Senescent Saturday

Fall foliage at Secor - Kim Clair Smith

Senescence is the process of deterioration with age. We humans like to deny or ignore it in our own bodies, but we’re huge fans of it in trees. The changing colors of leaves in the fall are a result of senescence. As a natural part of the life of a tree, the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down, revealing the other pigments beneath the green.

Song for Autumn excerptSay what you will about spring and the rebirth it symbolizes, but I’ve always been partial to autumn. The most obvious reason for this attraction is the stunning beauty of the trees draped in splendiferous* robes of gold, red, brown, and orange. But when I’m in a more contemplative state of mind, as I am today, I think of how my appreciation of fall is also driven by the knowledge that it will be so brief. Fans of summer or winter have months to enjoy those seasons, but autumn demands your full attention before it’s gone in the blink of an eye. Or after a day of wind and heavy rain, as we’re having right now in Toledo.

Fall at Secor v2 Kim Clair Smith

I almost let fall slip past me this year, and have only gotten out briefly a couple times so far to take it all in. I fear by tomorrow much of the beauty will be on the ground, leaving us only bare branches to gaze upon for many months.

I’ve traveled to chase birds and dragonflies before, but this is the first time I’ve considered chasing fall. I might take a trip to southern Ohio to get a few more opportunities to capture fall with my camera. It’s a bit challenging up here in the flatlands of northwest Ohio to get interesting angles for landscape photos, but I expect it’ll be quite a different story in the hills down near the Ohio River. I’ll be anxiously watching the weather forecasts to decide if I can manage to fit in a quick trip.

Fence and fall foliage
The rain was just starting to fall as I made this last quick stop at Salamander Flats today. 

Fall foliage with gnome - Kim Clair Smith

Alert readers of this blog will have noticed this little guy before. He seems to show up often when I walk in the woods, and I’m always tickled to see the interesting places he chooses to take his naps. This time he was comfortable on this enormous tulip tree leaf — it was almost twice as big as my hand. I wonder if he’ll show up in the Appalachian foothills of Shawnee State Forest next week?

Gnome on fence - Kim Clair Smith

*Yep, splendiferous is a real word! I had to check, LOL.

Brain Food or Useless Fruit?

osage orange tree and fruits on ground w sigA few weeks ago I was counting birds in rural Marion County in central Ohio. My count partner Jim and I were participating in one of the many Audubon Christmas Bird Counts that take place all across the country each December.

We’d stopped at a small park to walk a trail around a little lake, where we found some downy woodpeckers and American tree sparrows, but not much else. As we emerged from the woods, we came upon this fascinating osage orange tree (Maclura pomifera). The ground beneath the tree was littered with dozens of spectacular, grapefruit-sized fruits. I couldn’t resist a brief stop to examine them more closely.

If you’ve never seen one of these strange fruits before, your first impression is likely to be that it looks oddly like a brain.

osage orange fruits close crop w sig
When fresh, the fruits are bright green. These were obviously past their prime, and many were rotting. Some had lovely reddish coloring, and a few had been tasted by unknown critters, possibly squirrel or deer. I’m told they aren’t very palatable, and I’m not willing to taste one to find out.

osage orange fruits w sig

I examined one of the fruits that was split open, and found that it has sections that remind me of broccoli or pineapple.

As we talked about this tree, I learned the concept of anachronistic plants. They’re still here, long after the demise of any animals that would have been large enough to forage on them. So they apparently don’t serve much purpose any longer, at least for larger animals. I would imagine there are insects that feed on this tree and birds that nest in it, although Ohio is not its natural range. It occurs naturally in Texas, but here in Ohio it’s considered an alien species. It was brought here by early settlers who had found that the thorny osage orange could be used as an effective livestock barrier when planted in thick hedges (thus the alternate name of hedge apple).

Despite very little scientific evidence, many people continue to believe that osage oranges can be used to repel insects or spiders around the home.  I came upon this humorous post on a message board while researching for this article:

“I used whole hedge apples in my house to run out spiders, and was I ever wrong in doing it! They drew gnats, my house was full of them! And then they rotted. Gross! I got rid of them, got rid of the gnats, and learned a lesson.”

