There is a moment, when watching a bird, when everything else falls away and there is nothing in the world but you and that bird. Worries are forgotten. Hunger, cold, heat, rain are not felt. You are in tune, in harmony, with a little feathered creature and their habitat and you let it fill you up.
Joe Harkness said it best in his book Bird Therapy:
“… I had also started to recognise just how positive I felt when I was immersed in the world of birds. My worries seemed to fade into insignificance and when I was feeling stressed, if I counteracted it with some time outside, watching them, it drifted off like birds do, in a stiff breeze.”
This is the real reason I love watching birds. It took me a few years to realize what I was doing was a form of mindfulness. A moment where your attention is focused on nothing but the present. To seek a connection, no matter how fleeting, with another creature. and pull me out of myself and into the world around me.
It’s a wonder that such a small thing can make such a difference, a little thing with feathers. Birds have brought me so much joy since I started to really become aware of them and they were there when times were low. They are beautiful and charismatic, funny and entertaining, fascinating and full of surprises. I am grateful and love every one; the brightly-hued migrants, the little brown birds, the fierce raptors and the tiniest songbirds. Here’s to you, every member of the Aves class, but especially the ones who’ve graced me with their presence over the years and more recently.
The last few months have seen a lot of change. Endings and beginnings. We left Victoria and moved to Corvallis, Oregon. November was our last month in Canada. I’m still settling in here, a process that always takes longer than I anticipate. Two members of my extended family passed away and in the grey darkness of winter, it can be hard to see the light or the reason why some things happen.
“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.” – The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
But now that the solstice is past and the days are getting longer, we have set up many of the basics here so we can focus on getting to know a new place. New plants and wildlife, new birds, new places to go. Moving is always exciting, but always involves challenges I often seem to underestimate until I’m in the thick of it.
Its a bit strange for me to move back to the United States again. I haven’t lived in this country since May 2011. In seven and a half years, a lot has happened. Both to this place and to me. When I left, I admit I never really wanted to come back, but sometimes opportunities come up and you go with them. Its all an opportunity for a learning experience anyway.
There’s a lot that I miss about Victoria. Starting my journey into bird-watching there made me feel more connected to the land and nature around me than I’ve ever felt before. But its not such a different environment here and I see many familiar birds that make me feel at home again.
Other familiar birds like Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Herons and Song Sparrows are kind of comforting while newer birds like the Black-capped Chickadee are exciting to get to know. There are many more new birds to meet just around the corner if I look. And just like bird-watching helped me while grieving my first cat’s death, I know it will help me feel at home in a new place if I just go out and look and listen. To remember that to feel a connection to another living thing is an important feeling that can bring joy to a small moment.
We had a nice break in the rain at the end of October with lots of sunny days and even some pretty warm ones! The sunshine really brings out the best in fall colours and its nice to enjoy a bit of it while it lasts. Its been a particularly cold fall here in Victoria and the sun was a welcome change.
While we don’t get nearly as much coloured fall foliage here as there is out east, there are still some lovely spots where you can find nice, bright pops of colour. There is just something so beautiful about these trees! I hope you all find some time to enjoy and appreciate them this autumn.
One of my favourite spots to go in the fall has these big, tall trees with leaves that turn a beautiful, warm golden-yellow. Watching them waver in the wind against a bright blue sky is a simple joy this time of year. Yellow is one of my favourite colours; I guess its why I like these trees so much.
Fall is such a fleeting thing, I spent some time out trying to capture it in photos. I had fun experimenting with my camera and practicing various angles and exposures. Of course, I also watched the birds along the way. How could I not?
I happened to see a large raft of American Coots at a lake, bobbing their heads and keeping close. Another bird that likes hanging out in groups is the Bushtit. I watched them cheep and flit about from tree to tree, sometimes hanging upside-down like a chickadee. These cute little birds always put a smile on my face. They might not be flashy, big or colourful, but they sure are fun to watch and listen to.
Speaking of cheery birds, one of my favourites has arrived back in town! I am now seeing lots of American Wigeons about – at lakes, fields and the coast. I really love ducks, any kind of duck, so I am always excited to see them. I love the American Wigeon’s squeaky little sound, the fact that they hang out together and the male’s beautiful green face patch and white-ish crown. Other ducks may not agree with me, though, as they often steal food from diving ducks on deeper water as they are only able to dabble for food at, or near, the surface.
