As I write this post, the tears roll down my face. I realized this afternoon that I had not seen the Rose Breasted Grosbeaks who had been frequenting my birdfeeding station since mid April.
On Saturday I was surprised to see that one had gotten into my house. It did not take long for me to release it through the window, however I realize now that the sweet, charming bird was saying goodbye and likely expressing its gratitude for my consistent feeding over the past few weeks.
This is a common thing. I first experienced this last fall with the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Several had been partaking of the nectar feeder for a few weeks. Then when I left for a conference in Montgomery, Alabama and returned, they had gone. The main tell is that the food is not as depleted as usual.
I checked birdcast and lo and behold, Sunday May 7 was a peak migration day:
I’d remarked at how much the Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks made me smile when I watched them munching sunflower kernels.
Please enjoy this gallery of the Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks from the past few weeks. They are such sweet birds.
Soon, like the Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, I will make my way to different climes. I head to upstate New York later this month to take a position as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University for Freedom on the Move.
Moving freely like the birds.
I will make sure to update the blog once I reach Brooktondale, NY– my new home for a while.
It is February and technically winter, however my being in Mississippi and unaware of the seasonal ebbs and flows of avifauna of this region make the daily backyard birdwatching chock-full of surprises.
I began to notice birds that I did not expect to be backyard birds. On one day I saw a #RedwingedBlackbird. On another day a she #YellowRumpedWarbler and still on another day a #PineWarbler. Of course this could be perfectly normal, but because this is my first winter here, it seems quite extraordinary. These are all birds that in the past, when I lived in Nebraska, I only was able to view while at wilderness patches.
By far the most affecting bird I have observed among my backyard friends is the Purple Finch. Now before I get further into this, my backyard birds consists mainly of American Goldfinches, House Finches, White Throated Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, American Robins, Blue Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Red Breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Flickers, the occasional Redtailed Hawk, Tufted Titmice and occasional Barred Owl.
phew! I attribute this to the wild area behind my yard, plus the array of berry-producing shrubs, pines, pecans and all other manner of native vegetation that grow in this neighborhood. Plus the birdfeeding station on the side of my house is not mowed, it is mainly groundcover with lots of leaves and pinestraw. Ideal for foraging birds!
So back to the Purple Finch. One day I was seated at my special spot that provides me a view of the birdfeeding station from my porch door. I noticed a bird perched on a sapling that looked a tad different from the usual House Finches. Its markings were darker and there was a pronounced streak of white and dark across the eye area that I do not observe in she House Finches. It was a she PURPLE FINCH!
I immediately logged onto Merlin to see if what kind of bird this was.
EUREKA! A Purple Finch.
So then I wondered, if the girlies were at the birdfeeding station, soon the guys would arrive too.
It took one week. Then, the shyest little Purple Finch arrived.
Me being an introvert, I could understand his hesitation to jump into the feeding frenzy fray of the rambunctious American Goldfinches and House Finches. But over a week or so more began to arrive. At the moment I have counted 2 girlies and 4 guys in the Purple Finch crew.
But today, today I became acquainted with a rare color morph of Purple Finch. THE YELLOW PURPLE FINCH!!
Bird Xanthochromism is a genetic mutation that results in excessive production of yellow pigment.
Of course I consulted google to see what I could find out about the Yellow Purple Finch:
In Purple Finch yellow color is very rare, and often comes along with abnormal streaking, which may mean that it is hormonal.
Of course that made me beam with pride. A rare color morph in my own backyard! If you read Sibley’s post on Yellow Purple Finches you will find that it is not conclusive if they are she’s or he’s. In the world of birds, you just never know what may happen and of course there is so much mystery to the innerworkings of the bird world.
Which is what is among so many other things, so beautiful about birds. How do they know where to go, how do they communicate, how do they covers thousands of miles each year to meet their mate year after year. Perilous journeys of survival over and over…
A kindred spirit for sure. Long live the gregarious Finches!
I mention the American Goldfinch in the latest minisode of Random Nature Podcast. Listen here
The horror!! What is a birder’s worst nightmare?? Forgetting the SD Card? Forgetting to charge the camera battery?
Low sun on a spring day?? Rain on a spring day? Running out of gas in the middle of nowhere?
Top contenders for sure.
But the ABSOLUTE WORST THING TO HAPPEN TO A BIRDER–happened to me this week.
I got all the way to the birding capital of Central America: Costa Rica, only to find out that my camera was damaged and would not produce a charge for the battery.
Well i chose to treat my friend Sandi, a 72 year old retired academic success counselor to a trip to Costa Rica. I had not been out of the country since the pandemic and since my son’s passing. I figured a trip with a friend who knew my son was good for me. Christmas is a hard holiday for me, so I chose that day for us to leave.
Sandi is disabled, her condition is not a “visible” one, she has fibromyalgia and trigeminal neuralgia, making her unable to walk for long periods as well as making it hard for her to carry difficult weights. I made sure to accommodate this. This means that the wild areas of Costa Rica were off limits. I did not want to leave my friend. So I settled on a hotel that had a verdant garden which would naturally attract birds. I figured trips to Monteverde would be better served on another trip.
