As an attentive observer of birds, it pains me that my little point-and-shoot camera, perfectly fine for flower shots, cannot do justice to the beautiful birds of the Medicinal Herb Garden. Luckily, Emile Pitre, Associate Vice President at the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, has been skillfully photographing the flora and fauna of the garden for several years. Emile is a very patient man; whether on the trail of bees, butterflies or birds, his calm, quiet persistence is enviable and serves as a reminder to me to settle myself and be more observant. Emile volunteered his wonderful photographs of some representatives of the Medicinal Garden birds for this post. Thank you, Emile.
The Medicinal Herb Garden has a lot of features that birds find favorable. There’s a variety of large and small trees, shrubs and clumps of herbaceous perennials to perch on, observe from and hide in. Food is plentiful, from berries, seeds, insects, arthropods and annelids to food waste left behind by careless humans; and there’s water. Water is a magnet for most animals and birds are no exception. I’ve had hummingbirds hover to drink at the stream cascading from my watering can. When the irrigation heads start spraying water in the garden beds, mixed flocks of bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus) and black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) arrive in the safely sheltered areas of the garden to drink and bathe. Every year a pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) takes up residence in spring, near the cistern in Cascara Circle.
Sagittaria latifolia (wapato) Cascara Circle
They feed in the stream that runs to the bog, so I’ve put wire mesh over the wapato (Sagittaria latifolia). Ducks love wapato tubers and they would eat them all if they could.
Poecile atricapillus (black-capped chickadee)
Many of Emile’s pictures were taken in Cascara Circle. If you visit the garden, stop for a rest there by the water, have a seat on the grass or on the new bench and take a few deep breaths to slow yourself down and quiet your mind. It won’t take long before you notice movement all around. Suddenly appearing out of thin air, birds add a delightful and mysterious element of fluidity in the garden, .
They are obviously aware of fairly predictable actions and watch closely. When I begin preparing a bed for planting, I will quickly receive a visit from a guest, ready to eat whatever is unearthed and attempts to crawl away. Usually, the visitor is a crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) or a robin (Turdus migratorius). Some are quite trusting and, as long as my actions express nonchalance, they will shadow me, an arm’s length away.
Corvus brachyrhynchos (American crow)
Smart, wily, mischievous, the American crow is ever observant and a quick learner. Love them or hate them, they’re an impressive and entertaining bird. And, if you know what’s good for you, don’t get too close to their fledgelings. The adults are boldly protective of their young, occasionally making physical contact with the heads of intrusive humans. If they’re menacing you on your visit to the garden in spring, simply hold your hand up over your head and they will leave you alone.
Turdus migratorius (American robin) This one is likely getting ready to build another nest after the rascally crows got into the last one.
The humble robins, how lucky we are to have them around. Their commonness masks their greatness. Beautiful singers, welcoming the day before first light, at home in remote mountains and city parks, guileless victims of raiding crows who eat their eggs, the buoyant robins are remarkably successful. They simply start over and get on with it when disaster strikes. If I had my way, they’d be our national bird.
Cyanocitta stelleri (Steller’s jay)
The jaunty Steller’s jays are strikingly beautiful, statuesque birds that always seem out of place, like they hopped out of a Gaugin painting and are mystified by their new land. Though related to crows they seem to go about their business and leave trouble alone. Ever ready to alert the world to a nearby threat (real or imaginary), their brash, screechy vocalizations are strangely endearing. They and the crows are the predator early warning system of the Medicinal Herb Garden.
Pipilo maculatus (spotted towhee)
After scuffing about in the underbrush, its usual habitat, this towhee is taking a well-earned bath.
Colaptes auratus (northern flicker)
Their exotic calls, dazzling plumage and large size make flickers unmistakeable. Their brilliant orange tail feathers, when happened upon, are a treasure for the finder.
Junco hyemalis (dark-eyed junco)
The dark-eyed juncos are all around. We have a pair that have taken up residence in the greenhouse. They’ve made themselves quite at home and we all hope they’ll stay.
Calypte anna (Anna’s hummingbird)
A miracle with wings, these tiny hummingbirds manage to survive our winters.
Sitta canadensis (red-breasted nuthatch)
The red-breasted nuthatches can often be seen going up and down the furrowed bark of conifers, finding tiny insects and other things to eat. Sometimes they will visit the Cascara Circle bog with the golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa) and brown creepers (Certhia americana). All three species seem to do well in each other’s company, high up in big, old conifers. Look for them in the deodar cedar trees (Cedrus deodara) near Cascara Circle.
Piranga ludoviciana (western tanager)
Finally, a spring visitor to Cascara Circle every year, the western tanager is an eye catcher and a sure sign that it is May. They wisely spend their winters in southern Mexico and Central America, then come north for the summer. We should all be so lucky!
I’ll do my best to talk Emile into taking more bird photos. These represent a small sample of Medicinal Herb Garden birds. Some stay all year and some are here for a day. But their flitting presence is a gift and an integral part of the Medicinal Herb Garden’s allure.
we envy the birds
lifting off, those words alone
stir our deepest dreams
See you in the garden.