Bird Watching Isn’t For Sissies

a8I remember now why my husband and I used to enjoy bird watching so much.

Oh yes, there was the fresh air of the open countryside, that was good. It was fun exploring the back roads, or ones we’d forgotten, where interesting things always seemed to be found.  A truly great day was when we would find a delightful fishing stream where we could spend hours of peaceful relaxation, soaking in the sun and the scenery.

3633452422_70f7eb2b77_zIt was even more fun just being together in the car, learning more and more about each other, while taking the time to enjoy life.

Most days we’d find a roadside market stall and take home summer-fresh vegetables and fruits that always seemed better tasting, better smelling, better  looking. than the supermarket variety.

meat-breadWe found many a delightful restaurant in little out-of-the-way places, with friendly people and great food, many times warranting a return visit or two or three. More than once we found small communities where gourmet chefs had left the frazzle of the big city restaurants, and found their own niche in a quiet town, where they could be more individual in their field, and introduce town folk to some pretty awesome dining.  What a pleasant surprise to find a five-star chef way out in the boonies!  What great memories!

Wild+Strawberry+Crystallised+Rose+RecipesI remember times we would be driving slowly along a road and I would see a flash of colour in the grass and we’d stop the car while I picked wild strawberries, or make note to come back for a wild blackberry patch about to ripen. We would always be prepared for a picnic – a blanket, a cooler, some sandwiches and fruits, and a bottle of wine. Have you ever eaten wild strawberries?  So very tasty, they will spoil you forever.  “Tame” strawberries just can’t replicate the flavour of the wild ones.

5055910-a-wine-and-cheese-picnic-in-the-countryBird watching was a prime reason for the trips, so we would take our bird identification books, our cameras, and our binoculars. We would sit by the side of the road, or wander into a meadow, gently trespassing at times, but never leaving a disturbance or debris behind.

115974162.iZEXx2VC.20090809waxwing01ccompI remember one foggy day at Sauble Beach, near Wiarton, seeing a tree filled with “leaves” of Cedar Waxwings.

snowy-owl-11294429097AXeI remember a cold March morning along a Lake Ontario road that was not much better than a path, and suddenly stopping to allow a walking flock of Snowy Owls to pass in front of the car. Outstanding and rare!

blue-bird-pictureAnother time in Kingston countryside, we came across a dozen or more bluebirds, when we thought we would never see one in Ontario again. The last time we had seen one had been when we were children in Owen Sound. And that same summer, we saw some more in a meadow near Oliphant, along a logging trail near Sauble Beach. I remember an Indigo Bunting and a Painted Bunting seen on the same day in a deep woods near Wiarton.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting


Painted Bunting

pileated-woodpecker-male_1421_web1On the way home we saw a Pileated Woodpecker, who let us observe him for quite awhile. I’ve never seen another since, except in a caged environment. Days filled with beautiful sightings like these imprinted more memories to our mental storerooms.

One time there was a tiny little pool of water, a spillover from a rain shower, and two Mallard ducks were swimming around in it, determined to find a meal, or perhaps just enjoying the water on a hot day.

Once at the beach we saw a marching army of young cowbirds, being shepherded along by older ones, all having been raised in the nests of other birds. How did they know they were cowbirds? How did they instinctively know they had to match up with their villainous parents who destroyed other birds’ eggs and laid their own in their place in the chosen adopted nests? Why wouldn’t the young birds think they were cardinals, or Goldfinches or whatever bird’s nest into which they had been deposited and then abandoned for some other bird to raise?




Blue Jay



We have had Northern Cardinals in our backyard nesting in tall pine trees for years, throughout the year, along with some Blue Jays and Crows. There are bushes and trees with berries in my backyard that are delicious treats for birds traveling through, and I’m constantly on the watch.

curved bill thrasher

Curved Bill Thrasher

Am Robin


Leaves are left in some areas so grubs will live beneath them and Thrashers and Robins and others can come and dig them up. I leave string and coloured wool pieces outside, plus hay that my bunny won’t eat, so there are nesting materials available in the Spring to make the house-building of the birds a little easier.


Aerial view of Sauble Beach & woodlands

One summer I was at Sauble Beach in my small trailer, and had arranged an area behind the trailer as a ground feeding station, with the occasional suet ball tied to a fence there. I went to the beach to write, and from April to October, enjoyed watching and cataloguing ground feeders, and warblers of many kinds in the bushes, and thrashers under them. Each day I would watch through the back window of my trailer, and see the dramas unfold.

My view of Sauble Beach

One day a huge black crow started feeding and would lunge at any of the other birds attempting to feed, in the end chasing all of them away – all but one. That one was NOT afraid of the Crow, and it was the smallest of the daily visitors – a tiny little Chipping Sparrow who looked that crow in the eye and stood its ground. Obviously the crow was all bluff, because there they ate, side by side. Still, the other birds wouldn’t come back until the Crow was gone. That sparrow was small, but had a mighty big fighting spirit. (To see what a Chipping Sparrow looks like – see The Poetry Corner.)

My most treasured moment was finding a stunned first year male hummingbird, and carefully packed him in a little box filled with soft tissues, and took him back to my trailer. I borrowed a birdcage from my sister-in-law, and put him in it. I placed little twigs all over the trailer as miniature roosts for him, when he should decide to fly again.  In the beginning, he was just too weak so I fed him a mixture of wild honey diluted with water from a spoon, and marveled at that long tongue darting out to get his “nectar”. It worked. Gradually he got better. I opened the cage door every day, so he could tell me when he had healed.

One day when I opened the cage door, he seemed to me to be waiting for the chance to fly out. With no hesitation, he zoomed out and flew all around the trailer, only stopping to sip his nectar from time to time from little “feeding stations” I’d placed around the trailer. He sounded like a little buzz saw, that wee colourful bird, zooming all around my head, and darting from place to place, his wings a rainbow blur.


When I thought he was ready to be released, I stretched out my arm, and miracle of miracles, he quietly landed on my finger, and allowed me to place him back in the cage without a fuss. I took him back to the area of the beach where I had found him, and opened the cage, so that he could take his freedom. It was migration time, and I wanted to make sure he would find his “people” since it would be his first migration south.

He flew up in the air above me, circled my head a few times as if saying “thank you” and then took off in a straight line, it being obvious to me that he knew where he was going. I still get little happiness buzzes just remembering that unique adventure.

Tripping through Algonquin Park

Our life list of birds is a pretty good one, actually, because we traveled a lot and were able to catalogue birds from our area in Southern Ontario, as well as in Northern Ontario where we went to a cottage on the edge of Algonquin Park. We traveled to the east coast and the to west coast of Canada and the US, and to all but four states in the U.S. – Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Montana – (still on my “To Do” list to visit).


There are obvious joys of watching birds return from the south, leave to winter in the south, gather materials to build a nest, or sit on a nest raising young. It’s very touching to see them trust you enough to feed from your hands as Jays and Chickadees will do.

flock of migrating canada geese birds flying at sunset

Migrating Canada Geese

Bird watching deepened our sense of companionship, and provided us with many wonderful moments of peaceful times together. It made us realize how petty the troubles in our everyday lives are, when compared to the daily struggle of the birds to stay alive – out of the way of predators, and storms and man-made hazards like pollution or cars or airplanes. Their daily struggle to find food for themselves and their young, the building of homes once or twice a year, the annual migration to warmer climes and the thousands of miles of travel, and then the return trip, was mind-boggling to us in its full scope.


The freedom to travel south of the border….

The one thing they have that we don’t  – is total freedom to go where they want, when they want, with whom they want — with no one hitting them with taxes for their habitation, or their working lives – with food provided by Mother Nature in the grand scheme of things (whether as predator or prey) — with no boundaries, and thus no lineups for passports to visit south of the border – any border – and no pat-downs or harassment!

