Birds Tell All

I follow another blog called Cutter Light. It is a chronicle of an extraordinarily adventurous couple’s life working and living in remote locations. Illustrated with high quality photos and good writing, it is always a pleasure to read. I want to share two recent posts here that capture the essence of living in nature (whether urban, rural, or wilderness). Both essays involve birds and what they mean to us personally but also how birds are, uniquely, messengers from beyond the world where we are tethered.

Birds travel, migrate, sing. Their messages to us are as loud as a blaring siren and as obvious as a giant billboard if we tune in. These beautiful essays show us that language at work.

Memory and great horned owls:

2:00 AM: The Owls of Chignik Lake and Clarion River’s Gravel Lick Pool

Climate and species expansion, also limits to our knowledge of species at the edge:

The Week a Grosbeak Landed on my Head, a Chickadee Perched on my Tripod, and I finally got good Photos of Golden-Crowned Kinglets


Ecosystem Services – Carcass Clean Up

O death, O death

Won’t you spare me over till another year

Well, what is this that I can’t see

With ice cold hands takin hold of me

Well I am death none can excel

I’ll open the door to heaven or hell

O death someone would pray

Could you wait to call me another day…

[Hear incomparable Ralph Stanley version here]

I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away O glory I’ll fly away

In the morning

When I die hallelujah bye and bye

I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone

I’ll fly away

Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly

I’ll fly away…

[Hear Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch sing it ]

Death came to our neighborhood this week, when a young deer expired next to our pond.  Since it was a young one – possibly dead of an infectious virus – the view towards death in the first song above would be appropriate for a farewell. The second song maybe for an old, injured one. The first song always makes me feel like bucking up to face reality and do what I have to do, the second one makes me cry.

After a day or so the vultures found the carcass, as we had hoped. Tom calls it a sky burial. Death in the woods is more of a transformation. Bits of deer are soaring high above the earth now. Out here, ecosystem services like carrion disposal are very welcome. In a few days there wasn’t much left of the deer. Vultures are surprisingly shy – here you can barely see them against the trees as they took off at our approach. Even though I waited for them to come back, they wouldn’t return while I was there.

There are lots of others on the clean up crew: the coyotes or some animal moved the carcass, and took their share. Flies were the first on the scene and will probably be the last. Ants will no doubt be there as well. Ants are quite efficient, and quick; when I emptied the mousetraps under the house a few weeks ago, I found three very clean skeletons under empty piles of fur and ants still busy. Also – no dead mouse smell for a change. (I have decided to try live traps when I am here to empty them daily, as it appears there is no end to the mouse supply and I still feel regret when I have to toss their little bodies out.)

Ravens were very interested in getting in on the action at the deer carcass. I had to refer to my handy Cornell Ornithology Lab CD of birdsongs to decipher the raven repertoire of deep croaking calls and weird loud beak clicks that were eerily echoing off the hillside every morning. Sometimes the sounds of unseen birds everywhere in the trees make it seem like we’re in a tropical forest.

I found another recycler of organic matter in the garden this week – in the damp of the coast range, you can always enjoy the banana slugs!

In the coast range you get banana slugs!