The camera fouled on me though. I could not take ONE PICTURE. I was devastated. But the truth of the matter is that dropping camera too many times will cause problems and sadly the deterioration manifested during this trip.
Getting good images of birds in Costa Rica means leaving the city centers. Like any landscape, the presence of birds is increased by a water source and diversity of vegetation. Costa Rica has many beautiful birds. Find some here:
When it comes to viewing wildlife in any region, the larger the expanse of pristine wilderness means having to hike a great deal to view said wildlife.
Because these birds have large expanses to feed and live, they don’t have to be concentrated in one area like a zoo. So this means the person looking to photo wildlife needs to have some hours on their hands or perhaps have very good luck. Most birders who get pics in Costa Rica have hiked for hours in a day or have spend the money to stay in exclusive places like Rancho Naturalista where the property is cultivated to attract many birds. Feeder stations are input on the property to ensure bird viewing.
But still even in town, one can see neotropical birds at botanical gardens. This is what I was going to to attempt. I knew my friend could not manage the long hikes. I figured I would get some photos at the botanical gardens. But my camera fouled!
Getting around in Costa Rica is not difficult for tourists. I used ubers. Some opt for a rental car, but driving in different countries is not easy. The rules of the road are a bit more flexible seeming, lots of people walking in the road, lots of people on scooters, many trucks seemingly coming out of nowhere. I would rather leave that to the locals.
The locals are very kind. Every person we dealt with including airport security was kind to us. As African American women who are brown-skinned we were happy that everyone welcomed us.
We will go back to Costa Rica next winter and next time???
I did have a grief bomb on departure. I thought of my Ricky and how I would have loved to have him with me on the trip. I wept in the boarding line, prayed to God, wrote my mentor, Matt Cohen on the plane, and the grace washed over me.
I almost fainted as we waited to board the plane back to the U.S today in Costa Rica. A grief wave hit that had been suppressed by travel panic/frenzy/logistics. I love you always my son. pic.twitter.com/bbo3BAN7Le
Today was a day of deep contemplation, grief, and witnessing.
I walked the perimeter of Bluff Lake Rd. at Noxubee, something I never do. And within that walk Spirit revealed many things to me.
The road seemed long at times, I played The Blind Boys of Alabama, and the music worked with Spirit, in tandem with the Ancestors, and the DIvine Love of God to send a message to me for survival.
When Spirit speaks I listen. But to know its arrival, requires stillness. The griever in touch with Nature is an enigmatic soul to non-grievers. They wonder why they avoid social gatherings that are not required for their job or promotion. They wonder why they don’t seek human connection. It is because in Nature there is a stillness that is missing from the fracas of human connection. The frenetic, often inauthentic energy from fellow humans is not a investment the griever is willing to provide.
Ain’t gonna let nobody, turn me round, Lord, Turn me round, turn me round, Ain’t gonna let nobody, turn me round, I just keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’, Marching up on freedom land.
Ain’t gonna let no jailhouse, turn me round, Turn me round, turn me round, Ain’t gonna let no jailhouse, turn me round, Oh, I, keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’, Marching on to freedom land.
I can’t let segregation, turn me round, Turn me round, turn me round, Ain’t gonna let segregation, turn me round, I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’, Marching on to freedom land.
It has been a while since I updated here and it is not because I have not been birding. On the contrary, I have been birding every single day. It is just that I am maintaining my other blog spatialhuman.org, plus I have began a podcast called Random Nature. Those things have taken up a lot of my time.
Plus I started my new job 🙂
For now though I will provide you with pictorial views of my happenings since I last posted. Happy Fall Migration!
My backyard birds have also been very friendly. Especially since I created the best birdfeeding station I could think of on a budget. I dragged an old, but sturdy branch across the yard and affixed it to my side porch door where instead of lawn there is groundcover and lots of small tree cover.
I am very blessed to be in community with these beautiful birds.
An update is in order! I moved to Starkville, Mississippi on July 1 with my two cats Gimley and Woodstock.
And I have had the chance to see lots of charismatic species because Starkville is located near Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge
Note that in the gallery directly above that the Green Heron and Osprey were sighted at Gulf Shores National Wildlife Refuge, located in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I drove down there on July 15 after having a challenging grief day the prior night. I am first and foremost a grieving birder and those closest to me know that my Angelson’s Day of Ascension is August 3. The day he passed away. His death day. I chose to call it D.O.R.A (Day of Ricky’s Ascension).
This being known, as the day draws closer, I know I need to have a place to meditate and reflect on that day. It is the 2nd one I have had to experience and unlike the 1st, where my daughter and I traveled to a place we all used to live in Missouri, this year I am going alone.
This place, Gulf Shores National Seashore is filled with beautiful Live Oak trees that provide their own ecosystems for plants and animals. Resurrection Fern grows on them.
“This remarkable plant can lose about 75 percent of its water content during a typical dry period and possibly up to 97 percent in an extreme drought. During this time, it shrivels up to a grayish brown clump of leaves. When it is exposed to water again, it will “come back to life” and look green and healthy. The plant gets its name from this supposed “resurrection,” but it never actually dies during the process. By contrast, most other plants can lose only 10 percent of their water content before they die. Fronds are typically 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 centimeters) in length.”
