I was up early Sunday morning and in a bit of a half-sleep reverie when it occurred to me that – most unusually – there was rather a lot of noise outside my bedroom window.
When you get right down to it, I sleep about eighty-five feet from the edge of a cornfield, often indoors. Generally, there isn’t an awful lot of noise out there for the would-be sleeper or his next-day relative, the dazed and confused early morning riser, to contend with. What little audio ambience there is would typically be of the pastoral background sort – birds chirping, wind rustling through the trees, that sort of thing.
These noises, though were different. My brain needed to assimilate and assess the information with which it was being bombarded. First, I determined that there were noises of many varieties, and lots of them. Whatever was happening out there was not taking place by stealth. I decided to confer the status of “racket” upon what I was hearing. With that taxonomic decision out of the way, I proceeded to consider whether there was possibly more to learn about the situation. After some careful reflection, I decided that quite a number of the many noises were similar; I decided to assume that there was a lot of something causing this cacophony. But what could those somethings be? Examining my audio memory banks, I could not recall ever hearing this particular sort of racket before.
Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but Spouse and I have taken a couple of days off from work.
A day off is a wonderful thing; if you’re anything like me, you have it in mind to accomplish so many things, but you also want to just revel in your chance to drive in the slow lane for a change. For us, on these days, priority one is very definitely just kind of recharging our batteries vis-a-vis the workplace.
A very close second, though, was “getting those chairs painted”, you know, the ones my father-in-law started painting two weekends ago. The lawn furniture in question is a set of two chairs with matching table and bird bath that my Dad made several years ago, and which he and my Mom kindly donated to the People of Juniorvania. The acquired assets were in need of a paint job and – when he and Gillian were here in late May – Harold was, as Pierre McGuire is wont to say, “a monster” with the paintbrush. He layed down a number of difficult early coats on all of the pieces over the course of a couple of days back-breaking work, but wisely fled the jurisdiction prior to completion of the task.
Here’s a picture of Harold getting the painting party started:
Spouse and I spent a couple of hours in the driveway ourselves this afternoon, gaining new appreciation for the difficult work Harold had already accomplished. With any luck, tomorrow morning will see the application of one final coat on each piece and I will happily spend the afternoon literally watching paint dry.
After the painting was done (well, actually, in between coats) we headed in to the backyard and were mesmerized by the movements of this little fellow:
I had a great time following this little guy with the camera and trying to get some good in-flight shots. It was such a beautiful sunny day that I could really ramp up the shutter speed and go full telephoto. Here’s a shot of our new friend heading in for a snack at the new feeder:
I am really pleased with some of the shots I got of this little visitor today.
We finished off the night with a bowl of fire out back (first one of the season) and a couple of beers before settling in to watch Malkin and the Penguins dismantle the Red Wings in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (turning point of the game: for sure, Malkin’s first breakaway shorthanded in the second period. He didn’t score, but it gave life to the Pens, especially Jordan Staal, who followed that rush up with a breakaway of his own and rang up a shorty in the process. The Pens didn’t look back in the game and – with a few breaks and some discipline early in Game 5 in Detroit, they might not look back in the series.) I’d like to write some more about the Final tomorrow. For now, it’s time to pack it in for the night and get some shuteye so I can get up early and enjoy doing whatever the hell I damn well please again tomorrow.
I’m not the only guy to suffer an injury around the ol’ homestead this weekend. The little fellow pictured below flew headlong into the window on the east side at the rear of our house. He seemed to be stunned (beautiful plumage, eh?) for a little bit, and Spouse and I stood nearby to make sure he didn’t get scooped up by any wandering cats or foxes whilst lying in the garden, no doubt pining for the fjords. We were more than a little worried he was going to shuffle off this mortal coil and join the choir invisible. Spouse said she felt like a murderer, so I pointed out that the sum total of her ignominious crime was “owning a window”, but she still felt like a monster.
I took the opportunity to snap off a few pictures at very close range. After twenty minutes of resting or so, he gathered himself together and flew off to the top of the tallest tree in Juniorvania, fresh as a daisy.
Spouse and I have successfully returned to the tiny Kingdom of Juniorvania from our vacation in the sunny south . The Popper and Prince Henry were pampered indeed over the last few days; on this occasion, rather than bunking in at the five-star pet hotel run by my parents, the five-star came to them. We are very grateful to my folks for agreeing to come inhabit the local landscape and care for our boys; what a treat for all concerned (there was even dinner on the table for the weary travellers upon our return!)…
I will write more tomorrow about the many events of our journey. For now, in the interest of completeness, let me report, following up on the last post, that the “eagle” was in fact an osprey, that the alligators were obligingly available, and that the zebra – unfortunately – was a no-show.
