Blue jays, Bohemian waxwings, and squeaky clothesline sounds

Bohemian Waxwing

Is my mystery bird a Bohemian waxwing, like this…

Really, you readers are the best. Thank you so much to those of you who responded to my plea in last night’s post and offered suggestions as to the mysterious identity of the bird whose call I think – when I hear it here at the Manse in Queensborough, on these early mornings of late winter/early spring – sounds more than anything else like a squeaky clothesline.

Thanks to you, I have learned two things in the past 24 hours:

Blue Jay

… or the decidedly less exotic (but very beautiful) blue jay?

One: The probable identity of the Squeaky Clothesline Bird. And two: The identity of a bird that it could have been, that probably does show up in these parts from time to time, and that sounds even more like a squeaky clothesline than the ones who hang their hats among the branches of the Manse property’s deciduous and coniferous trees. (Note to my long-ago elementary-school teachers: I hope you are impressed that I remembered those tree terms that you tried to get into my head.)

Several readers suggested that the bird that sounds like someone hanging out the wash on a clothesline that’s in dire need of a drop or two 3-In-One Household Oil (or a shot of WD-40) is a blue jay – which would make a whole lot of sense, given the number of beautiful blue jays that Raymond and I see every day around the Manse (as I’ve reported multiple times, including here and here and here). So I looked up “blue jay sounds” at the ever-reliable Cornell Lab of Ornithology site (brought to us by prestigious Cornell University), and learned that:

Blue Jays make a large variety of calls. The most often heard is a loud jeer. Also makes clear whistled notes and gurgling sounds. Blue Jays frequently mimic hawks, especially Red-shouldered Hawks.

Not all that helpful, although it was interesting to know that this beautiful bird has several songs in its playlist. But there are four recordings of blue-jay calls on the blue-jay entry of this excellent site, which of course I listened to, and you should too if you’re interested. The verdict? No. 1: Nope, that’s not the sound the Squeaky Clothesline Bird makes. No. 2? No, not that either. No. 3: No again. Ah, but No. 4, “Recorded by Randolph S. Little, Florida, March 1962”: I am almost certain that that is our clothesline-bird sound

So thank you to all of you who suggested the blue jay!

Now, on to another suggestion, which led to a bird that probably wasn’t ours, but that sounds even more like a squeaky clothesline. Reader Carol Anne suggested the Bohemian waxwing, and people, I will tell you honestly, I had never in my life heard of this bird. But I looked it up, and it is quite beautiful, and it hangs out “primarily (in the) states and provinces along the United States/Canada border,” according to those nice Cornell bird people, and that’s just about right, geography-wise.

Now, I think you should all click on this link to hear the Bohemain waxwing’s song. Go ahead, do it now, and we’ll reconvene in 17 seconds, when the recording is over.

Finished? Okay.

People, that is not the bird I’ve been hearing in the early mornings here at the Manse – but is that not the closest thing to a long-drawn-out unspooling of a squeaky clothesline that you have ever heard? An absolutely inspired guess by Carol Anne.

So now I think I have two missions on the bird front. One is to try to identify more of the common bird songs that Raymond and I hear every day. (And, dear readers, rest assured that I will seek your help again if I need it – which I most assuredly will.)

The second? To try to spot a Bohemian waxwing in the general vicinity. In honour of Carol Anne, thanks to whom I now know of the existence of this lovely, squeaky-clothesline-imitatin’ bird.

What is the real name of the Squeaky Clothesline Bird?

Woodpecker feederHere at the Manse we are starting to get a little more serious about our relations with the local birds, as you can perhaps tell from the woodpecker feeder (photo above) that Raymond just installed on the front porch today. I am very eager for Woody to come visit! How exciting would it be to have a woodpecker right outside our window?

This latest feeder is in addition to two others on the front porch…

The other bird feeders

… and all the pieces of past-its-due-date bread that we throw out onto the snow below. I don’t think the birds have any reason to complain that they’re not getting their nosh at the Manse. (Even if the blue jays, at least, seem to prefer the bounty put out by our neighbours across the way, Bob and Peggy.)

I imagine is it a natural part of country living to start to pay more attention to the birds than one did when one lived in the big city. For one thing, you just get to see and hear them a lot more. I have taken to pausing as I go out to my car on the way to work each morning, to listen for whatever bird songs may be breaking the early-morning stillness of Queensborough. It is lovely to hear.

There’s one bird, however, that makes a sound that I find highly amusing – because every time I hear it I think of a squeaky clothesline. You know, the sound your clothesline makes when you’re pushing it out to add more clothes. The first many times I heard this bird, the sound didn’t even register in my brain as birdsong; my automatic, unconscious reflex was to file it under “Someone’s doing the wash.” It was only one day a month or so ago, when perhaps I was paying a bit more attention than usual (or maybe was more awake than usual) that I realized how silly that was: hardly anyone hangs out clothes on the line in February and March, certainly not us or any of our neighbours; and even if somebody was doing that, they probably wouldn’t be at it before 7 a.m.

