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Messages from Bill

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

           One of the hard things about losing someone is that you keep thinking they're going to get back in touch with you--that you're going to get a message here pretty soon. But you listen and watch and stay open, and though they're on your mind so much, the messages mostly never arrive. You have to slowly let go of that thought that you're going to hear their voice or get a strong feeling that they're near. I guess thinking and hoping that that might happen is one way we forestall grief, hold off the emptiness.

   And then there are the days when things happen. You let yourself think that you've just gotten a message, that you're still accompanied, that there might still be a connection.

  The whole time I've lived here--29 years now--I've maintained a "yard list" of all the birds that have flown over, stopped by, bred, or visited this sanctuary. New additions have slowed to a trickle, but I have to say that the species I'm adding now are the coolest of the cool, and that makes up for the years between new additions. Bill was always prognosticating on the next species we were going to get. Me, I'm pretty Zen about it. What shows up, shows up. But oh, the thrill of discovery! The surprise! 

 On May 10, I went out to feed the bluebirds in the yard and the meadow. Both pairs are feeding fledglings now, and I have been subsidizing them once a day, early on each freezing-cold morning. I figure it's hard enough to feed four or five fledglings without temperatures starting out in the 30's every morning. I was leaning against the garage, watching the bluebirds through binoculars, when I saw something that looked like a dark stick in the middle of the meadow.  

 It was a shorebird, and it wasn't a woodcock or a killdeer. It wasn't even a Wilson's snipe, which was species #188 on May 2, 2013. It wasn't a black-bellied plover (#182, May 18, 2006). It was a solitary sandpiper, and it was species #198 for the sanctuary! 

It was poking around looking for food in the little swale that Bill always said would be perfect for a pond. He and I had quite a few discussions about whether making a pond was even feasible. I maintained that the sandy loam there was the wrong soil to hold water, and furthermore that there wasn't enough runoff to fill it, much less keep it wet long enough to even raise a tadpole. I still think that. I go back and forth, back and forth. I would LOVE to put in a shallow frog pond, to serve as a vernal pool for all the wonderful amphibians we have. But I just don't think there's sufficient water, and I'm sure the soil is too permeable for this wonderful notion to work. So now I'm thinking about how much a liner would cost, because I'm still thinking about it.

Here's a little digiscoped video (I just hand-held the phone up to the scope's eyepiece, so it's pretty shaky) of the solitary sandpiper messing about in Bill's little wishful pool. 



That gracious and beautiful visitor stayed long enough for me to charge the house and grab my scope and long lens.

Solitary sandpipers are such pretty birds. They have a constellation of stars flung across a dusky back, a nice white eye ring, and a long, tapered shape that is distinctive. They bob and weave like an oversized spotted sandpiper, but they aren't quite as compulsive about it. More elegant, more restrained.
This was an amazing thing to see, walking right next to Bill's grave. Did he send it to me?
The sandpiper wasn't saying. It took flight with a three-part rolling trill and arrowed out, to disappear over the northeast horizon. 
I was so glad I was there to see that. It would have been so easy to miss it. And hearing its wild woodland call over the meadow made my day.
I came back inside from watching the sandpiper, sat down at my drawing table, and glanced out, as I do 5,000 times a day, to see this...

Who came up with this design? Is there a flashier bird in the world than a red-headed woodpecker? Durn thing looks like a stuffed toy out there!
It occurred to me that I had just come in from seeing a brand new species right by Bill's grave, and now here was his favorite bird, flying and hitching around like it owned the yard.

Perching like a hieroglyph on the feeder post

Using all the feeders, as red-heads will..they are fearless, inventive and inquisitive birds

Speaking of inventive, this is how I feed sunflower hearts now that tube feeders have been taken out of service. The mesh, intended for black oil sunflower seed, is too small to admit the new improved fatter shelled seeds, but it's perfect for the hearts! No ports to spread house finch disease--it's working well! I had sidelined this feeder because black oil sunflower wouldn't fit through the mesh, but it's back in service now.


Little character was shuttling peanuts, one by one, to storage in the crevices in a telephone pole out in the yard.

Making the place ring with its churring growl, kerr kerr kerr!

With the solitary sandpiper and the red-headed woodpecker visiting on the same day, I had the feeling that Bill was reaching through the veil. Phoebe's immediate response: "He's saying BUILD THE DAMN POND, WOMAN!"