I guess the lesson she learned was to keep the hedge apples outside of the house. 🙂
osage orange fruits v2 w sig

Refusing Straws & Hugging Trees

During this week we’ll celebrate two special days, Earth Day on Sunday, April 22, and Arbor Day on Friday, April 27. A few years ago I wrote about the history of these two underappreciated events. Here’s an excerpt:

Did you know that the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970? It was a way to harness the energy behind the protests of the 1960s and turn it toward protecting the natural world. Inspired in large part by the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the environmental movement was off and running. But it seems to be celebrated much more enthusiastically in other countries than in our own, and that needs to change.

And Arbor Day has an even longer history. Arbor Day was created by J. Sterling Morton, a journalist from Detroit who moved his family to Nebraska in the mid-19th century. The first Arbor Day was celebrated there in 1872, with the planting of over a million trees in a single day. And get this: When it was made a legal holiday in 1885, Nebraska City celebrated with a parade of a thousand people. So tell me, when’s the last time you saw a parade to celebrate the importance of Arbor Day? I never have. (Click the link in this paragraph to see the official story of the history of Arbor Day.)

This year’s Earth Day campaign is focused on ending plastic pollution. Their website says: “From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet.”

Balloons blow logoFor the past few years I’ve had a link in the sidebar of this blog for an organization called Balloons Blow. Their focus is on eliminating those horrible balloon releases that result in so much litter in our oceans and beaches. I can’t tell you how many of those nasty mylar balloons I’ve picked up on the shore of Lake Erie while birding. The balloon fragments and their ribbons sometimes cause death to birds and aquatic animals who accidentally ingest them, thinking they are food. I encourage you to go to their website and read about what they’ve discovered in years of cleaning up balloon litter. (Hint: “biodegradable” balloons are not biodegradable.)

Stainless steel strawsRecently I’ve noticed another movement picking up a lot of steam, and that’s the one to eliminate single-use plastics like the straws you get with virtually every beverage you order in a restaurant, whether you need it or not. One of the best known is The Last Plastic Straw, a project of the Plastic Pollution Coalition. A few years ago, when I first became aware of the impact of straws on the environment, I purchased a set of four stainless steel straws. They’re reusable, obviously, and come with a brush so you can easily clean the insides. I keep a couple of them in my car so I can refuse plastic straws and use these instead. I’m can’t claim a 100% success rate on my efforts yet, but I’m improving. And I discovered a fun bonus to using these stainless steel straws too: they get really cold when you use them with iced beverages like milkshakes or iced coffee drinks. It adds a new level of “ahhh” when you’re trying to cool off on a hot day.

If you’d like some suggestions for other things you can do to help in this effort to reduce plastic pollution, check out this page on the website of Earth Day Network.

Hugging a tree with Julie Heitz at Woodlawn Cemetery
Hugging a tree with friends last summer

As for Arbor Day, the ideal way to celebrate is to plant a tree. I can’t add any more trees to my yard, but I’ve just removed three large invasive shrubs (burning bushes) and will be replacing them with natives. The burning bushes, although beautiful in their fall color, just had to go. It was a painful decision to have them removed, but I know it was the right thing to do for the ecosystem.

I purchased some native shrubs to put in their places: spicebush, serviceberry, and black chokeberry. These large native shrubs will support lots of native insects, which will in turn support our native birds. I’m going to start a series of articles here about my efforts to add native plants to my yard. It’s a big project that will take years, and I have a lot to learn, but I’m optimistic about being able to make it work.

I hope you find ways to celebrate these two occasions this week!

Making Hay While the Sun…Doesn’t Shine

Last weekend’s trip to Indiana’s Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area for crane-viewing didn’t turn out exactly as hoped for due to some extreme weather conditions. Of course I knew the weather forecast in advance, and even made a half-hearted attempt to back out of the trip, but Jim responded with an admonition about not being a sissy.  That was just the kick in the pants I needed, because one of my primary goals in life is to not be a sissy.

