Tag Archives: northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

The cardinal rule

Living in Texas has its challenges.  There’s the oppressive heat and humidity.  There’s the tendency to have ice storms instead of snow.  There’s the threat of hurricanes, tornadoes and hail the size of softballs.  There’s seemingly unending construction on every road that goes somewhere.  There’s horrific air quality from our energy production.  There’s an overabundance of religion in government.  There’s a gobsmacking quest for ignorance in our schools.  There’s a radical conservatism that permeates culture to the point of nausea.  And the list goes on.

A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in some bushes (2009_01_25_005280)

But one of the things that make it all bearable is nature.  Eleven distinct ecological regions.  Ten climatic regions.  More recorded bird, wild cat and reptile species than anywhere north of the Mexico border.  More mammals than any state other than California.  The third largest rate of endemism.  An estimated 30,000 insect species.  Nearly 6,000 plant species.  Host to the vast majority of the eastern monarch butterfly migration.  Part of two of North America’s four bird migratory flyways.  Weather so diverse that it boggles the mind.  Mountains, plateaus, dense forests, plains and prairies, deserts, swamps, rivers and creeks and bayous oh my!, and an assortment of views to satisfy desires both gross and subtle.

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in a tree (2009_12_13_044604)

And because most of the state is humid subtropical, Texas is the go-to place for many migratory birds.  But it’s also the year-round home for birds that otherwise migrate from points further north.  One such bird species is the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in a tree holding a berry in his beak (2009_06_06_022650)

The only other cardinal species north of Mexico, pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus), occurs in far south and west Texas, but it’s so dissimilar that it can’t be confused with northern cardinals.  That makes this a very distinctive bird (and anyone who tries to identify an empid flycatcher by sight quickly learns to appreciate visually distinctive bird species).

A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in a tree holding (2009_10_18_032412)

My experience with northern cardinals indicates they bond for life.  Maybe that’s not true in toto, but it sure seems that way to me.  For years a pair nested in an evergreen tree near my garage.  They always graced me with singing and, when breeding season rolled around, I enjoyed watching the male (first photo) collect food and feed it to the female.

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) standing on a rock in the middle of a creek (2009_06_06_022623)

But she died in 2008.  He spent quite some time lamenting, calling out a lonesome dirge from treetops and bushes.  He’s immediately recognizable because he never lost that dark spot on the top of his bill, so I paid attention to him.  I’m not anthropomorphizing his actions; during his mourning period, his song and behavior changed.  For several weeks at least.  It was an enlightening experience to witness.

A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched on a tree branch (2009_10_17_031861)

By last year I saw him flitting about with a new gal in tow (second female photo).  They regularly perched in the shrubs around my patio, so I watched him bring her food and I watched them engage in typical mating behavior.  His song changed back to the celebratory tune I’d come to expect from him, and together they could woo a smile from even the most stoic of faces.  And now they’re nesting in the same tree he’s called home for ten years or more.  Around these parts, his is the cardinal rule that counts.


A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in a treetop (2009_12_13_044606)

The diligent observer might have noticed a handful of arbitrary posts yesterday that appeared and quickly disappeared.  Oops!  In perusing my drafts, I inadvertently shuttled more than a few into the “posted” category.  But more troubling than that was the discovery that I have drafts going back seven years, most of which I’d long forgotten.

That discovery drew me into an overall evaluation of the junk that has accumulated here over the seven years I’ve been blogging.  Technical specs for the site?  What theme I’m using?  An archive of header images that shows I really need to update the collection?  Dare I go on?

So I’ve embarked on a cleanup of the site.  A lot of static and draft material will fall by the wayside.  A few posts will vanish as well.  (These posts have been password protected for ages because they contain material I intend to publish, such as the “Darkness Comes to Kingswell” short story, so removing them affects no one since no one can access them anyway.  No publicly available posts will be removed, though.)  A new collection of rotating header images will begin to take shape but the archive of them will be dumped.  And other various housekeeping changes will be made.

