Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bluebirds of Happiness

Bluebirds have been symbols of happiness for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And, for some reason, they make me happy, too. Other birds are blue, like jays, but jays have a brassy personality, not the sweet gentle personality of bluebirds. Western Bluebirds, which is the species we have from time to time on our farm, don't fly around screaming their heads off like jays do. Instead, they talk to each other in soft melodic murmurs. I love the sound of Western Bluebirds. And I love their subtle insect-hunting methods: sitting on a fence quietly, then flying softly down to the grass for a catch, then back up to the fence line, working their way around our pastures. They seem to pay me no mind at all.

Last Wednesday, a flock of bluebirds moved onto our farm after an absence of nearly a year. That's when I took the above picture. I've seen them nearly every day since. I hope they stay. Bluebirds lift my spirits. And my spirits needed lifting after 11/11/11.

On that day, for some strange reason, multiple things went wrong on the farm. A ewe died. Then, a baby goat died. Granted, both had been ailing for sometime. That evening, when I went to put the horses in, Nightingale was across the fence in the neighbor's field cavorting with the two neighbor mares, having mashed down the panel gate between. It was nearly dark when I found her and she would not let me catch her. Or rather, the neighbor's mares would not let me. They took off, hazing Nightingale, whenever I approached. Soon it was pitch dark. Nightingale is black. I gave up. I called my neighbor and told her I'd retrieve my errant mare in the morning. Then I went to the barn to milk goats. Unbeknownst to me, the hot water heater had died sometime during the day and I had no hot water to wash buckets or udders. That was the last straw after a stressful day. I harbored thoughts of selling the farm and traveling the world instead of working myself to death on this place.

But the next morning, Nightingale was relatively cooperative and soon back home. Johnny and I spent the morning creating a barrier between the neighbor's panel gate and our field. Then Johnny fixed my barn hot water heater. And the bluebirds arrived, murmuring their sweet and soothing sounds. How could I have thought of giving up this place I love so much?

Whenever the work here overwhelms, and the animal problems as well, I take a break and go birding. On Monday, I birded Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge on my way home from the feed store in Dallas. I usually stop at The Narrows at Baskett Slough for a few minutes after a feed store run, but that day I spent hours. A few "good birds" had been located over the weekend, and I thought perhaps I could get some photos if they were still around.

It was a gray and misty day and the birds far out in the watery marshes. So I gave up on "good" photos and settled for ones where I could at least tell what the birds were. And some I took just because they struck my fancy. One of the reported "good birds" was a White-faced Ibis, seldom seen in these parts. But it spent most of its time foraging around a distant grassy hummock in the marsh. Zoomed up to where it is recognizable as a tall wading bird with a long curved bill, it blurs at the edges. I like to think of it as an "Impressionist" photo, a sort of avian Monet. Sort of.

There were many varieties of birds at The Narrows, but all far away. At least three Bald Eagles were in the vicinity. A long distance shot of this one appealed to my gray day mood.

Northern Harriers were abundant but also far away. I caught this one about to dive on some hapless rodent.

A Snow Bunting had been seen by several along Livermore Road, which is one of my routes home from Baskett Slough when I'm wandering. I never did find the white Bunting, but in a brighter sky moment, I saw a white Egret in a geometric space that caught my eye.

At the end of Livermore Rd., dark clouds lowered and the rain began in earnest. In a distant sheep pasture, I spotted a dozen or more Great Egrets. Some people have livestock guardian dogs. These people seem to have guardian egrets.

Heading home, I drove past a pond on Tucker Rd and found these lovely Hooded Mergansers swimming through reflected fall colors.

Yesterday, the day after my Baskett Slough escape, was one of those rare and totally unpredicted sunny November days. I spent it happily pruning shrubs and fighting back wild blackberry vines, while Bluebirds murmured their comforting conversations close by.

Life is good, at least for the moment.

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