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May 2024
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Setting priorities, and remembering birds in a vacant lot
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, NM & SW US, Florida & SE US, Illinois, Birding "Patches", Wild Bird Wednesday, Bird D'pot
Posted by: Ken @ 6:24 am

One’s priorities change over time. The inevitable and the unexpected, and the balance between wants and needs all come into play. Getting drafted in 1966 and suddenly moving from New Jersey to west Texas with our three children was jarring, yet eventful in a very positive way. We selected our El Paso rental home mostly because of its convenience to schools, work and shopping. The expansive blue sky and the mountainous backdrop were pleasant but not necessary. Likewise, our subsequent homes in New Orleans and Dallas were chosen with similar needs in mind.

Only after 27 years, when retirement approached and we were “empty nesters” did we think about what we really wanted in a home. My love for the southwest was an overwhelming consideration. For Mary Lou, proximity to family was an equally important factor. On one of my business trips to New Mexico I learned of a new subdivision under construction. In a moment of free time I visited the site and called the number on the real estate agent’s sign. After a short visit I selected a home site and called Mary Lou to seek her agreement on entering into a contract. Despite her reluctance about the fact that I had not yet even set a retirement date, I knew she shared my feelings about the region. Besides, two of our children lived within a few hours drive, in Texas and Arizona.

In New Mexico, living at 7,000 feet elevation, we had our mountains and four seasons.The tremendously varied habitats provided great birding. Of course, the nearest shopping centers and health care providers were located twenty or more miles away, accessible only through a single mountain pass that could be choked by a blizzard or a traffic accident. After eleven years we reconsidered our priorities, and took the dramatic step of moving to south Florida, to be near our younger daughter’s family. In lieu of mountains we wanted to look out over water. Eyes that are fixed on a distant vanishing point are eyes at rest.

Our daughter actually selected our Florida home.  We ratified her choice and moved here in 2004. We had not yet sold our New Mexico home when, three months later, her husband got a big promotion to Chicago and they moved away with our two baby granddaughters! It took us two years to make the weighty decision to purchase a second home in Illinois. We hoped to balance our newly discovered love of mild Florida winters with our need for family. Now the view was not an issue. We required only a “crash pad,” a place to stay when it was hot and humid back in Florida. We selected a town-home only two miles away from our daughter’s house.
Our Front Yard 20100820

It was a new unit, in one of the first of 36 buildings that were scheduled to be part of a complex with homes for over 200 families. We knew that subsequent construction would fill the surrounding open space and blot our our view of the horizon. The housing crisis hit as the seventh building was finished, and the developer was unable to complete the project. Construction was put off indefinitely, and the land, the equivalent of four or five city blocks around our condo, remained undisturbed for six years. As it returned to an imperfect grassland, it became an unexpected birding treasure. The above photo was taken in 2010, after the land had been healing for four years.

Thunder was usually the only ominous sound under the prairie skies.

Cloud North End HDR 20120629

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, this week we also heard the roar of bulldozers as the entire area was being cleared and graded. Time to stop and remember how nice it was while it lasted.

Kilbery construction HDR 20121101

Our front door provided an ideal vantage point for viewing birds that rested on the color-coded utility markers. (Click on images for additional views)

American Kestrels nested in one of the large trees along the main road.

American Kestrel 20090821

Horned Larks built their nests early in the spring near our front doorstep.

Horned Lark 3-20100410

Savannah Sparrows sang and defended their territories.

Savannah Sparrow 20100605

American Pipits visited during migration into winter.

American Pipit 3-20101102

At least one pair of  Eastern Meadowlarks raised a family out in the largest open tract.

Eastern Meadowlark 20110522

Red-winged Blackbirds shared a pothole with muskrats.

Red-winged Blackbird 20120601
A pile of construction rubble provided another high perch in the treeless empty lot. We could drive around the corner and park, using the car as a blind, and just wait for the next bird to occupy it. Lazy birding at its best!

Spotted Sandpipers sang all spring. The area had room for several breeding pairs.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) 20110522

Song Sparrows visited and probably nested along the shrubby margins.

Song Sparrow DPP 20110815

For the past two years, Vesper Sparrows serenaded from the roof of our condo and surely found nesting areas in the weeds near the old mound of topsoil left when the area was first cleared.

Vesper Sparrow 20120506

In spring, melting snow and rain created roadside “fluddles” that attracted other birds. The only photographic challenge was to park with the sun at our back.

Solitary Sandpipers passed through during spring migration.

Solitary Sandpipers 20110821

Sandhill Cranes brought their colts to feed in the field right near our doorstep.

Sandhill Crane Yardbirds 20110803

Both Canada and the smaller Cackling Geese made use of the “floodles.”

Cackling Goose- Branta hutchinsii 20101009

On one occasion, a “blue” Snow Goose paid a visit (photographed from inside an upstairs window).

Snow Goose in front yard 20110508

A Great Blue Heron seemed to be hunting insects and possibly voles out in the fields.

Great Blue Heron 20110803

Red-tailed Hawks roosted on streetlights over empty roadways.

Red-tailed Hawk 20120819

Many Killdeer courted and raised their chicks every spring.

Killdeer courtship 20120601

Along the far edge of the property, American Goldfinches, flowers and butterflies delighted us with their color…

Goldfinch on wilow 20110803


Chicory? 20110803

…Summer Azure

Summer Azure Butterfly 20110803

I can mourn the loss, but cannot reverse progress, and will revel in  remembrances of a plot of land no longer vacant. 

15 Responses to “Setting priorities, and remembering birds in a vacant lot”

  1. phil uk Says:
    A superb tale with wonderful pictures Ken. I can see you have mixed feelings over the changes which took place over the years. How can that kestrel be so beautiful?
  2. I'd Rather B Bridin [aka Anni] Says:
    Your retirement ‘adventure’ sounds quite a lot like ours. We went from Colorado to Arizona to the coast of Texas. Really no need for us to have a 2nd home tho, since our son lives about 3 hours away. Close enough to drive, yet a distance to let him live his own life without us interfering. Now, back to the birds….that snow goose, I swear, I’ve never seen one before. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even seen a photo until now. Excellent capture from the window. Thanks for linking up at the Bird D’Pot this week.
  3. Kerri Says:
    Oh Ken - what a wonderful variety! Gorgeous captures!
  4. Sallie (FullTime-Life) Says:
    A beautiful story, sad that you and the birds are losing those wonderful vacant lots but wonderful memories and, oh my gosh, absolutely wonderful pictures!! And I am glad to know the reason why you are there ..last time I dropped by I wondered why you were heading away from Florida when a lot of us “snow-geese” are thinking of heading back there for the Winter. With two lovely homes and grandkids in Illinois, I can imagine why you split your time. We’re too far away to go back and forth, so once we get to Ft Myers we’re there until Spring.
  5. TexWisGirl Says:
    i am really sorry about the encroaching construction. a huge sigh from me. your photos are so beautiful, once again - as always. :)
  6. Wally Says:
    Ken, thank you for reminding me how priorities change with time and circumstances. We spent 20+ years as military “nomads” and since “retiring” (a euphemism for having to find a “real” job - LOL!), our priorities have indeed shifted. Through it all, there have always been the birds and their environment for us to savor. -Wally
  7. Mick Says:
    A very interesting journey through the years and great to have so many birds make use of that empty ground. I bought in an area of single family dwellings and over the eight years more and more homes have been built - the upside is all the new gardens attract birds as well!
  8. bettyl Says:
    It’s sad to see that sort of change, but that’s what happens in life. Those birds are simply amazing! I would love to have such a diversity of visitors!
  9. Larry Jordan Says:
    Oh my Ken, what an incredible tale! All of your photos are awesome as always. The thing that would get to me would be the loss of the Sandhill Crane viewing out my window. I adore Sandhill Cranes and would love to have them stop by my place on their migration. I guess I will have to be content with having them fly over my property and listening to their ancient calls.
  10. Rambling Woods Says:
    We moved to our present home when we retired in a suburb near much has changed in the short 8 years we have been here… so many trees and parts of wetland woods have been taken down for housing and strip malls. It has been heart breaking. We may be saved as the woods we own is a state protected wetland…at least safe for now.. Thank you for sharing with me on my post about the loss of my Mother and the hawk. I lost a dear friend and wildlife rehabber a year ago. The might I heard about it in June, I went outside and was surrounded by fireflies and we had talked about them so often… it was amazing… I am so sorry about your son..both my husband and I taught special education..he for over 30 years.. I miss it… best wishes to you and your wife..Michelle
  11. Andrea @ From The Sol Says:
    Your story is one of love and the joy in life … always fraught with sadness as the beautiful array of birds are displaced by yet another bulldozer. Makes me sad, but I can still share your joy of being with your family and grandchildren. Life is good, but also hard. I hope you find your birds in another place fulfilling their destiny so we can have beauty in our world (and fewer bugs and more plants :). Andrea @ From The Sol
  12. Modesto Viegas Says:
    Another great post!!!!!
  13. Pat Says:
    It was nice while it lasted! You have many wonderful shots of the birds that were found practically outside your door.
  14. Neil Says:
    Interesting post good while it lasted.
  15. Ken Says:
    Thanks all, for your comments! I just drove around the property and see no activity. Now that all the land had been cleared and graded, perhaps they will take a break for the winter.

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