Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Birds

Birds. I love them and I spend an inordinate amount of money feeding them. Sure I know they have a natural buffet built right into the landscape but I want their happy, chirpy, colorful, feathers flitting past my windows and through my gardens so, I feed them. A lot. They bring me joy and happiness. They remind me of the belief that my spirit was meant to soar high into the heavens. But freedom is not free. And this particular freedom requires bags of seeds, cracked corn, peanuts, suet cake and dog food. Yes, I did just say dog food. Dry dog food to be exact.

We have a rather wide variety of birds here and some of them have a distinct preference for dog food. I discovered this one fine summer day when upon researching a strange noise coming from the kitchen, I found Stellar Jays raiding the dog food dish. I shooed them out. They came right back. I closed that door. They tried to come in the front. Clearly they were fans. We feed our pets Hills
Science Diet and it’s great stuff but it isn’t cheap and it certainly isn’t for the birds.

Every day I put out fresh food for them in about eight different places. I do this as part of my morning ritual, right along with having my extra hot latte’ and feeding the horses their morning treats. My little feathered friends literally wait for me in the trees. If I am late getting up, the jays will start squawking and tapping on the window. I don’t mind though. It gets me walking the garden every morning which is something I truly enjoy doing. I don’t have a bunch of specialized feeders designed for individual birds with price tags to match. Mainly what I do is sprinkle out a mixture of feed onto stumps, rocks and logs. They have been pretty comfortable with this arrangement and we get dozens of different species that seem to get along just fine. Trust me, no one is going hungry around here. The mixture that I have found to be the most well received is this: squirrel mix (corn, sunflower, peanut, etc.), no waste seed mix and cheap dry dog food plus several suet cages. And this is how we come to buy dog-dog food and bird-dog food.

So as you can see I love the birds. Maybe just not enough for Science Diet though. It is therefore also part of my yearly ritual to go viewing birds that don’t visit Bluegate Gardens. And that is where you find this post now. The cute little red farm house is in the Skagit valley. You remember when I told you about the valley’s great culinary abundance earlier this year in Trip to Bountiful? Well there is another special delight that the Skagit valley has to offer. Birds!
Every winter the Snow Geese descend upon the valley on their way up to Alaska and Canada. Bald Eagles can also be found in abundance but we come for the Snow Geese in particular. And the reason is this; you can truly experience an Alfred Hitchcock moment like no other. Now I can’t speak for anyone else but I did not grow up around this sort of flocking phenomenon and it can be quite spectacular. Seeing these huge flocks is one thing amazing in itself but the real excitement starts when they suddenly take flight flushing into the air with a great rushing explosion of white feathers. You feel them swirling around you lifting and rising into the sky and for a moment you can feel your soul rising with them high into the heavens. There is no Disneyland roller coaster ride that can compare with that feeling of living energy lifting you up out of your earthly confines.

Now of course there is the other side of this wonderful phenomenon which the great master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock displayed so disturbingly well. Unnerving enough to make every common House Finch look suspiciously like an evil minion from hell sent on a scouting mission, and a giant flock of huge Snow Geese surrounding your house is an active sign of the Apocalypse. If you can manage to get past that collective trauma memory it’s really a great bit of fun.
The other great bird watching event that we always make sure to experience is the Bald Eagles that flock to our northern rivers every winter to eat the dying salmon. The birds are on their way up to Canada and Alaska. Just like the Snow Geese the eagles are stopping off in Washington state to fatten up on the rich buffet before heading off for some long winter months up North. When I was a girl I remember learning of our nation’s dying Bald Eagle population and it saddened me deeply. Species do die off all the time but as I understood it these birds weren’t going naturally, we were killing them off ourselves. I also grew up in areas where I never saw Bald Eagles so they seemed even more rare than imaginable. They held a mystical quality for me, perhaps not too far removed from that of a unicorn. The idea of losing that forever was heartbreaking.

