Monday, November 17, 2008


I’m just realizing that my nape of the woulds gets very birdloud this time of year as a seasonal thing rather than a constant I tune in and out of, like the highway a mile away whose traffic only gets louder at the departure of muffling foliage or the high frequency buzzing in my head which requires only my attention.

The first bird I got to know after moving here almost five years ago — this fifth winter garden is the best ever — was the white tailed dove. How cute. Don’t you believe it. Like so many twisted propaganda symbols, making the dove the symbol of peace must have been begun by hearing only its plaintiff cooing and never observing its bully behavior at a bird feeder. I had to take the damned thing down because they fought for perches so fiercely over it that they were smashing it against the corner of the porch three feet away.

My buddy, Priest likes ‘em. They let him continue his low bellied stalking longer and closer than any of the others. To my knowledge, all such lurkings have been to no avail. The only time he has ever caught one is when it wandered in under the eave of the porch between the rafters and the cross beam and forgot where it came from before I could shoo it back out; I’ve never been able to shout louder than his genetics reminding him his claws are meant for greater things than mere fleas. Once he has ‘em, they’re gone and I don’t interfere. In the midst of a lazy quiet afternoon I’ve been startled by seeing his body thrust five feet in the air from a hidden crouch as a bird he was stalking decided to tease him by flying directly toward him when off it flew. We sit for hours in this garden shed surveying every movement from bugs on the broccoli to birds in the bushes. He’s much more proactive than I am. He’s young.

I must assume there are many cardinals here, recognizable by me only when they fly across a sunbeam in a clearing that flashes them against the green that normally swallows red in my variety of visual spectrum. My assumption of their abundance is based on the fact that I see them at all. I bought bird seed mixed specially for cardinals but the doves would have none of it and kept away the already shy red bird.

Mockingbirds love tomatoes. The thing we have most in common is the one thing that has come between us. As music lovers we go back to my childhood when we would whistle call and answer for hours so this new enmity cut into a long relationship but I had to draw the line this summer after finding two week of just ripe tomatoes half eaten over night and settling for eating the other half myself. I started picking them about two day before the point they taught me was choice, and let them ripen in the kitchen. It probably wouldn’t have come to that if this summer had not been terrible for tomatoes generally, well, locally. I even tried dangling CDs about to frighten them away only to find one being held still by one bird while another adjusted its make up in it, those feathermockers. I left them up for the sunbeams that sweep the garden most of the day and announce sunrise all the way into the porch.

A variety of makes of waxwings and tits join the rest at the pond for drinks when Priest is not in sight. It takes a very discerning eye to spot him these days since his pure white kitten fur has taken on the dark tones as the limestone with which the fountain, stream and pond’s banks are lined. Could he be part chameleon? I can testify that staring into his eyes can make us both disappear.

A culture of green parrots is expanding along the river that was just starting a family of escaped pets forty years ago about twelve miles upstream. They build their nests around power transformers in colonies of twenty or more. About twice the size of a parakeet they are not nearly so melodious with naught but screeches within my earshot.

Like all natural communities there is the top of the food chain, which in ours would be the huge red tailed hawk that hangs near abouts. Now that Priest has learned to swagger amongst dogs the only thing he fears is that hawk. I have witnessed his fastest dash to the house from the mere passing of its gigantic shadow. I am sure that in his curiouser and curiouser roamings about this woods and riverbank he must have been dived at and most likely hit by this bird maybe capable of carrying him off. Something as instantaneous and overwhelming as instinct kicks in and he dashes for the nearest cover. Come to think on it, the chickens cross open space with the same urgency. Fellow Dawgrancher, Jason, found himself crossing the flight path of a pigeon on an unscheduled evasive maneuver causing him to be bopped by the wing of our raptor in pursuit.

