I was at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge to greet the dawn this Saturday morning. There was no rain, but the air was cold and the dampness from the rains we’d been having seemed to penetrate my warmest jacket and gloves. Trees held plenty of water from the rain and one or two icy drips managed to run down my neck until I wrapped my scarf tighter.
There are not many leaves left on the trees, but there is still a colorful carpet of leaves in some areas, and they serve to soften the sound of the gravel path.
I startled a small flock of juncos and sparrows rooting around on the gravel path. They flew into a bush, waited for me to pass, then immediately went back to sorting gravel.
According to the weather service, dawn would be at 7:18. At exactly 7:20, with the sun burning softly through the fog, a roar rose from the refuge ponds. It was the sound of many geese and water birds rising together in response to the dawn. Perhaps there were thousands of them. I can only say there were so many that they didn’t sound like geese. For just few moments, sounded instead like the roar of the crowd in a huge football stadium during Superbowl. I’ve seen huge flocks of geese before, but I’ve never heard anything like the roar they made as they first roused themselves.
The geese seemed to rise in waves, some appearing to fly away from the refuge but many staying overhead, low in the sky, circling, stretching their wings, milling around and around, not minding the fog. There were so many geese overhead I worried about what might drop on my head. In the end, luck was with me. A noticed a heron who seemed to resent the noisy early morning ritual as he fled for more peaceful territory. After thirty minutes most of the geese had settled back down and quieted. The ceremony of celebrating dawn was over.
The spectacular wakening was the gift I had come for, so was the small herd of deer I nearly stumbled into, and the juncos and the sparrows. I seldom anticipate what I will see when I walk in the refuge. Instead, I wait for the gift I will be given. I am never disappointed.
The minute I first saw the huge windows in the back of the little house, I was blinded to the broken down backyard fence and kitchen cabinets, the oversized low-hanging bedroom fan threatening decapitation, an aged dirty carpet covering a plywood floor, and a multitude of smaller sins.
Love, after all, is the ability to look past the warts and treasure the good. I told myself I would fix what I could, when I could.
The windows were old, no longer fit, and couldn’t be locked. I saw them as my year-round access to the outdoors and whatever wildlife I could nurture in my tiny backyard.
Butterflies, bees, tiny green tree frogs, and garter snakes live in my new little yard,
Hummingbirds found the feeder the day I first put it up. A scrub jay and a pair of house wrens frequent the yard and drink from the bird bath. Skunks and squirrels and chipmunks live nearby. I only need to pay attention to enjoy their presence.
The house is close to the wildlife refuge and the autumn skies are often filled
with large flocks of noisy gossiping geese.
Yesterday morning, as I was looking out my back window I saw a tremendous flurry of activity in a neighbor’s large tree. Hundreds of Cedar Waxwings were filling up on the bright orange berries covering that tree. Cedar Waxwings are the most nattily dressed of birds. I was so delighted to see them that I forgot to take a picture.
Teddy and I celebrated the second day of fall by walking the Gettman Loop around the Chehalem Glenn Golf Course this morning. It had only been two weeks since we were last there yet everything has changed. Cool air and an overcast sky might be tiresome in a few months but they are invigorating this early in fall.
Aside from a dried up Bachelor Button hanging on a brittle stem near the path, the wildflowers are gone. Although many trees have barely begun changing color, the forested path is already accepting a carpet of crisp yellowed leaves.
The bridge showed signs of some repair done after the windstorm earlier this month and there was plenty of debris in the form of branches and heavy limbs that had been moved to keep the path clear.
The forest was quiet this morning. Teddy curiously nosed a large green Pacific banana slug and a single Gray Squirrel hid behind a fir for a few minutes but the squirrel’s beautiful tail curved around the trunk of the tree and gave him away. He reminded me of my 21-month-old grandson who covers his eyes and believes we can’t see him. After a few minutes, the squirrel came out of hiding in order to scold us. We were probably interrupting winter preparations.
My new yard in Tigard is small, but large windows that look out on the back garden are one of the biggest reasons I settled on the little house. When I’m not walking in a refuge or a local park, I still hope to enjoy backyard wildlife.
In a year or two, with new plants replacing the old arbor vitae, my back yard will be a pleasant place for local wildlife – and for me.
Birds haven’t discovered the new bath yet. It can take a while for them to trust a new source of food and water. I happy to say that Hummingbirds have found the feeder by my bedroom window.
