Discover more from Debbie’s Stories
The Changing of the Guard
Eastern phoebes are grayish birds with dark heads, smaller than robins. They winter in the southern U.S. and Mexico and some of them summer at Russell’s Rustic Retreat, or the RRR, as I like to call it. This is the fifth spring that I’ve been fortunate enough to welcome my summer guests. The first spring, when the snow melted, revealing a barren wasteland of mowed grace, I attended a weekend workshop put on by the local Arboretum and devoted entirely to establishing and promoting habitat for birds. As beautiful as my property was, the part closest to the house was more suitable for a golf course, than sustaining birds and other wildlife.
But I digress…
I knew this was not my vision for the property. It’s ten acres—mostly prairie with a swath of wetland running through it, anchored by a county ditch. My backyard faces the wetland, which contains a lovely stand of aspen and elm, along with a smattering of young red oaks.
Between the time I closed on the property and when I moved in, a large dead pine of some sort toppled over and lay prostrate near the far side of my backyard. Just like that, the view out the kitchen window was sullied by an overgrown brush pile.
I learned something at the backyard bird workshop which persuaded me to embrace the eyesore, despite receiving numerous offers to cut it up and haul it away. You see, in nature, death promotes life. I’d really never given it much thought while I lived in the city. City yards are meant to be tidy; in fact, some municipalities require it. Native gardens are considered unsightly, although popular opinion may be shifting in that regard.
I decided to let the toppled pine lay there and it soon evolved into a multipurpose dwelling/eating space for birds, bunnies and squirrels. I positioned my bird feeders close enough for the birds to easily fly to safety if a predator appeared. Speaking of predators, on more than one occasion, I’ve observed a sharp-shinned hawk swoop in and linger for a few minutes, hoping to grab a quick snack. The little birds seem to know how to stay safe until it moves on.
Back to the eastern phoebes, though.
They are among the first to arrive back in the spring and they announce themselves with a fierce FEE-BEE call that starts at dawn and often times is still going at dusk. This year, they arrived the Saturday before Easter. I’m sure I’d just been bemoaning the wretched winter we in the upper Midwest had endured, but as soon as I heard the familiar call, my imagination called up images of these little creatures making the thousand-mile trip up here while I hunkered down in my warm, cozy house.
We humans are truly a pitiful lot.
Today it’s been snowing all day. I don’t hear much of anything and I hope they’re okay.
According to Robert Frost, they should be:
“For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.”
(From The Need of Being Versed in Country Things, by Robert Frost)