Mystery birds (or, six on a quilt)

The last three mornings have been lovely, in the low 70s.  This morning was warmer, but a breeze was blowing, making 78° at 7:00 in the morning seem much cooler.  This week, I’ve been spreading a quilt out in the back yard, starting the day with Fiala, who is an early riser.

She usually wakes up at 5:30, and I nurse her and put her back in her crib.  She doesn’t go to sleep, but she’s usually content until 6:30 or so, at which time I try to catch a few more winks.  Pre-Fiala, I would generally get up at 6:30, but as she is still waking 2-4x/night, I think partly from habit and partly from discomfort, I am just not ready to wake at 6:30 these days.  So, from 6:30 – 7:00, I usually grab a blanket and pillow, and lay down on the floor of my bedroom, letting her crawl around our room as my hubby gets ready for work.  At 7:00 or nearly so, I start feeling lazy because my hubby is bustling and I’m trying to sleep, so I get up.  But, I don’t really want the whole house awake yet;  if the kids sleep until 7:30, that’s preferable, in my book.  So, Fi and I go outside.

Eventually, the other four children join us, and pretty soon, it’s crowded but pleasant and lively with my five children and me.  And our dog, who thinks she’s a person, crowding onto the quilt, crawling all over us, getting in as many scritches and as much attention as possible.  🙂

This week, in the mornings, our yard has been visited by a pair of birds that I did not identify until yesterday.  I was baffled.

  • They are almost all yellow, with dark grey wings with white wing bars.
  • They are shaped like sparrows, but larger, with a longer-but-thinner, notched tail.
  • Their beaks look akin to warblers — small, pointed, and thin, darker on top and orange-ish on the bottom.
  • Their legs are dark.
  • They forage in our grass, hopping around.
  • They are mostly silent.

As one of the birds is more brightly yellow, the other a tad smaller and duller, I thought that it was a male-female pair, and was congratulating them on their monogamy, even with breeding season over.  THAT is what most threw me off.  I kept combing my Sibley guide looking for a bright yellow male bird whose size, shape, markings, and habitat matched all the clues.

I finally realized yesterday that they are not a M/F pair;  they are mother and juvenile.

Once I had that realization — looking at the mottled grey-and-yellow of the more dully-colored bird’s belly, I took to my Sibley’s guide again.

I came to the realization that they are Western Tanagers.  I am certain of it.  I have NEVER seen Western Tanagers so low in elevation.  I have seen them in Arizona in the mountains, and likewise in Colorado.  But they are, without a doubt, Western Tanagers.  The brighter Tanager’s top wing bar is definitely yellow, and she has just the barest amount of reddish orange circling her beak.  All the markings fit.  I wish I had my camera.

(Not my pic.  Thanks to this blogger/photographer for the pic.)

Female Western Tanager

Female Western Tanager

By the way:  Birding with five kids, in the back yard on the quilt doesn’t really work.  We just get glances at the few birds that are brave enough to present themselves amid the ruckus.  But… I think it was Monday, and myself and the four older kids were all laying inside on our bellies by the back arcadia door, peering out of binoculars, flipping through our Sibley book, each kid noting to me where he’s spotted a bird, what its markings were, etc.  That was FABULOUS.  It was about 15 minutes that thrilled my heart as a mother, as a birder, and as a homeschooling mom.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on September 17, 2009, in Arizona, Babies, birding, Family, Homeschooling, Motherhood, The Dear Hubby, The Kids, Weather. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Isn’t it great to have these kind of moments with your children? Enjoy them while they are young enough to stay at home. It sure doesn’t last long. Sigh.

  2. Moments of validation…I had one this week! We chose to homeschool because a… I feel God has asked me to. b. I felt a better use of the kids time would be co-learning (even though they are 1,2,3) than loading unloading to transport my 5 yo to an acceptable school. We are learning the continents. While reading a story about Australian animals…my 3 year old says “mom, where do they live? Africa?” Ok…he was wrong…BUT…he was trying!

  3. glutenfree4goofs

    I just love those moments! What an awesome opportunity and one your kids will not soon forget, unlike the endless dates, facts and names in black and white, those lessons will last!

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