Tag Archives: Wildlife

WILDLIFE CAN MAKE A BACKYARD WILD

"Who Ate the Backyard?": Living With Wildlife On Private Land by Charlie Craighead

“Who Ate the Backyard?”: Living With Wildlife On Private Land by Charlie Craighead.

Describes the habits of bear, moose, porcupine, weasels, rodents, deer and birds as they interact with humans near our homes, and how we can help the wildlife around us.

In The Eyes Of A Pigeon

a turkey vulture soaring against a blue sky looking for a meal
Always Watching
a pigeon with head up and eyes on alert for predators
It’s All In The Eyes

 

 

 

 

A willing and observant person can gather some extraordinary insights about the natural world in the most unlikely places. It can happen in the short time that it takes to blink an eye, no matter if that eye belongs to you, or to something else. Nature abounds with beneficial lessons and the teachers of true meaning are everywhere. I just happen to gain some of my clues from the clear-eyed and attentive stares of my backyard pigeon flock. You can learn a lot from an otherwise ordinary and common creature.

I spend a fair amount of time with this captive audience of one hundred in their outdoor aviary. I am their provider, and their lifeline from the outside lands. I supply them with their daily ration of grains and clean water, regardless of the weather or the many other duties or time constraints I may have. I fill their pickpots with grit and minerals. I break ice from their bowls in the winter, and suffer the same stinging snows and biting winds of the day. I clean their flypen and pigeon-house, and keep a sharp eye out for the telltale signs of distress or disease. I study them closely, and through it all, they watch me too.

a pigeon with a twig in it's beak flying to build a nest

 

 

I am a constant in their lives, and a spoke in their wheel of life. I have come to know of them and their world just a little bit, and they of me. It could be said that they would rather prefer that I was not involved at all, but I am a necessary intrusion they must tolerate, at least for a brief time.

Yet, they wait for me each morning and afternoon, the anticipation building as I drive up to the entrance doors. They mill about excitedly as I approach, ready to perform just for me. I touch the door handle, and they begin their wild jig, dancing like ecstatic puppets on hidden strings. They hop about and swirl their wings like crazed whirligigs, or slap their wingtips smartly as they launch from their perch for a short flight across the pen.

They chant their pigeon talk and coo even louder as I step in through the inner doors, to become completely surrounded by frantic birds, eager to fill their crops before the other’s. They push and shoulder for each speck of grain as if their life depended on it. Perhaps they bicker and fight to establish or maintain some imperceptible pigeon pecking order, or maybe just to remind themselves that life can be a struggle. You would think that they would know by now that their will be enough food for all comers, but it is a wild ritual that they simply must abide for reasons known only to the pigeon.

We have repeated this madcap scene a few thousand times and more, the pigeons and I. It has become routine, with little deviation from the usual suspects. That is until yesterday, when our normal interaction abruptly and inexplicably changed.

It was immediately obvious when I pulled up in my truck. The absence of sound or flashing wings struck me first, and what pigeon heads I could see sat on top of outstretched necks, alert, with searching eyes. They crouched in the classic manner of all prey, with feet tucked under their bodies, coiled and ready to spring out and away from impending danger.

The birds stood frozen and paid me little mind as I entered and searched the ground for an animal intruder. I investigated the pigeon houses and the nest boxes and found nothing. I checked every nook and cranny of their limited world and came up empty. I paused to scratch my head, and ponder this puzzling circumstance.

Hand on chin, I stared at the closest pigeon and wondered, determined to discover just why he would not fly. And then he cocked his head, and I saw his eye focus on something high as he grounded himself more tightly to his perch. At that moment I spied a wide, dark shadow moving across the dirt floor, and smiled. I knew exactly what belonged in that kind of shadow, as did my fine feathered friends. All I had to do was look up, to see just exactly what it was that had struck such all-consuming fear in their hearts.

I had no doubt that the shadow maker was an eater of birds, but there were several possibilities in this category. A red-tailed hawk maybe, or a gleaming eagle from the nearby river. In this case the black shadow belonged to an animal of equal color, with a distinctively naked neck. It was not what I expected to see.

