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I’m not sure this pole is as squirrel-proof as the company who sold it to me believes it to be. However, I added some olive oil, and that was more effective.

P.S. Don’t you just love the symphony of bird voices I get to hear while I work from home?

Western Scrub-Jay checking the area to see if it's being watched.

Western Scrub-Jay checking the area to see if it’s being watched.

I should have been focusing on my work, I know. But sometimes it’s much more interesting to gaze through the window at the backyard.

One of the ubiquitous Western Scrub-Jays was digging with its beak. He must have been hitting a small rock in the soil, because it went “tink, tink, tink,” as the bird gouged its beak repeatedly down. It seemed curious to me that the jay was going to so much trouble to peck a hole. If it was after insects, they surely would have scurried away by now, but the bird focused on one spot.

Tink, tink, tink, tink.

Then it picked up something that looked like a peanut, dropped it into the hole, and scratched dirt over it. What?! As I watched, the jay looked around, picked up a leaf, and dropped it onto the top of the place it had just been digging. I told myself it was coincidence. I would never have guessed a bird would be savvy about camouflage.

A little later, I watched the same scenario again, with another peanut, and a leaf. (That morning I had emptied the last of the contents from my peanut bag, that I keep to feed the squirrels.) I looked it up online, and sure enough, Western Scrub-Jays will cache food. I learned something new today!

Jay up on his tip-toes looking for a good spot to cache.

Jay up on his tip-toes looking for a good spot to cache.

Jay about to drop some food into a hole.

Jay about to drop some food into a hole.

I am so impressed with what I learned that I am going to share some of the fascinating facts with you. Scrub-Jays will also collect and bury treasure, and they actually remember their caches and can go right to them when they need to, remembering not only where they are but also what’s in them. Squirrels can’t be that smart. I’ll bet squirrels just wander around and hope they get lucky. Western Scrub-Jays are not necessarily honorable, but they are clever, and will spy on another jay burying its cache, so that they can go steal it. And, get this, Western Scrub-Jays will remember if they were being watched while they cached something, and will come back later in privacy, and dig it up and move it.

i saw my first Stellar's Jay in the yard today! I see these all over the forest, but now finally, in my yard too. Aren't they gorgeous?

i saw my first Steller’s Jay in the yard today! I see these all over the forest, but now finally, in my yard too. Aren’t they gorgeous?

She says, "Um, excuse me? it isn't polite to stare."

She says, “Um, excuse me? It isn’t polite to stare.”

Num Num Num

Num Num Num

Arrow points to critter

Arrow points to critter

Guess who I spotted in my back yard yesterday in the full light of midday? A raccoon!

I grew up being told that a raccoon in the daylight is a crazy raccoon, so beware. It could have rabies, or at the very least behave erratically. So… I kept an eye on this one.

Turns out this bandit-faced critter knew exactly what she was up to.

I have an enormous cherry tree in my back yard. The fruit is beginning to ripen and a lot of cherries have been dislodged in the wind and rain during the last couple weeks, and have fallen into the yard. The raccoon was out there eating cherries! Now, who wouldn’t agree with her?

Before I knew it, she was heading up into the branches of the tree in an attempt to get choice cherries. I confess I did not know raccoons climbed trees. I went out to capture it with my camera.

The raccoon is eyeing me warily, wondering whether to continue up for more cherries, or to climb down and escape. I must not look very scary, because she went back to climbing.

The raccoon is eyeing me warily, wondering whether to continue up for more cherries, or to climb down and escape. I must not look very scary, because she went back to climbing.

A Lesser Finch finds birch seeds outside my window.

A Lesser Goldfinch finds birch seeds outside my window.

Squirrel with attitude

Cheeky squirrel ensures my bird feeder never retains much seed.

Aside from the distinct disadvantage of shooting through glass, I have had a blast watching the critters from my office window this winter, and photographing them. I’ve learned so much! I now keep a (totally non-work-related) Word document on my desktop that includes a list of birds I’ve identified, and the dates I saw them. I’m not sure I’m right on my bird identification, but at least I take the time to make a good guess. I’ll bet by this time next year, I’ll feel a lot more sure of what I’m seeing.

A treeful of lesser goldfinches. Can you see them all? And they make the sweetest cacophony of fluttering and twittering when they are in the weeping birch tree. And below the fluff of the seed pods floats down like snow below them.

A treeful of lesser goldfinches. I count eleven. And they make the sweetest cacophony of fluttering and twittering when they are in the weeping birch tree. And below the fluff of the seed pods floats down like snow below them.

The window has received more attentive cleaning, inside and out, than it has had since we moved into this place in November 2011.

I’ve seen things I never expected to see. Last week, four juncos perched at the hummingbird feeder at once, testing the sugar water. They decided simultaneously that they didn’t like it, and flew off in unison. I’ve seen squirrels chase and chase each other, in circles, up and down trees, round and round the yard. Hilarious.

