Monday, October 30, 2023

Birdtober Day Thirty-One: Spotted Owl


The Spotted Owl is best known by non-birding people as the poster child for environmentalist excesses. In the eighties and nineties there was a kerfuffle between loggers and environmentalists, and in the news this was presented as a zero sum game. Either the birds would survive, or people would. 

Once I was asked to give a devotional to a Christian group, and I talked, with photos, about the local birds in that place, and how the Bible tells us to "consider the birds." Jesus Himself talked about the value of birds and how they are emblematic of God's care for His creation. After I spoke, the leader of the group began the main part of the meeting by asking the people to prioritize several worthy causes, like ending world hunger, providing employment, spreading the gospel. In a nod to my presentation, he added protecting birds to his list, and then laughingly commented that of course nobody would ever put that high in their priorities. But like the Spotted Owl controversy, this misses the point. 

Protecting the environment is good for everybody. We shouldn't have to choose between caring for people and caring for nature. Biodiversity makes life healthier for human beings. Spotted Owls are a complex case (you can read more about that here and here), but I think a step in the right direction would be to stop seeing environmental protection as a contest between humans and wildlife. Can we compromise in ways that will help both? We are all part of the delicate balance, and the whole system will be poorer if any of us cease to be.



In the quiet night

Spotted Owl waits for its prey

Hopes for survival

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Birdtober Day Thirty: Allen's Hummingbird



Green, rust, and orange

warrior speeds back and forth,

guards territory


Here are some other hummingbird poems from the past. These are gorgeous, amazing little birds!


Saturday, October 28, 2023

Birdtober Day Twenty-Nine: Hadada Ibis

For last year's Artist's Choice, I wrote about the Shoebill, but mentioned I had considered the Hadada Ibis, whose call is a big part of our soundtrack here in Kampala. So this year, I decided to choose the Hadada Ibis for my one day out of the whole month with no prompt. (The videos both use the spelling Hadeda, but on eBird it's Hadada.)

These birds are very abundant and very noisy. Often when we arrive at school in the morning, they are bobbing around on the football (soccer) field, looking for food just exactly the way American Robins do in the US. Many people consider them a nuisance and unattractive, but if you look closely at their teal-toned iridescence, they are quite beautiful. According to one of my students, the local story is that the Ibises' children were stolen away, and their loud call is their attempt to get them back.

Come back, my children

All day long I call for you

Flying and flying


©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Reading Update

Book #67 of 2023 was The Trackers, by Charles Frazier. I will always read whatever Frazier writes, and I have reviewed some of his other books on this blog: Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons, Nightwoods, and Varina. This latest book is about the Great Depression, the New Deal, art, and marriage. It's not as good as Cold Mountain, but really, what is? It's still plenty worth reading.

Book #68 was Must Be a Mistake, by Fiona West, who is a friend of mine. I've read several of her books, some in draft form. I appreciate how West includes characters who are neurodivergent, chronically ill, and otherwise quirky. They are always fun and they always lead to lovely happy endings, which in these times are certainly welcome.

Book #69 was Malibu Rising, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This is the story of a party, but we also get the back stories of many of the hosts and guests. I don't love wild parties in real life or in fiction, but I did like the realistic presentation of how trauma changes people's responses to the world.

Book #70 was Kate Bowler's latest book, The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days. I read a library copy, but I'm seriously thinking I need to buy this one. Here's a taste:

You who are grieving losses, too many to name,

too complex or unbecoming to speak aloud.

Blessed are you, dear one,

searching for someone to understand,

to see your wounds and your hope for healing.

You are seen, as you walk this hard

and lonely road.

Book #71 was Composed: A Memoir, by Roseanne Cash. I read this because it was recommended to me. I didn't know anything about Cash, her family, or her music, but this was an interesting portrait of her life. Especially vivid was her writing about recovering from brain surgery.

Book #72 was Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May. This book wasn't quite what I was expecting, being a little more of a personal story than a study of the idea of wintering, but there were some gems in it. "Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season in which the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It's a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order." 

Book #73 was a reread, Lori Gottlieb's Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. Here's what I wrote about it in 2019. Here are Gottlieb's words to a mom of grown children, from whom she's estranged: "'Maybe,' I say, 'instead of worrying about them, you can love them. All you can do is find a way to love them that's about what they need from you and not what you need from them right now.'"

Birdtober Day Twenty-Eight: Galah



Of all the pink birds during Birdtober this year, this one is the pinkest. Pinker than the Pink Robin. Pinker than the Pine Grosbeak. I think the cap on this bird is the pinkest thing about it, as though it had opted to wear a carnation on its head. I read that in Australia if someone calls you a Galah they may be saying you're an idiot or a clown, or just that your clothing is gaudy. 


