Stealth Games and Birdsong

posted in: Nature Immersion

Underwater clouds erupting from sticky brown mud. Kids everywhere in the shallow pools, toes warmed by mud that squishes between them. Fish, tan-colored, each with a distinct thin black line from gills to tail down each flank. While we’re in the pool, the fish are invisible. But when we leave, long before the dust settles, sleek bodies emerge. They dart and glide in and out of mud clouds. They rest and see and listen and smell.

The mud cave undercutting the bank is filled with perfectly visible small webbed-toe duck prints. The ceiling hangs with dried gray roots that narrow and end like hairs. I hear Curtis name it “the brain cave.” I understand that this is not just his interpretation. It is an accepted term. It is part of the culture that young people are creating organically in this place. As part of this place.

Curtis finds a large hunk of quartz in the brain cave and exclaims “My mom would love this!” He immediately carries it down to the streamside and explains that she will use it for magic.

Juniper arrives at the pool. She adventured all the way down the stream, through the wild, wading with Sylvan and Emily. She lost the sense of knowing where she was, and trusting the path of the water she continued. Later, Emily described the joy at rounding a corner and finding once again a beloved and familiar place full of memories. Now she is standing knee-deep in the pool next to me, and children are climbing the banks and splashing and making mud balls all around. “I’m here!” she announces, for all to witness. I turn towards her and I see a bright face and smiling eyes.

Bees on dandelions, probing for pollen. I watch one visit five flowers, all dandelions, his face and body a mess of yellow pollen. Mustard flowers are out and shining. Fragrant apple blossoms beckon. Together we watch a crow fly low over us in the clearing. A woodpecker calls loud and lands on a tree just above us, red crown jumping to the eye along with the shapes of its black and white body.

The bird of the day is the Ovenbird, named for the shape of their nests, made from dry grass and leaves on the forest floor and shaped like a rounded oven with a disguised side entrance. You could be standing right next to one and miss it! The ovenbirds are small camouflaged warblers with a very loud voice — you are unlike to see one but you can hear their song loud and clear in the forest. They eat insects by walking and picking through leaves on the ground. The forests all over the northeast are home to them. They are common here in the warm season, once they fly up from their winter territories all the vast distance away, south in the Carribean and Mexico.

In the mornings all know it’s time to gather when we begin singing “Welcome In”. Then we go right into “Bird of the day”, and today shared stories about ovenbirds, their songs, their nests, and where one might find them. Next is a time for introductions and announcements when everyone has a chance to say what they want to be called and share something they are interested in doing. I said I wanted to find an Ovenbird and watch them singing!

Upon arrival at fairy camp, newly named by the kids, we heard the Ovenbird calling loudly from the trees overhead. Creepy slowly toward them, Leigh said, “Let’s pretend to be eating leaves and foraging, because to the Ovenbird that will make us look more like deer, less like predators.” So we did. Then, (so quickly!) we saw the Ovenbird take flight and land in the open on the dead branch of a cherry tree. Once he landed there, we saw he let out a little white poop which fell ten feet to the forest floor. Then we watched him gracefully point his whole head and tiny beak upwards and his body shook as he let out his surprisingly loud song. If you try this stealth game at home — and you step quietly — you may feel wonder in witnessing a being of the air giving song.

Ovenbird and nest

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