Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Cokinos, Christopher. Hope is the Thing with Feathers: a Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds. Jeremy A. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000.

Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s the coldest part of winter?

Cokinos spent ten years researching the life and subsequent extinction of six birds: Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Labrador Duck, Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Heath Hen, and the Great Auk.
I find it terribly sad that no one knows the exact date of the demise of the Carolina Parakeet, but then again that’s probably true of many extinct species. Right? How do we really know when we have seen the very last whatever? Here are details from Hope is the Thing with Feathers that will stick with me for a very long time: the Heath Hen has been compared to the Greater Prairie Chicken for their myriad of similarities. Their mating sounds are practical identical. Is that why no one took the extinction of the Heath Hen seriously? Were they so abundant they fell victim to overhunting; were they that easy to massacre? Is that what happened to the Passenger Pigeon? The cruelty inflicted on these birds was difficult to read. Cokinos gets into the question of cloning. Can you clone a species which has gone completely extinct? Can we have a Jurassic Park moment on a less dangerous scale?
Besides hunting, another factor wreaking havoc on bird populations was deforestation. Singer Sewing Machine purchased the nesting grounds of Lord God birds. Then they sold the rights to logging companies who cleared the land, destroying everything in its path. This happened over and over again.

Quotes to quote: “He also played sad songs on his flute” (p 62), “…thus the titanic vanishing of the Passenger Pigeon concluded, finally, on the bottom of a cage in the middle of a city busy with commerce and worry about war” (p 267), and “We ought not underestimate the elegance of individual decisions coupled with communal actions – a bird seen, a refuge protected, a vote changed – especially as they accumulate one by one, the way barbs and barbules of a feather hold together” (p 334).

Author fact: Cokinos is an excellent researcher. The amount of time and effort that went into verifying the shooting of the past Passenger Pigeon was astounding.

Book trivia: the title of the book comes from the title of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem.

Playlist: Steve Lawrence, “Maple Leaf Rag,” and the sound of birds singing.

Nancy said: Pearl explains the plot of Hope is the Thing with Feathers.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 40).

Following February

What to say about this month? It was epic in a myriad of ways. First and foremost, I turned half a century old. I don’t mind the number; I am not bothered by the age. Never the less, friends and family gathered for a party to remember. And. And! And, I re-upped my commitment to running. It’s been slow but I have to admit something here – my breathing has been effed up. I have a scheduled appointment for early March so…I continue to read.

Here are the books:


  • Take This Man by Frederick Busch. (EB & print)
  • Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker. (EB)
  • Crossers by Philip Caputo. (EB and print)
  • Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. (EB and print)


  • Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey. (print only)
  • Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. (AB, EB and print)

Series Continuations:

  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. (EB and print)
  • Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett. (print)
  • Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. (EB)
  • A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow. (EB and print)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • How to be a Patient by Sana Goldberg.
  • Corregidora by Gayl Jones (reread).

For fun:

  • Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne.
  • Calypso by David Sedaris (started).
  • Sharp by Michelle Dean (continuing)
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (continuing)

Beak of the Finch

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. Read by John McDonough. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2017.

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month.

Islands are the perfect laboratory for studying a species. In the case of the Galapagos archipelago, the islands are isolated like a fortress; no one can easily arrive or depart. Princeton University biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant, along with their daughters, take a small group of scientists to help them investigate Darwin’s finches. By the beak of the finch they are able to track an evolutionary journey through time. Beak of the Finch is an extraordinary account of survival of the fittest as it happened then; as it is happening right now. Our world is constantly evolving and adapting and we aren’t done yet.
Word to the wise – listen to this on audio. John McDonough does a fantastic job. Weiner’s writing may be approachable science, but McDonough’s reading makes it all the more enjoyable.
As an aside, I love books I like to describe as “rabbit holes.” They take me to knowledge I never would have learned otherwise. I think people describe the internet that way sometimes. In this case, I learned that when a finch is ready to mate its beak turns black. Who knew? Also, at one point Weiner was describing the weather and mentioned El Nino which in turn made me wonder about the name El Nino. I had never really thought about its origin before. Turns out, El Nino means “the child” in Spanish and the storms are named as such because they tended to arrive around Christmastime.

