Baby Birds

10 01 2017


January 10,2017

A long-time friend recently gave me a copy of Julie Zickefoose’s book, Baby Birds. Her treatise is a multi-year project involving drawing and discoursing on baby birds from hatching to fledging. Julie, a former Connecticut resident, conveys the miracle of life, the importance of each and every being, and how one person can make a difference, in these seventeen life history chapters. Her drawings are exquisite and her commentary is as direct and unpretentious as she

I’ve allow myself only one chapter each night, and I am drawn into my own memories when I reach the one covering Tree Swallows. The murmuration at the mouth of the Connecticut River is described by Julie as “a little-known autumnal ritual of roosting swallow flocks [which] remains among the most impressive ornithological spectacles I’ve ever witnessed.” Since her time, this phenomenon has become “discovered” but it doesn’t make it any less magical. I’ve loved introducing people to this experience…sitting in a kayak as sunset, while being buzzed by hundreds which then become thousands of swallows flying in from hither and yon. I can imagine their conversations amidst their twitterings, “Just got back from Hammonasset,” “Where’s the South Cove group?” and so on.

beth-and-marcy-pointing-at-swallowsPhoto Credit: AA White

As we sit floating, the sun dips in the west and the grouping of birds grows larger and larger. False swoops into the reeds, followed by rising waves back into the sky. How do they keep from flying into each other? And finally, with my binoculars trained on the birds, I shout, “Here it comes!” They funnel and gather, and then, swish, they are all settled into the reeds for the night. Done. Amazing.

Some colleagues out there on the water with me have missed the climax. They were focused on their bota box, cheese, and crackers. And, honestly, it’s a lovely setting for all that, even if you miss the birds. And quite honestly it isn’t always exactly the same. Sometimes, there are several funnels and it’s less dramatic. But it’s always magical.


Ah, “California dreamin’…on a winter’s day.” Here I am thinking about Tree Swallows when we have at least eight inches of new snow. I’m grateful to be able to stay home; there’s a 30-vehicle pile-up on the nearby highway. I get a kick out of watching the gyrations of the birds using my whimsical, out-of-proportion hummingbird-lookalike feeder during even the fiercest part of this storm. Tomorrow, the sun will come out, we will all shovel out, and I’ll return to winter. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the daydreaming of summer was exactly part of all the winter stories and tales from our ancestors as they huddled in front of the fire, waiting for the return of spring. And I relish the connection with these birds, bringing me back to Julie’s approach, recognizing the importance of each one, and our connection to all living things.



4 responses

10 01 2017
Susan Scott

Lovely to be able to make a comment this time Beth! Many a moment has been spent by me checking out the birds and their antics. You write about it so well as does Julie Zickefoose, reminding us of our connection to all … Thank you.

10 01 2017
Beth Lapin

Susan, Both of us weave nature and introspection into our work! I always appreciate your connections of thought.

10 01 2017
Julie Zickefoose

I’m so happy to know Baby Birds has found its way to your home and heart. Keep going after those ephemeral phenomena like the birdnadoes at Great Island; they’re the heartbeat of it all. Wish I could witness that again,with you, in a canoe!

10 01 2017
Beth Lapin

Maybe next time, in 25 years, when you return to CT, it will be in better weather and we can!

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