The Elusive Gray Catbird

We hear the gray catbird more often than we see it. When we do see this beautiful gray bird, it’s only a fleeting glimpse. We more often hear it mewing like a cat. It imitates the songs of other birds as well.

I have caught sight of it in our back yard trees. It streaks back and forth from the trees to somewhere else, most likely a nest.

I finally got a short video yesterday morning from which I gleaned a few pictures. It seemed to show off its feathers, even the rust-colored ones you can see only when it lifts its fan-like tail. It has a handsome black cap.

We have a bird book we consult for help identifying birds. The title is Birds of Iowa: Field Guide, written by Stan Tekiela. I first bought the book many years ago. It was published in 2000. I’m pretty sure I bought it at the Iowa Book store on Clinton Street in downtown Iowa City. It was still for sale at the store as recently as last year.

The book makes it easier to identify birds by color. The sections have titles like “Birds that are mostly gray.” Every page has a tab color making it easier to thumb through the book looking for the birds you saw and want to know more about.

The short descriptions are packed with useful descriptions of things like the behavior, migratory patterns, as well as appearance. Tekiela’s description of the gray catbird includes remarks about its color, saying it is “A handsome slate gray bird with black crown…” and “Often seen with tail lifted, exposing chestnut-colored patch under tail.”

Tekiela also would give some pithy and educational stories about birds. According to him, it’s “A secretive bird that the Chippewa Indians named Bird That Cries With Grief due to its raspy call.” Often it mews like a cat, which is how it got its common name.

You’re very lucky to see it.

Juggling and The Wings of Change!

The other day we were at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area mainly to see how juggling goes outdoors for me. We filmed the event for posterity.

It turns out that “wings” had a lot to do with it. I juggled next to Hilde DeBruyn’s sculpture “Winds of Change.” It’s my favorite sculpture, although the winds of change are dictating that the Iowa City Parks Dept. is again going to accept new sculptures for this year which will replace all of those currently on display.

Wings figured in a different way and you can tell by how I react to the bugs flying around. We picked a nice spring day when all the winged insects were buzzing around in my face.

The level of juggling difficulty goes way up when gnats are zipping up my nose, my ears, my mouth, etc.

Always Wear Safety Glasses When Claw Juggling!

I just got a new eyeglass prescription a few days ago. I figured a year was long enough to wait after my surgery for an acute on chronic retinal detachment of my right eye. My vision in that eye has changed quite a bit, but I think new glasses will help a lot.

My old pair of eyeglasses is pretty beat up. Juggling has not helped. I’ve knocked them off my head a couple of times lately. That has not helped the poor fit.

I’m also practicing a new juggling trick called the claw. The throw and catch techniques are very different. You have to claw catch the balls from the top. I end up slamming them on the floor or off my groin. Juggling takes dedication and sacrifice—but there’s a limit.

I think I need safety equipment. I’ll be getting new eyeglasses, but it might be a good idea to get a pair of safety glasses. I just happen to have an old pair of plastic safety glasses from the time Sena bought me a battery-powered pole saw for tree trimming in the back yard a few years ago. Talk about safety. It takes at least as much agility and coordination to dodge a heavy falling tree limb as it does to dodge a juggling ball.

The claw trick puts a vicious spin on the ball and it can fly anywhere at meteoric speed. Controlling the arc and direction to fit the cascade pattern is quite a challenge. Balls frequently ricochet off each other, which is why I don’t drink my coffee during juggling practice. Practicing the claw reminds me that juggling is great exercise. I’m flying all over the place, lunging, leaning, and ducking.

But I might need a helmet.

Sena Letting Juggling Balls Sleep

Sena has been letting her juggling balls take a nap lately. The reason is that she has been very busy in her garden. The balls are either on the floor where she drops them—or placed neatly on a footstool.

I left my assistant coach to encourage her to practice. Unfortunately, he’s been sleeping on the job.

However, last night she practiced because I could hear balls dropping!

Terry Trueblood Birds Show Off in the Spring

Just about any time of year is a great opportunity to walk the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. The birds are busy competing for mates and nesting spaces.

The nest boxes for the tree swallows are up. Already, vacancies are few. Their iridescent feathers are dazzling.

The music in the first part of the video is a piece called “There Are Chirping Birdies In My Soul” by Reed Mathis.

