This hybrid photo essay is the product of several sessions of bird watching at a clearing off the East Bay Bike Trail. A path has been cut into the wood, snakes around to the Narragansett Bay. In the clearing, the trees that were cut sit in a stacked pile. Ironic, a sanctuary created by destroying habitats—for the greater good, the justification. What I love about birding: paying attention to a habitat that exists simultaneously with ours, in spite of ours. If one sits for a while and quietly watches, the birds become more and more visible, in some combination of the viewer’s noticing (allowing) and the birds’ acceptance of another creature in their midst.
Field notes: May, saw:
Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Red. How did scales become feathers. Unlikely, impossible. Yet.
This is an evolutionary quandary. They are too perfect.
(Proctor, Lynch 88).
Black-capped chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)
chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee, chick-a-dee! Chip chip chip!
Sky sailor, mark maker, ghosting the air with wing signals.
Grey catbird (Dumetella carolinensis):
solemn in veils of grey, she gives chase, he feeds her.
Kathline Carr, Two Birds. 11”x15”, monotype, May 2010.
American robin (Turdus migratorius)
late spring rust breast, how does your body blue the fragile egg,
how do you move with it inside you.
Canada goose (Branta canadensis)
in the field, a place for birthing, a black head on the horizon. Knobs of tucked heads, predatory hiss, goose fat. The warm mama body.
Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
a low nasal tchep (sweet sweet sweet) (Peterson 372).
Sparrow, sorrow, song,
Blackbird clicks, whirs, flies at us with red-orange flag feathers pinwheeling on wing edges. Perched on reeds, metronome rocking in wind, they trill and call to their lovers.
The blackest oily recess of wing against bleached sky, we sit in the swamp, watch them.
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
swallow, swallow bloody bird
turns milk to blood flying under the herd
flying over the house your death he portends
if he lands on your shoulder, your life will end (Carr 23).
Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris),
Many years ago now, I was putting clothes into the washing machine when a hummingbird flew up to my window and began to peck: tip, tip, tip. I put my face closer, watched his iridescent body supported by transparent wings, improbable silk flesh. He tapped at me, pecked at my eyes, I held my face to the glass. Finally he flew off, and I went outside, found the reflection of my propane tank on the pane and the red letters, “Suburban Propane” his salvia-red enticement.
Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia)
Some larger birds like flamingos and emus have penises, but smaller birds mate in flight, meshing their cloaca, or genital areas, together. The male secretes sperm from his distended scrotal mechanism, which swells many times its ordinary size during mating season. He maneuvers his cloaca to brush the female’s corresponding cloaca, and in this way, genetic material is passed from him to her. (Proctor, Lynch 222).
The mating dance—chasing, feeding, and singing—spurs a period of extended arousal that facilitates the small violence of their sexual union.
American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis),
black marks on head, golden. Propulsion, trajectory.
Feather span, he presses to her, balancing on the opening of her body
bites at her wing with his beak, surrender, she supports his thrusting, grasps perch for leverage, pivots, presses back.
Mystery, avian arousal, bright red
male excited by red feathers glued to female
research proves male birds are aroused by novelty
by chopping off their heads after mating
making slides of their post-coital brains.
On site sketch:
Grey catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
The base of a tree punctuated with catbirds’ dialog, sunlight spangling bark skin; the grass smells of henna, press face to it. Projectile bodies, limb tangles, savage biology.
Some birds mate for life. The flight pattern, trajectory where we first meet, unlikely, impossible. The swans, cutting the lake with their secret disappointments, cut and run finally. Push back on the perch, leverage the nest, abandon, pulsing red, the heart of it, the bird body, the blood in our veins, working to the surface, ritual, on the ground, under the sky. Kiss me.
Peterson, Roger Tory. Field Guide to Birds of North America. New York, Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002. Print.
Proctor, Noble S. and Lynch, Patrick J. Manual of Ornithology: Avian Structure and Function. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. Print.
Carr, Kathline. Miraculum Monstrum, Los Angeles, Red Hen Press, 2017. Forthcoming.