Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I am not a bird watcher

Because, with even with the most perfect view of the sweetest mother bird in her nest, I cannot identify said bird.

Her nest is situated conveniently atop the capital of the corner column of the balcony, off what is referred to as ‘the old bedroom’, to distinguish it from the new bedroom. The old bedroom having been my parents’ bedroom for about 40 years, and before that it was empty and before that it was the bedroom my father shared with his brother when they were growing up and coming to the Orchard on weekends. The Egyptian themed new bedroom was devised when my grandmother came to live with my parents in the hope that even as her memory disintegrated, the presence of her mouche arabie screen and her Coptic crosses and the incised brass urns and hanging mosque lamps, that all of that would reassure Bonne-Maman of the happiness of her life beside the Nile and perhaps stave off the insinuating tapeworm of memory loss.
Now it is my parents’ room, still Egyptian themed, not because my mother has forgotten but because she remembers so well. The camel collection is relatively new. I don’t know which bedroom my father remembers.

All I need to do to view the nest is stand on the balcony railing. Of course the mother flies off indignantly when I do this, but she always returns. Inside are her four white eggs and the other one, the one spotted with brown, the intruder, the one my sister identified as the cowbird’s egg. That was the easy part. Cowbird’s are opportunistic creatures, who lay their eggs in any handy nest not their own, because they have none of their own. I am told they developed this trait following the buffalo herds across the Great Plains, because the buffalo fur was loaded with tasty insects. Life on the move precluded nest-building, hence the opportunistic egg-laying. Don’t ask me why a bird best known for its affinity for buffalo bugs is laying eggs mere feet from my parents’ old bedroom.
And who is the mother bird, the nest-builder?
I checked out my Audubon’s guide for smallish birds of the northeast. That narrowed it down to a few hundred. Then I narrowed it further to birds that lay white eggs, not speckled or blue or green. More narrowing ensued. Then I looked again at the bird. I feel confident she is not an owl, a pigeon, a parrot or a woodpecker. Elimination is a good thing.
Are those feathers blue or grey? Would you describe that tail as flat? Or notched? Is it similar to the Pipit? How big is bigger than a swallow? Are those pale brown narrow streaks along her side, or are they black stripes in a field of brown? Could it be a nuthatch? Or aren’t they the ones that walk up the sides of trees? What about goldfinches? The females aren’t gold; maybe they are this mysterious brown or gray with mysterious stripes.
Is that stuff on top of her head a feathery crest, or is it just this morning’s bedhead?
The only thing that remains clears is my failure as a birdwatcher. On the other hand, when I sit & stare at Bonne Maman’s Middle Kingdom funerary ornaments (a gift from an admirer at the Cairo Museum, back when)I know exactly where I am and who I want to be with.

1 comment:

Rebecca Rice said...

I love the phrase "insinuating tapeworm of memory loss." And I totally agree with you about bird-watching. I consider myself lucky when I can identify a cardinal!

Thanks for making me smile!