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First Person: Naturalist Julie Zickefoose On The Joy Of Birds

Eastern Bluebird with chicory and roses from The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds. (Julie Zickefoose)
Eastern Bluebird with chicory and roses from The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds. (Julie Zickefoose)

The joy of birds. It’s a joy that comes if we take the time to listen. In the latest First Person diary, artist, writer and naturalist Julie Zickefoose shares some words of advice on the wonders of birding.

JULIE ZICKEFOOSE: No matter where you live, there are going to be birds around you. They’re everywhere. They’re in urban areas. I mean, there are peregrine falcons nesting on buildings in downtown cities. And, you know, I’ve been walking in cities and heard the [sounds] of a peregrine coming from the top of a building. And people are just going by on the street completely unaware that this amazing bird is sitting up there on a cornice yelling.

KIMBERLY ATKINS STOHR: Julie lives and works on 80 acres in the Appalachian foot trails of southeastern Ohio. Every morning she walks through the meadows, the orchards and the forests on her property.

ZICKEFOOSE: The morning walk is definitely, I call it my morning practice. … I’ll often say, you know, I’m going out to to get my mind straight.

ATKINS STOHR: Julie says every time she’s out walking and birding, the world shows her something to be amazed about. A new nesting pair of orchard orioles, a familiar blue-winged warbler, a whip-poor-will.

ZICKEFOOSE: When I go on my walk in the morning this time of year in heavy, heavy, high summer, I tend to stick to the meadow where I’ve mowed a couple of miles of trails through it. And then I go into the wooded orchard and I bird there and I see who’s feeding young. And I listen to the swelling cicada chorus, which just started today, the dog day cicadas, not the periodic ones.

ZICKEFOOSE: So it’s really very beautiful. And I make it a point to do this every single day. And then I can be in touch with the changes and the phonology of the seasons. What’s happening on a given day might be very different from what was happening the day before.

ZICKEFOOSE: I do have actually lots of favorite places. One is my husband’s grave, which is out in the middle of the meadow, and he’s only been gone a couple of years. And it seems like I always see or hear something really neat out there. And I often think it’s a message from him. After I visit Bill, I walk into the orchard and there’s a tree there. I call the Dogwood God, which is this enormous Virginia dogwood that I cleared of overhanging vines and strangling multiflora rose.

ZICKEFOOSE: And I love to stand there and just revel in this amazing tree, holding forth there with a clear understory. And I like to listen to what’s singing there. And sometimes I even climb up in it for a whole different perspective on the woods. I can be gone anywhere from an hour to three or four hours, depending on what I find. And that’s the beauty of it. It’s my daily practice is led by exploration and discovery.

ZICKEFOOSE: And let’s say I find something cool, like a nursery web spider and I want to photograph the spider tending its young, that kind of thing. It just depends. Or maybe like today, I ran into the brood of blue-winged warblers being fed and before that I had a great look at a yellow-billed cuckoo calling, which is a bird that’s really hard to get a look at. I study what I’ve got. I love what I’ve got, and I’m happy with what I can see.

ZICKEFOOSE: Birds have these beautiful songs that if we allow them to, can seep into our consciousness and shape and experience for us. Like there’s nothing like going out on a summer evening and listening to the first whip-poor-will start to sing. And then joined by a barred owl or a woodcock twirling in the sky. There’s just something about the fact that they’re songsters. And they’re migrants. And they fly and they spend some time with us, but then they go away on these mysterious odysseys that are so much more amazing than we ever dreamt. … I think Roger Tory Peterson, called them the most eloquent or vibrant expression of life on Earth. And I tend to agree.

In this First Person diary … we hear from:

Julie Zickefoose, writer, artist and naturalist in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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