Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Category: Birds (page 2 of 16)

My adventures watching, photographing, studying, and writing about birds

Good Authority

Good Authority

I always thought they’d like death metal,
but I’ve got it on good authority
vultures prefer smooth jazz.

Ambulance rides can be rough;
vultures know this and relax.
Watching the highway, they know
everyone gets his turn.

Turkey vultures can smell a corpse
from hundreds of feet up. Outflying
Cessnas they arrive first on the scene.

Black vultures follow, pushing
the solitary turkeys to the rotting edges.

The black vultures brag that by traveling
together they’ve learned to attack and kill
small animals: calves and possums.

Straightening their ties, they discuss
elaborate plans to go public. Someday,
they claim, they will become hawks or eagles.

The turkey vulture listens to this talk,
wondering if he too will evolve.

This is a rerun of sorts. It was published 2 years ago over at Bolts of Silk (thanks, Juliet!) and I thought I’d bring it over here in its slightly modified form. I’m in the process of putting together all my Birds Nobody Loves poems into a short collection, making a few minor changes here and there. I’ll write more about it as I get closer to releasing these birds…

Say Grackle

Purple iridescence,
and a hard-edged thrill to say.

How can a person not love
any chance to speak that word:

grackle?

I’ll never understand
why everyone hates grackles.

(But then I don’t have
thousands living in my trees.)

Out the window as I type,
a fledgling takes food:

an adult showing
the young bird how to live.

I’ll lose a whole day watching,
wondering where they’ll go.

Maybe I’m not the only person who loves grackles.

Easter Morning

this backyard wildlife…
a congregation awake
discovering spring

a new mourning dove
on the fence by the feeder
studies the others

young squirrels—
so much thinner
than the adults

a new family
house sparrows chirping
the busy backyard

six house finches
learning the hummingbird feeder
sun-sparks in water

fledgling goldfinches
flap inexperienced wings
on Easter morning

This weekend, we were treated to families of lesser goldfinches, house finches, house sparrows, mourning doves and fox squirrels coming around the backyard so the adults could show their young where to find the food. The juveniles were clearly just out of their respective nests as they were following the adults around flapping their wings and chirping to be fed. It’s never long before the babies figure out how to find food on their own at which point they will be indistinguishable from the adults.

I’ve seen this in the backyard with black-crested titmice, common grackles, mockingbirds, cardinals, Carolina chickadees, and Bewick’s wrens, and it’s one of the joys of feeding birds (and squirrels) but I’ve never seen so many at once.  It was, quite simply, stunning and humbling. Songbirds don’t live long and most don’t even make it through their first year, but I like to think that at least some of these birds will be out there for a while, maybe waiting for me to count them one day down along the pond trail.

Publication announcement: My haibun “The Grackle Tree” from my Birds Nobody Loves series is in the latest issue of the ‘zine Nothing. No One. Nowhere. Thanks to the editors for publishing it along with so many other wonderful poets. It’s an honor to be included.

CSI: Sky

The hawk is an acrobat and an impostor—
he flies with vultures and when he banks
his lighter plumage blazes in the sun,
betraying him to anyone down below with
eyes to see and secrets to conceal. The butcher
hides in plain sight among the forensics birds;
it’s a good procedural crime drama. I search
the woods for evidence, but these guys
are too good, too thorough, and I wonder
how I stumbled into this perfect scheme.

Like an Asteroid Toward the Earth

Dusk ripples
across the pond.

A great blue heron
stalks sunlight
along the reeds.

He snags a fish,
turtle-sized,
from the water.

He flips and swallows
the fish, which falls
down his gullet
like a rabbit
through a snake.

His neck straightens;
the fish is gone.
He shadows dark
along the shore.

Don’t you wonder
if that fish
ever believed
in herons?