Author fact: Weiner also wrote Time, Love, Memory: a Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origin of Behavior (which I have already read) and His Brother’s Keeper: a Story from the Edge of Medicine, also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Beak of the Finch won a Pulitzer. Another piece of trivia is that Beak of the Finch is full of great illustrations like the one of the iguana on page 104.

Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl describes the plot to Beak of the Finch. In More Book Lust she has a whole chapter (of only three books) dedicated to Weiner and says specifically of Beak of the Finch, “about evolutionary biology as played out on an island in the Galapagos” (More Book Lust p 233). Finally, in Book Lust To Go Pearl says Beak of the Finch is “wonderfully written, extremely readable, and a superb example of the best kind of popular science writing” (Book Lust To Go p 88).

BookLust Twist: Nancy loves this book. It is indexed in all three Lust books: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 39), in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Jonathan Weiner: Too Good to Miss” (p 233) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Galloping Through the Galapagos” (p 88).

February Falling Behind

We are nearly one full week into February and I have yet to report what is on the reading list. I have to admit, my other (non-book) life got in the way. I was selected for jury duty for a trial that lasted three days, a friend was admitted to the hospital with atrial fibrillation for three days, an uncle was taken off hospice, and oh yeah, I turned fifty with my family and friends in attendance. The last week of January going into the first week of February was all a bit nutty. And. And! And, I am running again. So, there’s that. But enough of that. Here are the books:


  • Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker (EB)- in honor of Walker’s birth month.
  • Take This Man by Frederick Busch (EB & print) – in memory of Busch’s death month.
  • Crossers by Philip Caputo (EB & print) – in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February.
  • Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza (EB & print) – in honor of Brazil’s festival.


  • Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey (print) in honor of Yates’s birthday.
  • Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner (AB) in honor of February being Feed the Birds Month.

Series Continuations:

  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (EB & print) – to continue the series started in honor of January being Mystery Month.
  • Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett (print) – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month being in August.
  • Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov (EB) – in honor of Asimov’s birth month being in January.
  • A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow (EB & print) – to continue the series started in January in honor of Alaska becoming a state.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • How to Be a Patient by Dr. Sana Goldberg (confessional: I started this in January and haven’t finished it yet).

For Fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

Month for Women

I definitely didn’t do this on purpose because I never structure my reading this way, but January turned out to be a month of mostly woman authors (notated with a ‘w’). I am including the books I started in January but have not finished. Because they are not Challenge books they do not need to be finished in the same month. And. And! And, I have started running again. After a six month hiatus, I think I am back! Sort of.


  • A Cold-Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow (w & EB)
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (w & AB)
  • Firewatch by Connie Willis (w & EB)
  • The Good Times are Killing Me by Lynda Barry (w)
  • Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown (w & EB)
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov (AB)
  • Take This Man by Frederick Busch
  • ADDED: The Renunciation by Edgardo Rodriguez Julia


  • Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn (w)
  • The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior edited by Chris Elphick, John Dunning & David Allen Sibley
  • The Turk by Tom Standage
  • ADDED: Freedom in Meditation by Patricia Carrington (w)

Series continuations:

  • Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
  • To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett (w)

Early Review Program for LibraryThing:

  • Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim (w)
  • How to be a Patient by Sana Goldberg (w) – not finished yet

For Fun:

  • Sharp by Michelle Dean (w) – not finished yet
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (w) – not finished yet

January Come Lately

I try not to think about white rabbits running around with time pieces muttering about being late. Whenever I do I am reminded this is being written three days behind schedule. Nevertheless, here are the books:


  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov – in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown – this is a stretch…All Creatures Great and Small first aired as a television show in January and there is a creature in the title.
  • The Good Times are Killing Me by Lynda Barry – in honor of Barry’s birth month.
  • A Cold Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow – in honor of Alaska becoming a state in January.


  • Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn – in honor of Australia’s National Day on January 26th.
  • The Turk by Tom Standage in honor of Wolfgang Von Klempelen’s birth month.
  • Freedom in Meditation by Patricia Carrington – in honor of January being National Yoga month.
  • Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior by David Allen Sibley – in honor of Adopt a Bird Month. I read that somewhere…

Series continuations:

  • To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
  • Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman – to continue the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month (Fantasy).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim – I know what you are thinking. I am neither black nor a girl. I am a middle-aged white woman who barely remembers being a girl. I requested this book because I work in an extremely diverse environment and let’s face it, I want to be known as well-read, regardless of color.

For fun:

  • Sharp by Michelle Dean – my sister gave this to me as a Christmas gift. I wonder if she is trying to tell me something.


Knight, Michael. “Birdland.” Goodnight, Nobody. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

Raymond, the protagonist of “Birdland,” knows how to capitalize on the African parrots that migrant every fall to his tiny town of Elbow, Alabama. The parrots have brought Ludmilla Haggarsdottir (aka The Blond), an ornithologist from New Hampshire. Having nowhere to stay, The Blond rents a room with Raymond and becomes his girlfriend. His second source of income is wood carvings of the parrots for all the tourists who “flock” to Elbow (pun totally intended). Elbow in and of itself is an interesting little community of less than 12 souls, all fixated on the game of college football. I fell in love with Raymond and his band of misfit neighbors. They live the simple life without telephones or tvs. The Blond is the most colorful thing he’s seen since the arrival of the parrots.

Quotes I loved, “The African parrot can live up to eighty years…and often mates for life, though our local birds have apparently adopted a more swinging sexual culture due to an instinctive understanding of the rigors of perpetuation in a non-indigenous environment” (p 5) and “I want to tell her that the past is not only for forgetting” (p 14).

Reason read: June is national short story month. Are you tired of me saying that?

Author fact: In 2003 Knight taught at the University of Tennessee. The sad thing is, when you do a Google search for “Michael Knight” the first thing that pops up is the television show “Knight Rider.”

Book trivia: I’m going to sound like a broken record saying this but most of Knight’s short stories appeared in magazines (like Playboy) before they were published as a collection.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the very simple chapter called “Parrots” (p 104).

Going Wild

Winkler, Robert. Going Wild: Adventures With Birds in the Suburban Wilderness. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2003.

Winkler is an exceptional writer especially when it comes to the art and science of birdwatching. What makes his book, Going Wild, so interesting is that each chapter is independent of another. As he puts it, “readers can dip into chapters as they please with little sacrifice of coherence” (p x). I preferred to read the whole book straight through as a story, but I could see what Winkler meant. Another pleasure of Winkler’s writing is when you read his words you can actually feel him smiling, warming up to his subject and actually happy to be going on and on about his birding life. There is real humor in his tone.

The other element I enjoyed was the locality of most of his essays. I live near, and have visited nearly all of the locations Winkler mentions.

Quotes I enjoyed, “Cold profound enough to freeze the hair in your nostrils is something to experience” (p 19).
As an aside, I would have thought Winkler’s book would include photographs or illustrations of some sort. I was disappointed when it didn’t.

Reason read: October is a great time to watch birds, especially off the coast of Maine. The migration is underway Sept-Oct.

Author fact: Robert Winkler has been a National Geographic corespondent in additional to being a journalist published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

Book trivia: Winkler mentions many different places he has observed birds. His self proclaimed favorite is Upper Paugusset State Forest in Newtown, Connecticut. I think I just might have to check that out.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Nature Writing” (p 174).

Edited to add: there are two more comments I need to make about this book. First, Winkler and the movies. I am guilty of pointing out flaws in movies. I love it when I can spot an inconsistency so I have to say my favorite chapter was when Winkler pointed out the “bird” errors in different movies, especially when it comes to their songs. And speaking of bird songs – I will listen closer for the Wood Thrush since Winkler praised it so highly.

Brushed By Feathers

Wood, Frances. Brushed By Feathers: a Year of birdwatching in the West. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2004.