Yeah, well, I still have to think about it for awhile. Ohio can be pretty stingy with rain in the spring and summer. I just tipped ten gallons of rainwater into the two tadpole puddles I'm tending now, which are full of all the American toad eggs I saved from the driveway! With all the rain we got last week they were still actively drying up, and they're in straight clay, in the shade. Hard times for frogs and those who lug 40-pound jugs of water to their squiggly offspring. I take them out in the garden cart, three at a time. It's all I can do to hold the cart back with 120 pounds of water in it as we go down the steep hill. Do I really want to sign on to a large vernal pool all the way out the meadow? Kinda thinking I have enough to care for now...

But Bill, I just wanted you to know I got your messages, and your beautiful messengers. Thank you for sending them. We miss you more than ever.



Build the pond... build the pond ....if you build it they will come!!! Who needs a sign, anyway ?! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Build the pond... build the pond ....if you build it they will come!!! Who needs a sign, anyway ?! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Message from Jeanne Nicholson

I vote for the pond ❤️❤️❤️ You can’t ignore those signs🤓

I vote for the pond ❤️❤️❤️ You can’t ignore those signs🤓

I vote for the pond ❤️❤️❤️ You can’t ignore those signs🤓

It's awesome how our loved ones can reach out to us! You'll make the decision about the pond, when the time is right. . .

Tomorrow will be the sixth anniversary of Scott's death. I still get signs from him.

What a beautiful new visitor to your yard. I love that it showed up right where the pond will be! Love that red-headed woodpecker too.

I will be the voice of dissent and state that not all Bill's ideas or decisions were good ones, and YES, you already have plenty to do without adding pond construction/maintenance/sustenance to your vital work of saving creatures and making your world a better place.

I believe every single word. We lost both my parents to Covid over New Year's week. Since then we have encountered the most incredible birds everywhere we go. Almost every week we find something wonderful, sometimes two or three in one day. I believe Dad is sending them. He got me into birds when I was tiny and always shared my joy. I hope you do build the pond and get plenty of water for it...and that those comforting signs keep right on coming.

No pond. Bill wanted the pond. You wanted the orchard to be wonderful again. You worked so hard to realize your vision. Now rest.

That was beautiful Julie! And it happened on my birthday too! ❤️

Kestrels are my Sentinel Birds when I'm out and about. Birds have their own way to touch our souls. Around the house, so many of them reach into me somehow. They are My Messengers as well! I understand where you're coming from exactly,indeed!

A Guy From Indiana

Sweet!! Did you say the year as 2020? Cool observations. I say no pond. Without water it could become a weed concentration.

I agree with Suzanne. You will know if you can't live without the pond. Until then, don't worry yourself about it. Enjoy what you have now. Besides, it seems like its about time to have to rescue some new critter. And it will probably be another sign from Bill. Love you!

@Leslie, in the video I say it's May 10, 2021. Thank you, Michelle, Leslie and Sharon. I am leaning against trying to put in a pond, with no rain and highly permeable soil--it seems I'd be setting myself up for frustration and a lot more work. I already have a fishpond and I don't fancy more maintenance to do. Only one person and 80 acres and an obstreperous house to care for. Thanks. This helps me think about it.

I think of the sandpiper as YOUR bird — didnt you work one summer guarding their nests on a New England beach? How fun to welcome new visitors to your sanctuary. (And that bird came without the pond — sweet!)

Wayne, PA

So happy to hear that your Bill came by for a visit. Extraordinary!! And yes, one has to be quiet and still to sense and see their visits. I hope you build a pond too!

After witnessing your winter work of clearing vines and the resultant glorious spring dogwood bloom, I am interested in watching YOUR vision for your land come to fruition.


Oh dear. I try not to come here daily because it messes up my eye make up. Ha, who am I kidding. I haven't wore make up since.....jeez I can't remember and I stopped wearing a bra sometime during this blasted pandemic. I believe in signs. Especially bird signs. That red-legged woodpeckers full white chest is the most gorgeous thing I've seen in some time. Maybe you could just make a small bubbling rock and a shallow pond. Easy peasy. Let me know if you want my plans. Renée xo

My goal this year is to see a Red-headed Woodpecker and take pictures - I'm envious. Your photos are soooo good!

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