The Turkey Vulture, or Buzzard as it is sometimes called, is quite common to the American West and many parts of North America. A six-foot wingspan casts a long shadow across the land, and he covers a lot of it as he travels. That great red and bald head is immediately recognizable from afar, and known by all. His sentinel like posture and hovering demeanor create and perpetuate his iconic image. It is a form often associated with death, and it is a meaning not entirely lost on my domesticated, but anxious, pigeon flock.

The Vulture is classified as a bird of prey, after all, even though he finds most of his meals by smell after they are already dead. I suppose that it is a distinction utterly lost on the brain of a pigeon.

Continue reading In The Eyes Of A Pigeon

An Undiscovered Country Beyond The Backyard

Moving Colors

The state of New Jersey was nicknamed the garden state in 1876, apparently because it was so obviously filled with so many good things to eat. Later, it became famous for it’s truck farms, which supplied a wide variety of agricultural and dairy products to the large appetites of New York City and Philadelphia. It was still pretty farmy and rural in 1958, when I came along. This was especially true of the southern part of the state, where I grew up.

We moved into a wonderful old house when I was about four years old, on what had once been a working dairy farm on the edge of the Wharton State Forest, and the soon to be protected Pine Barrens. The previous farmers had long since moved away, and the property was sadly neglected and over run with brush and debris. I don’t think my parents thought it was all so wonderful, considering the great work at hand needed to make a proper home for my bothers and sister and I. But it was more than wonderful to me, a young boy with adventure, and nature, close at hand, and just outside the big farmhouse windows.

It was a big, big world to explore, and our immediate acreage kept me occupied through the change of several seasons. After all, our towering and decaying dairy barn was full of pigeons and starlings and rats, and unknown animal moanings. Cottontail rabbits bolted from behind nearly every brush pile, and if I was lucky and quiet I could find a deer under our apples trees in the back lot, late in the evening. Every day held the promise of some new momentous discovery, and I was eager to escape the watchful eye of my mother each morning.

We built forts and played army, hide and seek, and tag, and other games. We fabricated crude animal traps and sat for hours in waiting. I don’t believe we ever caught anything. We hung upside down from trees, and dared our fates. We chased lightning bugs in the early summer evenings, and put them in jars, and watched them light up. We giggled and laughed for the fun of it. Sometimes, we just laid on our backs in the tall green grass and counted big puffy clouds. We did what all kids do when left to roam free, and the hours melted into time and childhood memory.

My mother let us have our heads, with some rules, of course. The big rule was that we were not to leave our property, or play by the roads. That worked just fine for many months, as I had no desire to leave her protective cover or test her motherly patience. That is, until the day I did.

Across the road stood an ominous tangle of tall, matted grass, impenetrable bramble, and forbidding brush that stretched to the forseeable horizon. It was dark and scary looking, and I had been warned many times not to go in there. Still, it beckoned and called, and I began to stare at it, and study. What was in there, I wondered? It begged to be investigated, and conquered.

I remember disappearing into there with another friend, one big, summer day. We steeled ourselves on the edge of the abyss, and dove in. We planned to stay together, for moral support, and of course immediately lost track of one another. I called a time or two with no result. My fear rose in my throat, and I wanted to spin around and jump back out. But my curiosity was stronger, and after some deep quick breaths I continued on, to face whatever lurked ahead.

Another step, and I was totally lost in a magical world of new life and unknown creatures. Any thought of time or past concerns receded into the hot and sticky air, and the sweat poured out of me and stung my eyes as I tried to take it all in. Insects buzzed in my ears. Small birds of all shapes and colors flitted all around me as I worked my way through the brush, and small things scurried in the leaves. Catbirds and mockingbirds called incessantly, pulling me on. A bobwhite quail flushed at my feet, disappearing through some unseen window into the open sky. There were so many birds it was impossible to see them all. Bluejays and meadowlarks called just ahead. Everywhere was birdsong and animal noises, so loud it was nearly deafening. I could not get enough. I had to hear and see it all. Nothing could stop me.

Mockingbird

Still, fear was at the edge and began to pick at my adventure. Big black and yellow garden spiders hung in wide, embracing webs, and made me pause. Branches whipped my face and stung me silly. I tripped a few times and fell down. At times it was so thick I had to drop to my belly and slither like a snake. I hoped that I did not meet a real reptile, face to face, at least not then. Once, I became entangled in clawing vines so thick and sharp I began to panic and cry, as small spots of blood appeared on my skin. I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into, and if I would ever be able to get back home. I thought of my mother, and what she would do if she knew I was here. Where was she? What had I done? Why had I left my house?

I freed myself from the briars and made one last push forward. I saw a clearing just ahead, and my excitement and sense of adventure returned instantly. I was fearless. I was brave, and I had won. A few more steps and I was clear of it, as I knelt to brush spider webs from my hands and pull leaves and prickly stickers from my collar.

I rubbed the sweat from my nose, then stood, and looked ahead. I could not believe my eyes, and the breath left me all at once! I gasped like a goldfish plucked from his bowl for the first time, with no past experience to cushion the shock of it. I had been transported to some other special place, in fact some other planet in a galaxy far, far away. It was the beauty of it all that grabbed me. It reached in and shook me, all the way to my toes.

Chickens of all shapes, and colors of the rainbow scratched gloriously in the yellow glow of the late morning sun. An iridescent rooster strutted about his hens, head high, and watching. Some bright, white ducks waddled across the yard heading for who knows where. A big blue peacock unfolded his massive tail and danced, in front of a hutch filled with giant, splotchy rabbits. Sparrows chirped and hopped about, no doubt looking for waste grain in the dirt. I saw a small pony in a stall in the shade of a big maple tree.

My feet could not move, nor did they want to. I knew I had stumbled upon an undiscovered country of limitless bounty. I stared at the dilapidated, drafty barn and the irregular lines of an old ramshackle house. Strange smells hung in the breeze, and the pIace had a feel all of it’s own. It was all so new that I had nothing in my small experience to compare it to. My mind struggled as it downloaded massive amounts of new data, racing to correlate and associate each new piece of information.

The place had the look and feel of a broken down but comfortable pair of old work boots.The buildings and yard had no doubt been hacked from brush like I had just come from, and was now losing the unending battle and melding back into nature’s turmoil. Vines and small trees grew under and through old farm machinery and scrap. Farm sheds were starting to list and fall, with sagging doorways and slipped siding.

An Old New Jersey Homestead

Still, every aspect of this eternal homestead bursted with sound and smell, and life. I was mesmerized. I wanted to know what was behind the next outbuilding, and explore every nook and cranny of that place. I wanted to become part of it, and maybe stay there forever. Or wrap it all up, with all it’s parts and pieces, and take it home. It was part of me, already.

Emboldened now, I took a step, and it all changed in a big hurry. Just one step, and the big rooster spied me and let out a warning cackle. He clucked to his hens as he gathered them up, and steered them towards their coop. A cow bellowed from the deep shadows of the barn, as a small herd of kittens stopped their shadow boxing with each other and turned my way. Morning doves stopped cooing from the tops of the huge oak trees above us. I heard a goose let loose, honking loudly from the back of the barn, followed by the strange and stuttering exclamations of some spotted guinea hens as they lept for the trees.

Everywhere I looked was some animal head peeking from in and around countless hiding spots. They had me dead to rights, as if some great spotlight caught me in midstride and lit me up for all the world to see.

I heard a small dog yap, and then a screen door slam, as I saw her. On the barn side of the house stood a large, plump women, with an ample bossum, held in threadbare cloths. She stared ahead from across the barnyard, framed by the vibrant green of tall cornstalks with yellow tassles. She was middle-aged or more, matronly, and perhaps a little near-sighted as she searched for the cause of the commotion in her barnyard. Something was amiss, and she would find out what it was.

