The Secret Birder

living, traveling, reading & birding

December 8, 2016

Nostalgia on the Fox River

Just posting a memory that just silently screams Nostalgia.

Although it looks like a Fall photo, I took this one in the Spring of 2015, a week or so after the last frost had melted.

 

1-2015-04-10-10-12-11
Cabin on the Fox River – Berlin, WI.

I often get told here in L.A. (not asked), “You miss Wisconsin”. And yes, I do miss it, and all of it’s stunning landscapes.

December 3, 2016

Winter’s Hope

In 2013, we found ourselves living in Green Lake, WI (for three years). It was an incredibly exciting opportunity and one that allowed us to truly experience nature and the seasons like no where else we had been before. First (true) winters are always exhilarating because the world opens up to you in ways you never knew existed. Your first sled ride down the hill, the first time you snow-shoe or cross-country ski, midnight walks on the frozen lake under a full moon, or seeing the winter architecture in the trees, all so very beautiful.

But winters can be harsh and long too, and in places like the northern states, by February you are longing for the green leaves to come back and you wonder how you’re going to keep it together during those short very cold days when by 4pm darkness has set in, and you still have the long evening ahead of you.

I learned a lot from our winters in Wisconsin, and keep those memories safe in a tiny place in my heart.   I wrote the following piece hoping to convey at least a little bit of sense of what it was like (for me) to be there.

 

 

WINTER’S HOPE

img_6716The hope is, we make it through this winter.

Away from loved ones and friends,

from the warm beaches of your Mediterranean Sea

and the wide sandy esplanades of my California Coast,

holding on to this small family of three we’ve created.

 

The hope is, we have enough white oak and black locust

to make it through this Green Lake winter,

that root vegetables stay dry in our cellar

and there are wool blankets a plenty.

That underneath the vast winter quilt outside,

our lifeless garden renews itself in silence,

preparing to become fertile again.

 

The hope is, we find each other once more,

with long, good conversations, like the ones we used to have,

and the comfort of knowing

if we’re together, we have everything we need.

 

The hope is, that amidst our snow covered souls

the sun will continue to shine every morning,

reminding us that spring is but a few months away.

December 1, 2016

You Said Wait

Today I revisited a poem I wrote for a college poetry class, with Professor Gail Wronsky back in 1998 – that resonated more with my life in late 2006. It had been a while since I had explored the theme of nature/love/abandonment. After revising some terms, I feel it flows better now.

great-plaines
Great Plains image courtesy of World Wildlife Fund

 

You Said Wait 

You told me to wait for you,

until you came back from catching grasshoppers.

I gathered twigs, grasses, water and dirt,

and with mud

built our home.

And I waited.

 

You told me to wait for you,

until you came back from scaring off the crows.

I gathered sticks, wild cotton and boughs of pine,

and with love and thought

made our bed.

And I waited.

 

You told me to wait for you,

until you came back from fighting away the bears.

I gathered wild berries, fresh water, honey,

and the early spring morels you like so much,

and stocked our reserves.

And I waited again.

 

But you never came.

And the food spoiled,

and the bed stayed empty,

and our home collapsed.

Life passed by me,

and I grew old.

 

May 10, 2011

The Birds & I – April Morning Observations

Salerno, Italy

The morning was going to be a mellow one. It was nice to have a morning off (I’d been longing for one), not having to rush through breakfast, makeup and deciding what to wear. Before the husband left at daybreak, I asked him pull up the persiana[1] covering the large glass window-wall across from our bed. He rolled it up just high enough so I could have a straight look at the bird feeders on the terrace. The sun was already with us on this April morning in Salerno.

I stayed in bed, ruminating in my brain, trying to understand the anxiety left inside from a night of waking up and falling back asleep, and waking up again. Over the years, I’ve discovered that the true issues that keep me up at night are (usually) financial ones.

 

I need to earn more. How am I going to do that? Should I continue to ask for that promised raise? Can we afford the move back to LA? Should we dip into our savings? Would it be right to do so? On one hand, we could label it “an investment into our future”. But is it? Was this the right time to make this decision? Should we wait? Wait for what? My parents aren’t getting any younger, and my mom’s Alzheimer’s isn’t going to slow down and wait for me to make resolutions. It was one thought after another, after another. A roller-coaster of constant thinking. We didn’t have any problems right now, but I sensed they could come sooner than we expected.

 

After C. left, I got up (to seize the day?). Made myself a bowl of cereal with a cup of Italian cottage cheese called fiochi di latte[2].  An passive attempt of loosing weight and continuing to eat healthy (why do all diets have cottage cheese in them?). Although I always found it distasteful, with age, I’ve gotten to like cottage cheese more and more.  With a spoonful of honey, corn flakes and a tablespoon of wheat germ, now I had myself a psychologically satisfying breakfast (the wheat germ is in honor of my father who, since I was a child, insisted I always add it to my cereal.)

 

Before sorting through my desk and tackling the day’s tasks, I picked up my binoculars and Birds of Europe guide in case any of the “usuals” decided to pay an early morning visit. While I checked email, the first to show was a Great Tit – or a Blue Tit – and his partner or close friend. You would think I’d know the difference, but I’m not that attentive of a birdwatcher yet. My family and friends think I know much about birds, but I really don’t (I know more than them perhaps, and I’ve been interested in the topic for a long time now, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere when you belong to an Audubon society.)

