Monthly Archives: May 2012


The Brown Creeper family that has nested in the cottonwoods around Boy Scout Pond was out yesterday for the first time. Brown Creepers are small songbirds decked in natty brown and white checks on their backs and spanking white feathers on their fronts. They have stiff tails and long, curved bills that perfectly adapt them for their lifestyle: creeping up the trunks of trees as they probe for insect prey.

Male and female Brown Creepers look alike, so I couldn’t tell Mom apart from Dad. However, Junior was easy to identify. He was sporting odd tufts of down here and there, and his bill was quite small. Like many long-billed birds, creepers keep their bill size under control in the egg, where the fit is tight. Once they hatch, creepers start growing their bills to a respectable size.

I must point out here that I am speaking only in terms of length: when Junior opened his beak to demand to be fed, his width was impressive. His mouth was school-bus yellow inside, and when he turned it to face me, all I could see was a giant yellow maw, squeaking for food.

How his parents resisted this demand was beyond me, but they did. I think they were tired of stuffing it, as they have been doing for the past several weeks, and figured it was time for Junior to learn how to forage for himself.

Junior did not agree. As his parents carefully showed him how to probe while hitching their way up a tree trunk, Junior stayed firmly anchored to the trunk lower down, crying piteously. Relentlessly. He reminded me of another toddler I had seen at the Fill recently, a little boy about two years old. The boy’s father had decided his kid should walk for himself, so he set him down on the Loop Trail, told him it was time to walk on his own, and strode off down the trail. The boy, however, had other ideas and refused to move. The dad urged him to come along. The boy looked mutinous. The father finally said, “Okay, I’m going to leave you there,” and slowly moved away. “I’m leaving you now. I’m really going. Goodbye.” The boy just stood there. Finally, the dad came back, hoisted the kid onto his shoulders and marched off.

He had learned something every experienced parent knows. Never call a toddler’s bluff.

Back at Boy Scout Pond, the Brown Creeper parents caught an insect, flew down to their stubborn toddler, and stuffed it in.

Annual Treat

When I was a child, I used to look forward every year to Washington’s Birthday. Not that I was a big fan of George’s, mind you. I was too young to know anything about our first president other than the fact that he never told a lie. This virtue was almost beyond my comprehension, for, even as a six-year-old, I knew that always telling the truth was nearly impossible for morally unformed people such as children, let alone politicians.

In any case, what I liked about George’s birthday was that every year, a local ice cream maker made a few batches of vanilla ice cream laced with ripe cherries. I still remember that lovely ice cream, the tartness of the cherries, the smooth sweetness of the vanilla, the icy coldness melting to cream in my mouth.

The treat was available for only a few days a year, and then it was gone, not to return for 360 long days, an eternity for a child.

I was reminded of those days recently when three Blue-winged Teals showed up at the Fill. Blue-winged Teals are shy ducks of the summer who come to our state from South America. The males have spectacular heads of gun-metal gray accented with dramatic white crescents in front of their eyes. They breed in the open-country wetlands of Eastern Washington and stay at the Fill for only a day or two. I don’t see them every year, and when I do, I know my eyes get big, my mouth makes a silent O, and I am a child once again, savoring a treat that doesn’t last long but is all the sweeter for that.

In this age of global trade, where the need to wait for treats has been banished, it is good to be reminded that the Earth still does turn, time passes, and the seasons are fleeting. We must seize the moment and delight in each day.

Sun Lovers

We Seattleites, people of the gray, know how to appreciate these rare days of sunlight. Like King Akhnaten of ancient Egypt, we are sun-worshippers, in our own way. As pharaoh wrote more than 3,000 years ago in his Great Hymn to Aten, the Sun God:

“You created the world according to your desire, while you were alone:

All men, cattle, and wild beasts,

Whatever is on earth, going upon its feet,

And what is on high, flying with its wings.”

The birds—who, after all, are descended from reptilian-like dinosaurs—seem to love the sun as much as we do. They bask in the warmth heating up their feathers to glowing temperatures.

I say “glowing” because the reds, oranges, and yellows of our more colorful residents seem to radiate their own light from within, rather than merely reflect light from an outside source.

Such was my impression of a pair of Yellow-headed Blackbirds who sprang forth from the Main Pond, leaped into the blue sky, and soared across my path the other day. The male’s Rudolph Valentino eyes were the black of burnt coal, the yellow of his head and breast like a solar flare, the white of his wing patches nearly incandescent.

A living bonfire of beauty that lifts the spirits of all who can catch the sun.

On the Move

A mighty river of birds is flooding our state right now, a sea of migration as inexorable as the tides. Each night, birds by the million leap into the sky from their winter homes throughout the tropics and deserts and plains of the south. With only the power from their own tiny muscles and—if they’re lucky—an occasional helpful tailwind, they fly hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles in one go, arriving at their waystations at dawn, exhausted, thirsty, hungry.

We see them here at the Fill every day now, clinging to a likely branch, perched on a trembling stem, searching for a meal that will replenish their stores of fat. Many of the birds are making this epic journey north for the first time in their lives. Many more have done it before and know the way. Their songs fill the morning with sound, sweet for some, raspy for others, each species singing a different tune, following a slightly different pattern of travel, of life.

Male Lazuli Bunting at the Fill.

Take a moment to listen, to search the next quaking twig you see to spot a little shape that may pop into view for only a second. Give the traveler a nod or a smile, congratulate the visitor on coming this far, encourage the ones who still have farther to go. The birds won’t care, but you might. Because for one small moment, you will be the conscious witness of a true wonder of nature, and in that moment, you will rejoin the natural world in which we all live.