Monday, December 27, 2010

The Meaning of a Tree Sparrow (Rest in Peace Shelly Shepherd)

At first, I thought I'd be content taking a few pictures this weekend through my parent's family room window. After all, it was much warmer in the house and I wasn't at all eager to stand outside in the cold just to take a few photographs. But, as normal, the excitement of the bird activity at the feeders overtook me. I had to get outside to take some better pictures but first, I had to select a location that was more presentable than the feeder itself. About 20 feet from the feeder, my mom has a cement bench and on it sits a cement angel. The spot seemed perfect so I baited it with seed and almost instantly, the angel became a hub of bird activity. At the time, I had no clue why this spot would be so special.

After about 20 minutes, I went outside and sat near the angel in hopes that any bird would find my presence a non-issue. A few stopped briefly but the only bird willing to do any type of pose for me was a Tree Sparrow. I was shunned by most others so I decided I would take advantage of this particular bird's willingness to be photographed and took several shots. I then waited a little longer only to find myself staring contently at the angel on the bench. The angel was sad and so was I. I took a picture of the angel not knowing what I would ever do with the picture. The picture had a purpose.

I received the news later that night from my friend Derek that our friend from High School, Shelly Shepherd died earlier in the day after a short battle - I, unfortunately, had not clue she was sick.

Shelly was one of few people on earth that could make you laugh with the least effort. She was outspoken, funny, and a great spirit. Just knowing that I can call her a friend is a gift that I will never forfeit. Our paths didn't cross as often as I now wish they had but when they did, I always walked away smiling and was always glad we were friends. I always knew, always had faith that if I needed Shelly, she would be there.

Now I know. I know why I picked the area I did for the pictures, I know why the Tree Sparrow posed, and I know for sure why the angel was sad. Shelly, "his eye is on the sparrow" and I will never look at a Tree Sparrow the same. This bird now holds the memory of one the greatest people I have ever know. Rest in Peace my friend.

Shelly Shepherd, June 1976 - December 2010.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

I have been thinking all day about what I could write about. I wanted it to be something wonderful, something joyful, and something to describe how great life has been lately. Yet, I can't come up with anything. The day started out as most days normally would - great! I was happy to be blessed with the breath of life and as always thankful for those sharing it with me! Unfortunately, today progressed a little differently than I had imagined, it took a turn, and without my permission, it veered in the direction of disappointment.

As I think about my trip to Goose Pond yesterday, I can't help but to think about the copious numbers of Tree and Savannah Sparrows that graced us with their presence. By the hundreds, these sparrows seemed to follow us everywhere we went, as if their mission was to keep an eye on us! With every step we took, the flocks flew just far enough away to land in the grasses and commence their post of staring back at us. At times, I wondered who was counting who!

One of my favorite songs is "His Eye is on the Sparrow". It become on my favorites many years ago at the funeral of one of my dearest friends, Laverna. Although the song has a special memory to me, I believe it is just recently that I realize the importance of its words. It made me realize, once again, of how important it is to know that when things aren't going right and it seems as nobody cares - God is always around.

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for Heav'n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
A constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches over me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

So even though I can’t seem to reach the world right now, I know that things will be better because his eye is on the sparrow and I KNOW, I BELIEVE he watches over me!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Harris's Sparrow in Indiana! An Awesome Lunch Break!

Harris's Sparrow... Paynetown SRA, IN. In the company of two GORGEOUS Cardinals, this was my 539th bird.

On December 9th, I was fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of Paynetown SRA on Lake Monroe in Bloomington, IN. This being the case, I decided to detour from my usual route back to Indianapolis and spend my lunch hour birding vs. gaining more unnecessary weight by sitting in a Taco Bell. So, I went through the drive-thru first and then headed down to Paynetown!

Forty minutes later along with a coat completely smeared with sour cream I was able to spot the Harris's Sparrow immediately near a brush pile where seed is tossed daily. The bird was extremely handsome and stood out in a crowd of Junco's, Chickadees, Titmice, Tree Sparrows, and a lovely Gray Squirrel. A bonus visitor was a very talkative Red-bellied Woodpecker.

