Hooting, drumming, flights so fine…will you be my Valentine?

Love is in the air! It swoops in graceful dark-winged arcs across the drooping tips of Western Hemlocks, rings through the forest in resonant baritone duets. Love hammers its name on strong bare tree limbs. And just before 5AM in yesterday’s misty gray morning, love hooted lustily in the cedar outside my bedroom window.

How do I love thee? the birds ask. Let us count the ways. The woodpecker’s valentine is a drum, its message of affection delivered in staccato rapping on a firm branch or tree trunk—or, unfortunately for you if you happen to be a noise-intolerant human, on your metal gutters or chimney.

Northern Flicker pair on light pole

Northern Flicker pair on light pole, male in front

As Beethoven knew, an unsterbliche Geliebte, the Immortal Beloved, can inspire truly creative expression: here’s a Red-breasted Sapsucker who apparently hoped he’d get more bang for his buck with this particular drum. Hopefully his “Mein Engel, mein alles, mein Ich” felt the same way.

Red-breasted Sapsucker at fire alarm. Pack Forest, Washington.

Red-breasted Sapsucker at fire alarm.
Pack Forest, Washington.

Don Giovanni himself, calling under his tesoro‘s window, couldn’t generate a richer baritone love song than these Common Ravens, calling back and forth across my park yesterday and today as they soared over the trees.

Common Raven. Lincoln Park, West Seattle

Common Raven.
Lincoln Park, West Seattle

Common Raven. Lincoln Park, West Seattle

Common Raven.
Lincoln Park, West Seattle

Surely their dramatic flights, diving, chasing, calling, weren’t so much about Nevermore, but rather, How about sometime soon? Like many longtime lovers, this raven pair—who’ve been showing up briefly in my park about this time of year since 2009—might want that special date in that special place each year to remind themselves of just how wonderful each other is.

Or maybe it’s more your style to just sit quietly together on your porch swing.

Crow pair on swing Lincoln Park, West Seattle

Crow pair on swing
Lincoln Park, West Seattle

At the beginning of his career, Shakespeare was ridiculed as an “upstart crow.” Crows are probably still chuckling about this compliment to Shakespeare’s  intelligence and verbal expressiveness.

Quiet companionship is a lovely thing. But oh, the intimate joys of 5AM hooting! “Then nightly sings the staring owl/Tu-whit; tu-who, a merry note,” says Winter in Love’s Labour’s Lost. But my owls, beyond merry, didn’t stop at tu-whit, tu-who—they were outright calloohing and callaying in their frabjous joy. Ha-ha-ha-ha-hoo-hoo-heh-aHOO! Ha-ha-ha-ha-hoo-hoo-heh-aHOO! One Barred Owl belly-laughed while his partner trilled, then they moved around the cedar branches and went at it again and again. Titania, Queen of the Fairies, shares her forest with “The clamorous owl that nightly hoots,” but I think Shakespeare must have misheard her adjective: they’re cl-amorous.

Caught in a kiss! Barred Owls, Lincoln Park, West Seattle

Caught in a kiss!
Barred Owls, Lincoln Park, West Seattle

And finally, I have to share this wonderful painting by my gifted friend and fellow Antarctic aficionado, artist Kate Spencer. Instead of chocolate or flowers, Gentoo Penguins offer their sweethearts small rocks (often stolen from a neighbor’s nest)—almost as “forever” as diamonds.

Valentine's Day gift in the Deep South. Gentoo Penguins, painted by Kate Spencer (katespencer.com)

Valentine’s Day gift in the Deep South.
Gentoo Penguins, painted by Kate Spencer (katespencer.com)

Take your choice—hoot, drum, soar, sit, or give a rock—and go show someone you love them. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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7 responses to “Hooting, drumming, flights so fine…will you be my Valentine?

  1. Oh I love your literary comparisons of bird calls and actions to Shakespeare. Once I was awakened way too early on a Sunday morning by a northern flicker having a go at my metal chimney top too. As usual enjoy your prose and photos.

  2. Beautifully written! It’s a joy visiting your site. Here in Austria many songbirds are back now. With every day I walk in the forest I notice small changes in the melodies and atmosphere that they bring along. So precious to witness.

  3. Very sweet post! I enjoyed your literary inclusions and lucky photos! I too have noted flickers drumming on my house lately!

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