Getting Up Close & Personal With the Birds

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My phone buzzes every few minutes these days. I keep it on vibrate-only nearly all the time so as not to annoy other people with its chirps and beeps. Or myself for that matter. Some of the alerts come from the major news outlets I follow to ascertain what fresh hell awaits us today. There is never a lack of news to bring one down a bit.

To counteract the spate of depressing information flashing across my phone, my Beautiful Mystery Companion, daughter Abbie, and I now get a bevy of notifications from our new high-tech bird feeder. It was a Mother’s Day gift that we can all enjoy — continual video feeds of birds feasting on one of our backyard feeders, this one equipped with a camera, a generous landing trough for the birds, and a small solar panel to power the camera battery and send the 10-second video bursts to our phones via Bluetooth.

That comprises the extent of my technical knowledge of how we magically now get charming videos of red-tipped blackbirds, mourning doves, cardinals and chickadees feasting on the seed — providing us a literal bird’s eye view as they peck away. The notifications pile up some days, until I realize there are two dozen unwatched video snippets of our backyard feeders. Then it is time to get busy, my eyes glued to the phone screen as a female cardinal gets a bite, me scrolling through the videos like a Tik-Tok junkie — which I decidedly am not. The birds are a different story, my feathered-friend fix.

The camera is mounted inside the feeder. It provides a wide-angle view of our entire yard, so it often catches our four-legged companions chasing each other in the background. Or it spies me ambling over to refill the feeder. Or, just about each evening, it records a fat racoon hanging from the chain-link fence and gobbling up paws of birdseed. I have not devised a raccoon barrier just yet, but it is on the list of to-dos. The racoon, being the fastidious type, waddles over to the outside water dish on the back patio and washes his paws, leaving a muddy bowl as evidence. Plus the video clip, of course. We have that fellow dead to rights.

We are dipping our toes slowly into this peeping-Tom world of spying on our backyard friends. For now, we are only using the free app and not springing for the artificial intelligence add-on, which claims it can identify the birds right as they are captured by the camera. The example shown on the app site shows AI helpfully identifying a blue jay. Really? A blue jay? I need AI a bit more sophisticated than that. I also am curious how AI would react to that racoon up on the feeder. Hairy Bird! Hairy Bird!

A wet spring — at least thus far — means our backyard is bursting with color, from daylilies, a late-blooming wisteria, lantana, roses, and purple sage, to name a few. The butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are enjoying this habitat immensely. I have even spied a few lightning bugs in the evening, the first I have seen this spring out here at Three Geese Farm.

Bzzzz. Another alert. Either the jury has reached a verdict in Trump’s criminal trial or there is another bluejay, or a cardinal, or a mourning dove, up on the feeder, smiling for the camera. Actually, it is a red-winged blackbird, a fat fellow tipping the feeder alarmingly toward the ground as he weighs in for a bite. On my phone’s screen, he is a bit of a blob, too close to the camera lens. I am hopeful a clearer image will follow with the next alert.

As I sit in front of my iMac, trying to push through a minor writer’s block to begin work on the next major project, the phone alerts are a pleasant excuse to put off clicking the keys and starting. I have a set of a half-dozen quotations taped below the screen, for inspiration and exasperation. One of them, from Jorge Luîs Borges, follows: A writer takes earnest measures to exact his solitude and then find ways to squander it.

I am doing my level best to do just that this morning, squandering my solitude, ever alert to another Bzzzz from my phone. Maybe it’s a Carolina chickadee making a video appearance this time.

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