I mention this because, like yesterday, there might be times when I accidentally publish stuff that makes little sense (some of the drafts are nothing but collections of random notes and others are incomplete thoughts that dangle like half-fallen fruit).  Removing currently available detritus might cause 404s (page not found) on those rare occasions when someone is actually looking for the garbage I throw out.  Certainly the long overdue replacement of header images should be noticeable (though that will happen over time and not all at once).

So while I vanquish debris to the refuse pile, here are some worthwhile carnivals you can visit to occupy the time you’d otherwise spend wading through my overly loquacious gibbering.

Friday Ark #280: The weekly carnival of critters.  Whether you’re into dogs, cats, birds, or even invertebrates, this celebration of life always overflows with the week’s best offerings from the blogosphere.

Berry Go Round #24: The carnival dedicated to plants.  Until a few months ago I’d never heard of this, but it’s since become a regular in my must-read list.  Go enjoy a fantastic collection of science, discovery and beauty from all around the globe.

Festival of the Trees #44: The carnival dedicated to trees.  My first memory of a tree?  Falling off one and skinning my knee.  How I’ve loved them ever since.  This robust and beautiful edition will leave you breathless.

Circus of the Spineless #47: The carnival dedicated to invertebrates.  Ted being an entomologist and a beetle blogger, it certainly took him long enough to get around to hosting this.  Slacker.  But no matter how long he waited to host, it was worth the time: he does a fantastic job presenting a varied edition that covers everything from sea slugs and snails to spiders and skippers.  You don’t want to miss this.

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in a tree (2009_12_13_044610)

[photos of northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis): male at top and female at bottom; they’re an “item” if you get my meaning; it was cool and drizzling that day, so he hunkered down at the top of the tree and collected a nice moist sheen of white; meanwhile, she was smart and perched lower and more inside the tree where she was protected from wind and precipitation]

Hiding in the shadows

Sometimes the most interesting things aren’t found in the light…

A pair of house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) stealing a kiss beneath the mistletoe (2009_10_17_031857)

A pair of house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) stealing a kiss beneath the mistletoe

A male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) escaping the light of day (2009_09_06_028858)

A male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) escaping the light of day

A female great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) standing guard in her tree (2009_07_19_027165)

A female great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) standing guard in her tree

A blue-headed vireo (Vireo solitarius) watching me from within an impenetrable thicket (2009_10_24_033301)

A blue-headed vireo (Vireo solitarius) watching me from within an impenetrable thicket

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) enjoying the solace of a quiet stream (2009_06_06_022618)

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) enjoying the solace of a quiet stream

A juvenile American robin (Turdus migratorius) doing battle with an earthworm (2009_06_27_024880)

A juvenile American robin (Turdus migratorius) doing battle with an earthworm

A swift setwing (Dythemis velox) facing one more sunset (2009_07_07_026166)

A swift setwing (Dythemis velox) facing one more sunset

Rented lens

I rented a new lens last weekend as I planned a road trip Saturday that would take me worlds away.  I would have the opportunity to hike through rugged forests and canoe through timeless waterways.

Those plans fell through.

I drove many hours to reach my destination and found heavy clouds and light rain.  I sat in the car for at least two hours listening to music and biding my time, but it came to nothing: the weather failed to improve.

Never believe what weather forecasters say.  The prognostication for this trip changed only after I arrived there; the week prior to that it had been all sun and comfortable temperatures, but afterward it was all clouds and unimpressive showers.

Although photography in cloudy weather can be challenging, it does offer a new world of colors and light effects that simply don’t exist when the sun is shining.  On the other hand, rain—even light rain—makes it all but impossible.  The camera absolutely can’t get wet.  Water on the lens element would create terrible photos; water on the lens itself could ruin its electronics and introduce moisture to its many moving parts.

Me being wet only could make matters worse.  Not that I mind dancing in the rain; it’s just that I mind the rain when I’m in the middle of nature photography.

Add to that spending a great deal of time in thick woodlands where every bit of light helps.  Skies heavy with dark clouds dripping like wet cotton robs the scene of essential illumination and forces higher ISO settings and longer exposures, neither of which would help when most subjects are wont to move about during our photo session.

I finally returned home later that afternoon full of disappointment.  It was a three-day weekend, though; certainly I could find time to salvage the situation.  And I did: I took several walks at the lake to ensure my $25 investment paid off.

