Tag Archives: Birds

Learning to Speak Goose

Learning to Speak Goose

Kayaking for the two-dozenth time on the same stretch of the Jordan River, a natural phenomenon new to me showed itself as I paddled along upstream.  The river is full of such surprises, which it gives me the honor of witnessing, a few at a time, so as not to overwhelm my feelings of wonder, and not to dull my sense of the miraculous.  A gander, a Canada Goose, led a small pre-fledged gaggle of goslings upriver, the mama goose in the place of caboose.  I approached them carefully, paddling slowly against the current, to say hello.  And they responded by gathering speed and flicking their beaked heads nervously this way and that.  Though of course I had no intention of hurting them or frightening them, or even teasing them, nature dictated that they fear me.  And rightly so, for I am sure I seemed to them a giant malevolent alien goose-hunting weapon-wielding creature, easily capable of ending their lives.  The gander knew I was gliding faster than he could ever swim, and abandoned his effort to outpace me.  Switching strategies, he prepared for flight—a smart plan, with a good chance of success, since he could fly infinitely faster and higher than I could fly, though I wondered about his abandonment.  But he could not seem to launch, instead flapping his wings loudly and frantically on the water, as if hurt.

That Mr. Gander sure tricked me.  He fooled me good.  His antics made focusing on him irresistible.  Finally yanking my attention away from the frantic papa goose, I looked back to the mama goose and goslings to see how they fared, but saw only fading ripples.  They were gone, disappeared, and did not reappear while I sat and drifted, befuddled.  Resuming my upstream slog, I almost failed to notice the same number of goslings of the same age and fuzziness ensconced safely behind a leafy branch hanging low over the bank, some one hundred feet from the dive: clearly the same goslings who gave me the slip while I focused on the feigning father.  That gander had drawn my whole attention to him, for the sake and safety of his little ones, his progeny, and his mated partner.  I had failed to understand that by slapping his wings on the water he was signaling his objection to my invasion of family space, and warning me to keep away.  I had ignored his clear Goose-speak (I really need to learn Goose), and he had water-slapped away, not abandoning his family (of course), but protecting his family.  I will keep my distance next time the wings beat on the water, and respect the family space.  The Jordan is goose home, after all, and I am just a curious occasional uninformed rather rudely interloping human, who doesn’t know the language.

(The Jordan River, named by 1840s Mormon pioneers fleeing to Utah from religious persecution in the frontier United States, flows north from the freshwater Utah Lake into the vast fishless Great Salt Lake, reminding the refugees of the homeland of their God Jesus.)

Image of Goose Family by TheOtherKev from Pixabay 

They Fell from the Sky

They Fell from the Sky

Hundreds of them.  Eared Grebes.  The birds precipitated from inside crystalline clouds where the sunlight flashed in an infinity of ice atoms swirling and refracting in a frozen explosion of brilliance, as if the sun raged coldly right there inside the clouds.  The birds became utterly hopelessly disoriented in the icy intensity, blind, not knowing up from down.  Hundreds of grebes dropped from the mists to bounce into buildings, cars, trees, yards, and parking lots.  And there she stood, unmoving, in my parking space, her olive-brown feet stuck frozen to the ice.  My office key made a crude chisel for chopping around her toes – they bled and flaked skin already.  I wrapped her in my coat and sat her in a box by my desk, with cracker crumbs and a bowl of water.

The children begged to open the box and see what was scratching inside, and exhaled exclamations of wonder when they saw.  What IS it?  She’s an Eared Grebe.  Look at her pointy black beak, her long flaring golden feathers that look like ears, and her crimson eyes.  Do you know what you call a group of grebes?  A Water Dance!  Can’t you just picture the family flapping and paddling and splashing their delighted dance on the lake?

What are we going to do with her?  Can we fill the bath tub?  Our grebe paddled around with obvious enthusiasm.  What are we going to feed her?  How about fish!  Tub-side with a bag of goldfish, the children clamored for the privilege of feeding their bird.  Our compromise: eight hands held the bloated bag and poured.  She darted after the fish in a flash of black and gold and red, a little paddling package of magnificence.  Look at her feet – no webbing.  Look at how her toes unhinge with little retractable paddles.  Wow! came in whispers.

That needling question of what to do with the bird in the bathtub?  We would try a nearby pond, and hope for the best.  The children watched her swim away and they looked sad and happy and I sensed how singular a blessing to have welcomed that bit of living feathered grace into our human home, to release her willfully, to be moved by her wildness and beauty.  And I hoped a small sliver of that exquisiteness would stay behind in memories of hinged toes and golden ears and red red eyes, and of creatures that dance on the water.

(Image by David Mark from Pixabay.) 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.

 

 

Songs of Spring

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How delightful are the sights and sounds of Spring.  Winter has lain upon the land so long that we have almost forgotten the sounds of warm-weather life.  With the melting snow, the greening grass, and the budding trees, we know that Spring is coming.  Best of all, the migrating birds are returning and singing their beautiful, unique songs.  The yellow-breasted Meadowlark is a favorite, with its complicated melody.  I hope you enjoy this poem about the songs of Spring.

Songs of Spring

Ice and snow begin
to yield to a longer sun.

Meadowlarks have returned
singing melodies:
sogladwearetobeback!
arentyouhappytohearus?
sogladwearetobesingingandsingingandback!

A hundred little blackbirds
in a bare tree top prattle,
zippatappazaptap!
zikkatikkazakkatat!

Robin hops quietly
in the greening grass,
stops to reconnoiter,
searching,
one eye for juicy brown earthworms,
the other for the cat.

Chapter 3: Hawk

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–In the presence of goodness, good people rejoice.–

My boots crunch loudly on the loose and frozen gravel, rousing common sparrows from their cold roosts in the willow and wild rose bushes.  Despite being leafless in December, the bushes seem an impenetrable tangle of twigs and dead leaves.  I hear, rather than see, the birds fluttering and tweeting within.  I have bundled myself against the bitter cold, and wonder how these almost weightless creatures survive Winter.  I imagine them huddled in their houses, mostly protected from the wind, their feathers puffed out to gather insulating air, with temperatures sinking to just above zero.  I marvel that these birds constantly peep and sing, fluttering about with the energy of jubilation.  I envy them their unconditional happiness.  I have come to appreciate their enthusiasm, to rely upon their unassailable cheerfulness. Continue reading