“Silent Spring,” I thought to myself, recalling Rachel Carson’s book. It was 2006. Doug and I had just started our first six month residency at Campbell’s Ferry. Among the many things that I had anticipated about living here was the thought that I would write to my mother (who had recently taken up bird-watching) about all the birds I saw living in the wilderness. Small problem…no birds. It was April. Perhaps it is too early for birds, I mused, and waited. Eventually a few nosy crows and desultory robins appeared. Not much to write home about.
Through the years as we have worked on the land, kept the old ditches from Trout Creek running, irrigated, planted gardens and a few new trees, we gradually began to notice more varieties of birds arriving for short or extended stays with us. Now, twelve years later, we awaken every morning to bird song outside our open windows. Before I rouse myself from bed, I watch their flight patterns as they zip past…we are O’Hare International Bird Airport. I am not sure exactly why more and more birds keep coming. Doug says it is the increased water and greenery. It is probably not our irresistible personal charisma. In any case, as we have made the place more sustainable for ourselves, we have obviously made it more enticing for other creatures.
We scramble to keep up with their appetites, filling bird feeders and hummingbird stations several times a week. Black-chinned, Calliope, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds guard their feeding stations as fiercely as Samurai warriors. House Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and brilliant Lazuli Buntings squabble over the bird feeder. Washing dishes one morning, I gazed out the window into a young tree just beginning to leaf out. It was set in motion by a flock of Cedar Waxwings in their chic feathery attire, breakfasting on insects. Yellow Warblers, Wilson’s Warblers and Western Tanagers create flashes of gold amongst the deep green foliage of trees. We try to discourage the Barn Swallows from making nests under our eves. Spotted Towhees, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and dozens of others we have yet to identify amuse us with their calls and antics. A Northern Flicker issues bold squawks from its nest in the hollow trunk of an apple tree near the garden. Downy Woodpeckers turn the pine trees into percussion instruments. Robins perform their twitter-pated courtship dances in mid-air. In the fall Doug takes the dogs out hunting Blue Grouse for our dinner table.
In one of my most beautiful sightings took place in a deeply shaded spot lush with tall ferns, lilies of the valley and wild roses next to a tumbling creek. Shafts of light fell through the leafy canopy. I had just taken a few steps beyond when I was stopped in my tracks by a melodious song. I turned slowly back to see a Mountain Bluebird perched on a delicate branch, illuminated in a shaft of sunlight, glistening turquoise and singing his heart song. Standing riveted to the spot, I did not move a muscle for fear of spoiling the moment. Suddenly the glorious bird flew directly towards me. I could feel the air movement from its wings on my cheek as it passed. Magic!
We watch Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles soar in lazy circles high above us. One morning while standing on the bridge above the Salmon River I saw two Bald Eagles fly under the bridge below my feet. For some years now an Osprey has maintained a nest in the top of a tall pine opposite a small beach where Doug and I go to cool off in the heat of the summer. She circles above, sharp eyes scouting for fish just under the surface of the river. Occasionally she dives like an arrow into the river. Grabbing a fish with both claws, she shakes the water from her feathers and turns the unfortunate fish headfirst to decrease wind resistance as she flies back to her nest with the prize.
I have two favorite bird stories. The first I have already reported in my blog entitled Fawn Frolics, the dance duet between a wild turkey and a fawn. The second occurred in 2015 when Doug and I were living in the historic cabin (the Cook cabin) at Campbell’s Ferry for seven weeks while our smaller cabin (the Crowe cabin) was being renovated. A river group had come up and was sitting under the walnut tree while I was telling them history stories about the Ferry. Rita (our dog) was being her usual Miss Congeniality self, spreading her attention among the guests, when I noticed that she had focused intently on a little bird that she was now stalking in slow motion. The bird was hopping along nonchalantly, staying just beyond Rita’s nose. The river guests worried that the bird was having trouble flying when suddenly Rita lunged at it and the bird flew up into the walnut tree…no problem. Nondescript in looks, it seemed abundantly endowed with personality.
After the folks went back to the river the bird hopped about, perching on logs, rocks, and chairs nearby, coming closer and closer to me. If I sat quietly it would hop up right next to me, looking at me curiously. It would not let me actually touch it, hopping just out of reach if I tried and then returning to my side. As long as I stayed on the porch it would hang out with me as if we were old friends sitting quietly. Doug and our neighbor, Greg Metz, who had been working at the barn came down to have lunch on the porch. The bird stayed on the porch with us during lunch, hopping around under our feet.
When lunch was finished the men got on the tractor, drove up the airstrip and walked into the woods to do some milling with chain saws. Suddenly they noticed that the bird was up there with them. It hug out under the log they were milling and stayed with them all afternoon despite the activity and noise from the chain saws. When they drove the tractor back down to the Cook cabin it flew past Greg’s shoulder and landed on the side of the road until the tractor had passed. Then it flew up to hitch a ride on the log they were pulling on the trailer and rode back down the hill with them. Back at the cabin Greg pulled out his towel and began to wash off in the ditch. I know you are not going to believe me but I have two witnesses…that little bird jumped into the little ditch beside Greg and began to take a bath! When Greg stood up and started drying off, the bird hopped up on the table and began drying its feathers. Afterwards the bird stayed around during cocktail hour until we moved inside. I tried to get the bird to come to my hand to take some food. It would let me get within 6 inches before it would move slightly away.
We did not see the bird the following day but some folks who had come up from the river told me they had encountered a little bird behaving strangely and following them around our place. We never saw it again. I don’t even know what kind of bird it was. From some research I suspect that it might have been a Hermit Thrush or a Pine Siskin and I am annoyed with myself that I did not document its appearance. If anyone knows of a bird that behaves like this please get in touch with me!
It seems that there are more birds every year. We fight them to get any share of our cherries so word must be out on the Avian Trip Advisor website. Now that the birds are here my mother is gone. I cannot write her the bird stories I know would amuse her. Perhaps it is now perpetual Silent Spring for my mother in that place where we all are destined. But I like to imagine that the birds are singing songs of her. They must be… for I think of her whenever I hear their melodies.