Bird Roll Call: February 17, 2018

  • American crow3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)3
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1
  • Great horned owl (heard)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker (male and female)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female)1
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • White-throated sparrow1

Sleet covered the ground. It was dark and thirty-five degrees. In the distance, the birds were shadows moving among branches. A dozen European starlings flew to the east, blotting the sky. Blue jays followed. American goldfinches scattered like flecks of gold tossed from someone’s hand. A drenched squirrel sifted through wet sunflower seeds littering the ground. A house finch, a dark-eyed junco, and a white-throated sparrow sat in the lilac at the back of the property as if its bare branches could provide protection from the rain.

Birds funneled back slowly, starting with the juncos. Six white-throated sparrows scratched at the cold soil. A northern flicker and downy woodpecker landed in one of the sweetgum trees at the same time. A house finch sang from his perch on the sunflower seed feeder. The sky grew lighter.

Location — in my backyard, at Meadowbrook Park, and while driving.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Meadowbrook Park
3. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: February 9, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin (including a leucistic male**)
  • 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
  • White-throated sparrow

I saw a leucistic male American robin at the birdbath while I was outside with my dog. His head was fully pigmented, but his breast, belly and back were covered in white patches. I heard an American goldfinch’s call for the second time in as many days. I looked up at the sweetgum tree and saw a male goldfinch sitting on a branch, talking away. Four white-throated sparrows were present today, which is more than I’ve seen in the yard for some time.

Location — in my backyard. A double asterisk indicates first sighting in my yard.

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 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 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

Bird Roll Call: January 18, 2018

  • American crow (flying one block over)
  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Carolina wren
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Ring-billed gull
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to see that the northern flicker had learned how to stand on my feeder’s raccoon baffle and flick his long tongue into the ports to retrieve seeds. Once he grew bored of that activity and moved on, I turned my attention to the ground, where several types of birds were eating the seed the flicker had spilled. I was able to identify a first-winter white-throated sparrow mingling with the group. I am learning how to see and interpret important markings on birds that help with identification. In the case of this particular bird, these markings include slightly streaked flanks and a smudged central breast spot, as compared with the clean gray breast of the adult. (It helped that there was an adult present for comparison.)

The Carolina wren appeared for a breakfast of plain suet. I was hoping he’d sing after he ate. He didn’t disappoint. At the front of the house, he launched into a three-note tune that I haven’t yet documented. The first note was an A-flat, and the final was a G-natural. The middle note fell between the half step. He repeated the notes three or four times for the most part before pausing and then beginning a new set. When he first started singing, I thought I detected an additional element between sets — a refrain of two buzzed notes with the same pitch. As he went on, the buzzing disappeared and he stuck with the main song. I was running to the front of the house at the time in order to hear him better, so I wasn’t able to document the pitch of the buzzed notes.

All morning, the sky was streaked with European starlings flying west. By 10 a.m., the ground rippled with the shadows of Canada geese. A little later, gulls flew over in the opposite direction. I thought of clouds passing by on warm summer days, but this was not that. This was winter, through and through.

Late morning, the Cooper’s hawk flew into my neighbor’s yard in pursuit of something it saw from the sky. She missed whatever she was after and flew to a nearby tree before flying up and over my house.

I saw a red-tailed hawk fly over the house twice today, or perhaps I saw two red-tailed hawks fly over once each. As of yesterday, I know I have two in the immediate area.

Watching these birds is like flipping through an old illustrated book, one that’s yellowed with time and holds great mystery.

Location — in my backyard.

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

Essays: Midfield

I want to tell you about the birds, the ones I’ve been watching for months now, as closely as I’ve ever watched anything. There is a stillness when I watch them — their presence demands mine. But there is everything else, too. What stirs in them stirs in me, emotions that fall beyond the reach of language.

It started with desire. For years, I’d wanted to know the names of birds, to be able to identify them. To know things, we must start with learning their names. Only then can we unlearn the names and understand the thing being experienced, as well as the thing doing the experiencing — that thing we call the self.

A pair of binoculars arrived in the mail this fall, along with a set of bird identification flashcards. Both were gifts from my partner. I spliced memorizing the cards with staring out my window through the binoculars. My days were woven in this way: memorize, stare, memorize, stare. I ran my fingers over the birds’ printed forms while saying their names. Fox sparrow. House sparrow.1 Lark sparrow. White-throated sparrow. I had no idea there were so many sparrows. At first, my yard only offered up house sparrows. Eventually, a pair of white-throated sparrows arrived and dazzled me with their black-and-white helmets. Thrilled that I could identify them, I screamed their name in the style of a blue jay’s alarm call: “White-throated sparrow! White-throated sparrow!” The soundwaves my voice created hit the glass in front of me. The pane indifferently refracted the vibrations.

