Animal Attraction

Definition: The power to pull/attract animals towards oneself.

First Saturday of the new year, and I am once again driving through the fog and feeling like I am risking life and limb to follow through on my intention to go birding more this year than previous years. This day, I am heading southeast towards Seabrook, to Pine Gully Park, where the Houston Audubon hosts a bird walk on a monthly basis. I have invited two friends there, two ladies that I met in the fall that I suddenly have been spending a lot of time with. Lisa is a friend of a friend who I met at a hippie bar and discovered we shared a love of the outdoors, and Katie is a woman from my book club that turns out lived just a few doors down from me the first few years, including those COVID years when I would have loved to have a friend that I could have met outdoors for walks six feet apart or something, a time where I was really missing time spent with friends. We each made our own separate way through the fog and met up with the group in the parking lot.

Our group set off with the bird walk leader Stennie, who demonstrated a technique called “pishing”, where you make a specific sound to attract the birds. This “pishing” was very effective towards the end of the walk at attracting a Ruby Crowned Kinglet who spent quite a bit of time in the trees close to us, visible to the naked eye. She also took the time to show us particular birds in her field guide and describe their field marks for us.

We had a group of 8-10 of us, and one person in the group was making use of “playback – use of an app, probably Merlin, to play calls on occasion to try to lure the birds out. At one point, a Red Bellied Woodpecker was so attracted to the call that he came flying right towards us, and then stayed in the area for a bit, going from tree to tree trying to figure us out. The use of an app to draw out birds is controversial, but I ask, what is the difference between using technology and using old-fashioned “pishing”?

Our time on the walk was coming to an end, and to tell you the truth, I was looking forward to being done because I was restless to move on to the next thing (going to Maas Nursery and then lunch), but when we walked past the cemetery, we saw a couple of beautiful birds that we had not yet seen. We waved Stennie over and she identified them as Eastern Bluebirds (which I have seen before, but for some reason did not recognize today = probably because I I am rusty in my birding skills).

Easter Bluebird, viewed from Katie’s binoculars

In the end, we had logged 18 species and felt like we had learned a lot. After this, we headed over to Maas Nursery, where there was so much to see that it was almost bewildering to make choices. We do want to come back in the spring, but perhaps on a weekday, but it is notoriously crowded come spring time. Several interesting feasts for the eyes and inspiration for garden dreams. I am not a person who is normally interested in plants, because I am no good at caring for them, but I would be willing to take a day off work to go here again in the spring, because I would in fact like to invest in creating a space for pollinators and birds in my backyard.

Later, I contemplated these methods of attracting birds and how I felt about them personally. When we as a society got to the point where we were ready to loosen COVID restrictions, I had found myself in deep need of new female friendships. When I struck up new friendships, I would try to pay attention to what that woman liked, and then offer this activity to attract this new friend out to spend time with me. I am pretty open-minded and have a wide range of interests, so it is not like I am faking interest in an activity to get them to feel more connected to me (a mistake I made with my first husband), but sometimes the things they like aren’t exactly the first things I would think about when trying to find an activity to do, such as going to a drag brunch or Thursday night karoake. But I look for these opportunities and then invite them to them, in a way that reminds me of Stennie pishing at the bushes, hoping to intice this new friend to come out and show herself, and spend time doing something she likes, in order to get to a place in our friendship where I feel secure.

Because I do this myself, I don’t have an issue doing this with the birds, but it also depends on the situation and what the risks are to the animal. In this case, winter time, just drawing them out a little seems harmless, but once breeding season begins, it can be unfair because it is confusing and could be stressful. Without the use of this tool on this bird walk, we likely would have only seen probably half the birds that we saw, and it might have felt like a waste of gas and time to drive so far out there for birds we probably could have seen closer to our house. I did get to spend quality time deepening my relationship with these two women, though, so for me, it would have been worth the drive.

