Monday, January 2, 2012

birds of the new year

 We welcomed the new year yesterday with a hike, and along the way encountered our "first birds of the year", a tradition we've followed since we lived in Seattle. Before we left home, as I was resolutely ignoring the chirping outside our living-room window, Dan claimed the sparrow at our feeder as his bird.  I'll have to press him for more specifics on what kind it might have been - my bird for 2011 was a song sparrow and as we create the rules for this particular tradition, I was determined not to have the same bird twice in a row, though there is much to be valued in a sparrow.  Dan immediately began to expound on the constancy, and steadfastness of the sparrow, the survival instincts and reliability of its presence at our winter feeder.  The girls and I were foolishly hoping for something a little flashier, and they literally covered their eyes on the short drive to the park.
Turkey Vulture, Crow, Sparrow, and a whole flock of Blue Jays down in front
I saw a predictable sight above the ridge in town - turkey vultures circling over the trees. Sigh. I love turkey vultures, but I'm not sure what it is I'm supposed to be learning from them in this new year. My Folklore of Birds says that the turkey vulture was considered by some Native American cultures to have been a deity, charged with carrying souls into the next world. Its reputation varies widely from culture to culture: many see them as bad omens, but to the Egyptians they were a symbol of maternity and purification, and were thought to protect the queens of Egypt. Hm. There's something there - and Eliza and I have always felt an affinity for the big black shapes passing through our view. Our little community is home to hundreds of turkey and black vultures. 
Turkey and black vultures gathering by the river
 Maybe Dan and I will balance each other out this year - the same book says that the sparrow is "a supernatural messenger and a foreteller of good luck",  according to the Chinese.  Eliza caught sight of a crow before we got to the park, which she accepted with good humor - Dan has had the crow for the past two years.  I love crows - their intelligence, and adaptability - though you can find just as many stories of crows as tricksters as you can of the crow as a sacred, honored bird.  
Ani was really holding out, maybe hoping for a heron as we approached the lake, but knowing it would more likely be a flock of Canada geese.  We got out of the car and started down the road leading to the trailhead, and she was cocking her head, giving little "pshhh pshhh" calls to see if she could call someone in.
 She was soon rewarded when a flock of about 9 blue jays came cruising into the trees nearby, with a raucous merry jumble of cries, much like a group of super happy kids tumbling into a room, with an energy that is catching, unless, woe to you, you were hoping for a few minutes of silence.  They bounced from tree to tree, calling to us, worked up about something, and Ani grinned to have a new bird.  Folklore of Birds has this to say: Incessantly noisy and omnivorous, the gregarious blue jay is difficult to ignore...In the right light, this description is so very Ani - she wakes me with merry blue eyes and whispers (kind of), "I'm looking for a smi-ile" and there is really no way to ignore this child's happy chatter.

Our hike was so nice.  It warmed up enough for sweaters and hats to come off, then socks and boots for wading in the creek, only to have the wind whip up and rain come in while we were stopping for a snack. Sun, rain, and in-between.
We listened to the wind blowing and rattling the bare hardwoods, then turn to a hushhhhhhhhh as it hit the white pines.
 There is a denseness about the light through the pines. I could build a house here. ~Eliza
Smelling the pines, feeling the sun, then the rain, and the pull and slip of the mud, watching the changes on the lake, spying the winter fungus and lichen and moss, listening to the creaking of trees rubbing against each other and the occasional bird calls - we were out sensing the world, together. 
A happy new year...


Stacy @ Sweet Sky said...

Love it... we didn't do a focused effort but I did notice a crow on the 1st and thought, Well, there's mine. Orlando came in later and I asked where Mica was and he said, "Looking at one of those birds with the blue and black (Stellar's Jay)" and I thought, "There's his." :)

I couldn't find anything on Stellar's Jay but I like this about crow: "They are messengers calling to us about the creation and magic that is alive within our world everyday and available to us."

Anonymous said...

I stepped outside on New Year's late in the afternoon to an incredible swarm of turkey vultures--about 40 or 50 of them circling high and low--it was amazing! They dispursed after about 5 minutes....but it was really weird! I took this as a sign of some sort...for the new year! I did appreciate the sight of it. Your blog is neat!