In the second part of the video, we let the birds themselves make the music. The birds don’t just show off; they sound off. All the birds are singing—except for the one killdeer for some reason. I managed to save a few clips of them singing their songs. They are in the last minute or so of the YouTube video. The first is the tree swallow. The next is the red-wing blackbird. Last is the song sparrow.

You’ll need to crank the volume to hear them. The tree swallows have a subtle trilling chirp. The male red-winged blackbirds have a distinctive call that probably sounds very familiar to most of us. We also saw and heard a song sparrow, a first for us.

Familiar Backyard Birds and One Sort of Familiar

We were bird watching the other day and saw a few birds we definitely recognized. One of them we puzzled about but finally decided was a sparrow.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is familiar. We think it was a male. The Blue Jay is still interesting because when it’s not in the sunlight it looks like what it really is—a blackbird. When we first saw it, the bird looked sort of grayish black. Finally, it turned just right and its feather bent the light into the familiar blue color. The Northern Cardinal is instantly recognizable, especially the male. They like to sit a long time, which is great for getting pictures.

The last bird looks like a sparrow but the tail seems longer and the bill is narrower. The breast is not streaked. It has head feathers which stick up. It resembles a female house sparrow, but it seems a bit larger than that. We looked around the web to try and identify the sparrow-like bird we saw.

We wonder if it might be a Cassin’s Sparrow. Although it would be out of its range since it’s found mostly in the southwest United States, Cassin’s Sparrow has been known to wander.

On the other hand, it’s not listed on the websites we saw featuring sparrow species seen in Iowa.

I think the reason it had a greenish breast was because it was reflecting the surrounding tree leaves. We’re calling it a Cassin’s Sparrow for now, but if you know better, shout it out.

Can anybody help us identify this mystery bird?

Claw Catch Circus Juggle

I found another juggling trick I might be able to handle. It’s the claw catch. I saw a number of YouTube demonstrations. As usual, I tend to confuse them.

I slapped the balls down instead of catching them. And I think I’m going to need safety goggles or just quit wearing my eyeglasses when I juggle. I miss a few throws and the ones I do get look pretty wild. That’s how I get my exercise.

The claw catch really does look better if you use both left- and right-hand throws. I hope my left shoulder holds up. Being ambidextrous will help me do continuous right and left claw catches—maybe.

Off The Head Juggle Trick So Wrong but My Way

My take on the off the head juggle trick is that I have to do it wrong, otherwise I just drop all the balls. It was Juggle Man who said “Doing it wrong makes you an artist.”

I have to take my eyeglasses off for this trick. I knocked them off my head the other day and they don’t fit well enough to even stay on my head too well.

I think, with more practice, I can mix up the off the head variations to make it interesting, as long as you don’t look too closely.

I can always say I did it my way.

Sena Making Progress in Juggling

This is a progress report on Sena’s progress in juggling. She has been dedicated to practicing 2 or 3 minutes every other day. Frankly, she does more than that on some days.

She has been trying to move up to doing a 4-ball toss and catch. She thought she got it yesterday, and for a while so did I, even as I filmed it. The practice routine is to toss the balls 1-2-3-4 and catch. We thought she nailed it.

Then I looked at the video clips in slow motion. She wasn’t getting to 4 but she was getting to 3 more consistently. And part of what fooled us is that she’s now beginning to be ambidextrous. She can start the cascade from both her right and left side now!

Sena suggests I change the title of my YouTube section on juggling. As of yesterday, I changed it from Ugly Juggling to Ordinary Juggling. This distinguishes it from all the jugglers from whose videos I learn so much. They are extraordinary.

Off the Head Juggling Trick is Off the Wall

I saw the off the head juggling trick on the Juggle Man YouTube. This maneuver is off the wall. I looked at a couple of other videos because I just could not get the hang of it. One juggling teacher says it’s an “easy” trick. After fumbling a couple hundred times, I’m wondering why I’m hitting this wall with it.

I got the pattern wrong to start off—but that was the only way I could do it at all. When I started getting the pattern right, I was even more impressed with the jugglers who can make it look easy.

The two-ball practice I saw on one juggler’s video was painful. If you’re a guy and you’re doing the claw catch as instructed by some teachers, watch out. You can see what I mean in the video, and I’m not acting in that clip!

And once again, I’m having trouble letting go of a key ball that would allow me to finish the trick by smoothly moving back into the cascade.

I’ll keep you posted.

%d bloggers like this: