Tue, May 21

Dena Greenwood Column: Surprise Gifts

At our house, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Birthdays, Spring and Fall equinox are not just holidays – they are rituals that always begin the same way: Early in the morning, in front of the big window in our sunroom, I take my perch with a cup of tea and well used binoculars (someday Swarovskis). At my side are field guides and our home species list.

Our backyard is lush with native shrubs and wild flowers fed by rainwater catchment swales, and lots of mulch. This landscape and the desert beyond attracts countless numbers of resident and migrating birds as well as beneficial insects and butterflies. Countless, maybe, but we’ve counted 131 bird species thus far, right from my window perch.

So with great anticipation, all our special occasions begin by waiting and watching to see what will show up and surprise us with the gift of their presence. I think of the little winter wren that rested and fed for a few days at our house before continuing on to its summer home somewhere in a shady Rim canyon. And my birthday Scott’s oriole, our Easter Osprey or the much anticipated song of the white-crowned sparrow ushering in the Fall equinox. These are recession-proof gifts. The rituals of watching and recording helps put us in touch with home, the turning of the seasons, the movement of birds back and forth across the land. Focusing mindfully on other life forms, their behavior, their dazzling colors and beautiful songs helps keep life in perspective when the nightly news gets a little heavy. In the bigger picture our records become part of a long-term history of both change and continuity with regard to species, numbers and migration patterns.

At this time of year, baby quail are skittering behind mama, and orioles have returned to our hummingbird feeder. The stock market may rise and fall but we can count on the black-headed grosbeaks flashing their orange and black attire in our backyard.

If you are a beginning birder, start slow. Aim for identifying four or five birds that you notice near your home day after day. Keep a record as to what you see.

Try to hear their call or song they sing early in the morning.

Compare the unique features of the bird to those highlighted in a good bird field guide. Look long enough and listen intently and soon you will realize you are recognizing these birds simply by their sound or manor in which they fly or perch at your feeder. Now you’re on your way. The gifts are many.

Dena is a seasoned naturalist, birding guide and educator. As manager of Jay’s Bird Barn in West Sedona she is available to answer questions about wild birds and enhancing your backyard habitat. You may contact her at (928) 203-5700 or