Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Visit to Chaetura Canyon - Long Overdue

He watched their flight; 
bird after bird: 
a dark flash, a swerve, a flutter of wings. 
He tried to count them 
before all their darting quivering bodies passed: 
six, ten, eleven: 
and wondered were they odd or even in number. 
Twelve, thirteen: 
for two came wheeling down from the upper sky. 
They were flying high and low 
but ever round and round in straight and curving lines 
and ever flying from left to right, 
circling about a temple of air.
~James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

My mother and her best friend always stayed in touch. I know they spoke of their children - what we were all doing. And the grandchildren too would have been the subject of conversation. But I imagine their thoughts and conversation also included those long ago days when they were girls together, giggling in the halls at school, hiding minor misdeeds from the sisters, and flying down the streets of their town on their bicycles - playing cards clacking in the spokes, hair streaming behind them like feathers.

Our mothers some of their classmates in the main square of their home town. [They met in first grade. This looks like high school.]
In their later years one of the "children" (SJ) invited them both to Chaetura Canyon* for bird banding. Mother called me and described the feeling of holding a bird - its heart beating as she gently released it back into the air. Those memories joined the others becoming part of the magic of their friendship.

DH and I met Paul and Georgean Kyle,  the guardians of Chaetura Canyon, a couple of years ago at a birding event (at SJ's house - no surprise) and they invited us for a visit. They spoke so kindly about Mom and shared that there was a memorial at the sanctuary. But something always interfered with a visit - until yesterday. [The literature calls them "stewards," but I think "guardians" fits as well.] Chaetura is a green oasis surrounded by development. It is an amazing place.

Looking off the deck towards the gorge (on the other side is a huge development).
The trip to the canyon is an adventure in itself for us - down the highway to a toll way, through subdivisions, across the road below the dam, along a route carefully described because Google Maps will get you lost (I've heard about such out-of-the-way-spots before). Upon arrival we took a short tour with SJ (of course he would be there). He showed us the memorials to our mothers - a brick, a bench, and a water feature. We took some photos to share with family and friends.

The fountain/birdbath. The bowl is cast with the impression of a giant zucchini leaf.
The bench.

We also visited the bird blind - sitting and talking quietly while the birds visited us (Okay, the birds were visiting the feeders, but it was as if they were coming to greet us.) - a number of American Goldfinches, a raggedy Northern Cardinal (they are molting right now), and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, among others. The nicest outdoor restroom I have ever seen sits just to the side of the blind. This is birding in luxury.

The bird blind is quite large. No, they do not generally serve wine. There were extra binoculars and SJ asked if I had brought my camera. I had not - trying not to "obsess" for a day - I ended up taking a ridiculous number of bad cell photos anyway.
DH checking out the facilities.
Then we briefly headed down a trail, past a pond (where later, as the light faded, we heard leopard frogs "purring and chattering") and back to the deck for supper. This was one of two events held each year to introduce people to the sanctuary and its work.

Part of the path
It's a canyon. There will be stairs.
A lovely spot to sit
I did record the leopard frog and got a glimpse as it jumped into the water.

After dinner there were only a few minutes to visit with our new friends** before the Chimney Swifts began to arrive. I was sitting near two young women (one of whom was celebrating her birthday with this event). "They are here," she exclaimed. "Do you hear them?" Yes, we did. It is amazing to see hundreds of birds gather and fly into the chimneys (there are cameras to capture the actual roost).  

A special camera inside the tower allowed us to watch the swifts enter and roost. They continued to "jockey for position."

Paul and Georgean have been studying the swifts for years, working with like-minded people, to stop the decline in the Chimney Swift population. Tonight was an opportunity to educate others (about 50 or so last night) about these unique birds. Most of us were new to this view of Chimney Swifts. We took pictures - and made memories.

I can understand why our mothers loved the place and the people. We do too. And we will be back. 


* Chaetura Canyon Sanctuary is the product of the hard work, imagination, and dedication of the Kyles. They donated it to Travis County Audubon. You can read more about the sanctuary - its history, and opportunities to visit here:

** The parents of the man seated to my right met in La Rochelle, France - where DH went to elementary school - small world. The woman sitting across from me was interested in learning more about birding "apps" we use and some of the organizations that sponsor birding trips. We told stories. There are always stories. 

Final notes:

There is art everywhere - especially in the remembrances:

Feathers imprinted.



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