A Birder’s Prayer

Lord of Birds, please make me a better birder.

Where there are birds, let me find them,

Where there is birdsong, let me hear it,

Where there is a nest, let me shield it,

Where birds are hungry, let me feed them,

Where they are in danger, let me protect them.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

O Maker of Feathers, please grant that I may be

Fleeter of foot to find birds without flushing them,

Keener of ear to hear their heavenly music,

Sharper of eye to see all their beauty,

Astuter of perception to understand nature’s wonderful ways.

For it is through birds that we grasp nature’s miracles,

It is through birds that we discover a meaning of life,

And it is through birds that we find hope for the future.

Freely and shamelessly based on the Peace Prayer by St. Francis.

All bird photos were taken in Colorado Springs in January and February 2020, except for the Greater Yellowlegs, which was photographed in Pueblo, where it seems to have overwintered, rather than farther south. The topmost photo shows a White-breasted Nuthatch (Carolinakleiber).

Counting My Blessings

During a time when the health of the planet, of humanity, and of democracies is under threat it takes great effort not to give in to hopelessness. Recent events have made me (want to) turn off radio, television, and computer to avoid exposure to some of the basest human nature and to prevent me from crying sad tears or screaming in disgust and disbelief at what was said and done—or at what was not.

I frequently despair of humankind. Yet I am also reminded that human goodness does exist, and there are many reasons to be grateful. One of them is a dear friend who celebrated her 100th (!) birthday in December 2020. Esther has been in the habit of counting her blessings most of her life. She has been an inspiration for me for many years and I endeavor to embrace her positive attitude.

Esther on her 93rd birthday in 2013, still living in her own home. For her centenary we were only able to wave at her through the window of her assisted-living home.

Among my greatest blessings are my family and friends who have supported me in myriad ways throughout my life. Lately I have been touched by the kindness of fellow bloggers who reached out to inquire about my well-being. Thank you for your concern. I am still here and am doing as well as can be expected, and much better than countless others who have lost their health, loved ones, homes, or jobs.

In the turmoil of the past year nothing has comforted me as much as Mother Nature and her still mostly predictable cycles when everything else was all but. I am thankful that my freedom to spend time out-of-doors was never significantly curtailed. To experience nature’s multihued autumnal fashion show before it changed into its more muted winter attire, and to observe the parting of some birds for southern climes and the arrival of others from the north was reassuring. It gave me hope that spring will once again return and with it new life and new prospects.

Scrub oak at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs, October 21, 2020.

Pair of rare Tundra Swans at Manitou Lake near Woodland Park, October 30, 2020. An unexpected delight.

Serene winter scene at Bear Creek Park, Colorado Springs,  January 11, 2021.

In Esther’s spirit, I am counting each blessing that sustains me through these troubling times. I trust each of you is safe and healthy and wish you your very own blessings.

Black-and-White Birds

The combination of the colors black and white is considered elegant and classy, not only with regard to fashion, but also when it comes to feather arrangements, as many posts by fellow bird-loving bloggers attest. When I assembled my avian portraits a few months back, my only intention was to share a selection of Colorado’s bicolored resident and migratory birds. I hope you will enjoy their beauty with me. But when I finally scheduled this post a few weeks ago and realized how close to an eagerly awaited yet at the same time anxiously dreaded event it would be published, my mind took me into directions altogether different, and it is also my hope that you will allow me to digress.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

The bird in the topmost photo is a Black-throated Gray Warbler (Trauerwaldsänger).

I stay away from politics as much as possible because most of the time nothing good comes from discussing it. Only with some trepidation did I allow my pen and keyboard to follow my mind in this instance. All of us have strong convictions and are reluctant to have them questioned. Polarization and radicalization have increased not only in this country, but across the globe, whereas nuanced discussion and civil discourse have gone the opposite way. What does it say about our societies that people are not only ostracized, but are sent hate mail, death threats—or even poison—merely for expressing their opinions, or for stating scientifically accepted facts? It’s so bewildering it beggars belief.

I know one thing. While black-and-white fashion or plumage might be beautiful, black-and-white thinking is not. Polarizing is not. Claiming that white is better, smarter, or more superior than black is not. Asserting that every human being has the same potential and that people who don’t succeed didn’t try hard enough is ignorant at best, cruel at worst. To declare that systemic racism doesn’t exist is to wear blinders, is to deny that many humans don’t grow up on a level playing field or with the same privileges.

Indigenous lives matter. Black lives matter. White lives matter. It should go without saying that ALL lives matter, but this self-evident statement has been misappropriated and distorted in the most insidious way. A clarification: While feathers may be black or white, human skin is not. It might be pink or brown or countless other shades. But because we have reduced the world to black and white, I am manacled by reductive language.