On the very first page of Brushed By Feathers you are warned by Bob Righter, “Be careful when you read this book – your life could be forever changed.” You could just become a bird watcher is what he meant. Somehow I doubt that. After growing up in the migration path of thousands of the flying species and having to endure the rapture of the many Audubon societies that have flocked to my hometown I don’t think I could become one of them. I don’t know what it is about some birders but they lose all sense of reality when witnessing a rare or even an infrequently seen bird. On one occasion my husband and I were marveling at the storm pounded surf, worrying about a boat that bobbed too close to the shore. A group of birders thought we gaped at a pair of herring gulls screeching over a dead crab.

Having said all that, I loved Wood’s book! There are certain books that appeal on a level beyond words, sentences and chapters; books that feel good in the hands or evoke some kind of deep down feeling. While Brushed By Feathers didn’t turn me into a birding fanatic I was moved by it by appearance alone. With its journal-like pages and illustrations it is a book that goes beyond simple content. Its presentation is near perfection. Had it been bound with a soft cloth cover, one that would feel good in the hands, I would have said this is one book to hold onto – literally.

I also loved the presentation of the content. Each chapter is a different month of bird watching in the Pacific northwest region of the Unites States (Wood lives near Puget Sound). Wood begins each chapter with an overview of the sights and sounds one might expect to find during that particular month and then chooses a bird to detail (eagle, hummingbird, etc). She adds personal stories to connect with her audience and not be completely didactic. Also included in the beginning of each chapter is a checklist of the new birds  introduced each month with room for notes about each species.

I guess my only complaint would be that it’s very specific to the area in and around Puget Sound and Whidbey Island. If I ever get to that part of the country I’ll know what birds to look for!

Most interesting line, “During the non-breeding season, the section of a songbird’s brain that controls singing actually shrinks, making ti unable to sing, even if the urge arose” (p 167). Okay, I did not know that.

Reason read: Oddly enough, I heard that February is bird feeding month. Not watching, but feeding. Go figure.

Author fact: Frances has her own website here. It’s pretty cool.

Book trivia: Brushed By Feathers has beautiful illustrations. Wood is responsible for those as well.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 116). Pearl would have given this book to an avid bird watcher. I hope he or she lives in the northwest!

Feb ’11 was…

February was a strange, strange month. On the one hand, my birthday (which was good), yet on the other hand, many different family dramas (not so good). Other oddities include getting robbed, the roof leaking, a mysterious flat tire, and lots of great PT (what’s different?). My list of books for the month included some behemoths – two over 700 pages long. It took me longer than expected to get through my list because I also got an Early Review book from LibraryThing and I decided to read a few “off-list” titles. February was also a month of personal challenges (yay for physical therapy and the return to running for real). I can’t forget to mention that!

  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter ~ in honor of National Civil Rights month. This was a nice blend of didactic and personal.
  • Big Year: a Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik ~ in honor of February being a bird feeding month (as apposed to watching). Funny, funny, funny.
  • Night Soldiers by Alan Furst ~ in honor of Furst’s birth month. This was really heavy, but I actually got into it.
  • Belly of Paris by Emile Zola ~ in honor of Charles Dickens (writing style is similar). Word to the wise – don’t read this when you are hungry. The food descriptions are amazing!

For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing I finally received and read My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe. I’m still waiting for a second Early Review book from LibraryThing.

  • Runner’s World The Complete Book of Running: Everything You Need To Run For Weight Loss, Fitness and Competition by Amby Burfoot. I picked this up because someone had given me a gift certificate for B&N and I wanted to get something I would keep for a very long time.
  • It Must Be..(a Grand Canyon Trip : Drawings and Thoughts From a Winter’s Trip From Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek (December 19, 2010 – January 2, 2011).. by Scott P. Barnes ~ this was such a surreal read for me! I’ve always wanted to see this author’s name in print.