This post in included in I and the Bird # 149 over at Twin Cities Naturalist. Sadly, this looks to be the last edition of I and the Bird. I’ve been participating off-and-on for 5 years and even hosted it once. Sad to see it go…

Gull Impostor

Stretch your arms, rock to and fro
on the abandoned tracks, imagine

you’re a great ocean bird. Swoop,
dive, fly up to dizzying heights, peer

down to a rippled carpet, the ocean,
far below. Lean into your dive, feel

gravity’s pull, the insistence of textbook laws,
the water miles away. Accelerating,

you race until at the last moment,
wings straining with the effort, you pull

up. Soar away from collision, use
momentum to regain the sky. Eager

you test yourself against another drop.
Open your eyes. Disoriented, you’re standing

on the broken tracks, arms outstretched.
A flock of gulls about their business stays

a safe distance away. They have no idea
you flew with them. They watch

you with aviator’s eyes, making sure
you never attempt to get too close.

Walking home, you wonder if the sky is
farther away than ever, if you’ll ever belong.

An Unusual Suspect

Yellow-rumped warbler

A month ago, I wrote that all of the usual suspects had made appearances in my 2010-2011 Project FeederWatch counts except the northern cardinal. Within days of that post, the cardinals seem to have remembered the fine seed in my yard and started coming back, thus all of the usual winter visitors have now made at least one appearance in my yard this season.

About two weeks ago, I started catching glimpses of something that wasn’t one of the regulars. I would see out-of-focus of underwing stripes on a bird among the chipping sparrows or a quick flash of yellow (and not enough for a lesser goldfinch) in a tree. I couldn’t make a positive ID, but I saw enough for me to think yellow-rumped warbler. I kept looking and getting short flashes that reinforced my hunch. Then one day, I guess he just decided not to hide and for the past two weeks this warbler has joined the backyard crew.

It’s not really surprising that there should be a yellow-rumped warbler visiting the yard. They’re quite common around the pond down the street this time of year, but I’ve never seen one in my yard until two weeks ago. Now, I get to watch him more closely and regularly than I do when they’re high in the trees around the pond. It’ll be interesting to see, too, when he leaves. One of the things I love about doing Project FeederWatch is the way it tunes me into migration by making it quite clear when different species come and go. For instance, according to my records, I’m unlikely to see much of the ruby-crowned kinglet after this week, and I’m very curious to see if he follows the same schedule he has the past few years.

Here’s what I’ve recorded so far this season. The numbers in parentheses are the highest numbers of the species seen at one time:

  1. White-winged dove (24)
  2. Mourning dove (1)
  3. Blue jay (3)
  4. Carolina chickadee (2)
  5. Black-crested titmouse (3)
  6. Carolina wren (2)
  7. Bewick’s wren (1)
  8. Ruby-crowned kinglet (2)
  9. Northern mockingbird (1)
  10. Orange-crowned warbler (1)
  11. Yellow-rumped warbler (1)
  12. Chipping sparrow (23)
  13. Northern cardinal (3)
  14. House finch (2)
  15. Lesser goldfinch (3)
  16. American goldfinch (2)
  17. House sparrow (12)

Grackle Ghazal

I stroll the streets and dodge mangy grackles,
fluttering birds in trees, those angry grackles.

Black feet and dark beaks snap at my sandwich—
I’m surrounded by the grabby grackles!

I sit a bench and study pawns and queens
‘til “checkmate’s” called by the cagey grackles.

At dinner parties, I near drop my drink
shocked by the sins of the feisty grackles.

I hang for hours on back porches, strumming
old guitars, swapping lies with folksy grackles.

At night, I roost in city trees and sing
croaking wild songs, toasting jolly grackles.

This is in response to Big Tent’s prompt about alliteration. There’s some in there, but the process led to a ghazal and some grackles.

Go to the Big Tent to see what others came up with.

For those who may not know, grackles are, like blackbirds, members of the icterid family. Here in central Texas, we see two species: the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) and the great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus).

This post was included in I and the Bird #142 hosted at Birds O’ The Morning.

The Usual Suspects

Lesser goldfinch

Most all of the usual suspects have checked in for this year’s Project FeederWatch. The orange-crowned warbler and ruby-crowned kinglet came back to the suet feeders last weekend, and the goldfinches finally returned as well.

The lesser goldfinches are year-round residents, but they typically leave the feeders in October and return late in November or early December. This year it was late December before one came around. Especially exciting, though, was the fact that a few American goldfinches also came by. I saw them regularly during the 2008-2009 Feederwatch season, but last year I only saw one, and he came very late in the season. Hopefully, the ones I saw will tell their friends, and I’ll see them fairly regularly over the next few months.

