Meanwhile Back Inside

Society Finches Watching the Snow

Society Finches Watching the Snow this afternoon

Perhaps the highlight of this long winter has been keeping track of the daily changes going on inside. I usually get a more complete picture on Friday nights when I clean the living room and swap out dirty cages for clean ones. Getting a feel for the youngsters’ progress, and the general health of the flock, makes the cleaning chore something I look forward to.

Like snowbound romantics, the adult finches have been nesting and reproducing apace. I may have already lost count. There are four new Zebra Finches as of last week, in addition to the original five which are nearly grownup.

It will take a while before I can name any of the Zebra Finch kids that have turned out to be males, but here’s a little video of the oldest one from last week. His song was still pretty shaky. Today it’s beginning to take shape.

The Zebra Finches are turning out in different shades which makes them even more interesting. I have never had champagne-colored Zebra Finches before and now I have two. Below is the newest one, with two siblings in different shades of gray.

3 of the latest 4 Zebra Finch Fledglings

3 of the latest 4 Zebra Finch Fledglings

It’s hard to get decent pictures during the day with the light pouring through the front windows but the basic idea here was just to show maybe half of the birds at one time.

Finches watching the snow 2-15-15-3772 Finches watching the snow 2-15-15-3771

As for the two birds not finches, my remaining Budgie and the Diamond Dove, I did manage to capture Blue and Dudlee preening each other in the video below about a month ago. There were a few nights spent together as well before Dudlee went back to sitting on her plastic egg nest in the kitchen. On days I go to work I carry her, sitting on the nest, out to the dining room and put her behind the sheet covering the hutch so she has privacy. When I come home at night she’s flying around, cooing and making sure I don’t forget to put her nest back in the kitchen.

In general, the kitchen is everybody’s favorite room. I don’t know if it’s because it’s forbidden territory when I’m at work or if everybody just likes being where the food comes from, or a bit of both.

Blue in the kitchen

Blue in the kitchen

On the Society Finch front, after Trevor and Tina created Treasure, who has since turned out to be a male following his father’s singing tradition, Trevor produced eight more through his couplings with Phoenix and Rikki. Seven have survived, and I heard a little subsong going on today with at least one of them.

Society Finch Fledglings

Society Finch Fledglings

Society Finches napping in the kitchen

Society Finches napping in the kitchen

The Society Finches live up to their name much of the time and hang out together in a tight grouping. What’s perhaps funniest is to see them all piled into a nest together for the night.

Gulls...frolicking

Gulls…frolicking

I will be back with some pictures from the weekend’s local birder winter social event, the Gull Frolic, after I manage to sort through them all, which could take some time as I try in desperation to figure out what isn’t a Herring Gull.

A View from the Futon

Finches in the Window

Finches in the Window, from the futon perspective

There’s a lot to be done around here and I am doing absolutely none of it.

View from the Bridge downtown

View of the Jackson Blvd. Bridge from the Adams Street Bridge downtown, with the cell phone

I was improving Tuesday with my right knee when that same night coming home on the train an unfortunate move put me out of commission, so I was forced to take Christmas Eve off from work, which produced little on my end except for a lot of indoor bird observation, reading the paper online, accepting sympathy from friends and succumbing to naps. I did play a little piano.

As I’ve been sharing a lot of time with the indoor birds lately, listening to the begging sounds of new baby birds has been the highlight of my existence. A reminder that I have to get better because I have birds to take care of. And I will do anything for my birds. Even if it hurts.

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We were promised a break in the clouds for Christmas, after the promise of rain turning into snow did not pan out. The sun did manage to peek out from the clouds this afternoon, which greatly improved our moods. It has been so dismal and gloomy (or “glismal” as my mother used to say), I think we broke the record for days in December without sunshine.

So I listen to the baby birds: the Society Finches, who sound like you would imagine baby birds to sound, and the Zebra Finches, who sound like someone shaking a box of pins, that grows gradually louder day by day. I have taken to calling them The Pins. You can hear them helping me read through a little Bach D minor prelude (the last English Suite, finally). The next time you hear them they will be twice as loud.