Remember to cherish the beauty around you! Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of even a single tree of red leaves or the grass carpeted beneath a layer of orange. It doesn’t have to be a full forest of colour. Maybe its the trees lining your road or the sun glistening on the snow. A squirrel climbing a tree or a crisp morning fog. You might feel just a little bit happier, a little bit lighter and a whole lot more grateful.
When I start feeling down, its time for a walk. Sometimes, I spend a lot of time thinking about why the world is the way it is and how it came to be that way. I think about all the worst things; people who cheat and lie, who corrupt and take advantage of others. The way the world revolves around money, the fragmentation of the habitats with cookie-cutter houses and cement. I start to hate the very pavement I am walking on and again, that part of me wonders if I could just run away and leave it all behind. I wonder if I am the only person who thinks this way. Why does everyone else seem to just accept the world as it is?
I go to the beach, where I can watch birds and feel the sun and listen to the leaves swishing in a gentle breeze and lose myself in nature. At least for a little while. It helps me forget the imbalances and injustices.
I can see the simplest beauty that we are surrounded by in nature. Its so much better than the manufactured thing. When I reach the beach, a lone Great Blue Heron stands on the shoreline. He looks small somehow with his neck is hunched down as he stands still, then lurches forward to catch a fish every now and again. And for a while, its just him and me.
a lone heron at the beach
fishing Great Blue Heron
fishing Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
In the distance, I can hear bald eagles making noise at their nearby neighborhood nest. Just as I am about to go check them out, I see a swirl in the water and a head pops up. Its a river otter. Then, another head surfaces and I stop to watch the pair for a while. Off to my right, I notice a large crevice in the rocks I’d never seen before and I wonder if they take refuge and nest there or not.
River Otter pair near the rocky shore
swimming River Otter pair
one of the river otter
I watch them for a while as they bob up and down, swishing their long tails and head towards the rocks before turning back again and swimming away out of sight. I move on to the bald eagle nest, where the juvenile is perched on a branch alone; the parents must have just left. I head down to the nearby beach and sit on a rock.
Suddenly, a pair of Purple Martins start circling low in the air around me, making me a centrepiece. I am amazed to be so close to one of my favourite birds and I watch them, enraptured. But soon I start to worry I am stressing them if they have a nest nearby (though I see no nestboxes or even good-looking spots for them nearby), so I move away and give them space, just in case.
I find a bald eagle parent across the water, perched on a rock. He returns to the nest, then comes back again. There’s a rush of emotions that comes with watching. As the bald eagle parent leaves the nesting tree and flies low over the beach, the purple martin pair chatters loudly, perhaps agitated, and fly in circles, swooping and diving. Is this to distract a predator from their nest or to warn their young? I don’t know, but it seems somehow connected. Black Oystercatchers chitter and fly away in a tight group and ravens squawk and dive-bomb the eagle as soon as it perches atop a tree.
juvenile Bald Eagle perched just outside the nest
Bald Eagle perching in the tree
Bald Eagle back at the nest to watch over the juvenile
Its funny to think all of this happens within a mere few moments as one bird flies out to fish. Does anyone else take notice or I am watching my own private nature documentary? I want all of them and their young to survive; I can’t possibly pick sides. They each have a value and a purpose in the balance of nature, predator and prey.
In the quiet morning, with just the gentle swish of waves and the sound of the birds, the serenity is contagious. In between, the moments of action are exciting. Sometimes, I wish these moments could last forever.
Just about a month ago, I said goodbye to my little foster kitty, Zip. She was my first one and she absolutely stole my heart. It was bittersweet saying goodbye between losing this little girlie I had come to know and love but happiness knowing she was going home to a wonderful family.
In fact, I am so grateful and overjoyed that she found a family who will look after her with love and care, and give her everything she needs. Because of her special needs, I worried she would never find a good home. Well, I was wrong, because obviously they could see how sweet and lovely she is!
I spent lots of time with her while she was in my care. I got to know her different mews, where she liked to be scratched and what games and toys she liked the most. She cuddled up to me in bed every night, purring like a nonstop motor, sometimes licking my hair and wrapping herself around my head. She grew so much under my care and got a lot healthier being in a home.
She has such purr-sonality and she is so gentle, but equally very playful and excitable. Every night around bedtime, she’d get her energy and run back and forth and jump on all the furniture. She jumped like a fox on all fours, pouncing unseen prey.