Humans do a lot of terrible things and we make a lot of mistakes along the way. We also do a lot of tremendously wonderful things and get an awful lot of stuff right. Bringing the Bald Eagles back from the brink was one of those things we got right. It renews my faith in the symbiotic relationship of living things when I see the trees full of Bald Eagles.
We drive out to Concrete and Marblemount to watch them flock along the river banks. They fill the trees in numbers I could never have imagined in my childhood. I can stand on the side of the road not five feet from a beautiful majestic creature that in my lifetime was almost lost to eternity. Seeing these birds free and wild in such numbers is a clear and true testament to life. An active display of life snatched back from the edge of total darkness. Some things go when they are meant to go and life ends and is reborn all the time. Sometimes however we get the chance to right a wrong. Sometimes we get to say no to death, not just yet.


  1. Wow LeSan ~ Wonderful, fantastic pictures and story to go along with them. I love your winter world pictured here so nicely. I am glad to see you posting, as I was a little worried after you mentioned being sick.

    Have a lovely day ~ FlowerLady

  2. Gorgeous pictures! The first look so magical!I too love feeding my friends everyday..and have some very friendly Bluejays and chickadees..! Lovely post..awesome photos!

  3. Good Morning LeSan: Birds are part of the life here also. Like you we enjoy them all the time. We have a window we call the computer window, that while Liza sits at her computer she can see one of our feeder stations. Great view into the back yard. Working on some posts about our birds, will have them done soon. Don't try holding your breath until they are posted, you wont make it. Will be a few days.

    Enjoy Your Day,

  4. Wonderful post LeSan! How amazing to see those majestic creatures in such numbers and so close! Your captures of the Eagles are amazing! I love your geese photos too ... and "flocking phenomenon" is a great way to describe it all. Beautiful photography!! We can do such great things and must continue to fight to keep endangered beings on the lists that protect them. Stellar photos and post! Award wining really!! Though the dog food makes me a bit nervous. Remember children will eat anything too. Hope you do not mind me saying this. Thank you for such an inspiring post!! Carol

  5. Hello Lesan,

    I remember seeing my first bald eagle, in person, while visiting Alaska. I was amazed at it size and how beautiful it was. I love the little blue bird in your photo and the snow geese. Just beautiful.

  6. The Snow geese are amazing! I had no idea there were such flocks of them around here. Much prettier than the Crows that seem to be taking over our town here. Very creepy amounts of them!
    I've told my oldest daughter about how when we grew up Bald Eagles were on the verge of extinction and how exciting it is for me now when I see one flying over the Sammamish Slough near our house, even occasionally flying over the school yard behind us. I can't imagine seeing them in the numbers you do, it must be amazing.

  7. This post is a real treat! What great, great shots! The first bird is SOOO blue! Wonderful color! The geese pictures are outstanding! Thank you Lesan!

  8. The pictures of all those geese are amazing....and a little scary, too.
    We've paid to go on 'Eagle Cruises', and never saw a one. Then, I was floating in a friend's pool, outside Tampa, and one flew over. That's a place I didn't expect one.
    We did see some in Alaska, a couple years ago.
    Your photos, with the fog and the birds, are just beautiful, LeSan. Keep up the good work.
    Oh...I'm hoping this means you're feeling better.

  9. I've always thought of birds a bit fowl, myself.
    Spectacular imagery. While I concede that human efforts to restore species near extinction is noble, you musn't forget it was the same humans who drove those poor creatures to the brink.
    Your communication with the birds seems to be a side effect of several things. First, be sure you're not regurgitating their food to them - just because that's creepy. Second, if you get too attached to them, they'll seize their opportunity, and change our free/not-at-all-free world into an Earth actually run by Earth. While that may seem logical (actually, it is) it has many negative side effects; for example, all the droppings. Do you know how many noble statues have forfeited their dignity to fowl play?
    As for the dog food, I can only imagine a bird eating dog food would end up a really bad horror movie advertised for years that only stays in theaters for, like, a week. So you made a smart move there.
    Although all the pictures are epic, I admire the final one most. It captures both the morose atmosphere of a fate that's already passed and the hope of a new future. Take away all the cliches and you finally get a glimpse at a simple bird flying in the mist, which is much more fun to look at.

  10. Hi LeSan - I take it from your posting again that you're feeling a bit better now? Hope so!
    Those are stunning photos. I love the one of the birds taking flight - snow geese doing it are somehow a lot less threatening that the flocks of starlings we get!

