Young birds and an old mind

Friday, May 4, 2007

First let me tell you about the birds in our yard. Then I'll tell you about my latest bout with my age-advantaged status.

The birds.

Say what you will about the hard freeze that zapped trees, shrubs and flowers, but I think we are seeing Nature's response. And it's good.

Some of the flowering things in our yard were hit hard. Others, either through timing or hardiness, have exploded with beauty -- such intense beauty that I wonder if they would have been so wonderful without the hard freeze.

A few years ago I planted clematis vines to climb the trellises on the brick walls of our patio. We had tried other vines with modest success. An invasion of aphids put an end to the mandevilla vines. The clematis vines have had a so-so start, sparsely blooming each spring.

This year, the clematis blossoms are as big as dinner plates. And they are the deepest purple I've ever seen. Everyone who comes to our house makes a big to-do over them.

So what does this have to do with birds?

Each year our bird feeders are visited by wonderfully exotic strangers. My favorite so far in the 10 years we've been in this house is the painted bunting with its splashes of blue, green and red. A couple of years ago a flock of migrating cedar waxwings found the berries in the wild hedge behind our house. We always look forward to the spring arrival of the goldfinches. There are cardinals and blue jays year around.

This year's treat has been provided by a group of rose-breasted grosbeaks. If you're not familiar with them, they are about the size of a well-fed cardinal, have black hoods on their heads, white chevrons on their wings and a splotch of brilliant red on their chests.

We've seen them before, usually one at a time and only for a day or two.

This group -- we've counted as many as six at one time -- have taken a shine to our sunflower feeder. They've been here two weeks and show no signs of leaving. We hope their lingering means nests are being built and eggs are being laid. We'd love to have them stay a spell.

And, as many of you have already reported, the hummingbirds are back. Our feeders are still fiercely guarded by one kamikaze male who suffers no intruders. Somehow he finds time to eat, because the feeders get emptier every day.

Thanks to the nuthatches, titmice and chickadees, we have quite an avian display in our back yard. Starlings drop by from time to time, and the ubiquitous sparrows are finding stiffer competition from what I call "the pretty birds." As much as I dislike the greediness of the sparrows, I admire how each one is a bit different, like snowflakes.

When our feeders get low, the birds start demanding food. They sit on the flower boxes in the kitchen window and flap their wings to get our attention.

When I was filling the finch feeder the other day, a nuthatch and I played peekaboo while I filled the finch feeder. Not a bad way to spend a few minutes.

Could all of our exciting bird visitors be caused by weather patterns?

Now about my forgetfulness. This is the absolute truth.

I got my usual unwanted credit-card offer in the mail Tuesday afternoon along with some other junk and my bank statement. My wife and I have been shredding anything with our names on it before putting it in the trash. When I sat down to balance my checkbook, it took me longer than it should have to realize I had kept the credit-card come-on and had shredded my bank statement.

Wednesday morning I got in the car to go to work and noticed it was almost out of gas. So I went to the convenience store at the bottom of the hill. After about a gallon of gas went into the tank, the nozzle clunked off. I tried to put more gas in, but it wouldn't go. I thought that was strange, but I paid for the gas and got back in the car. That's when I realized I had been looking at the temperature gauge.

Ain't life grand?

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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