My abode is situated in the hustling, bustling, not-so-laid-back city of Seattle, Washington, way up here in the northwest corner of the continental U.S. My little apartment is located about five blocks from the former home of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair: Seattle Center, where our famous, iconic Space Needle proudly juts into our equally iconic grey skies. I’m pretty much living in the inner city. However, I simply have to look out my living room window in order to enjoy a glimpse of Mother Nature. Rather than having a street view, or a view of our ever-growing skyline, or of the Needle, I have a view of the property located behind our building. And it’s a little nature preserve. When I gaze out the window, I see two beautiful, mature pine trees, a rustic brown fence, large boulders which were trucked in when the place was landscaped, and a plot of ground which is perennially covered with pine needles.
I am so fortunate to be visited by several species of animals, and by many birds. Or, I should say, my cat and I are so fortunate: to Katgrrrl, my picture window serves as giant-screen Cat TV. We enjoy watching, and often interacting, with a family of grey squirrels, a couple of raccoons, pretty white butterflies, and numerous birds.– And on one occasion, we were paid a visit by a very curious rat (yes, rat!) who showed up to check us out.
I had lived in my little apartment for over a year before I received an old digital camera (that sounds funny: old digital camera. An old table is a hundred years old. An old digital camera is seven years old!) from my artist friend, Teresa. I didn’t form the habit of taking photos until last September (2014). But I started taking photos of the birds and “varmints” (that’s what some folks would call them) who came calling, and I’d like to share some with you.
I couldn’t capture photos of all of the little birds which have come a-calling. They don’t let me see their itineraries! They show up when they feel like it; and often, they make only brief appearances. So I have no photos of the cute chickadees, or the little birds which are even smaller than chickadees, or the rufous hummingbirds which zoom in and out of view in the proverbial twinkling of an eye. And I have no photos of the sparrows who drop by, scurrying around on the ground, looking for a quick bite to eat. But I don’t think anyone will cry over the fact that I have no sparrow photos to share. Sparrows are pretty much taken for granted. Even though their earth-toned plumage is actually very beautiful, and their songs are sweet.
One bird I wish I could have digitally captured for you, is the beautiful little house wren who hops around on the ground on her rare visits. Her tail stands just about straight up, pointing toward the sky. I can hear her pretty little call through my double-pane windows. — I’ve also failed to catch an image of the Stellar’s blue jay which appears in the early Puget Sound spring. He is very skittish, very much on the alert. As soon as he sees me moving toward the window, he flies off. But what a beautiful bird! His scratchy call is not so beautiful; but it’s very entertaining to hear. (Update: I got a photo! See below.)
[BTW, I keep hoping to see a snake; but so far, I’ve had no luck. I love snakes.]
So let’s get going: I’ll start with one of the most common creatures I see, which are crows. I mean, I see them only rarely, which is OK, because their constant cawing can be very annoying; but they’re common throughout America. I just think the photo is very cute. And you can see why, below. Crows, it turns out, are highly intelligent. I used to diss them; but now, I am a fan. — Since my crow friends are indeed polite enough to come around infrequently; thus avoiding making pests of themselves, I welcome them. And so does Katgrrrl. They are the largest birds she sees; she gets very excited.
One bird which I would love to see more of is the dark eyed junco. Until I moved next to my little nature preserve, I had only seen juncos in the forest. However, they’ve visited me here on several occasions. They have a beautiful black-plumed head; and they sport white tail feathers, which they keep hidden until they take to the air. — I’m sorry the below photo isn’t better. Juncos are not very large, so photographing them with an antique digital camera does not produce stellar results.
I’m going to mix things up here, and throw in a cool animal. A lot of people do not like raccoons; but I do. I’m not sure what one would do to Katgrrrl if it got a hold of her; but I am not going to let that happen (one tried). Considering they’re a woodland critter, raccoons have done extremely well in the inner city. I’ve only seen them three or four times in the two years I’ve lived in my little ole’ hippie pad, so their sightings have been peak experiences for me. However, one ripped numerous holes in my window screen while attempting to attack Katgrrrl! Below is a fairly frightening photo. The beast wanted in our apartment! And, actually there were two of them. This is just the best photo.
Here is a rarity for my neck of the woods: this bird is a beautiful, varied thrush, seldom seen in Seattle. I consider myself fortunate to have spent several days early in the year, watching the bird. When I spied it, digging in the dirt, foraging for a free meal of insects, I said to myself, “Hmm, that robin is certainly decked out — it must have a hot date or something!” Then I got a better look at it, and realized the awesomely-colored bird was something completely different. I did an internet search, and eventually found a match. I am so hoping it returns in 2016.