And the songs and personalities of the new finches are starting to reveal themselves. I have decided to name the two male Zebra Finches Arturo Toscanini and Ricardo Muti, seeing as how their songs have yet to be formed enough for me to write them out and provide lyrics. Arturo has been working diligently on his song and it is the most developed. I suspect he is the alpha male. The clip below is of Arturo singing with a little Mozart.

I am also feeling a little better about my Zebra Finch matchmaking, it seems to be working out. At first I thought it was stupid of me to throw two males and two females together and expect them to get along, and they seemed to be out to prove me a jerk, but now they seem to be getting along more than they chase each other.

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Tina in the nest

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Trevor

 

Things were not so rosy with the Society Finches either. I had Phoenix and Rikki, the two hens from before, and introduced Trevor and Tina. Phoenix and Rikki abducted Trevor after a while, and at one point Phoenix seemed to be taking over Tina’s brood, but I think everybody is together for the common cause now. Tina is back in the nest, although when she does come out she proves to be a beautiful bird. I am looking forward to seeing the offspring. I have not been able to determine whether Trevor has successfully mated with either Phoenix or Rikki although I thought I caught him trying once with Phoenix. Phoenix and Rikki are finally over the shock of realizing that I am not throwing out eggs, as I did for months before with their previous crowd, but that’s a long story. Now I have all young birds and they should reproduce while they can. Below is a clip of Trevor singing with a little Mozart.

Blue, the Budgie, and Dudlee, the Diamond Dove, take refuge from the finches together. Dudlee manages to find new hiding places, and she throws her voice when she coos. I have a hard time locating her, especially when I’m less mobile.

Dudlee

Dudlee

I have simply decided that the only approach to the knee, besides seeing a surgeon for his opinion in a couple weeks, is to get as much rest as possible, do whatever physical therapy exercises are feasible, and walk as carefully as possible. Stairs are now a terrific challenge and I am trying not to mess up my other knee by asking it to bear all the weight. I suspect in part getting a shot in the right knee was a gamble because I now have pain at the point of insertion. But as bad as my memory for it is, I got through all this once before and so I should be able to do it again. And embrace the reminder that I am not invincible. There’s much to be done, or not done, while prone.

Lastly among other things I have had to give up since this incapacity took hold, I regret not making traditional food gifts for the holiday. I used to do a million cookies, but in the last few years I have tailored the baking effort to several loaves of cinnamon oatmeal raisin bread, but this year if I manage to get to it at all it will be for the New Year’s Day instead.

The only time I got behind a camera lens that wasn’t my cell phone was last Sunday, when I managed to get a few pictures of regulars who visit the yard.

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Downy Woodpecker

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I hope to be back soon with something more cheerful than a bad knee report. Hope your holidays are much merrier!

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Saved by the Birds – Again

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Costa Rica, much warmer than Chicago

The pain of losing my housemates upon returning from Costa Rica hits like a heavy weight as I prepare the birds’ breakfast every morning. I am still plenty angry too, but there is no gain in holding that inside of me. I had hoped to manage some photographs more related to this post before publishing but it didn’t happen, so I’ve mixed in a few photos prescient of the Costa Rica posts to come.

Blue and Dudley, with my cell phone last night

Blue and Dudley, with my cell phone last night

Not having much time yet to observe the new charges but very interested in their individual abilities to adapt to the new environment, the survivors and each other, I am pleased to report that so far, so good. I was most worried about the Diamond Dove making an adjustment – to be sure I have never had one of these birds before and am not exactly sure why I brought him home, except that I have a soft spot for doves, it’s a beautiful bird, and, well, maybe I even wondered if my last remaining budgie wouldn’t feel so put out if he was not the only single. The dove is more settled in every day, and even might have said something as early as Tuesday morning while I was putting food in the second large cage.  It was such a strange, loud sound and I wasn’t sure where it came from, but I could not connect it to anything going on outside.By Tuesday night he was cooing along with the music on the radio. I named him Dudley last night after Dudley Do-Right, one of my favorite cartoon characters. He follows Blue, the budgie, around, and may even have a crush on him (her? – too old to tell anymore). I can hardly wait to play music this weekend and see what transpires. And I hope Dudley gets more used to my real camera so I can take better pictures of him because he’s quite lovely.

Stuck in the office all day Tuesday while the reports of Sandhill Cranes flying over by the hundreds and thousands crammed the email–and I don’t even have a window to look out of–I was dispatched to Walgreen’s to buy some air freshener, so I chose the store that was on the corner of Randolph and State. Waiting at the light to cross State Street, almost before the light changed, I looked up and saw perhaps 250 Sandhill Cranes flying overhead – very high, and in a beautiful extended V formation, floating on the air currents, and felt redeemed.

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center

Wednesday morning I packed my camera and lens in the camera backpack, because my regular backpack has ceased to fasten around my waist after the trip to Costa Rica. Even though I was absolutely sure I would have no opportunity to use the camera, it seemed silly to be using a camera backpack without a camera in it. I got off the train and walked 6 blocks before a woman stopped me to tell me the back of my pack was open! Not thinking (again), I slung the pack off my shoulder to check on it (I should have asked her to zip it up, I suppose) and the camera fell out onto the sidewalk. What More Could Go Wrong? was my sentiment at the time. But I thanked her, put the camera back in the pack, started going through the mental exercise of replacement/repair…and then, as I approached the Thompson Center, I decided to do the sensible thing and take the camera out, attach the lens, and see if it was still working. After readjusting the function wheel, it seemed to be fine (maybe that’s why those Canons are so heavy, they are encased in armor). I shot a couple sidewalk scenes, and then started walking along the planted berm which is full of scrubby little yews, cigarette butts, garbage, and birds – invariably a Rock Pigeon and House Sparrow hangout. Except a Gray Catbird jumped out in front of me and let me take its picture before darting back into the yews. I found my cell phone and reported it to ebird. I am glad I got a picture because the sighting is unusual for this time of year, as I suspected. I have checked every morning since and cannot find the bird, so this was its farewell photo.

A little more poking around produced one or two White-Throated Sparrows–a bit less unusual–and plenty of the predictable pigeons and House Sparrows. But then it occurred to me that if my pack had not been open, and I had not dropped the camera, I would most likely have walked right by the berm without noticing the Catbird. So the birds have triumphed again in making sense under even the most ridiculous circumstances.

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All of this chaos has caused me to sit back and take stock of where I am and where I really want to be. Instead of plunging ahead into the day-to-day-never-ending-existence that I inhabit. I am reminded of the more important work that I really want to get done–my work–and I am trying to find new resolve to make the time off from trips and some inclement weather birding count for something, for a while, and see if I can at least write the book that has been on my mind the past few years – if not the opera. It’s the least I can do in memory of all my dearly departed bird friends. I tried to take pictures of the temperature this morning with the cell phone so I could include them in this post, but it was apparently too cold for the phone to take the picture. As of 8:00 AM it was 22 degrees Fahrenheit or -6 Centigrade.

Two New Zebra Finch Guys

Two New Zebra Finch Guys (again with the cell last night) – awaiting Zebra Finch Girls

I will be back soon with pictures from Costa Rica, progress reports on the evolving indoor crowd, and eventually some winter birding in Chicago area too.

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Here’s looking at you, from a Grayish Saltator

Thanks to all my followers and commenters and dear friends who are a great comfort and also more inspiration to carry on. 🙂

A Sad State of Affairs

I got home tonight around 11:30 PM after a day spent traveling back from Costa Rica. I will write about the trip in future posts, But I feel I must come to the page about what has just transpired because I am still trying to figure it out.

Prior to leaving I was scrambling to put together better bird-care instructions for the new bird care person I had found. I trusted him to follow the instructions which came with pictures of how everything should look. The instructions were detailed and when I ran out of time to finish adding all the pictures, I believe I wrote copiously about every step. The pictures and these short videos were taken with the iPhone.

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While I was taking pictures of food preparation, I also managed to get a video of Zorro singing. He appears in the video above.

