Two In The Bush

08 cardinals feedingLinda Burton posting from Arkadelphia, Arkansas – You need a good pair of binoculars. No, first you need plenty of feeders, some big black sunflower seed, and some tiny thistle seed. Add a backyard and a little snowfall now and then and you’ve got yourself a serious detraction from writing. I’m madly pushing myself to meet that deadline I set back in January – to have PAGES on the website for every capital city by March 31. But my computer faces directly on the best bird-watching site this side of an African watering pond full of pink flamingos. I’ve got cardinals – nine brilliant males and their less brilliant but somewhat more charming spouses; and I’ve got finches. Goldfinches I was familiar with, but I’d never seen a purple finch before. I thumbed through my Birds of Arkansas book (Stan Tekiela, 2011) to identify the red birds in the yard that didn’t have a crest like the cardinals. Yes, purple finches have a red head and stick around Arkansas all winter long. According to my bird book, they travel in flocks of 50 and “have a rich loud song.” Why are they called purple finches if they are red? Ah, the Latin species name purpureus means “crimson” or some other reddish color.

Mark Twain Library MantelDeadlines. And things that get in the way of them. Mark Twain, so the story goes, couldn’t seem to get finished with a certain character named Tom Sawyer. He spent his days strolling the streets of Hartford chatting with neighbors, and his evenings gathering the children in front of the fireplace in the library for “story on the spot” time, lifting items from the mantelpiece and one-by-one incorporating them into a tall tale. It’s said that if he missed an item, the children would squeal in delight and make him go back. Every night a different tale. Now that’s creative, and certainly fun, but it didn’t make for a commercial book. So Mrs Clemens, being a practical woman, banished him to their cottage in the woods until he finished what we know today as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Not being blessed with such a task-master, I goofed off with birds.

I paper-clipped a page in the bird book every time I identified another backyard bird. I’m up to 22 now, counting the “ruby-throated hummingbird” that hasn’t returned from Costa Rica yet but stayed with me all last summer. New to me was the white-breasted nuthatch, which hangs around Arkansas year-round, and the dark-eyed junco, which flies down from Canada to winter here. Both are neat little birds, about 5” long. The nuthatch is unusual in that it climbs down a tree trunk headfirst, spotting insects that other birds missed going the other direction. The junco can be seen “double-scratching” for seeds on the ground – that is, scratching with both feet at the same time.

Another bird that was new to me is the cowbird, a member of the blackbird family but with a head of chocolate brown. The cowbirds are a lesson in “bad citizenship.” Too lazy to build their own nests, they are the only parasitic birds in Arkansas laying eggs in hosts birds’ nests, leaving others to raise their young. Most birds (like humans would do) just go ahead and incubate the uninvited eggs and raise the babies as their own – warblers have been seen feeding young birds twice their size. Which brings me to that spring frenzy known as mating and nesting.02 cardinals looking at me

“Hurry Quincy! We can’t cut down any trees that have nests in them.” Quincy and Dante continued to clear brush and work to reclaim my back yard, but the the tulip poplar is already blooming and the birds mean business.

Hurry Linda! The website needs your attention. Capital cities! Focus!