Just like every other cat who seems to come into my life, I will love her forever. I think of her often, some days more than others. I will never forget her and cherish my memories. We celebrated her first Christmas and her 6 month birthday! Her family has updated me to say she is very happy and I think fondly of her at home with her family and new kitty brother, who is her newfound b.f.f.! She always loved other cats, it was a shame my own cat did not get along with her.
Looking back, I’d do it all again the same way even though it stressed out my poor Amber so much, she lost weight during the time I was fostering. The good news is, once Zipper went home, Amber gained her weight and returned to normal very quickly! I won’t be taking any more fosters for her sake, but if you are able, I highly encourage you to do so! Especially for those senior kitties or ones with special needs. They need you the most, and they often give the most love back in return. ❤
“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” – Gildor, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
Solitude. The woods. Silence. Golden. Words that run through my head. Sometimes I fantasize about running away to the woods. Living in a cabin. Off the grid. In harmony with nature, lush green trees surrounding me and the singing of birds to wake me as the sun lights up the room. Just me and my partner and my cat in the quiet and the calm, living slow and peaceful lives…wanting to fence the world out (like a hobbit).
“You cannot always be torn in two. [Frodo told Sam] You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.” – The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
Other times, I feel the fire of the unjustness I see around me and I want to fight. To stand up and say: this is wrong, you are wrong, this is unjust. The system is corrupt. How can we fix it? What can I do? If I do nothing, will nothing change? But I feel so small.
How do I choose between the two halves and find balance? Like a hero of mine, I think of “Ultimate freedom. […] No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.” (Chris McCandless, Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer)
But I think, too, of another hero who said “We have the choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place–or not to bother.” (Jane Goodall) and I wonder is it ever enough? What I try to do to make the world better. Do I give enough every day, or does the exhaustion of the 9-5 overwhelm the soul until I become like all the other capitalistic monkeys driving to work and coming home and doing it all again every day?
How do we choose? How do you choose? Do you ever think about the world in such a way or am I alone in these ramblings? In times of these immensely overanalytical, over-sensitive and self-indulgent(??) thoughts, the beauty of nature helps find my center of balance.
In watching a wild bird sing and dance and forage for food, I feel at once, connected to the world around me. Rooted to the ground beneath my feet. And yet, I feel free and entranced completely in watching, ignoring all other sounds, movements and people. Perhaps completely vulnerable to surprise, but centered on that one bird brings me more peace and clarity than anything else might.
I am not a competitive person in the traditional sense. I never have been. In fact, I once played on a sports team for a few years that won once every season at best. To be honest, I didn’t really mind, I was only playing for fun (looking back, maybe that was the problem?). When I stopped playing music competitively, I started enjoying it even more. My teachers could never understand why I didn’t want to compete, but I just wanted to play. I’m either missing a gene or I just know how to appreciate things without needing someone to tell me I am “the best”. Must be the same reason I don’t bird competitively or even aim to see “X” number of species in a year…
There is something about driving two hours to see a bird just to add it to a list that rubs me the wrong way. For me, birding is a special personal quiet time I spend surrounded by nature. I find it calms my mind and spirit, and it brings me a sense of peace. The world is so loud to me sometimes that I relish the quiet. I recently watched A Birder’s Guide to Everything and the main character says there are three kinds of birders: feeder fillers, listers and watchers. I don’t think I’m any of those.
What I love about birding is that it gets me outdoors and provides a great opportunity to learn something new. I get so excited when I see a new bird I haven’t learned yet, but I get equally excited to see ones I now know and can identify! Learning something new must be great for my brain and it likewise gives me a great feeling of accomplishment when I finally work out what bird I am looking at.
Call me a non-traditional or not serious birder, but I don’t aim to tick every species off my list or plan to embark on a Big Year anytime soon. To me, these things practically make birding a commercial venture, which to me, completely takes away from the experience.
I am not saying there is something wrong with being a list-fulfiller, we just have different styles. I’m just choosing not to make a special trip to see “rare bird Y” two hours away from me, but instead to enjoy and observe what is around me already wherever I happen to be.
So I guess I am more of an accidental birder. I don’t always go seeking them out, I just like to observe what I see where I already am. I don’t even own binoculars. I’m sure many other birders would be aghast to hear that, but I enjoy my simple style of peaceful, modest and green bird-watching and that’s all that really matters.
I’d like to encourage you to embrace the idea of green or backyard birding in whatever way works for you. Especially if you are more serious about birding than I am. Take a look around your neighbourhood and you will find more life than you may have thought possible! Put down your smartphone and open your eyes; beauty can be found all around you if you just look for it.