Afternoon Birding at Nisqually

The sun finally decided to come out about 1:30 Sunday afternoon, so Leslie and I went to Nisqually. I’ve never been to Nisqually in the late afternoon, so I was curious how it might change birding. Of course, I hoped that the birds that insisted on staying in the shade in the morning would be in the sun in the afternoon. Yeah, as if.

What I did notice was that there were a lot more butterflies flying around then I’ve seen in the morning. Even though they seemed more skittish than usual because of the considerable number of people, I managed to get a few shots:

Tiger Swallowtail

It also seemed that there were different birds out in the afternoon than in the morning. For instance, this is the first Western Wood-Pewee I’ve seen this year, and he seemed to be enjoying the sunshine. Of course, it might actually be the increased number of mosquitoes that he was really enjoying, because there seemed to be considerably more of them than I’ve noticed in the cooler morning.

Western Wood-Pewee

Nor have I gotten a picture of a Downy Woodpecker before yesterday, though I have seen glimpses of them in the morning. They were everywhere yesterday but still seemed to seek out the darkest shade, at least while I was trying to photograph them. Do the bugs they feed on tend to hide in the shade?

This photograph comes to you through the miracle of RAW, Aperture, and Photoshop, because about all I could see in the original was the shadow of a woodpecker. I’m sure if I keep going back I’ll finally get a shot of one in the sunshine and I can delete this series.

Downy Woodpecker

My favorite shot of the day, though, was this one of the same Hooded Merganser I shot last week, though this one has the advantage of having the rich glow of late afternoon sun rather than being shot in the dull gray of a cloudy morning. Photoshop can transform a bad photograph into an average photo, but it can never attain the beauty of a shot taken in the perfect light.

Hooded Merganaer with Duckling


It’s been a while, but I’m back to finishing R.S. Thomas’ Collected Later Poems 1988-2000 , specifically “No Truce with the Furies, ” published in 1995. Earlier I thought that Thomas seemed to be running out of energy, but this volume dispelled that image. With his retirement he seemed to gain a new freedom. As you’d expect, he still focuses on God, but his vision seems to have expanded.

It’s hard not to be moved by this vision of God:


You have made God small,
setting him astride
a pipette or a retort
studying the bubbles,
absorbed in an experiment
that will come to nothing.

I think of him rather
as an enormous owl
abroad in the shadows,
brushing me sometimes
with his wing so the blood
in my veins freezes, able

to find his way from one
soul to another because
he can see in the dark.
I have heard him crooning
to himself, so that almost
I could believe in angels,

those feathered overtones
in love’s rafters, I have heard
him scream, too, fastening
his talons in his great
adversary, or in some lesser
denizen, maybe, like you or me.

Many would like to reduce God to science, to reveal Him through the Laws he has laid down. It’s comforting to think that His actions are logical and predictable. One is apt to have a very different vision of God in combat, when both the good and the bad are swept away without warning. Old age doesn’t seem too different, either. Why does someone who’s smoked their whole life die at 80 from “natural causes” and someone’s who’s never smoked a day in his life dies at 63 from lung cancer?

One could almost imagine R.S. Thomas believes, like Jonathon Edwards, in a God who abhors mankind, an Old Testament God who would like to smite us for our sins but restrains himself if we swear our belief in Christ. Of course, then it would be difficult to know what to do with a poem like this one:


Where is that place apart
you summon us to? Noisily
we seek it and have no time
to stay. Stars are distant;
is it more distant still,
out in the dark in the shadow
of thought itself? No wonder
it recedes as we calculate
its proximity in light years.

Maybe we were mistaken
at the beginning or took later
a wrong turning. In curved space
one can travel for ever and not recognise
one’s arrivals. I feel rather
you are at our shoulder, whispering
of the still pool we could sit down
by; of the tree of quietness
that is at hand; cautioning us
to prepare not for the breathless journeys
into confusion, but for the stepping
aside through the invisible
veil that is about us into a state
not place of innocence and delight.

Judging from this poem it wouldn’t be hard to believe that Thomas was a Taoist or a Zen Buddhist, urging us to seek salvation through quiet meditation. Are we so busy seeking that we “have not time/ to stay?” It’s almost as if Thomas, like Buddhists who seek to calm the mind, is asking us to escape “the shadow of thought itself” and sit by a “still pool” and rediscover our natural “state … of innocence and delight,” with God “at our shoulder.”

Silver Lining

I’m really not foolish enough to believe that every cloud has a silver lining — gone through far too much to believe that — but it really seems that one of the advantages of our cool, wet (dare one say, miserable) weather has been that there seem to be more wildflowers than usual, they are larger than usual, and they last much longer than usual.

And though I feel blessed to live next to the Pt. Defiance Rhododendron Garden and Rose Garden, wildflowers are still my favorite flowers, and I think Foxglove is my favorite of all: