Towhing the Line

I don't miss much about our old duplex. It was small and crowded. There was no heat in the bathroom, no room in the kitchen, and the walls grew mildew in winter. I had a studio of sorts on the semi-enclosed carport but I shared it with raccoons and feral cats.

The one thing I do miss about the place is the back yard. Technically, it wasn't our backyard, rather a neglected panhandle of a neighboring lot that they'd fenced off rather than taking the trouble to fence around. It was overgrown with blackberries and wild roses and scrubby trees.

The birds loved it, particularly after we hung up a feeder from one of the sturdier branches. We'd get finches and juncos and several flavors of sparrow, scrub jays, ruby-crowned kinglets, chickadees, flocks of robins with the occasional confused varied thrush, and an annual mass migration of waxwings. We also became a regular--and entertaining--stop on the squirrel Olympics circuit. The indoor cats loved it, watching the bedroom window like a big screen kitty TV.

The outdoor cats mostly left it alone, I'm happy to say, except for the time that little Brightspot dove into a flock of waxwings and by sheer luck brought one down in the resulting panic.

One day Denise called me over to see a new bird. It was about robin sized, almost robin colored, but the back was too black, the cinnamon-red breast had a white break down the breast line. It wasn't a varied thrush either, too little white on the wings and none on the head and the eyes were almost as red as the breast.

We kept Peterson's Field Guide in the nightstand in those days, and soon identified our new friend as a Rufous-Sided Towhee. It must have lived in the neighborhood, because it came back on and off for several years. I never saw it at the feeder; like the juncos, it seemed content to glean from the ground what other, more aggressive birds spilled.

I was reminded of our red-eyed friend recently by a photo in the EWEB newsletter. I thought it'd be fun to paint; so far I've done a small baker and a couple of serving bowls.

Perhaps for red-eye gravy?