So, as I said at the end of my last posting, I waited patiently for my regal visitor, the Baltimore Oriole, to return to to his breakfast spot in my bottle brush tree. However, it was already day four of his continued absence and I was somewhat heavy-hearted for his loss. It was later in the day, more like mid-morning snack time than breakfast, when I heard a new call. At first I thought it was him, but then I realized that this call was richer and the notes kind of tripped over each other.
Grabbing the binoculars I headed out into the garden. I judged the call to be coming from a couple of houses down and began to play the binoculars back and forth in the direction that it seemed to be coming from. A sudden flash of scarlet caught my attention in a tree that grew in the pine wood out back immediately behind the fence of the third house to our left.
The calls continued and I kept my eyes focused on the tree. Suddenly I saw him, a very large, jet-black bird with very distinctive white markings around the face and neck, and a few smaller white markings on the shoulder area of his wings. But what was striking was the brilliant red crest atop his head. He was at least as big as the American Crow if not bigger, probably eighteen to twenty inches from head to tip of tail.
His movements were very unique. He would lightly run up the trunk and, when he came to a halt, would twist his neck round almost 360* as he pecked at what I presumed were insects. Or else he would hop out onto a branch and would then hang upside down. Every once in a while he would stop in these activities and let out his rippling call. He was quite something to see and it made me marvel at the variety of creatures that God has created.
I checked him out in my Kenn Kaufman book of birds and discovered that I was seeing the Pileated Woodpecker. I was thrilled to read that he is an all-season bird for our region and quite surprised that I had not seen him before. I have spotted the Red-bellied Woodpecker and also the Red-naped Sapsucker in the pine woods out back, and both are about half the size of the Pileated. Here is the best picture that Rich could grab of him. He moved around a lot, but this view of his back clearly shows the white markings and his scarlet crest and also shows how he grips onto the trunk.
And so my knowledge of birds for this area is growing. Now is definitely the season for bird-watching because they are all in a spring-time frenzy of mating and creating nests. And that fact will lead nicely into my next posting because we have a pair of Carolina Chickadees who have decided to make their home in our back yard. I get to be a Grandma one way or another!
About three weeks ago I was sitting in my lanai enjoying my God time and breakfast. I was so aware of the presence of God through His creation. Squirrels were scampering in the trees and enjoying breakfast at their feeders. Birds were calling out to their mates or calling out for prospective mates and swooping in to the feeders on the back fence of the garden. The trees and plants were budding out and everything had that lush look about it. The bare threads of winter were fast being replaced.
I was very familiar with many of the birds, those I could see and those I could hear. The sweet Titmice and many Sparrows jostled for spots on the feeders until the Cardinal appeared and claimed his place as “numero uno” in the pecking order! Some Bluebirds and Blue Jays flew across the garden creating magnificent flashes of blue. Occasionally a Blue Jay would drop onto the back fence, wait for the other birds to finish and leave, before hopping down to pick a seed or two, bang it open on the fence top, and then fly off.
Mocking Birds were aggressively buzzing the back yard and each other. I saw quite a bit of spring rivalry as one male chased another away from his prospective mate. Then he began courting the female but she was playing hard-to-get. And in between whiles, the first Humming Birds were starting to visit their feeders on a more regular basis.
High up in the trees, Crows would sit, each one claiming the pinnacle of a pine tree as his particular castle, and then would begin a cacophony of sound as they started their orchestral system of communication. Joining them from time to time could be heard the piercing shrieks of the Red Shouldered Hawk as he flew from tree to tree crying out for a mate to join him. From somewhere deep inside the small pinewood out back I could here the drilling of a Woodpecker on a tree trunk. And then a small, chunky House Wren decided to join my garden group and sang out his rich morning song; such a loud voice for such a small bird.
Then suddenly, from quite close by, I heard an unusual, never-before-heard, loud dry chatter. I looked up and around. The noise had seemed to come from my Bottle Brush tree which now stands about twelve to fifteen foot high. It was aflame with spring blooms and rich with new spring growth foliage. Then I heard the chatter again and caught a glimpse of something large and yellowish. The bird was definitely as big as a mature Cardinal but seemed slimmer, more elongated. But he was operating deep inside the tree and I could only catch occasional glimpses of flashing gold movement.
