Bird-Watching on a Sunny May Morning

“What is so rare as a day in June?”

It’s only May and already heaven and earth seem in tune.  Days are delightfully long and bright (weather permitting).  I was up at 3:45am one morning to let the cat out and the sky was light; that night when I retired at 10:45pm the west was still tinged with the last bit of light.  Because of our flat landscape, light shows up long before sunrise and lingers long after sunset: in June our “daylight” runs from about 3 am to 11:30 pm.  I’m thinking these long prairie days are why we stay and endure the long winter nights and icy blasts.☺

We didn’t have as many bright days this past week: it rained all day Tues & Wed (1.6″), then again Sat-Mon (1.1″).  We rejoiced this morning when the sun shone again on our very green world; it was cold at 8am, though –only 2° C (about 36 F) –and breezy.  Great weather for garden peas and radishes.

This morning I went for a walk west toward the highway, past the two sloughs that definitely increased in size after last weekend.  On the south side the water’s about 6″ lower than the gravel road edge; on the north side it’s about 12″ lower.  The ducks are happy.

Remember that old ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ joke.  Someone should ask the coots that; seems every time I go past those sloughs a coot is scuttling from one side to the other.  As I walked home half an hour ago two of them hurried across in front of me – as much as coots can hurry.  Ducks will occasionally waddle across or just sit on the roadside, but usually they cross on the wing.

At one point I saw a long-billed bird that I first thought was the snipe, but this one flew gracefully and fairly low over the water.  By its size I’d guess a it to be a godwit.  Later I did flush out the snipe and he went chirping off.  Snipes are almost half the size of a godwit, plus they fly erratically and really wing it.  If we frighten a snipe in the evening it will dart this way and that, then take off straight into the heavens and circle, winnowing as it goes.  This winnowing sounds like a cross between a mourning dove and a cuckoo clock.

I’m afraid I acted as an accomplice to robbery and murder as I nonchalantly strolled along.  Some blackbirds were sitting on the fence posts paying attention to me, then I noticed a crow rise up from the grass with something in its beak–baby blackbirds, no doubt–and one of the parents gave chase in a vain effort at recovery.  People who speak of nature as a gentle, benevolent world must have their eyes shut to harsh reality.

I’ve been reading up on the fierce competition for cavity nests.  The sweet bluebird will attack and drive away tree swallows; the cheerfully singing house wren will invade swallow nests, peck holes in the eggs and toss them out.  And then there are the English sparrows.

“To every thing there is a season… and a time to kill…”  English sparrows claimed the birdhouse at the Villa where I work, much to the vociferous dismay of the tree swallows that had it last year.  It was THEIR nest and they weren’t forgetting it, but the sparrows weren’t giving it up (“so nya, naya, nya.”)  The swallows have seen me chasing the sparrows away before, so they would sit by the back door and complain to me about the situation and I in turn complained to whoever I thought might do something.

Thursday morning Melvin caught the sparrows one after the other in the birdhouse, opened it and killed them, then emptied the nest and destroyed the eggs.  When I came to cook that morning the tree swallows were happy as larks, gathering bedding material for their newly vacant home and Melvin explained what he’d done.

Well, I was sad, but glad: those pesky sparrows really had to go–even though I couldn’t have done it myself.  But it sure makes me look forward to Heaven where there will be room for all and nothing will ever have to die!

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