Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Neighbors

                        After six years on our little place, I have begun to note familiar creatures of the feathery kind that feed or nest around here and raise their young the same place I like to raise mine.  Each year I get to know them a bit better and look forward to their seasonal returns.

I have mentioned the great blue herons that reside down the creek.  Right next to the house, a great horned owl perches night and morning, comforting us with his or her gentle hooting.  However, one night these comforting hoots changed to terrified screams when a resident cottontail braved the night only to find itself owl fast food. 

I heard the terrible squealing outside the bedroom window but explained it, thinking the wind had blown from that direction and made the kill seem closer than it was.  The next morning, I put the dog out and noticed the remnant of our hoot owl’s midnight feast lying on the ground under my window.  I definitely prefer a soft hooting coming from the tree outside my bedroom.

Last summer we had a new neighbor in the form of a mocking bird pair.  They returned to set up housekeeping and a nursery again this year.  Just as I did last summer, I find him sitting in the tallest tree he can find and singing his heart out or mimicking other birds around the yard.  Our oldest daughter wishes the tallest tree were not right next to her bedroom because this fellow believes in starting his day early. 

Not only did the mockingbird pair return, but we also have a pair of mourning doves who returned the same tree they nested in last year.  For some reason we have had a number of dove nesting around our pasture, but this pair like to get up close and comfortable by nesting right next to where we park one of our vehicles.  Last year it was an accident to raise young there because we didn’t need that parking place until nesting was well underway, but this year they returned, despite the fact that little gray pickup pulls in and out of that parking place several times a day.

In addition, we have a cocky rooster pheasant that lives in the draw behind the house.  If we get up early enough, we catch him strutting around the backyard before the dogs get out to run him off.  The way he stretches and struts, you would think he owned the place. If I didn’t think it would make him less cautious, I would put a feed block out. 

For weeks we fed a flock of migrating gold finches along with the regular chickadees, nuthatches, house finches, sparrows, and cardinals that come to our outdoor birdfeeders. 

Eventually the gold finches moved on only to be replaced magically one morning by that raunchy horde of blue jays I wrote about last spring.  If they didn’t entertain us so much with their feisty squabbles and sassy attitudes, I would ceased feeding for a while.  One morning I went to the window to find thirteen of the noisy scolds fighting to get onto the feeder all at one time. 

As I stood drinking my tea and watching, I noticed one of our little squirrels who  frequents the seed-filled diner several times a day.  He could not decide what to do with that ruckus going on.  He would edge down the tree a little further until they started another uproar over who got which seed.  Then he would dash back to a higher branch, adding his own chirring scolds to their raspy voices.  Finally, greed overcame caution, and he rushed the feeder.  Surprisingly, the jays flew off and let him have it. 

Several thrashers returned, and our ever-present cardinal pair drop in now and then to serenade us.  I heard a little wren singing the other day.  I hope she will nest in the same spot she did last year.  A pair of towhees returned again to the yard to gobble goodies they find under the cedar trees.  I don’t know that they stick around to nest.  I will pay closer attention this year.  I know they visited last year, but I don’t recall seeing them through the summer.

At the moment, we have an invasion of white crowned sparrows jointly vacuuming the yard, picking and pecking at something they find tasty until a bird of prey flies overhead.  Then the whole flock rises in one sweeping motion to take cover in the surrounding cedars. 

Plenty of hawks and owls live nearby, giving the smaller birds something to think about.  This year a big red tail has taken up roosting in an easy-to-see towering, dead cottonwood not far from the house.  As I relax on the back porch, I spy it perched where it can see everything going on for miles around.  I guess we have lived here long enough we don’t worry him.

Some afternoons as I cruise up the drive after coming home from school, I spot a little sharp-shinned hawk.  I haven’t seen it very close, so it was a mystery until a week or so ago.  The regulars had gathered at the bird feeder to fill up when this little sharp shin dashed in from the west where it usually roosts, attempted to grab a feeding finch or chickadee, and then dashed off.  I guess the other birds must have heard it coming because it left empty handed.

Some folks seek the country for peace and quiet.  However, I find joy watching and listening to the boisterous group of birds that also consider this little acreage home. 

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