So once we got there we were determined to make the best of the situation, and persisted through rain and cold north winds to find the best photo subjects we could. Since the largest numbers of cranes are found near dawn and dusk, the lighting was also a challenge. And since I’m still learning to use my new camera, there were some times I couldn’t change settings quickly enough to get certain shots. But enough with the excuses. Despite all of that, I do have a few things to show you.

Crane viewing platform at Jasper-Pulaski

This is the viewing platform that overlooks the area where the sandhill cranes congregate each morning and evening. Unfortunately, this lovely photo isn’t representative of the rest of my results from the trip, which were all taken in less-than-optimal conditions.

I really like this 30-second video I shot in the pre-dawn light one morning. It shows lots of the birds practicing their courtship dancing moves. And although the lighting is poor, it still gives you a taste of what it’s like to see and hear large numbers of cranes at their daily social gathering.

And although I have many in-flight shots of these birds already, I couldn’t resist trying to get some more. In particular, Jim and I both love the moments when the birds are making the transition from flight to solid ground, dropping their gangly landing gear legs while still hanging in the air. We noticed that some birds would lower their landing gear while still fairly high in the sky, while others would wait until much closer to the ground. That difference could be something to do with age and experience, perhaps.

Sandhill cranes with legs down for landing w sig
Flying monkeys dropping from the sky (poorly focused but still awesome)

In my past writing about this I’ve described them as looking like giant marionettes falling from the sky, but this time I was struck by a new image: the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.  You know the scene when she sends them all out to attack Dorothy and her friends in the woods, right?  This mental image was triggered not only by the visual spectacle, but also the cacophony that accompanied their descent from the cold November sky. I can’t stop smiling when I think of it that way now.

One of the few daylight photos I could salvage was this one. I took a series of rapid shots as one crane dropped down into this small gathering in a grassy field, and got many images of his wings in various positions. This one is my favorite because the wings are fully extended, giving an excellent impression of the enormous size of this bird.

Sandhill crane landing with wings spread fully

In-flight silhouette shots were the easiest to create in low-light conditions, and I really like these two.

Sandhill cranes in flight against dawn sky
Cranes flying into the golden light of the sunrise sky
Moon and ducks at dawn
Duck side of the Moon (my Pink Floyd tribute)

One morning I was tracking the flight of these ducks across the pre-dawn sky and was ready when they crossed in front of the moon. This is one of my favorite shots from the weekend.

When we weren’t at Jasper-Pulaski, we spent time driving around surrounding areas shooting trees and other nature scenes. The rain had provided us with lots of opportunities to use the moody fog in our compositions.

Fog and lone tree with reflection in water

Fog and two big oak trees

I’ve been enchanted with the photographic possibilities of trees for many years. I usually seek out isolated trees, as in the first photo above. But this scene was great too, with the structural interest of the big oaks, the curving country road, and the fog in the air. This one was edited using a NIK filter, thanks to Jim’s excellent suggestion. I could (and quite likely will) spend hours playing with these filters on my photos.

Algae-covered creek and beaver dam w sig

The bright green of the algae in this scene was a welcome and cheerful display of color on a rainy day. Notice the beaver dam crossing the waterway just behind the algae.

Finally, here’s a scene we shot under threat of lightning and pouring rain.  I think it was worth it.

Woods with color and fog resized w sig

I’m glad to find out I’m not a sissy after all. 😉 I had a great time and learned a lot on this trip, and will be better prepared for my next challenging photography outing.

Something To Look Forward To

something-to-look-forward-to-594x800Have you ever been in a rut? You know what I mean, those times when you realize that all you’ve been doing is living life on autopilot, just going through the motions of everyday life. You wake up, go to work, come home tired, eat, fall into bed, and repeat that, day after day, with very little variation in the routine.

