Bird Roll Call: February 5, 2018

  • American crow (overhead)
  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Carolina wren
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Eastern bluebird
  • European starling
  • Gull sp. (overhead)
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to rabbit tracks crisscrossing the yard, along with areas where the snow had been nosed away so the rabbit could graze on the grass beneath it.

The male and female bluebirds returned. Our birdbath must be one of the only sources of water in the area. I saw them three times throughout the day. Each time, I clapped with joy.

At least one dozen mourning doves took off suddenly and flew over the house. The Cooper’s hawk was perched high in my neighbor’s silver maple. When a Cooper’s hawk arrives, the term birdwatching becomes literal: You are suddenly watching just one bird, the one who has scared off all the others.

After about an hour, the littles started making their way back. They didn’t realize the hawk was still standing sentinel in the tree. Dark-eyed juncos, house finches, northern cardinals, and white-throated sparrows hopped along the fence railing and kicked at the ground. Both chickadees visited the feeders. I was happy to see that they made it through the frigid night. (I saw the Carolina wren later as well, another species that’s especially fragile in extremely cold weather.) One of the chickadees saw the hawk and mounted an attack. It was mob behavior without the mob. Though there wasn’t another bird in sight fighting off the hawk, the chickadee wasn’t deterred.

Birds shot through the sky, veering off course as soon as they saw the hawk. Blue jays arrived and sounded their alarms in unison. The hawk flew off to the east.

A blue jay landed in the sweetgum and found the red-bellied woodpecker’s stash of food in the jagged remains of a branch. I knew that spot wouldn’t remain concealed for long. I suppose the jay earned a reward for protecting the other birds and getting the hawk to move on.

I started taking pictures of the birds. Alarm calls rose and fell throughout the morning and into the afternoon, leaving the yard bereft of birds for swaths of time. But overall, the yard was bustling. By the end of the day, twenty-one species had either come for a visit or flown by overhead. It was a good day.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 20, 2018

  • American crow1,2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin1
  • Bald eagle (overhead)2
  • Black-capped chickadee1,2
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Brown creeper2
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird (male and female)2
  • European starling1,2
  • Fox sparrow2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard (overhead)3
  • Mourning dove1,2,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker (male and female in yard)1,2
  • Purple finch (male and female)*2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-shouldered hawk2
  • Red-tailed hawk3
  • Rock pigeon3
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-breasted nuthatch1,2
  • White-throated sparrow (including first-winter birds)1,2

A female northern flicker visited this morning. A male was close on her heels and took great interest in her. He began bobbing his head to the left and the right, which I later learned was his mating dance. Rather than engaging him, the female flew away.

Squirrels stole peanuts from the wreath feeder. Two American robins chased each other through the trees. Mourning doves preened in my neighbor’s silver maple. A female northern cardinal sat in a bare rose of Sharon whose branches matched her coloration perfectly.

At the Overland Park Arboretum, my partner found a bird blind. We sat in it for a long time as songbirds flooded the feeders. Purple finches, tufted titmouses, northern cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees and more devoured black-oil sunflower seeds. Fox sparrows kicked at the earth beneath shrubs. White-throated sparrows and even more juncos fed off the ground. The sound of wings in flight echoed inside the blind. It was almost like a purr, and it had that same cozy feeling.

Locations — in my backyard, at the Overland Park Arboretum, and while driving to and from these locations. A single asterisk indicates first sighting.


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

Bird Roll Call: January 19, 2018

  • American crow1,2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee2,3
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose (overhead)2
  • Carolina wren2
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Cooper’s / sharp-shinned hawk4
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2,3
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2
  • Golden-crowned kinglet*2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Hairy woodpecker (two, both male)*2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1,2
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2,3
  • Northern flicker1,3
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2,3
  • Red-tailed hawk2
  • Ring-billed gull (overhead)1,3
  • Ring-necked duck2
  • Swainson’s thrush*2
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-breasted nuthatch2,3
  • White-throated sparrow (including first-winter birds)2,3
  • Wood duck2
  • Yellow-rumpted warbler2

After watching the birds at my house in the morning, I drove to Leawood City Park. I wanted to take advantage of the warmer weather by staying out for the better part of the day.

I crossed over the first bridge at the park and headed toward a viewing area overlooking the creek. I saw a great blue heron surrounded by several species of ducks. The heron looked like a chess piece. The ducks looked like fancy marbles. I looked up and saw a red-bellied woodpecker hollowing out a nest cavity in a nearby tree, his rump and tail protruding from the trunk. A few feet down the path and to my right, I saw my first-ever golden-crowned kinglet. At first, I assumed it was a black-capped chickadee, but it was smaller and the markings were all wrong. I was delighted when the bird lowered its head and revealed its gleaming crest. “Hello,” I said, because I talk to birds now.

I continued down the path to the bridge that crosses the stream. This is a popular bathing spot for birds. Unfortunately, frigid temperatures over the past week had left the creek’s shallow edges frozen down this way. The water was flowing in the middle, but the birds aren’t able to bathe there because the water is too deep. I saw a couple of robins in this area, what I believe was another golden-crowned kinglet, and a handful of house finches.