    That last photo is superb! :)
    PS. We've got even more snow now!!!

  11. Such beautiful photos! And I enjoyed trekking through the outdoors with you today!

  12. Wow, the pictures are splendid! So many birds, such beautiful words. The last picture with a lone bird is my favourite. The bird look so free, flying high in the sky.

  13. Hi LeSan,

    I couldn't agree with you more about the spiritual and psychological lift birds in flight give to us.Frequently when I'm driving and stopped at a red light a flock of birds will make a figure eight in the sky in front of me, and I'll forget everything for a moment, mesmerized by their beauty.

    One of the things I love about Nova Scotia is the wide variety of birds we see there. I have had eagles fly right in front of the car when we're driving on a country road.

    So I share your enthusiasm. We can't put out dog food for the Jays in the city, or we'd have rats, and we do have huge, almost leonine racoons. Our yard is only 15 feet wide, and they
    seem to fill it. Much as I love them I don't want them getting too near the house. They've been known to pick open windows, climb down through chimneys and helps themselves thank you very much.

    Super blog. Happy New Year. I have been fighting a pernicious cold myself -- so barely blogging. I hope you are better.


  14. FLOWERLADY~ Thank you Rainey. We took this little trip right before I came down with the flu. I am still not feeling my best. I’m starting out the day alright but then when I do to much I end up with an elevated temp and feeling like crud again. It is frustrating not being up to your normal speed and abilities. Sigh. Stupid flu.

    KIKI~ Glad to know you are a fellow bird lover! They bring so much life to the garden and the world for that matter. They are as much a part of my garden plan as any flower or shrub. I can waste a lot of time just watching them out there. It’s a very pleasant waste of time I might add. heheh

    JWLW~ I knew you were a bird watcher John. I am looking forward to your bird post. It will give me a wonderful opportunity to see some birds that we do not have here. I have to follow Liza’s lead and get some birds over to my computer window. I moved my “office” into my art studio but I don’t have any feed stations set up there so I am going to have to build a little bird garden out there now. I had them right at the window in the other office and it’s kind of lonely without them. P.S. Thanks for the warning about holding my breath. I’ve been ill lately and I just don’t have the lung capacity that I used to. Heheh Have a good day John.

    CAROL~ I was thinking of you Carol when I posted these photos. Your bird pictures are always so wonderful. I knew I could not compete with them. I think I need to get some additional lenses for my camera in order to get as close and clear as you do with yours. Thank you for the kind compliments. They were most welcomed! Not to worry about the dog food for the birds and I do appreciate your concern. Like you, we live on some acreage and there are no children around to get into mischief. Frankly, if there were I would be much more concerned about the big pond than the dog food. While little kids will eat just about anything they are likely to survive and occasional bit of kibble. An unintended swim…not so much.

    NOELLE~ Do you ever see the Golden Eagles out there in Arizona? It has been a long time since I have been there and I understand that the valley has grown an awful lot since then. I would occasionally see them out there in the mountains. They are truly spectacular creatures. Their wingspan is around six feet wide and that really makes an impression on a person. I never get tired of seeing them nor do I tire of the Stellar Jays. Their royal blue coloring is so beautiful. I am glad you enjoyed the snow geese. They are a seasonal treat for me.

    CATHERINE~ We do fill up with migrating birds in the winter and they are really something to see. There are a great many other species in large numbers that fill the Skagit Valley but I only focused on the flashy Snow Geese here. I am glad that you too remember what it was like when we were kids and thought we might lose those birds forever. I think for me it was the first time I clearly understood that kind of extinction. It made an impact on me. I remember that every time I see them now. At this time of year here you can easily see great numbers of them along the river and it is incredibly moving. I never imagined Eagles in terms of flocking but they sure look like it at this time of year.

  15. TATYANA~ Thank you Tatyana. I think the Stellar Jays are my steady favorite. They are here year round, always gregarious and the color is a complete knockout. They are really the reason I buy the dog food. It’s their favorite, well that and the peanuts. I’m glad you enjoyed the geese. I love seeing them every year. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to see large numbers of anything in our daily lives. It’s worth the short trip to experience this wonder and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to do so.

