Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Birds and Baking

The day started gray and dreary, darkness lingered. But then the feeders were abuzz with birds. Everybody arrived nearly at once -- a male red-bellied woodpecker, a hairy and a downy woodpecker, a small noisy crowd of blue jays, one male cardinal, a mixed bunch of chickadees, titmice, juncos, and white-breasted nuthatches, and one lone grackle.

I have been thinking about grackles for a couple weeks, after seeing large flocks moving through our woodlands. Just last weekend a flock of several dozen (which is quite small in grackle terms) grackles swooped into the woods between our house and our neighbor's place. Their glossy, iridescent feathers shimmered as they strutted around on long legs, tossing leaves in search of insects and seeds. A few remained in the pines above, squawking out a harsh, metallic "kh-sheee." In one great swoosh they flew off in search of a roost for the night. Perhaps joining other flocks, building to numbers in the tens of thousands as they migrate farther south. My friend Scott, a fabulous nature photographer, captured some shots of a large flock that he estimated at 100,000 -- see his photos here and here.

Although the sun never emerged, the day brightened as it went along. In between watching birds gather black oil sunflower seeds, I squeezed in play with the dogs - they were in a good mood -- and poked at my work, while spending much of the afternoon baking for Thanksgiving. Here are the fruits of my labor, with a few cookies shy of the recipe. Nothing brightens a day like a homemade cookie(s) still warm from the oven. Such are the benefits of working from home, for myself.

molasses cookies

lemon squares

pumpkin bread

apple pie

My list of favorite pies is long -- apple, pumpkin, strawberry rhubarb, black raspberry, sour cherry... it goes on. But not a blackbird pie. Do kids still learn this old English nursery rhyme....

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;

..........

They must have known something in the English countryside back in the 1700s, that blackbirds were a hardy group and liked to hang out together. Twenty-four in one pie - that is a tight fit! No wonder they sang once freed from the pie.

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