That’s where I found myself a couple months ago–deep in a rut. I’d realized that I had nothing coming up on my calendar that I could look forward to, nothing that I was excited about, nothing that represented a change from my routine. Life was so boring.

So I decided that I would make an effort to plan more activities that would put a spark back into my life, like visiting new places, meeting new people, and doing things I’ve never done before.

One evening I was standing in the kitchen and I impulsively wrote this note on my refrigerator: “Something to look forward to…”  And having that message on my fridge where I see it every day has motivated me to start making plans. The biggest and most exciting of these plans is my upcoming birding trip to Costa Rica with a friend, but while I anxiously await that one, I’ve been doing some more exploring of places closer to home.

staircase-in-woods-looking-down-594x800One of the places I discovered recently is Steyer Nature Preserve, a great park along the Sandusky River near Tiffin, Ohio. It consists of 141 acres with four miles of trails that wind around wildflower meadows and crisscross steep ravines. I’ve written before about how I enjoy places with even the slightest elevation changes, something that’s rather rare in northwest Ohio’s farm country.

This park is part of the Seneca County Park District, and they’ve done a really nice job of building bridges and staircases to facilitate access to the trails through the steep ravines. And they’ve included lots of interpretive signs as well, identifying various tree species and giving background on the history of the land.

steyer-sign-collage

I learned names of some trees that I’d never heard of before, like  hophornbeam and pignut hickory. And there are two trees on this property that are nearly 300 years old.

bur-oak-collage

I sat on the bench near this Bur Oak for quite some time, contemplating some of the events it had survived in its 292 years. How often do you get the chance to touch something that has been alive for centuries? And yes, I’ll admit that I hugged this amazing tree. And then I photographed this Eastern Comma butterfly that had paused to rest on its trunk:

eastern-comma-butterfly-on-bur-oak-tree-800x533
Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

I found this huge spiderweb in the woods — it was probably 18 inches across. Did you know that the design of a spiderweb can give you hints as to the type of spider that made it? This one is typical of those constructed by members of the orbweaver family.

spiderweb-big-one-in-sunlight-1-800x533

bridge-and-stairs-at-steyer-nature-preserve-800x594As I walked toward that old Bur Oak on my way back to the car, a Bald Eagle flew out of the top of it. He’d probably been surveying the river below for fish. I watched him fly across the cow pasture and land near another Baldie on the far side.

bald-eagles-in-tree-739x800

sandusky-river-view-from-steyer-nature-preserve-trail-800x594
The Sandusky River at Steyer Nature Preserve
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This frog jumped into the water as I approached the river — he thinks I can’t see him.

I’m so glad I got myself motivated to go out for that walk. Discovering this wonderful spot definitely helped lift me out of my rut, giving me motivation to keep looking for more new places to explore close to home!

Trees of Life

blog---tree-with-yellow-leaves-and-quoteThis week is a big one for the big blue marble we call Earth: We celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and Arbor Day on April 25. I usually consider myself to be pretty “tuned in” to environmental issues, but I  was taken by surprise last week when these two holidays popped up on the calendar. I was sad to realize that neither of these two days has been high on my list of “holidays to celebrate.” Our culture makes a much bigger deal about Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and New Year’s. Heck, even President’s Day gets more attention than Earth Day and Arbor Day.

We planted this Colorado Blue Spruce in our yard last year.
We planted this Colorado Blue Spruce in our yard last year.

I submit to you that we have some very misplaced priorities, especially when you consider that none of those other holidays would even be possible without a healthy planet that provides what our species needs to live here.

So in an effort to set my own priorities straight, I’m appointing myself an unofficial ambassador of both holidays.  With that in mind, I took a quick tour around the interwebs to get educated on the origins and purpose of both of these days. Wanna know what I found? I knew you would.

Did you know that the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970? It was a way to harness the energy behind the protests of the 1960s and turn it toward protecting the natural world. Inspired in large part by the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the environmental movement was off and running. But it seems to be celebrated much more enthusiastically in other countries than in our own, and that needs to change.