Sitting in the airport in San Jose this afternoon, I got a disturbing text message from the bird care person I had hired for the second time. He told me 6 birds had died and he was upset, because he thought he was following all the instructions. Two of them, he said, were the ones that were failing. I asked him if the other four were the rest of the Zebra Finches. He said yes.

Beau's Cage all done 11-1-14-0725

I came in the house tonight and was shocked to find only 3 birds. One budgie and two Society Finches. When I left I had 17 birds: Two budgies (one of whom was on his last legs), five Zebra Finch males, two Spice Finches and 8 – yes 8 – Society Finches, including my two little singer guys, Hector and Franklin. Neither one of them survived. I have found some corpses but not all, and I will not elaborate on where I found them. I have found none of the Society Finches. They were very young and the healthiest. I have two left, but I’m not sure if they are the two females that came with Hector or their daughters. Well I guess I don’t have to worry anymore about them multiplying.

Finches on the budgie cage 11-2-14-0803

But I am devastated. I cannot imagine what was done or not done to kill 13 birds in a little over one week, when I have left birds for up to three weeks before this. And I am wondering what I should do. My first instinct is to try to find more birds – not 14 replacements, but at least a couple young Zebra Finches that would reproduce, so I could have several little songsters again. But then I wonder if it is wise to take on another 12-year project at my age. Is this a sign that I should stop playing music for birds? Should I get used to silence and being alone? I don’t think I could stand it.

I guess I will know the answer when I wake up to silence tomorrow morning. It will take me a week or two, perhaps, to sort this all out. I will be looking for birds, perhaps, but I am not taking in just anyone. And I will certainly be looking for another bird care person when I decide to travel again. It won’t be any time soon.

R.I.P. Hector, Franklin, Gregorio, Zorro, Beniamino, Adolfo, Pietro, Beau Budgie, Marty, Johnnie, Isabella…and one whose name I can’t remember presently, if Phoenix and Ricki are still with me.

 

Chummy, In Memoriam

A much younger Chummy.

I’m going to take a little break from the wild birds and write a post tribute to my budgie Chummy.

Chummy is second from left in the “blue” row. “Beau” is missing from this picture.

The budgie presence is dwindling in my house. Chummy, the last of four siblings, died this week. I got to know his softer side all too well in the last month or so.

A fledgling Chummy napping

Chummy and his nestmates were the one clutch produced by Buffy and Beau, who were brother and sister. I know, I know, I didn’t want to encourage this behavior! But Buffy had come of age and was starting to attack her mother, Blanche, who was still in the baby business, so I gave Buffy her own nest box to distract her.

The other three were named Chuck, Chewy and Maureen. Maureen was an aqua budgie, but I had already given the name Aqua to another budgie, so I named her Aqua Maureen and called her Maureen. Both she and Chewy have been gone for years. Chuck passed away earlier this year after a long struggle with liver disease, or whatever it was that made his beak grow intolerably long.

Chums on June 9, 2012

Both Chuck and Chummy had the distinguishing characteristic of little white spots on their heads, which made them easier to differentiate from too many blue budgies. Chuck and Chewy were of the royal blue persuasion, and Chummy and Maureen were more turquoise. Chewy’s distinguishing feature was an upper mandible deformity which grew out of control, so he had some trouble eating and was therefore eating all the time.

Chummy and his soul mate

At any rate, about two months ago I noticed Chummy, also known as Mr. Chums, had struck up a passionate love affair with a nameless female budgie who was in the royal blue family but more baby blue or sky blue, thereby making her look almost aqua when she was sitting up close to Chummy. In retrospect, I think Chums decided to go for it, as he saw his own mortality after Chuck passed away. Anyway, it was sometimes almost hard to look at these two kissing and fussing over each other, I felt like I was intruding on their privacy even though their displays were quite public. In the picture of them above, Chummy is hiding, his face buried in his rump, which had begun to torment him to the point where he eventually chewed his tail feathers off.

