Yes, that is a painted bunting. In my garden. First spotted by Camille on a feeder, then photographed by Matthew on the orange tree.
I think I first fell in love with birds at Mrs. Andes’ house (my piano teacher, in West Newton, Pa.) She had a wonderful, well-maintained, neatly enclosed backyard, with bird feeders stationed all over it, including pine cones hung with peanut butter and seeds. When I completed a piece as a little girl, she placed a bird sticker in my music journal, where she wrote her notes each week. (I got to pick which bird from a sticker set.) And if my mom was late picking me up, and the next student came, I could spend time in her yard, watching and wondering at the order, at the grace, of a simple backyard of an elderly couple with no children, a small paradise for me and several lovely little birds.
We were standing at the kitchen counter tonight when Camille spotted the first painted bunting. “Mom, Mom!” Urgent. I always feel like I go into slow motion when she says that…can’t move quickly enough to see what she wants me to!
And there it was. A painted bunting, on the feeder right outside the kitchen window, hanging on the hook-and-line contraption that Dad set up for me the last time I was here, so that I could raise and lower the feeder as needed off the pergola. I was stunned, not quite sure what I was seeing. Then Matthew said, “It’s a painted bunting, Mom!” And he picked up the Peterson’s bird guide that happened to be sitting on the counter, and there it was, right on the front cover. I couldn’t believe it. Camille has always had extra sharp eyes.
Matthew got right to work, looking up the details on the bird in the book. “There it is, Mom,” he said, as he showed me the migratory patterns, and pointed out that the little fleck of color on the tiny map meant that we would see buntings throughout the summer. Wow. The most glamorous bird I’d seen on that feeder before was a tufted titmouse last week, and I thought that was pretty darn exciting!
Of course, ol’ sharp-eyed Camille had also recently spotted two bluebirds checking out the nest box I had casually set on the baker’s rack on the back porch. (Put that box up in the front yard last Saturday morning…more on that later.)
Matt decided we should always keep the camera handy from now on, and set it up with the long focus lens. And I decided we should start keeping a bird-spotting list. I got a blank journal from my mini-stash (one with birds on it, of course), and documented the sighting. Camille moseyed out from her room briefly to see what was going on, and Matt went outside with the camera. All was quiet for a few minutes while I finished cooking, then Matt came in with his announcement: He’d seen several more male painted buntings, as well as a pale green female, and had the photos to prove it!
So, we set up for some more bird watching. The kids set the table outside, under the pergola, while I finished up our dinner of breaded chicken cutlets, mashed potatoes, and a salad of sliced red tomatoes, purple onion, balsamic vinegar, and green basil leaves picked from a container on the back porch.
Then Matthew read his favorite prayer from the Book Of Gratitude: “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” And Camille said the follow-up prayer: “Help us to be grateful for everything we have, to remember to be kind, loving, and thankful, and to have a positive attitude about everything.”
And then we spotted another painted bunting, this time on the feeder at the far end of the yard. Then he was gone, and back. And gone and back again! Finally, two appeared at once, and rested in the cypress tree. It was quite a show, while we finished our dinner, the kids enjoying swishing the cutlets around in their ketchup (horrors). “Why don’t you like ketchup?” Camille asked me for the thousandth time.
Then she hesitated, considered going inside, and instead pulled her latest English book, Lord of the Flies, from behind her on the chair. “Want me to read this you guys?” “Yes,” I said.
“You can learn a lot by reading books,” she pointed out, the understatement of the evening.
And by hanging out together, in the garden, watching birds.