And Arbor Day has an even longer history. Arbor Day was created by J. Sterling Morton, a journalist from Detroit who moved his family to Nebraska in the mid-19th century. The first Arbor Day was celebrated there in 1872, with the planting of over a million trees in a single day. And get this: When it was made a legal holiday in 1885, Nebraska City celebrated with a parade of a thousand people. So tell me, when’s the last time you saw a parade to celebrate the importance of Arbor Day? I never have. (Click the link in this paragraph to see the official story of the history of Arbor Day.)

And we planted two of these Korean Firs too. Although this one was badly damaged by deer this winter, so we'll see if it survives.
And we planted two of these Korean Firs too. Although this one was badly damaged by deer this winter, so we’ll see if it survives.

For the eight years we’ve lived on our two-acre wooded property, I’ve been a fierce protector of every single tree here. We leave the dead ones to provide food and shelter for the birds and other animals who live here with us. And when a large ash tree beside the house died last year and threatened to fall on our roof, rather than have the entire tree removed, I instructed the tree guys to leave the bottom 15 feet of it standing.  I look out my office window now and often see woodpeckers and nuthatches foraging on that tree trunk. Some people may scoff at my efforts to do what they consider small and meaningless acts like that, but I know that it makes a difference. That tree will continue to support life for other species long after its own life has ended.

Goldfinch using our newly-planted spruce tree last summer.
Goldfinch using our newly-planted spruce tree last summer.

My love of trees has continued to deepen with my love of birds. And not just for the obvious reason that I spend a lot of time walking under trees. Birders tend to learn about trees while watching little birds with binoculars. We see details of trees that most people never notice.  I first heard the word “catkin” while watching warblers in the spring. (Catkins are the dangly flowers in some trees, like alder, oak, and beech.) We learn that certain species of birds prefer certain trees for food or nesting, and we learn where the various types of trees are likely to be found, so we can find the birds we’re seeking.

I’m frustrated at how environmentalism and efforts to “Save the Planet” have become politicized in our country. Taking care of our habitat shouldn’t be something that is debated the way it is, with people being called names for wanting to protect natural places. I’ve got news for those people who sneer “tree hugger” like it’s a dirty word — those people who are planting trees and saving wetlands and so on are doing it for ALL of us. For me, for you, for your children and your grandchildren.

The earth can survive without trees and clean water. But the human species can’t.

Trees for Wildlife by NWFAnd the National Wildlife Federation has a program that allows you to sponsor a tree in the name of a loved one for as little as $10, and you get a certificate to commemorate your memorial tree (or trees).

I plan to continue protecting the trees we have, and if I can find another spot to plant new ones, I’ll do that too. I hope others will be re-inspired to plant more trees as well. Even if you don’t have space for more trees in your yard, you can donate to the Arbor Day Foundation or Earth Day Network and support their efforts to plant trees around the world.

Ok, I’m going outside to hug a tree now…. 🙂

Foggy Day in the Park

I love fog. There are usually a few days each year, in the late winter or early spring, when we wake up to find the landscape around our house shrouded in mist. In a really good fog we can’t even see the road, and our property becomes a wooded island far from anywhere.

Trees in fog - banner styleI wrote about one of these a while back and showed you some of my photos, and now I want to share some new ones, taken just a few days ago. I’d predicted we’d get a foggy day soon, because we still had lots of snow on the ground and the temperatures were slowly inching up into the 40s and 50s. I’m no meteorologist, but I think that’s a pretty good recipe for fog. So when we had a foggy day last week I high-tailed it over to the park as soon as I could, knowing that the 500-acre lake would make for some interesting shots. I removed my 400mm birding lens and put my wide-angle lens on the camera for some landscape photos.

Turkey in the fogWithin the first 100 feet of the entrance road I spotted this turkey strolling along beside me. I grabbed my little point-and-shoot camera and got a couple shots off before he fled into the mist. Turkeys are very skittish; I’d think such large birds would be a bit braver. But maybe it’s because they’re hunted and they know humans are bad news.

Big tree in fog
I really like this one.

