Learning the Lingo

I walked along the power lines, head craned skyward, trying to sort out at least one clear bird song from the music filling the air. It was impossible; all the songs of many species, and several members of many of those species, mingled and combined to form one continuous stream of notes and calls. And yet, my friend Barbara was naming birds right and left, and ahead, and overhead. How did she do it?

That was me a month ago, even though I had been listening to my bird song CD’s for weeks (and off and on for years). I loved the chorus of mingled song, but it was frustrating not to be able to identify the singers. But then one evening a couple of weeks ago when I was out walking with Stephen and Arielle, I began hearing individual birds… and sometimes even recognizing their songs! It was as though I had been immersed in an unknown language for long enough and finally the sounds were beginning to make sense and have meaning.

I heard a Black-throated Green warbler back in the tall Vermont spruces, then a Hermit Thrush in the shrubs on the other side of the road. I was unable to spot the Warbler because of the thick trees, but it was especially satisfying to enjoy his song, knowing who was singing. We did see the Hermit Thrush, peering at us through low branches and we saw many Red-winged Blackbirds. I heard then spotted a pair of Bluebirds flying overhead. In between happy family conversation, I found I was able to pick out many of the songs I was hearing.

I went to bed happily thinking of birds and awoke early realizing a Brown Thrasher was singing outside our window. It was so cool to wake up naming a bird that I was hearing in my sleep. I don’t hear or see Brown Thrashers around my house, so it was a treat to hear this one singing from the top of a nearby treeearly in the morning and for most of the day.

I still can’t hear or name the birds nearly as well as Barbara can, but I now know it is possible to learn this musical language. I will be listening to my Birding By Ear and More Birding By Ear CD’s eagerly, with more confidence now that I can assimilate these songs into my vocabulary.

Brown Thrasher opening the day with song

A Three Dog Life– Book Review

A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas, was recently recommended to me by someone I hadn’t even met yet, who was so sure I would like it after we’d spoken for five minutes that she mailed me a copy. She was right– I started reading as soon as I tore open the package the book came in, sat down in my rocking chair without even bothering to make tea first (anyone who knows me and my tea habit knows how rarely that happens), and could scarcely put the book down.

A Three Dog Life is a journey with Thomas after her husband’s terrible accident that resulted in serious brain injury. As with most journeys, much that is meaningful happens in ordinary, daily life– eating, knitting, walking, shopping– and Thomas’ real-life description drew me in and made me feel like I could easily sit down and join her for tea with her dogs sprawled around the room. Her three dogs, Harry, Rosie, and Carolina, provide a constant touchstone with the present and source of comfort and companionship, much as my three dogs do for me, and as dogs do for many people in all sorts of circumstances.

Like most people’s journeys, Thomas’ is not smooth and constant– events and thoughts ramble and sometimes jump from present to past and back again in a way that can be momentarily confusing– as life often is for any of us and as it certainly was for Thomas’ husband Rich, and so for her as well. I could relate to these back and forth thoughts, as my mind often leaps capriciously in time based on the slimmest of associations. I really enjoyed meeting another mind that meanders as mine does, weaving present events, memories, and philosophical musings into a tapestry of darks and lights and all shades in between.

Throughout the engaging ramblings of five years of life, this is very much a story of abiding love, with honest reflection on the challenges that went along with that love. Love that endured when all expectations screeched to a halt in one horrible moment that forever changed the whole face of their relationship. Love that persisted through grief and guilt feelings and uncertainty and loss. It is also an inspiring example of finding meaning and joy in life after personal disaster strikes terribly close to home. I am inclined to start right over and read this book again; it is too rich with real life to only read once.

Happy Birthday, Petra!

We started out the day as we do most days, with Petra snuggling on my lap while I read and had my morning tea. Then the games began; Petra has her friends Roark and Tallulah visiting for her birthday, so today is full of Aussie fun.

Rowan, Roark, Tallulah, Petra (back to front)

Petra does everything fast, so birthday fun for her means running (almost too fast to be seen)…
(If you click the photos, you can see them bigger.)

and playing chase…

and leaping in the air…

That was a fun party with friends!

Tallulah, Petra, Roark, Rowan

Happy Birthday, Petra Sweetie! You bring me joy and love every day, and I adore you.

Trumpeter Swans

I still smile every time I think of the Trumpeter Swans I saw in Ohio last month. They were an unexpected treat, since I had no idea there were Trumpeters anywhere in the East. When I first saw them, I thought they must be Tundra Swans, which look very similar, because my bird book (Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds East of the Rockies, fourth edition) doesn’t even include Trumpeter Swans.

As I wandered the boardwalks in the area, I wondered what the loud, honking noise was that I heard echoing frequently over the marshes– Trumpeter Swans! These birds float gracefully and serenely in the marshes, dipping their long necks under to eat plant material and staining their heads and necks red with the ferrous minerals in the sediment.

Trumpeter Swans used to be native to that area, but were extirpated by over-hunting and loss of habitat in the 1800’s. In 1996 they were reintroduced to Ohio and now there is a breeding population of these majestic birds.

Trumpeter Swans are the largest North American waterfowl (20-30 pounds) with a wingspan of 6-8 feet and they can fly between 40 and 80 miles per hour. They mate for life and usually live about 15-20 years in the wild. They mate for life and build large nests, up to 6 feet in diameter, in marshes, and tend to reuse the same nest year after year.

I don’t know if this is a Trumpeter Swan nest, but it was very large with large eggs, so I think it might be

Links for more info:
Trumpeter Swans in Ohio
The Trumpeter Swan