I wrote my dissertation in Fort Worth, Texas, from a second-floor office, looking out upon an enclosed patio. Adjacent to the large window that framed my view were White Fringetrees that bore dark blue berries. I composed intently and turned frequently to the window, yearning to be in high country, viewing pinon, spruce and ponderosa, not the Fringetree in a hot Texas summer.
One afternoon as I churned out sentences I saw birds fly onto and into the White Fringetrees. Not just a few, but hundreds of birds landed on tree branches, weighing them down, almost to a point of snapping the branches from the tree trunk. I turned away from writing and gazed upon Tufted Titmice engorging fringetree berries (1). The animated flock, chirping and calling loudly, ate for fifteen or twenty seconds and then abruptly flew away, out of sight, in a orchestrated arc of motion.
I was stunned at clasping claws, fluttering wings, pecking mouths and swarming birds within ten feet of my desk. No sooner than I began to think about their behavior the titmice returned, engorging and hanging upside down, flying crazily away, drunk upon the nectar, happily filled.
They stripped the tree of berries after two more returns to the table and I never saw them again that summer. I waited for a few to return in the remaining days, but they never flew back.
I revere that image. I thought then, as I do now, that the berry feast of swarming titmice lifted my mood and helped propel me to finish my dissertation, for at my desk I saw nature churning, grasping, eating and flying. High country, after all, in Texas.
1. Please read my reply to Bill’s comment in this post about my confidence in typing a Tufted Titmouse. I have a measure of doubt about the typing. I wrote to Bill:
I’m not one-hundred percent confident it was a tufted titmouse. At the time, I had never seen any bird like it: tufted, grayish, small, energetic. Fort Worth is 65 miles from where I live now, 120 miles from where I was born and reared. I would say I am seventy-five percent confident about the typing. I’m not by any means a birder and I was hesitant in presenting this post. I remember at the time that I got my Peterson out a few days after the event. My first definition was some sort of junco, passing through like you say, but a junco was too large. With a little bit more definition, photographs and migrating patterns into Texas (no farther than Texas, I read), I hesitantly put it as a tufted titmouse. No one was with me at the time of the sighting to corroborate….If you read my reply to your comment, how do you go about your typing of birds up there? Today, I use the Peterson and Cornell University website. My Peterson is falling apart from use in the field and carrying around for, say, forty years?…Thanks, Bill, for commenting. [Bill writes a nature blog and lives in New England. His blog is Wildramblings.]
The White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chionanthus_virginicus. See also Rutgers Landscape and Nursery Services, New Jersey.
Tufted Titmouse, Identification, All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Baeolophus bicolor).
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