The National Wildlife Federation
This plant inspires me and it grows on the Live Oak in my new yard in Starkville. I find myself staring at it all day. Hoping the rain comes to replenish it over and over. There is a metaphor for life and grief in there somewhere.
There were so many juvenile Eastern Bluebirds near those trees.
After I left Gulf Shores National Wildlife Refuge, I drove over to the public beach access in Ocean Springs.
“the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave. More important, it continues under the gaze of a God who loves and cares about each one of us and about where the universe itself and all the beings within it are ultimately going.”
Alexander III M.D., Eben. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (p. 9). Simon & Schuster.
This has been some Spring Migration! I saw all kinds of warblers! My birder friends saw Indigo Buntings, Ruby-throateds! I saw Orchard Orioles, Baltimore Orioles, Golden Wing Warblers, the works!!
Unlike last spring and summer I was in North Carolina. Not this year. I have been settled in Lincoln where I live for the time being mostly because I just graduated with my PhD. Check out spatial human for that.
Well today is the Global Big Day and the weather here in Lincoln, Nebraska is amazing and Spring Migration is in full swing. People are seeing all kinds of birds. The rarities list from ebird continues to astound. I mean we should have known right? That Stellars Sea Eagle was an omen of more amazing birds to come!
I spent my Global Big Day at Stagecoach Lake Recreation Area and began my bird walk at around 10am. I saw many beautiful birds. And here they are:
Here are photos of birds I have seen between May 9-May 12:
As a general rule, birds are seen as a conduit between the terrestrial and divine realms. They serve as a spiritual bridge connecting the heavenly and terrestrial realms.
I am grateful on this day and all days. Though I carry my grief with me in all the things I do, I remember the phrase that keeps me going in honoring my son in Heaven:
Make everything as beautiful as him
Today is Easter. It is a holiday that parents know all too well. For those who observe, it is a holiday that involves church attendance and leading up to it…well, Easter Baskets, Easter Egg Hunts, and favors to pass out for classmates before Easter vacation from school.
This Easter is special because it aligns with several other religious holidays: Passover, Ramadan and more.
Those who follow this blogspace know that I am very spiritual and that despite my not attending church, I have a special relationship with my faith, which is an amalgam of New Age Christianity, Buddhism, and elements of Sufism.
Nothing is separate from God. My faith, even in the midst of profound loss is firm.
You might even think of faith as symbiosis or sympoiesis: faith is the relationship between the Egyptian plover bird and the crocodile, the wasp and the orchid, microbial civilizations in our guts and the memories we process. The water buffalo is the kasaya of the oxpecker; the ostrich is the yarmulke of the zebra. Faith means that bodies need bodies in order to thrive and in order to die well. It is coalitional, alliance-making, world-shaping, co-creative work. We live and breathe and die in faith.
As we prepare to go into another week of mysteries, possibilities, yearnings, and receivings. let us remember this Earth, its abundant beauty, and the inheritance we hold to sustain it even in chaotic times.
It is Earth Week!
I will close this with my latest images of birds and landscape in Nebraska.
I recently drove back to Lincoln, Nebraska from Tucson on February 28. And while driving through southeastern Colorado, I realized I would never take the trip again.
December 31, 2021 heading to Tucson.
You see, I will be relocating to the southeast in the summer to begin a tenure track Assistant Professor job(big announcement to come on my real name twitter) so I will not be driving to Lincoln, or from Lincoln ever again July 2022.
I came to Tucson on New Years Eve to avoid the polar vortex that often befalls Nebraska in winter. As a griever and a naturalist, it is incredibly hard for me to keep the faith in temperatures that hurt your face. The birdsong is gone, the clouds are grey and it is dangerous to go outside. If my strength and hope comes from the beauty and soundscape of nature, then winter in Nebraska during freezing cold would deplete me emotionally. I knew I had a dissertation to finish writing and I needed good vibes to motivate me. So it was important that I go to Tucson.
My family was against my doing this. Mostly because of the costs, but also because it seemed incredibly complicated and unorthodox. My family is VERY conventional. I did not have much money because I’d just paid my bills and I’d provided my daughter with a lot of resources before I left. I ended up borrowing money from my older sister, mom, and a friend in order to make my trip. I am grateful for their generosity.
The airbnb I stayed in while in Tucson
I have a trusted friend who lives in Tucson, but she lives in a senior community so it would not have worked for me to stay with her. But she was kind to let me do my laundry at her house while there and chill with her, when I needed a change of scene.
A kind person at University of Arizona helped me to find a study space while there.
In a way I knew my time in Tucson would be special. THe first weekend I was there I spotted a rare bird, the Crested Caracara. I was heading down to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. It was beside the road feeding. What made its appearance rare was the time of the year and how north it was.
I also saw the Elegant Trogon in Portal while there. This is a very sought after bird.
Elegant Trogons are one of the most sought-after birds by bird watchers in the U.S., They breed regularly in only four mountain ranges in Arizona: the Atascosas, Chiricahuas, Huachucas, and Santa Ritas.