Tag Archives: northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

Say what you need to say

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
— Henry Adams

Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) singing from a tree branch (2009_03_08_012482)

I’ve never seen a bird hesitate to speak its mind.  And that even in the absence of an obvious audience.  They say what they need to say, and they do so without fear or hesitation.  There’s much to be learned from this habit.

Walking on the bridge to nowhere has afforded me an opportunity to view life through a unique lens, one not used by most people I know.  One of the first things I noticed?  Unspoken words.

Do we assume things need not be said, that those we might say them to already know what we might say and we therefore have no reason to say them?  Do we think we’ll be seen as silly for saying the obvious?  Do we fear the response?  Do we struggle clumsily with language and think we can’t communicate what needs to be said, at least not with the depth of spirit with which it’s meant?  Do we assume there will be time later to say these things?

There seems more than certain logic in this axiom: it’s better to say too much than not enough.  Yet even I must admit a great deal has gone unsaid in my life, some of it now too late to say.  And part of that embarrasses me for I am an advocate of people recognizing the impermanence of life and the lack of time promised.  The only moment we’re guaranteed is the moment we’re in right now.  That’s also the only life we can live.  Anything beyond right now is nothing more than conjecture.

A male northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) singing from a treetop (2009_02_20_010310)

For you see, setting foot upon the bridge to nowhere came unbeknownst to me.  I journeyed along thinking myself on the path I intended when in fact I had slowly come to be on the trail I now follow.  And when I made that known to others?  I discovered getting on the bridge came like a sunburn.

You lie happily in the sun turning yourself every fifteen minutes or so thinking about how gorgeous your tan will be.  Meanwhile, everyone around you is thinking you’re looking awfully pink and maybe you should head into the shade for a bit.  Each time they look, you’re a bit further along toward a burn, but for you you’re just toasty and in progress.  Only when the damage is done are you aware of it, yet so many saw it coming all along.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not laying blame.  I’m as guilty of this as the next person.  What I know stems from what came after I disclosed the bridge to nowhere.  “Perhaps that explains…”  “We had been thinking…”  “I noticed…”  Each response surprised me for each came like the onlooker who after the sunburn mentions how they thought you’d been looking like a freshly boiled lobster for the last hour.

Being on the bridge to nowhere surprised me.  It didn’t surprise many around me.  I wish I had known what they knew.  I wish someone had said something.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) calling out (2008_12_07_001616)

Yet it’s not just the question of what might have been had I known what others saw when they saw it.  It’s also the question of opportunities missed.

I lost a grandmother, an aunt and an uncle in the last two years.  I lost three friends just in the past two months.  Each loss reminded me that I had not said what I should have said, at least not recently.  Sure, each of them knew I loved them, but how long had it been since I reiterated that?  Had they known my feelings in light of maturity or only from past disclosures tainted by age?

Too much goes unsaid in life.  Walking on the bridge to nowhere made that very clear to me.  Like the birds who speak when they need to speak no matter if anyone is listening, we humans need to recognize that it’s better to say too much than not enough.

For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.
— Ingrid Bengis

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  1. Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
  2. Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
  3. Male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Let them sing

In songs I cannot hold I feel the world touch me.  In places I cannot go I find myself wandering through a landscape of music.  In voices familiar I find unknown friends.

Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) singing from a tree branch (2009_03_08_012482)

I cannot deny the totality of my failure.  More always can be taken.  I have no escape from that palpable lesson of loss.

A drake wood duck (Aix sponsa) calling out at sunset (2009_02_13_008525)

Yet I find that dark moment at least partially illuminated with the brightness of song, a chorus of voices innumerable and vast.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) calling out from the treetops (2009_02_03_006168)

Like carolers some bring their gifts right to my door, yet others I must seek out like opera.

A domestic greylag goose (Anser anser) honking as it swims by (2009_02_03_006504)

The calls of life surround me, blanket me in a warmth that permeates the darkest cold.

A domestic Indian runner (a.k.a. Indian runner duck or runner; Anas platyrhynchos) quacking at sunset (2009_02_03_007053)

Standing witness to this musical legion balms the open sore of failure and begins healing the wounded self.

A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) singing from the bushes surrounding the patio (2009_01_31_005332)

It’s somewhat like taking alms from the universe.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) calling out (2008_12_07_001616)

Yet I feel no shame in receiving this charity, this gift from those who have it to give.

A male northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) singing from a treetop (2009_02_20_010310)

Let them sing.  And let me lose myself in the singing.

For even today the needful, lonesome calls of mourning doves filled the shadowy hours of dawn, and I let my eyes climb the tree outside the patio as they followed the plaintive calls to those offering their voices to the chill morning: a pair who had already built a nest in the outer branches.  This can help.

