My conscious mind may still be at a loss about what to do with my life, but the universe and my subconscious are conspiring to wake me out of indecision.
Since my return “home”, I’ve not taken any concrete action, just falling into the blissful (for now) inertia of working in the bookstore and enjoying days off that – for the first time after years of study – are truly my own. Lots of time is spent on the couch, reading, watching TV, farting around online. Vague ideas are floating around my head about getting in touch with organizations about volunteering/training, but nothing has yet found purchase.
Enter the birds. The week after I left the US, PAWS took in more than 100 seabirds affected by a massive algal bloom off the coast of Oregon. Although I can’t be there to help, I’ve been following the fates of these birds and the folks working their asses off to rehab them and return them to the wild as well as I can from half a world away. (Happy news: the first group of birds ready to go back to the wild – 11 Common murres – were released in Edmonds yesterday!) And while my interest in developments there come in great deal out of concern for the birds, there’s more than a little wistfulness involved, wishing I could be there to help.
Soon after my return here, I noticed a Jackdaw hanging around my ‘hood that seems to have an injured wing. The wing droops and does seem to impede his (or her) flying ability to an extent.
Several days in a row, I tried to catch the bird so I could get it to someone who could help it, only to discover that despite the injury, he was not as incapacitated as I thought. Although not able to take flight, he was still fast enough and adept enough to get off the ground and out of my reach by flapping away into the greenery and hopping from branch to branch. I had to let go the idea of “rescuing” this bird, who despite an injury seems to be surviving quite well (I still see it in the neighborhood).
Then, last night, walking home from the tram stop after work, I was mulling about birds and the various ways I could possibly work with them when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark clump huddled up against the houses. I could very easily have overlooked it as in the dark it looked like a bit of plastic that had blown there in the breeze. But something nudged it into my consciousness and told me to turn around and look, and there was a little rock pigeon, looking warily at me, hugging the bricks. I came closer, and the bird didn’t move, just looked scared. I hustled home, dropped off my bag and my Thai take-away, and grabbed a box I had actually prepared for the Jackdaw I hadn’t rescued last week. Hurried back out to where the pigeon was, and easily picked it up and put it in the box. (It flapped a bit but was really easy to grab – not a good sign.)
Back home, I put the box with the bird in it in my darkened bedroom, closed the door, and called the Dierenambulance (the animal ambulance). The (none-too-pleasant) dispatcher seemed to think that I had needlessly plucked a healthy, but sleeping pigeon from the street and argued with me before agreeing to send someone. I stuck with my gut feeling that there was something wrong with the bird, and while never wishing injury on an animal, really hoped that she was wrong and that I had done more good than harm by taking pidgie home with me. An hour and a half later, the (MUCH nicer) ambulance personnel showed up and checked out the bird. Not only was it really thin and missing wing feathers, it had puncture wounds on its back and wings (likely from a cat attack). They confirmed my feeling that I had done the right thing and had helped the bird by picking it up and calling them. I gave them a donation (they run on donations) and they left to bring pidgie to a vet who could treat him.
After they left, I felt really choked up. Not because the bird was hurt (I saw a lot of animals with much worse injuries this summer), not because I was worried about it (I knew it was in the hands of people who would do the best they could), but because it felt so good to be able to do something concrete to help an animal again.
I still haven’t broken out of my lazy-day inertia (honestly, I think I deserve some laziness after the last few years), but all these birds keep tickling my consciousness. It’s like the universe is throwing pebbles at my window.
One of the great things about bad birdwatching is that you can be completely lazy and still do it. Birds, unlike say, badgers or snakes, are everywhere, out in the open, easy to spot. All you have to do is pay attention, and they’ll reward you with their everyday presence. And sometimes you can end up having remarkable encounters without even trying.
I already mentioned seeing my first pair of Black terns when I went birdwatching with a friend the other day. Thing is, we weren’t trying very hard. We had expected to see only familiar species and were yakkin’ away about something completely different when they appeared, like magic, right in front of our noses, flying over the irrigation ditches in the polder, diving on occasion to catch a tasty morsel. Stunning birds, they were. And because we were ostensible bird watching, we had our binoculars with us and could watch them as they flew towards the horizon. But at times they were so close that the bins were completely unnecessary.
Today, walking home with my sister and nephew through one of the most exclusive shopping streets in town (a convenient shortcut… not someplace I was shopping myself), a fluttering movement just above the streetlights caught my eye. My first thought was “bat” but it was still full daylight. I turned to get a better look and was amazed to see a Swift swoop over the street and up under the roof of a building. I’ve seen lots of Swifts from a distance, and their eerie cries on the wind are a true sign of summer in this part of the world. But I’ve never been blessed to see one so close, squatting in some of Amsterdam’s most pricey real estate. Truly amazing.
But the most remarkable close encounter I’ve had lately was with a bird I see from close range on a daily basis: the Jackdaw. There are hordes of these birds – the smallest member of the crow family – in my neighborhood, and they’re quite confiding. They hang out in large groups on all of the grassy patches in the area, and at dusk, perch and noisily rearrange themselves around the trees on the far side of the square from where I live, making their high-pitched “Kaw Kaw” sounds. They’re not afraid of humans and watch you with their seemingly knowing gaze as you walk by just a foot or two away from them. But even so, this encounter took me completely by surprise.
I was eating dinner on the couch and watching Springwatch on the BBC. There was a persistent “Kaw Kaw” from outside, but as it’s a sound I hear constantly, I didn’t take much notice. Suddenly it struck me that one of the “Kaw Kaw”s sounded much closer by than the rest. I turned around and this is the sight that greeted me:
The little guy had fledged right onto my window sill. Although his parents were in the tree outside calling to him, he appeared to be more interested in what that strange, large, pink mammal on the other side of the glass was doing. He was there for quite a while, well past dark, and I called an animal rescue line for advice. They assured me he would be perfectly all right even if he spent the night out there, and that as soon as it was light, mom and dad would be back to feed him until he was strong enough to fly off himself. I checked on him occasionally before going to bed, and he’d settled down nicely onto his chosen perch. And indeed, the next morning he was gone. Although he did leave me with a small parting gift.
In the days and weeks since, I’ve seen a young jackdaw in the neighborhood following its parents and learning how to survive. I don’t know if it’s the same little guy, but I like to imagine it is. Wherever he is, I wish him well. Good luck out there, little jackdaw! Take care of yourself!