The next day, amid the same lively performance from all the usual birds, I again heard the loud dry chatter. This time I was prepared with binoculars close at hand, but my new visitor was more elusive than the day before. He seemed to bury himself even deeper into the tree and only at the last moment, as he lifted up in flight to leave, did I catch a quick sighting, a magnificent flash of rich deep gold as he flew up and away. This was way too tantalizing. I searched through my Kenn Kaufman bird book and thought perhaps it might be a female Summer Tanager.
The next day I heard the now familiar chatter and, after some minutes scrutinizing the tree, I got my first real clear sighting. He had come out on a branch on my side of the tree. This placed him in plain sight and also put him in the slightly shadowed part of the tree which meant there was no sun shining directly on him. And there he was in all his glory. From just under the beak area he was a rich golden reddish orange that went all the way down under his belly getting slightly paler in shade as it disappeared between his legs and back towards his under tail. His whole face and continuing over the crown of his head, down his back to his upper tail was black, while his wings had a touch of light gold at the shoulders but were black with distinct white markings.
He was a beauty, about 8-9 inches long. I began frantically flipping pages in the Kaufman. Triumphantly I came across a page full of Orioles, and there was my visitor. And visitor he was; a rarely-seen-in-the-south Baltimore Oriole. The picture was a perfect match and the description of his call note was exactly what I had been hearing – a dry chatter. I was so thrilled to have identified him, and so happy that he had chosen my Bottle Brush as his breakfast spot.
He came every day for about two and a half weeks and my husband was able to get some good photos of him. Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he seems to have disappeared. Today is the fourth day that I have not heard his chatter nor seen his regal flash of gold. Even as I feel somewhat sad, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to make his acquaintance. But, in the meantime, as though in recompense, I have been treated to another new sighting. But that’s fodder for another blog.
Slowly she is resurfacing, the Muse that feeds my imagination and nudges the words out of my mind and onto the page. I know the change in weather has something to do with it. For about a week now the days have been warm and full of sunshine, just the right environment to entice me out into my beloved garden to work the soil, scatter seeds, and plant some flowers.
Nature has also responded with much burgeoning growth. Trees are budding out at the speed of light and the St. Augustine grass has gone from hay-colored to fresh spring green in the flash of an eye. Tiny green shoots are poking through the earth, a promise of beauty and color yet to come.
Another deciding factor has been the time change. We sprang forward last weekend and the evenings are lighter longer which always brightens my soul. And even though this afternoon the sunshine slowly disappeared and the sky became leaden grey, I was able to feel very grateful and even lighthearted when the rains came to soak the parched ground.
We have had a very mild winter and we really need some rain. I am especially grateful that it has rained today because this means that I do not have to expend time and energy to water the garden tomorrow. We do not have an automatic system and it is quite time and energy consuming to move the sprinklers all around the garden to their allotted spots to make sure everything gets a good soaking.
So here I sit, in my wonderful lanai, outside yet sheltered from the rain, allowing the thoughts to flow and the fingers to run across the keyboard. The sky is still mostly grey and I think we will probably get some more rain this evening. Everything is a fresh lush green and, even though it is already 7.15pm, it is still quite light. I love moving through spring into longer days. For whatever reason it makes me feel more alive.
I think the change in weather and the change in time have happened just perfectly for me right now because both of these events have helped me to move outside and beyond the prevailing sadness that surrounded me and weighed down my heart. This was due to five deaths that have happened among my friends and family since the end of October last year. Dealing with death, even as I accept it as part of life’s cycle, takes its toll in a physical and emotional way. I am just so grateful that I have strong support systems and the right tools to help me deal with it.
Just as nature cycles through her seasons, so too do we humans. And to appreciate and enjoy the new life we also need to accept and appreciate the dying to the old life. I am grateful to have a faith, a belief in God and in a life hereafter. So once I move past the sorrow of loss I can rejoice and celebrate at the soul’s onward journey. Who knows what joys and what adventures await us in the Big Beyond!!