Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Art of Observation

My older son, Jeffrey is a quiet observer. He notes things mentally - some of which he shares but most of which I believe he keeps inside his head. It isn't that he doesn't talk or express his interests - he'll do that quite gladly and in great detail on topics that occupy his fancy. But he has always been a private sort, and expressing his worries or doubts won't happen as readily as his excitement about everyday events. But he always observes.

Another one of his qualities is his steel trap-like memory. I can't remember where he gets that!

One of the bonus aspects of having an observant mind and a good memory is that he notes and recalls what people say in passing, and so he also has a tendency to give good gifts. Last year, I probably only casually remarked about how I had to borrow some of my neghbour's freezer space the previous summer, when we were buying back ribs on sale, in order to stock up for our summer Ribfest. Sure enough, that winter, my son played Santa and presented me with a chest freezer to keep in my basement. It's been wonderful to have that extra storage space, and this past summer, we we didn't need to rely on others to store the multiple packs of ribs.

Several of his gifts, both large and small, have been exactly what I've needed or wanted, and this year was no exception. Earlier this year, my printer died. In truth, it had never been all that healthy from the beginning. Jeffrey noticed that the splotchy text and red-tinged photos did not enhance his brother's school projects, or anything else. He observed and remembered, and presented me with a nifty new printer this past holiday season. It's working well. The colours are accurate, the print time is swift and I can finally buy separate ink cartridges for each of the colours that run out, as opposed to having to replace all colours when just one of them expires.

Jeffrey gave us another smaller, but wonderful gift this year. He knew that I had recently bought a bird feeder and was enjoying watching and photographing the birds that came to feast upon the seed within. The brightly-wrapped package revealed a suet basket and several cakes of suet to help attract different varieties of birds. It took some time until the winged critters found their way over to the basket though.

The first time I hung the loaded basket from a tree branch, it met with a quick demise. Strong winds wreaked havoc with the bird feeder, turning it askew which resulted in its entire contents being dumped on the snow, where a growth of weed and wild grass will probably emerge next summer. The basket was nowhere to be seen the next morning. Only a small length of the chain remained on the branch where it hung the day before. My guess was that the fallen item had been located by my neighbour's dog Raven, who has a penchant for gobbling up the bird seed that she encounters beneath the feeder several times a day. Later that day, my suspicions were confirmed when Benny trotted back from his early morning visit to Raven's yard, proudly carrying the empty suet basket in his mouth like a trophy.

Frank took to securing the basket with his second favourite fastener of choice (duct tape being the first, of course). He used twist ties to fortify the chain and to tighten the clasp, rendering it virtually impregnable to anything other than the birds which were meant to feed from it. And there it sat for a full week before it began to see some action.

On Saturday, a Downy Woodpecker landed in the tree, close to the basket. After flitting around for a bit, he decided to land on the basket and feast on the suet inside. I snapped a few pictures, but was unhappy about how they turned out. The day was dull and the images could not pick up enough light to adequately show off the markings of this small bird, and it was just out of range to make use of the flash.

A little later, I discovered that the Downy is not a particularly timid bird, and when he returned multiple times during the course of the day, I decided to edge my way closer to him, while he continued to peck away at his treat. He scarcely gave me a sideways glance as I slowly opened the double glass doors and eased myself onto its threshold. One more step in his direction, and click! I got the image I'd been hoping for.

I have Jeffrey's power of observation to thank for that.

This art of observation also comes in pretty handy when listening to and watching for birds. I hope you enjoy the photo of the Downy Woodpecker and the others that are posted below. Please click on the images to see them enlarged.

This beautiful little guy dined at the suet basket on and off, pretty much all day. Occasionally he'd try his luck on various tree branches but kept returning for a sure thing. His red cap tells us that it's a male.

Yesterday was clear and sping-like which prompted me to take a walk. I snapped this little sparrow sitting in a bush along the pathway of a nearby park.

After a fresh snowfall a couple of weeks ago, this sparrow landed on my backyard plum tree to wait his turn at the feeder.

A mourning dove and sparrow pick their way though seeds which were tossed on the table-top café.

This fluffy starling perches upon a snowy branch watching as others peck and feed.

The blue jays have become accustomed to expecting their morning peanuts, and I often hear them calling for them long before I'm ready to top up the feeder, and toss out some peanuts for squirrels and jays alike.

Benny watches intently as various birds and squirrels dine comfortably knowing that he's behind a closed door.

Three long seconds later, Benny tires of this bird-watching hobby and considers chasing a cat instead.

In a few days, I'll post some semi-recent shots taken at the park on a snowy night.


Crabby McSlacker said...

What a thoughtful son!

And great pics. Still don't know how you get the birds to sit still for you like that--just what are you putting in that bird feeder, anyway? And Benny is pretty darn adorable--Frank must be doing something right.

Frank Baron said...

That first sparrow shot is really nifty. Did you notice if it flew at all? It seems to be in mid-molt and might not be able to.

Was it really 3 whole seconds? ;)

Jo said...

What a charming son you've raised! Mine has a great memory too...he likes to hang onto everything, and what seems to be junk, like a twisted paperclip, is the anchor for his memory of taking a walk with his nana, what was said, what the weather was like...

Love your photos, and your knowledge of birds! Benny looks so cute yawning :)

Tink said...

That blue jay picture is amazing!!

Hilary said...