My world swelled after I realized there was more than one type of sparrow. How crude was my perception that I had lumped so many species into one? I widened my search from my backyard to area parks, meadows, tallgrass prairies, wetlands, and wildlife refuges waiting for the quiet to be parted by a sound akin to a flutist trilling while playing wind tones on her instrument. No note, just the airy pairing of consonants amplified by the flute’s long silver body. “Trrrrrr, trrrrrr.” The trills lasted a few seconds, long enough for a sparrow to move from the meadow to a nearby tree, or from a blade of grass to the water, or simply to move away from me. “Trrrrrr, trrrrrr.” A scramble of wings. Most of the time, I saw no more than a smear of color, like someone swiping oil paints with his thumb. Then nothing. Silence returned. It was a companion, this silence. I came to feel as if both of us were waiting for another bird to stir — to relieve my disquiet and to relieve silence of the burden of being silence.

Not every sparrow was a smear. I saw my first savannah sparrows at Heritage Park, where they foraged in patchy grass near an old brick silo. Like an accent color used sparingly, yellow patches above their eyes elevated their otherwise drab appearance. I first saw Harris’s sparrows at the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve. They scurried into a group of shrubs as my partner and I drove past. They seemed to pose as I trained my binoculars on them. One had the darkest face and crown of any Harris’s sparrow I’ve seen so far, features that would ensure a high rank among his quarrel. The wheat-colored spots on either side of his head made him look like he was wearing earmuffs.

I saw white-crowned sparrows for the first time at the preserve where I saw the Harris’s sparrows. They were part of a flutter mobbing the feeder outside the educational center. My first fox sparrow surprised me at Longview Lake. I hadn’t heard its trill as it left the meadow, but suddenly it poked its head out of an evergreen just above me. “This is the red sparrow,” I thought. “Red, red, red. Red like the fox.” That was the same day we saw a rangy coyote on the side of the highway. How slow the animal seemed, how sapless, a stark contrast to the birds in the meadow.

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Preserve gave me my first song sparrows. My first chipping sparrows hugged the water at the KCP&L Wetlands, a visit that was also notable because of the racist and anti-Semitic graffiti someone had carved into the bird blind at the wetland’s entrance.

Baker Wetlands offered up the shy Le Conte’s sparrow, whom I happened upon as I was taking a photo of the switchgrass next to a mowed path. He balanced between two blades, one foot on each, exposing his blond breast and white belly. He sang, but I don’t remember his song. I was overcome by his beauty: his soft gold face and striped crown, the patchwork of browns on his back that reminded me of the mottling on a hawk, his cocked tail. I was also overcome with how blithe he seemed, surfing in the grass, body shifting and shifting again in the air. “Alive,” I thought. “This bird is alive, through and through.” I had been reading about the Le Conte’s sparrow the day before visiting Baker, though I didn’t make the connection until later. What I read described them as being difficult to see because of their secretive nature. The phrase “secretive nature” made it sound like the Le Conte’s was a gumshoe, a spy, or worse — nothing like the glib creature I had encountered.

Lake Perry is not where I had my first or even second American tree sparrow sighting, but it is here where I had my most meaningful experience with them. I found them where the edge of the lake fed a small inlet. There, surrounded by trees, the tree sparrows (and a few song sparrows) pulsed and trundled at the water’s edge like sprites. They were bathing, and I was watching without their knowledge. I’d crept across a rough-shorn field and made my way through unkempt trees to bear witness to this ritual. All along the section of the shore, as well as in the inlet, sparrows bobbled, sending a volley of water droplets in every direction. I’d never seen anything more joyful, and that joy found its way into my body. “This little world,” I thought. “What have I been missing?” I felt like I’d been born the wrong size. The human-sized world was not nearly as enchanting as this Lilliputian one.

Not unlike the Le Conte’s sparrow, I am becoming more secretive as I watch birds. I skulk about in their world, which has no need for me. I move slowly. I crouch. I crawl. I sit motionless with my legs crossed until parts of my body go numb. I stand looking out and out, seemingly at nothing. My partner makes line drawings of the landscape as he waits for me. Or he listens to podcasts. Or he goes on walks that loop back to where he will find me, still sitting or standing in the same place.

But I am not in the same place. The stillness, the watching — and what I am watching — is changing me in ways that words can’t properly express. Basho’s come close:

               Midfield,
               attached to nothing,
               the skylark singing.

Perhaps that’s it, or at least part of it. The birds are attached to nothing. I am attached to nothing. There we are, held together by the field, singing with life.


Notes
  1. I just learned that house sparrows aren’t actually sparrows. They are weaver finches.