Why not try it, if you haven’t already?  (There’s even a book called “Bird Watching For Dummies”….. just sayin’…..)

Some good books we’ve used:

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: (Eastern Region, Western Region)

Peterson Field Guides (Eastern & Central North America, Western North America, North Ameria)

Birds Of North America

The Poetry Corner


Funny little sparrow!
You are the smallest of the group.
You scoot in, flying low, and settle softly on the ground.
You do not make a crackle-grackle sound,
Nor fly in awkward splendour.
You land gently and stay on the outside,
Content to grab the crumbs the others will not touch.
When sounds disturb and startle all the show-offs,
You stay.

Boldly you come into the inner feeding circle they just left.
You take the tidbits you had your eye on all along.
You see me, sitting there close by, observing you,
But you say,
She will not harm me,
And you eat.

Those others, squawking and puffing up their feathers,
Pin me with looks that kill, from beady, golden eyes.
They are not nearly as wise as you,
Brave little chipping sparrow,
Leaving now,
With full belly.

© E J Finn (Collie)

Notes To Remember……

Of course the birds sing!  But did you know they sing in English? Here’s proof! (with thanks to my daughter for sharing some of her favourite artists on my blog)

From the UK – The Yardbirds

YardbirdsAn English blues-based rock band (f.1963-1968, 1992-present) with a string of hits, notable for having started the career of three of rock’s most famous guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. They were pioneers in guitar innovations (60s) fuzz tone, feedback, distortion, backwards echo, improved amplification, etc.)  After the Yardbirds broke up in 1968, Jimmy Page founded what became Led Zeppelin.  (sources: Wikipedia/YouTube)

For Your Love (posted by fresh12121212)

Heart Full of Soul (with Jeff Beck) (posted by appletreejungle)

Shapes of Things (with Jimmy Page) (posted by JimMcCartyandCo)

And from the USA – The Byrds

eeedc3195a6888487d4c0f7e0c6American rock bank (1964-1973, 1989-1991, 2000) considered by critics to be one of the most influential bands of the 60s.  Influential in originating psychedelic rock, raga rock, and country rock. Several ex-members of the band either soloed, or became part of groups such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Desert Rose Band. (source: Wikipedia)

Eight Miles High (PanLecoslav)

Mr Tambourine Man (Lonegan63)

Turn, Turn, Turn (mcd220)


It’s Been Said…..

It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds. (Aesop)

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.  (William Blake)

Did you ever see an unhappy horse? Did you ever see a bird that had the blues?  One reason why birds and horses are not unhappy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses. (Dale Carnegie)

Seven to eleven is a huge chunk of life, full of dulling and forgetting.  It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse.  As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armor themselves against wonder.  (Leonard Cohen)

I realized that if I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes (Charles Lindbergh)

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  Is sings because it has a song. (Chinese proverb)

I hope you love birds too.  It is economical.  It saves going to heaven.       (Emily Dickinson)

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.  (Henry David Thoreau)

Use what talents you possess:  the wood would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.  (Henry Van Dyke)

Those little nimble musicians of the air, that warble forth their curious ditties… (Izaak Walton)

God loved the birds and invented trees.  Man loved the birds and invented cages.  (Jacques Deval)

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet.  A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life…. The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds — how many human aspirations are realized in their free, holiday-lives — and how many suggestions to thepoet in their flight and song!  (John Burroughs)

I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.  (Joseph Addison)

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.              (Robert Lynd)

Birds sing after a storm;  why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?  (Rose Kennedy)

When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!  (William Blake)

You cannot fly like an eagle with the wings of a wren.  (William Henry Hudson)

Paws For Awhile…..

Some pictures of a few bird dogs I found……



(Emily Valentine Bullock creation)

Signing off…. ej

2 comments on “Bird Watching Isn’t For Sissies

  1. Pingback: For the Birds . . . « Hermes Table

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