Archive for the ‘Birding-by-Ear’ Category

“The Story of the Little Bird”: An Irish Folktale

Many years ago there was a very religious and holy man, one of the monks of a convent, and he was one day kneeling at his prayers in the garden of his monastery, when he heard a little bird singing in one of the rose-trees of the garden, and there never was anything that he had heard in the world so sweet as the song of that little bird.

And the holy man rose up from his knees where he was kneeling at his prayers to listen to its song; for he thought he never in all his life heard anything so heavenly.

And the little bird, after singing for some time longer on the rose-tree, flew away to a grove at some distance from the monastery, and the holy man followed it to listen to its singing, for he felt as if he would never be tired of listening to the sweet song it was singing out of its throat.

And the little bird after that went away to another distant tree, and sung there for a while, and then to another tree, and so on in the same manner, but ever farther and farther away from the monastery, and the holy man still following it farther, and farther, and farther still listening delighted to its enchanting song.

But at last he was obliged to give up, as it was growing late in the day, and he returned to the convent; and as he approached it in the evening, the sun was setting in the west with all the most heavenly colours that were ever seen in the world, and when he came into the convent, it was nightfall.

And he was quite surprised at everything he saw, for they were all strange faces about him in the monastery that he had never seen before, and the very place itself, and everything about it, seemed to be strangely altered; and, altogether, it seemed entirely different from what it was when he had left in the morning; and the garden was not like the garden where he had been kneeling at his devotion when he first heard the singing of the little bird.

And while he was wondering at all he saw, one of the monks of the convent came up to him, and the holy man questioned him, “Brother, what is the cause of all these strange changes that have taken place here since the morning?”

And the monk that he spoke to seemed to wonder greatly at his question, and asked him what he meant by the change since morning? for, sure, there was no change; that all was just as before. And then he said, Brother, why do you ask these strange questions, and what is your name? for you wear the habit of our order, though we have never seen you before.”

So upon this the holy man told his name. and said that he had been at mass in the chapel in the morning before he had wandered away from the garden listening to the song of a little bird that was singing among the rose-trees, near where he was kneeling at his prayers.

And the brother, while he was speaking, gazed at him very earnestly, and then told him that there was in the convent a tradition of a brother of his name, who had left it two hundred years before, but that what was become of him was never known.

And while he was speaking, the holy man said, “My hour of death is come; blessed be the name of the Lord for all his mercies to me, through the merits of his only-begotten Son.”

And he kneeled down that very moment, and said, “Brother, take my confession, for my soul is departing.”

And he made his confession, and received his absolution, and was anointed, and before midnight he died.

The little bird, you see, was an angel, one of the cherubim or seraphim; and that was the way the Almighty was pleased in His mercy to take to Himself the soul of that holy man.

Note:  Originally Attributed to T. Crofton Croker who says he wrote it word for word as he heard it from an old woman at a holy well. This version is edited and adapted from Traditional Tales from Long , Long Ago retold by Philip Wilson. It’s also retold by W. B Yeats in his famous book Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888).

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Belted Kingfisher

My sister Alice recently came to visit me, and we went hiking this past Thursday. We had the pleasure of seeing pairs of belted kingfishers flying over Puddingstone Reservoir in Bonelli Regional Park. Their call is quite distinctive!

“Haiku for Joy” by Jane Beal

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HAIKU FOR JOY

black phoebe darting

between the white-barked birch trees –

you welcome me home

jb

La Verne, CA

Haiku for a Hummingbird

HummingbirdinaPineTree

orange flowers bloom

behind the pillar pine tree

for a hummingbird

jb

Vacaville, CA

 

“The Dipper” by Mary Oliver

AmericanDipper

Once I saw
in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,
among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,
a small bird, and knew it

from the pages of a book; it was
the dipper, and dipping he was,
as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up
the clear, strong pipe of his voice; at this,

there being no words to transcribe, I had to
bend forward, as it were,
into his frame of mind, catching
everything I could in the tone,

cadence, sweetness, and briskness
of his affirmative report.
Though not by words, it was
a more than satisfactory way to the

bridge of understanding. This happened
in Colorado
more than half a century ago—
more, certainly, than half my lifetime ago—

and, just as certainly, he has been sleeping for decades
in the leaves beside the stream,
his crumble of white bones, his curl of flesh
comfortable even so.

And still I hear him—
and whenever I open the ponderous book of riddles
he sits with his black feet hooked to the page,
his eyes cheerful, still burning with water-love—

and thus the world is full of leaves and feathers,
and comfort, and instruction. I do not even remember
your name, great river,
but since that hour I have lived

simply,
in the joy of the body as full and clear
as falling water; the pleasures of the mind
like a dark bird dipping in and out, tasting and singing.

Mary Oliver

Note: On Thursday, July 6th, I gave a poetry reading at the John Natsoulas Gallery in downtown Davis. Afterwards, I was pleased to sit down and talk with Steve, a poet and a bird-watcher like myself. He mentioned this poem, “The Dipper,” by Mary Oliver in our conversation. Mary Oliver first saw the bird in Colorado, where Steve had also seen it. Though I have lived in Colorado, I have not yet seen the American Dipper in situ, bobbing and fishing in nature’s favorite stream. However, I have had a preview! The little bird is simply delightful.

p.s. John Muir loved the bird, which he called a water-thrush. He wrote of it: “THE waterfalls of the Sierra are frequented by only one bird, —the Ouzel or Water Thrush ( Cinclus Mexicanus). He is a singularly joyous and lovable little fellow, about the size of a robin, clad in a plain waterproof suit of bluish gray, with a tinge of chocolate on the head and shoulders. In form he is about as smoothly plump and compact as a pebble that has been whirled in a pot-hole, the flowing contour of his body being interrupted only by his strong feet and bill, the crisp wing-tips, and the up-slanted wren-like tail.”

“A Distressed Duck” by Jane Beal

She was a beautiful mallard –
brown and white with a patch of dark blue
side-feathers, orange feet, and an orange beak.

She was hungry, and she was hunting,
her beak dipping into the grass,
but coming up empty.

She began to cry in distress,
making an awful sound,
and I wanted to help her.

I wished I had bread in my bag,
but I didn’t, so I tried to soothe her
with kind and gentle words.

She didn’t run, but walked away,
still dipping her beak left and right,
still coming up empty, still crying. 

At the corner, I had to turn one way,
and she another, but I glanced back:
two students had noticed her

and one of them was mocking
that awful sound she was making,
and the student suddenly lunged at the duck,

frustrated by that sound, but the other student
stopped her friend and said, “No,
don’t scare her.”

Jane Beal
Uncaged (in progress)

FemaleMallard.jpg

“All the Birds on Christmas Day” by Jane Beal

I didn’t know the birds were weeping.
They might have been singing praise!

The black phoebe, the hummingbird,
the distant geese I heard –

I thought they were a choir
for the most extraordinary birthday

the world has ever known.
But maybe the Great White Egret

standing on the side of the freeway,
not wading in the wetland waters

should have been my clue
that there is no joy on earth

not mingled
with lingering grief.

jb

12/25
Davis & HWY 37

blackphoebe

LISTEN: “Haunting” (Great White Egret)