Until tomorrow; it’s been a long day, up at 5:20 this morning and shambling through various airports, clutching a passport, sixteen boarding passes and my camera, which just wouldn’t fit in the carry on at the tail end of a fantastic vacation.
Spouse and I headed out today with Popeye in tow for a walk in the winter woods. There are a lot of pretty well-known birding areas not far from the borders of Juniorvania, perfect destinations for wintry perambulations. The F.W.R. Dickson Wilderness Area is a beautiful little plot of land that is the site of some ongoing ornithological research:
Just nearby is Wrigley Corners Outdoor Education Centre. As part of their education and research programs, they have been banding the chickadees that come to the feeders here in the park. They use a combination of bands, both silver aluminum and coloured plastic ones, to create a unique colour combination that can be easily visually identified at a distance. This allows you to follow individual birds to learn more about their behaviour patterns and movements. No two birds in a study are ever given the same band combination, unless it’s known the previous owner of a combination is deceased. Band colours are read from top to bottom, with the bird’s left leg first, then the right.
Spouse read about the area in a little book Santa brought her for Christmas. We were intrigued by the write-up, which indicated that the chickadees in this area were known to feed from visitors’ outstretched hands. That little incentive was enough for us to gather together a bag of seed, the snowshoes (just in case) and a pile of photographic equipment and set out for an enjoyable afternoon.
It was a terrific afternoon; the snow was falling softly (giant round flakes), the place was virtually deserted (though we did see one other group, a man with his two young children) and the birds were very co-operative indeed.
We saw plenty of friendly little chickadees, both rose and white breasted nuthatches, a couple of downey woodpeckers, a pair of cardinals, a cedar waxwing and even a couple of robins that looked like basketballs with wings.
Snowshoes weren’t necessary, so they stayed in the trunk. I could have used some kind of a field bag, preferably of the waterproof/resistant variety in which to stow the camera and lenses. Without this key piece of gear, I was forced to carry the camera in my hands. I was worried about snow accumulating on the body of the camera and then melting, as it is my view that water and consumer electronics do not mix. I was convinced I was going to lose a lens cap. There was also a concern – not insubstantial, and based upon solid historical data – that I might lose my footing while striding along the path and go tumbling to the ground, with the attendant consequences for the camera. I ended up cradling the thing like a football and tucking it under an armpit, even shifting it from side to side depending upon the type of terrain I was traversing and the consequent likelihood of a port or starboard side tumble, all of which felt like some kind of weird naturalist tribute to Super Bowl Sunday.
The birds are so tame, they really are prepared to come right up to you if you display any kind of intention to feed them, and sometimes even when you don’t. I got the first chickadee of the day in my hand while crossing a boardwalk-type bridge; Spouse and Popper had gone up ahead a bit (Poppy doesn’t like seeing through the things he’s walking on, things like grates or decks, so he had to be urged along by Spouse). Spouse had the bag of seed, so I had nothing to offer anyone, but I noticed a little flock of chickadees gathering in the bushes at the side of the boardwalk. I held out an outstretched palm and – in less than thirty seconds – one brave little fellow figured I looked trustworthy enough to serve as a temporary perch.
Later, when we reached another boardwalk-type area, there didn’t seem to be many birds around. Nonetheless, we stood there for a moment, palms outstretched and filled with little piles of seed. Within a minute or two, there was a cluster of birds that had gathered, flitting from tree to tree, that began to swoop in and feed. After a few minutes of feeling the unmistakable thrill of feeling the tiny creatures alight on our hands, select a yummy seed and then dart back to a nearby branch, we moved on a few dozen yards. We noticed that the flock of birds was essentially following us, the little birds hopscotching from branch to branch along the path, staying roughly a constant distance behind us. Of course we rewarded them with some more seed.
Again, after a few minutes we moved along – and the birds again followed us, so we fed them more. That cycle repeated itself maybe three or four more times as we headed out of the woods and back towards our car.
I really couldn’t believe how fearless the little birds became. I noticed that while Spouse was standing with palm outstretched feeding a group of birds that were perching in a small bush in front of her, there were at least a half-dozen birds in another bush right behind her – no more than eight or ten inches from her back – that were curiously looking on and waiting for an opportunity to join in the fun. On another occasion, I had stopped on the path and attached my long lens in an effort to photograph the basketball-sized robins. I had the camera raised to look through the viewfinder and was adjusting the focus on the barrel of the lens with my other hand when one little chickadee swooped in and landed first on my lens-adjusting hand, then on the lens, then hopped back to my hand. All the while, I continued adjusting focus and I was even calling out to Spouse to get her attention; the little bird stayed put even while I clicked off a couple of shots of his woodland friends.
Spouse and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and resolved to return with family members in tow. For sure, we thought, our nieces would get a kick out of hand-feeding the birds. Even more likely to enjoy this, we think, are our parents. But the happiest of all about today’s walk in the woods? This guy: