Ominous omens keep flying by…

OMEN, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

No matter what, it’s the San Antonio Book Festival’s fault. Writing about some of the authors scheduled to appear there sent me back to a post from long ago about Jake Silverstein’s book, Nothing Happened and Then It Did, which had sent me delving back into The Devil’s Dictionary. Hence the omen reference. Add to that overstimulation from listening to five full sessions of authors talking followed by the Literary Death Match.

National Park Service photo of red-tailed hawk
National Park Service photo of red-tailed hawk

This past Thursday morning, the Mister and I headed southward for our morning walk. A hawk swooped onto a tree not 15 feet in front of us. It was a newly planted tree on the Eagleland stretch of the San Antonio River, the name of which comes not from sightings of eagles but from the Brackenridge High School’s mascot.

The branches of this 12-foot tree were not big enough to successfully support a hold-onto-your-chihuahua-size hawk; so, before we could even zip out and focus the smartphone, he flew off. While we were fiddling like dummies with the smartphone, the hawk caught something white now dangling helplessly from the hawk’s claws.

I wasn’t thinking omen yet. But a mile or so later on the Mission Reach by Lone Star, we saw another hawk swooping through the sky. We were impressed by a two-hawk day because we rarely even spy one.

But that afternoon, there was a third flying across 281 right in front of me as I headed to a meeting.

Three hawks. Now that seemed ominous to me.

Some people view hawks as messengers. Messengers bearing warnings, not usually glad tidings. I was afraid to even begin to surf the internet to find out what it would mean if three were trying to deliver news to me. I elected to prefer the theory that the hawks just happened to live nearby; it was meal time; and I was passing through their grocery store.

The next afternoon was warm. We had the doors on the second floor wide open. I kept hearing noises, though home alone.

Bravely going back up the stairs to the third floor, I found the source. A sparrow clinging to the shade on the south bank of windows.

I’m thinking omens again. Some people believe a bird flying into your house is a sign of death. I prefer the belief it means a loved one is trying to communicate with you from the grave. That seems more comforting.

Unfortunately, the windows on the third floor do not open. I was pondering how I was going to convince the sparrow to go back down a floor to the open doors when the sparrow spied this:


The bank of windows on the north side. Well, the sparrow went for it as fast as his wings could flap through the length of the house.

Smack. Thud.

I’m thinking serious omen.

A bird breaks his neck flying into your window, particularly while inside the house? Not a good sign. A harbinger of death.

But a break came. A major stroke of good luck. When the sparrow hit the glass, he fell smack into the middle of the trashcan beside my desk onto a soft bed of kleenix, ever-present during this season of pollen.

I was able to cover him with a jacket and cart him out to the back porch. Upon my removal of the cover, he sat there stunned for quite a while. He had been tricked by those very same green leaves once, and, no fool, he wasn’t going to race toward them again. After about 30 minutes, he trusted his surroundings and fluttered home.

Surely that trumped all prior gloomy warnings.

I fretted a bit all weekend but finally decided no news was good news.

brokenwindowOur daughter solved it all inadvertently with an email with this photo attached. Aha, the sparrow must have been trying to tell me there had been a storm in Austin, and a branch blew into their house and smashed a window. Phew.

And then, on the phone later, she told me about the impending death. The Mister’s Infinity that had passed her way was in the process of passing away.

The Mister was sad. He loved that car.

But I was jubilant. Those hawks were only trying to tell me the Infinity was dying. I can handle that. I never even learned to find it in a parking lot; one silver sedan looks just like all the others to me.

I’m not paying attention to messages from birds again though; no matter what that pair of coots on the Mission Reach seems to be trying to say. The foreboding row of dark cormorants perched on the dam won’t scare me.

And those herons and egrets? They and all the other birds who didn’t use to flourish here are only here because our environment is improving everyday as the San Antonio River Improvements Project matures.

clawThe Mister and I just happen to walk right across their dining room table, often interrupting a crawfish feast, as we head southward.

And, that sparrow spared by the bed of kleenix absolutely has to be a sign of good luck.

April 29, 2014, Update: The flock of wild parrots that are spied around Southtown periodically just spent about 10 minutes fluttering around a cypress tree outside my window. Spectacular. Wish they would stay, but I think even that temporal a siting is a good sign.

A massacre along the river…

It was a massacre.

A trail of body parts all along the river. Leftover scraps from a gluttonous feast.

Yesterday morning left the crawdads facing much the same fate as turkeys on Thanksgiving eve.

We finally had rain. A deluge in fact.

The flood gates were thrown open, once again sparing the downtown river bend from flooding.

But, after it’s work was done, Gate No. 5 failed to close.

The river bend did not flood; it was drained.

So water was diverted to concentrate on refilling the bend, an effort circling us back to the crawdads in our stretch of the river. Downstream went almost dry.

A feast day for egrets and herons. The crawdads didn’t have a chance, plucked from the muck in rapid succession.

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Fortunately, the water is back. When I walked along Eagleland this morning, most of the birds were so stuffed they had no need to show up for breakfast.

Tomorrow it will be back to work for them. But will there be any crawdads left?

According to one crayfish man, nature knows how desirable crawdads are. Hatches average more than 100 each. Here is his graphic video depicting them at birth:

While there are peak seasons, crawdads will have sex any time. So, if Mother Nature can doll up those remaining females tonight, we could have another new crop in two to four weeks. Those overstuffed egrets better hope so.

As if they already don’t do enough: ‘Conserve Today and Secure for Tomorrow’

Didn’t need to get very far into a facebook “conversation” for Anne Thatcher Parrish to comprehend that I had flunked waterbird-watching 101, or actually never emerged from the kindergarten stage. Although she volunteers weekly to conduct nature tours for children at Mitchell Lake, Anne agreed to try to educate me in the environment where I walk in the mornings – along Eagleland and the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River.

First up, of course, were mallards. Then there was a double-crested cormorant, a broody-looking black one with a hooked bill who can hold his breath while fishing under water for an incredibly long time. A tall white egret searched for crawfish, while a great blue heron flew overhead.

Then we came upon a crowd that greatly multiplied the San Antonio River Authority’s normal work crew on the river’s banks. They appeared to be volunteers harvesting large quantities of invasive plant material near the water’s edge.

Then my favorite – the yellow-crowned night heron. Next a mature little blue heron (little actually being part of its name), and, just to try to confuse me, an immature one that had not turned blue-gray yet but was white.

More volunteers in a canoe fetching trash collected from a man in waders. A huge sheet of heavy black sheeting they pulled from the river was crumpled up next to discarded pairs of crawfish claws left on the egrets’ favorite breakfast table near the train tracks.

Can crawdads not see yellow? It seems as though the schoolbus-yellow feet of the wading snowy egrets would be hard to miss underwater. A sandpiper scurried by.

At a doughnut refueling station near Roosevelt Park, Anne asked the volunteers who they were. A woman answered enthusiastically they were from all branches of the Armed Forces in San Antonio, and this was how they were celebrating Earth Day. She said proudly:

This is our community, and we want to give back to it.

Of course, Earth Day is not actually until tomorrow, but the Air Force is proclaiming “Every day is Earth Day,” with this year’s theme as “Conserve today and secure for tomorrow.” The volunteers come from the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment, the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency, the Air Force Real Property and  502nd Air Base Wing.  They started celebrating by performing hard manual labor at San Pedro Park (photo) on April 1 and Memorial Park on April 14.

By the crayola footbridge, we encountered those with the roughest assignment wading and raking out large slimy swaths of oozing blooming green algae so thick a family of six little ducklings was easily walking across it.

Bob Moore, director of the Air Force Real Property Agency in San Antonio, told Texas Public Radio’s Eileen Pace it was a rewarding experience:

We were scraping some algae off, and a 12-inch long bass jumped right out of the water because we had scraped the algae underneath it. Ducks were coming in right behind us in the clean water and reclaiming the area we had just cleaned out.

On the way back, spied a pair of my second-favorite birds, not because of their shocking flourescent pink-orange bills and webbed feet but for their name. For some reason, it just makes me smile: black-bellied whistling ducks. Anne said that now I can even graduate to Mitchell Lake.

I don’t think I’d be misspeaking to extend thanks to all the volunteers from the Armed Forces on behalf of the birds. The egrets and herons probably all settled into their nests in the trees off of Alamo Street last night with such strong feelings of security they decided to expand their families. Their home, this river, keeps getting better and better.

Update on April 22, 2011: And the wildflowers are beautiful!