Posted by: atowhee | April 28, 2020


On wing in spring, to fly is the thing.  Be you bird or bee or cottonwood fuzz, it is time to take to the air.
I study the sky and wonder if the birds want to be up with clouds.  Or do they hear clouds’ message: we got you covered, stay close to the earth where you were born?  The sky is a wild April marmalade.  Gray splashes of splattered paint.  Blue narrows wherein float islands of white that could be the finest quartz sand.  White wisps of steam blown by the wind.  Scalloped,  wavy shapes that might mark a beach where they note miles above the ocean.  IMG_7061Across that sky this afternoon these migrating white-fronted geese:geese gone

A fine bird-rich poem was in the Sunday NYTimes Magazine, here a snippet:

“…The clouds and the heavens make a memo book,
A diary of it all, if only for a day.

The birds write much, but then rewrite all the time,
News continuous, these small pencil tips in flight…”  -Alberto Rios

In the same magazine a convert to birding tells of his conversion and what has followed.  Nice read.  That author lives in Chicago but his examples are western, starting with Pt. Reyes which is nirvana for many of us birders on this coast.
I will always be grateful that some of my finest birding moments were on trips led by the legendary Rich Stallcup whose life will always be inextricably entwined with birding legends on Pt. Reyes.  When any unusual or difficult to ID bird showed up there, somebody would inevitably ask, “What does Richy think?”  That would be the ultimate verdict.  Appeals unnecessary. In one wintering pipit flock Rich made the initial call of a Red-throated Pipit from its different call note.  He was right, of course.

Birds as symbols

Ravens play many roles in pre-scientific cultures.  To many Native American groups along the northern Pacific Coast the raven was a hero, a capturer of wild spirits and natural forces but also a hedonist not to be trusted. It is well known that ravens can lead human hunting parties to the nearest caribou herd, the ravens thus assured of getting some fresh snacks. It is likely they co-operate thus with wolf packs as well.  In British folklore ravens must be alive in the Tower of London to prevent the fall of Britain to foreign force.  In Greek myth the raven was a scurrilous character.  Perhaps that was the result of ravens quickly learning that men in armor meant battle which meant a fresh supply of meat.  It takes no imagination to picture ravens waiting near the battlefield for their chance at the spoils.

Cranes, known for their majesty and elegant dances, play central roles in many legends.  Their annual migrations helped Greeks and Romans mark the seasons.  Their stances and dances apparently led to design of some Greek letters.
First the Chinese, then the Japanese, accepted the crane as a assign of longevity.  In ancient Egypt there was a belief that cranes ferried smaller birds across the Mediterranean.

Eagles are included in many legends and myths.  One nation has a Bald Eagle as its national symbol even though the bird in nature is both thief and scavenger.  It appears majestic even as it steals fish from the far better fish-catcher, the Osprey. In Celtic myth the eagle symbolized longevity, second only to the wise old salmon.  Along with ravens and wolves eagles were known to haunt battlefields. In one brutal Aesop’s fable a tortoise wanted to fly, so an eagle took it aloft and turned it loose.  The turtle fell and dashed itself on the rocks below.  Moral: don’t ask for more than you have.

Owls may have as rich a storied background as any birds on Earth.  The Kikuyu of Kenya think hearing an owl is a harbinger of imminent death.  Some myths say owls have wisdom.  The only evidence I note for that in the real world: owls don’t build nests, they simply take what they find.  Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom and often was said to have an owl as companion.  The Hopi saw the Burrowing Owl as guardian of the dead.  The Inuit believed it is the Snowy Owl who turned the raven all black.


  1. Hi Harry, How is it your blogs are carrying ads slamming Nancy Pelosi? Please let us know. Thank you, Cricket Halsey


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