Finding happiness where least expected

backyard birds, Harrisonburg VA

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Male House Finch.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I had high hopes for attracting backyard birds to our Virginia home. I hung feeders from the two maple trees on our property almost as soon as the movers had unloaded our household goods from the moving trucks nearly a year ago.

Well, maybe it wasn’t that quick, but still, the feeders went up, one in the front yard and one in the back. I also erected a jelly feeder for the Baltimore Orioles and a sugar water feeder for the ruby-throated hummingbirds.

I was excited about starting our retirement years anew in Virginia. The grandkids were paramount in deciding to relocate. Birding came a little farther down the priority list.

Still, I wanted to see just what birds I would attract. To my surprise, it didn’t take very long for some prized yard birds to appear. Northern cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, American goldfinches and other species found the feeders right away. Tufted titmice, and black-capped and Carolina chickadees made occasional appearances, too. I was ecstatic.

Ohio backyard birds.

The results nevertheless were mixed. The numbers and species, however, were much fewer than what I had seen in Ohio. Back in the Buckeye State, orioles gulped grape jelly by the jarful. Hummingbirds zipped to my feeder by the kitchen window. At least seven woodpecker species visited my feeders, including pileated woodpeckers that brought their young to gorge on peanut butter suet.

Songbirds were abundant and frequent visitors, too. Showy white-crowned sparrows were favorites. I especially enjoyed the eastern bluebirds. They brightened any dull Ohio day with both their brilliant springtime feathers and their sweet lullaby calls.

In Virginia, daily drama cropped up around the bird feeders. Large, bossy, and noisy common grackles consistently scared the more desirable species away. They also drained the feeders once they brought their young. In addition, scores of squirrels munched their way through the feed they could reach. The more sought-after birds didn’t have a chance, so I took the feeders down for the summer. In Ohio, I fed the birds year-round.

I rehung the feeders in the fall. With the pest birds elsewhere, the better backyard birds returned. I was happy for that, and even more pleased when the dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows arrived for the winter.

Virginia backyard birds.

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It’s not that I expected Virginia to be Ohio. They were two different locales with entirely different habitats altogether. For bird watching, habitat is crucial.

We no longer lived in a rural flyway like we did in Ohio. The habitat of our suburban neighborhood in no way remotely resembles the bird-inviting one we had in Ohio. It is also wholly unfair to compare one year in Virginia to a lifetime of appreciating Ohio birds.

I photographed all the various birds I saw in Ohio. I have hundreds, perhaps thousands of digital shots. Reviewing them revives fond memories for me. But as much as I would like to, I can’t linger there.

Now, I take pleasure in the natural springtime wakeup calls of the white-throated sparrows, song sparrows, and cardinals. I pay more attention to the gregarious American robins that I once took for granted. I chuckle at the effervescent northern mockingbirds that frequent our neighborhood.

I miss those Ohio birds to be sure. However, the recent appearance of a migrating pine siskin sparked an epiphany.

That little bird brought home a valuable life lesson for me that is apropos far beyond the birding world. Be happy with what you have.

Harrisonburg VA

Where I feed the backyard birds.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

8 Comments

Filed under birding, birds, column, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Virginia, writing

8 responses to “Finding happiness where least expected

  1. The grackles are killing my feeder too. I shoo them away quite often. What started as about 4-5 is now 10-12. I don’t know how to get rid of them. Thankfully, the other day, I saw a downy woodpecker (on my tree, not feeder this time), Nuthatch, chickadee, cardinals, blue jays, juncos, and sparrows. So the grackles haven’t chased away everything but they do eat the food at a fast rate. And my feeder deters the squirrels so I conquered that problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer,
      It all sounds too familiar to me. In my case, though, it’s hard to shoo them away when they nest in the neighbor’s trees that border our property. Let’s enjoy the “good” birds as they appear.
      All the best,
      Bruce

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Donna

    I hear your heart. We moved here from an area where we were gifted with so many song birds. When we moved to VA. I put out a suet block to see it grow mold as it was totally ignored along with the spoiled hummingbird food. This past week we spotted gold finches. What a delight! It gives us a glimmer of hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pamela lakits

    I never tire of seeing birds at our feeders, they are beautiful, often funny and a joy to watch. Aren’t the blue birds beautiful and the woodpeckers!!! As always,thanks for the great photo’s Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh I know this feeling, Bruce. I learned my lesson last year. When the grackles arrive I change my seed to safflower and keep my thistle fresh. They do not like safflower and at least in NC these birds disappear when it gets hot. It is working this year.

    Liked by 1 person

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