Ode to Vincenzo

Vincenzo, one of my male Zebra Finches, died Friday. Or at least that’s when I found him. He had been sick for perhaps a month or more. Confusing the issue was Fabrizio, the original Zebra Finch and if not Vincenzo’s father, his grandfather or even great-grandfather, who is also not feeling well, which I attribute to his age of more than 10 years. Fabrizio has started singing again, however feebly, but Vincenzo had been quiet for such a long time, I had all but forgotten about him.

That is, until I spent three hours in the dentist’s chair Saturday morning. Left with my mind to play Bach’s A Minor English Suite over and over again, I was also frustrated that Fabrizio was still singing and I had a dead Zebra Finch I had not identified. It was only under the clarity of local anesthesia and not being distracted by going anywhere that I suddenly realized the missing bird was indeed Vincenzo. I said “Oh!” and the dentist stopped whatever it was she was doing, asking me if I was in pain. No, not at all, I explained, I had just figured out that Vincenzo was dead.

I’m feeling terrible that I did not have the presence of mind over the last week to tune into his individual absence while he was still struggling to stay alive. One morning a few days ago he was flopping around on the floor, seemingly too weak to fly, and I picked him up and put him in the bottom of the first finch cage, so he could eat if he was so inclined, or if he was going to die, it was a “safe” place. When I came home later that day he was out of the cage. It’s possible he went off to die where I found him Friday night, tucked under the skirt of the futon cover…

Now I know the little ball of feathers I saw sitting tightly wound up into itself the last couple weeks was Vincenzo trying to stay warm. Only a few days ago he was huddled together with Fabrizio, as they took to caring for each other that way.

I managed to find a tape recorded January 14, 2012 with Vincenzo. I was just starting to revive Albeniz’s Tango, and he’s singing with it. Only he hadn’t been singing his entire song lately, just the first part of it. The whole song went, “I’m a Zebra Finch, and my name is Vince, Vincenzo, Cenzo, Zebra Finch.” Here he’s only singing the first part of it, over and over again, “I’m a Zebra Finch, and my name is Vince.” Adolfo is singing very loudly in the beginning of the piece, but the rest of the recording is Vincenzo’s. He is quieter, probably farther away from the microphone. He also solos a little bit after I stop playing.

Now my Zebra Finch population is now down to eight birds. Seven males and one female. The surviving males are Fabrizio, Adolfo, Beniamino, Pietro, Rodolfo, Zorro and Gregorio. They all still join in the dawn chorus, but it’s diminished considerably from the old days.

Winter in Chicago, then and now


This has been the warmest La Nina ever, and I have to wonder if this hasn’t been the warmest January in Chicago. Of course it’s early yet. Last year on January 13 we had snow and the lake had a think layer of ice on it.

Snowcrow 01-13-2011

Lake birds, 01-13-2011

But the prediction this coming Friday is for above-normal temperatures to continue.

The lakefront sunrise Wednesday morning was earlier, the days are getting ever so slightly longer.

The crows, of course, were in attendance.

A now very famous Black-Throated Blue Warbler hanging out by the bicycle rental at Millennium Park…

has been sipping sap from the trees the Sapsuckers have drilled into.

The Sapsuckers themselves are late to leave.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

There was also a Cooper’s Hawk at Millennium Park that morning, and I annoyed him enough by taking his picture. He eventually moved on, leaving the warbler safe.

I woke up this morning with the prelude to the Bach A minor English Suite playing in my head. Only the purest silence eventually makes me aware. There was a little frost last night, but by the time I left the house it had melted off. I went to the Chicago Portage to see what exists. The tangled web of bare trees and dried vegetation offered winter views. All quiet, asleep, but potential lurks in that dormancy.

I did not get pictures of all 11 species that I saw. The first bird was a flyover Mallard duck. A little later I heard a constant sound that resembled a murmuring quack, or perhaps it was a squirrel sound. It turned out to be a Downy Woodpecker pecking away at the dried stems of Phragmites that grow by the water. I can’t imagine if the stems harbor dead bugs or some other delicacy but the Downy was persistent, until he flew up into the tree and gave me this nice photograph, one of several.

There were Mourning Doves sitting quietly in a tree.

Music in my head at the Portage was Albeniz, since I recently decided to revive the few pieces I once knew. The birds complied and remained in C#.

Female Northern Cardinal

On the path ahead there were several cardinals and goldfinches foraging.

American Goldfinches

It has been so warm, lichens are growing on this dead log.

I left the Portage and went to the grocery store, where by this time my head was playing the Tango by Albeniz which is in D major. I only remember this because the woman in line behind me thanked me for giving her my “tickets” – there’s some kind of promotion going on that I don’t have time for – and our conversation was in D. What would she think if I told her I had made her talk to me in the key of the music playing in my head? Was it worth the tickets I gave her?

I saw a Junco at the Portage but didn’t get a picture of one until I got home. This one is through the porch window.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Later this evening I counted 23 Mourning Doves under my feeder. It was too dark to take a picture, but I counted them three times to be sure. I had thought they were in decline because I wasn’t seeing them. I have never seen that many in my yard, ever! The new feeder must be doing a good job.

With a little luck I’ll have some musical excerpts coming up soon. So you won’t have to try so hard to hear the music playing in my head…