american redstart. cerulean warbler. brown- and yellow-billed cuckoos. blue- and golden-winged warblers. hooded warbler. pileated woodpecker. spotted sandpiper. field sparrow. broad-winged hawk. scarlet tanager… just a few of the many beautiful life birds i added to my list.
susan kailholz-williams. beth russell. laura hardy. jay davis. beth goffe. kathi hutton. lynne schoenborn. nina harfmann. heather aubke. julie zickefoose. bill thompson III. vicki luker. dawn fine… some of the many incredible people with whom i shared the pleasure of birding.
thursday, may 5. friday, may 6. saturday, may 7. sunday, may 8… the dates of some of the most amazing days of my life.
if ever there was an appropriate time for the use of the word "verklempt," it would be when attempting to describe the feeling one has while immersed in the experience of west virginia's new river birding and nature festival. nestled in the breathtaking mountains of the aforementioned state, new river gorge is nature's best-kept secret. sheltered from the caustic push of "progress," it is a refuge for the soul, a healing elixir for the heart, a respite for the mind…in addition to serving as a rest stop for several species of winged travelers on the long road north from central and south america. while the birds were certainly a major part of this festival—and the reason most, if not all, of the attendees were there in the first place—there were other factors involved in turning the "event" into an unforgettable "experience."
the lodging. a charming two-story cabin ensconced in a lush, green depression, boasting its own creek which wound its way through the backyard noncommittally, an amazing view of the fertile hillside from the back deck, a dead tree whose snags served as a convenient perch for two amorous red-shouldered hawks, and my favorite part of this home-away-from-home…the hot tub, from within whose tension-relieving recesses one could see more stars than the mind could comprehend.
this is also where i was introduced to some amazing people—"the flock," a clutch of intelligent, talented, like-minded individuals with a penchant for the beauty and wonder of nature and an encyclopedia of knowledge about the inhabitants therein—whose warm acceptance of me into their circle left me feeling as though i was among family. even though i had just met them, i felt like i had known them forever. they contributed greatly to the overall experience, and i can't imagine new river without them. susan, beth r, beth g, jay, laura, nina, heather, kathi, vicki, dawn, lynn, debra (and anyone else i may have left out—i'm not terribly good with names and there were a lot of people to remember)…thank you.
by now, some of you are probably wondering if i actually saw any birds on this birding trip. well, i did; more than i can even recall (did i mention i'm bad with names?). so many, in fact, that i'm creating a separate post just for them. yes, you will probably have to wait a week or so for this post, as there are hundreds of pictures from which to choose (and some id'ing that needs to take place) before it sees the light of day. something to look forward to, though: it will be very heavy on images and most likely very light on words. *sounds of cheering, clapping, whistling, and other festive noises erupt nationwide in a celbratory chorus* :|
your cool, gentle breeze meanders through meadows, whispers promises in the treetops, lazily caresses my skin, having no real urgency to be anywhere in particular.
your sweet perfume of fresh, new life wafts through the cleansed air—i breathe it into my lungs and hold it there, absorbing its essence into my bloodstream.
a rousing opus announces your arrival—a brilliant composition that shakes the dull hum of winter from my soul—performed by nature's winged prodigies as they busy themselves in a perfectly orchestrated dance of excited, urgent activity.
i bask in the alluring warmth of the sun's invigorating rays; its radiance illuminates my heart as it brings a glow to the hidden beauty all around me, and stirs in me a yearning, restores in me a hope.
haha. "brief hiatus." understatement of the century, don't you think?
ok, so it's been nearly a year since my last post. why the prolonged absence?
a lot has happened in the last year; none of it very good. in a nutshell (with just a pinch of drama thrown in for effect), i had my heart wrenched from my chest; my emotions twisted and contorted into unrecognizable permutations of their former selves. i wandered through a vast desert of emptiness, void of feeling and hope; adrift in a cold sea of bitterness, confusion, and indifference. (you were warned…)
coaxing every last drop of motivation in me just to get myself out of bed in the morning was a battle of wills tantamount to the physical effort that must have been required to haul the giant boulders of stonehenge from their origin to their final resting place at that famous monument. needless to say, with an internal struggle like that, blogging fell to the bottom of the "things to do today" list.
and then came winter. i abhor winter. everything's dead. i look out my windows and all i see is death. the trees are bare and lifeless, the grass is cold and brown. and i'm freezing all the time. i'm cold in my house, i'm cold at work. so in addition to the emotional deadness weighing me down, i have the deadness of winter pressing its enormous, lifeless mass down on me.
but sometimes, in the midst of the chaos and turmoil, all you need is to see an old friend (or at least someone that resembles and old friend) to stir the passion back up from the mire in which it stagnated for so long. the friend i'm referring to, of course, is shakespeare, the barred owl. however, this is most likely not shakespeare. so if it's not shakespeare, then it's a heretofore unnamed owl…and we just can't have that. so… meet lilly. yes, i realize that this could very well be a male…hear me out. since this one is smaller than shakespeare, it is "lilliputian" in comparison, hence the name "lilly." (ok, so i just thought of that now. hey, whatever works.)
actually, the name "lilly" just popped into my head as i was talking to her/him. (yes, i talk to the birds i stalk.) the conversation went something like this: me: "you're not shakespeare. so who are you?" owl: … me: "we need to call you something. you need a name. i like my friends to have names." owl: … blink, blink … me: "i'll call you 'lilly'. what do you think of that?" owl: *yawn*
and so it came to be, the owl-that-looked-like-shakespeare-but-wasn't finally had its very own name. beautiful. it never fails to take my breath away.
i was being lazy when i petitioned you all to identify the birds in my next few posts. i never even attempted to look them up; i couldn't make an educated guess when glancing briefly at the photos, so i put the burden on you.
and that's shameful, really. i'm not like that. i have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, especially when it comes to nature. i normally can't spend enough time researching birds or turtles or lizards or spiders… the list goes on. so what's happening? am i getting old? losing my passion, my drive? well, after some quick soul searching, i decided to chalk it up to laziness. pure, good ol' fashioned, 100%, grade-a, premium cut laziness.
and for that, i apologize.
so for this next post, i took a stab at identifying this on my own. i don't know my sparrows very well; only enough to know that's what i would start my search with. my first stop for bird id is always allaboutbirds.org, run by the cornell lab of ornithology. in less than a minute, i came up with my assumption: song sparrow. please let me know if i am off. (click the picture for a larger version)
if you look closely at these next two shots, you can see that he has some sort of caterpillar in his beak. (click the picture for a larger version) (click the picture for a larger version)
i keep referring to it as "he." i assume this because its behavior suggests that of a male. song sparrows typically forage on the ground or low in bushes, doing their best to keep out of sight. males will flit out onto exposed branches to sing, which is what this one was doing. i heard him before i saw him; in fact, that's how i found him — by following his song.