Okay, so here’s a recording I made the other day of general birdsong at the Manse after I threw out some of those breadcrumbs I mentioned. (That always gets them chattering.) You can hear the clothesline bird at regular intervals starting about halfway through the short recording:

So: can any of you excellent readers who know more about birds than I do suggest what might be the real name of the Manse’s Squeaky Clothesline Bird?

The biggest, fattest, happiest blue jays

Big fat blue jay

It’s hard to get close to the blue jays who come visit the Manse, because of course the sight of humans scares them away. But I hope this photo taken out our front door gives you a sense of how happily chubby our local blue jays are this year.

There are a lot of blue jays in the Queensborough area, and while I know blue jays are not everybody’s favourite bird, I just love to see their beautiful colours and hear their cries when I emerge from the house each morning to leave for work. Their brilliant blue looks so bright and happy against the crisp white snow that lies everywhere these days.

In previous winters at the Manse we’ve had a fair number of blue jays visiting our bird feeder and checking out the nosh when we have tossed out pieces of past-its-best-before-date bread onto that blanket of snow. The Christmas before last, in fact, the visits of the blue jays pretty much made the whole day for me, as I wrote here.

This year, however, the blue jays, while still very much in evidence around the village, are not paying our birdseed offerings at the Manse as much mind as in the past. And I think I know why: this winter we have new neighbours, the quiet and pleasant Bob and Peggy, who have not one but two very well-stocked feeders out in front of their home. The blue jays (and chickadees, and woodpeckers) just adore those feeders. Why, when I drive past Bob and Peggy’s house on my way to or from work, I’m guaranteed to see a whole passel of jays scatter from the feeders, where they’ve been stuffing themselves, and head for some nearby evergreen branch at the sound of the approach of my car. I love to see them!

When Raymond and I met Bob and Peggy for the first time this past December, at a community Christmas celebration up at the Queensborough Community Centre (the village’s historic former one-room schoolhouse), I thanked them for keeping our local birds so well-fed. I think they appreciated the fact that we’d taken notice, though Bob made a joking (or was he?) reference to the high cost of buying all those bags of seed.

Anyway, last Sunday we actually did manage to lure a few blue jays away from the banquet at Bob and Peggy’s. The weather was really wintry – it had snowed all the night before, and then the freezing rain and wind showed up – and I expect that made the birds a little nervous. Raymond and I once again had a few slices of bread that were past their prime, and so I broke them up into pieces and tossed them out on top of all that accumulated snow off our front porch. And before long, the blue jays came and nabbed it.

Blue jay closeup

But boy, did we ever notice a difference between how the blue jays looked on this visit and how they used to look in past winters when they stopped in. Man, these blue jays are not just healthy-looking; they are fat! And I think that’s because of the generosity of Bob and Peggy.

I’m very happy to see the birds that bring so much beauty and joy into our lives looking so stout and contented. It means they’ll stick around Queensborough, and tell their friends it’s a good place to be. So thanks, Bob and Peggy – and to all who provide for the blue jays and cardinals and chickadees and woodpeckers and whoever else is flying around out there. Happy birds just add to our happy little community!

The littlest bird’s nest is also the hardiest

Tiny bird's nest in early February

The tiny bird’s nest that I was delighted to discover in  a bush in front of the Manse back in early December is still there, despite the winds of winter, in early February. Obviously it’s not nearly as fragile as it looks. Isn’t nature amazing?

Two months ago, well before Christmas, I wrote a post (it’s here) about a teeny-tiny bird’s nest I had discovered in the spindly branches of an old bush in the Manse’s front yard. When I discovered it, I was surprised by two things: One, how very small it was; how could a family of birds, even wee ones, live there? And two, how had this nest managed to survive long past the bird-hatching season and into early December, after some practically gale-force winds, and still be there?

Okay, so fast-forward two months, less a day or two, to now. I was shovelling out our driveway yesterday after a dump of snow that resulted in cancelled school buses and a general snow day throughout the area, when to my great surprise I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, that same tiny bird’s nest. Wearing a hat of snow, and still there, after many more days and nights of  strong winds, heavy snow and freezing rain (sometimes all three at once) since I’d last paid it any mind and taken its picture,

And all I have to say about that is this: Is it not remarkable, and beautiful, how strong a tiny and seemingly fragile bit of nature can be?

An extraordinary locally handcrafted gift

Jen Couperus hand-carved ornaments

Possibly the most amazing Christmas gift ever: hand-carved (by our friend Jen Couperus) birds for our Christmas tree: from bottom left, a nuthatch, a blue jay, a chickadee and a cardinal. And another nuthatch!

You know, there are things that happen sometimes here in Queensborough that just make me think: this is the best place I ever could be. Such a thing happened last evening.

Raymond and I were sitting at the dining-room table, sweating it out writing way-overdue Christmas cards, when a knock came at the front door. (Kind of a welcome relief from Christmas-card-writing, truth be told.) I jumped up and ran to see who it was, and was delighted to see our friends and neighbours Jen and Ed. Who came in for a pleasant pre-Christmas visit, but who also – and this is why I’m writing this post – gave us an amazing Christmas gift. And here is what it was.

