The Bird Whisperer(s)

A few weeks before Christmas, on a Sunday afternoon, we drove to Edworthy Park with a camera and tripod in an effort to capture the somewhat dreaded, annual photo-for-the-Christmas-card-we-don’t-actually-mail-out. In recent years, this particular ‘event’ has been so painful – think: hundreds of outtakes of irritated mother, blinking, uncooperative children, squinty-eyed husband who insists on not smiling so that his eyes will ‘look more open’ – that I’d seriously considered skipping it altogether.

But then the professor, seemingly obligated by my not-so-secret preferences, despite being overly aware of the horror that is family pictures with crazy Nicola, suggested we attempt the traumatic and I acquiesced, even though my left eye had begun twitching at the mere thought of setting up the tripod and trying to aim the remote at the camera in a way that doesn’t scream: hey, look, we took this picture with a tripod and a remote!

You know, comme ça….


So we grabbed the tripod and coats and walked out the door without any wardrobe changes or cosmetic enhancements, despite the fact that I was fairly certain the Hen had worn the same sweater for the previous year’s card, though it didn’t then have the mysterious, slightly off-center stain that refuses to relinquish its grips on the grey cotton despite multiple launderings.

I also did not make note of the fact that the Gort and I were, rather coincidentally, wearing nearly identical outfits, down to the blue oxford men’s shirts underneath our blazers. Otherwise I might have taken greater care to, say, put him next to the professor.

But frankly, it was incredibly cold once we left the warmish confines of our crescent. And I was not about to take a photo with us wearing winter jackets, even if it is entirely true-to-life. So this year’s photographic strategy went something like this: Rather than ambling all over the park looking for a photogenic spot, I settled for the best spot….closest to our car. We abandoned plans for an obligatory fun post-photo walk, threw our jackets behind a tree, and I raced to set up the tripod while the litany of complaints began.

‘I’m freezing!’

‘Yes, I know you’re freezing.’

‘But I’m freezing.’

‘Yes, but we can’t wear our coats in the picture. Ten photos and we’ll be done.’

And that is, more or less, what I did. We huddled together. I clicked the remote ten times. We put our coats back on.

‘That’s it?!’ the Gort could scarcely believe his good fortune.

But then….I had a thought that maybe we should walk a few hundred paces to the west (totally guessing) and try ‘one more place’. The boys were surprisingly accommodating about this, perhaps because the experience had lasted all of five minutes.

We hid the coats, took a few more photos and then Percy stuck his hand in the air – ostensibly in an attempt to entice one of the dozens of chickadees chirping in the evergreens – which we all thought was hilarious.


And next thing we knew, a bird responded….by landing on the professor’s hand.


Once that happened, all anyone wanted to do was stand with their reddening arms held high, waiting for a bird to land on their semi-frostbitten hand. (Believe me, I have thirteen digital images to prove it.)

The birds, unfortunately, were a bit choosy about where they would perch for a second or too. They kept returning to the professor’s hand, and to the Hen’s hand – one even had the grave misfortune of setting its spindly little legs on my hand, causing me to shriek as though I’d just touched something vile and disgusting, but none of the chickadees cared to sit on Percy or the Gort’s hand. As one might imagine, this caused a great deal of unhappiness, and I immediately had flashbacks to that day at the fish hatchery last July when everyone caught a fish…..except for the Hen.

The professor promised his forlorn children that we’d return on a slightly balmier day, with breadcrumbs for the birds. And so we did a few weeks later – though the temperature had not changed. We brought along a bag of ground up almonds, and my mother – who loves birds, but not the cold.

Sure enough, we had only to stand there with freezing hands held high for a few minutes, when a bird landed on the professor’s hand.


And on the Hen’s hand.


And on my mom’s hand. But not one chickadee would even consider landing on little Percy’s hand, despite the fact that his dad had picked him up and was holding him in the same spot where many a bird had stopped for a quick nibble from the professor’s hand.

The shunned boys’ unhappiness reached acute levels, while birds landed on their father and middle brother’s hands like it was peak arrival time at Heathrow Airport. ‘I know,’ I tried to sympathize with my unlucky boys, ‘it feels like it’s your prom night and Daddy just came downstairs wearing a tuxedo, trying to impress your date.’

We left, once again, with heads hanging low and semi-frostbitten fingers. And lots of pictures of Dad and the Hen holding birds.

We returned to the scene of the crime a few days later, having resolved to spend more time outdoors in 2016 even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. The birders had their little bag of bird-crack and were chomping at the bit to show off, but sixty percent of our party had little-to-no desire to be humiliated once again.

Two roads diverged in Edworthy wood.

And sorry we could not travel both.

And be five travelers, long we stood.

Three took the other, two stayed put

And that has made all the difference.*




*’Slightly’ adapted from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.



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