Sunday, January 14, 2024

Tuppence a Bag

 I am not sure when I became a crazy bird lady. 

Yes, we inherited a well weathered wooden feeder when we bought the house 37 years ago.

Sure, when the kids were little we made special bird cakes and popcorn and cranberry strands to hang in the ‘bird tree’ at Christmas.

Okay, I have requested bird feeding paraphernalia for several gift giving holidays in the past. 

And…I have not one but two bird identifier aps on my phone….

Robins playing a drinking game

The prevailing thought seems to be that a bird feeder, binoculars, notebook and brown paper bag of breadcrumbs arrives concurrent with your AARP card. (With the first time you complain about the weather as related to joint pain they add in an Audubon beginners bird book.)

Admittedly the median age of any five people in my bird seed store (yes, I have a preferred bird seed store - Wild Birds Unlimited) is 64.25 years of age, this is no reason to automatically assign senior discount status to my credentials. I do think that while our ‘lost year’ (the pandemic) helped make birding more acceptable to multiple generations, there is still a sensible shoes and bulky cardigan sweaters vibe attached. 

(This does not include Hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are enjoying a globally popular resurgence in feeding and tracking. And while they are thrilling, I have yet to see such meanly aggressive behavior in any of my other yard birds. I had to set up a decoy feeder just so Alpha Hummingbird could guard ‘HIS’ feeder.) 

slightly grainy photo of Alpha Hummingbird

I eased into bird watching slowly with the aforementioned inherited feeder. Fueled by observing the delight my Dad took in spotting a tufted titmouse or a rare blue bunting. 

In fact, Dad was the first person I alerted when I spotted not one but two vibrantly blue bunting at my feeders one summer. 

There is nothing quite like the thrill of catching the first migratory dark eyed junco cruising in for a tasty suet snack. Or catching a bluejay as he grabs an entire peanut in the shell. 

And don’t get me started on spotting TWO actual blue birds at the birdbath over Christmas this year! 

Of course, bird watching is also an opportunity to teach your young children about the circle of life as Red-Tailed hawk swoops in, clearing the busy feeder and catching a turtle dove nearly twice his side. The catch being so big that he had to hop-drag it to the top of the yard where an even larger hawk relieved him of his meal. 

It was an equally amazing and horrifying lesson. But one that made a lasting impression on the importance of living in the moment…

I added the Merlin bird ID ap during one of the many Bird Count Weekends. An at home event The next Great Backyard Bird Count is Feb 16-19. Check it out here -

What better excuse than to hang around by your favorite window or on your deck with a cup of coffee!

One of the most peaceful activities in my mind is just quietly watching the traffic at my newly filled feeder. There are identifiable traffic patterns and seatings. 

Early morning gets the smaller birds, cardinals, blue jays and squirrels. 

Mid-day brings starlings, doves, robins and squirrels. 

Evening can be a mix, especially if The Great Seed Lady opts to refill. Then it’s a little bit of everyone. 

And squirrels.

Okay, technically not a squirrel, but just so amazing. And part of the feeding pattern

not a single bird or squirrel has EVER brought their babies up to visit.

Unlike a lot of birders, I don’t mind the ancillary eaters - including but not limited to squirrels, deer, raccoons, possums, fox, coyote and once an actual HORSE!

They provide a bit of comic relief as they try to hang upside down to empty the $35 a bag thistle seed all over the ground, or attempt to grab a quick drink of water while not disturbing the human sitting in the deck chair less than a foot away from the bird bath.

And how much fun is it to watch that scoop of seed shoot out of the feeder and onto your feet because Squirrel has chewed a larger opening in the side of the feeder to make it easier to throw seed everywhere. 

The trick is to keep the everyone well fed to the point of hiding whole peanuts in the deck plants thus providing a fun experiment in Just What is That Sprouting in February in my banana tree pot and NOT eating my tomatoes.

Yet, with all the extra cost of seed, suet, feeders, heated bird bath… The many mornings racing to the fill the feeders before work, in rain and sleet and below zero temps…

Seeing Half-Tail Squirrel peeking in the kitchen window when the seeds are late or hearing Carolina Wren chirping and leaving tiny feet prints by the backdoor in a dusting of snow makes it all worthwhile. 

And when they leave their suet in the shape of a heart?! 

