Holding onto Nature by feeding garden thrashers

By Dan Bodine

A Southwest Curved Bill Thrasher: “What’s Up, Doc?!” (Image by cibomahto on Flickr – Flickr, CC BYSA2.0https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7004389)

First noticed Charlie with his long, curved beak in 2018, in February. I feed birds (maybe 30-40) in my backyard garden every morning. Have been, anyway. For 8-9 years. Not sure how long I’ll continue. As long as they stay clean, I guess. [More below on this] The birds are largely sparrows, pigeons, collar doves, and whitewings. Keep them fresh water, too.

Why?

Donno. Nature’s supposed to have a rhyme or reasoning that supports Meaningful Life — as opposed to humanity’s helter-skelter pulls and pushes! Maybe I’m still looking for it! To feel it! To soak in it! If environmental damages and Climate Change haven’t changed things irreparably yet, that is. To Gobble-de-Gook!

But, really, why have most of us, more-or-less, kept one arm hanging out Nature’s window on our lives’ paths — ready to grab something at a moment’s notice, huh? If only for a few minutes? To treasure it?

To feel the significance of fleeting biodiversity, maybe?

And thankfully — these birds, anyway — are still here for me. Most of them. Like house pets. So, maybe that’s where this blundering old fool has drawn the line. In his twilight years. Bunch of damn, stupid birds!

And, no, it hasn’t been without problems. Even ignoring the cost of birdseed!

We’re in the Las Tierras in far east El Paso, TX, where mixed-style houses on smaller lots are shoehorned in with each other (say, many on 50 ft. or even less lots) in a new urban plan called — or actually, I think it was more an earlier, experimental prototype maybe of — Smart Growth. A design being hawked now. Far and wide.

So, with my bringing in more birds (and … Uh, more poop), by the end of the first year one neighbor threatened to call police — for health reasons! Birds waited above her backdoor patio, driveway, etc. — for me to come out! And always left her their calling card.

Da poop, man!

Who!? Me-e-e?!?!?

..So…Uh…In my Golden Years‘ little humble abode’s back yard, had an irresistible object run into the unfathomably, unmovable force?

..Uh…No.

I caved. Me, a respectable person and all!

But, I thought long-g-g and hard over it.

Actually, I did a mini-compromise! I took the feeder down for a few weeks; then relocated it. And continued my old poopy ways.

Even added a second one — The first, a platform type, for the pigeons; and a smaller, tubular suspension one for the other, smaller birds.

And it stopped her complaints — for the time being, it has. For the long term? Even considering more shoehorned neighbors, too, maybe?

Or should I even worry? I mean, it spread the birds’ waiting places around to different houses! So…?

Call me a bird-feeder-location expert — specializing in dispersing aggravated poop from waiting birds!

Life is short. Celebrate the small things! No…?

Worrying yourself silly over bird poop! What a pickle of a society we’ve devolved into, no?

And all, too, it must be added, while Greenland’s huge ice sheet, we are told — amidst Climate Change, e.g. — has lost 11 quadrillion pounds of water since 1972! And with continued sea rise, even may slide on down to Brownsville, TX, eventually — missing Ol’ Bo and Noemi’s house in El Paso by a good 70 miles or so, natch. Whew!

The Times, they are still a Changing, folks! Don’t put that musical instrument down! Hee, hee!

One for the birds!

Casa Verde’s front, which faces southeast. Whatever it is, it’s one for the birds!

So last year, anyway, that morning in the garden I first noticed Charlie, he stood out immediately.

Strange bird it was!

Its long beak, i.e., looked like it’d been caught in one of my wife’s hair rollers!

“What the hell is that?” I thought.

Well, it was a Curved-Bill Thrasher, some internet research revealed. The long, curved beak and the dark color on the wings were dead give-a-ways.

Not so uncommon in rural Southwest desert regions. Maybe not so much in dense cities, though. They’re not on endangered bird lists yet. But, too, are in decline.

I was born and reared in DFW Metroplex, and only adopted by mountainous, Trans-Pecos desert folks once while in a mid-life crisis — e.g., fleeing from The Mess Sunbelt Growth Had Brought!

In the desert I found a whole new ball of wax, though! And now in retirement and a little move upstream a ways, the strangeness of this bird quickly caught my eye!

Thrashers, besides the beak, have a bothersome habit of jumping around nervously, too — e.g., rapidly pecking holes in soil, damaging flower beds, for instance. Looking for worms, insects. And then hop, hop to another spot! And repeat!

Sometimes they even uncover flower bulbs that haven’t “sprung up” yet — all in a brazen search for worms or insects to eat!

But this is the Las Tierras, you idiot! I wanted to scream at times. This is sandy-clay soil! Pulverized hard by developers and their machines (for xeriscape homeowners, natch) to the nth degree! You see some green around here, yes, but the few of us who like many plants, have fought for it! This ain’t no garden-garden neighborhood! Comprende?!

No.

And also, these birds only eat wild birdseed as a last resort apparently. If they were really that hard-up, they’d move on earlier in warming season, it seems.

So what’s up!?

Well, I noticed next day Charlie didn’t come alone.

A female curved-bill was with him, I thought it was. Feathers are somewhat a lighter color on their fronts, even speckled a little, too, I read somewhere.

“Is this Charlene, your mate?” I wondered aloud.

So, the two stayed on last year daily ’til May, it seems (acting half civilized), and then for the summer and fall only occasionally I’d spot them.

And then late November, here they were back again — on a daily basis.

Born to be wild!

Charlie? Or Charlene? Maybe I need a camera with a zoom lens!

Or I think it was them, anyway. Charlie, the smaller one, seems to’ve taken on some of the lighter, spotted chest plumage as Charlene now!

Huh?

“Whoa…Are you sisters!? Or…?”

And I cringed at the thought!

God’s creatures in yet another kind of hanky-panky scheme?

“You two are strange!” I told them. “Climate change ain’t doin’ that!”

But I’m still seeing the pair almost every day now. Almost, anyway. With the heat, any day now I look for a full departure. But they’ve taken a liking to Casa Verde Gardens, I believe — the name of my backyard mini-Ranchito.

An old, plastic roller-brush paint tray has served as their feeder.

A new addition to the family, I can even say. Thus more than welcome! Caveats aside, I guess. At this stage.

But as for mixing, curved-bills don’t seem to want to be any part of any garden family! They’re real loners! Ignore other birds as much as possible, is a better way of saying it. These two, anyway. Don’t mix at all!

I even feed them separately each morning, i.e., in a special corner of Casa Verde — the little work shed we built soon after moving here.

The two even have their own dish that sets in a tray — in an old, converted baker’s rack we picked up in a surplus sale somewhere!

"Come and get it" food bowl for thrashers.

A thrasher’s makeshift grub bowl. Separately! These birds are picky.

I use it in a rear corner to keep tools, mostly. And sparrows come in for a seed cleanup in the afternoons. If the Thrashers make a showing, e.g.

If not? Aw, the white wings and collars don’t mind helping!

Some History,

Adaptation

So, a lone feeder I started with 8-9 years ago now has grown to three. Strange in itself. (Admittedly, bird-watching has never been my hobby.)

But retirement has a way of growing new itches, no? A couple of new, even irregular birds added to a garden take on new meaning. One’s own significance is increased, e.g., in God’s assigned caretaker role.

You almost feel honored, in fact, your particular garden was chosen by these newcomers! Straight, or … Whatever!

Historically — the “V” of the mountains — in the El Paso-Juarez-Las Cruces Borderplex corridor is a popular migratory superhighway for North America birds. Bird-watching along the river draws thousands of tourists each year, i.e.

And we’re well past the tail-end of that time of year now, of course. Warm weather’s done opened the returning migration flood gates wide open!

But even on this far east side, maybe 25-30 miles from the river, in just a few weeks during February–April, say, Noemi and I saw more unusual birds than all of last year it seemed. And I saw an orange-breasted one even this morning that popped my eyes! Different colors; some with “the cutest crests,” or peaks, on top of their heads! Is something really up?

We spot them because of the rare noises, too. I’m almost deaf, so it’s not me hearing them, of course. It’s Noemi usually, inside the house. She’ll hear something; come out in back to get me, and we’ll stare in admiration at a new visitor.

Nationwide, of course, most bird species not only are declining in population but many are disappearing, too —  especially in areas of expanding city outskirts.

So are we collectively holding our breath then to see if the ecosystem we’ve damaged ever recovers from this? Are there signs of hope? My Thrashers?

Well, maybe.

Was It New Crusades?

Past economic planning, i.e. — driven by Sunbelt Growth — matched corporate and industrial expansion and relocations with lateral or outward development (e.g., spanking new homes for employees, by adding newly created suburban neighborhoods).

Job Creation became a new holy grail at city halls strung out over the South and Southwest. For jobs — e.g., new wage earners at new positions to spend new money in our economy — were bound to bring in treasures of Heaven’s prosperity to these impoverished, local denizens.

A new religious ethos, it became. Suburban Sprawl!

And instead of the Old South‘s Onward, Christian Soldiers for this sizzling new round, city planners and engineers in the New South — Old stories of boundless U.S. land embedded deep in their skull caps — transmogrified it to a different kind of war.

And despite reams and reams of paper to document innumerable environmental studies over the decades — somehow in slighting habitat loss — we grew a blind eye to damages actually being done to species we were routing.

Were we hoodwinked? Of course not! We bought most of all this hook, line and sinker, remember! Eyes wide-open, supposedly.

But ethical changes coyly were slipped in to replace impacts of words being used, though — from what I remember from almost 20 years writing government affairs in DFW, say — often times verging on the edge of wild-eyed promotions! Leading to that Promised Day! Drink that kool-aid on down!

Play along with me on this a bit. Rural counties around these major cities grew in population like streams of double-greased popcorn from Heaven at county fairs!

We were deeply religious folks, remember. And, indeed, we were being given religious marching orders with qued ethics. The Sunbelt was nothing less than the World’s Second Crusades!

Sizzled up close to our old, favorite, religious marching hymns, i.e., you had  a religious movement that was on fire — for corporate expansion as part of Sunbelt Growth!

Indeed, looking back now, it seems religious society hardly ever missed a beat — knowing that something in these words — e.g., meaning or message, connotation, something — had been changed.

For example, let me just dabble with my own words here a bit on an old favorite, Onward, Christian Soldiers! (apologies to Sabine Baring-Gould and Arthur Sullivan, of course). Instead of Onward, let’s go Outward.

 

Out-ward, Christian soldiers,

Out-ward, to Corporate growth!

Reel-ing in New Taxes,

Makes the Whole Hog whole!

New Jobs make new re-ve-nues,

Let corp-or-ations peel!

We’ll make a New-er Yonder,

If we just hold on to our Ze-al!

Out-ward Christian soldiers,

Marching off to war!

Count-ing Je-sus’ BLES-sings,

Going as BE-FORE!

 

So, maybe, this overt, radical capitalism approach was covert, too, in a way. Large corporations from northern or midwestern states boring head-on into the smell of money, usually sent in a PR team first — sometimes just one person, yes —  to paint a positive picture of what the company wanted to do.

The purpose, of course, was to enlist as much help as possible. That is, a recruiting drive. The proffered spiel usually went something like this:

Listen, this is going to cost us a ton of money, and we don’t know yet if’n we can even afford the thing. But if the cost is low enough, we’d like to put a production plant down here. And see how it goes!

The advantages to all of you here, of course, will be super! We’re talking about initially bringing in maybe 80-100 new employees, families! Maybe more! And those payrolls! Maybe even adding to ’em every year! Whooeee! You know how money multiplies as it goes thru a community! Eight or nine times at least! Making tax revenue!

Sitting back and taking notes as a news reporter, often I had this favorite word in my mind — brought back from a boyhood of old county fairs and circuses — e.g., Alakazam!

What we all watched, first, were corporate-endowed Alakazam designers and planners — as swirling, joyous entourages — to place the gambits before local communities to savor, prior to the big-dog arrivals.

Shooting fish in a barrel! One project at a time, maybe no — but collectively!? All. Across. The. Country!?

It had not so much unforeseen but rather little discussed consequences, of course: E.g., the steady dwindling of species habitat. Gobbled up for Corporate Growth!

While we all stood by and sang Outward, Christian Soldiers or other such hymns, in unison! Yes, it was another Crusade!

Sunbelt suburban expansions ate up a lot of lands! Millions of acres of natural habitat have been destroyed or changed. Which reflects these corresponding declines in species populations.

But despite a New World ruled by Corporations as the New Normal, there remains this burning question now (maybe mostly for us ol’ soft-hearted Nature lovers, no?) :

Aided by some heads-up landscaping codes, admittedly, that some cities have passed — and by homeowners themselves, too — more and more in recent decades (getting in on a back-to-nature movement?) are we not seeing some of these native species actually rebounding?

Our daughter, Maiya Kareli Bodine, UTEP sophomore, sure was quick to opine on this one day last fall, I must confess. On the birds, at least.

“Of course they’re coming back!” she said. “For thousands of years this use to be their home! It’s only natural!”