    PATCHWORK~ I am so glad you enjoyed the photos. Thank you. I do know what you mean about a little scary. If you look at it a little closer you can really see how intense a flock of birds can be. I suppose a lot of us domesticated humans forget just how wild and savage nature can be. I know what you mean about paying for a tour and not seeing a thing. The first year we went out to see the Eagles we saw all the tour boats and could hear the people complaining that they didn’t see any. At the same time we were just walking along the road and easily saw so many. The first ones we spotted were a dozen in one tree. One year we paid for a whale cruise and spent the entire day seeing nothing but seagulls. Then we simply drove down to the shore and saw a pod. For Free. Go figure.
    Oh, and thank you for asking. I am feeling a little better. Still getting feverish in the evening but it’s better.

    AIDAN WATSON-MORRIS~ Yes, Aidan birds are a fowl bunch to be sure. I believe it was Tony Morris who said, “When I knew better, I did better.” That is the part of our nature that I hope we save from our own efforts of self extinction. Birds aren’t the only thing often on the brink. You are quite correct that if given half the chance they will seize their opportunity to squeeze us out of the ruling party. Most things will, save perhaps the sloth. But then again the sloths may be hatching plans of a coup even as we speak. No doubt their interminable slowness is part of their diabolical plan. That said, it is an oft overlooked fact that Earth is currently run by Earth. How silly of us to forget that humans are animals of the Earth just as are birds and sloths. Once we take away all the clichés it just boils down to simple a simple portrait of Earthly creatures whose fate and futures are forever intertwined as they move through the mists of time.
    Thank you for taking the time to comment Aidan. I enjoyed it.

    NUTTY~ Thank you for asking. I am feeling better but not as better as I would like. I am frustrated with the hit to my energy level. I am also pretty darn tired of headaches and fevers. I am however extremely grateful that I didn’t have a sick stomach. I hate that immensely, so all told I made out pretty good for having the Piglet Fever. I think you’re right about what particular species is flocking as to the level of creepy. While Snow Geese are fluffy and white, Starlings are dark and a tad more suspect. Pigeons can pull some pretty strong menace as well and don’t even get me started on the crows. LOL
    More snow? Wow! You’re starting to look like a New York winter over on that side of the Pond. I loved your last photos. They were gorgeous. I hope you place well in the contest.

  16. BRENDA~ Thank you Brenda. I was glad to have you along on my little bird safari. It’s the least I can do to repay you for all the wonderful visits I enjoy to your house. I have really been enjoying your projects lately. You inspire and frighten me. I want to run out and try all those super cool things you do but I know I’ll probably just end up with a hundred half done projects clogging up the works. LOL Besides, you are a pretty tough act to follow. Your work is outstanding.

    AUTUMN BELLE~ Your comment was very poetic and I truly enjoyed reading it. Thank you. I am grateful to the birds for the reminder they give us of freedom. Such a simple thing we are surrounded by every day and yet often and elusive and fragile concept.

    BARBARA~ I imagine that the birds are specifically dancing for you. You are a person with childlike joy and wonder for the world around you. It’s pretty hard not to respond to that with a dance or fly-by.
    Boy, I do hear you with the city rats and coons. I watch the levels of food I put out so that there are not leftovers by the end of the day. I am pretty sure I would not want to encounter an uninvited raccoon in my kitchen in the middle of the night. Then the cats and dogs do keep the rodent population in pretty good check around here. I have to keep an eye on the bears though. I certainly don’t want to leave the “Buffet is Open” sign on for that one.
    Sorry to hear about the nasty cold. I think I hate those more than the flu. Take care dear friend.

  17. What an wonderful part of the country you live in. I love to watch the birds in our backyard. The ones you have there are amazing!

  18. I take pleasure in feeding the birds too, but never thought of dog food.(might bring more than birds) Such great photos as usual.That is one blue bird. Very cool.

  19. What an amazing number of birds and dog food? Well, I just have to try that. I wonder if they'd like cat food too. I have both in our home, come spring I'm going to try them both out and see which is preferred.

  20. Great photos of birds in flight. How i wish i can see those in my lifetime.