Twittering is big around here. Our kindrequires (almost) no computer -- though we have become enthralled with the birding app on my iPhone. It plays the calls of Northeastern birds, and the girls used it recently to call down a starling trapped in an O'Hare airport waiting room (like us!). Of course it turned out the bird was not nearly as interested in our digital birdsong as in the French fries being eaten by our fellow travelers.
We don't just resort to bird watching when we are stuck in airports. It's one of the things that makes home feel most like home: I realized this year that I don't so much open the first window of spring to welcome in the freshening breeze -- but to welcome in the birdsong. No matter the season, we scan the sky, stare into the treetops, sip something warm and watch the comings and goings at the feeder. Friends got us through the winter with the gift of For the Birds, a guide to bird watching in sync with the calendar. All winter, the kitchen window gives us a view of the feeder, and it brims with activity even on the snowiest days. One of the earliest harbingers of spring is when the bright yellow comes feather by feather onto the breast of the goldfinches.
Please don't think we do it just for the pleasure (though is there a greater pleasure than watching the zig-zig-zag flight of a chickadee toward the sunflower seeds?). We also help track migrations through Journey North, one of our absolute favorite websites ever. Not only do we get to observe our tucked-away bit of the world, we get to share what we notice with scientists who plug our information into the grander scheme of data about the wider natural world (and what's happening to it, natural or otherwise). One of our biggest thrills came after studying robins on Journey North. We had been listening to different calls and trying to learn to distinguish a robin's come-hither song from its yikes-that's-a-hawk-up-there call. One day, I was weeding and heard a shrill whistle pinched so tight it was almost a wheeze. Sounded familiar. I looked up: There was the hawk!
It's been a rainy stretch here, but once the sun finally blazed through the clouds, we headed out to cut apple boughs for the house. We heard a Baltimore oriole's rackety call. Several pairs nest close to the river (though we have yet to pinpoint exactly where). They like to sip at the half-oranges we poke onto twigs in the honeysuckle hedge; they criss-cross the yard with their flashing-orange flight. We spotted this morning's male high in a gone-wild apple tree.
Later, oh glory, we saw our first-ever backyard scarlet tanager. It flitted from tree to tree, higher and higher, then away.
But the highlight came from tracking our dear, familiar tree swallows. They've been doing a graceful mating ballet in the sky over our meadow: flitting arabesques and synchronized spirals and fancy loop-de-loops. Now, they are down to work, bringing straw to one of our garden-post birdhouses: nesting. We know from experience that this nesting pair of swallows will now be watching us as much as we're watching them. And when it's time for their little ones to fly, we had better stay low as we pick our peas. Seems peas plump up just as fledgling swallows try out their flight engineering. The parent swallows will dive-bomb us that day. Which is nothing I wouldn't do for Blossom and Fern. If I had wings.