Thursday, September 20, 2012

Paint the Birds with Words!

How do you think about birds? This time of year, the cycle has turned and the migrants we all longed to see in the spring are once again gracing the woods, wetlands and fields of autumn. As birders we can pick field marks, mark behavior and put habitat into the puzzle to formulate a call on a confusing fall warbler or maybe a distant peep on a mudflat that looks just a little different from all the rest. Right now, Chestnut-sided Warblers with their characteristic limey-ness, redstarts with their never-ending nervousness, and Maggies with tails looking like they were dipped in ink are filtering through.

As a writer and poet, I challenge you to take what you see in the field and make the birds live beyond the moment. We should all be journaling in some form or fashion. Many folks eBird . The ability to instantaneously transmit the abundance and whereabouts of a particular species helps birders, citizen science and hopefully bird conservation at some point. Some are stuck in the mud like me and still write stuff down on paper. No matter how you do it, record what you see. A list is cool and for some folks maybe it evokes the context in which they saw the bird. For me though, I need more. I want to smell the sulfur stink of the salt-marsh where I heard the Black Rails “kikki-kerring”. I want to feel that same late September breeze in my face that lifted the Swallow-tailed Kite over a late summer hayfield far from the coastal plain forests it usually haunts. I want to remember the sound of solitude in faraway wild places and feel the warmth of fellowship solidified birding the local Christmas Bird Count. And so I journal with poetry and lyrical writing to flavor the wonderful birds that I see and fantastic places I go.

These are two pieces that were written for the season. See if they make you think about more than just the birds. Hopefully, it is about a total experience; the bird, the habitat and people that you share the moment with. You don’t have to be Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson to write poetry about birds. Be inspired by their lyrical portraits of Ovenbirds and Bobolinks to honor your feathered friends with more than just a date and place. Just be yourself. Paint the bird in words! Write what you feel and I promise that when you look at the entries months and even years from now you’ll remember much more than the birds you saw! Have Fun!

And Summer is tiring
The dark greens almost fading to blue
Canada geese practice their V’s for journeys across October’s harvest moon
Birdsong plays sporadically now –
Feeble attempts at whistles and warbles barely rate as a dawn chorus
The cicadas keep the uneven rhythm whining hypnotically into the evening of halcyon days -
and welcoming cooler breezes and a hint of autumn

The sun sits just a little lower with each passing day
Its rays intense but softening…
Casting a light that foreshadows shortening days.
The fox's grapes are ripening and restlessness stirs in the wild
The road shoulders sprout epaulets of gold -
Little sunflowers, goldenrod and jewel weed
Signaling the transition – to auburn leaf blush,
Russet senescence and days of bulging cheeks and hoarding for stripe-flanked chipmunks.
The feathered jewels that flew north just months ago dribble through on the southbound train-
The morning drops chestnut-sided, Maggies, redstarts, and more in a single tree
Christmas comes early on warbler wings
And rest for the tiring summer is on the wind

This evening
A cooler breeze, a late September sigh with autumn on its breath
Moved the leaves and stirred the fading zinnias in the garden
A screech owl bounced its tremolo from the edge of the wood
The wavering vibrato calling the equinox to relieve summer’s sloth
We answered, my son and I, as best we could with whistled whinnies
A shadow flashed through the pines boughs and the little owl responded in kind,
whinnying and bouncing calls to inquire “Friend or foe?”
Is the little asio a resident here or did the advance winds of fall usher it to this spot?
The mellow calls wavering amidst the turning and falling mean that autumn cannot be far behind,
so we welcome the little owl and hope that it finds our suburban acre a fine enough place to be.

J. Drew Lanham


  1. once i saw an owl in the woods... early AM... always have been told that they are not seen ... into hiding more. such a great sight for you. thanks for sharing. so cool. (:

    1. Thanks for reading my post Elizabeth! Screech owls are pretty abundant but sometimes hard to see. Listen carefully and they will reveal themselves!

  2. I completely agree with you! I try to be creative in my birding blogs - poetry, allegory and other products of my imagination. :) My poetry though tends to be on the less serious side. Here's an example:

    1. Excellent Bob! I too like to add humor to my verse. It adds a different kind of evocative spice to our observations! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Lovely, evocative poetry for the changing seasons. I felt myself relax into autumn reading your words. I love the little Eastern Screech Owl. Is it the same one that I saw at The Biggest Week?

    1. Thanks Linda for your comments. Yes indeedy! It is a borrowed screech from Magee!

  4. Excellent post so beautifully written! Love the Screech Owl photograph.

  5. Another wonderful post, Drew. I'm so happy that the little Screech-Owl from Magee found its way into your post!