I walked out among the scattered trees in a big field, looking for some good ones to shoot. This park is one of my favorites, and I usually feel that I know it pretty well. But walking in the fog made it all feel new and different, like someplace far from home where something magical could happen. It almost wouldn’t have surprised me to see a unicorn walk out of that mist, that’s how other-worldly it felt.

Believe it or not, there's a 500-acre lake out there somewhere.
Believe it or not, there’s a 500-acre lake out there somewhere.

Did you know there are various types of fog? I didn’t either. According to the National Weather Service, there’s advection fog, radiation fog, upslope fog, ice fog, freezing fog, and evaporation fog. So I’m thinking our fog was the advection type, caused by warmer air moving over the cool snow on the ground and ice on the lake. (If you want to read more about these types of fog, here’s where I found that info.) The National Weather Service website ends their fog page with a warning about driving in fog, saying that it’s important not to use your high-beam headlights in fog because your visibility will be reduced even more. I did know that. (Jeopardy, here I come….)

Road to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere

My family had a very scary experience while driving in heavy fog on a vacation many years ago. We were on the freeway with my dad driving–he’s an excellent and safe driver, so we were going verry slowly and keeping plenty of distance between us and the other cars. But suddenly a pair of headlights came out of the fog headed toward us — another driver had somehow gotten disoriented and was driving on the wrong side of the freeway. I remember how our hearts jumped into our throats as we watched that car pass beside us, knowing that we’d narrowly escaped tragedy as the other car disappeared into the mist behind us. A foggy day is not a day for driving, that’s for sure!

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

~ Carl Sandburg

Bikers in the fog
Bikers in the fog

Extreme Birding: One Tree Limit

I ran away today. The road commission was out on our dirt & gravel road doing their never-ending maintenance, assailing my morning with the loud and incessant sounds of backup beepers and grinding truck engines. So I packed up my laptop and some books for writing inspiration and headed to the park, hoping to find a quiet spot for an afternoon of writing. Here’s how it went:

View of the lake from my picnic table writing desk
View of the lake from my picnic table writing desk

It’s a cool, sunny day, about 70 degrees with a brisk breeze that results in me being bombarded with a hail of cotton puffs from the cottonwood trees. I settle myself at a picnic table a couple hundred yards uphill from the lake, and get busy typing. Of course I’m immediately distracted by the birds, but I remind myself that I will not be birding today. I’m here for writing. But I still have my binoculars (“bins” in birderspeak) and 300mm lens, just in case something incredible happens by.

Chipping Sparrow singing (click to enlarge)
Chipping Sparrow singing (click to enlarge)

Just to get warmed up, the first couple paragraphs I type are about the birds I’m hearing and seeing. In particular, a chipping sparrow is singing constantly from the inner branches of the tree right in front of me. He even dropped down to the ground a couple times to nibble on a caterpillar or other delicious tidbit.

I finally put down the bins and resume writing, chastising myself for my lack of focus. I make some good progress in the next hour, stopping periodically to look at the birds. Suddenly it dawns on me that I could write about the experience of birding in a single tree. That seemed an intriguing idea, so that’s what I’m doing. Pretty clever, huh? I’m writing, but I’m also birding. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Our tree for today's "Single Tree Birding" experiment, a pretty black locust
Our tree for today’s “Single Tree Birding” experiment, a pretty black locust

Before I tell you about the other birds, let me introduce our tree for the day. This is a 30-foot-tall black locust tree located on the edge of a parking lot. At least I think that’s what it is, after perusing two tree field guides. Other trees nearby include cottonwoods, various evergreens, oaks, elms, and many more I don’t know how to identify (yet). There’s a large lawn area too.

The little chipping sparrow appeared to “own” this tree, as he sang from it for the entire three hours I was there, entertaining me with his pretty little song.