With his tail gone, suddenly Chummy couldn’t fly like he used to. You need a tail, it’s a rudder, it’s a prop, it’s a balance. I soon found myself picking Chummy up off the floor and carrying him around to wherever he might want to go. I knew he wanted to be up by the curtain rod with his girlfriend, but the one time we tried that he crashed to the floor, so that was no longer an option. She met him once a couple weeks ago when he happened to be on top of a finch cage, and they had a passionate reunion, but that was the last time. I know he missed her company terribly, but he couldn’t fly up to sit with her, and she wasn’t going to come down and sit with him because the curtain rod is where the budgies like to hang out. So as much as she might have missed Chummy, he was no longer fit to court her, and her loyalty was to the flock.

Chummy’s last days were spent trying to get places and failing at it. If I was around I picked him up  after he refused the back of my hand, which he walked right over, or my finger under his tummy, which he walked right past. We both hated it when I picked him up, but it was the only practical solution and he all too quickly got used to it. After a while if I was sitting at the dining room table and he was on the floor he’d wander over and start nibbling at my sandaled toes to get my attention. He needed a lift.

I came home from work Monday night and Chums was sitting on the floor by the dining room table, his back toward me, staring into space. I picked him up and knew by his total lack of protest he was almost gone. I put him in the bottom of the budgie cage because it was a quiet and safe place, even if one of the zebra finches has started building a newspaper nest in one of the food cups. Chummy listed to one side and stared at the bottom of the cage. I went down to the basement to clean the spare set of finch cages, my Monday night chore. When I came back upstairs, Chummy was flat on his back, stiff.

Maybe it’s time I gave his girlfriend a name. The other remaining female is Sweet Pea, but she’s a deeper blue. Somehow this little girl never got a name, but she has a sweet face. Maybe Baby for her shade of blue will do. It’s not a very original name, but it seems almost disingenuous to try to attach a distinguishing characteristic to her after all these years. She’s presently napping in between the curtain loops with three of the other four remaining blue budgies. We’re down to five blues (Zeke, the steel blue-grey dad or grandfather of them all, Beau, if that is indeed him, Sweet Pea, and another unidentified blue male, so I guess I’d better get around to naming him too, now that I can no longer use “too many blue budgies” as an excuse), and Buster, the one remaining white budgie. Now we are six.

Goodbye, Mr. Chums.

Obsession in A Minor

Increasingly over the last month, every waking moment of my life, my inner soundtrack has been overtaken by the prelude to the A minor English Suite by Johann Sebastian Bach. Invariably some passage is running through my head, and because it goes in and out of A minor into E minor and G major, C major and a few other places, it has a way of fitting in with everything. But now that I have it almost completely memorized, I am in a state of torture bordering euphoria. It is impossible to describe the excitement that builds while playing it. I am partial to the key of A Minor, anyway, as if I was born into it. I favored composing in A minor and I suspect Bach did too because he comes up with more interesting conversations, although that might be said of any of his minor key efforts.

This prelude is really somewhat of a two-part invention. The right hand makes a statement and the left hand answers. It’s ongoing banter back and forth. Although I am right-handed I try to pay equal attention to my left hand because there’s just as much going on there. I think one thing that made Glenn Gould’s Bach playing sound so unique was the fact that he was left-handed. I like to think if I try to listen to both voices, maybe somewhere in my head I have room for the birds too.

This is the second of the English Suites. The first was the A Major and it has taken me forever to wade through. I still struggle with the A Major: there are parts I like, but the “Doubles” in particular I find boring and am at a loss as to how to bring life to them. I don’t generally have this problem with Bach, but I suppose even he ran out of steam every now and then. So it was with eager anticipation that I moved on to the A minor. My ultimate goal is to learn all the English Suites. Part of my lifelong project which I started over 10 years ago: to learn all the Bach keyboard music. I probably won’t accomplish it but it’s a nice thought.

The birds have been enthusiastic about this suite, and I don’t know if it’s because they’re reading my enthusiasm or if they actually like A minor better too. Here’s a budgie who was keeping time with the upbeats in part of the prelude a few days ago. I couldn’t believe my ears when I first heard this.