I dream of putting in a very small standing pond with a bubbler in the future, and I’m still wondering if feeding sunflower seed will be possible in this tiny yard.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have another relationship with a tree like the bond I felt with a large old oak at my old home, but I hope to be on friendly terms with the baby Crepe Myrtle I put in and perhaps with a small Dogwood I may plant.
It’s a good sign that my brand new garden is already welcoming tiny frogs, honey bees, big fat bumblebees, and butterflies.
On the day I spot a wren or a robin in the bird bath I’ll have a quiet celebration and tell you all about it.
A few days ago I took a short walk in the refuge, just a small break from the digging, planting, and painting I’m doing at the little house I hope to move to one day soon.
Most often I walk in the early morning, when the songbirds are loud and cheerful. On a hot July afternoon they quietly hide from the sun. I only knew the birds were there because of a soft rustling in the bushes and the occasional burst of Chickadee song, though I never saw the singer.
The bunnies barely seemed to notice the heat, or my intrusion, as they nibble on the undergrowth.
The herons didn’t move at all as they napped on their feet at the edge of the pond.
A couple of large nutria were unfazed by the heat while they dived and played in the pond. They reminded me of a morning two weeks ago when I’d watched a young family exclaiming over a couple of beavers. There are beavers at the refuge, so I didn’t risk disappointing them by telling them they were watching nutria..
How could I have imagined that I was too busy for a walk in the natural world?
The Tualatin River Wildlife Refuge is also a refuge for me; but lately I’ve been working on my new little “fixer-upper” home and I’ve been preoccupied with the state of the world, living a little less in the present.
For the first time in weeks I visited the refuge again yesterday.
It takes a lot to distract me from the birds, the bunnies, and this year’s fawns, but yesterday it was blooming wildflowers that earned my undivided attention.
We’ve all been dealng with serious issues this year, but we need to take time to do whatever it takes to maintain internal calm and peace despite the chaos. Taking care of ourselves will keep us grounded as we face our issues head on.
Whatever it is that makes you feel whole, make room for it in this strange year of 2020 – and be well.
Saturday night I was sitting up in bed writing a few emails and thinking about how how excited I will be to get work started on the little house I recently bought.
The bedroom window was open about two inches admitting a taste of sweet, cool, night air. Suddenly, the room filled with yips, barks, and howls, the sounds drifting in from somewhere out in the night. I might have been hearing a dozen animals all at once, maybe only three. I couldn’t tell.
Coyote song lifts me, makes me smile, and inspires me to imagine an untamed life even as it sends chills down my spine.
Mind your cats and small animals. Respect the coyote as a wild, hungry, scavenger and predator. I do.
Even so, I sleep especially well when I hear them at night from my warm bed.
On a recent Sunday afternoon the family took a walk trough Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville. The park was open and there were several small groups enjoying a beautiful spring day while maintaining social distance and mostly wearing masks.
We walked in sunshine for quite a while and then we walked in the rain. It was a short but delightful break before returning to home and quarantine.
More than ever I have been conscious that the only thing that matters right now is the moment. Where will we be tomorrow? Will the economy collapse completely?. Will we or our loved ones get sick?
Though most of us are making sincere efforts to follow health, social, and economic best practices, we have no real control.
We have never had control. We only do our best and after that what happens is what happens.
What we can do is relax our expectations while holding on to our dreams and desires. Life really does happen in the moment and the terrain constantly changes.
Living life well is doing our best at any given moment, not looking at the good times as the life we are striving for so much as being present for what is and for whatever comes next.
There is nothing new in these thoughts, but being reminded can help.
It really is about the journey, not the destination, and what a joy that is (when we remember), because we spend every moment on the journey – and the destination is the stopping place.
My walks always begin with the expectation that I am about to discover a “gift.” I am never disappointed.
Sometimes the gift is a song sparrow enthusiastically singing his little heart out near the top of a shrub. Rarely it’s a glimpse of two bright-eyed baby raccoons hiding under a sidewalk drain, peeking at Teddy and I as we walk down the street in the early morning.
Sometimes the gift is the brief sighting of a doe or the mid-day surprise of a large Barred Owl staring at me through a tangle of branches.
Most often the gifts I find are modest; a small patch of violets in the grass, or a particularly charming mushroom I’ve never seen before. I notice them because I’ve chosen to pay attention during my walks, to be fully present, because I’m looking for the gift. These small experiences stay with me for at least a day, sometimes for years.
