Entries in birds (8)


Malheur is for the Birds

Even Grosbeak; Photo by Peter SchoenbergerI love the word malheur, the way my neighbor in France sighs over the weather or a chicken that is ill: Quel Malheur. It’s impossible to translate the woe of the world, the adversity of life woven into those two words. Quel Malheur. But the Malheur in the news these days is the 187,000 acre Refuge in Eastern Oregon where a group of armed men are staked out, and not planning to leave.

In three days, I will slide into my Subaru wagon, loaded with skis and snowshoes, and head west, for Oregon. I’ve chosen a northerly route, through North Dakota and Montana, two states I have never visited. I’ll stop along the way, in search of northerly birds, hoping for such treats as a Great Gray Owl, but also less glamorous but still wondrous species for this Eastern girl, like Gray-crowned Rosy finch, or Evening Grosbeaks.

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A Small Difference

Ucross, Wyoming, population 25, is situated just east of the Bighorn Mountains, on the western edge of the Powder River Basin. It’s 20,000 acres of high desert sagebrush, rubbing up against wetlands, grasslands, and riparian habitat where the Clear and Piney Creeks run. It’s ranchland, dotted with cows and emptiness, studded with boulders tossed from space; there are pockets of petrified wood and lots of cool birds. And the news this fall is that all of this land is now designated an IBA— Important Bird Area—a designation made after careful review by the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy. 20,000 acres of protected land where birds can breed or migrate through unmolested, is not much in the grand scheme of this planet. But for a few key species—the Greater Sage Grouse and the Long-billed Curlew —these 20,000 acres is a big difference, perhaps the difference of survival.


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Dead Bird

The river was windy last night. Both current and wind were against me as I shoved south in my kayak on the Hudson River. To the side, I saw a lump in the water. I assumed it was a fish, and was hesitant to pull near—marinating fish is not a smell I enjoy. But the shape was not entirely fish-like, so curiosity won out. What I found floating in the water was a gull, its bill hooked through the slit-like nares, by a fishing lure, and the web of its feet hooked by the other end of the lure. It was clear what had happened: the bird had come down to the shiny object expecting a fish meal, was caught through its bill and, in trying to liberate itself with is feet, entangled itself further. The lure hooked the bird to itself, bill and feet joined to shape the bird into a circle.  It then plunged into the water and drowned. Not too long ago. The body was soft in my hands, and the feathers intact.

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A Birdy Day

Snow Geese in flightThrough the winter on the east coast, I’m happy when I see and hear a few birds in the day. There are house finches at my feeder, the goldfinch, and a black-capped chickadee or two.  And, of course, the reliable woodpeckers, the sapsucker letting out its little mew sound, the pileated cackling in the woods. But these birds are like finding little diamonds in a vast landscape.

So when, on Sunday, my friend Bruce Robertson and I went out to see what ducks were coming through the valley, I was stunned by the masses of birds. Hundreds of Canada Geese congregated on the fields at Greig Farm and a flock of over 100 Snow Geese with their black tipped wings skittishly took off, circled and landed. In every direction I looked there were birds coming in or taking off. A puddle of ducks—the puddle just freshly melted ice from this interminable winter—brought me a Pintail with its elegant neck and an American Wigeon.

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Feeding Birds

Hollywood FinchTwo American Crows arrived at my feeder yesterday morning. They looked enormous, black against the white snow, towering over the Dark-eyed Juncos that vied with them for the sunflower seeds that had splashed to the ground. The one let out a few caws and soon both flew off.

The birds at my feeder this cold winter season have been fairly consistent: House Finch, the males turning more red through the winter; Goldfinch in their little yellow tuxedos; Black-capped Chickadee, ready to perch on my head while I refill the feeder; White-breasted Nuthatch peering head-down from a neighboring tree; Tufted Titmouse, their wide eyes in a constant stat of alarm; White-throated Sparrows showing off their striped helmets; from time to time a splash of red that is the Cardinal; and a few Mourning Doves, like loaves of bread on a limb, waiting their turn to forage on the ground.  I spend a lot of time with my binoculars watching them come and go. They become, in my mind, my birds. We agree the feeder should be full when the sun comes up. We agree the cat should watch from the safety of the window. We agree they are beautiful.

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