The magic hour was Friday evening after I ran across town and retrieved the lens.  It also happened to be my first opportunity to give it a test run (thinking I should do so prior to my road trip Saturday).  I have more photos from that session and several others over the weekend that will appear in later posts.

But for now, let me repeat myself: “So much life flourishes at White Rock Lake that living here makes it all but impossible to not see something of interest even if the length of my walk is from the living room to the back door.”

A northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched in the shrubs outside my patio (2009_02_15_009948)

Speaking with a neighbor of mine recently who happens to be a teacher, we both remarked on the morning serenade we both enjoy.  It’s given by a local northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), one who happens to perch outside my living room window or in the tree outside my patio before beginning a boisterous declaration of welcome for each new day.

What a lovely song, what a diverse and complicated song!

And they started several weeks ago to nest, for I’ve seen mockingbirds aplenty as they inspect and test and carry away various bits of material, some of it stolen from abandoned nests.  Even before February began, spring had already come to North Texas.

This happens to be a photo of the resident mocker who practically owns my patio.  Several live around here, sure, but this one sings from the front door to the back doors, and it does so at sunrise and sunset as if on cue.  I welcome the song, welcome the sign of things to come as it defends its territory and prepares to build a family.

A male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched in a tree (2009_02_15_009958)

House sparrows (Passer domesticus) live in one my neighbors’ trees.  I watch them come and go from that tree, run back to it when an alarm sounds, emerge from it each morning and climb under its covers each night.

This male perched in the tree outside my patio as his entire brigade came to visit.  They enjoy the birdseed I put out, yet they also make a terrible mess trying to break apart and consume the cat food I put out.

Chased off by cardinals and mockingbirds and wrens and blue jays, let alone a cornucopia of other species, these little bundles of busy entertain me with their antics as much as they thrill me with their company.

A female house sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched in a tree (2009_02_15_009963)

Is that not the epitome of a curious glance?

This female house sparrow also perched in the tree near the male shown above.  She watched me intently yet distractedly, almost as if she wanted to make certain I wasn’t going to bother her but wasn’t otherwise too worried about my presence.

A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) perched on the patio fence (2009_02_15_009973)

Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus).  What I can say about them that I haven’t already said?

They’re busybodies, Chatty Kathy dolls with wings, a collection of gossiping birds who let little but hell itself stand in the way of the duties at hand.

They don’t particularly care if I’m close to them or not so long as I don’t bother them.  And I don’t.

This one came from the tree to the fence just long enough to see if it was safe.  I stood but a step or two from where it perched.  Once it realized I was not a threat, it flew onto the patio floor and took a moment to bathe in morning sunlight, then it grabbed a piece of cat food and swallowed it whole before darting back through the fence and continuing its pillaging of the ground cover.

A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in the shrubs outside my patio (2009_02_20_010284)

My dearest bird friend: a male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  I wept with him last year after his mate died.  Neither of us understood the loss, understood why she left him suddenly, understood why such a beautiful life ended so abruptly.

I celebrated with him this year when I realized he had found a new mate, a new lass who won his heart and helped him move beyond the sorrow he sang into the air for too many months.

This is his realm, so far as cardinals go, and he chases away all interlopers.

But who is the gal who salved the wounded heart and made his singing joyful again?

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in the shrubs outside my patio (2009_02_20_010294)

As I said previously: “She’s a splendid thing, a beautiful creature worthy of this man’s dedicated love.”

Even as he stood in the shrubs and watched me, she took her place nearby and kept an eye on me as well.  The setting sun brought out the best in both of them.

But cardinals are flighty beasts given to sudden escapes when the world doesn’t stay the way they want it.

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) taking flight (2009_02_20_010296)

Off they went even as I tried to capture one more image of her, one more photograph of the lady who soothed the savage beast.

I adore her all the same, though, for his pain so filled the hours that I find him a new creature now that he’s taken a new love.  I hope their life together is full and joyous.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Special thanks to nathalie with an h for her continuing advice and guidance on all things photography.  Just prior to my failed weekend adventure, it occurred to me I might be able to rent a better lens for my trip.  I asked her about it one morning at Starbucks and she immediately grabbed her iPhone, pulled up their web site and wholeheartedly recommended Dallas Camera.

