Hi, my name is Mudlips, and I’m a birder.
Have I mentioned that I like birds? I do. I’ve been attracted to them my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of Cedar Waxwings eating cottoneaster berries, Western Tanagers in the manzanita, chickadees and nuthatches in the pines, and a Pileated Woodpecker swooping towards an all agape toddler me as I stood in the doorway of our cabin in the Sierras. I knew all of those birds before I knew how to read and write. Pre-adolescence I continued to watch birds, sometimes all day. In 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, I spent a fair number of spring and summer days down in the marsh, pushing aside cattails to inventory Redwing Blackbird nests. I knew where they nested, how many eggs were in each nest, and how many hatchlings grew big enough to fledge. Evenings were spent pouring through the pages of my Peterson Field Guide to the Birds.
But, as adolescence progressed and boys and then bicycles, became more interesting than (even) birds, my avian interest took a back seat. So, as I developed emotionally and intellectually I didn’t grow up to identify myself as a birder. However, lack of title is not an indicator of my love of birds. That remained constant.
I’m no Audubon or Sibley but I’m no novice either. I know quite a few local birds, their habits, and habitats. I seem to be the one, in my circle of friends, to talk to if you have a question about a local bird. So, I suppose I’m a birder. A twitcher, is what they’d call me in Great Britain. I’m just beginning to understand what it means to be identified with this group. While I don’t often head out just to see birds, I’m always looking for them, or looking at them. I have one friend that rolls her eyes as my eyes dart around distracted from our conversation at the mere rustle of a feather. But, she smiles too as she knows I’m not being rude, it’s totally reflexive and not something I can control.
Recently, a rare bird showed up in a nearby backyard – an Ovenbird. The Ovenbird, doesn’t normally live here, and it certainly doesn’t over-winter in urban yards. Except nature loves to make exceptions. We try to ascribe rules to Mother Nature, and she likes to break them; so this little bird is on holiday in a small urban yard. Lucky for my birder cohorts here in northern Oregon, the human resident of that same address is a birder, knew this bird wasn’t one of the regulars, and spread the word of the vagrant to other birders. We arrive as in a parade to find a welcoming sign on her door.
Now her yard not only hosts a variety of birds but also a variety of birders. Her home is only a couple of blocks out of my way as I head to work, so I’ve added to that variety at least 3 times (as of this post). This dear person not only tolerates other birders stopping by, she encourages them. It was below freezing this morning when I stopped by and I stood peering over her back gate not wanting to disturb the Song Sparrow feeding a few feet away. The back door popped open and she leaned out, waving me into the yard, adding, “Come in, I’ve put blankets out on the lawn chairs for you.” Seriously, not only does she put up with the lack of privacy during all daylight hours but she’s inviting us to camp out! She’s not only a birder, she’s a wonderful birder-lover!
On this day, I didn’t see the Ovenbird (I did see it on a previous stop), but a Pine Siskin fed from a feeder, an Anna’s Hummingbird flit around posturing, two Dark-eyed Juncos bathed in a birdbath that was oddly unfrozen on this frosty morning. So, it was a worthwhile detour.
As I resumed my walk to work, images of the icy juncos pasted a smile to my face. I looked up and saw a large flock of American Robins mixed with Varied Thrushes. Even though I hadn’t seen the rare bird, I was enjoying how these locals tickled my fancy. Just a few steps later I heard a tat tat tat and my bird finding radar jolted on.
Winter bare limbs soon revealed a Red-breasted Sapsucker (a type of woodpecker) . The first I’ve ever seen. Not rare in Portland like the Ovenbird, but it had eluded me. I’m not a lister (a birder who keeps a list of what she’s seen) but I do know what species I’ve not seen before. So, as marveled at my good luck and I stared and gawked as the sapsucker plucked at bark and moss on the old street tree searching for edibles (aka bugs), I smiled even deeper. For, the first thing I read this morning was a post by Madoqua at “Have You Ever” relating the story of her first woodpecker sighting. It must be a day for woodpeckers!
Indeed a good day for bird-watching.