High: 61 FIt was the caninaturalist who first noticed the birds. A flock of ten—maybe twelve. All dun-colored, distinguished at first only by their prominent crests. As they flew past, Ari stopped our walk, turning her head sharply to the left and following the movement of the band as they flitted out of range. I caught a glimpse of them just as they settled high in a tree. My first thoughts alit on the parochial: a band of cardinals, perhaps on their way north, south or westward? It certainly seemed believable. But these were birds uniformly colored—not a bright red male among them. Sapphic females? Possible, if Ancient Greek playwrights could have their way. I tried to imagine what a travelling group of all-female birds might look and act like, but the only thing that came to mind were scenes from Octopussy. Without Roger Moore nearby, this seemed unlikely.
Low: 34 F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with light northwest wind.
We decided to investigate further, and Ari led us over to the flock of shrilling birds. They looked at her with interest, but didn’t seem concerned. I tried to get them to pose for a decent photo shot, but they stayed tucked behind branches, adjusting their position each time I got near.
Frustrating. The caninaturalist tried a playbow and hopeful bark. No luck. We stayed there for almost an hour, watching and waiting and trying to figure out who these visiting birds might be: dusty brown, that prominent crown, a thick black eye mask and matching Van Dyke. Eventually, Ari got bored. I remained stumped.
Back at home, Ari moved onto more pressing inquiries, like trying to fish Mouse the Cat out from under the new sofa. This diversion created a much-needed opportunity for some ornithological research. I flipped through our worn old field guide, realizing how enormous the “perching birds” section of this book really is. And then, just when I was about to give up, I saw the image:
The bohemian waxwing, Bombycilla garrulous. So named because they are famous for traipsing all over the boreal forest, like European gypsies or half of my college students. We admit that's delightful. But here’s the thing: we don’t live in the boreal forest. We live at least a thousand miles to the south and east. So what were these gallivanting waxwings doing in the tree across the street?
Turns out, they are part of the same irruption that has been sending northern owls our way, too. According to our state biologists, the waxwings have decided to set up camp here until the seed population returns in the boreal forest.
We’re not happy to hear about the food collapse further north, but we're glad to have these northern visitors. Each time we walk by that spot, Ari cranes her neck long, looking for these visitors. We haven’t seen them again yet, but at least one of us plans to keep searching.