Everyone in the world should have a nathalie with an h to illuminate the trail ahead when it comes to stumbling through amateur photography without a clue as to what matters and where to go.  Her continued support and encouragement are priceless.

[2] It goes without saying Dallas Camera provided exceptional service even at the last minute, and renting the lens for $25 to cover the weekend from Friday through Monday morning represented more than just a bargain: it felt like grand theft.  With a selection that boggles the mind, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and prices that are difficult to fathom, this company is hands-down the best place to go in the DFW metroplex for photography equipment rentals.

[3] Perhaps, given a cool lens that can offer world peace and contact with alien races, you wonder why I chose what many would consider mundane subjects for this post.  They are only mundane to others.  Nothing in nature bores me; nothing outside the realm of human civilization gives birth to yawns in my world.  Even a simple blade of grass is worthy of investigation to me, part and parcel a universe demanding of attention.

[4] House sparrows, along with European starlings and rock doves and a great many forms of life, seem to bring out the worst in people as they’re considered invasive.  The word ‘invasive’ is inaccurate and misleading; the word these people should be using is ‘introduced.’  The species themselves cannot be blamed for doing what nature made them to do, for filling those niches evolution helped them find and dominate.  That they displace native species and irritate “nature purists” is the fault of humans and not the flora and fauna involved.  Nothing about house sparrows bothers me; in fact, they are beautiful and intriguing and needful of the same respect I give every other species.

That said, anything I can do to assist native species harmed by their introduction is a worthy cause indeed.  But hating any of these lives confuses me, and attempting to harm them is as contemptible an act as was introducing them in the first place, whether intentional or not.  Remember, the only truly invasive species appears to be humans, and only humans appear capable of causing without consideration wholesale extinctions, of destroying habitat on a global scale, of killing for sport rather than survival, and of consuming and conquering sans any consideration for the children of tomorrow, let alone any form of life impacted by our activities.

Getting of my soap box now…

[5] I do have a plethora of images taken with this lens.  By orders of magnitude, I have many more pictures not taken with this lens.  I’m still trying to share any of them I think are of note.  Perhaps it’s time for me to rethink the fate of xenogere unseen given my doubt that I can ever post all of them here…

A new dawn

A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in the bushes (2009_01_25_005283)

I wrote this last June:

A pair of cardinals for many years has nested not too far from my garage door.  This year, for reasons I can’t explain, the female died.  Many a day this past week have I spent weeping with the male as he called from shadowy places that lonesome song begging for answers, begging for her return.  Soon he must take leave of her absence, move on from what he presently denies.  And still I cry thinking about it.

Not until December did the male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) find a new mate—or perhaps not until December did he find the strength to move on from his lamentations.  I suspect the latter given the woeful dirge he sang for so many months, crying I shared each time I saw him pleading with that empty tree as though she might suddenly burst from its branches.

Whether morning, noon or night, I would stand in the garage and cry upon the altar of hope all that I had within me as he sang and wept and pleaded for one more second with his love.  Yet I knew she would not return.

After more time than I thought possible, however, his weeping turned to wooing, a change in his singing that was all too evident.  Not too long after I noticed the difference in his demeanor did I finally set eyes upon the woman vying for his affection.

She’s a splendid thing, a beautiful creature worthy of this man’s dedicated love.

And he does indeed shower her with love.

Shortly after I snapped that photo of him as he surveyed the birdseed I put out, a scene full of other birds coming and going, he dashed into the midst of the avian storm and grabbed a seed.  She hunkered nearby in another bush.

He flitted to her position, cracked the shell and dropped it, then delicately fed her the nutritious heart of a sunflower seed.  It was like a kiss.  I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry or shout in triumph.

His months of agony last year hurt me deeply.  The sorrowful song he sang cut me like a blade put to flesh.  What beautiful emotions these creatures have, and the more beautiful they become when they share them with us.

So seeing him tending to his new bride in this way gives me hope, lifts me up, tells me sorrow doesn’t have to last forever.