Under the Open Sky: Seeing What’s Really There

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle

About a half dozen years ago I was on the way home from a Mossyrock High School basketball game late one night, driving down Harmony on my way home, when a deer crossed the road in two great leaps.

It’s not unusual to spot deer crossing the road in the dark on Harmony; in fact, it’s unusual not to see a deer on that drive.

But that night, as I slowed my car briefly, then sped back up after the animal dashed away, I thought to myself, “My goodness, that deer sure had a long tail.”

In my mind I could replay the two or three long, leaping strides and then watch as the long, curled at the end tail followed.

To this day, I am still unsure whether my mind added a cougar’s tail to a deer or added a deer’s head to a cougar. I know what I expected to see, though, I expected to see a deer.

For a reporter, I’m not all that observant. But I’ve only been working at my observational abilities for a couple of years now, I get better every day at seeing what is really there and hearing what is really being said. But it’s still work. My brain likes to fill in the details for me.

Today I watched a group of American Robins forage under the walnut tree, one of the few snow-free places in my backyard. As one of the robins jumped up, I noticed the white spots on either side of the end of his tail.

“Huh,” I thought to myself, “I didn’t know robins had white spots on their tail.”

Myself answered, “They don’t.”

I reacted quickly, sneaking quickly back into the house, I grabbed the camera and tiptoed back outside.

Three Varied Thrushes were within 30 feet. These birds are not common near my house; they are shy creatures who stay in my backwoods. Some people see them feeding at their feeders (Jeanette and Daniel Brewer, of Chehalis, for instance), but not me.

Training myself to keep my eyes and ears open has been (and continues to be) a struggle. But let me tell you, folks, it’s worth every minute of work. There’s a beautiful world out there — under rocks, in the air, burrowed into the ground, or scurrying by — go outside and look for it.

It’ll change you.

Of Snowy Owls and Wood Ducks

I have posted new reader submitted photos to The (Almost) Daily Bird blog (http://blogs.chronline.com/dailybird) including Dawn McHugh’s visit to Ocean Shores to see Snowy Owls and a paddling of Wood Ducks feeding under Richard Hendricks wild bird feeders.

Mr. Hendricks wrote last week to remind me that Wood Ducks do, indeed, perch in trees (see last week’s feature article) — something which I knew but somehow didn’t allow to rise forward into my conscious brain. I was too busy attempting to write clever prose.

My subconscious mind tried to get the message delivered by sending me a queerly tangled rhyme, “How much wood can a Wood Duck chuck if a Wood Duck could chuck wood.”

Wood Ducks, unlike most other ducks, have sharp claws they can use to help them perch in trees. They also nest in trees. But, as Mr. Hendricks said, “They don’t quite resemble a sparrow,” which makes me feel at least somewhat redeemed in my erroneous statement in saying that ducks don’t perch in trees.

When I’m wrong I need correcting. Send me an email or give me a call when you spot a mistake. I’d appreciate it — especially if you are as entertaining as Mr. Hendricks was in his email. (I’m still waiting for his promised photo of a flying pig. I’m starting to think he was just teasing me.)

Birds on the Move

Rufous Hummingbirds have been spotted at various sites across the state (including my own backyard), a sure sign that spring is sprung.

I saw a pair of Trumpeter Swans heading toward Lake Mayfield on Friday, and warblers and swallows have been seen inching their way north over the map of Washington State. All sure signs of spring — in spite of the recent snowfall.

Birds are on the move, some passing through our area from the south on their way to the north, some coming to stay. Keep your eyes and ears open for new sights and sounds. Let me know if you see anything special cross your path.

But while you are on the lookout for the unusual, make sure you don’t overlook the beauty of the more common birds.

The American Robin is beginning to sing his wooing song. It’s a melody we often overlook, perhaps because it is so commonly heard from early morning until the last light fades.

A member of the Tweeters mailing list shared his thoughts about those on the lookout for the rare bird and added this:

“As for me, I have my own notion of Bucket List. Since I’m cheap, and the contemplative type, I’m trying to make my list easily doable. Like last week I got the notion that I’d really like to hear a Robin sing. Of course around here Robins sort of toodle away all winter during warm spells, but I had the idea of hearing one full of spring sap, really belting out that song. And last Wednesday I awoke to a Robin singing just outside the bedroom window at dawn. It was great – I could hear every note! If I ever get so jaded as not to love Robin song I’ll be fit to kick the bucket,” Jeff Gibson, Everett, Wash., quote from the Tweeters mailing list.

Amen, Mr. Gibson, amen.

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and Outdoors enthusiast who lives in Cinebar. Visit her photography blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird (blogs.chronline.com/dailybird), follow her on Twitter (ChronKim) or on facebook (Kimberly Mason – The Chronicle). Contact her at kim@almostdailynews.com, text or call 269-5017.