Big Year

Obmascik, Mark. Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession. New York: Free Press, 2004.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with a birder when he or she can see, and be distracted by, the outside world? I have and in my experience it’s a lot like having a conversation with a new mother when she has one eye (and her full attention) on her runaway, get-into-everything toddler. It’s nearly impossible. Here’s an example – I was hiking with such a friend, a big time birder. He was explaining and detailing renovations on his house when all of a sudden he stopped in mid-sentence to listen to something my ears could not detect. Impulsively, he grabbed my arm and his eyes bugged out. “Did you hear that? That was a yellow-billed something-er-rather! Female!” Up whipped his binoculars while I stood there unsure of what I was missing out on. Awhile later he stopped again to whistle, listen intently, whistle again and smile, obviously forgetting he was interrupting himself. Again. To me it was like listening for a snowflake to land.
Even strangers try to rub their enthusiasm for all things feathered on our uninterested minds. My husband and I were hiking along the rocky coast of Monhegan. It was the day after a terrific storm had blown away so the waves were breathtaking. We met a pair of birders on the trail and paused to let them pass when suddenly a particularly large wave crashed upon the rocks behind them. The sound was thunderous and both Kisa and I gasped. “What?! what did you see?!” the birders eagerly asked scanning the tree lines, “did you spot a black-legged kittiwake? A great-tailed grackle?” Errrr, no. When we explained it was a rogue wave capable of dragging a tank out to sea the birders just stared at us. Luckily, they were soon distracted by the mating call of some brown spotted something-er-rather and we went on our way. This line from the introduction of Big Year illustrates this obsession perfectly, “There even were twitters about a new species of grouse…having sex in the sagebrush somewhere in the Utah high country” (p xi). Exactly.

Mark Obmascik likes birds, but he likes birders even better. In Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession Obmascik chronicles a year of birding with several different hardcore birders and their quest for “the big year.” The Big Year, as explained by Obmascik, is a birder’s attempt to chronicle as many birds as possible within a solitary calendar year. There are many different strategies for obtaining the biggest “birds seen” list and competitors will stop at nothing to hone their strategies while sabotaging those of others. It’s cutthroat, surprisingly so. All for the sake of something so small. Competing birders will spend thousands of dollars, millions of minutes, and countless miles to trek across North America looking for elusive, rare, and unusual birds. To see one is an accomplishment, but to photograph one is triumph. To be known as the biggest list is the best of all. Obmascik delivers humor and respect when sharing these birding tales. You will never look at a common sparrow the same way again.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Your Dream” (p 157).

Feb 2011 is…

February is a month of renewal for me. I haven’t put too many books on the list because I plan to do a lot more running and socializing this month. 🙂
Anyhoo, here are the books:

  • Carry Me Home, Alabama by Kathryn Stern ~ in honor of February being National Civil Rights Month
  • Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes ~ in honor of February being a National Bird Feeding month. I guess our feathered friends have a hard time finding food in February so someone made a month for feeding them.
  • Aint Nobody’s Business if I Do by Valarie Wilson Welsey ~ in honor of Black History Month
  • Belly of Paris by Emile Zola ~ in honor of February being the month of Dicken’s birth.

Maybe, just maybe I’ll get the EarlyReview books from LibraryThing as well. Who knows?

October ’10 was…

Our nightly view

I spent the first eight days of October “stranded” on a remote, windblown island off the coast of Maine. Every morning was spent leisurely reading in bed, half listening to the sounds of surf and squabbling gulls. Cloudy afternoons were spent either hiking along rocky shores and overlooking cliff high vistas or combing seaweed strewn beaches for sea glass and shells. Quiet evenings were whiled away in front of a snapping orange glow fire with a good book in hand. It was a delicious way to end the day – just as I had started it, behind the pages of a book. Because of this simple routine it was easy to finish three books in eight days:

  • Messiah by Gore Vidal ~ in honor of Vidal’s birth month. This stayed with me as prophetic as it was.
  • The Poison Oracle by Peter Dickinson ~ in honor of October being special child month. Another futuristic story about a different kind of greed.
  • The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve ~ in honor of Halloween. Probably my favorite book of the month.

After the vacation home I returned to the daily grind and was able to finish the following books:

  • Ways of Seeing by John Berger ~ in honor of Art Appreciation month. This took me a lunch break to read so I read it several times.
  • Bonobo: the Forgotten Ape by Frans de Waal ~ in honor of de Waal’s birth month and October being animal month. At first I was bothered by the graphic Bonobo photography but I got over it.
  • Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier ~ in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. I have to admit – the cover of this book cracked me up (simple, yet says so much).
  • Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering by Wendy Lesser ~ in honor of National Book Month. This was okay.
  • Bird Brains: the Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies and Jays by Candace Savage ~ in honor of Bird Watching month. A big, bold, beautiful book (loved the photography).

