Another dreary, gray-sky day I thought as I sat at my desk one morning trying to compose an article for a newspaper. But no words came, nor even a subject. I shifted my gaze from the computer screen before me to the bird feeder outside the window behind my computer. Four blue jays and a cardinal were on the feeder tray.
Shifting my gaze further, looking in the trees of my yard, I spotted two black-capped chickadees, two tufted titmice, several goldfinches in winter drab plumage and one white-breasted nuthatch. All common feeder birds, birds that come to my feeder every day that the weather isn’t too windy for this time of year, and some of them every day that the weather isn’t too windy or wet, throughout the year.
The blue jays flew and the chickadees, titmice, goldfinches and nuthatch began flying from the trees to the feeder and back to the trees. Three house sparrows and a house finch landed on the edge of the feeder tray. More common birds. None that I felt like writing about.
Then I saw a bird on the ground near the road at the edge of my lawn. A robin. I focused my binoculars on the robin, though it was close enough I didn’t need binoculars to identify it, and a second robin hopped from behind a lilac bush and into my view. I thought robins were still south, though a friend of mine told me he had seen a flock of them a few days before. Moving through the view from my binoculars to the lilac I found two more robins, then in the tall cedar tree standing beside the lilac, three more.
With a flurry of wings a small flock of mourning doves descended, three landing on the bird feeder, four on the ground below. Also on the ground below the feeder were several dark-eyed junkos and a flock of goldfinches, to use the prescribed designation from Old English, a charm of finches. A red-bellied woodpecker and a downy woodpecker visited the feeder.
There, outside my window, I had a collection of common, year-round feeder birds, blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, nuthatch, red-bellied and downy woodpecker. I had a species of bird, the robin, that comes to us in spring, stays with us through the summer and into the fall, then goes south for the winter. I had a species of bird, the junco, that comes to us from farther north when the days get short and the weather turns cold. And it stays with us only in the winter. I had mourning doves which are sometimes with us in winter and sometimes not.
I had started listing the species of birds I had seen and I realized as I did that I had forgotten the weather, the dullness of the sky. Then I realized if I listed all those birds and told a little about each I had an article.
But I needed a highlight for the article and as I was compiling my list one appeared. A flicker landed on the ground near the base of the cedar tree. This is another bird of fair weather to us and to other residents of the northern half of the U.S., perhaps even more than a robin.
But the flicker wasn’t my highlight. As I was watching it another woodpecker landed on the trunk near the base of the cedar, a bigger woodpecker, a pileated woodpecker. This is the bird of all seasons, a non-migrant, with a range over most of the eastern half of the U.S., southern Canada and the Pacific Northwest. But it’s a woodland bird and it’s uncommon or rare over all but the southern part of its range.
Robins, juncos, flicker, pileated woodpecker outside my window, what did I care if the sky was gray?