Saturday, November 3, 2012

Setting priorities, and remembering birds in a vacant lot

One's priorities change over time. The inevitable and the unexpected, and the balance between wants and needs all come into play. Getting drafted in 1966 and suddenly moving from New Jersey to west Texas with our three children was jarring, yet eventful in a very positive way. We selected our El Paso rental home mostly because of its convenience to schools, work and shopping. The expansive blue sky and the mountainous backdrop were pleasant but not necessary. Likewise, our subsequent homes in New Orleans and Dallas were chosen with similar needs in mind.

Only after 27 years, when retirement approached and we were "empty nesters" did we think about what we really wanted in a home. My love for the southwest was an overwhelming consideration. For Mary Lou, proximity to family was an equally important factor. On one of my business trips to New Mexico I learned of a new subdivision under construction. In a moment of free time I visited the site and called the number on the real estate agent's sign. After a short visit I selected a home site and called Mary Lou to seek her agreement on entering into a contract. Despite her reluctance about the fact that I had not yet even set a retirement date, I knew she shared my feelings about the region. Besides, two of our children lived within a few hours drive, in Texas and Arizona.

In New Mexico, living at 7,000 feet elevation, we had our mountains and four seasons.The tremendously varied habitats provided great birding. Of course, the nearest shopping centers and health care providers were located twenty or more miles away, accessible only through a single mountain pass that could be choked by a blizzard or a traffic accident. After eleven years we reconsidered our priorities, and took the dramatic step of moving to south Florida, to be near our younger daughter's family. In lieu of mountains we wanted to look out over water. Eyes that are fixed on a distant vanishing point are eyes at rest.

Our daughter actually selected our Florida home.  We ratified her choice and moved here in 2004. We had not yet sold our New Mexico home when, three months later, her husband got a big promotion to Chicago and they moved away with our two baby granddaughters! It took us two years to make the weighty decision to purchase a second home in Illinois. We hoped to balance our newly discovered love of mild Florida winters with our need for family. Now the view was not an issue. We needed only a "crash pad," a place to stay when it was hot and humid back in Florida. We selected a town-home only two miles away from our daughter's house.
Our Front Yard 20100820

It was a new unit, in one of the first of 36 buildings that were scheduled to be part of a complex with homes for over 200 families. We knew that subsequent construction would fill the surrounding open space and blot our our view of the horizon. The housing crisis hit as the seventh building was finished, and the developer was unable to complete the project. Construction was put off indefinitely, and the land, the equivalent of four or five city blocks around our condo, remained undisturbed for six years. As it returned to an imperfect grassland, it became an unexpected birding treasure. The above photo was taken in 2010, after the land had been healing for four years.

Thunder was usually the only ominous sound under the prairie skies.

Cloud North End HDR 20120629

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, this week we also heard the roar of bulldozers as the entire area was being cleared and graded. Time to stop and remember how nice it was while it lasted.
Kilbery construction HDR 20121101
Our front door provided an ideal vantage point for viewing birds that rested on the color-coded utility markers.

American Kestrels nested in one of the large trees along the main road.

American Kestrel 20090821

Horned Larks built their nests early in the spring near our front doorstep.

Horned Lark 3-20100410

Savannah Sparrows sang and defended their territories.

Savannah Sparrow 20100605

American Pipits visited during migration into winter.

American Pipit 3-20101102

At least one pair of  Eastern Meadowlarks raised a family out in the largest open tract.

Eastern Meadowlark 20110522

Red-winged Blackbirds shared a pothole with muskrats.

Red-winged Blackbird 20120601

A pile of construction rubble provided another high perch in the treeless empty lot. We could drive around the corner and park, using the car as a blind, and just wait for the next bird to occupy it. Lazy birding at its best!

Spotted Sandpipers sang all spring. The area had room for several breeding pairs.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) 20110522

Song Sparrows visited and probably nested along the shrubby margins.

Song Sparrow DPP 20110815

For the past two years, Vesper Sparrows serenaded from the roof of our condo and surely found nesting areas in the weeds near the old mound of topsoil left when the area was first cleared.

Vesper Sparrow 20120506

In spring, melting snow and rain created roadside "fluddles" that attracted other birds. The only photographic challenge was to park with the sun at our back.

Solitary Sandpipers passed through during spring migration.

Solitary Sandpipers 20110821

Sandhill Cranes brought their colts to feed in the field right near our doorstep.

Sandhill Crane Yardbirds 20110803

Both Canada and the smaller Cackling Geese made use of the "floodles."

Cackling Goose- Branta hutchinsii 20101009

On one occasion, a "blue" Snow Goose paid a visit (photographed from inside an upstairs window).

Snow Goose in front yard 20110508

A Great Blue Heron seemed to be hunting insects and possibly voles out in the fields.

Great Blue Heron 20110803

Red-tailed Hawks roosted on streetlights over empty roadways.

Red-tailed Hawk 20120819

Many Killdeer courted and raised their chicks every spring.

Killdeer courtship 20120601

Along the far edge of the property, American Goldfinches, flowers and butterflies delighted us with their color...

Goldfinch on wilow 20110803


Chicory? 20110803

...Summer Azure.

Summer Azure Butterfly 20110803

I can mourn the loss, but cannot reverse progress, and will revel in  remembrances of a plot of land no longer vacant.  

Index of earlier ROSYFINCH RAMBLINGS posts


  1. I know your post started out about 'homes' along the way and it was interesting reading, and I really enjoyed seeing all the wonderful bird photographs you shared.

  2. ken, great collection of birds and photos. Great post!

  3. Lovely story. Enjoyed the way you wove the pics and birds into the tale.

  4. Lovely story. Enjoyed the way you wove the pics and birds into the tale.

  5. Wonderful collection Ken. I'm sorry to hear that it's not all preserved anymore, but your photos will tell that wonderful story forever. Thanks for sharing.

  6. A wonderful variety of birds featured in this post. To think all the beauties were just outside your door ... how very fortunate for you. Too bad the land could not stay undisturbed. Stunning photographs, Ken!

  7. A delightful story Ken and great variety of birds.

  8. Great group of birds outside your door. Make sure they plant lots of trees around and maybe the birds will stay, or at least come back after all of the noise stops.

  9. It seems that when one puts family first, the birding always ends up being great!