Identifying the Birds

Cardinal May 23

Northern Cardinal

In 2012 I wrote a blog post about the Unknown Birds folder in my photography archive. The folder was over-full and impossible to navigate.

Robin May 24 1s

American Robin

I needed a better system.

Grackle May 20

Common Grackle

The obvious solution was to separate my Unknown Birds folder into a series of known bird folders.

Brown Thrasher May 3

Brown Thrasher May 3

Brown Thrasher

At first I tackled the problem in my usual way, with books and bookmarked websites and a notebook to keep track of everything.

Carolina Wren May 23

Carolina Wren May 23

Carolina Wren

Over time, I found that Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site was often the only resource I needed. Their “Browse by Name or Shape” page suits my learning style.

Sparrow May 3

Chipping Sparrow?

I still find sparrows, warblers, and chickadees endlessly confusing.

Unknown Warbler May 23

Blackpoll Warbler

Ruby crowned Kinglet March 13

Ruby-crowned Kinglet?

Blue gray Gnatcatcher April 13

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

But my Unknown Birds folder is almost empty.

Unknown Bird May 2

Still unknown. Probably a warbler, possibly a Tennessee Warbler?

Almost. The above bird has defied all of my attempts to identify it. (It also defied most of my attempts to photograph it, which is why my best photo from the encounter is poorly lit and out of focus.) So I’m asking for help. Can you identify my unknown warbler? Is there enough information in the photo for a definitive identification? Please comment, especially if you can correct or confirm any of my other identifications!

Finally, the following photos are evidence of what happens when I get over-excited about a visitor in the yard and forget to check my camera settings…

Hawk April 30

There’s more wrong than right in these photos, but I kind of love them anyway.

Hawk April 30

Cooper’s Hawk?

More Snow on the Way

Cardinal Jan 22

Last week a snowstorm clipped our area as it funneled down from the north. This week a snowstorm is barreling up from the south.

Snow Jan 22

Snow Jan 22

Snow Jan 22

After complaining my way through two mild winters, I’m trying to focus on the happier aspects of a “normal” winter. Fresh snow is pretty, hard freezes mean fewer insect pests in the summer, and icy walks renew my gratitude for warm blankets and hot water.

Snow Jan 22

Snow Jan 23

Snow Jan 22

Song Sparrow Jan 23

Song Sparrow Jan 23

Red Winged Blackbird Jan 23

Sparrow Jan 23

Birds Jan 23

Squirrel Jan 23

What do you love best about winter?

Snow Jan 22

A Short Walk in New Shoes

Tomorrow I am going on an Adventure! I’m so excited about the Adventure that I bought new shoes, which I decided to test by going for a walk today.

Geese Jan 10

I pulled into Ashville Park barely thirty minutes in front of a line of rain, so I didn’t have time to walk very far. I had enough time, though, to find the resident pair of domestic geese. These geese were featured in our local newspaper in 2010, “Sit back and enjoy the tale of Jack, the lonely goose,” and I’m happy they are still thriving.

Geese Jan 10

Geese Jan 10

Further down the road, I spotted an unfamiliar silhouette on a long, narrow pond. Before I got close enough to try for a photo, a sparrow began sounding an alarm and the slender diving bird disappeared. I waited a while, but the mysterious diver never returned.

Sparrow Jan 10

While I was photographing the sparrow (I believe this is a Song Sparrow), I spotted some unusual activity in a nearby stand of trees. Several vultures were resting together, at least five, and two more joined the group while I watched.

Vultures Jan 10

(The three in the bottom photo are definitely Turkey Vultures, but I can’t decide if the top photo shows a Black Vulture or an immature Turkey Vulture.)

Vultures Jan 10

More vultures were circling in as the rain arrived and chased me back to my car. My camera got a bit wet, as did my new shoes, but both have already dried and are waiting by the door for tomorrow’s Adventure. I may not be able to sleep tonight!

