A molting American goldfinch finds a nice lunch in the bed of sunflower seeds.
AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER A molting American goldfinch finds a nice lunch in the bed of sunflower seeds.
I cranked open a window of the house and inhaled the joy of the day.

Chorus frogs called, sounding like thumbnails being run down the teeth of a comb. Chickadees made their “chick-a-dee-dee” calls. Research has found that the number of “dee-dee-dees” that a chickadee gives is an indication of its level of concern in response to a perceived threat. A few “dees” and the bird is not overly concerned. A longer string of “dees” is an alarm for other species that a predator is near.

The day was as soft as sunshine when an eastern phoebe returned to my yard during the first week of April. As it perched on a tree branch, ready to hawk insects, it wagged its tail.

As the phoebe demonstrated the amazing art of flycatching, robins, down-to-earth birds, looked for worms. They may look like they are listening, but they are watching for worms. It wasn’t just the early birds who were hunting. The late birds searched for food, too.

A kestrel perched on a utility wire near the road. Kestrels eat mostly large insects, but eat a lot of mice and voles, too. American kestrel populations in the U.S. have dropped by nearly half over the last 45 years.

In “White Room” by Cream, the lyrics say, “In the white room with black curtains near the station. Black roof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings. Silver horses ran down moonbeams in your dark eyes. Dawn light smiles on you leaving, my contentment.”

Starlings flew in and mounted an attack upon the suet. The suet disappeared quickly under the assault of the beaks of starlings, starlings far more ravenous than tired.

If you want to see the world, look out a window.

Echoes From Loafers’ Club

I’d better get going.

You just got here.

I know, but I just remembered somewhere else I’d rather be.

Driving by the Bruces

I have two wonderful neighbors — both named Bruce — who live across the road from each other. Whenever I pass their driveways, thoughts occur to me, such as: Dead skunks littered the roads. I heard once, probably on “Hollywood Squares,” that about 10 percent of the population enjoys the smell of skunk. I’m not one of those, but I know that the scent of one of these expired stink bombs is a sign of spring at this time of the year.

Fess Parker

I was working far from home and had just arrived at the hotel. Once I was checked in and moved in, I decided to walk to a nearby supermarket to get some fruit for dinner. The store was packed. I quickly discovered why. It was sample day. I was welcomed by a flock of sample givers. I enjoyed ample samples. I still bought some fruit, but my tank had been filled with samples.

A fellow sample sampler wore a coonskin cap. An odd topping for an adult, but he was the King of the Wild Frontier. The new wild frontier, giant grocery stores.

“Davy Crockett?” I wondered aloud.

“Fess Parker,” he replied with a laugh.

Fess Parker was an actor best known for his portrayals of Davy Crockett in the Walt Disney TV series that ran 1955-1956 and as Daniel Boone in another series from 1964 to 1970. He became a winemaker and shuffled off this mortal coil in 2010.

“Daniel Boone was a man. Yes a big man. With an eye like and eagle and as tall as a mountain was he. Born on a mountain top in Tennessee. Greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree. Killed him a bear when he was only three. Davy, Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier.”

I’ve never known anyone named Fess, nor have I ever owned a coonskin cap. Some Native Americans had worn coonskin caps as traditional articles of clothing. European pioneers that settled in Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina in the 18th and 19th centuries wore them as hunting caps. Benjamin Franklin, on a trip to Paris as ambassador to France, wore a coonskin cap as a symbol of patriotism. Fess Parker wore a coonskin cap in his portrayal of both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, even though Boone disliked coonskin caps and preferred felt headwear.

Anyone who believes the competitive spirit in America is dead has never been in a supermarket when the cashier opens another checkout line.

Wearing a coonskin cap probably helps in securing the front spot.

Singing in a cemetery

My hometown is centrally located, as long as you live near it.

There are a number of centrally located cemeteries in the area.

I visit cemeteries regularly. I visit friends and relatives there. I honor strangers and ancestors that I never knew. I appreciate the veterans. I’ve often done radio shows from cemeteries. They are peaceful places with birds singing. I’ve hiked around graveyards. I’ve birded them. I’ve wondered about all the stories that are buried there. I’ve hoped that the great accumulation of tears and regrets is buried under an avalanche of merry moments and happy days. 

Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

A robin sang a beautiful song in a neighborhood graveyard, “Cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.”

I sang along.

Nature notes

A song sparrow led the morning chorus as it played many of my favorites.

The birds had formed a choral group in which each member attempted to be the featured soloist.

I’m a lifelong listener to birds. I grew up on a farm that mooed, clucked, oinked and barked itself awake each morning. I found the sound of geese barking overhead uplifting.

An eastern phoebe appeared after a long flight from its winter home. It has been a great comeback. I hoped there were enough flying insects to meet its appetite.

Success can be a matter of getting through things. The voices of the birds were my background music as I picked up sticks from the yard. That task is like life. We pick up the pieces wherever they fall and move on.

The day ended much too soon in a beautiful sunset saying, “Nice going. You made it. Here’s your reward.”


“How do they count monarch butterflies on their winter roosts in Mexico?”

Scientists measure area because estimates of individual butterflies in a colony vary too widely to be reliable. That said, even area guesses vary. Such estimates range from 10 to 50 million monarchs per hectare. Others say 10 to 20 million per acre. A hectare equals 2.471 acres.

“How can I stop hawks from hunting the birds in my yard?”

My yard becomes hunting grounds for accipiters (Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks) for a bit of time each year. They do prey upon other birds. Here are some suggestions. We all need shelter. I can prove it. The Rolling Stones had a hit song titled, “Gimme Shelter.” Proof doesn’t get any proofier than that.

Providing natural cover for small birds is the best way to protect them from hawk attacks. Dense trees, shrubbery and brush piles are suitable and should be within 10 feet of bird feeders so small birds can reach it quickly when they feel threatened. Choose plants that provide seeds or fruits for the birds. Place bird feeders in covered areas such as under an awning, umbrella or low tree branches where the canopy offers visual shielding from hawks.

Avoid ground feeding, as birds that feed upon the ground, such as doves and sparrows, are vulnerable to hawk attacks.

Use bird feeders that include wire cages that protect perches and feeding ports, or build a cage around existing feeders. This allows small birds to access the food in relative security since larger birds, including hawks, will not be able to reach them. This doesn’t prevent small birds from panicking at a hawk’s approach, but it does buy time for escape. If hawks are stubborn, remove bird feeders for a week or two. The hawk should move on to happier hunting grounds, but the songbirds should return when you resume feeding.

“How can I tell a male and a female robin apart?”

The males come to our yards Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ along. Holler “Bob” at a robin. If it looks at you as if to say, “What?” it’s a male. Females will ignore you. Every man knows that feeling. Compared to male robins, females have paler heads that contrast less with their backs.

Thanks for stopping by

“No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work.” — Mother Teresa

“Friendship consists in forgetting what one gives, and remembering what one receives.” — Dumas The Younger

Meeting adjourned

“Nothing can make our lives, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” — Leo Tolstoy


© Al Batt 2017