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I'm really enjoying all the interesting posts to the genea-bloggers' Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. Many bring up memories of my own Christmases past, but yesterday, Terry Thornton's story about Snow Birds, Catching Birds in Parham, brought up a great spring memory. I rummaged through a few boxes of "old" photographs (and by "old" I mean "from the days before digital") and found the family history I was looking for, that of my Oregon Junco friend, Li'l Peep.
Photographically speaking, these photos are not the best. I never felt fully in control of my 35mm film camera, but I did have a really nice 200mm zoom lens for it. In my own defense, this series of pictures was shot at an angle through a glass doorwall (a thermally-correct double layer of glass) while I hid behind the slats of my vertical blinds standing on a kitchen chair, so the camera was not the only challenge!
Li'l Peep made her nest in the middle of a flower bowl inside my enclosed front patio. The bowl hung less than a foot from the doorwall in my dining area. I noticed her going into the greenery in the bowl one day, and she didn't come out for quite awhile. When she did, I went out there for a look. Sure enough, she'd made a nest, and there was an egg in it. The next time I looked, two eggs. And the next, three!
I began watching her, peeking through the vertical blinds, with my camera in hand. She noticed me sometimes when the blinds were open. I stood very still, as I didn't want to scare her.
One day I was upstairs at the back of the house, sitting at my desk next to the balcony doorwall. It was a nice day so the glass slider was open. As I worked on my family history newsletter, the sound of chirping penetrated my thoughts and I looked through the screen to see Li'l Peep sitting on the railing, looking and chirping right at me. Did she realize I was the same person? Call it ego, I like to think so! She visited me at the balcony several times that spring. I'm usually not one to feed the birds--I think they've been managing pretty well for themselves for quite some time and I'd rather not make them dependent on me--but I took to scattering a bit of millet along the railing for Li'l Peep once I knew she would find it there. I wanted her to know I was friendly.
The adult Oregon Junco (Junco oreganus) grows to be 6.25". They usually lay three or four eggs, whitish with reddish brown speckles, measuring about .75 x .55" which is about the size of a dime. Hard to believe a bird could fit in there!
The nest in this photo was one I'd found in a hanging pot of fuschia the previous autumn. It's a miracle of construction, held together primarily by love and good wishes. There were two little eggs which I believe were abandoned by the mother when she found the environment too wet. The pot hung from my balcony so it was higher than my head and I watered it generously from below, never suspecting the harm I was doing. Oh, the lingering guilt!
Li'l Peep's babies appeared one by one, so vulnerable-looking with their naked bodies and their tiny heads too small for their eyeballs. The third one, unable to compete successfully with his two older siblings for food, didn't live very long. I couldn't wait to get home from work every day to photograph the development of the other two.
I was very lucky to be off work they day they prepared to leave the nest. They had become more active in the flower bowl (which was hung at my eye level this time!), and I had spread a blanket on the concrete below the nest so they would have a soft landing. The older one jumped first. When he landed, he seemed a little surprised. Freedom! A blessing or a curse? I don't think he had any idea what to do next.
Although a little reluctant, the younger sibling didn't want to be left behind. He soon jumped too.
Li'l Peep was standing by, and she ushered her babies across the patio and under the privacy fence to a low bush on the other side. The babies were able to make their way up into the bush, where they could hide in the dense foliage.
That would be the end of my story, except for one thing. I was afraid the babies wouldn't be able to hide well enough from the stray black cat that had been lurking about. A neighbor had been putting food out for the cat, but she'd moved and he was on his own. I didn't want my Peeps to be reduced to cat food, so I took the cat in, named him Orion, invested in a trip to the vet for vaccinations and neutering, and tried to integrate him into my little family. As the weeks went by though, he made it perfectly clear he did not want the pampered life I offered him, and my other two cats made no effort to change his mind. Eventually I took him to a shelter where I handed over another fistful of money to give him a chance at finding a home more to his liking.
Some said I was a little too invested in the Peep family and their branch of the family tree. I don't think so. Li'l Peep gifted me with a privilege and opportunity most people never get. I just tried to be worthy of it. Hope you enjoy the pictures!