On my way back, I heard two large animals. I thought they were dogs. When I turned, I saw two white-tailed deer coming toward me then veering to the right. They disappeared into the trees as quickly as they appeared, like someone had opened a life-sized pop-up book, then suddenly snapped it closed. Once they were gone, it didn’t seem like they’d ever been there. A blue jay began sounding its alarm call in the area where I’d seen the ducks. When I went to find out what was going on, I saw that the jay was taking a bath near a tangle of roots from a tree that had fallen into the creek. Perhaps this was the equivalent of humans singing in the shower, only louder and steeped in greater discontent. Two mallards, a male and a female, crunched through leaves as they made their way up the creek’s steep bank. A second female started to follow but quickly returned to the water. The climb seemed to be too arduous for her.

I walked off the main path and onto a dirt trail. Along the way, several Carolina wrens entertained me with their chatter and animated body language. I saw one with spots on its back, a marking I haven’t seen before. My presence flushed a red-tailed hawk from its resting spot. It flew over the creek and into a tree, where it watched a group of dawdling mallards and hooded mergansers. I worried about a male hooded merganser who seemed especially vulnerable to a potential attack. I looked back up at the hawk. It was gone. Deer tracks spilled over the cut bank and picked up again near the water’s edge. Bare branches scratched against one another in a kind of Morse code meant only for the trees. Thin roots snaked across the ground. A thought scratched inside my mind: “Can I like things just as they are?” I kept walking. On the water, the reflection of a plastic bag snagged on a branch bore a striking resemblance to the great blue heron I had just seen.

I crossed back over the first bridge and headed to the right. I saw Carolina wrens, black-capped chickadees, and white-throated sparrows. A cherubic red squirrel dozed on a teeny-tiny branch. I found several wood ducks perching in one of their favorite spots. A male downy woodpecker flitted to my left. To my right, high in a tree, I saw two male hairy woodpeckers. I watched them for a long time to make sure I was identifying them correctly. This was my first hairy woodpecker sighting. On the ground, I saw the remains of an American robin — tufts of downy orange-tipped breast feathers strewn about and a headless body with a gray tail and wings. The bird had just been killed, perhaps by the red-tailed hawk I’d seen. I had walked right into the carnage without realizing it.

Locations — in my backyard, at Leawood City Park, at Roe Park, and while driving to and from these locations. A single asterisk indicates first sighting.


1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Leawood City Park
3. Seen at Roe Park
4. Seen while driving

Twitter: Midfield

Midfield, / attached to nothing, / the skylark singing. — Basho

First snow, first junco tracks.

A spot of clean ground. This is where the rabbit laid while snow fell.

Sapphire sky beneath a sheet of vellum.

The winter sky has netted a colony of ring-billed gulls.

The chill carried a pine siskin to my yard.

Christmas morning. The Carolina wren sings.

At the top of the sweetgum tree, a tail flicks.

Winter: The dogwood blooms with finches.

House finch: Your crown is dried blood.

Northern flicker: You carry the sun under your wings.

All day I saw the Carolina wren. Still, I felt such loneliness.

We’ve been apart for so long that I can finally think of you fondly.

A little boy rides his new toy up and down the street.

One of the juncos drags its long toenails through the snow.

There and then not there: the chickadee.

The blue jays have me surrounded.

Now the blue jays are gone. They’re off mobbing a hawk.

No shadow like a hawk’s shadow.

When I’m with birds, it doesn’t matter that I’m not with people.

The songbirds exit stage right. The Cooper’s hawk enters stage left.

Winter: A great blue heron slips on a frozen marsh.

Today, a man touched me on the arm. I did not know him.

Twitter: A Desolating Experience

I wish birds could read. Then I’d have my preferred audience.

T. H. White wrote about nature because he didn’t fit in with people. Same.

Falling in love is a desolating experience, but not when it is with a countryside. — T. H. White

Humans are the only species to which I have fallen prey.

In this world / we walk on the roof of hell, / gazing at flowers. — Issa

Strong wind. Crackling house. A conversation.

Thorns and seeds in glass jars. A tackle box packed with toys. Two journals: one practical, one desperate. These will remain when I’m gone.

I just learned that blue jays are the architects of America’s oak forests. Amazing.

The wind tonight is straight out of The Turin Horse.

Every leaf a bird. Every bough a bird. Bird, the wind. Bird, the air. Motion before thought is the bird inside you — scratch marks on stone.

Winter is when I cry a little every night, mostly about the suffering of animals.

Canada geese glide through the air’s church bells.

As I learn the names of birds, I am forgetting the names of people.

I know some birds by their shadows.

Some people feel like glue traps.

The closer you get to real matter, rock, air, firewood, boy, the more spiritual the world is. — Jack Kerouac

The day after Donald Trump won the election, I walked into a canyon.

I’m not sure what all the American robins were doing in my backyard this afternoon, but it appeared to be some sort of flash mob.

We got the tube feeder and heated birdbath set up just in time for winter. New visitors include cedar waxwings and black-capped chickadees.

This morning, I saw a squirrel sitting like Buddha at the base of my sweetgum tree.

When the last mourning dove disappeared, I was more alone than ever.