First Light

It’s New Year’s Day, and my headlights are cutting a path through the dense fog at 6:30 am. There are times where I can see at best two stripes and one reflective spot in front of me, and then there are times where the fog was so dense I could barely see the front of my car. I am questioning the sanity of my decision to sacrifice staying up to greet the new year in order to get up early and drive through these conditions, but I made this decision to be true to my intention to do more birding in 2024. I am traveling 40 minutes southeast of my house, towards Brazos Bend State Park to meet a more experienced birding friend who invited me to join him. He wanted to meet at sunrise, which is the best time to start a birding adventure. I planned to break off after a couple of hours of this to go hiking with my hiking group.

We met at the 40 Acre Lake parking lot. I had gotten there first and was ogling a Ruby Crowned Kinglet when he arrived. We walked a couple of loops around the first little patch of woods by the bathrooms in hopes that the Prairie Warbler would appear, but this rare bird did not show today. Then we started our slow journey around the lake heading towards the observation tower, then continued along the spillway to Elm Lake. We were armed with our binoculars and our phones, using eBird to log our finds and Merlin to “listen” for and help pinpoint where to look and who to look for. As birds of a feather tend to flock together, sometimes so do birders, and we ended up walking and spotting birds with a couple and occasionally a lady who was wearing a Gulf Coast Bird Observatory shirt.

One highlight of our walk was when I was looking at Spanish moss hanging from the trees and realized one spot was not shaped like the others. When I got a look with my binoculars at it, I realized it was a Barred Owl. We saw a lot of the usual suspects and a few birds I had not logged before or weren’t sure what they were, so it was helpful to have my birding friend confirm an ID for me. We had taken a right at the intersection with Elm Lake, and the tree line next to us was very birdy. One of the birds we identified in that group was a Black and White Warbler, which was a fun find.

Around this time, it was time for me to turn around to go meet up with my group. As I approached the spillway, a large number of ducks started flying over the lake, and I struggled to identify them. At this point, I wished i had brought my camera to get a photo to examine later. All I have now is my imperfect memory and a list of birds from eBird that are likely to be seen this time of year, but I cannot confirm that any of the ducks that are supposed to be there this time of year are truly what I saw. I ran into my birding friend Steven later, when I was hiking with my group, and I asked him if he had seen those ducks but he had not. It might always remain a mystery what they were.

I’ve been thinking about those ducks ever since, and about mysteries, and about intentions. Lately, I started talking to a therapist about some personal issues. One of the tools he had recently taught me was to “catch a thought”, and examine it for truth. Sometimes when we ask ourselves “Is this true?”, it is like driving through that fog on the way to the park or looking at pictures of possible duck suspects on Google in that the answer isn’t always clear.

Same with trying to cast a vision of the upcoming year. We can state our intentions or make resolutions, but in the end, the way the year will unfold will be somewhat of a mystery. Last year I told myself I was going to concentrate less on hiking and more on birding, but in the end, I went hiking 80 times and I only logged 16 birding checklists on eBird. I also started the year with an idea of which friends that I wanted to be intentional in spending time with, but at the end of the summer, I found a new group of special “unicorn” friends that ended up being a wonderful surprise. One has turned out to be a “new best friend”, and she met up with me on this group hike and we went to lunch together afterwards. I am going to hold this door open for the potential of more wonderful surprises like that, and treasures like this great morning looking for birds at “first light” with an old geocaching friend.


The gray catbird calls out, an auspicious sound,

Does he know the secrets of the forest?

Does the catbird know whose bike I found

Balanced up against a tree, no one around?

What about the blanket fort I found in the clearing?

Does he know if it’s a homeless camp, is that what I’m hearing?

The secrets of Ballenger Creek

Held in a tiny little meep

Two Women In A Stream

We meet here in this place

Shaped by time

Carved by pressure

Two women

Balanced on rocks

In a flowing stream

Once we were close

You and I

Kids of similar ages

Common interests

Differences appreciated

The current of our lives

Kept flowing

Into different stages

Our interests shifted

Differences augmented

Sometimes, though

When the tide is right

Our connection flows

And its like old times

And sometimes

The tide falls short

We find the rocks

And sit in the balance