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I'm Back! Where's Jemima?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

It's been a week, but I feel like I've just now returned from 12 days away, ten of them spent in the Ecuadorian Andes and foothills. I left on Opening Day of our weeklong gun season for whitetails, so I missed the whole bang-bangy thing.  It was very wet and not warm in the Andes, so these frigid Ohio temperatures weren't much of a shock. I had an 18-hour journey home, getting up at 4 AM in Quito and finally walking in the door, loaded down with luggage and fresh groceries, at 10 PM Friday night, December 8. The trip was incredible, awesome, fun as all getout, full of fabulous birds and wonderful friends who were all grooving on it together. I'll return. I have to!! There's so much more to experience!

 While I was in Ecuador, I dreamt of birds every single night, except for the night that I dreamt of my DOD. All the birds needed me to care for them. They kept getting into trouble, losing feathers, breaking wings.  Obligations, things I wasn't taking care of, birds that needed me--the theme of every night's dreams while I was away. I may have been having fun as a bird guide all day, but at night the birds reminded me of my true work. Finally, I was home.

After a fitful night full of dreams of--get this--living in a house with glass-free windows, where birds kept getting trapped-- blue-gray tanagers**, cedar waxwings, and hummingbirds that kept getting into trouble, all of which I had to help--I jumped out of bed, wanting only to see Jemima, at 6:30 AM. I hadn't had nearly enough sleep, but before it got fully light, I filled all the feeders and washed and refilled the bird bath and put all the best food out. Whole corn, cracked corn, sunflower hearts, black oil, peanuts in and out of the shell. And in the Secret Studio Window Feeder, diced cooked chicken thigh, walnuts, pecans and unsalted cocktail peanuts. Yep, got 'er covered. I was sitting vigil at my usual post when along came Flag!

**This is a cool thing the brain does in dreams. Blue-gray sounds like blue jay. So when I'm dreaming of blue-gray tanagers, chances are my brain is substituting them for blue jays. It's always about Jemima!

 Flag still wears her wide white eyerings, her surprised look.

She was closely followed by Aunt Buffy, a stout little dachshund among whitetails. I love Buffy. She looks terrific, considering that she may be nearly as old as Ellen. Her eye, while still squinty, isn't weeping any more. Progress!

 My two wee does made it through hunting season! Not surprising. That's why I let myself fall in love with scrawny little does. The big bucks? I look, I admire, but I try not to let them take my heart, because they're all marked for death. If they make it through the bloody first week of December, well, that's a bonus, gravy. Good for them.

And that morning of December 9, I watched and photographed an armload of blue jays, but not The Blue Jay. I amused myself photographing them, gathering data, trying to tell one from the other in the flock of seven. I felt rusty, out of practice. This is Darko. He's had three different nicknames, until I realized that I was lookingat the same bird the whole time.

That super white face, contrasting with the dark breast and sides, is one good marker. Also his broad black eyebrows.

This is Lilac. Notice anything about this bird's overall color, especially in contrast to Darko? Yep. Pale. Lilac. Low-contrast. Even the lower throat is lilac-colored. Thin eyebrows. You see the subtlety I'm talking about. These are two extremes in coloration. Most are barely discernible from each other. I have to see a jay a bunch of times and take a bunch of pics before I can identify it with any confidence. I'm a real beginner at this.

But even as I watched and waited and wondered where she was, I knew she was here. I could feel it. My heart was happy and full of anticipation. Liam and Bill had been faithfully putting her chicken and peanuts, corn and sunflower hearts out each morning. At 9:07 AM she finally comes in. I photograph her without knowing it's her at first. Only when she takes several hops and jumps up onto the trunk of a birch do I figure out it's Jemima. These are little things a normal jay wouldn't do. A normal jay would spread its wings and fly. But she's here and Hallelujah! she's made it another twelve days without me around fuss over her! The boys had reported that her meat and peanuts were completely gone every night. The pessimist in me figured that the chipmunks must have defeated my homemade baffle around the tree by her feeder, because Jemima had never finished her meat. Surely something else was taking her food.

  Jemima grabbing corn to cache, Dec. 9

Pigging out on chicken, Dec. 11

But the Jemima I saw on December 9 was a different bird. She was ravenous, taking gullet after gullet-ful of meat. And what was different about that was that she was carrying it away and obviously cacheing it in the woods. When I left in late November, it was still warm--60-degree days. I was intrigued to see that, while she cached large amounts of corn and seed, she always swallowed and ate her chicken. If she did carry away a big gob of chicken, she'd fly to a nearby tree to process and eat it all. She knew that, when it was warm outside, she couldn't hide meat without losing it to decay. It was a different story now. I filled her meat bowl four times, and thrilled to see her visit at least ten times. She was in and around the yard from 9 until nearly 2 pm. At evening every scrap of chicken was gone, and I knew that Jemima had taken it all.

When she flew out the driveway, I followed her. I talked and sang to her. She turned around and flew toward me. No sweeter welcome home. If she could have said MAMA'S HOME!! I think she would have. She showed me how she uses the tangles to navigate to her feeder. Tree to tree she flutters. 

She was here with me for two days--December 9, the morning after my return, and she was back on December 11. And then she vanished again.  I haven't seen her or Maybelline since then. Is it driving me nuts? You bet your bippy it is. But Jemima taking off for a week at a time is just another thing in the great continuum of Things Over Which I Have No Control.

This continuum includes pretty much everything in my life. Jemima is here to teach me more about letting go. It's the one thing I'm worst at. My pitbull tendencies serve me well when it comes to writing my column, finishing books, getting that last illustration done under the deadline, and just generally persevering in the face of obstacles. But letting go of the people and creatures I love is a real challenge, because there inevitably comes a time when you have to. I think I'm programmed to love and hold onto them forever, no matter what. Jem's working on that in me.

I've held vigil at the studio window for six days. Maybe she'll be back on Day 8. Stay tuned. Until then, I'll be editing Ecuador photos. And you're gonna love 'em!!


staying tuned and looking forward to meeting you again at the san diego bird festival 2918

staying tuned and looking forward to meeting you at the san diego bird festival 2018

Looking forward to your photos of Ecuador, and to reading about Jemima's return.

I think you are just taking turns going away and returning. I'm sure she was happy to see you. Her turn now.

I keep reading code references to your children. Wish I could read the unabridged edition; with my boy now 16 I will be at your point soon enough and could use the guidance. Love from Oregon.

Oh my goodness...She's disappeared so she can be your surprise gift Christmas morning!!!

Hi Julie,

Is there an update to the status of this lovely creature? Can't stop thinking about the terrible situation it is in. I have wondered with all your credentials, if you could capture and rehabilitate it with endorsement from the powers that be on the phone? Thank you for all you did to protect it!
Joyce Stone

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