Note: Click the links in this piece to see Stevens' poem and to hear the birds' songs (unless you're reading this at work!)
by Sheila Webster Boneham
Poet Wallace Stevens wrote a wonderful poem called Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird . Today I'm adding a few more.
This time last summer I was hiking the hills and canyons around Reno, Nevada, where we were living. Quite a contrast from coastal North Carolina, my current digs! No matter where I find myself, though, birds always attract me as photographic subjects. I'm neither a professional photographer nor a serious birder, but I enjoy "shooting" birds and learning what I can about them in fits and starts.
Many years ago, when I was in graduate school in Bloomington, Indiana, I escaped whenever possible to Yellowwood Lake and particularly to a quiet little inlet full of waterlilies and cattails that rang with the trill of red-winged blackbirds. Years later, I had a bird feeder outside the window of my writing/painting space, and a male red-wing came regularly to dine. He always announced himself with a rolling trill as he landed, and that never failed to make me smile.
Here's a handsome fellow in the wetlands of Hidden Valley.
|Red-winged blackbird, wetlands near Hidden Valley, Reno, Nevada. ©Sheila Boneham|
The yellow-headed blackbird lacks the melodic song of his red-winged cousin, but makes up for his scratchy voice with his gloriously flashy headgear. The first time I saw a flock of these gorgeous guys was in a field in Indiana, where they are considered "accidental" birds traveling out of their normal range. In Nevada, as in much of the West, they are pretty common in wetlands, and the males are hard to miss.
|Yellow-headed blackbird, Hidden Valley, Reno, Nevada. ©Sheila Boneham|
I was hiking one windy spring day and stopped for a while to watch the birds battling the wind. Here is one of them, clinging to a wildly swaying bit of grass.
Although not a blackbird, the beauiful Western meadowlark is a close relative, as these three birds are all members of the Order Passeriformes and the Family Icteridae. I loved to take evening walks in Hidden Valley along a particular two-mile stretch with ridges and canyons to the east and a long sage-strewn stretch of land to the west. The glorious shifting colors over the Sierras as the sun's rays grew longer were inspiring to be sure. But if you've ever heard larks sing, you know why so many poets have praised their music, and among larks this yellow and brown singer is, to my mind, one of the best.
|Western meadowlark, Hidden Valley, Reno, Nevada. ©Sheila Boneham|
So here's so beautiful birds and beautiful birdsong, and to long walks in their presence.