The View From My Yard
by Alice Drogin
Dec 28, 2017 | 961 views | 0 0 comments | 81 81 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Juncos are back; until very recently, it has not seemed cold enough. They are the first at the feeder each morning, waiting not so patiently for breakfast. In general, they are not as contentious as the house finches, who are next to arrive, sparring noisily with each other. Then it becomes a small-bird free-for-all, with a few American goldfinches and white-crowned sparrows enlivening the scene. Then, in an explosive retreat, they are gone and in flies a scrub jay, who perches on a branch, surveying the arena. The jay has a technique: he packs a few sunflower seeds into his beak and moves to a rock, where he proceeds to bang the shells off and gulp down the meat, then back to the feeder for a couple more.

I’ve read that corvids (jays, crows and ravens) have larger brains for their body size than most other birds, hence are more intelligent (by whose standards? but that’s another story) and I welcomed this solitary jay to the mixed morning flock at the feeder. Diversity? Yes.

Did I really say solitary?

The next day it was one jay, two jays, three jays, four. No more diversity, everyone out there was large and blue.

Then the flickers arrived. In past years we’d sometimes have a flicker in the yard, pecking at the house, tricking us into thinking someone was knocking at the door. This year we have four northern flickers and they are a force to reckon with, especially when they are operating simultaneously. They are a gang of young avian hoodlums and I picture them laughing among themselves in between episodes of house-hammering.

A few pine siskins have returned as well, not in the numbers of yesteryear, but tiny solo standouts in the flock of larger birds. Once again I’m struck by how populations fluctuate, even in the short pulses that we recognize and remember. What has happened in the last four to five years to change their patterns? Are these, my favorite finches, off spicing up someone else’s yard? Have they been out-competed for food or habitat? Diminished by disease? Making for the Arctic as temperatures rise? Siskins are usually found in large flocks, and occur pretty much all over the temperate areas of North America, but they do love the cooler places (hipster birds) and it appears life is changing for them. I’m glad a precious few have made it to my yard this year.

Meanwhile, back at the passerine Shangri-la, a new character has arrived — a Eurasian collared dove. I normally see this dreaded invader in spring when wannabe parents are scoping out nesting sites. Like the scrub jay, and not unlike a bag of Doritos, you can never have just one.

Not a bad-looking bird if you can let go of prejudice. If those doves would only limit their numbers and share with the other birds, there would be no problem. But this is not the way a species succeeds, at least in the beginning, be they weed, bird, or quagga mussel. Success means flooding the place with your own kind, driving others off and modifying the habitat to suit your needs. We humans, a successful invasive species if ever I’ve seen one, increasingly view other species as a threat to our lifestyles. In my garden, where I play goddess, I pull weeds and hose the doves. Whenever a population becomes too successful, it becomes “common” and its value decreases. The more rare something is, the more we value it. For sure my siskin is someone else’s dove; I do look forward to the day when doves are treasured.

I see tracks in the dirt of last night’s action: tales of deer, fox, raccoons, turkeys and skunks. My dog Snickers used to love a skunk. She would scout out a nice stinky Mephitinae, barking and badgering it till it gave up a squirt — just a little spritz of perfume to enhance her day. This is one of the greatest lessons dogs can teach us: to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. The skunks are prodigious diggers, leaving telltale excavations in the lawn, and I can only hope that they are eating lots of grubs. How do they find those? Do they smell the chubby little bodies tunneling down there? Sense the minute vibrations as the grubs munch their dark way through the soil? Oh, the night drama. The fox has decided to include the bird feeding station in her appointed rounds. Each morning I find her scat on the big overturned flowerpot I use as a seed platform. This is no mean feat. She has to jump up there and balance in an area no more than one foot wide. You can’t tell me this gal doesn’t have a sense of humor in addition to a work ethic.

We are waiting for the solstice. Tired already of short days and long nights, we bask in what patches of sunshine we find, offering ourselves up to the warmth that is appreciated best in winter, when the cold and darkness rule. Despite the current political outlook, which on a bleak day can be … extremely bleak, we have got to believe in something good, because, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi: “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”

I believe in the sun’s return.

Happy New Year, Grand County.

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