The Birds and I – observations on an April morning

The morning was going to be a mellow one. It was nice to have a morning off (I’d been longing for one), not having to rush through breakfast, makeup and deciding what to wear. Before the husband left at daybreak, I asked him pull up the persiana[1] covering the large glass window-wall across from our bed. He rolled it up just high enough so I could have a straight look at the bird feeders on the terrace. The sun was already with us on this April morning in Salerno.

I stayed in bed, ruminating in my brain, trying to understand the anxiety left inside from a night of waking up and falling back asleep, and waking up again. Over the years I’ve discovered that the true issues that keep me up at night are usually financial ones.

How can I earn more money? Could I continue to ask for that promised raise (month after month)? How are we going to afford the move back to LA? Should we dip into our savings? Would it be right to do so? On one hand, we could label it “an investment in our future”. But was it? Was this the right time to make this decision about moving? Should we wait? Wait for what? My parents weren’t getting any younger, and my mom’s Alzheimer’s wasn’t going to slow down and wait for me to progress. It was one thought after another, after another, a roller-coaster of constant thinking.We didn’t have any problems right now, but I sensed they could come.

After C. left, I got up (seize the day?) and make myself a bowl of cereal with a cup of Italian cottage cheese called fiochi di latte[2].  All an attempt of loosing weight and continuing to eat healthy (and why do all diet plans have cottage cheese in them?). Although I had always found it distasteful, with age, I’ve gotten to like it more and more.  By adding a spoonful of organic honey, corn flakes and a tablespoon of wheat germ, now I had myself a psychologically satisfying breakfast (the wheat germ is in honor of my father who, when I was a teenager, insisted I always add it to my cereal.)

Before sorting through my desk, I picked up my binoculars and Birds of Europe guide in case any of the usuals decided to pay an early morning visit.

While I checked email, the first to show was a Great Tit – or a Blue Tit- and his partner or close friend. You’d think I’d know the difference, but I’m not that attentive of a birdwatcher yet. My family and friends think I know much about birds, but I really don’t. I know more than them perhaps, and I’ve been interested in the topic for a long time now, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere when you belong to an Audubon society. I’m a member of four clubs, two in the US (LA Audubon and Santa Monica Audubon) and 2 in Italy (Birdwatching-Gaiola and EBN Italia), but even so, I’m still an amateur birder. However, see me with my binos hanging from my neck, my bird guide under my arm and my camera, and I exuded birding experience. As the fabulous Eddie Izzard said, 70 percent is how you look, 20 percent how you say it, and 10 percent what you say.[3]

Back to the Great Tit (Parus major) that visits us. It’s hard distinguishing the female from the male, but they are both quite beautiful. They have this sort of black mask that begins at the top of their heads (officially called the “crown”) to right under the eye line, down their face to their beak, then chin, becoming narrow down their throat, forming a black line that descends down onto its chest.

One of our spring visitors, the Great tit

I observed them for a while, and all my admiration for their beauty went away in a second when I saw how the male (it must have been a male) would push the seeds away with his beak until he found the one he wanted. This meant that quite a bit of good seeds fell straight to the ground, explaining the mess I find each afternoon on the terrace when I come home (he goes for the black sunflower seeds – as the book said he would – probably because they are the most fatty). But why be so picky…? Ungrateful behavior can be found anywhere these days… even within the avian community.

There is quite a lot of work that goes into eating a seed for them. With strong resolve, GT (my nickname for him) chooses the seed he wants, then turns around, holds it between his feet and the edge of the bird-feeder, banging it relentlessly until the shell comes off and he is left with just the seed. I timed it and it took the little guy about 15 seconds to do it.

The daily visitors snacking on black sunflower seeds.

The tits are usually never alone. While they’re up in the feeder eating, the house sparrows are down on the ground getting whatever scrap falls their way. These common house sparrows are considered “resident birds”. Resident birds are low on the “excitement scale” to me (right after rock pigeons, seagulls and crows). And I have a feeling they know this – where they stand on the list – because of the way they carry themselves in this brown matte shades of theirs, as if with humbleness, trying to blend in like undeserving creatures. As most unfortunate creatures too, they seem to eat what they can find, and are not picky of seeds, crumbs, insects… they appear to be simply grateful that there is always something to snack on.

House sparrow (female) one of the “residents”.

By late morning, the last visitors were the quite sympathetic robins, who stopped to get a drink at the water fountain. Even in Italy, we can tell Spring is here because the robins have arrived. Here we have a cute pair that comes and goes, and even though the robin is not a resident, it keeps house around here for most of the year. Their face is round, with a kind gaze that makes you all warm inside. Their way of hopping around with their very skinny legs, their great big orange chest and the lack of a neck, gives them a funny appearance. You cannot not like a robin. You just like it. The male resembles your chubby uncle Charles, or your neighbor Bob. But since these are European Robins they’re probably more like a Carlo or Roberto. In any event, when they come here they also seem to be mellow visitors, less demanding than some other birds their size. The Princeton Field Guide nails it when it writes about their character calling them “wary, but by no means shy”.

And as noon rolled around and I got back to writing, the few visitors I had took off, looking for a place to hide from the sun. That was my queue that my time was up, and that I too needed to get up and get moving. I didn’t have seeds to shell, or places to hop and fly to, but a part of me wished I did. I would love to hang out with other birds my size one day and meet up with them at the water-cooler. That wouldn’t be a bad life.


[1] Shutters that roll up, typical of European and Latin American countries. Aka “Persian Blinds”.

[2] Literally translates to “flakes of milk’.

[3] “Dressed to Kill” – 1998

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About lindaruggeri

California native, raised in Argentina, lived in Southern Italy, a brief year in Canada and three nature filled years in Wisconsin. My specialties include observing and experiencing the "everyday", constantly questioning what to make of this life, reflecting on the paths chosen, the mistakes, the wise choices, the choices I'm avoiding. Wondering if the roads less traveled are really fulfilling (and if there are any roads less traveled left to explore).
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