• Thanks Crabby. The birds sit still when Benny is trapped inside. He's not quite as adorable to them. ;)

• Frank, I'm not sure about the bird. I never noticed its feathers until I got a good look at the photo. And it was quite possibly as long as four full seconds. ;)

• Jo, your son sounds like he has some pretty interesting thoughts running around in his mind. Thanks so much for your kind words, though the "knowledge of birds" part is a stretch.. much like Benny's mouth in mid-yawn. :)

• Thanks Tink. I think they're amazing birds. I was thrilled when he obliged by posing.

Reb said...

Wow, the one with the woodpecker shows off Franks handiwork too! Great photos as always Hilary. I really like the way the starling stands out against the snow laden branches.
It sounds like your son is a very thoughtful person.

Stace said...

Beautiful photos, as always. Your son sounds a wonderful man, whoever snaps him up will be very lucky ;) (unless he's already been snapped up?) Benny's such a jack russell... haha I had one once, called Brutus. Stupid little thing, he was!

photowannabe said...

Hilary, you have a thoughtful son indeed. the kind of gift he gives are so special.
Great pictures of the birds. The woodpecker is super. how fun to have them visit your yard.

awannabe said...

What a beautiful hobby is photography. I hope you are enjoying your new printer. I wonder if you have ever tried refilling and using color ink cartridges and if you have any luck with that. I only have luck with the black... the color ones don't come out right.

Hilary said...

• Thanks for all of your kind words, Reb. My son is a sweetie, alright. :)

• Thanks for stopping by, Stace. Jeffrey remains unsnapped for the moment, and I agree - she'll be a lucky one. I wouldn't think of calling Benny a stupid little thing (because I know that Frank is reading)!! ;) Actually he's truly a bright little thing.. and very, VERY active. :)

• Thanks so much for your kind words, Photowannabe. I think I'll keep him.. the kidlet - not the woodpecker. ;)

• Thanks Awannabe. I've never tried refilling the inks myself, but know people who have been pleased with the results when they've attempted it. I'm not sure what I'll do with this one. It depends on the cost of the refills, I suppose.

Wayne said...

A great story, and wonderful photos Hilary! Nicely done! I always enjoy your blog. Thanks.

Juhi said...

birds aint easy to capture always....great post with a lovely story

Hilary said...

• Thanks for the kind words, Wayne, and I enjoy yours as well. :)

• Thank you, Juhi. Much appreciated. Please stop by again soon. :)

Aquarius said...

I loved the cat photo, nicely composed with the lavender wall in the background.

Anonymous said...

MY nephew/YOUR son has a big heart!One of the posters above referred to him as a "wonderful man", I KNOW he is, but when did that happen??? Hard to believe he's going to be 21!! He's done so much to be proud of, HIl. Love the bird pictures, and Benny is adorable. Love, Andi

Hilary said...

• Thanks so much, Aquarius. I hope you'll come back to visit again soon. :)

• Thanks, Andi! Your nephew/my son does indeed. And as you know, I'm fiercely proud of him. I too, can't believe that so many years have passed.. sigh! Love, Hilary.

Kappa no He said...

I have a question, is your kitty and indoor cat? I was just watching a show about people who loved cats and birds but their cats spent a lot of time outdoors and would harm or kill the feathered ones.

As always great pics and sweetheart kids...I mean men! (^0~)

the Bag Lady said...

Great post, as always, Hil! The Bag Lady has said it before, but she'll say it again - sounds like you have great kids!

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Kappa. :) Both cats - Skitty pictured above and Zephyr are mostly indoor cats. That is, Skitty likes to spend time outdoors and will try to sneak past me in decent weather. He rarely tries to venture out of voice range and I try to keep him within sight at all times. Zephyr very timidly opts to step outside about twice a year if he's feeling particularly brave. He gets about as far as the door step and then runs back in. Both cats are declawed so I'm cautious about their time spent outdoors. Skitty also won't step in the snow, so we'll see what new challenges I might have come spring. :) Thanks for stopping by! :)

• Thank you Baggie, you won't hear me arguing with you. :)

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I enjoy you bird pictures. Years ago, when I lived in Port Credit, i used to visit Mr Ivor in Streetsville at his bird sanctuary. I have been an occasional birder since I was a young teenager.

It must be very satisfying to have a som who has a passion. It will be a source of satisfaction to him throughout his life.

Hilary said...

Hi Tossing, I hadn't known about the bird sanctuary, and Streetsville is pretty close to home. And yes, I'm thrilled that both of my sons have found their passions. I've bookmarked your blog. It has a nice Canadian flavour. Thanks for the pebble toss and come back soon. :)

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Wow. Those are some fantastic pictures!

We went to the park today here in Houston and saw all kinds of different geese that we don't usually see here. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me. At home we really only see mockingbirds, grackles, and lots of robins.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos, as always. :)

Your son sounds like just the kind of man I hope my two boys grow up to be. Alas, it is too late for Hubby-the man who thinks a Swiffer makes a great Christmas gift. For someone else, maybe. *sigh*

Hilary said...

• Thank you, EWBL. I hope you'll bring your camera with you next time. I'd love to see those geese. After all, you do tend to post about things with wings.. (Check our her post from Jan. 17 - http://thesmilinginfidel.blogspot.com/ )! Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, Kelley. I hear you about that kind of "gift." Thanks for the kind words and I hope you're on the mend.

Daisy said...

Hilary, your pictures are beautiful!

Hilary said...

Thank you, Daisyjo :)

Chica, Cienna, and Cali said...

How sweet, Hillary. loved all your birds....the blue jay and downy are magnificent but the one who stole my heart is the little sparrow on your plum tree......:) and what a thoughtful son you have. may you all cherish each other, always :)

Hilary said...

Thanks so much Moi. And I don't need convincing. :)