The only species I haven’t seen yet are Bewick’s wren and northern cardinal. The Bewick’s wren is around. I see them several times a week, but I have yet to see one on Saturday or Sunday, which are my official count days. Perhaps they like to take the weekends off. I know I do. As for the cardinals, I’m not surprised that I haven’t seen any since summer. Some winters they’re around the feeders, and some winters they aren’t. If I don’t see any, I’m sure they’ll show up come spring. Down here, that means next month.

Here’s what I’ve counted. The numbers in parentheses are the highest single count for that species:

  1. White-winged Dove (24)
  2. Mourning Dove (1)
  3. Blue Jay (3)
  4. Carolina Chickadee (1)
  5. Black-crested Titmouse (3)
  6. Carolina Wren (2)
  7. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  8. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  9. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  10. Chipping Sparrow (23)
  11. House Finch (1)
  12. Lesser Goldfinch (1)
  13. American Goldfinch (2)
  14. House Sparrow (12)

I don’t think it’s too late to get involved with Project FeederWatch, which is good because citizen science projects rock.

Resolving to Walk into Writing

Black vultures on the neighbor's roof

I want to get back to my practice of taking (at least) weekly walks down the neighborhood trail. I have missed that quiet, open time that had been such a part of ’09 and then dropped almost as soon as ’10 was in the door. I suppose that without the commitment to count birds once a week, it was too easy to find other things to do. Too easy to be too busy.

Lately I’ve been realizing what an effect this not-walking the pond trail had on me: I felt more rushed and hurried and short of time last year. Too often empty when I sat to write poetry and telling myself that I was perhaps just too busy. When I walk and watch birds, investigate trees and follow butterflies, everything else slips away. There is a sort of purposeful emptying that occurs and yet, I also feel full when I get home. Not full in the sense of having overindulged, but full in the sense of fulfillment.

I’ve come to realize that these walks along the trails, the regular path to the pond and back, the place I always veer from the path to look for certain snakes in the summertime or certain birds or a deer bone that moves from time to time across a meadow… all of this adds to a sort of ritual (dare I say prayer or communion) that I have missed this past year.

And so, having learned my lesson the hard way (is there any other?), I suspect I’ll be taking those (at-least) weekly rambles again. I started on New Year’s Day, as if to make a statement to myself and also to collect a few stones, and it was a great half-hour. So simple, a half-hour-a-week, but those half-hours accumulate like compounding interest into so much more than just thirty short minutes.

Regarding my writing, I’ve felt uninspired lately. That’s not to say I’m not writing. I am. I’m just not happy with what I’m coming up with. It feels like wheels spinning, forward motion only a dream or perhaps an illusion. I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. It seems an excuse. I mean, I can write. I do. It just hasn’t been flowing. Doors open, and I’m ambivalent at best about going through. As though I already know what’s out there, and without surprises, why not just stay home?

Perhaps getting outside on the little trails between the streets will help me find my way back to Mars—or at least the parts of Mars where the end of my novel still hides beneath billion year old sands. I know it will help uncover those things that make poems more than just words and line breaks.

Jumping into the river of stones has reminded me of the importance and, yes, pleasure of discipline in writing. Of being ready to meet the muse, if you will. That was my intent when I started a gnarled oak two years ago, but I slipped away from the discipline of doing that too and it became a too-sporadic thing. I plan to continue this daily practice when January rolls to a close. The kind of close observation and paying attention required is exactly the sort of practice I need—meditative and prayerful (there it is again) in some sense that goes far deeper than simply writing 2-3 lines of poetry or prose.

And it’s bigger than writing, of course, this walking and seeing. More important somehow than just a door to words. It’s a door to discovery and a deeper knowing of myself, the world around me and my place in it. Somehow, all these small things add up to so much more than the sum of their parts. Is it magical that so little time can be transformed into so much living? I feel like it is sometimes, I admit it, and so I resolve to perform at least a little more magic this year, careful always not to endanger anyone or turn myself into a toad.

(There are still a few gnarled oak chapbooks left. Let me know if you want one. They’re free and I’ll send them anywhere.)

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