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From a Crab's Perspective

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by Ann Ulrich Miller

Posted on April 15, 2008 by Web Dreams

The following article was published in the April issue of the New Mat Top Hat.

Bird Fever hits Jackson Run

It's a magnificent April morning on Jackson Run. The sun hasn't yet risen above the tree line, but the Carolina wren has already begun its rendition of "Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle," and just outside our bedroom the phoebe is calling his name. He's got his eye on the ledge above our patio door, where he and his mate raised their brood of "phoeb-ettes" last year.

The cardinal, who has actually not ventured too far from home the entire year, is now professing his presence with varied bold melodies, one of which is "Severe, severe, severe!" How severe the situation is, I can't tell, but Mrs. Cardinal, more drab in her pinkish tan plumage, has taken over his obsession of hurling herself against our bathroom window. She must be enraged at her own reflection, believing it to be a competing female, perhaps.

The tapping often rouses me from sleep in the dawn hour, or wrests me away from a focused moment at the computer. I get such a kick out of Mr. Cardinal's desperate courtship song. He seems to sing, "Pur-dee! Pur-dee! Pur-dee!" followed by a series of rapid kissing sounds. What a flirt he is.

The song sparrow, who also stayed all winter, perches at the top of his favorite cedar and delivers an aria unparalleled to other songsters. Even the most oblivious of listeners has to pay attention. I find myself dropping whatever I'm doing at the time to stare up at this tiny brown bird with the big spot on his chest. How lucky I feel to be living here.

As the orange blazing sun ascends across the field, the air is filled with dozens of colorful, harmonious bird songs announcing the glory of spring. For years I lived without this, for in many parts of the Western United States you simply don't have a lot of songbirds. You don't really know what you've been missing until you get it back. This spring I am possessed by the birds of Jackson Run, a hopeless addict to putting out seed, hanging hummingbird fountains and screening my windows so as to let in the beautiful sounds.

The warblers will be showing up in another month. Guess I ll be getting out my songbird tapes and brushing up on their distinctive calls. These small birds are often difficult to see high up in the trees, so you must learn to identify them by song.

This month will mark the return of the beloved wood thrush, who rarely lets himself be seen because he likes to hide in the woods. In the same family as the robin and the bluebird, the wood thrush has big spots on his white breast and reddish head and wings. His flute-like call is unmistakable and seems to echo through the hollow. Each wood thrush has his own unique variation of the theme.

Last summer the wood thrush whose territory was immediately behind our house had a definite song which I interpreted as "Over here... here we are... any day!" When he said, "here we are..." he said it with a pronounced New York accent, sort of a "here we oar..." Is it any wonder my husband believes I'm crazy?

I'm not the only one on Jackson Run who's bird crazy. Our 11-month-old cat, Jessica, is a fanatic who lives for the outdoors. Ever since she discovered, as a kitten, that there was an "outside world," she just had to experience it. There was no way this feline was going to be an indoor kitty. Fascinated with everything to do with nature, Jessica loves birds, jumps up in the air after insects, and chases last year's dead leaves as they tumble across the lawn.

When she began gifting us with rodents, half dead, at the front door, I knew she was going to be a good hunter. But when she caught a chickadee, and then a titmouse last winter, I gave her the scolding of her life and threatened her with hanging if she ever killed another bird. Naturally I would never follow through on such a threat, but she got the message. To my knowledge, that cat hasn't killed a bird since. But each morning when I let her out, I remind her again: "NO Birds!"

Night sounds are music, too. The spring peepers will soon be serenading, but my husband says they won't come out until after the first spring thunderstorm. I've always loved the crickets and katydids. And on Jackson Run it's eerie to hear the echoes of distant coyotes.

I hope we get visits from the barred owl again this year. I love his Southern drawl, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" Only once last year did I hear the whip-poor-will while we were sitting out at night on the porch. Later in the spring the nighthawks will arrive. These goatsuckers, related to the whip-poor-will, dive through the air in their quest for insects, calling "Beeeert!"

If you want a list of the birds I've seen on Jackson Run, there is a Web site up, called "The Birds of Jackson Run." Just go to http://jacksonrun.tripod.com/index.html. There you will find pictures and descriptions of the birds in this area.

Now for a report on those "other birds" on Jackson Run, my favorite feathered freaks, the chickens. As of press time, "Penelope," an Araucana, has been sitting on a clutch of eggs since early March. Unlike the two "flaky" hens who were broody in February, Penelope has not changed nests, has not allowed any other birds to lay their eggs in her nest, and squawks belligerently at anyone who tries to get near her. That includes me!

I think there's a very good chance that we'll have peeps on Easter. But I'm not holding my breath. As a poultry farmer for eight years, I know better than to count my chickens before they hatch. And that reminds me of the tale told by our dear neighbor, Fred Miller, up the road.

He had a broody mother hen once with baby chicks. One day his wife walked into the chicken house and there was this big black snake with its tail wrapped around the mother hen, holding her back, while the sly, scaly serpent fed on the baby chicks, one by one. Now you may laugh and think that's a "snake story," if you ever heard one. But his wife declares it's true.

I like to believe my hen house is snake proof as we went to a lot of trouble putting mesh underground around the bottom of it, but who's to say Mr. Snake isn't going to wiggle his way across the grass and simply crawl through the front door? We've only seen one black snake on the property since we moved in, and she hasn't been back since my husband coaxed her off the property with a hoe. But I'm not taking any chances. I keep a big stick just outside the chicken house door -- and I know how to use it.

 


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