Saturday, January 23, 2010

THE EARLY BIRD WEARS RED



Practically the first thing I do every morning is feed the birds. Like a good cowboy or farmer, I believe a man takes care of his stock first, before sitting down to his own meal.

Most days, unless a seed or suet feeder needs refilling, all this really entails is tossing out a few scoops of cracked corn for the ground feeders. I step onto the deck where the big shiny metal trash cans holding the various birdfoods are stored, lift the corn bin's lid, scoop-and-fling a couple of times, visually check the other feeders, and scuttle back inside—desperate for that first sip of life-inducing coffee.

I'm an early riser, and thus an early bird feeder. It is usually still dark out as I fulfill my corn-flinging chore. Those of you who seldom check an almanac in regards to sunrise times might be surprised to learn today's sunrise came only five minutes earlier than sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice, way back on December 21st. (Yes, the days are indeed getting longer—this evening's sunset is 34 minutes later than on that same solstice day. But as we head toward the summer solstice, the initial lengthening of daylight's span occurs almost entirely in the afternoon/evening; dusk is noticeably delayed, the lingering light accounting for the bulk of our gain, while dawn still seems caught in a trap, unable to make much headway.)

Because it is still dark as I do my feeding, there's nothing much to be seen—the rough lower trunk of the big box elder, as lit by the waning pool of yellow porchlight; the shadowy bulk of nearby bushes; the ghostly glow of sycamores along the bank; the glint and shimmer of the river's moving ribbon beyond; and thataway, an invisible presence, the island across the channel.

However, while I can't see, I can hear…and so I listen. To the hoot of a far-off owl or the wavering yip of a coyote. Or maybe the wind stirring through the treetops, though not usually so early; wind typically arrives with the dawn. I might hear rain or sleet, or the quiet tone of snow sifting earthward. Always, of course, there's the sound of the river—whispering, murmuring, infrequently roaring.

I can also hear birds. Not just any birds, for birds have a definite schedule. Some arrive for breakfast in the gray first light of dawn. Others a few minutes after, with the real light. Some don't put in an appearance until the morning is definitely underway. Still, I don't have to be able to see to know the early birds here wear scarlet. The cardinal's quick whistled chert, chert, chert is easily identified. And this morning, even with a heavily overcast sky and an end-of-night darker than most, I could actually see their silhouettes—little bird-like clumps, sitting in the nearby trees, caught between the porchlight's feeble glow and the black-velvet darkness.

If I'm running on schedule or late, the redbirds are already in the nearby trees, awaiting my corn tossing. If I'm a bit early, I'll hear them chert, chert, chert over in the cedars and junipers, as if passing the word to one another that breakfast is now being served. That calling is quickly followed by the whir of their wings as they fly across the short distance into their ringside perches.

The minute I'm back inside, the cardinals are on the ground and eating—breakfasting by porchlight. I'm not sure if they're hungry, gluttonous, or just hoping to beat the sparrows. The early bird not only gets the worm, it also gets first dibs on the cracked corn. I do know cardinals are invariably the first to appear in the morning and the last to disappear when twilight turns to darkness. How they find their way back to their safe night roost in the cedars and junipers is amazing.

All cooks love seeing their food eaten with gusto. I know I do. And I get the same pleasure feeding my redbirds early and listening to them chert, chert, chert excitedly up there in the darkness.

I like it, too, how each of us gleefully anticipates the other.
———————


16 comments:

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Anticipation of enjoyment and delight is truly a wonderful thing. It is delightful for me to anticipate your life-nourishing, nature-loving postings. I always leave smiling.

madcobug said...

Beautiful photo. I have noticed the doves are the first ones here before good daylight. Then others start coming in. The cardinal is the last to leave late in the evening. I usually put out seed later in the day or sometimes twice a day if it cold so some will be still be there at dawn. Helen

Bernie said...

Hi Grizz, I too have noticed that the days are growing longer...a hope and promise of what is to come. I love how you take care of all the birds that make your part of the river their home. Gorgeous cardinal photo but then after pink, I love red.......:-) hugs

KGMom said...

Cardinals are such favorite birds of mine. I have often wondered if they are as impressed with their plumage as I am. Do they see color? Do they know how glorious they look?

Anna said...

Oh so nice to see that you take care of your birds before yourself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and this beautiful photo. I used to have food in my feeder, but then it was too close to home, and with birds came rodents. I wish I could continue, I actually got to see birds I never seen before. Anna :)

bobbie said...

I enjoyed this post so much! This photo of the cardinal is exceptionally good. I do enjoy hearing them early in the morning too.

Wanda said...

Your description of early morning feedings is word perfect. You get an A+ for successfully capturing the sounds and mood of dawn. It's still dark out, as I type and a very wet morning, but the Cardinals are there...honest, I just checked and heard as you say, their chert, chert, chert!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

This is true in so many things in life—don't you think? Getting there is half the fun.

I'm glad you enjoy these posts. I don't want to always leave you smiling—we'll take a few serious turns from time to time—but I want you to always enjoy your visit.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Helen…

My doves come later, after the cardinals and sparrows. Maybe I have lazy doves? It is interesting that birds have their "seating times" at the breakfast table.

Glad you liked the photo—though obviously not a cardinal in the dark. :-)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

The days are lengthening…but not by much in the morning. Still, we're on our way toward spring.

I do take care of my birds—and they expect it, too. Redbirds will brighten any photo.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

I don't know if they're impressed with their scarlet cloak or not, but an ol' redbird seems to strut and preen more than, say, a goldfinch. And cardinals do think they own the feeders.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Anna…

I don't like eating my breakfast amid a cloud of guilt, with all those beady little eyes staring at me through the window like urchins from a Dickens tale.

Varmints sometimes get into the feeder habit, too…and there are things you can do to help avoid this. But bottom line, you're putting out free eats. You don't get to say who comes to the table.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bobbie…

I count on my cardinals—and I'm never disappointed. This morning, for example, it was rainy, dreary, and yet the redbirds were there, waiting, and perky as ever when it got light enough that I could see them feeding. I just got back to the cottage. It is still rainy, dreary—and right this moment I can see a half-dozen house finches on a seed feeder, one downy woodpecker on the suet cage, and maybe fifteen cardinals on the ground. And through the window, I can hear their sharp, quick whistles.

Love 'em!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

Yup, they were there when I first got up this morning, too. You have to be up and about about pretty early to beat the redbirds!

BTW, thank you for what you said. I appreciate your comments. I really do try to make my words accurately capture the moment. Words are no substitute for the real thing, of course, but I want to recreate the experience as closely as I can, to better share what I see, hear, feel…and remember. It's encouraging to hear that at least this time, I was on the right track.

Kelly said...

...beautiful photo of Red! Our cardinals are always the first...and the last at the feeder. During the middle of the day they are too busy dodging starlings right now!

I'm so happy the days are growing longer... I want to go back on my evening strolls along the Little Miami.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

With that lovely cardinal illustration at the head of your blog, I figured you'd like this post. Not many starlings here (knock, knock) so I have redbirds all day long. At time, they're the most numerous birds in sight.

Hey, the days are getting longer, but by the end of the week, they're calling for 20˚F high. You'd better dress warm for those strolls.