I don’t consider turkey buzzards and caracaras as having a home other than the wind they surf as they glide over mine and scare Priest by proxy. One of the most benign uses to which man has put nature is mixing a sulfur odorizer resembling the smell of carrion into natural gas and propane lines so that overland leaks can be found by repair crews looking for endlessly circling vulture suspended between the smell of death and no body to clean up.

I’ve saved my favorite, the grackles. Hated by the city dweller for the layer of excrement left nightly on whatever was foolish enough to make a permanent home under a tree. Park bench, schmark bench … its just down from up there. I can see the urbanite’s viewpoint when combined with the deplorable health of the scraggly, bickering town birds panhandling for the very crap food resource they’ll later shit everywhere. Here in the country they have all their shiny black feathers with the deep purple sheen and are way less aggressive than the doves. Their sound is what gets me. They don’t imitate anything like mynahs and parrots but these feathered foley-birds’ range is all over the place from a gossip session at a ladies club when they return from the fields at the end of the day and catch up on the latest with, “Whooooos” filling the branches of a tree by the hundreds, to the crack of a shenai, the Kendo split bamboo practice sword. It is they who evoked this post with their constant chatter for the past several weeks which I now realize is as seasonal the dove hunting season that chases any intelligent bird into the woods.


Lilwave said...

Wow...I love, love, love this! Thanks for sharing.
Just this weekend, Jeremy was sitting in the back yard when out of no where a hawk grabbed a pigeon from the roof top taking him down to our back yard. He held it there until he could get a better grip then flew off leaving pigeon feathers everywhere. The hawk never concerned himself with Jeremy's presence. Jeremy could hardly tell about his experience from the stutter of excitement.

leslie said...

When I arrived in Austin the first time, the boat-tailed grackle was my first "experience".
I was sitting in the truck waiting for Mike to come out of Oat Willies, and I kept hearing someone "wolf whistle" at me.
They varied the whistle, but it was loud, and 'obviosly' meant for me.
I was about to get p.o.'ed when I saw the grackle on the wire, all puffed out every time he squawked.
A most remarkable bird!
Great post, Dood.

Yodood said...

Observing dogs, cats and chickens interact with each other and the local undomesticated fauna allows an insight into the genetic fight/flight survival instinct that survives the loss of needing to find food when curiosities make them behave like the hunt and fearsome wild things make them act like the well fed food.

Nature eats itself Civilization calls that entropy.

lilwave, seeing a predator take its prey is an exciting experience, but to my way of thinking very consistent with the theme of evolution; whereas seeing a puppy in the median between four busy lanes in both directions the other day as I walked back from the bus stop, knowing the inevitable mindless cruelty of mechanized prosthetics and their heedless dependants, being helpless to help or prevent the pup from coming toward me when he saw me and watching him be hit and crushed by multiple cars before I even reached the point fits no theme but the civilized notion that the world was created for mankind's exceptionality. A living horror story in which we are the zombies.

I used to hang out in the area around there, Grok Books and the Smoothie shop and whistle at pretty girls whenever a grackle was around in case of negative reactions. Every other of those wolf whistles you got might have been from this hairy beast.

leslie said...

So it WAS you!!!

I had forgotten about Grok books...

red dirt mule said...

ahhhhh..... one of the sweetest gifts I received when I first moved into my current (soon to not be current) abode was a book on identifying the birdlife around me.....

back in the days of leisure time, i would sit on the back porch and watch and try to identify. plus i spent much time working in my garden and observing. I love the redbirds (cardinals); the bluejays are greedy and the bullies; For two seasons in a row, i had house wrens build nests up in the crevice of my back porch roof - it was fun watching dad feed, mom chirp DANGER, and then teaching the babies to fly .... i've seen a woodpecker or two. an owl - just once. and probably many more that i never bothered to identify. birdsong is one of my favorite 'songs' of all time .... i used to play a tape of it to put my babies to sleep at night.

thank you for 'something' on the different side. and forgive my cantankerous-ness ....... i'm just being a mule. a red dirt mule!


sexy said...