Pinkest birdie of them all
Carnation-headed cockatoo
Your endearing, squeaky call
Echoes “Galah!” back to you.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


Thursday, October 26, 2023

Poetry Friday: Birdtober Day Twenty-Seven: Blue Penguin




The official name for the Blue Penguin is Little Penguin. They are also called fairy penguins. They live in Australia and New Zealand and they are the smallest penguin species. For twenty years, people from around the world have been knitting sweaters for these penguins to protect them from oil pollution.

Little Penguin,
Fairy Penguin,
In a cozy sweater,
Tell me, do you think the world
is ever getting better?
People hurt and people kill
and people seem so hateful.
Yet they knit you tiny sweaters,
so for that I’m grateful.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Below you'll find links to all my Birdtober poems so far, and next week I'll post the whole month of birds. Be sure to visit this week's Poetry Friday roundup here.

Day One: Blue-winged Pitta 

Day Two: Cuban Trogon 

Day Three: Eastern Rosella

Day Four: Superb Fruit-Dove 

Day Five: Common Tailorbird

Day Six: Albatross 

Day Seven: Bearded Reedling 

Day Eight: Pin-tailed Whydah 

Day Nine: Peregrine Falcon 

Day Ten: Strawberry Finch 

Day Eleven: Magnificent Frigatebird 

Day Twelve: Azure Tit

Day Thirteen: Potoo 

Day Fourteen: Scarlet Ibis

Day Fifteen: White-naped Crane 

Day Sixteen: Cattle Egret 

Day Seventeen: Turaco

Day Eighteen: Cape Batis 

Day Nineteen: Pink Robin

Day Twenty: Pine Grosbeak

Day Twenty-One: Bluethroat 

Day Twenty-Two: Bohemian Waxwing 

Day Twenty-Three: Black-headed Gull 

Day Twenty-Four: Ornate Hawk-Eagle 

Day Twenty-Five: Mandarin Duck 

Day Twenty-Six: Emu 


Birdtober Day Twenty-Six: Emu


Color changing,
Threat displaying,
Kneel for drinking,
Green egg laying,
Grunting, hissing,
Throat inflating,
Panting, booming,
Climbing fences
for good eating:
doing all this,
then repeating.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Birdtober Day Twenty-Five: Mandarin Duck



Many bird species show sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females look different. But the Mandarin Duck has an extreme case of dimorphism. The female is a sensible, unobtrusive little brown bird, and the male looks like a circus performer. I love bird descriptions (they are their own kind of poetry), and here's the description from "Male very ornate with big orangey "sail fins" on the back, streaked orangey cheeks, and a small red bill with a whitish tip. Female has narrow white spectacles on shaggy gray head, bold pale dappled spots along flanks, and pale bill tip."


Mr. Mandarin's a dandy,

colorful, dramatic.

Mrs. Mandarin's more quiet,

quite anti-climactic.

He leaves before the ducklings hatch,

while she's the perfect mother;

just what made these lovely birds

so different from each other?


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


Monday, October 23, 2023

Birdtober Day Twenty-Four: Ornate Hawk-Eagle


Seeing one of these birds must be quite an experience. Some things to consider: their wingspan is between 3 ft 10 in to 4 ft 8 in (117-142 cm). They kill and eat very large creatures like caiman, monkeys, Black Vultures, herons, and agoutis. And they have that cute crest, of which I bet they are quite proud. 


(Bonus: Today's Birdtober bird was also on today's Birdnote podcast! You can listen to it here.)



Enormous bird

on maternity leave,

she stays home

while her mate brings food.

She carefully lines the nest

with more and more leaves

to prepare the nursery.

She sits on her one egg almost all the time,

and once it hatches,

she and her mate 

bring food to the chick for months.

Member of a near threatened species,

beheader of large prey,

gentle mother,

ferocious predator:

Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Birdtober Day Twenty-Three: Black-headed Gull


The Black-headed Gull
bobs its brown head, calls out “kwup,”
and eats everything.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Birdtober Day Twenty-Two: Bohemian Waxwing


wings, letters dipped
in scarlet sealing wax;
like feathered northern messages,


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


Friday, October 20, 2023

Birdtober Day Twenty-One: Bluethroat


This bird's Latin name is Luscinia svecica, with the second part meaning "Swedish." It got its name because the colors were reminiscent of the Swedish flag.

I really do not like to brag
But I’m a great flycatcher
Plus, I look like the Swedish flag
And that adds to my stature.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Birdtober Day Nineteen: Pink Robin


Little pink and grey
Denizen of neat moss nest,
Fuzzy ornament

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Birdtober Day Eighteen: Cape Batis



These birds live in Southern Africa; the Cape in the name refers to the Cape of Good Hope. It was first described in print in 1760 by a Frenchman, Mathurin Jacques Brisson, according to Wikipedia. I'd love to see this handsome bird, which one source describes as having a "range of strange calls and antics."