From now on, I plan to begin my days as I begin my walks, confident that I will find gifts in the midst of cleaning the kitchen, folding clothes, watering plants, laughing with family, coping with small irritations and social distancing, working in the yard, visiting dear friends over Zoom, and watching the baby discover the world.
If we expect something delightful, we will find it. That’s what I learned on my walks, and it’s what I hope to remember more often.
Feeding wild birds can be a delightful distraction in these days of social isolation; but not so much when you find yourself dealing with sprouting seed under your feeder, wet and rotting bird seed, and squirrels who hog what little is left. It took years, but I finally learned that it is possible to enjoy feeding backyard birds without the mess, the spoilage, and the waste, and without inviting rodents to share the feast.
I learned by making mistakes, many mistakes; none more disconcerting than the sunny afternoon I realized I was hosting a family of rats under the feeder (The Honeymooners). Having made so many mistakes, I’d like to share some things that took all the fuss out of what should be one of life’s small joys.
To get the most pleasure out of your yard birds you really only need a few things, a source of water, a good quality feeder and the right food.
Whether you feed or not, consider a bird bath filled with fresh, clean water. Thirsty birds will gladly stop by, and the antics of bathing birds are endlessly entertaining. An inexpensive concrete bath is perfect, but a shallow bowl or ceramic container will do. Even a large rock with a natural indentation makes a lovely bath.
Most important is a clean bath and fresh water. The bath should be kept free of scum. I keep a stiff brush by the faucet to quickly clean the concrete bath as I replenish water. The best bird baths have a gradual slope so that the birds can wade into the depth they prefer. If yours doesn’t slope, a few decorative rocks of different sizes will enable birds to use it more easily.
Feeder and Seed
Your feeder should keep seed dry. Rotting seed, wasted seed, and the mess under your feeder, can kill the birds and will eventually make you feel like trashing the idea of bird feeding.
I stick with a gazebo style feeder and keep it full of sunflower “hearts” (chopped sunflower seeds). Sunflower hearts are the only seed I buy. Since they are already shelled and broken up, even finches love them.
Don’t waste your money on bags of seed mixes. They contain a large percentage of “filler” seeds that the birds don’t eat. You’ll find sunflower hearts in the in the garden section of your grocery store, not the pet section. You can also get them at bird shops, and yard and garden stores.
The gazebo style feeder is ideal for beauty and practicality. Food stays dry until the bird enters the feeder and coaxes the seed from the plastic center cone. A mesh floor keeps water from collecting in the feeder. Because the seed is dispensed in the center of the gazebo, and because it holds only shelled, chopped, sunflower seeds, not a single shell or seed hits the ground. There is absolutely no waste, no shells to attract rodents, and no rot to sicken the birds.
Placing your Feeder
Pick an open spot in your yard, about ten feet from overhanging branches, or any structure which will allow a clever squirrel to jump on top of the feeder. Don’t place your feeder near undergrowth where your neighbor’s cat can lay in wait. Mount your feeder about five feet high (a metal pole in a concrete block is ideal). Don’t forget to add an inexpensive metal squirrel baffle under the feeder, about four feet above the ground.
Now you are ready for years of bird watching without the mess.
If you are interested in attracting colorful woodpeckers, and delightful flocks of tiny Bush Tits, you may consider offering suet to the birds. Suet is fat from cattle and a delight to woodpeckers and other insect eaters. Directions for making suet are available online but I much prefer buying suet blocks at same place I get seed. It’s not expensive, and the birds have not complained.
Suet can also attract more aggressive birds like Starlings, Crows, and Jays; birds that can quickly finish off a suet cake and discourage the birds you want to feed. The trick is to buy a holder that is only open on the bottom. Woodpeckers and Bush Tits are fine hanging upside down while they dine; crows and starlings don’t like it at all and will soon give up trying.
Hummingbirds are fascinating back yard guests. The often behave like ferocious little terriers of the bird world, zipping after each other like fighter pilots and keeping the area around a feeder exciting. The formula for food is simple, four parts water, one-part sugar. Never use honey or any other kind of sweetener and never add coloring. It’s important to thoroughly wash the feeders and give fresh food frequently.
I’m hoping there is something here that will make your bird feeding simpler, less messy, and much more fun. Wishing you a happy spring enjoying the wild birds in your own yard!