I watched a chickadee chase off a lesser goldfinch from seeds on the ground. And that cracked me up too, because the chickadee was all fluffed up and large compared to the goldfinch, and was being threatening and aggressive. It’s hard for me to think of chickadees as big mean birds, since they’re about 2 1/2 inches tall. I’ll bet they don’t get the chance to chase off others very often.

Speaking of small birds, I am surprised to discover that the birds that often make the most noise back there are the hummingbirds. I didn’t even know how to identify a hummingbird’s sound before, now they are raucous.

The Northern Flickers take my breath away with their size and beauty.

The Northern Flickers take my breath away with their size and beauty.

Can't you just feel that nasty cold wind and snow blasting? The juncos kept hiding on the windward side of the feeder, little darlings.

Can’t you just feel that nasty cold wind and snow blasting? The juncos kept hiding on the leeward side of the feeder, little darlings.

Oh, she was too fast and I missed the shot. Hello, dear. Can I help you? I've never seen a chicken in my yard before, but she is as welcome as all the other birds.

Oh, she was too fast and I missed the shot. Hello, dear. Can I help you? I’ve never seen a chicken in my yard before, but she is as welcome as all the other birds.

Well. You knew this was going to happen eventually.

Well. You knew this was going to happen eventually.

Hummingbird sipping juice from plastic flowers. I haven't decided what kind he is.

Hummingbird sipping juice from plastic flowers. I haven’t decided what kind he is.

I call them the silver squirrel and the red squirrel. There is no better way to explain it!

The silver squirrel and the red squirrel. There is no better way to describe them!

Moma, the woodpecker. She got her name because she brought her young each spring and taught them to find food at Mom's cabin.

Moma, the woodpecker. She got her name because she brought her young each spring and taught them to find food at Mom’s cabin.

I keep track of sunny days, to take care of the birds. I can’t simply fill the feeder, because of the squirrels. They have figured out how to get the top off the feeder. Those dang squirrels actually climb inside the feeder and munch seeds till they’re full. The reckless climbing in and out tips the hanging feeder and spills its entire contents on the ground in minutes. We are left with a pile of seeds two inches deep that eventually gets rained on and rots in a pile.

Thus I am forced to go out daily and fill only the tray around the outside. I spread handfuls of sunflower seeds directly on the mossy ground, to tempt the squirrels to stay away from the feeder, which holds mostly millet for the finches and chickadees.

Squirrel doing acrobatics to get at the bird seed in the feeder.

Squirrel doing acrobatics to get at the bird seed in the feeder.

Rainy days happen often here in Portland, as I know you’ll assume. The birds are as excited about dry mornings as the people are, and arrive in my backyard in bursts of wings and twitterings. The large clumsy jays swoop in, attempt to perch on the ledge of the feeder, and spill teaspoons of seeds each time they kick off in search of a sturdy branch.

As I scanned the spotless grey blue sky this morning, watching the pink and eggshell splashes growing brighter in the East, I began thinking about my mother, and her birds. She felt an obligation to secure the health of the animals on her mountain. Her kitchen window looked directly onto two separate feeding stations outside. The birds on the mountain became like misbehaved children, begging for breakfast if she didn’t get outside in time. The favourite, Moma the woodpecker, would dive bomb the kitchen window. (She still does this to Jim, who stuffs cookies into the hole in a piece of wood mounted by the back porch, just for this purpose.)

My mother at her kitchen window.

My mother at her kitchen window.

Who will take care of the birds in a world without my mother? Jim has to take care of his business. And he’s encouraged the company of a wild cat, to take care of the mouse population. It has also discouraged the company of birds and squirrels at the cabin.

Arno asked me if I’ve always kept a feeder. I have not. But this morning I realized that sometime during 2012 I began feeding the birds for my mom.

I felt for a moment as though I was channeling her spirit. When I am late to feed them, and I go outside for something else, birds suddenly begin appearing in the trees around me. They hover above me, and perform brave, rapid fly-bys to ensure they have my attention. “Food!” they call to me. “Make seeds happen!”

I’ve got nuthatches, chickadees, Western Scrub Jays, crows (who prefer leftover scraps I throw out), and sometimes surprise visitors like the ruby crowned kinglet and the gorgeous red shafted Northern flicker who, despite her size, can perch gracefully on the feeder ledge, hanging most of her body below and selecting seeds one at a time. The other day, when I tossed out the remains of Tara’s gingerbread house, we were visited by seagulls, who look enormous next to the others.

They aren’t the same birds. These aren’t even wild forest birds. But today, birds are being fed in honor of my mom.

Seagulls perched on the roof of the garage.

Seagulls perched on the roof of the garage.

Hanging beneath the feeder.

Hanging beneath the feeder.

 

One of my many guises

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