Birding

Cooper’s Hawk

Birding can be difficult to understand for the uninitiated. I have many times spoken excitedly with coworkers about a bird I’d seen that morning and sensed that they were feigning interest while quietly wishing I’d just hurry up and finish my story. (I do the same thing when people talk excitedly about their favorite team winning a game.) If you haven’t made the connection yourself, it is hard to see what the fuss is about.

There are two main types of birding: planned and unplanned. Unplanned is the best—it’s like getting an unexpected bonus. A third kind is a blend of the two, just noticing local bird-life as you go about your day, the no-big-deal birds because you see them all the time. This is still birding, but not the kind you write home about. So between the three, we are always either birding, or ready to be birding on short notice. Sometimes we eat and get some sleep.

I was taking a small bag of garbage out to the receptacle on the street the other morning and noticed a bird, startled by my presence, flush from the ground in the empty lot across the street. The lot there is cleared for new construction and I see doves, pigeons, and sparrows there all the time, but this bird was bigger so I stopped and focused. It was a hawk of some kind, with prey in its grip, flying straight into our property.

I went back in the gate and looked around, but could not spot it. Then a few minutes later I heard the Blue Jays start squawking and crying. This is reliable hawk-alert behavior for jays. They hate raptors and are fearless in their efforts to expel them from their territory. They will scream and dive-bomb a hawk until it gets fed up and leaves. This I have seen many times now. So I followed the noise and located the bird, halfway up an oak, perched on a thick branch and dining on its prey. I could see the striped tail and for sure had a Cooper’s Hawk up there.

On the rooftop.

This tree happens to be located next to the apartment building so I grabbed my camera and headed to the rooftop with the intention of sneaking up and getting a photo. There’s plenty of foliage between myself and the oak up there, but I did find a gap that afforded a nice view, without the hawk noticing me. The above photo is the result.

I watched for a while as the jays kept at it, the hawk ignoring them and picking away it is victim. I could not see what unlucky bird it was, but statistically most likely a White-winged Dove, the most plentiful hawk prey around here.

So there you have it: I was minding my own business, doing a mundane chore, and all of a sudden I’m birding. I know what you’re thinking and you are right: we birders are all nuts. What we do borders on the sort of compulsive behavior that some would think needs treatment. Maybe so, but as maladies go this one is pretty enjoyable.

Red-vented Bulbul

Exotic resident of the Heights, Houston, Texas, US.

I had caught glimpse of this bird several times since I moved here and was stumped on the ID. That white rump patch is distinct and not present on any other North American bird of this general size and shape. Not to mention the bright red below. Finally got a photo and tracked it down. Red-vented Bulbul is an Asian transplant, introduced and established in a number of countries around the world. In the US its range is limited to Houston, TX with highest concentrations in the neighborhood where I live now.

eBird reported sightings: that’s Houston, Texas buried under that cluster of map pins.

Having done web searches on its description and coming up with nothing, I fed the image above into Google Lens and it popped out the correct answer without so much a moment’s hesitation. Another handy bird ID tool.

African Blue Basil

The neighbors keep bees and they sure love that basil. It’s a really large bush covered in blossoms now, and bees.

Inca Dove

Lots of Incas around here.

Mannequin head scarecrow is now sporting a facer. Smart lad! I saw a Carolina Wren poking around at the rear opening to his hollow head.

Cardinal Rules

At the very break of dawn
they rouse us from our bed

Their calls addressed to everyone
awake, asleep or dead

You know us in the daylight
by our bright and piercing red

In the dark you know us
by the noise we make, instead

Dealing with thick stands of bamboo is a new birding experience for me. The property here is surrounded by them. Birds enjoy excellent protection within the maze of vertical shafts: no Sharpie is going to swoop in there, that’s for sure. No telephoto lens will penetrate either.

I hear cardinals all the time around here, but rarely see them. I was on the fourth floor, the roof of the stacks, when I caught this one, and still I’m aiming up its skirt as it sways on a bamboo pole some 20 feet above.