Each day we see where prejudice and polarization have brought us—to a dead end. It will take all of us to correct centuries-old and deep-seated misconceptions and biases. To return to the birds which started this train of thought, we need to acknowledge and affirm that, while black and white might stand alone, they complement one another and become more beautiful when they exist side by side.

A selection of signs I have recently come across in people’s yards.

Humpty-Dumpty

If you were raised in an Anglophone country and are of a certain age, chances are you became familiar with the Humpty-Dumpty nursery rhyme while growing up. As I grew up in Germany for the first two decades of my life I didn’t. When and where I first heard the poem I don’t recall, and I knew very little about it until I did a little reading in preparation for this post.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

According to several online sources, the quatrain started out as a riddle, to which the answer might or might not have been egg. It was only after Lewis Carroll’s 1871 Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) that Humpty Dumpty became associated with an anthropomorphic egg. The nursery rhyme’s long and illustrious career includes being set to music, and countless online versions of the song exist, available to you at your leisure.

Colorado Springs’ civic, cultural, and economic interests are the concern of the Downtown Partnership. Its charitable nonprofit arm, Downtown Ventures, has been behind the popular annual Art on the Streets project which “celebrates the power of art in public places.” Each year since 1998, it has selected submissions from artists and displayed them downtown for 12 months.

A number of the exhibits have become permanent installations after the course of the year when purchased by an individual or organization. Such was the case with the 2003 submission, Hump D, fashioned by Minneapolis artist Kimber Fiebiger. Seated on a low wall adjacent to the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, the bronze was so popular that local businesses have since commissioned similar designs and placed them in various locations throughout the core of our city. It was only this summer that I happened across a few of them, and I can relate why new ones keep appearing in different places. One never tires of looking at these jovial, happy creations without feeling jovial and happy oneself.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

PS: Some, but not all of the titles I found on the artist’s webpage. Incidentally, I also stumbled across a creation entitled “Trumpty-Dumpty.” While it represents the exact opposite of happy and jovial, it is very timely.

Animal Encounters

Meetings with animals wild and tame make me happy.  And while birds touch my soul most profoundly, I’m always grateful for opportunities to observe and photograph other creatures. All of the following pictures were taken this summer, except for the last one. I had to chuckle when I came across these slightly uncommon pets: not one, but two pigs in someone’s front yard. As is obvious from this picture, they were as curious about me as I was about them.

Western Tiger Swallowtails are among our most notable butterflies. Their wingspan of 3 to 4 inches, conspicuous color, undulating flight, and graceful alighting on bright blossoms will irresistibly capture one’s attention and gaze, and hold them captive as these exquisite flyers propel themselves from one nectar source to the next.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

My ears are always switched on during my excursions and when a friend and I went birding one late August morning and tried to figure out from what avian a certain sound emanated, a glance at the ground a few feet ahead of us reminded us to heed my husband’s perpetual advice of “watch your step.” A not-so-little serpent lay coiled in the cool, wet grass and let us know about its presence. Needless to say, our repertoire of unusual bird sounds grew to include reptilian rattling! Out by myself only a few days later, I nearly jumped in the air when I heard similar rattling from right next to my foot. Fortunately, this one came from a cicada which didn’t mind being picked up and inspected.

During my first and sadly only camping trip this summer at one of my favorite destinations, Manitou Lake in neighboring Teller County, I was thrilled to capture a gorgeous American Mink with my camera early in the morning, when I approached stealthily and had the sun in my back, making me blend into my surroundings. These ferocious, carnivorous, semi-aquatic mammals are related to weasels and otters and, on account of their lustrous coats, have been bred in controversial fur farms. Luckily, this one lived in freedom.

One early summer morning, I arrived at my destination before sunrise. Next to a pond I found several crayfish crawling on a path lit by streetlamps. They are by no means rare, but I see them rarely enough that I took note–and a few snapshots.

The following portraits are of animals I have seen and shared before, but I encounter them seldom enough that each occasion represents a reason to celebrate: a very mellow bobcat which accepted my presence with nonchalance, a cute-from-a-distance porcupine whose arboreal slumber I briefly interrupted, and a thick-headed Bighorn Sheep, also best enjoyed from a distance.

Western Painted Turtles can often be seen sunning themselves on exposed rocks in the middle of ponds and lakes, and this group struck my fancy because each individual seemed to have a preference for the same sun-warmed prominence. They are popular as pets, until they are not, and are often abandoned by their owners at bodies of water to fend for themselves, which they seem to be able to do.

Last but not least I would like to introduce two fellows I met a few years back. They graciously interrupted their grazing to greet me at their fence. Long-eared and soft-nosed, one was particularly endearing. When one of my e-mail correspondents asked me for a photo of myself shortly thereafter, this is the one I sent him. I aspire to its characteristics: curious, clever, and charming. 😊