Little guy, black, white, and brown,
makes a “buzzing grating” sound.
Forest-dweller, eating flies,
views the world through orange eyes.


 ©Ruth Bowen Hersey



Monday, October 16, 2023

Birdtober Day Seventeen: Turaco


Source of Photos:



There are at least 23 species of turacos, all of which are endemic to Africa. We have several in Uganda, but the first I saw was the Ross's Turaco, sometimes known as the Lady Ross's Turaco. You can see from the pictures above why I couldn't stop gasping the first time I saw them, and many times afterward. What a beautiful, bright, and amazing bird! 

Lady Ross, the wife of the Governor of the island of Saint Helena, showed a picture and some feathers of this bird to John Gould, an ornithologist. Lady Ross had one of these turacos in her possession, and when Gould presented it as a new species to the Zoological Society of London in 1851, he named it after her. There's some information on this and on some of the problems with naming birds here. 

When I was looking for videos of this bird, I found some where the birds were filmed in cages. I also found a site advertising them for sale (though they are sold out right now). There are plenty of these birds around -- they aren't anywhere close to being endangered -- but still I don't like thinking of them living in cages. Here in Uganda, though, some people consider them pests and they are sometimes trapped and eaten, so maybe their lives in an aviary are less stressful. 


My poem has a bit of a flippant tone, but I really do wish people would let birds live in the wild. Fortunately, here where I live there's a clear understanding that tourists love wildlife and tourists are a huge source of income for the country. There are many efforts being made to preserve biodiversity.


Lovely birds of red and navy 

should not be consumed with gravy.

Nor should they be taken captive

even though they're so attractive.

Let these gorgeous creatures be,

on the ground or in a tree,

for they bring their own delight,

flashing colors in their flight.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Birdtober Day Sixteen: Cattle Egret



Cattle Egrets hang out with cattle, in a mutually beneficial arrangement. The cattle get the annoying bugs eaten off of them, and the Cattle Egrets get to eat what they like best, the bugs that surround the cattle. I am sure I am not the only person who can't help thinking of the old Sesame Street song at this point.


In Kampala there are lots of Cattle Egrets downtown. They are often seen with Marabou Storks, and since those enormous birds are scavengers and love to be close to garbage, I would imagine the bug thing applies just as much as with cows, and maybe even more. Often the Cattle Egrets have what appears to be a blond toupee on their heads.

Snowy and graceful,

Keeping bugs under control:

Birds at your service.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Birdtober Day Fifteen: White-naped Crane




Hera, the wife of an unfaithful husband,
often was overcome with jealousy.
She turned women into animals,
sometimes because Zeus loved them,
sometimes because they had compared themselves with her,
and sometimes just because.

Chelone became a tortoise,
Callisto a bear,
Gerana a crane,
Antigone a stork.

Linnaeus called the crane family Antigone
because he got confused
and really, who can blame him?

But unlike Hera,
storks aren’t much concerned about others.
Antigone Vipio,
for example,
is busy breeding in Mongolia,
complete with elaborate dances involving throwing grass,
raising chicks,
wintering in China or Korea or Japan.

You may call them whatever you like,
as long as you leave them alone.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Friday, October 13, 2023

Birdtober Day Fourteen: Scarlet Ibis



Trees blossom with birds
Roosting until the morning
Scarlet sleepover 


©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Poetry Friday: Birdtober Day Thirteen: Potoo

Happy Poetry Friday! It's Day Thirteen of Birdtober, which was created as a series of prompts for visual artists, but which I use (this is my third year now) as prompts for poems. Below you'll find links to the first twelve days of content, and then today's poem. Don't forget to visit our host, Catherine, at Reading to the Core, to see what everyone else is sharing on this Poetry Friday!

Day One: Blue-winged Pitta 

Day Two: Cuban Trogon 

Day Three: Eastern Rosella

Day Four: Superb Fruit-Dove 

Day Five: Common Tailorbird

Day Six: Albatross 

Day Seven: Bearded Reedling 

Day Eight: Pin-tailed Whydah 

Day Nine: Peregrine Falcon 

Day Ten: Strawberry Finch 

Day Eleven: Magnificent Frigatebird 

Day Twelve: Azure Tit 


There are seven species of Potoo listed on eBird. I've seen -- and heard -- only one, and only once: the Common Potoo, in October of 2021 in Paraguarí, Paraguay. When I listened to the first video below, the call of this bird took me right back to that time and place. The second video has information about the members of this odd bird family.



That night in Escobar
in rural Paraguay,
at the end of a day of birds,
we went out in the yard
after dinner.

We saw and heard
Short-tailed Nighthawks, three of them,
a Common Pauraque,
a Tropical Screech-Owl,

and a Common Potoo,
a Ghost Bird,
hunting moths with his wide mouth,
filling the warm spring evening
with his haunting cry.