The following photo truly illustrates just how rewarding my little view of the world is. This scene is right out of one of those Disney nature films I watched as a young lad: Chip n’ Dale come to life, enjoying a game of tag (I know: Chip ‘n Dale are really chipmunks rather than grey squirrels). I have about five different squirrel pals who show up practically year-around to beg for almonds. Yep, they love their almonds, as well as other nuts. — I know: some folks would say I should not feed them. Well, they’ve become my good buddies, and I like sharing with them. — However, I have recently stopped feeding them. I’ll explain why, below.
I took the photo of the awesome flicker, shown below, just days ago, on a hot July afternoon. Growing up in Yakima, WA, I saw them all the time. I rarely see them now. (But then, I don’t get out much. They pretty much have to come to me.) They have a distinct call, to match the distinctive red decoration with which nature has blessed them. Upon seeing this bird, I thought my pal, the varied thrush, had returned. The size was right, and at first, I thought the coloration was. Then I saw that dazzling flash of red, and the accompanying scalloped plumage, and I realized I was seeing a beloved bird from my boyhood. — This flicker flew onto the pine tree in the background, and did a pretty thorough search for bugs. I surely hope it returns.
OK. Some people are likely to find this photo pretty icky. Sorry. But you know, this little guy did not ask to be born into the rat family. He just was. He climbed onto the screen, and fearlessly watched Katgrrrl and me for about five minutes. And Katgrrrl went crazy! It’s funny: she doesn’t usually claw at the window to try to get at the squirrels who visit; but she made a serious effort to attack this rat. Perhaps the lack of a fluffy tail was a signal to my cat that she should go after the little fellow. — I immediately submitted a work order to my building’s management, to have my torn screen repaired — the screen which the raccoon tore when it attempted to make a meal of Katgrrrl. (We’re all in the food chain, folks!) — I can no longer feed my squirrel-friends, since there are no holes in the new screen. 😦 But I am not having a rat come into our home!
Every time I think this story is finished, a new critter or bird shows up! This beautiful jay started showing up about four days ago. It loves almonds, hazelnuts, cashews — even cat treats. It comes back almost daily now, begging for treats. It gets very close to me (of course, the window screen is between us). It gets close to Katgrrrl, too. It has daily standoffs with the squirrels, and with one of the stray cats which also comes a-calling. Speaking of calls, you should hear this one’s call: is a very crackly sound — raspy.
Finally, let me close out this story with one last squirrel-related shot. I recently submitted this selfie to our local paper. It was holding a contest; readers were asked to send in photos of themselves with their pets. Pictured is my second-favorite squirrel (my favorite is the female, because she is the only female in the family of five). But this boy actually talks to me. When I feed him, he makes a funny little raspy sound, as if to say, “Thanks, Dude”. — I’m waiting to hear if our photo is among the winning entries. Hopefully, I’ll win a year’s supply of nuts!
All I can say is: When you’re my age, I hope you have as much fun as I’m having!
Wow! Just hours after I published this, my hummingbird friend dropped by. I grabbed my camera when I saw him in the window; he hovered right up to me! I’m not rewriting this now; plus the photo is barely acceptable. But here it is. If you look in the very center of the photo, you’ll find him!
My Aunt Boo Boo, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, sent me a huge copy of the Audubon Birds Of The World book, when I was a ten-year-old. It had a major influence on me. I’ve loved birds, and all animals, throughout my entire life. That may be why I became a vegetarian in 1974. I actually worked cattle in Yakima; but when I moved to Seattle, I happened to move next door to a vegetarian couple. They “converted” me within two weeks!
Below: my friend Cindy and me, enjoying a visit to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in the late 1990’s. The refuge is located between Seattle and Olympia, WA. Along with my ex-wife and Spirit Ridge cohort, Sally Jo Davis, we enjoyed spotting many beautiful birds that day. SJ and I had our first sighting of a green-backed heron.
Would you care to hear some bird songs? Thanks to a bunch of kind folks who loaded these onto YouTube, you can, by simply clicking:
One other visitor regularly showed up for about a year: a skinny, sad kitty would come to my window and stare at Katgrrrl and me, begging to come inside and be with us. He was out there in every possible kind of weather: snow, hail, rain, scorching heat…. I remember how someone shaved it almost bald, due to its fur being matted; then they turned it back outside in February 2014, when the outside temperature was twenty degrees. I helped rescue that kitty. I recently wrote the story about that incident. Look for it in my archives. Thanks.
Here’s a wonderful little song for you — your reward for sticking with me through Bonus Coverage! Blessings….