January Birds

The yard was full of birds today. Flocks arrived in waves, flashing in and out of patches of sunlight as they foraged. Rather than braving the cold, I sat in the window with my camera and enjoyed a long, quiet afternoon in the warmth of our kitchen.

Starling Jan 4

Robin Jan 4

Dove Jan 4

Cardinal Jan 4

The chickadees, warblers, and woodpeckers were too busy to stop for photos, but a small flock of sparrows spent nearly an hour grazing in the half-frozen grass and weeds. They stayed in a part of the yard that had already fallen into shade, pointedly avoiding sunlit areas.

Sparrow Jan 4

(There were four of these little sparrows, and I’ve had no luck identifying them. Chipping Sparrows? Swamp Sparrows? Am I getting close? Please comment if you can help!)

Sparrow Jan 4

Sparrow Jan 4

Tomorrow is forecast to be a bit warmer with lots of sunshine. I wonder if the birds know?

Review: Amytis Leaves Her Garden

Amytis Leaves Her Garden by Karen Kelsay
(White Violet Press, 2012)

I confess to feeling intimidated as I approached this book. I am a long-time fan of the author’s online journal Victorian Violet Press, which is now closed, and I regularly submitted my poetry there. Our roles are established: I am a poet with no poetry credentials (other than my brief list of publications) and she is an editor. I submit. She reads and evaluates. I find the idea of reversing those roles unsettling.

Also, this book reveals embarrassing gaps in my knowledge. Who is/was Amytis? Easily answered by an internet search. But, more importantly, formal poetry? The majority of these poems are formal poetry, which I haven’t studied since high school. My preference, in both reading and writing, is free verse. So who am I to tackle this mysterious collection of formal poems? With my limited experience and non-existent credentials, what can I add to the conversation about Amytis Leaves Her Garden?

Then I started reading. I jotted down a few notes. And a few more notes. I read the whole thing again, flipping back and forth between poems, pen in hand. Now I have eleven pages of notes. With eleven pages of notes, perhaps I have something to add to the conversation after all. But it’s not a review. What I have is an argument for reading outside of comfort zones.

Formal or not, the poems in Amytis Leaves Her Garden are relentlessly beautiful. The first line sets the tone: “It’s always in the violet hour you call…”. (“Winter Lullaby” pg 11) Winter and dusk linger near every poem. Amytis is not leaving her garden, the garden is leaving her.

The book travels back and forth between fields and seashores, between childhood memories and adult responsibilities, between myth and reality.

…If I could wrap myself
around your limbs and carry you like nectar
cupped inside my hands–I’d drink your pain. (“Aurora Speaks to Tithonus” pg 32)

I wondered if their love had ever been
alive, or if their crazy, violent bouts
had killed it off–until the illness came. (“Outlooks” pg 40)

Time is fraught with grief, but also a maturing acceptance of change.

I’ve come to wrap long vines around my breasts
and smear wet clay upon my dress. To weep. (“At Sunset By the Oak” pg 26)

Your gauze-like scent clings to the walls, despair
and giddy memories return. I swear,
I hear a gull and jetty bell’s refrain.
They both dissolve like sand hills in the rain. (“Divining a Lost Summer” pg 45)

These poems are mesmerizing. Rhyme and meter are a tidy bonus, but not the primary allure. Whenever I try to name their forms, I succumb to the lure of imagery. When I try to pin down meter, I lose myself in metaphors.

Does my lack of appreciation for formal poetry rob me of a more profound connection? Probably so. A reader familiar with formal poetry would likely choose a different set of lines to illustrate a different understanding. But Amytis Leaves Her Garden did not hold me at arm’s length, demanding I study the intricacies of sonnets before entering its world.

My journey with Amytis Leaves Her Garden reflects my larger journey with poetry. I approached it with misgivings, circled a while in indecision, sampled and retreated, returned for a closer look, and finally waded in. Next time I’m tempted by a book that seems too difficult for me, I won’t be so hesitant to explore.

Sparrow August 12

Sparrow August 12

Sparrow August 12

Sparrow August 12

Amazon link and sample poems: