Winter is for the Birds (December 12th)

…and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the sky…” (Genesis 1:20)

The Lord must greatly delight in the birds – He’s created such an incredible variety of them! This winter has turned out to be a time for us to see and develop a greater appreciation for these amazing creatures, each with its own distinct personality, each one inspiring delight and a rush for the bird-book if they’re unfamiliar. I’m always surprised at how often we see something new, even on a short walk in a familiar area, like the little estuary just a few minutes from our house. It’s a great location, where a fresh-water marshy pond mixes with the bay through a stream outlet as the tides rise and fall. In the summer, we walk the beach-side and study the sea life. In the winter, the boardwalk along the pond is a better option…We expected to see the great blue heron…

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The Bald Eagle was a wonderful surprise, and is always so thrilling for all of us…

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But the Bufflehead was new! When I saw his striking black-and-white head, I was pretty sure I remembered him from the birdbook…Bufflehead. What a silly name for such an elegant and formal little sea-duck! Still, fun to say, and we repeated it often as we watched them cruise around the pond 🙂

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This guy was Asher’s call…I couldn’t remember his name – some kind of loon? Or oystercatcher? “I just can’t quite remember,” I said “but I know he’s in the bird book.” Asher said “I think it’s the Double-Crested Cormorant.” Yes. Yes, he is!

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Though commonly seen chasing people around demanding bread-crumbs, these Mallards were shy of humans, calm, composed, self-respecting ducks, and a bit more fun to observe because of their more natural behaviors…

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Their proud necks curve gracefully in any position, whether resting on shore, gliding along the surface, or snoozing with beaks-tucked-in-feathers, and their placid eyes shine like dark pools of wisdom and patience. But the greatest treat is to watch this water-bird take a bath!

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Repeat!…Dip, Splash, Shake, Repeat!

And now, for the Dry Cycle!

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Ah, clean!

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How is it possible that such a ridiculous display of splashing and flapping could look so completely regal? 

And would you believe that there is more than one kind of black-and-white sea-duck? I almost didn’t believe it, but if you look closely, you’ll see that this group of ducks has less white on the head and a dotted white pattern on the black wings…So they’re not Buffleheads…

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Turns out, this is Barrow’s Goldeneye, who spends mating season in the forest and winters in the coastal bays along rocky coastlines…It was hard to get close enough to take a good picture, so I pulled this one from the web – because isn’t this guy amazing? 

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They move so fast, and they’re quite wary…I startled a group of them out from the shoreline as I walked along the path. They would come back in to dive and feed, but as soon as I would walk towards them, they would swim to deeper water, and then turn to paddle up along the coast. At one point I actually had to run to finally catch up even to them! And the kids ran with me, which sent the skittish Goldeneyes even farther out from shore, lol!

The water-birds are truly a joy – I know so little about them, everything always seems new and exciting, and there’s just something especially fascinating about birds who make the waters their home…

See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns…Your heavenly Father feeds them… (Matthew 6:26)

And sometimes He lets us help! We realized that we had a bag of birdseed in our shed that we had never gotten around to using, and so we let the kids pick out some spots around the backyard for impromptu feeders. We put out an absolute feast of seed, with the hopes of inviting “every kind of bird in Washington” (Asher’s words!) to come visit our house 🙂
It worked out pretty well! We had a steady stream of visitors all morning, and there was much excitement at the windows, many shouts of “Junco!”, “The Varied Thrush! The Varied Thrush!” and “I see it! I see it!” There were binoculars, and cameras, and squeals of excitement, a few occasional tears from Genevieve (“Not me see the Varied Thrush!”), and even some new identifications along with our now-familiar friends…
I enjoyed spotting the birds, I enjoyed watching the birds, I enjoyed talking about their different personalities…I enjoyed taking a break to do other things, and then rushing back to the door because someone saw something cool…And I enjoyed that all it took was a little birdseed to make our backyard so exciting on a rainy day!
The Varied Thrush, with his bright-orange markings, always draws shouts from the kids. He’s a fast-mover, rarely sitting still, and often hard to see as he lights in the grass and pecks hard into the mud, looking for some sort of insects or worms, I suppose. He looks like a ground-woodpecker, taking powerful jabs and working methodically in lines along the yard.

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The Red-Headed Sapsucker is always greeted with such delight – the kids miss him if they don’t see him everyday. He’s such a diligent worker, drilling rows of holes along the apple tree trunk. Asher stuffed the holes with black-oil sunflower seeds, just for him – I hope he enjoyed them!

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The Dark-Eyed Juncos feed in big, fluffy flocks, with a dozen or more settling into the area to merrily peck around, sometimes chasing each other, sometimes startling away en masse, soon returning because yumminess is just irresistible!

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The Spotted Towhee, who required a trip to the bird-book for identification, was very flighty, watching us carefully with those fiery-bright eyes and dashing away at the slightest movement. Even when we were still, he was not, hopping and pecking and hopping and pecking with hardly a breath between…Probably because he knew if he didn’t keep on it, those Juncos were going to clean everything out 🙂

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And the wonderful Stellar’s Jay, bold and intelligent, flashy and confident…We saw one alone at first, who perched in the apple tree and surveyed the scene for a few minutes, cocking his head this way and that, checking it all out. He disappeared, and then four Stellar’s Jays returned – so I guess it all looked okay and he decided to bring his friends!

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That brilliant blue flashing through the trees is always an impressive sight and, for the first time, I noticed that he even has perfectly-coordinated blue eyebrows to complete his fierce (yet trendy!) look.

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And, of course, never a feather out-of-place on that smart head 🙂

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I know all the birds on the mountains…(Psalm 50:11)

Not me! I barely know any, but I can’t wait to meet more!


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