House Finch

They visit the sunflowers here every morning.

They’re awfully spooky for an urban population. I finally had to stake out the bush from the rooftop.

Crescent Pond

Mercifully cool early in the morning on July 4th.

Ever seduced by the cult of surfaces. Morning light is when they rally to recruit new members. The gallery of nobs above is a detail of a sculpture whose final appearance is still under development by the steady hand of time and weather.

Chipper

When I said I was feeling chipper
I didn’t mean cheery, like a dandy squirrel
with a cache of ripe pecans, no.

I meant like that groaning, shrieking
grinder box that sucks in green oak limbs
the size of Sam Houston’s neck and erupts
in a volcanic, yawning siren like
a Mississippi bigot shouting “frown!”
at a blind beggar, who can’t see his face.

And splinters it, bark and heart, leaf
and bud, into shattered, whip-torn
little pieces piled neat, like bones.

And the air, in the silence bound to follow
every violence, patiently cataloging and
filing all the sawdust that’s gotten up
in its face, is what I meant.

-:-

So, you’re probably wondering, “who pissed in this guy’s cheerios?” so let me explain. I wrote this, more or less, in the middle of the night a few days ago, after arriving home the previous evening to find the sprawling live oak in the alley behind the garage had suffered a kind of vivisection at the hands of the power utility. They had removed a third of its grand canopy, right down the middle, leaving it splayed in its remaining two thirds, parted now to make way for the high voltage wires. It now looks like a midshipman flagging a desperate semaphore. Mayday!

For the last two years, Cooper’s Hawks have nested in that oak, and now I can finally see the nest on the edge of the newly opened cavity. I’d seen one just that morning fly down the alley and pause in that tree, making that ca-ca-cawing call that I associate with courtship rituals for that bird. Well, I doubt they will keep a nest so exposed to the sky. The good news is that the migrant songbirds that come through here in good numbers will be easier to spot and photograph.

Anyway, that’s why I’m feeling chipper.

You can see the hawk’s nest in the upper right corner. There’s another large oak down the alley that they frequent, so perhaps they will nest there.


Common Yellowthroat

Here’s a yellowthroat I caught in the aforementioned oak a few years back. The tree has been a real bird magnet and I sure hope it remains that way.

Indian Peafowl

Where on earth do things come from?

Everything is introduced to its environment, like the Indian Peafowl was to its range in North America. They are native to the Indian continent but no one talks about where they were before that. They have been introduced to many locales around the globe, where they form semidomestic or feral colonies. Here, they ignore their domestic heritage and roam free, yet they are not wild. Two of the females walked right up to me, in the manner of domestic pets. About a dozen there that I could see, on a rural stretch of the near-west end of the island.

I’d heard about them, and I had seen several in a ditch a couple of years ago. On this day I stopped and we visited for a while. The females are described as drab but up close they look striking. Big beautiful eyes with a dress of delicate pompoms on the head, bright turquoise and green on the breast.

The males are haughty and spectacular, familiar to almost everyone on the planet. They kept their distance across the road from where I stood.

There are stories but there are no true stories, everything is based upon something. Collections of fact are called nonfiction, a term in denial about the relationship between fact and what we imagine to be absolute truth.

We are ever where we find ourselves. Relative things abide in the complete absence of non-relative conditions, established as things only in relation to other such things. The contemplation of such truths does not seem to have a payoff so they remain, mostly unexamined.

There is no absolute peahen, though there she is, if appearance is taken as true-penny.




Snowy

The snow lives, and drifts
here in the sunny South, with
gulf breezes, and egrets’
snowy whites accumulating
on fence posts, the dress
whites of warm winters.

Snowy Egret, Egretta thula

Bokeh

The lens is a monocle
a mockingbird flies right through it
and focus becomes a kind of concern
a bird’s eye does this too

Around every worldly focus
sharp like a chirp, the felt impression
of the periphery is vying, but
I am locked in your focus

And you in mine, and as for
the glassine other, it is wending
its way through the inattention
like noises from the kitchen