She knew the sounds and tone of her world on a normal morning. It was etched within her consciousness, and any change was as obvious to her as a brass marching band in her living room. There was a disturbance in the field and fabric of their existence, and an intruder in their midst. They were tightly connected, one and all, communicating perfectly through various and mysterious means.

The little terrier growled and shook, as it glared at me from between the safety of her stout legs. She wrang her hands on a dish towel as she methodically assessed the situation. Still as a statue, I hung with one foot in the air and waited.

apparently, I was not too hard to find. No doubt she just looked where every other animal in the world was staring until she found me. I remember seeing her see me, as a bit of surprise, and annoyance appeared on her face. I have no way of knowing what she thought, but I am sure I was not what she expected to find.

My exhilaration and thrill of discovery had instantly vanished, and I remember feeling that I had somehow violated her space in a way most painful. I was a varmint, an uninvited party crasher, a barbarian at the gate. This was her kingdom, and I was far past the edge of my realm. At any rate, I had already exhausted my supply of courage. It was all too much for a young boy on his first expedition from home.

Before she could move or even say a word, I broke and took off like a cannon-shot into the world from which I came. I charged like the fox ahead of the hounds, and I scared the bejeebers out of a lot of birds and little creatures as I crashed headlong through the heavy understory. I don’t remember much about the journey, except that I completed the return trip a lot faster than the first one, and some skin was lost in the process. It took some band aids and a lot of hydrogen peroxide, together with some tender loving care from my mother, to make things right again.

I don’t think I ever told her about my true adventure or the woman in the barnyard. At the time it was far to big to capture and explain within the limited vocabulary of my youth. But, like all mothers, she already knew that I had been somewhere that I should not have been, yet had to be. It was a boy’s adventure, and mine to own, and hold. It is still there, when I need it.

I never did see the woman again. By the time I was old enough to freely wander the neighborhood, she was gone and her farm abandoned like so many across the south of Jersey. I never knew what became of her. I only knew that she was gone, and that somehow a way of life had vanished along with her.

I can still see her standing there in that place, with her animals all around. I wish I could talk to her and come to know a little of her life. I would like to know how long she had lived there, and if she had found herself alone as the homestead fell down around her. If I could, I would ask her if she had raised a family there, and where they had gone. I would ask her if she had raised a young boy or two of her own, and if they had brought her contentment then, and later, in her old age.

Most of all, I would apologize for my intrusion and hope it was not too much of a burden to bear. I would love to explain to her how she has stuck in my mind, and that I have not forgotten her.

Looking back, I wish things remained as simple and true as the bond between a mother hen and her chicks, or a mother and her boy. It would be grand if life was as safe and protective as an undisturbed barnyard, and as comforting as a farm at peace. I think I have hunted and searched for her barnyard ever since.

I will find it one day, somehow. I hope a small, wild child of a boy is just around the corner, and he will find it too.

Michael Patrick McCarty

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It All Falls Down

 

 

 

Coyotes, Mountain Lions, and Bears, Oh My!

I See You…

 

 

 

*Update August 27, 2013

There is not a week goes by that someone does not ask if we have had any puma reports, and I must say, I’m a bit anxious myself. The leaves in the high county are beginning to turn color already, far too early it would seem, and it won’t be long before the early snows are as high as an elk’s belly and the mule deer are headed for the lower valleys along the river. The big cats are sure to follow, and it is then that there is a fair chance to record them on a well placed trail camera. We hope that the hunting is good this season, for us, and for mountain lions everywhere.

You can see a short video of our night time visitor here.

Originally Published August, 2012

Many of our followers are aware that I have done a lot of security work over the years, and I still do. I’ve spent many sleepless nights on one type of patrol or another, and I’ve learned to notice many things that most people miss in the world all around them.

Last night I missed a chance to see a big mountain lion moving just a short distance from my solitary post. It was reported to me by an excited and breathless observer, who apparently had some trouble believing his own eyes. He just had to tell somebody, and I’m glad it was me.

