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.
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.
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.
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.
Horned Larks built their nests early in the spring near our front doorstep.
Savannah Sparrows sang and defended their territories.
American Pipits visited during migration into winter.
At least one pair of Eastern Meadowlarks raised a family out in the largest open tract.
Red-winged Blackbirds shared a pothole with muskrats.
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.
Song Sparrows visited and probably nested along the shrubby margins.
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.
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.
Sandhill Cranes brought their colts to feed in the field right near our doorstep.
Both Canada and the smaller Cackling Geese made use of the “floodles.”
On one occasion, a “blue” Snow Goose paid a visit (photographed from inside an upstairs window).
A Great Blue Heron seemed to be hunting insects and possibly voles out in the fields.
Red-tailed Hawks roosted on streetlights over empty roadways.
Many Killdeer courted and raised their chicks every spring.
Along the far edge of the property, American Goldfinches, flowers and butterflies delighted us with their color…
I can mourn the loss, but cannot reverse progress, and will revel in remembrances of a plot of land no longer vacant.
November 4th, 2012 at 2:46 pm 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?
November 6th, 2012 at 5:13 am 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.
November 6th, 2012 at 10:29 am Oh Ken - what a wonderful variety! Gorgeous captures!
November 6th, 2012 at 10:44 am 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.
November 6th, 2012 at 11:00 am i am really sorry about the encroaching construction. a huge sigh from me. your photos are so beautiful, once again - as always. :)
November 6th, 2012 at 11:25 am 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
November 6th, 2012 at 2:21 pm 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!
November 6th, 2012 at 4:13 pm 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!
November 6th, 2012 at 8:24 pm 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.
November 6th, 2012 at 9:48 pm We moved to our present home when we retired in a suburb near Buffalo..so 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
November 7th, 2012 at 11:02 am 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
November 7th, 2012 at 11:56 am Another great post!!!!!
November 7th, 2012 at 1:49 pm It was nice while it lasted! You have many wonderful shots of the birds that were found practically outside your door.
November 10th, 2012 at 7:47 pm Interesting post good while it lasted.
November 12th, 2012 at 2:25 pm 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.