But is it that simple?

Redefining Growth

Maybe a new way of addressing this issue, indeed, is evolving. City planning now slowly appears to be changing to multi-dimensional growth, i.e., inward more times over lateral expansion, when possible, say.

Optimize vacant or decrepit property within the city, first, before grabbing more land outside of it, the message is for planners and developers.

Cities now even encourage vertical and fill-in growth, i.e. — more innercity, multi-housing projects; as well as better utilization and expansion of old, existing, unused or underused properties. Before listening to Alakazam swan songs.

Or, are we, also, collectively growing wise against our will? City governments?

Maybe someone finally read the memo: Bring people back together! Reckon?

But how about the birds? Is there a place in the designs for them, too?

In all honesty, coming from a transplant myself — a poor one limited in sightseeing also by my health — there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reasoning showing to this! Not yet, anyway.

But admittedly, for passionate local environmentalists, protecting Castner Range in the Franklin Mts. is a large step — along with voters last Saturday saving the 1,100 or so acres of Lost Dog Trail.

But this is a huge national issue, remember.

Count not your blessings — and locally, yes, is where collectively we start — until, i.e., we as a nation start paying attention to a few of other cities’ new landscaping projects. Notice things!

And do follow-up studies on them! With one coordinated national posting board! Hung high so no one misses it! Any of these Democratic presidential hopefuls saying anything about this? Huh?

Show the results of new building codes, for instance. (El Paso actually won one national Smart Growth award a decade ago. High property tax critics [like me], let’s put our outrage aside a moment, and let that really sink it. What an admirable start!)

Also, individual homeowners themselves slowly may be chipping in! One day this past winter, i.e., I was up on the roof for something. Can’t remember why now.

Maybe I was looking for a place to bury a cat I have an urge to kill! Area’s overrun with them and they chase my birds, of course!

Uh…I’m not sure what this is. Let’s just call it Charlie’s Cactus! ( Flickr Commons)

But I noticed something startling. In the backyard of the home 2-3 houses over, toward the north-northwest,  was a huge cactus plant — the same kind of cactus (from appearances) thrashers love to make their nests in!

The gracious homeowners had brought back habitat for Charlie and Charlean maybe! (Don’t know if they’re aware of the strange relationship of their boarders, though.)

But habitat enrichment brings up another descriptive point, not exactly the often panned “vacant niche” of old urban planning, but a more recent “vacuous living” tag — more generally applied when people live their lives disconnected from environment!

Indeed, Sunbelt Growth did more than destroy these old natural environments. They went after our soul, too! In their voids, citizens have noticed an emptiness or longing for Nature that occasional visits to municipal or state parks alone can’t replace.

It’s more like only getting sunshine (aka, energy) on your skin only a few weeks a year. And skin’s just one part of your body! How many parts are there?

So, you remember the old times as tough?

City officials now are confronted with not just costs of new physical projects, but also calming this subtle, spreading phobia that suburbia has replaced meaningful living for citizens with … Boredom and Apathy.

In a land worldly known as the land of abundance, could something so vital as Life be missing! Or, for birds and others as well, diminished?

Ah, I can’t resist saying it:

Never fear! If Charlie shows up tomorrow, I’ll ask!

— 30 —


NOTE: Apologies for the length, to those of you who stuck around to read the entire story. Hopefully, I can expand this with a little data and re-word it into an eBook for you later. Thanks for reading, though. And remember, too, the Comments section!

 

2 thoughts on “Holding onto Nature by feeding garden thrashers

  1. Danny, I did stick around for your whole article! As an avid birdwatcher too, I feed about the same number o ring-necked and white winged dove, house finches, cardinals and various sparrows from three feeders on y front porch. And occasionally one or more of the squirrels that inhabit the trees across the road will visit the sunflower seed feeder and even look at me through the window when it gets empty. We still live at Proctor Lake where y’all spent a memorable Christmas Day dinner with us a number of years ago with Mom and Ralph and the rest of the family. Since I retired from the post office my favorite pass time is also “my birds” and the trees and plants they live or spend time passing through in. Enjoyed and look forward to more of your interesting musings to come.

    • Thanks much for reading and commenting both, Donah! I don’t know how I could get so “wound up” on thrashers but it seems one thing led to another, and before I could turn it loose I was 4-5 times the recommended length on blog stories! I’ve got dementia now and don’t post a lot though. Good to hear you and Paul are doing well, also.

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