 

As of today, I’m a member of four clubs: two in the US (L.A. Audubon and Santa Monica Audubon) and 2 in Italy (Birdwatching-Gaiola and EBN Italia), and even so, I’m still an amateur birder. However, see me with my binos hanging from my neck, my bird guide under my arm and my camera, and I exude birding experience. As the fabulous Eddie Izzard said, 70 percent is how you look, 20 percent how you say it, and 10 percent is what you say.[3] 

 

Back to the Great Tit (Parus major) that visits us. It’s hard distinguishing the female from the male, but they are both quite beautiful. They have this sort of black mask that begins at the top of their heads (officially called the “crown”) to right under the eye line, down their face to their beak, then chin, becoming narrow down their throat, forming a black line that descends down onto its chest.

One of our spring visitors, the Great tit

I observed them for a while, and all my admiration for their beauty went away in a second when I saw how the male (it must have been a male) would push the seeds away with his beak until he found the one he wanted. This meant that quite a bit of good seeds fell straight to the ground, explaining the mess I find each afternoon on the terrace when I come home (he goes for the black sunflower seeds – as the book said he would – probably because they are the most fatty). But why be so picky…? Ungrateful behavior can be found anywhere these days… even within the avian community.

 

There is quite a lot of work that goes into eating a seed for them. With strong resolve, GT (my nickname for him) chooses the seed he wants, then turns around, holds it between his feet and the edge of the bird-feeder, banging it relentlessly until the shell comes off and he is left with just the seed. I timed it and it took the little guy about 15 seconds to do it.

The daily visitors snacking on black sunflower seeds.

The tits are usually never alone. While they’re up in the feeder eating, the house sparrows are down on the ground getting whatever scrap falls their way. These common house sparrows are considered “resident birds”. Resident birds are low on the “excitement scale” to me (right after rock pigeons, seagulls and crows). And I have a feeling they know this – where they stand on the list – because of the way they carry themselves in this brown matte shades of theirs, as if with humbleness, trying to blend in like undeserving creatures. As most unfortunate creatures too, they seem to eat what they can find, and are not picky of seeds, crumbs, insects… they appear to be simply grateful that there is always something to snack on.

House sparrow (female) one of the “residents”.

 

By late morning, the last visitors were the quite sympathetic robins, who stopped to get a drink at the water fountain. Even in Italy, we can tell Spring is here because the robins have arrived. Here we have a cute pair that comes and goes, and even though the robin is not a resident, it keeps house around here for most of the year. Their face is round, with a kind gaze that makes you all warm inside. Their way of hopping around with their very skinny legs, their great big orange chest and the lack of a neck, gives them a funny appearance. You cannot not like a robin. You just like it. The male resembles your chubby uncle Charles, or your neighbor Bob. But since these are European Robins they’re probably more like a Carlo or Roberto. In any event, when they come here they also seem to be mellow visitors, less demanding than some other birds their size. The Princeton Field Guide nails it when it writes about their character calling them “wary, but by no means shy”.

 

And as noon rolled around and I got back to writing, the few visitors I had took off, looking for a place to hide from the sun. That was my queue that my time was up, and that I too needed to get up and get moving. I didn’t have seeds to shell, or places to hop and fly to, but a part of me wished I did. I would love to hang out with other birds my size one day and meet up with them at the water-cooler. That wouldn’t be a bad life.


[1] Shutters that roll up, typical of European and Latin American countries. Aka “Persian Blinds”.

[2] Literally translates to “flakes of milk” (flakes as in snow flakes).

[3] “Dressed to Kill” – 1998 

March 5, 2011

The End of Winter in Southern Italy

 

It’s the end of the winter in Southern Italy, and the days are becoming longer with more and more glimpses of sun. Not at a fast enough pace for me though, I wish it was already summer. The rain seems to subside for a few days, and then it returns. At times with a major wind, strong enough to push down the plants on the terrace and knock the birdfeeders off their hooks. The fern has had enough of this weather, having spent most of the winter on its side. Not fun when you’re a tropical plant, and your gene-cousins are probably enjoying the slow paced life of the tropics. That must be nice. If only the fern and I could escape to Costa Rica right now.

The cold and rain does make life less eventful. There is less enthusiasm for leaving the house on excursions or travel. Why leave home to visit an agriturismo for the weekend, when you know you’re going to freeze you soul off, and only long to be the warmth and comfort of your own home? As an amateur birdwatcher, being outdoors, away from the city centers is always a recurring daydream I have while at work, sitting at my desk. But then the weekend arrives, as did last weekend, and the husband and I decide to go out and get some fresh air, somewhere new.

We had been wanting to visit a WWF Oasis in Persano (www.wwf.it/persano.nt), about an hour south of Salerno, where we live. This seemed like a good day to do so. We already visited a Lipu* Oasis in the Molise, in the summer of 2009, with very little luck. Not only did we not see one single interesting bird (other than your standard pigeon, field crow and sparrow), but we were bit in continuation by mosquitos (the infamous zanzara). It had taken us 2hs to get to this Oasis (a literal misnomer), spent about an hour inside the park with a very kind guide, and then drove back home, all the long way home, a tad bit frustrated. But Italy always has the secret quality of giving something back, no matter where you land that day. Be it in its landscapes, its people, it’s paese’s… there is always something that can get to you. For us, the high of the day was a nice one: a simple picnic on a golden hillside under a very large oak tree. Behind us, an old brick house from the 1800’s, and in our hands a slice of a deliciously home-made pizza di spinaci (a version of a spinach quiche) with a nice bottle of Morellino di Scansano.

This was our first picnic together.

*LIPU is the Italian League for the Protection of Birds http://www.lipu.it/)