The sighting took place on the black top and concrete of a two-track bridge over a cold, clear river in western Colorado, not far from the unfenced yards of several exclusive homes and the manicured grounds of a large country club and golf course. It seemed an unlikely spot to find such a magnificent predator, or so he thought. For his part, the tawny beast was no doubt chagrined to find himself caught in such an exposed and vulnerable position.

The lion enjoys good company as he hunts. Coyote, the all-seeing trickster grows more bold and opportunistic with each passing year, having learned long ago to take advantage of the nonchalance of the family pet. He may have learned it from the big cat. Likewise, encounters with black bears are increasing, as are people and bear conflicts. As a result we receive many complaints about coyotes and bears on the property that I roam, and it looks like it may become particularly bad in this time of terrible drought.

After all, we are surrounded by the rocky mountain west, with national forest and other undeveloped lands close at hand. Still, a mountain lion report is big and electrifying news which will surely surge throughout the small community by morning. This creature rules by stealth, and it is no surprise that most people have never seen one outside of a zoo or animal park.

I have been quite fortunate to study them several times in my adventures and wilderness travels. I’ve spied them without them seeing me, and I’ve noted their reaction when they realize they haven’t seen me first. I’ve hunted them several times, and have found myself standing with the bawling hounds under the killing tree, with an angry and snarling cougar above. I’ve followed their distinctive paw prints over hill and dale, and on more than one occasion found their tracks following me. I love to watch them under any circumstance, and to see them do their thing for any amount of time is an awe-inspiring experience that marks an indelible impression. I can see a stalking cat right now, in my mind.

What I don’t like is this long-tailed ghost watching me, particularly when I don’t know it. I have absolutely no doubt that it’s happened, countless times, at close range and but a primordial fang away. I’d take a bet that it’s happened to you too, if you have spent any significant amount of time in puma country. Fates can change quickly, as the tip of a cat’s tail twitches, measuring what to do. But of course, we will never really know, and it only adds to the mystery and magic of it all.

Follow The Signs

 

I would have explained this to my wide-eyed mountain lion man, if I could have gotten a word in edgewise. There are some noteworthy visitors out there in the black night, just out of reach of headlight beams or human consciousness.

Think about that the next time you enjoy a hike on a shadowy mountain trail in a quaking aspen grove, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up for some unknown reason. You may wish to honor that sense. It’s there for a purpose.

Keep it in the back of your mind the next time you go out at night to check on your chickens or other animals in your backyard or back forty. Catch a breath, and take a second to wonder about what just made a nearly silent footfall, behind or above.

The possibility of a lion nearby reminds us of the wilds at the edges, and grounds us in the realities of the natural world. It’s an unsettling thought for some, and one that many of us have to live with when we spend time in the places that we love. Still, I would rather live where I live knowing that a mountain lion lives here too, rather than in a place known to have no mountain lions, and wishing that it did.

It’s a reality I am happy to accept, in the hope of but a quick glimpse, in the corner of an eye.

Michael Patrick McCarty

Things That Go Bump In The Night

 

Update: October 17, 2012

Game trail cameras are an invaluable tool for those wishing to document the comings and goings of our wild neighbors, particularly in those magic hours between dusk and dawn. Strategically placed, they can capture a delightful display of animal movements not otherwise observed. It’s great entertainment, with the promise of true surprise within easy reach. My anticipation of the next photo or the next video can barely be contained. You never really know what you’re gonna get…

We use several cameras scattered about the property, which we move on a regular basis. Our main interest lies in the activities of the creatures with two legs. We watch for trespass, intrusion, and foul play. That, of course, is a story for another time. Animal sightings are the bonus feature to the main event.

Today’s review of the image collection was no exception. They held the usual cast of characters. Marmots, foxes, and inquisitive raccoons. Wandering pets, and the occasional biker. One frame held the faint outline of a bear in the shadows, and another the up close face of a young mule deer.

