Sunday, September 25, 2011

Birds of a Feather

I didn't used to pay much attention to birds.  I could identify the obvious ones, like robins, cardinals, and blue jays, and the exotic ones, like flamingos. I wouldn't know a purple martin from Purple Rain, or an indigo bunting from the Indigo Girls.

When I became a home owner, I began to be a little more familiar with the birds in our neighborhood. There was a woodpecker who used to peck on the attic of my first house. Cardinals eat the seeds off our magnolia tree. Then of course there are the mockingbirds, who dive bomb our cats. Mockingbirds are little terrorists. I've seen crows that are more than twice their size winging away from mockingbirds for dear life. 

Since Hurricane Gustav came to town three years ago, there are birds living in our neighborhood that I did not used to see. I'm not sure whether the storm caused birds to seek out new habitats or whether I'm just paying more attention to the skies around me, but I'm fairly certain we did not have egrets living at the lake down past the school when I moved into the neighborhood. I never noticed the mourning doves prior to the storm, either, and they are almost as numerous as the mocking birds now. Red-winged blackbirds are scarcer, but I've only seen them in the last three years, too.

Rufous sided towhee at the Bluebonnet Swamp. The only reason I know what it's called is because the nice gentleman who called it to my attention told me.

Two years ago, I came home to find a sharp-shinned hawk sitting on my back fence. I had my camera with me and got a blurry shot through the windshield. As soon as I got out of the car it flew away.

Juvenile sharp-shinned hawk on my back fence

In the past few days, I've been seeing a pair of red-tail hawks around the neighborhood. For years, I have seen hawks high up in the air overhead all around the city, but these two were flying low over the road to the lake.  The next day, I saw one circling the highway next to the Target parking lot, and when I got to the lake, the other one was sunning itself on the fence. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera, because I was perfectly positioned to roll down the window and get a clear shot.

I wonder if these birds are the beneficiaries of the recent recession. Back in the 1970's and 80's, several subdivisions around town were built around country clubs with golf courses. Ownership of the golf courses, however, did not rest with the homeowners/club members, and when interest rates dropped, several of the golf courses were sold off for further housing development, or in the case of two that backed up to main roads, business development. One of those is opposite Target. It was scheduled to become an upscale shopping center with boutiques, a Whole Foods, a bookstore and other small shops, but that was pre-2009. Now it sits abandoned, returning to the swamp it used to be back when the brothers Iberville and Bienville first set foot in the Delta mud. 

I'm pretty sure that egrets are living there. I see the egrets flying over the interstate almost every day. I have brief, humorous imaginings of some local TV station strapping video cameras on them. "Let's go to our live egret cam for a look at your 5 PM traffic. You can see that traffic is already slow on I-12 at Millerville due to construction on the Amite Bridge."  I wouldn't be surprised if alligators were living there, too. 

Heron at the lake near the drugstore

I think we need a word for that subset of animal life that is not domesticated, but does live in suburban backyards. It's hard for me to think of the raccoons and mockingbirds that eat our cat's food or the cardinals that nest in our magnolia tree as "wildlife", but they aren't tame, either. It's easier for me to think of the hawks and egrets as truly wild, but if they are going to set up shop in my backyard, I may have to rethink that as well.

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