Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Flitting with the Finches -- Back to My Reading Blog with a Book About Birds

Yes, I have trouble keeping this blog going -- I'd say that it's an example of a lifelong trend to,  as I've often been warned from adolescence onward, "spread myself too thin."

But I'm going to be stubborn on this one, and while I may post with such paucity and infrequency as to be embarrassing, I will continue to post, inadequately, whenever I coax a minute or two this way.

I've got a list of books read since last post, and some of them I think you'd enjoy so I'll get them up before too long.

For today, though, I just wanted to share this quotation from Kyo Maclear's gentle, observant, philosophically rich book about her year of urban bird-watching, finding solace and guidance in that pursuit, finding respite from the needs of her ailing father, her own children's care, her work. . . The book is titled Birds Art Life, and although I'm not quite halfway through, I'm confident in telling you to find a copy. You'll thank me, truly.

The passage I'll transcribe for you here coincided with our recent excitement at having a single house finch land on our terrace, perhaps scouting for the appropriate food in the appropriate feeder -- neither of which we had. We've since read that there are reasons to guard against attracting a "development of finches" (isn't that a splendid collective noun?!) -- they can be bullies, and they're apparently messy as well, but for now we've embraced risk and added a tube feeder to our dinner bell feeder and hanging suet feeder. Now we live in hope of seeing that charming flash of red and perhaps being treated to some finch song.

So you can see why the serendipity of finding this passage thrilled me:

While I went on my reading binge, while the musician recovered [the musician is an eccentric who has turned to birding to manage stress, maintain mental health -- he's a central figure in the memoir, having agreed to guide Maclear on urban birding hikes, teach her how to observe] the air outside filled with migrant birdsong. I sat in my garden every day with my Peterson's Field Guide and a pair of binoculars trying to compare the living birds around me with the book birds on my lap. One day I emailed the musician and told him what I saw.
     I wrote: "Based on its stocky red and grey body, I think it's a crossbill."
     And he wrote back: "It's definitely not a crossbill. Wrong time of year. Probably a house finch (lots of them around right now) and remotely possibly a purple finch (though I doubt this)."
     It was a house finch. Any momentary feelings of stupidity and shame on my part were dispelled by the bird's charm. I watched for a long time, fell in love with its rosy-red crown and breast and its gregarious twittering. I felt the lift of bird in me, which felt like the lift of wine, or the lift of an ascending elevator, or the lift of discovering that I did not prefer the book to the reality. I wondered if this would be my spark bird. [She has just finished explaining that spark birds are the birds that initiate people into birding, that inspire them to learn more and spend more time observing the avian world, and she's offered numerous passages from a variety of renowned birders.]

Besides relating to this passage because we're just entering a relationship, we hope, with a house finch (which we used to see frequently enough at our old house, but hadn't known we would here in our urban condo), I also related to her tentative attempt at identification being quickly squashed by an experienced birder. I wondered aloud, a few months ago, to a birder friend whether the sparrow scratching in the corners of our terrace, hopping surreptitiously between and behind the plant pots, might actually be a Fox Sparrow. Her "No" was as emphatic as the musician's "It's definitely not a crossbill." So I recognised those "momentary feelings of stupidity and shame," and was inspired by her willingness to let those go immediately in favour of attending to the charm of the bird actually in front of her. Of "discovering that [she] did not prefer the book to the reality."

And now I've used up all the minutes I found in that drawer. All the others I see in the day seem to be earmarked for other activities. But perhaps you'll find a minute or two to read what I've shared here, and if you do, I promise to respond to whatever comments you choose to leave. . .


  1. I'm empathising already with you and the topic of birds. It sounds like a book I would enjoy. How often have I tried to identify a variety of feathered friends. Blackbirds I do, the odd robin and sparrow but I'm woefully bad at the rest. As for sea birds, I'm only starting that journey properly at my great age. It is a very rewarding and absorbing past time. B x

    1. It's a charming little book and thought-provoking as well. Gently paced but with many observations about so many aspects of modern life, with an emphasis on the familial and the domestic that is pleasing but not limiting, if you know what I mean. As for the sea birds, good for you. I have naturalist friends who know their pelagic birds well;I can recognise a few that used to hop around our beach or stalk its tidepools and that's about it.

  2. FYI I'm really enjoying this blog. Your writing style is one I enjoy. Since retirement im settling in and trying not to spread myself so thin. It's an exciting time being able to join, meet, volunteer read, knit, sew etc etc and not ignore your family! So I'll say it again, I love your blogs and instant accounts.

    1. It's so kind of you to take the time to let me know that, Susan! Thank you!

  3. I love birds, and I miss having the feeder up, but I refuse to feed Mr. Mouse and his big cousins. Not sure what kind of seed you're putting in your feeder, but I would suggest sunflower chips - they are hulled, so no need to clean up the sunflower shells, and finches / chickadees etc really like them.

    We used to get mostly chickadees, purple finches, house finches, and juncos. One time we had both Northern Flickers and a Stellar Jay try to get into the feeder, to no avail (not at the same time, mind!)

    I hope you enjoy your urban feathered friends!

    ...I've also been enjoying the antics of a black tail-less squirrel the last few weeks...


    1. There's no way I want to encourage rodents -- the woman in the office above me at work hung a bird feeder out her window and it scattered seeds regularly encouraging you-know-who. Management was not impressed.
      We're up several stories on a rooftop terrace, and haven't seen any evidence of rodents up here, plus we're not noticing anything below any of our feeders -- I think we were also lucky in getting good advice from the local franchise of Wild Birds Unlimited on style of feeder and type of food. And yes, sunflower chips are a main component in the tube feeder, while the dinner bell has others seeds and a few nuts, but all have been shelled. Sounds as if we've had similar visitors, although we're getting more English sparrows than juncos, unfortunately, and while we've had flickers at the suet feeder, I haven't seen a Stellar's Jay here yet -- that would be cool!
      (wonder how your poor squirrel lost his tail and how he manages to balance, etc., without it)

  4. The tailless squirrel (who's been given the obvious name!) manages exceedingly well from what I can see. I too have wondered how he lost his big bushy tail. He's (I'm assuming it's a he) quite tame; he doesn't bolt when I am around. He also has an appetite for dandelion greens...

    We had English sparrows around when I was a child. We had a wall of ivy, and they would nest in there. I haven't seen any around in any quantity in many years. I hope a Stellar Jay comes to visit you - they are beautiful birds!