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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A life bird

Today, while retrieving groceries from the car, I heard an unfamiliar bird song--melodious, but not a wren. Given the density of foliage on the holly next to the driveway, I didn't see the singer, but on a return trip, I sighted the likely noisemaker, a smallish brownish bird scratching in the mulch under the holly. We generally have a slew of sparrows, but this wasn't one I knew: not a house sparrow (those usually hang out in droves and fight each other for feeder access); not a chipping sparrow (too big); not a white-crowned (no white crown); not a song sparrow (no breast striping).

This visitor's identifying feature was a white breast with a single dark spot, much smaller than the spot on a male house sparrow, so I knew that this was a new bird for me. I didn't get as good a look as I would have liked (and of course the bird was long gone by the time I could get the camera from the house), but a perusal of the Peterson Field Guide suggested that our ground-feeding avian was an American tree sparrow, an identification confirmed by a recording of its song on the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website. Spizella arborea is a new bird for me. If I kept a life list, I could have added to it today.

The Peterson lists the tree sparrow as "fairly common," while the IUCN lists it as a "species of least concern." Somehow, I had managed not to notice the common bird for more than fifty years.

I need to get out more.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Signs of Spring 2012

Feb. 18 feels much too early for spring to be showing its face in northern Ohio (or even waiting in the wings, to throw in yet another cliche), but the signs were definitely there today.  Not so much in the temperature, which at 40 with a breeze was quite cool enough for me, but in the life stirring in the plants and animals.

First there was the cardinal  The northward extension of the northern cardinal's range is one of the joys of existence, as far as I'm concerned. Its one-note call is the only bird sound I ever learned to mimic in my Florida childhood, and the sound always makes me happy. I heard it this afternoon, but the note was accompanied by the follow-up "look at me" call, so I looked until I found the singer: a slender, handsome male high in a young tree on a residential street in the Old Orchard neighborhood of Toledo. Anyone  walking past at the time might have found the sight of a gray-haired woman conversing with a barely-visible bird a tad odd, but I felt compelled to tell the fellow that I suspect he's a bit early. It is not quite time for a female bird's fancy to turn to thoughts of love.

Then, heading home, I saw what at first seemed a trick of the light: a reddish haze surrounding a tree's bare branches. It was a red maple, and the buds were indeed starting to open, as they were in several others in the vicinity. If the maple trees are about to flower, can spring be far off?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Birthday Musings

No, not mine--today would be Charles Darwin's 203rd birthday. Of all the scientists who have ever lived (except, perhaps, for those who work in engineering-related fields), he may have had the most impact on our daily lives, or at least on how we think. How often do we use the word "evolve"? Situations evolve; literature evolves; our thinking evolves. While the word entered the English language in the 1640's, would we use the word as often as we do without Darwin's work in the backs of our minds? (Don't get me started on HErbert Spencer and the idea of the survival of the fittest.)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin. Seeing goldfinches at the feeder today, I thought of you.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I am not normally a person who likes "betweens"; with my spouse in another state, there's too much time on the road, and deciding which place to have as our home base (not that there was ever much discussion, since the house and five cats are here) feels way too unsettled. I prefer my life all of a piece, not that I've been able to describe it that way since 1986, the last time I lived, worked, shopped, and did 90% of my socializing in a one-square-mile area and didn't need a car. (When I say one piece, I mean it. If I have to start the car to accomplish a needed task, I automatically feel unsettled.)

But today I want to praise "between." I initially woke at 5:15, and the gray half-light already present let me know that significant snow had fallen. While the tiny type-A part of my brain said, "Ooh--you're conscious! Get up and grade papers," the warm bed and purring cats led to another ninety minutes of dozing. Becoming vertical at 6:45 and throwing open the curtains revealed a world between night and day: tree trunks dark against snow, hemlock boughs barely showing through the snow that covered them, a world of grays and silvers that always makes me think of snow elves and frost giants (not that either is likely to materialize in Parkersburg, West Virginia). The snow we had wasn't enough to be fairly labeled a storm, but the depth let me know that we had more than snow showers--enough to justify a totally stay-at-home day. The time was early enough that there was no evidence of critter activity: if the deer had been out, enough snow had fallen to cover their tracks, and the morning birds had not yet begun to scratch around for spilled seed. Just snow and wind and almost-light.

But now we seem to have whatever daylight we are going to get today, and I hear birds. Time to go see who's visiting.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


This is one of my Toledo weekends--hooray for the occasional sleet-free weekend in Northwest Ohio! (I realize I should probably be worried about what is probably unnaturally warm weather, but winter and I have become less friendly in recent years.) Yesterday and today were actually nice enough for wandering around Old Orchard, the university-area neighborhood with 1930's houses that I covet. (It really isn't fair that a person can only live one life at a time, and that the little matter of the job intervenes in architectural fantasies. At least my other half is renting in the area, so I get to visit regularly.)

The wildlife amusement for the weekend has been mobs--of birds, fortunately, rather than some sort of frightening being. Yesterday, I arrived home to the sound of multiple crows cawing and looked up to see four crows harassing a smallish hawk--what kind, I couldn't tell. If four can be termed a mob, they were definitely mobbing the poor raptor, chasing it out of the neighborhood, a pocket woodland adjoining an elementary school. Since corvids definitely aren't nesting in February, I was curious about the mob behavior, which I've always associated with nest protection. After browsing, the best hypotheses I've encountered are that the crows were protecting either a food source or an area where they will be nesting. The woodland could be either.

Then this afternoon, a glance out the window showed a dozen or so house sparrows fluttering around in the shrubs under a pine tree--scavenging berries, as far as I could tell. A little later, the bird calls on a nearby street were so loud that we just had to stop and try to locate the birds--no such luck, as they were evidently in someone's back yard, and not everyone is amenable to total strangers clambering about in an attempt to locate the source of avian racket. We had to give up, but all the bird activity was cheering on a February afternoon.