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[1] Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

[2] Wood duck (Aix sponsa), drake

[3] Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), female

[4] Domestic greylag goose (Anser anser)

[5] Indian runner (a.k.a. Indian runner duck or runner; Anas platyrhynchos), domestic breed

[6] Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

[7] Great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus), male

[8] Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), male

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.

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[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…

From the living room to the back door

I’ve unfortunately been too busy with work and last week too sick with the flu to do much walking at the lake, let alone to do much in the way of photography.

That vexes me, yes, but things could be worse: I could be unemployed.  Now’s hardly the time to complain when it comes to being overworked and underpaid.

All the while, I’m back on call this week (what a familiar refrain that’s become).  There’s no chance of getting out for more than a visit to the patio.

But the patio’s not at all bad considering where I live.  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 male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched in the tree (2008_12_17_002590)

A male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched in the tree is a familiar vision.  A veritable horde of this species lives nearby, so they make for constant companions throughout the year.

But these are not brave birds, I’ve discovered.

A cardinal need only hiss to frighten the sparrows away, and even a Carolina wren can chase the sparrows off.  Having seen both events recently as many species vied for a bit of the birdseed bounty I put out, I laughed each time: surprised to see a male cardinal be so forceful and shocked to see a tiny wren send the sparrows fleeing for their lives.

A northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched in a tree (2008_12_17_002579)

Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are as ubiquitous as they are fearless.  When all other birds flee, at least one mockingbird will be around to keep an eye on things.  When a predator moves in, at least one mockingbird will sound the alarm and launch the first assault.  When other birds invade territory that somehow is sacred—nesting season or not, the mockingbirds sweep in and attack.

How beautiful their diverse repertoire of song, though.  The other morning I thought one of the local monk parakeets had landed in my tree; the mockingbird offered a perfect copy of the bird’s sound.  Only when it launched into a complete musical presentation full of various songs and sounds did I realize I had been fooled, and joyously so I will admit!

A friendly fly (a.k.a. government fly or large flesh fly; Sarcophaga aldrichi) sunning on the patio fence (2009_01_07_004240)

The friendly fly (a.k.a. government fly or large flesh fly; Sarcophaga aldrichi) looks like the common housefly; the only difference is that it’s noticeably larger than its pesky cousin.

In the midst of a winter that has been overly warm, I discovered this friendly fly grabbing a bit of sun on the patio fence.  Hot enough for me to be in shorts and a tee shirt and quite to the fly’s liking, we spent a wee bit of time together as it warmed its wings.

They’re called friendly for a reason, you know.

A green anole (Anolis carolinensis) sunning on the patio fence (2009_01_09_004279)

Green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) began leaving hibernation in the middle of December.  That worried me.  A winter that wasn’t much of a winter provided enough warmth for the lizards to seek heat and nourishment.  Only one of those commodities was in abundance.

The first anole I saw showed ribs through taught scales.  Others who followed worried me with the same presentation.

As December gave way to January and the springlike winter continued, more insects showed up and the anoles filled their skins a bit more until finally they looked healthy again.

And notice how this one has matched the paint color on the fence.  Chameleons change color to control body heat and to communicate.  Anoles, on the other hand, change color to control body heat, to communicate and to act as camouflage.  I’ve seen them match colors no chameleon could touch, and I’ve seen them do it with blazing speed and precision.

A Virginia opossum (a.k.a. possum; Didelphis virginiana) eating cat food on the patio (2009_01_19_005240)

One of my neighbors enjoys the local Virginia opossums (a.k.a. possum; Didelphis virginiana) about as much as I do.  She told me one day that someone walked by and saw her snapping photos in the dead of night—photos apparently focused on something quite mundane: a tree.

She was taking pictures of a juvenile opossum who’d climbed the tree in response to an approaching dog.

I do love opossums, love their personalities, their singular claim to being a marsupial in North America, their gentle dispositions, their methodical approach to movement that keenly hides an ability to move rather quickly when the need arises.

Finding this one early one evening as it enjoyed some of the cat food on the patio made for a pleasant discovery.

A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) standing on a gardening glove (2009_02_02_006025)

I absolutely adore Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus).  The busybodies of the bird world, they look like a bunch of Chatty Kathy dolls marching along beneath the shrubs as they gossip and bicker and jabber throughout their search for a bite to eat.

Like mockingbirds, they also lack the overwhelming fear of people that most species (should!) have.  I can’t begin to count the number of times one has perched on the fence next to me or hopped on my foot as it made its way across the patio.

A gardening glove that blew in during a powerful wind storm provided the perfect scale as this one bopped along in speckled sunlight between the fence and the photinias.  Not large at all, these wrens make up with attitude what they lack in size.  How delectably enjoyable!