Bird Roll Call: February 14, 2018

  • Accipiter sp.3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee (heard)2
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose1,2
  • Cooper’s hawk2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2,3
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Gull sp. (overhead)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal (heard at LCP)1,2
  • Northern flicker (male and female, both at home and at LCP)1,2
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-tailed hawk1
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Wood duck2

It was overcast and 36 degrees in the morning. One dozen American goldfinches were flitting all over the sweetgum trees and nyjer feeders. Four pine siskins came to one of the nyjer feeders just before 8 a.m. No eastern bluebirds today.

Just before sundown, my partner and I took our dog to Leawood City Park, where we saw several birds, including the red-headed woodpecker who flew in circles high above us while sounding an alarm call. We also saw a male northern flicker clinging to a nesting cavity in a tree. He was calling loudly and engaging in a mating dance. A female sat inside the cavity watching the display. (It’s not like she had a choice. He pretty much had her pinned in.)

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


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

Bird Roll Call: February 3, 2018

  • American crow3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee2
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Carolina wren (heard)2
  • Canada goose2
  • Cooper’s hawk1
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2,3
  • Golden-crowned kinglet2
  • Gull sp.2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker2
  • Pine siskin1
  • Purple finch2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-headed woodpecker (heard)2
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • Rock pigeon3
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-breasted nuthatch2
  • White-throated sparrow1
  • Wood duck2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

I watched birds in the morning, as usual, but was distracted by my new camera. I wanted to learn enough to be able to take it to Leawood City Park so I could photograph the red-headed woodpecker.

I made it to the park in the afternoon, camera in tow. Though I heard the woodpecker in its usual spot, I couldn’t locate it. I did see a golden-crowned kinglet. I tried to photograph it and quickly realized the difficulty of that undertaking. The position of the sun was causing problems. The bird was moving too quickly. I couldn’t get the camera pointed where I needed it to point. I came home with images of empty trees, no kinglet anywhere in sight.

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


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

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 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

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

Bird Roll Call: January 23, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

The female northern flicker flew into the yard just after 2 p.m. She sat in one sweetgum for a long time before spreading her wings and flying to the other sweetgum. A male northern flicker saw her and flew into a branch higher on the tree. I thought he might start courting her, but in a surprise turn of events, a second male landed in the tree. It looks like she has a choice to make.

For the second day in a row, a squirrel has been unsuccessful at carrying twigs to his nest. He gets to a fork in the trunk and can’t negotiate his way beyond it. I watched him drop half a dozen twigs today. He finally gave up on the twigs and attempted to carry a mouthful of dried leaves to the nest. This, too, was a failure. I watched as the leaves drifted to the ground, one after another. It was like fall again, on a very small scale. I hope the squirrel works out his technique soon. Building a nest is important, and time is of the essence.

I noticed a newly cleared hole in one of the sweetgums. It’s a slightly jagged round opening with a dusting of fresh wood tailings snagged on the bark beneath it. I suspect a red-bellied woodpecker bored out the hole based on its size and resemblance to the ones I saw the same woodpeckers drilling at Leawood City Park last week.

Location — in my backyard.

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

Bird Roll Call: January 10, 2018

  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee1,2
  • Brown creeper2
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Carolina wren1,2
  • Cooper’s hawk2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird (flying away)2
  • European starling1,2
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1,2
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker1,2
  • Northern mockingbird2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Ring-billed gull (overhead)2
  • Song sparrow2
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2
  • White-breasted nuthatch1
  • Wood duck2

I came downstairs this morning to the alarm calls of three blue jays. Whatever they saw or heard scared them enough that they took cover rather than continuing to signal the threat’s whereabouts. The birds sat motionless for a long time, two in my neighbor’s crabapple tree and one in an adjacent shrub. I’ve never seen anything like it. I can only imagine what they witnessed or directly experienced. My guess is one of their own was attacked or barely escaped an attack — by a hawk, of course. The northern cardinals and even the house sparrows ventured out from their hiding spots before the blue jays finally emerged.

Things quickly took a turn for the better when waves of American goldfinches arrived over the course of the next hour. They came in sets of twelve, by my count, though it’s not easy to count goldfinches, so that’s more of a rough estimate than a formal assessment. The yard was jovial. I had my own Cirque du Soleil troop in the sweetgums, aerialists clinging to the trees’ seeds and darting back and forth to the birdbath and nyjer feeders. The male goldfinches wore circles of light-orange rouge on their cheeks and still had hints of bright yellow on their faces. The females were more understated in their olive overcoats with black detailing.

All the birds were swept up in the merriment. The downy woodpeckers flitted from tree to tree. The northern flicker shared a branch with a red-bellied woodpecker for a few moments before growing fussy. The house finches made their usual ruckus as they flew from the far feeder at the back of the property to the finch feeders closer to my house. The Carolina wren came out and investigated the cavity in the tree that the squirrels moved into this week. I heard a “chu, chu, chu” as a squirrel protested the intrusion. Unfazed, the wren flew to the ground and started in on a three-note song. The notes that comprised this song were an ascending E, F-sharp, and G. The rhythm was triplets, which were repeated anywhere from one to four times before the wren paused and then went at it again. After a bit, he flew to the front yard. Moments later, the song started up on that side of the property. I read that wrens sing relentlessly to defend their territories. This land is his, not anyone else’s — not even mine. His song makes it so.

I saw the male northern flicker foraging on the ground for the first time today. That’s how I always saw them feeding when we lived in the Pacific Northwest, but here the flicker has mostly stuck to the trees and a gnarly wooden utility pole at the back of the property. (That pole is nearly worn all the way through from decades of woodpecker activity.) When a constellation of starlings flew over, the flicker tilted his head so one eye faced the sky. Realizing the birds didn’t pose a threat, he went back to foraging as the red-bellied woodpecker trilled from the pole.

During the mid-morning lull, a white-throated sparrow waded into the birdbath. He was timid at first and quickly returned to the side of the bowl. A few moments later, he went in with gusto and sent water in all directions. Bird and baths. What a combination.

The wind took on a strange quality later in the morning, lulling the plants it touched into a trance-like state. The branches of the hydrangeas began to move in stiff wingbeats, their dried blooms bobbing like evangelists at a revival meeting. The highest branches on the sweetgums twisted in the wind, as if they had entered a hula hoop contest and were hell-bent on winning.

My trip to Leawood City Park in the afternoon brought me closer to peace than I’ve been in a long time.

Locations — in my backyard and at Leawood City Park.


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

Bird Roll Call: January 6, 2018

  • American crow
  • American goldfinch
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose
  • Carolina wren
  • Common goldeneye
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Eastern bluebird
  • European starling
  • Gadwall
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mallard
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Rock pigeon
  • White-throated sparrow
  • Wood duck

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