Sunday, May 30, 2010
As always my gardening endeavors were accompanied by an assortment of bird songs. Newly fledged robins seeking reassurance. The tinny whistle of white-crowned sparrows. Sweet finch melodies dripping from their yellow ribbons of flight.
On this day I became aware of the soft click of a junco in distress, like a geiger counter. It was insistent and close. Kneeling in the dirt and weeds, I looked for the source and found it in the butterfly bush no more than three feet away. I know juncos nest on the ground, and it occurred to me that this one might have thought my flower bed was a perfect wild expanse in which to raise a family.
I slowed down, prayed I wouldn't step on, kneel on, hoe over the nest. The clicks continued at about the same rate, although they were in stereo from time to time. The other parent was perched in the hydrangea on my other side. I was only weeding around plants, leaving the spaces between for Walt to till later. As I moved toward one whose name I don't know, but which offered up a sweet white spike of bloom, the clicks got closer together and louder - the geiger counter finding radioactivity and warning me away.
Frozen and moving only my eyes, I searched for what I knew was going to be right there. And there it was, embedded within the foliage next to that flower, the tall blossom standing guard over a tightly woven nest containing three almost-blue eggs.
Speaking softly to the juncos, apologizing for disturbing them, I moved to the other side of the garden, and then eventually to the other side of the yard when they stayed off the nest, still clicking their warnings at me.
I thought how brave she was. I was close enough that she was in danger of being trapped or worse (if I'd been a predator) and yet she stayed. I took my pictures, backed away carefully, torn between wanting to stay and marvel at this small miracle and knowing I needed to leave it alone.
The chances of those eggs hatching and the babies making it to flight seem so slim. The human threat is erased for this nest, but what about the yearling doe what wanders through our yard regularly. Or my cats who, while mellower with old age, are still hunters. Or the kestrels. Or the sharp-shinned hawk that uses our bird feeder area as a fast food drive-through. So much danger. And yet that nest on the ground is the juncos' place, and they are abundant. There is perfection there, even in the vulnerability and mystery.
The junco's head is the slightly darker spot mid-picture. You can see her eyes and her beak, and the nest surrounding her.