Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 25, 2013

Close encounters of the bird kind

When I was walking to my car after work one day last week, I noticed 20-30 robins hopping around on the ground near my parking spot. It was a warmer-than-normal January day, and I wondered if they thought it was spring.

I like birds. I often stop in my tracks while I attempt to locate a lone cardinal singing high in a tree top, to watch hawks soaring overhead, or to observe honking geese flying in "V" formation.

And at home this past fall, husband Art and I were frequently serenaded by several owls calling to each other from nearby trees.

I even smile when I occasionally have to stop my van to let a dozen or so turkeys awkwardly half-run and half-fly across the road.

On a few occasions, we've spent an inordinate amount of time with our "Birds of Kansas Field Guide" trying to identify a particularly intriguing feathered friend. We aren't that good at it. One time it took the better part of an hour to figure out that the birds flitting from bush to bush in our yard were the common cedar waxwing.

In Art's home state of Wisconsin, I'll spend hours watching the hummingbirds buzz around his cousin's feeder in the summer and woodpeckers hang upside down to get to the suet in the winter. I always have an ear tuned for the sound of a loon on our lake too, or an eye scanning the tall pines near the lake's edge for an eagle's nest.

But there's a limit.

One case was when a sparrow got into our house. I had left the deck door open so our cat Cookie could come back inside and the bird flew in. Youngest daughter Katie described Cookie's and my reaction as "freaking out." Cookie dashed across the furniture trying to catch the bird and I flapped my arms in an attempt to coax it back outside.

Neither was successful.

As the bird flew frantically from one drapery rod to another, I decided the best thing was to open the front door while leaving the deck door open. Before long, the bird flew out the front door.

A more recent incident occurred just this past fall. It began when I stopped at Mom's house on my way to work in the morning. Until the parts for the van's broken driver's-side door latch arrived, I would leave the window down so I could reach through the opening and pull the inside lever. Otherwise, I'd have to crawl across from the passenger side.

When I left, all seemed to go as planned. I reached inside, opened the door, got in, started the engine, closed the window and headed off for the university.

But as I passed the K-State Foundation building, I noticed some movement to my right. I turned to look. There was a sparrow fluttering along the inside edge of the passenger window.

Like I said, I like birds, but this one was a bit closer than I was prepared for. I just wanted to get out of the car as fast as I could.

I was in the inside lane, so there wasn't going to be any quick right-hand turns onto a side street to get out of traffic.

"Good Lord, what am I going to do now?" I thought.

Luckily, the bird - and I - calmed down. It just perched along the bottom edge of the window, looking at me.

I soon reached the Lee School traffic zone, so I had to slow to 20 mph. That may have calmed me down even further for it then occurred to me to open the window on the passenger side. When I did, the bird immediately flew out.

I'm not certain who was the most relieved.

Relief soon turned to amusement. Had anyone in a vehicle near mine seen the bird fly from the window and if they had, what had they thought?

But the incident that most likely comes to mind when I think of birds didn't even occur in this country. It was 1988 and Art and I had traveled to Great Britain for the first time. We had just watched the guard changing at White Hall and were cutting across Green Park heading to Buckingham Palace. Coincidentally, we had just left Birdcage Walk, the street on the south side of the park, when we came upon a man putting seeds on his outstretched hand. Dozens of birds flew toward him and several landed on his hand to eat.

I watched, fascinated by the spectacle.

Then quite unexpectedly, he asked if I wanted to try it.

I shook my head "no," but then I remembered the scenes in the "Mary Poppins" movie where Julie Andrews sings "Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)" to illustrate the value of charity.

When he asked again, I changed my answer to "yes," and he gently spread some seeds on my hand. Within seconds, three or four birds alighted on it and began pecking at the seeds.

One of the joys of travel is experiencing new things. That up-close encounter with our feathered friends was a first for me and turned out to be one of the most memorable of the trip - one that always makes me smile when I think of it.

Gloria feeding the birds in London's Green Park.

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