell off the utility line at the back of the property but recovered. Squirrels remind me of The Flying Wallendas when they engage in such acrobatics. A mourning dove landed on the utility line. The hawk watched with interest before turning to look my direction, head on and beak down, like a school librarian glowering over a pair of reading glasses.

The male flicker returned to the yard. He sat in a tree calling for the female who did not choose him. “Kyeer, kyeer. Kyeer, kyeer.” It was a sad call that brought to mind Basho’s famous haiku:

In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.

Hearing the northern flicker, I missed the present moment even as I was experiencing the present moment.

The hawk turned around on the branch and wagged its tail. By this point, it had been in the tree for just over one hour. Its demeanor quickly changed from relaxed to alert: head forward, feathers tight against its body, eyes scanning everything. It dipped forward and raised its tail before flying into the neighbor’s silver maple. There, it assumed the same stance as the red-tailed hawks I’ve seen along the roadways. The hawk was no longer resting. It was ready to hunt. I knew it was going to fly before it flew — first left, then right. Then it was gone. Within seconds, songbirds popped out of their hiding places: a northern cardinal here, a dark-eyed junco there. I put my binoculars down and walked away.

Location — in my backyard.

Poetry: Spoils

I wrote this poem a few years ago when I was thinking about someone I used to love. I was also thinking about women and men in myths and in reality.


Spoils

Genesis describes the Garden of Eden’s forbidden object
not as an apple but as a p’ri, a Hebrew word for fruit.

Was it a tart cherry she twisted from the twig, or a pear?

I reach for a grape, pluck it from a cluster still on the vine,
and consider my potential sin.

and consider my potential sin. I used to love a man who
rarely said he loved me in return. The word love, he said,
will spoil you.

will spoil you. My mind turns on the word spoil and its
implications as I remember that man hovering above me
in a motel room,

in a motel room, one hand anchored near my head,
the other poised to punch me square in the face.

I said, Don’t hit me. He said, I love you, then put his fist
through the nearest wall.

through the nearest wall. Spoil means more than
damage and plunder. Material dredged up from
the earth is called the spoil.

the earth is called the spoil. This makes Persephone
a spoil extracted from Hades after her brief affair
with a pomegranate.

with a pomegranate. The term also means having
an eager desire. As in, Hades spoiled for Persephone,
her skin as smooth as a plum.

her skin as smooth as a plum. As in, Adam so spoiled
for a woman that he offered a rib for her flesh to girdle.

It’s OK, I said, you didn’t actually do it.

It’s OK, I said, you didn’t actually do it. As we spoiled
to salvage what we could that night, we role-played
the story of creation, pairing fruit and seed.

the story of creation, pairing fruit and seed. The Latin
for apple and evil are mālum and malum, respectively.
This is how apple displaced p’ri in the Bible.

This is how apple displaced p’ri in the Bible. Translators
saw the chance to shift from story to signifier, which
naturally led to what was signified.

naturally led to what was signified. In the move from myth
to meaning, the apple was implicated, but so was the raised hand.

Bird Roll Call: January 25, 2018

  • American crow3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2,4
  • Black-capped chickadee4
  • Blue jay1,4
  • Cackling goose2
  • Canada goose1,2,4,5
  • Crolina wren (heard)1,4
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2,4
  • Duck sp. (overhead)5
  • Downy woodpecker1,4
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1,3,4,5
  • Falcon sp.5
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2,3
  • Hairy woodpecker2
  • Herring gull2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2,4,5
  • Mourning dove1,3,4,5
  • Northern cardinal1,4
  • Northern flicker1,2
  • Pine siskin (juvenile, I believe)2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,4
  • Red-headed woodpecker4
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3,4
  • Ring-billed gull1,2,4
  • Rock pigeon6
  • Tufted titmouse2,4
  • White-throated sparrow1,4
  • Wood duck4
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

The faint “pip, pip, pip” of juncos woke me this morning. Just as I sat down to watch birds, an American robin appeared on a utility line out of nowhere. (They’re stealthy like that: not there and then there and then not there again.) Northern cardinals ate from the safflower seed feeder. A group of four dark-eyed juncos — the source of at least some of the pipping — gathered to feed on spilled nyjer seed. Gulls flew over and all the birds disappeared.

Who am I? What do I believe? What do I value? What is my worth? These are questions I wrote in the margins of my bird journal. I had things to work through as I watched the birds today. Make that every day.

Squirrels raced up and down the trees like fleas over a dog’s back. I thought about a study with crows at the University of Washington that showed fear of harmful people was passed down through generations. Participants in the study wore a specific mask while trapping and banding crows, something the crows aren’t fond of. Thereafter, the crows would scold anyone they saw wearing the same mask. Eleven years after the study, the crows on the UW campus still reacted negatively to anyone with the mask on, even though they themselves never had any direct experience with the masked individuals. (That is, they had never been trapped or banded by anyone wearing the mask.) I thought about trauma in humans and how it’s passed down from one generation to the next. Birds appear to have a region in their brains that is not unlike the human amygdala, an area of the brain that is believed to show increased activity in people who have experienced trauma.

The female northern flicker landed on one of my sweetgums. A male followed. He initiated a mating dance. She hopped away. He hopped closer. He tried the mating dance again. She did not reciprocate. They flew off together after a blue jay came crashing down near them.