From that night in Escobar
I remember the insect chorus,
the friendly light from the house,
the sense that there was more in the world
than I had known.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Birdtober Day Twelve: Azure Tit


Fuzzy snowball bird

Cyanistes cyanus

In the winter sky

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Birdtober Day Eleven: Magnificent Frigatebird

Source: eBird

Source: Wikipedia

I saw this bird twice in Haiti. It is very large and unmistakable, and I was excited to see it. Apparently it has a less-than-magnificent habit of making other birds throw up their food and then eating their vomit. Christopher Columbus wrote about this in his journal; we know because his priest, Bartolomé de las Casas, preserved the account. Las Casas is the one of the first who suggested bringing laborers from elsewhere because the treatment of islanders by Columbus and his men was so heinous. Las Casas argued that the islanders had souls, though few others agreed with him. (Las Casas later said that he believed all slavery was wrong.) In my poem, I question whether some things are quite as magnificent as we've been told. 

Columbus criticized the Magnificent Frigatebird

for taking food it hadn't caught

from the stomach of other birds.

Las Casas criticized Columbus

for taking islanders as slaves

and believing they had no souls.

History criticizes las Casas

because the transatlantic trade in human beings

was his brainchild.

There's lots of criticism to go around

and much less magnificence

than you might have thought.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Monday, October 09, 2023

Birdtober Day Ten: Strawberry Finch

The Strawberry Finch's official name is Red Avadavat, but you can easily see where the nickname came from when you look at the photo of this bird from South-East Asia. It's also sometimes called a Red Munia.


Source: eBird


These birds were once very popular pets, but the males have this intense coloring only during breeding season, and even then they don't get as vividly red when they live in colder climates. Hence my poem.


Rice field

Red flash

Red beak

Red eyes

Red rump

Red hot


©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Birdtober Day Nine: Peregrine Falcon


Watch this BBC video that shows all the awesome terrifying power of the Peregrine Falcon, and how, in spite of its perfect design, this killing machine doesn't always get what it wants.

Fastest predator

Hunts on every continent

Prey still sometimes wins

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Birdtober Day Eight: Pin-tailed Whydah

For the first two years that I did Birdtober, the first day of the prompt list featured a bird I'd seen before. But this year, I had to get to the eighth day before encountering a familiar bird. This spectacular species is one we have here in Uganda, and I have it so far on twenty of my checklists. Here's a wonderful post about this bird written from Zimbabwe. I got a lot of my information from this vivid description of the bird's behavior.


The Pin-tailed Whydah's a Lothario

Spreading his genes far and wide

Midair mating his favorite scenario

Flowing tailfeathers his pride.

His mates lay eggs in waxbills' nests,

Avoiding tough parenting jobs.

The babies, raised as waxbill guests,

Become in turn whydah heartthrobs. 

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Friday, October 06, 2023

Birdtober Day Seven: Bearded Reedling


This is quite a natty fellow:

bill of shiny orange-yellow,

not really bearded, but mustachioed,

eats reed seeds and reed aphids by the load;

in fact, we'd be quite safe to say

he loves reeds in every way.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Poetry Friday: Birdtober Day Six: Albatross

Hi, Poetry Friday friends! This is my first time on PF since June, but it's also my third year doing Birdtober. At a busy time of the year, adding a little creativity to each day counterintuitively makes things more manageable, and not less so. Below you can find links to my first five days of posts, plus today's bird.

Day One: Blue-winged Pitta 

Day Two: Cuban Trogon 

Day Three: Eastern Rosella

Day Four: Superb Fruit-Dove 

Day Five: Common Tailorbird


Today's bird is an Albatross. I picked the Wandering Albatross to write about; there are at least fifteen species of albatross.

Source: eBird

Wandering Albatross:
Diomedea exulans.

Diomedea from Ovid’s tale
of Diomedes’ friends being turned into birds
because they angered Aphrodite,
a most foolish thing to do.
Exulans for exile.

And indeed,
the Wandering Albatross
is a wanderer,
like Diomedes who went back and forth to fight in wars
and drove a chariot with wild abandon,
like his friends who fluttered about at Aphrodite’s will.
The Wandering Albatross
spends most of its time flying,
only landing briefly to eat and produce offspring,
necessities of life even for wanderers.
It can fly 75,000 miles in a year.

But the Wandering Albatross seems happy with not settling down.
It mates for life,
can live for more than 50 high-flying years,
was called a “bird of good omen” by Coleridge.
It loves to eat,
makes loud joyful noises,
sleeps in flight
and dreams soaring feathery dreams.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey



Our host this week is prolific children's author Matt Forrest-Esenwine. Be sure to visit his roundup to find links to all the participants in today's Poetry Friday festivities.