My visit was short and sweet. I had to sit on a snow covered picnic table and it was extremely cold - not to mention the snow was soaking through my pants! But, wet pants or not, I got a Harris's Sparrow! Not a bad trade!

Tufted Titmouse... a forever favorite!

Eastern Gray Squirrel... we tend to get mad at these animals for dominating our feeders but I couldn't imagine a world without them.

Northern Cardinal... in the bird world, one of the most beautiful females.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why Birds?

Fox Sparrow... two of these GORGEOUS sparrows showed up in my backyard this past weekend. Who could not feel a connection to this bird? If only for a second.


It goes without saying that life has its ups and downs. I personally don’t know anyone who has gone through life without at least a few occasions of frustration, hurt, or disappointment. In fact, most people I know have unfortunately had more than just a few points of unhappiness. I for one have had more than I could ever care to try and recall. From tragic events, death, sudden losses of friendships and just days where hurt and confusion run so deep that life feels all but almost over. Life is great, but sometimes, life hurts.

As I look back over the years, I can’t help but wonder sometimes, what has kept me going? What prevents me from falling into a rut so deep that I can’t get out? Where do I go and where can I turn when things aren’t moving in my direction? What brings me back into the world of reality?

Naturally, like most people, I have my family and a few good friends that are always willing to help me when I’m in a troubled state of mind. Unfortunately though, sometimes, this doesn’t work. This is where the birds come in. Yes, selfishly, I sometimes use birds for personal gain.

It’s only been recently that I’ve realized why I have been so eager to get to such places as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Florida, etc. to see the creatures I love so much. I’m going because these creatures, the birds, mean something to me. Just like a stranger is able to wash away a problem with nothing more than a smile or the way that one of my children can make me feel like the most important person on earth just by saying the words “daddy” – birds take me away. Their beauty, their song, their simple presence can all be compared to that of the presence of God. I believe that they are MY connection to God – the line that he has given me to “let it go”.

So, while I know that there are many people out there that may laugh at me, talk about me, or disregard my passion for birds as a complete and ignorant waste of time, I personally don’t care. Sometimes life hurts and when it does I need my connection to something greater than me – I need my birds!

Carolina Wren... I took this picture this past summer. I remember spending a good deal of time trying to get this bird out in the open enough to get the picture. It never stopped singing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vermilion Flycatcher! Marshall County, IN

Vermilion Flycatcher.... Marshall County, IN. Northern, IN.

I spent Thursday, December 2, on road trip to Northern Indiana in hopes of getting a look at a bird that has only been confirmed in Indiana 2x prior to this recent sighting. This bird, the Vermilion Flycatcher, is slightly out of place in Indiana. Its normal range is Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and south into Latin America - a warm weather bird, it's normally associated with hot days and sunshine. This particular bird must have been tired of the desert heat!

My friend Rob and I arrived to the site at approximately 9:30a
and was lucky to spot the bird within about 30 minutes. It's color against the snow was a huge plus! The bird seemed in good shape and was very active. It wasn't long before we found out its food source. The property had several holes dug for the purpose of discarding carcases of livestock. It was in these open pits of death that the flycatcher was feeding on insects (probably dead maggots) that had died on the rotting flesh as the weather turned cold! I must admit, this wasn't the most attractive site to find such a beautiful bird but I was VERY happy to see the bird had figured out a way to survive - at least for now.

The bird was taking a "bath" in the snow.

Ring-billed Gull... tagged.

After the Vermilion Flycatcher, we decided to head north to Lake Michigan to see what was happening on the lake front. Unfortunately, there wasn't alot of activity but, the few birds that we did see were good ones - Peregrine Falcon, Common Loon, Belted Kingfisher, Horned Grebe, and Pied-billed Grebe. The BIG deal was a new life bird for me that we saw on our way to the Indiana Dunes State Park - Northern Shrike!!!! Congrats to me!

Sand sculpture... Lake Michigan.

Indiana State Bird

Indiana State Bird
Northern Cardinal