Eastern Kingbird, scouting for flying insects
Eastern Kingbird, scouting for flying insects

At one point I think I see a kingbird fly into the back side of the tree, but can’t confirm it. But 15 minutes later he pops into view on a branch right in front of me, posing nicely for his photo. I later watch him launching flycatching forays from the highest branches of the tree, grabbing insects midair. The kingbird is a member of the flycatcher family, birds that grab insects on the wing, often coming back to land again and again on the same branch. I’m always delighted to see this feat of timing and speed, not to mention eyesight. I can’t even see the insects they’re grabbing.

I open a document of notes I took at a writing workshop recently. I read some of them. I look back up to try to see the chipping sparrow (because now that I know what I’m writing about, I realize that a photo of him would be a nice addition). As I look up, I see a bluebird fly out of the tree with a caterpillar in its mouth. He flies overhead and goes into a tree behind me, where I soon see his mate as well. No matter how many times I see a bluebird, it always makes me smile because I think of the “Bluebird of Happiness.”

Cottonwood seed puffs and some leaves from the locust tree
Cottonwood seed puffs and some leaves from the locust tree

Back to my notes. The writing workshop was led by Dr. J. Drew Lanham, a professor at Clemson University. This was my first time being taught by him, and I came out of that workshop with some notes that I know I’ll refer to many times in my future writing efforts. One of my favorites of his ideas was to pick up a leaf nearby when you see a special bird, and insert it into your field guide to remind you of how you felt and what you saw at that moment. So I stopped in my writing to bend down and gather up some of the cottonwood seedpuffs that were coating the grass.

Now the breeze slows down and the air feels warmer. A robin starts singing loudly behind me. I can hear a blue-gray gnatcatcher in another tree nearby, and now goldfinches have gathered in the interior of our locust tree, softly chattering among themselves. A flicker announces his presence with his boisterous calls. And still the chipping sparrow sings every five or ten seconds. Does he sing for the pleasure of it, or to get a mate, or to protect his territory? Possibly a bit of all those, I think.

Turkey Vulture flyover
Turkey Vulture flyover

I stand up to stretch and see a turkey vulture soaring over our tree.  As I sit down, some blue jays and crows are having an argument in the trees behind me. Two cowbirds land beneath the tree and walk around poking around in the grass.

A chickadee is singing his sad-sounding two-note call in a nearby tree. The breeze has brought a sweet smell now, from some plant I can’t see around me and can’t identify from the scent. But trust me, it’s lovely. I can’t inhale deeply enough. Maybe honeysuckle?

Down near the lake there are red-winged blackbirds calling occasionally. They seem to have already settled down from the noisy and aggressive early part of breeding season. A couple geese land in the lake as a red-bellied woodpecker makes a brief stop in our tree.

I keep writing. I make good progress, ending up with two draft articles for future use.

Taking a break from eating to sing again
Taking a break from eating to sing again

Then I hear a catbird softly mewing behind me. I play a catbird song on my Audubon bird app and he responds by singing back to me for twenty seconds or so. (I try to be judicious in my use of bird calls so as not to cause distress to the birds, but I thought in this situation it was ok to play it one time.)

Chipping Sparrow with leaf
Chipping Sparrow with green  caterpillar

So to summarize, I saw the following birds in this single locust tree during my three hour writing session: Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Bluebirds, American Goldfinches, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.  This unassuming tree managed to feed or shelter at least five species of birds this afternoon, not to mention all the work it did to capture carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen to make our planet healthier. A tree is a special thing. (And this “one-tree birding” idea is fun and I might just try it again soon.)

And, just because I’m compelled to record all the birds, here are the others who didn’t actually visit our tree: Northern Flicker, American Crow, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Turkey Vulture, American Robin, Gray Catbird, and Black-capped Chickadee.

The sparrow is finally quiet and I find that I feel lonely without his pretty serenade to inspire me. I hope he’s taking a well-deserved nap up there in the cool interior of that lovely tree. I’m heading home, rejuvenated and relaxed, happy that I can share this peaceful afternoon with all of you.

Maybe a change of scenery and some fresh air would do you good too. Why not try it and find out? And don’t forget to hug a tree while you’re out there. 🙂