And as you may have guessed by now, one camera captured a video segment of a mature lion on the prowl. At first there was nothing but the wide emptiness of the night, then the world lit up as the beams of infrared caught the ghostly figure like the flashes from an electronic campfire.

He was big and long and solidly built, with well-defined muscles that rippled on his bones as he padded easily back to who knows where. No doubt he had used this route before.

A house loomed large here too, just out of camera range. I know, because I set the camera there myself.

My reaction was sharp, and visceral. It’s one thing to hear someone else talk excitedly about their sighting and personal experience. You want to believe, yet, there’s always a little room for doubt in undocumented reports. It’s quite another matter when you actually see a lion for yourself, or have indisputable evidence in hand.

Real is real, and but a moment away from memory. It is undefinable proof of the untamed mystery of our realm, accessible to all just inches from the comforts of our daily routines.

I shall do my best to stay out of the big cat’s path and unseen wanderings, yearning, for his eventual return.

Hunt well, my friend.

Michael Patrick McCarty

Food Freedom, and Guns Too!

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A Sure Sign of Spring

New Beginnings

 

March 20, 2013

The heavy hand of winter can be particularly punishing in the high Rocky Mountains of western Colorado. It is the meanest of seasons, often impossibly long and completely covered with a certain color of white for months on end. Living here at this time of year is all about ice and storm and driven snow, and when conditions are right it seems that there is no place that the bone chilling winds cannot touch. They are alive, animated with purpose and jagged edges, and always ready to reach out to let you know that there is nowhere to hide, nor escape.

At its worst it is possible to convince yourself that the steel-blue landscape laid bare before your eyes could never recover from such terrible, life threatening blows. The earth rolls and creaks with the dark numbness of the night, and carries on with the dull resignation of harsh reality. It is a timeless conflict between something old and cold, and the thawing breath of something new. Spring becomes a disjointed and haunting memory; a shimmering prize on the edges of raging conflict in a battle for the heavens.

Old man winter suffers no fools. Fail to give it the respect it demands, and it will kill you quick, without remorse. At the heart of the matter it remains a clearly defined struggle between life and death for us and for all the little things. Often it seems a most special and personal test, designed especially for you.

The trial is not only physical, but spiritual, and mental too. It is a measure of wills in a contest expertly developed to discover who will break first, left to lie down defeated and shivering upon the frozen ground.

Who knows how many less fortunate men have buckled before the indescribable hardship and despair of an unforgiving winter, and simply relaxed into the false glow of hypothermia and its inevitable outcome? It is a sad result to be sure, though perhaps an easy choice for some, held captive under unbearable circumstance.

It’s best to prevent things from getting to this point, and I prefer a brighter strategy. At times like these, I think of birds. And not just birds of any random kind, but bluebirds, and robins.

They are birds of the common folk, but these are not your average feathered creatures. Writers with much better words than I have spoken of them for centuries, trying to capture the magic and momentousness of their arrival. They are the proverbial harbingers of Spring, the dawn breakers, and the shining bringers of light. No other birds can offer such cheer to the lonely, windswept soul.

In this part of the country the calendar may say it is Spring long before it appears it is so, and this year has been no exception.  Typically, by now I am pacing about with one eye skyward, eager for a flash of blue or an unmistakable red. Turned to the south like the doting and overprotective parent, I anxiously search for the approach of the school bus now late for its’ scheduled stop. Things can get rough for the lover of birds.

It is no small wonder, this movement of life. No one can predict their arrival. They can not be tracked along their journey. Who knows what makes them head our way, or how long they dally at each stop. It is only for them to know, and they get here when they choose. This year it happened exactly on the first day of Spring, and it was the Bluebirds that graced us first.

I happened to be driving when I saw them, and as I turned a sharp corner on the first day of Spring on a back road as the sky exploded with dozens of fluttering bits of blue. It was if my world had changed in an instant, and I felt a great weight lift from my sloping shoulders.

