Neophyte Birdwatching I

Oh. My. God.

A woodpecker just landed outside my window, an enormous monster with herringbone feathers and a head the striking red neon of a cheap highlighter. My bird book, acquired yesterday, informs me that it is a male red-bellied woodpecker.

I had just sat down to write an entry about the extraordinary variety of birds that I keep spotting through the sliding glass door onto the deck, and as my fingers poised over the keys, the red-bellied woodpecker arrived and left me staring with jaw hanging open.

Arizona had a lot of fascinating birds I’d never seen before–woodpeckers on palm trees, Inca doves, teeny little verdin and miniscule gnatcatchers, but we were still inherently in an urban area, so our visitors were urban birds, or hummingbirds, who assume that they are the meanest things on the street and therefore can go anywhere.

Living flush with a greenway, however, means that the bird feeder I put up yesterday had seen a parade of visitors, all of which are new to me. I should be working, but instead I’m sitting here with a bird book trying to put names to some of my visitors. Athena, also not working, is crouched by the glass door watching our guests with jaw-chattering intensity. (This is why Athena will always be an indoor cat.)

Our first visitor yesterday was a shockingly monochromatic woodpecker, as vividly black and white as a mime, which appears to have been a Downy Woodpecker. After that, I’ve spotted Carolina chickadees, tufted titmouses (titmice?), white-breasted and brown capped nuthatches, a slate-sided junco, and several small, vividly yellow-to-olive things, some streaky, some not, that I cannot even begin to identify–they’re sparrows or warblers or something. (You’d think birds with that much bright yellow would be easy to label, but damned if I know. Hopefully I will get a clearer view in coming days.)

There is also a squirrel. I realize that squirrels are the bane of bird feeders and I should be cursing him unto the tenth generation, but I confess, I don’t much mind. He’s a big, sleek, top-of-the-rodent-game sort of squirrel with pale ears. He is hanging off the tree by flexible ankles, stretched out into space, catching the bird bar in his little paws and pulling off tidbits, which he then hangs upside down to eat. (Athena ceases her jaw-chatter watching this, possibly realizing that the squirrel is just about her size.) While I may someday soon despise all squirrel kind, and get into the accellerating arms race to keep him from destroying feeders, at the moment, I can’t help but marvel at the sheer efficiency of evolution in squirrel-kind–here is a clever, flexible, well designed tree-rat. With flexible ankles. Forget raccoons, when civilization fails, my money’s going on the squirrel.

And now, I should really get to work on something other than birds. But I’ll chalk this up as research for future paintings or something, and not feel too guilty.

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