For LibraryThing and the Early Review program, two books:

  • Yes You Can! : Your Guide to Becoming an Activist by Jane Drake and Ann Love was waiting for me when I returned from vacation. Since it is only 133 pages long and written for young adults it took me just a few hours to read it cover to cover.
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin was really, really good.

Confession: Autumn has always been my private hell. People think I’m kidding when I say bad things always happen to me between September and December…until I start recounting the black clouds. This year while I had a few bad things roll in my direction it was nothing like what happened with friends and family. Losing fathers, losing jobs, losing lives. The walls came tumbling down. As one friend put it, “I’m having a hard enough time recovering as is and now this?” And now this. I bury my head in books to avert my heart.

Bird Brains

Savage, Candace. Bird Brains: the Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1997.

This over-sized, beautiful and bold book on birds is entertaining on a multitude of levels. You don’t have to be an avid birder to appreciate Bird Brains for its witty, informative text and drop dead gorgeous photography. The premise for Bird Brains is the intelligence of the crow family. The argument for how smart they are is illustrated in the bird’s ability to adapt to changing conditions, ingenious nesting techniques, strategic enticing of a mate, uncanny voice recognition of their young, social nature such as showing off and much, much more. I was intrigued to learn of corvid “societies.” These birds congregate in avian clans. For example, the Jackdaws live in society regardless of the season and participate in communal activities such as feeding and roosting.

Here are a few other things I learned from reading Bird Brains. The green jay is absolutely gorgeous. Nutcrackers belong to the Crow family, as do Jays such as blue, green and pinyon.

Favorite line, “Prevented by its own prejudices and taboos from asking the most interesting questions, science was left with the most boring of answers” (p 19).

Favorite photograph: the crow “facing off” (the author’s description not mine) with a bald eagle on page 73. The eagle looks as though he is asking, “Seriously? You wanna mess with me? Really?!” and the crow is responding, “bring it on!” (to the cheers of his less brave comrades).

One thing I have always loved about ravens and crows is that they are seen as ominous creatures through literature (think Edgar Allan Poe), art (The Wyeth family’s Wondrous Strange collection), and song (Fairport Convention’s “Crazy Man Michael”). The shiny black birds are the perfect emblem of Halloween.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Nature Writing” (p 174).

Bird Song

Lone dad

It has taken me some time to come to terms with her passing. Doesn’t seem right. More than doesn’t feel fair. I’ll say it yet again – cancer just isn’t fair.
They came to the island as love birds; a dating, doting couple. Binoculars and a sense of biology, they came to the island year after year to love the birds. The years gave way to marriage, kids, property, and a dog. A sense of belonging to the community became so strong the island couldn’t remember a time without them. It was as if they had always been there.
I don’t remember the first time I met her. It was that long ago. I can only remember her as I last saw her four months ago. Feisty and forcing fresh baked cookies on us, she commanded from the couch. Slipping water through a straw she surveyed the world outside her kingdom. A huge picture window afforded her a priceless view. She smiled as she watched a pheasant family creep jauntily through the high grass. Father pheasant’s neck arched and stretched searching for bugs, pecking as he went. His eyes were bright, watchful and wary. He paused as if to say I know you are there and she paused, the glass lifted halfway to her lips, as if her stillness could keep him there.

Binoculars, books and Bean gear. She was always ready for the birds. She kept a journal of the season’s best spyings. A log of feathered friends encountered throughout the seasons. As she grew sicker, too ill to hike her ornithology conquests had to be counted from the couch. Her bird’s eye view of the birds was limited to the ones who came to her big picture window. Mostly it was the pheasants. Soon she could tell us how many families were in the area. How many babies were born that year. Always the pheasants. They became her friends. That is why when I see a family of pheasants I will always think of her.