Pulling quickly to the side to keep from crashing, I stared transfixed with wonder and joy and marveled at the colors in the early evening sky. It was a perfectly choreographed display of innocent beauty and it brought tears to my eyes.

What else can one do when delivered before such grandeur?

[Post in Progress]

Michael Patrick McCarty

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“…Winter is no mere negation, no mere absence of summer; it is another and a positive presence, and between its ebbing and the slow, cautious in-flow of our northern spring there is a phase of earth emptiness, half real, perhaps, and half subjective. A day of rain, another bright week, and all earth will be filled with the tremor and the thrust of the new year’s new energies.”  —Harry Beston, The Outermost House

“This is one of the earliest birds to arrive in the spring; it is a question which we are likely to meet first, the Bluebird or the Robin, but not infrequently a flash of the cerulean color tells us the Bluebird has won in the race northward.” — Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music, by F. Schuyler Mathews, 1904

“How the waiting countryside thrills with joy when Bluebird brings us the first word of returning spring. Reflecting heaven from his back and the ground from his breast, he floats between sky and earth like the winged voice of hope.” — WL Dawson, Birds of Ohio, 1903

*For more information and a great website about Bluebirds Click Here.

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Update: March 4, 2014

I had my first bluebird sighting of the year today, a broad-shouldered male, and it happened in just about the same spot as it did last year but more than two weeks earlier on the calendar.

This male was as bold and blue a bird as I have ever seen, and was in fact a credit to all male bluebirds everywhere. He saw me coming and rose into a buffeting wind with that characteristic bluebird gait, hanging there in the magnificent universe for all the world to admire. I had no way to know that he was particularly interested in showing off to the lone female watching from the dead brown grass and tangled weeds nearby.

It warmed my blood to see him after so many months of bright white snow drifts and steel-gray, overcast skies. I am sure that she appreciated his display in ways I could never fully understand.

It was odd to see a male and female together so early in the season, and it was especially unusual for them to be the first birds of the year. I had always believed that the males arrived ahead of the females in order to establish dominance over other males and secure a territory to their liking.

Obviously, this is not always the case. Sometimes a male and female pair arrive on the breeding grounds at the same time, ready and willing. Still, it seemed a bit odd that they seemed to be the first and only birds to make it back so far, unlike the previous year when dozens of males all appeared almost overnight.

It’s been a strange year all around, with numerous storms and heavy snows which have built upon the ground since last November. The weather as a whole has seemed cranky and confused, with lingering low pressure systems and wild and violent mood swings. The signs were easy to read upon the birds.

A most obvious indication was the arrival of large flocks of robins in January, which seemed strange not only to me but to several of my friends who were quick to point it out. They were wild and agitated groups of birds, milling about restlessly while searching for a comfortable clime found most anywhere but here. One friend stared in amazement, as robin after robin appeared to attack the eves of his house, desperate to catch a drop of snow melt drizzling from his roof.

There is something quite unsettling about the sight of an obvious icon of Spring staring forlornly at deep snow and bare branches, puffed up bravely against the blustering gales. It’s an image not easily processed against what one has always known to be true.

Most of the robins have since managed to remain and survive until the snow banks receded and disappeared, though I know not how. It is true that not all robins migrate to the south, and that some do overwinter even in northern areas. There is also some evidence that more and more robins are migrating northward earlier in the year due to shifting weather patterns.

Yet the birds seem out of synch, as if their internal clock has wound too soon and their surroundings do not quite match their memories. No doubt we feel their distress on some undefined level, and like our feathered friends we can’t quite make sense of the changing world either.

But there is one thing is for sure. The bluebirds and robins have blessed us with their return journey, and stand ready to beat back whatever remains of the cold and dark times of winter.

I shall turn to the East and the rising star to celebrate the passing of another raw and soul cleansing season, while keeping one eye turned to the South for the telltale flash of blue, and red.

Update March 9, 2016

Here Again – One Big Male Blue On the Wing Today – a wonderful sight at the end of this very snowy, tough winter.