Go ahead and ship me my brightly colored housedress, and field vest. 

My name is Laura and I am a Bird Watcher.  

(I would also like to give a Shout-out to longtime Coast of Illinoiser - BO, for her quick thinking and bravery in snapping a picture of the rare, inside, cold-weather Hairnet. While unsure of the exact species, it has been determined that this particular variety is harmless, most likely lethargic from an ambient heat source and too much chatter about football and Taylor Swift.) 

Coast of Illinois is not liable for any injury, or mockery sustained while photographing nets in the wild.

Happy Depths of Winter, Everyone!
Stay warm, make hot chocolate and study those seed catalogs for Spring!

Monday, January 1, 2024


Welcome to 2024. 

I don’t know about you, but I find New Year’s Day to feel crisp and fresh, no matter the weather. (It doesn’t hurt that here, on the Coast of Illinois, it leans towards the below freezing mark.) 

The entire new year stretches out on that pristine new calendar of island photos and my new day planner is loaded with goals, just waiting to be checked off in the appropriate coordinating colored pen. 

Never mind that the new day planner has pages for only 160 days… I guess at the end of the book I should be so well organized that I no longer need a planner…

(perhaps one of my goals should be to read the product descriptions more carefully before I obsessively order something I just can’t do without)

But where is the fun of that? 

You lose all magic in the world if you analyze every little detail. 

Which is why the word MAGIC is my word for 2024. 

I have long since given up on resolutions. By day six I have missed a deadline or surpassed a calorie count or skipped a workout and then the entire year is clearly shot. 

Around the time of the pandemic, I read about choosing a word to guide and define your year. 

This, I can do. 

I found my word this year on a post by one of my favorite Peloton instructors - Sam Yo @yoiamsamyo. Sam posted a word grid with instructions to look closely for what word you find first, and this will help define your year. 

MAGIC immediately popped out. 

In fact, I have been back to look at the grid several times and truth here - I have a hard time finding any other words. Yes, I know that now that my mind has found MAGIC it will always go there first, but moving on from that initial word yields irritation and the tiny yet insistent voice in my head tells me to STOP LOOKING!

And I am good with that. 

Magic in this world is one of my favorite things to believe in and experience. It’s what fueled my original idea here of Seeing Hairnets. 

Such a random event, walking in to work, only to spot not one discarded hairnet but SEVEN?! This is the World’s Magic in overdrive. (sure, it might be that I work with a bunch of non-caring slobs.) But I prefer to believe that the World wants us to have a laugh. 

Let me give you a visual example of some recent Magic.

There is a secluded, employee walkway from the fancy garage into my hospital. It’s a long, boring hall painted institutional green with glaring overhead lights that flash on as you pass. There is a chronic patch of institutional grey carpet that is wet with an industrial fan blowing the potential musty smell away. 

Some how, the paint of one section tore the way weird things happen to secluded walls. Some wonderful person noticed the rip and assigned a shape to it. Which suddenly gained google eyes.

This random cat shape caught the attention of a few other amazing people and this happened:

Bartholomew suddenly became the underground talk of the entire hospital staff. Look closely, he has a Leg Lamp, a window with CURTAINS and various celebrities peaking in, snowflakes, a Charlie Brown tree and personal Christmas cards!

Everyday we waited for a Bartholomew update, while silently praying that the Powers that Be hadn’t gotten wind and deemed it a fire hazard thus taking it down overnight. 

But this did not happen. 

Bartholomew has lived in that hallway for close to the entire month of December and he has upgraded his home!

Fireplace, Christmas lights, even GIFTS! 

I have heard so many people talking about how happy this display makes them as they walk in to work. The surprise of how silly and over the top it has become! The fact that management has not removed it!

We all know that some day Bartholomew will leave us. And like so many lives that suddenly leave, we will mourn him. But the Magic of this moment will always bring us together and make us smile.

This is the sort of crazy fun we need more of.

That one wonderful person who noticed a Cat in torn paint! 

The person who felt he needed curtains on a window!

The complete and utter silliness and joy that brought us all together in a place that is more times than not sad and difficult to be. 


I am wishing each of you a year filled with this sort of Magic. 

May you discover it on your own. May it wash over you. And when it does, share it with Everyone. 

Happy New Year from the Coast of Illinois.