Hope, in feathers

There’s a kind of rightness and predictability in bird behavior that is almost comforting to me.

Knowing to expect that every last hooded merganser will take flight to the farthest edges of the pond when I raise my lens confirms to me that I know one aspect of this species pretty well.

Waiting for the local pair of osprey to begin setting up housekeeping in mid-March or the woodcock to twitter and spiral through an early spring dusk or merlins to streak low through the dunes in late afternoon looking for a meal to keep them through a night’s chill… all enhance my awareness of life’s insistent rhythms and set a pace for my own schedule in harmony with a larger, more universal system.

There’s also the realization that birds have important lessons to teach us; about being careful and its necessity for survival (hoodies are overly careful, I think) and about beauty and stirring the imagination (think of a flock of terns dropping from the sky into the summer blue bay or a scarlet tanager suspended in an oak) and also, they teach us about hope.

I found that hope looking me squarely in the eye a few weeks ago. Along an often-walked path through the local woods, I looked up a tree trunk one afternoon to find it looking back at me, in that magical way that owls have of appearing out of nothing. I’d stopped looking for screech owls along that path a couple years ago when their nesting box was vandalized, but this one had found a little hole in a nearby maple with which to frame his unblinking face. I think we both were somewhat shocked to be seeing one another, his face full of concentration at not being seen and mine one of pleasant surprise at learning that sometimes good birds are closer than we think.

What good birds have you found lately and what did they offer you?


6 thoughts on “Hope, in feathers”

  1. I can feel that little thrill you must have felt, seeing the owl looking back at you.

    Interesting that you posted this on the day of an owl watch at Jake’s Landing near here. I couldn’t go, but I’m anxious to hear Lisa’s report of what she saw tonight. No doubt she’ll be posting it on Ramblings of a Villas Girl.

  2. I haven’t yet had the luck to happen upon an owl. They’re so hard to see even when you know where they are!

    Regarding ducks being skittish, there is a wonderful Audubon preserve up in Dutchess county. I visited there, early in the morning in late October, and anytime a duck caught a glimpse of me, the entire flock would take wing (this startled me sometimes!). Despite hunting not being allowed here, they are so fearful of hunters, even the mallards flee when they spy a human.

  3. My best birds continue to be our resident Pileated Woodpeckers. They are such magnificent birds and their flight patterns are lovely. They are so beautiful in the bright sunlight and even in the rain and fog. They give me hope that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker still exists.

  4. The Varied Thrush. It has a long, fading trilly whistle and we first hear it in the coldest dreariest part of the winter here and we know that spring WILL come!! Just heard the first one the other day.

  5. Those Hoodies usually do the same thing to me.I recently had my first good look at a Surf Scoter.-At first I saw the white on the back of it’s head and thought what is this/ Is it a Bufflehead? Then I realized that the only thing that made me think Bufflehad was the white on the back.-It was a reminder to look at the whole picture before jumping to conclusions.

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