New Year: An optimistic reflective poem

New Year - Black-tailed Deer. Olympic National Park, WA
Black-tailed Deer. Olympic National Park, WA

As the new year approaches
You can choose to look down and back
Or up and forward

Chickaree

 

Agile climbers

Mischievous thieves

Scolder of treetops

Digger under leaves

Jays – A bird always a part of my life

Blue Jay by Siobhan Sullivan
Blue Jay

Jays have insisted on being a part of my life since I was a young child. They are brash, bold, raucous, and not easily ignored.

As a five-year old living on a wooded lot in Maryland, the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata,  introduced itself to me with little formality. Its loud voice and striking appearance said, “Notice me!” Its frequent companion, the Northern Cardinal, also made it hard for me to look away. I guess that must be why I have a thing for birds with crests on top of their heads.

When I moved back across the country to Washington State, I met more Jays. On camping trips with my family, the Gray Jay, Perisoreus canadensis,  made its kleptomaniac presence known. Otherwise known as the Camp Robber, this gray bird has a way of sneaking in and taking what it wants.

Gray Jays, Yellowstone NPk
Gray Jays

I had a boyfriend in high school named Jay. One winter I was out of town for a couple of weeks and when I came back he broke up with me. He told me he had started going out with “Mary” while I was gone. He said he had gone outside in the middle of the night and shouted to the world how much he loved Mary. Like I said, Jays have a way of being loud and taking what they want.

Steller's Jay, Harrison Hot Springs, B.C.
Steller’s Jay

The next Jay played an important role in my life for many years. Steller’s Jays, Cyanocitta stelleri, are a deep azure blue topped with a black crested head. They like to imitate Red-Tailed Hawks and other birds. Steller’s Jays also have an appetite for other bird’s eggs and young. They especially like to prey on the endangered marbled murrelet, a small seabird that breeds in inland forests. While working on a project to preserve a forest where murrelets nested, I learned more about the football-shaped seabirds and their predation by jays than I knew about any pigskin football.

Western Scrub Jay, Bend, Oregon
Western Scrub Jay

The latest Jay in my life is the Western Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica . When we first considered moving to the high desert of Oregon, I remember looking at potential houses and thinking, “What is that bird I keep seeing?” The bird raised its white eyebrows, cocked its head, and regarded me curiously. When we found the place we eventually bought, the blue, white, and gray Western Scrub Jays were in the backyard shouting a welcome.

Jays, with their distinctive appearance and mannerisms, always seem to be a part of my life.

Clouds

Clouds…

Obscure what was once clear

Release things that burden them

Blanket the cold nights

Shine brightness on what’s to come

Surround us in the divine

A fluttering of wings: Townsend’s solitaire

Townsend's Solitaire in Bend, Oregon  October 2015

A fluttering of wings draws my attention.

A fluttering of wings - Townsend's Solitaire

Looking out of my window, I see a Townsend’s solitaire beating its wings and attacking its reflection in the side mirror of my parked car. It has been there for hours. Long strokes of white droppings adorn the side of my car. At first I assume the bird must be a male defending its territory.

Alike in appearance

Townsend’s solitaires are a drab gray relative of the American robin that most people wouldn’t even notice. They are not showy.

Male birds are usually the ones with colorful plumage but that is not the case with solitaires; the male and female look almost identical. I guess they decided not to follow the theory that a male is more brightly colored to attract females and the female has duller colors so she can sit undetected on a nest.

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Fall’s Laughter

Close up of maple

Fall begins with joyous laughter and warm caresses that

Nod and wink as they cloak you with a touch of frost

Standing there entranced, you are enveloped by color

FallLaughs2Cool greens evolving into explosions of vibrant

Yellow, orange, and crimson

North winds swirl about you encircling you

FallLaughs4Wrapping you in the scent of remembrance

Snaps and crackles sound under your feet

Inviting you to grab handfuls and throw them into the air

FallLaughs3You smile as the coolness surrounding you is

Warmed by a shower of brilliant laughing tones

Emanating from falling leaves readying themselves for winter

Branches

Cling on to leaves all seasons

Brilliant leaves dropping in fall

Profusions of big, bold flowers

Flowers that are quiet and small

Cones that depend upon fire

Tiny, but intoxicating cones

Juicy, sweet abundant fruit

Fruit that is dry as a bone

Delicate and ephemeral

Resilient and strong

Twisting and rough

Straight and long

Furrows in the bark

Bark peeling and red

Running near the surface roots

Deep-reaching roots that are more widespread

Cedar waxwings – Smooth, elegant birds

Cedar waxwings

I moved to the high desert a couple of years ago and thought I left some of my favorite friends behind. One of my favorite birds where I lived before were the cedar waxwings. I felt lucky when I saw one.

If I could use one word to describe cedar waxwings it would be “smooth”.  Whenever I see one I have an urge to reach out and touch it. Its tawny feathers ombre into a creamy yellow on its underparts and gray near its tail. The feathers connect together so tightly that they give it a silky smooth appearance.

Bird in a cherry tree

Facts about cedar waxwings

Cedar waxwings get their name by a unique feature on the tips of their wings and tail. They look as if they got too close to a craft project that involved melting crayons. Their tail are tipped in Sunshine Yellow. Small waxy droplets of Sizzling Red tip the wings.

They seem to wear a disguise on their faces. Black masks bordered with white frame their eyes. They raise a small crest of feathers on the tops of their heads as part of their communication. It alters their appearance so that they look like someone else.

Their voices are a wispy series of notes. I always recognize it even if I don’t see the bird. It is very high pitched, making them sound smaller than they actually are. One time I saw a grosbeak feeding one and thought it might be because it mistook the call for one of its young.

cedar waxwings

At some times of the year, waxwings flock together. I see specks flying high across the sky announcing their identity with their distinctive calls.  Where I lived before, I was happy to see one or two waxwing birds at a time. Now I see flocks in my yard.

Reflections

I left behind people I had grown close to to move here, but now I flock with different crowds. Sometimes they remind me so much of someone I knew before. Are they wearing disguises or did a special piece of my past follow me to my present?

Listen to the smallest voices in Nature

Listen to the smallest voices in Yellowstone

Listen to the smallest voices for they often have the most to say.

(Close-up of heat loving thermophiles near Dragon’s Cauldron at Yellowstone National Park).

Chatter

Black and white and full of chatter. No, it’s not a newspaper; it’s a bird.

Distinctive black and white plumage and raucous calls make this bird easy to identify. Its unusually long tail gives it a unique silhouette. A magpie.

Their loud calls are often heard in the wild places they live in. They are also master imitators. Is that hawk you hear or is just a magpie?

Magpie perched in sagebrush by Siobhan SullivanFrom a distance they just look like a black and white bird. Look a little closer. Their plumage catches every little bit of light and reflects it back in an iridescent glow.

Some see them as smart opportunists while others see them as pests. Are they using their voice and brains to get ahead or get under your skin?

Not everything you see in black and white should be taken at face value. Look for colorful reflections. Listen beyond the chatter. Forgive those who use what they think will get them ahead to their advantage.