Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Feathered friends in flight and repose ground this pair

 A flurry of birds is caught in motion at a feeder at High Chaparral 
on the West Fork of the Stillwater River in Montana.

     Story by Christene Meyers
     Photos by Bruce Keller

     AS LONG as I can recall, birds have flitted around me, delighting and entrancing. In the mountains of Montana, the countryside of Tuscany, hiking trails in Ireland and Scotland, desert treks in Arizona, rain forests in Costa Rica, Peru and Brazil, I've always stopped to look, admire and appreciate them.
     I don't pretend to be a specialist, or as knowledgeable as many of my cousins -- particularly Betty, who is internationally known for her birding accomplishments and knowledge.
     But I enjoy. I savor. I am grateful that these creatures with an ancient past still visit our modern world.
The Cosgriffe clan has a special
connection to the chickadee,
here painted by Misha Minesinger.
    BIRDS ARE as much a  part of my life as the dogs, flowers and family who befriend me and buoy my spirits. They are a grounding, steady presence in my life.
     Birds can take our breath away with their extraordinary beauty, their nesting instincts, their eating habits, parenting skills and their intricate "homes." I've admired bird condos in the cactus on the Arizona desert, and birdie single-residence dwellings in the hills of Ohio, the California and Oregon coasts and my native Montana woods.
This hummingbird's wings can be seen
in the blur of motion as he
readies to take a drink of syrup. 

 This woodpecker finds tiny bits of
food in a telephone pole or tree trunk
in the Montana countryside.
I've watched the faithful chickadee take a single sunflower seed in a Big Sky snowstorm and patiently crack it on a branch, munch, then daintily take another.  The chickadee was my mother Ellen's favorite bird and my sister Misha made me a gorgeous painting of this  beautiful bird.  His black and white uniform blends in snow or trees, and is his constant formal dress.
    I've watched the sparrows and finches converge, a dozen on a single feeder, batting their wings for balance, to keep their place at the food trough. I've been visited three years running by the same stellar's jay, who last spring took a snack of nuts from my hand.
   I'VE BEEN thrilled to observe migrating grosbeaks and orioles, have admired nuthatches and towhees. I like to think that the hummingbirds I'm watching now in La Jolla will follow me north to the Rockies when I go to Montana to spend summertime.
    In Phoenix, the cactus wrens and flickers vied for space in the saguaro out my back door.  And when a group of African parakeets descended -- in green and pink glory -- I photographed them so cousin Betty could help me identify them.  She surmised, after some enthusiastic detective work, that they were descendants of escaped "pet" birds who tripped their cages to breed into the hundreds in the Phoenix area and parts of southern California.
Tropical birds fascinate, like this parrot
 in the Canary Islands.
     My grandpa Gus had a friend named Tom who loved his pet  parrot.  He claimed Lucy was nearly 80.  The two old pals taught her to say, "Where you going, you sonofabitch?" to customers at granddad's lumber yard.
     Here in San Diego, we see pelicans, egrets, herons, seagulls and hawks daily.   I recognize delicate yellow and black canaries and the same red house finches that I see in Montana.
     I'VE COUNTED four varieties of hummers here in California, one more than I've logged in Montana.
   On the Amazon, I've been surrounded by a cloud of blue and yellow macaws. And I've been lulled to sleep by the sweet "who-who," of the barn owl who hangs out at High Chaparral.   
A trio of pelicans takes sun and does some grooming 
not far from us in the Children's Pool in La Jolla, California. 
     I'm far from a bird nerd -- I don't have expensive binoculars or designer bird-watching togs.  But I keep my eyes wide open for my feathered friends, including the much maligned crows, who can tell individual humans apart.  And right up there with the chickadee -- in the Cookie pecking order, pardon the pun -- is the magpie.  I see them daily on my way to exercise in Montana.  I respect these clever, persistent birds, for their endurance.  Are they the coyotes of the bird world?
    FINALLY, the turkeys.  They come tentatively into my Montana yard, three, then four, then eleven, gaining courage in numbers as they sweep in to feast on the spills from the bird feeders. They cover the territory, checking out the lawn for  fallen bits of barbecue, sandwich, granola or the treasure of a discarded apple core.
     Both of my grans loved birds and I thank Olive and Annie for turning me, my siblings and many cousins, into lifelong aficionados.
A stately egret eyes his photographer, Bruce Keller,
in the waters of San Diego Bay.
     One spring morning back in the 1950s, Gran Olive rescued a fledgling robin, fallen from his precarious perch about the same time her large tabby cat, Taffy, rounded the corner.  It was a race for the bird and Gran won.  We tried to set him back on the branch, hoping his mother would return.  But as night fell, the bird grew quiet and seemed to be giving up. So we brought him inside, made him a bed of fine leaves and grass, and put two lit flashlights on either end to keep warmth in the shoe box.  For nearly two weeks, we kept him alive and watched him grow, nourished by tiny pieces of worm delivered to his mouth with tweezers, drops of milk and water, ants and a couple flies.
      Saturday morning, the bird's second weekend with us, I was allowed to carry the box outside for his release.  We had moved it closer to the sun and door each day, in preparation for the happy exodus. He was moving about, flapping his wings.
       GRAN PLACED him in my hands.  We both stroked him gently with our pinky fingers. "Be well, little bird," gran whispered. "Fly high, stay safe." She nodded for me to lift my hands up.  The robin looked at us, took a large breath and flew off -- I felt his tiny wings meet the air for a moment. Then he disappeared into the trees and life on his own! I'm hoping his descendants are keeping an eye on me today.
 Let's let Keller's magnificent photos round out my tale of appreciation.
The Sistine Chapel and the Vatican will be crowded with worshippers soon.

COMING SATURDAY: Easter approaches, with all eyes on the Vatican and the Pope, so we take a look at the cathedrals, ports, countryside and other charms of Italy, a country we both love.  Please share this website with like-minded folks:
Remember to enjoy , learn and live and watch for a new post each Friday as we deliver our spin on travel, the arts, family and nature.



  1. Loved your bird blog and pictures. Birds are arriving here in Montana! Last week I saw a large flock of Pinyon Jays and this week the first of the Mountain Blue Birds. Perhaps Spring really is in our future here! Lana

    1. Thanks for the update Lana. See you soon. Anyone else have bird sightings they would like to share.

  2. Just caught this story while reading about your wonderful hummingbird rescue. You have a lifelong gift for connecting with birds....this is a divine gift from on high....wonderful. Thanks for sharing.