Oh, but first let me remind you of two things: one, that both Jen and Ed are amazing wood-carvers, as I wrote about here; and two, that living in quiet little Queensborough has awakened in both Raymond and me quite an interest in the beautiful birds that we have started to watch and study as they flit about the Manse. (I’ve written about those birds many times, but notably here and here and here and here and here.)

Okay, so perhaps you can guess where this is going: Jen and Ed’s gift to us, which was absolutely extravagant (though they explained it away as thanks to us for looking after their cats while they were on a cross-country cycling trip this past spring and summer) was: five beautiful, delicate, extraordinarily detailed, hand-carved, hand-painted birds. The same kinds of birds we see and admire around the Manse: blue jays, cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches. Christmas-tree ornaments, with threads for hanging them attached!

Blue jay on the tree

Jen’s blue jay in flight – on our Christmas tree!

The detail of the carving and the painting on these tiny birds is amazing, and I can only imagine how many hours went into their construction. Raymond and I can proudly tell a story about every single ornament on our Christmas tree (because they all come from a certain time and place, as I wrote about here), but I know that from now on we will always be proudest of the blue jay and cardinal and chickadee and nuthatches. Because they are beautiful, of course. But mostly because they were made by our friend Jen, of Queensborough.

Raymond and I are the luckiest people, with the best neighbours and friends, in the world.

The littlest bird’s nest

The littlest bird's nest

The tiniest (and therefore cutest) bird’s nest I have ever seen, tucked into the spindly branches of an elderly bush that faces the road in front of the Manse.

I was walking out to the car the other day and something caught my eye. It was a very small clump of twigs or something amid the winter-bare branches of a bush that sits out in front of the Manse, and has been there ever since I was a kid growing up here. (Of course I don’t know what kind of bush it is; what do you think I am, a gardener?)

At first I thought it was just some organic matter that had blown there during one of the many windy days and nights we’ve had here in the Queensborough area recently. But then I looked a little closer.

It was a bird’s nest! A teeny-tiny bird’s nest, the smallest one I’ve ever seen. It’s maybe five inches across, though only barely.

There have been no signs of any birds around this tiny nest, at least as far as I’ve noticed; though given that I’m away at work from before sunrise till after sundown, that might not mean anything. Still, I think the nest is abandoned, perhaps having served its useful purpose during the summer when the old bush was full of leaves and it was well-hidden.

Anyway, what I wonder about this newly revealed nest is: what bird is so small that it could make a home for itself and its offspring in such a tiny place?

Do any of you readers knowledgeable about birds – I know you’re out there – have any ideas?

A pretty piece of nature that landed on the lawn

Beautiful bird's nest

Nature can be beautiful in its simplicity, can’t it? This bird’s nest and egg were found – separately and many months apart – on the Manse grounds. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

This post is about a very simple thing – just an empty bird’s nest that appeared in the front yard of the Manse one recent morning in the wake of a windy autumn night. Presumably it had tumbled out of one of the huge evergreen trees that stand just to the north of our old house, since it was close to them that I spotted it lying on the ground. There were no signs of any birds, adults or babies, distressed or otherwise, in the general vicinity, so one has to hope that the family for whom it was lovingly and carefully constructed had moved on to other climes or quarters.

But the nest’s construction was indeed careful and solid, because it was thoroughly intact upon arrival on the ground. A parent bird – or, I hope, two, since these duties should be shared – had done a fine job of bringing in and weaving together twigs and grasses so that the nestlings might hatch and live safely and comfortably.

I picked up the nest and put it on a small white wooden table that sits on the Manse’s front porch. And then I remembered that many months ago I’d found a robin’s egg on the ground, showing no sign of a live baby robin being inside it; it was nowhere near a tree or a nest that I could see, so I guessed that a predator had picked it up, stolen it and inadvertently dropped it. The robin’s egg was inside the house, so I fetched it and put it in the nest. And the little display looked quite pretty, don’t you think?

Pretty enough that, when Raymond posted his photo of it on Facebook with a message to an artist friend of ours, Nikol Haskova, who’s been playing around with the theme of bird’s nests in her work recently, she responded very enthusiastically. She thought it was downright lovely, and particularly liked the blue thread (a stray piece of plastic twine the builder bird had found), I suspect because it went nicely with the blue of the egg. At any rate, it made me feel rather proud of my little natural-art installation.

If you drive by the Manse these days you can still see the product of the bird’s housebuilding efforts. Alas, though, the robin’s egg is gone; I imagine some hungry varmint stole it in the night. (You never know what creatures might be roaming around the Manse grounds under cover of darkness, though if you guessed “raccoons” I think you’d be right 9.9 times out of 10.) Given that the egg was extremely old, I don’t think the varmint got much good eating out of it. Which serves him right. It’s not every day I get to think, if only fleetingly, that I’ve done something artistic!