Thursday, August 11, 2011

Relaxing with a Waxwing

Watercolor of Cedar Waxwing   © 2011 Sally Wickham

The last days of July settle me comfortably into summer.  Frogs strum lazily  on their guitars; two fledgling robins hop about the lawn in wide-eyed wonder; a young bluebird drifts down from the spruce to retrieve a bug, and then flies back up to her favorite perch again and again and again.  Swarms of swallows (barn and tree) chitter-chatter while practicing their amazing   aerial maneuvers.  

I woke up luxuriously late this morning and decided to have my toast, jelly and Birds and Blooms coffee on the back step of the house facing north.  A large maple tree shades the lawn and house and I noticed intermittent bird activity in the branches above me.  There is wing flapping—leaves rustling—but I can’t see what is going on.  The two rainiest months on record in Vermont (April and May, 2011) produced a bountiful crop of big healthy green leaves that are hard to see through.  Then I notice one  long strand of dried hay  hanging down.  At almost the same moment I catch sight of the warm brown and yellowish tones of a Cedar Waxwing.  Could she be building a nest this late in the season?

By the following day I can see a  bulky nest made of dried grasses and twigs about fifteen feet  up in the branches of the maple tree. Several strands of dried loose hay hang down from the bottom.  I now know that the Cedar Waxwing is a late nester, like the American Goldfinch and the Mourning Dove.  They sometimes wait until August to raise their young and then raise a second brood! 

I have a good view of the nest from the big overstuffed sofa in the TV room. It is just high enough for me peer through the leaves and see the nest.  I happily anticipate the hatching of three to five bluish gray, spotted eggs.  I open the window, spread out with a couple of pillows, and begin a brand new horizontal bird watching experience :}>

Birdwords by Linda Lunna ©  2011

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Hangin' Out

Great Blue Heron   Watercolor  © 2011 Sally Wickham

“Awesome bird,”  my twelve year old son Erik says.

Looking out the same window ,I spot the bird standing on long stilt-like legs by the edge of our pond.  “Great Blue Heron,” I tell him.  We watch while the solitary bird stands motionless for so long that he almost becomes invisible. 

“What’s he waiting for?”  Erik wants to know.

“Food,” I answer.  “They eat fish, frogs, salamanders, even mice unlucky enough to come within striking range.  They spear their prey and they seldom miss.”

“Cool” he says.

Encouraged by his interest, I continue.  “I read somewhere that a heron once pierced a pine canoe paddle with its beak.”

“Way cool,” he responds. 

Today , the bird is standing on the end of the dock, too high to reach the water.  “Looks like this one  is just hanging out,” I add.

The heron’s long S-shaped neck is tucked close to his shoulders  in a casual slouch.  Seeing him reminds me of the guys who used to hang out in front of the Woolworth Store in the late fifties/early sixties.   We called them hoods, aka greasers.  They too would stand for hours;  hair slicked back, cigarette chucked in their mouths, hands stuffed in pockets while their sun-glassed eyes watched the girls and the traffic pass by.  No matter what the weather, they always wore their black leather jackets with the  collars turned up.  

Erik and I continue to stare mesmerized by the sight of this big bird.  Posed against two lawn chairs on the dock, his image turns comical in my mind’s eye--more Larson-creation than real bird. 

But then, startled by something, he spreads his magnificent wings and lifts off in flight, transformed from  cartoon character  into superhero --the picture of grace, strength and beauty.  

Birdwords by Linda Lunna ©  2011