Nobody’s opinions define or defile my opinions. Nobody’s beliefs nullify my beliefs. Nobody’s experiences supplant my experiences. Nobody’s approaches discredit the approaches that work for me.

The flickers came back. She wouldn’t dance with him. She preened. She preened some more, her beak plunging into her rump feathers and dragging along the entire length of her tail feathers. He watched her. She ate the peanut bark I’d spread in a knot on the sweetgum’s trunk. He flew to a lower branch to be closer to her. She continued eating while he landed on the ground and ate what had fallen from her beak, which I found at once sweet and miserable.

I value what I perceive. I value what I have learned. I value what I have overcome. I value my strength.

Squirrels mated in a branch above the flickers. European starlings mobbed the peanut bark. From the ground, the flickers watched the intruders squabble for a few minutes before flying into the silver maple. Fifteen Canada geese flew by. A blue jay sounded the alarm call. Others joined in. I couldn’t see the threat, but most of the birds in the yard cleared out. The jays quieted down, though they continued to patrol the yard. Seven more geese flew by.

Locations — in my backyard, at Lake Olathe, at Sprint Wetlands, at Leawood City Park, and driving to and from these locations.


1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Lake Olathe
3. Seen at Sprint Wetlands
4. Seen at Leawood City Park
5. Seen at Meadowbrook Park
6. Seen while driving

Twitter: Light-Catchers

A staircase of shelf fungus scales the side of a hawthorn tree.

All around me, the ground undulates. Robins shovel leaves in search of food. “Do what you want to do” floats into my mind as clear as birdsong.

A Carolina wren sings a medley that includes the song my wren at home sings. B-flat followed by G-flat, repeated five times.

A female hooded merganser sleeps on a sheet of ice, her mate nowhere in sight. Upstream, a great blue heron squats low in the water, drenching its chest.

I like talking with the old men who don’t seem to have anyone.

Hawthorn tree: Your fungus is soft, your spikes hard. This is life.

At home, I get out my piccolo and play along with the birds.

A child screams like a hawk — or maybe a hawk screams like a child.

Frozen water droplets hang from the branches like thousands of crystal balls. Light-catchers, these drops tell our future.

Trees shred the wind. My dog sleeps.

I feel like the dark-eyed junco in my yard who has the excreta of another bird stuck to its tail.

Language is in my fingers these days, not my mouth.

I am ill and screaming like a starling.

Even the noisy house sparrow calls me back to the present.

My thoughts yellow like old paper.

Winter: Snow remains in the shadow my house casts.

Life: looking down to see the remains of a dead bird at your feet.

Bare tree limbs speak to each other in Morse code.

Starlings pull up the garland of the sky and hang it on trees. — Jeff Schwaner

Life is better since I started pointing my camera away from me. By camera, I mean mind.

Bird Roll Call: January 24, 2018

  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin2
  • Black-capped chickadee2
  • Blue jay1
  • Brown creeper2
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Carolina wren2
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Cooper’s / sharp-shinned hawk (one perched and one soaring)2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-headed woodpecker*2
  • Red-tailed hawk (overhead)2
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

There were no birds in my yard when I woke, which was a little later than usual. I decided to sit at the window anyway. I thought I could spend some time meditating at the very least. Moments after I sat down, more than one hundred Canada geese flew by overhead. Their motion and sound brought the sky to life. I felt my spirits lift. Slowly, birds arrived in the yard, but not in the numbers I usually see. I don’t know if hawks were keeping them away or if the warmer weather makes things like my birdbath and feeders less appealing. Notably, I didn’t see any black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, or northern flickers today. I didn’t even hear a wren, which is unusual. Perhaps I simply woke too late to hear the birds sing.

Mid-morning I decided to see if a friend wanted to accompany me to Leawood City Park, where I hoped there would be more activity than there was in my yard. Things were relatively slow there, too. There was no sign of the hairy woodpeckers, ring-billed ducks, or wood ducks. My friend did, however, make an excellent discovery: a red-headed woodpecker on a branch at the top of a tree. This was her second time birding. What a find for a second outing! This was my first time seeing a red-headed woodpecker in real life. It is even more beautiful than any photo could suggest. Its head feathers were the color of red velvet cake and looked like they were as soft as actual velvet. Its folded wings gave its back the appearance of being half black, half white. Its rump and underparts were as white as the snow that still dotted drifts of leaves near the path. Its black, forked tail was pressed hard against the branch as it drilled holes in the wood with the precision and consideration of an artist painting Chinese characters on a handscroll.

Red-headed woodpeckers have been listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN since 2004, which means the species could be threatened with extinction in the near future. I wish that weren’t the case. That knowledge affected my experience today. I was incredibly happy to see a rare bird but extremely upset about the circumstances that have contributed to declining numbers in these birds, namely loss and degradation of its habitats.

Another interesting find was a turtle sunning on a stick protruding from the creek. I believe it was a red-eared slider. They brumate this time of year, but the warmer weather we’ve been having may have enticed this one to come to the surface.

When I got home, the birds in my yard were busy at the feeders. Still no black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, or northern flickers anywhere in sight. After the northern cardinals and mourning doves called it a night, I ambled out to the birdbath and changed out the water for tomorrow’s visitors. It’s going to be warm. I’m not sure I’ll have much company, but I’ll sit at the window and wait.

Locations — in my backyard and at Leawood City Park. A single asterisk indicates first sighting.


1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Leawood City Park