I’m literally right now in the middle of deep editing my book. I quickly hit the “new document” icon in Word and I’m typing onto this new page because …
… what I find astonishes me: my experience this week is perfectly mirrored by the essay I’m currently polishing in my book; it is a section about learning to identify birds on the east coast during graduate school.
On Monday I was at handbell practice and a woman who was subbing asked if a fellow ringer who’d just returned from a birding trip to Cuba could help her ID a bird she’d just seen in her backyard. She said it had brilliant red and yellow with some black. I was quietly wondering whether it was a tricolored blackbird: the first local avian resident that came to mind. They agreed to exchange emails with a fuzzy photo of the bird in question. I resumed my focus on bells.
The next day though, walking through my yard, I saw a flash of something fiery atop the small orchard tree. And there he was: a brilliant bird with black and white wing feathers, a flaming red head, and yellow body. I immediately thought of my fellow handbell ringer. I rushed inside to grab my cameras; I took a number of photos with both cameras at a distance – all of which turned out blurry.
I immediately discovered, as I consulted my field guide, that I’d just had the great pleasure of seeing a western tanager. Despite countless explorations - weeks and months at a stretch - out of doors in this Pacific Northwest landscape over a couple of decades, I have never seen a tanager here. I was delighted to share my news and discovery with the handbell woman; she returned a message with her photo. We had both seen a western tanager!
And as I had stood agape at the base of the little tree trunk, looking up at the half-rainbow-of-a-bird, a hummingbird darted an inch above the head of the sitting tanager: cool teal met the warmth of red-yellow. A complete rainbow?
… and now I’m editing my book and see a reference to a scarlet tanager I’d identified in New Hampshire … along with a host of other east coast birds …
This morning during an early phone call, I saw and photographed one of the swallows who has returned to nest on the property. I watch their aerial delight as they swoop and arc at dawn and dusk. But this one guy just sat perfectly framed in my window as I talked. I took his photo, too, because I just could not resist his iridescent brilliance: purples, teal, blue.
And two days ago - with a quick glance - thought it was the northern flicker who landed in that same little tree out my window; he is the same flicker who percussively rat-a-tats on the metal drainpipe beside my office window … but I looked again … and it was somebody altogether different: a falcon!
I really am not a “birder,” in the sense of making a methodical and passionate inventory as a practice of expanding a “life list.” But I do pay attention. I do notice what is happening … particularly in my immediate environment.
And this week it has been a menagerie of new birds sitting atop trees, displaying their colors … and life is all the richer for it.
All blog images created & photographed by Jennifer J. Wilhoit unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: "©2017 JenniferJWilhoit/TEALarbor stories. AllRightsReserved."