The best part of the four-day holiday weekend has been time to play every day. I miss this so much I am afraid to admit it to myself. But my “normal” workday schedule doesn’t allow time to play every day. Sometimes it’s hard not to sit and cry “What’s wrong with this picture?” since my normal state of being is to play music…for birds. I have to say my birds are good sports. Today was what my mother used to call “glismal.” It rained or looked like rain all day and never got bright enough inside the house to feel like doing much of anything, but the birds woke came alive when I sat down to play and they participated for most of it.

I wonder if they don’t know the music better than I do as they listen to classical music on the radio all day. I have seen the surprised look on their faces every once in a while when something comes on the radio that we’ve practiced a lot. It’s a double take experience: she’s not playing, where’s the music coming from? So they must be paying attention!

The birds were most vocal today in the Bourree as I was reading through it. Here’s a little excerpt of the Zebra Finches calling back and forth. Or maybe they’re laughing at me…

We’ll check back with the birds in a month or two or three when I might be lucky enough to have the entire A minor English Suite in my fingers, and see what they have to say about it then.

The Original Budgie

On my way to Wherever this weekend I grabbed a couple older tapes to listen to in the car, just to see what was going on at the time. No, I’m not kidding, my car is that old. And the tape player is on the fritz but every once in a while if I’m not going too fast I can listen to a tape if I crank the volume all the way up.

I had previously labeled the tapes notable for the vocalizations of the original male budgie Pete, a beautiful little green and yellow guy, the adopted bird who came with Blanche. When these recordings were made, I had only the two budgies, Pete and Blanche, maybe five or eight (by then) zebra finches, Fabrizio and Serafina being the originals, and the two original Spice Finches, Hidalgo and Sam, and Jules and Sophia, the two females I got when Sam turned out to be a male. I wasn’t sure of Jules so I gave her a name that could go either way. But that’s another story for a later post.

Hidalgo, the Caruso of Spice Finches, was on both tapes, and it’s probably his fault that I wasn’t listening to Pete the budgie when I played them in the car. I wonder if perhaps I have heard so many budgies since him I don’t have an ear for listening anymore. But when I listened back through headphones while trying to make clips from these tapes, I realized he sounds entirely different from the budgies that have all grown up in the house and are related to Zeke, the gray-blue budgie who still lives.

I play a little game with myself sometimes, when I’m in the kitchen and a budgie flies in, I don’t turn around to see who it is before I try to guess based on the sound of the patter. I’m right about 99% of the time, and I don’t know how I do it. If you asked me to tell you the difference between one budgie’s song and another’s, I couldn’t do it. But something in the pattern must be different enough that I recognize it, albeit unconsciously. Such is the thing with Pete’s song. The sounds are familiar, but the cadence is different. And I remember distinctly that after he died and Blanche was left alone, she sat around and sang his songs as if to recreate his presence, a fitting eulogy for her old friend. That was before she gave me the “If you think I’m going to sit here alone and be amused by these finches laying eggs and having babies, you’ve got another thing coming” ultimatum, which sent me to the pet store for Another Budgie.

So this clip has a couple of solos by Hidalgo and then Pete is singing with an almost passable version of the Adagio to Mozart’s C Major Sonata K 310, until I flub the very end of it. There are contributions from a zebra finch or two. I suspect the zebra finch songs have gained differentiation and complexity over the years. I’m sorry I did not keep a detailed family tree; I don’t think I was aware I was running an experiment until years after it started. I know I didn’t pay attention to the zebra finch songs until long after I noticed they were all different. I hope after I identify all the zebra finch songs I can make more sense out of their progression.

At any rate it seems I was still practicing the Goldberg, and it had to have been a once-a-week run-through at the time, so a haphazard rendition of the aria and the first few variations appears here until the phone rings. I did go back to playing but it was hard for us all to get back in the groove after the interruption; in particular we lost Pete. Here Pete adds constant comment and Hidalgo throws in his two cents among several zebra finch vocals. Note how Hidalgo always sings his long “mwah mwah” notes in key with the music.