By Nancy Amos
Wrens are tiny birds that I had taken for granted. They are a bit non-descript with their brown colors, but they have a distinct white stripe along each side of their heads that permitted this novice birder to be able to recognize them across the backyard. I seem to recall that I had heard their distinctive songs—but I didn’t realize those were Carolina Wrens or Bewick’s Wrens in my backyard. And I didn’t know which calls belonged to which wren. That was before my “Corona observations” in February and March 2020.
When we returned from a quick trip in mid-February, we noticed a “nest” of sorts in a straw gardening hat that had been left hanging by the backdoor. It was quite difficult to see because the hat was hanging up against a screened window next to the door.
But up against the screen we could see a messy, disorganized pile of twigs and leaves and lint. There was ongoing activity by two Carolina Wrens to continue to build the nest, one twig at a time, and unbelievably slow. They flew a circuitous route around the edges of the backyard as if to escape the attention of anyone meaning them harm. One at a time, each waited for the other to complete its delivery of a leaf or a twig. We couldn’t see the progress or know how big the nest was because their efforts were focused on the brim of the hat that was totally out of our line of sight. I sat at the breakfast table and took about “one million” photos of their stop on the old rocker before the final two jumps to the nest. All photos were blurred by the grid of the wire mesh screen!
My recollection of the time is challenging because the Corona virus and shelter in place became a part of our world. When we focused again on the nest, it was because the traffic pattern had begun again. The two parent wrens called clearly to each other a la an air traffic controller so that one was coming to the nest while the other was on the fence. The stop on the fence was the fly away point from the nest. No longer carrying twigs, now they flew south from the compost pile where there were tons of bugs to the three stops north around the porch. Then they made two stops from east to west to get to the nest. Yes, they were feeding babies!
I observed this continuous pattern of dedication through rain and wind—but the nest was safe, having been perfectly positioned under the eave. They continued round after round. My husband concluded there must be more than one for the feeding to require so many trips, one bug at a time. I don’t know how many days this went on.
Then one morning I awoke and thought today might be the fledging day. The forecast was sunny after six days of rain. My husband yelled from kitchen, “A baby just jumped out.” We could see it clearly as it kind of flew up to a straw decoration on the brick wall. In complete view from our window and with no screen to obscure our view, we could see it and then saw there were two more. They hopped around on the ground. Up onto garden hoses and junk on the back porch. Why hadn’t I prepared the back porch for their birth?
Both parents were there singing and directing them. All three jumped into the thick brush of the rosemary bush where I couldn’t see them. Then, one at a time, they flew out and followed a parent around the corner into the holly bush. The songs continued for hours. And then the songs were gone. They had moved on, without so much as a wave goodbye.
Watching the Carolina Wrens fledge was one of the most awesome things I have ever seen. The commitment of the two parents to dedicate whole days to building the nest and then feeding the babies was inspiring. Shelter in place had kept me home and available to watch a nature miracle. I am forever changed.
Nancy K. Amos
I have been married to my high school sweetheart for 51 years. I have a daughter who has a daughter, and a son who has four children. I have an undergraduate degree from Texas Wesleyan University and a masters from the University of Texas at Arlington. Eleven years ago I had a bad car accident and nearly died. I began to take on new adventures: at the urging of my then boss, I did 60 new things in my 60th year on the planet. For example, I visited every museum in Fort Worth and picked at least one item that I loved. I found a new perfume. I did 60 new things, and I made a little book of appreciation.
A few years later a 38-year-old young mother of three who worked for me got sick one night and died three days later. Her death forever changed my life. Live as if each day is your last. That motto comes to mind again today in the day of Corona.
Not just self-described, but also described by friends, family and coworkers as a workaholic, I loved my work. I took it home and worked on my Iphone or computer until late in the evening. Then I was forced into retirement almost four years ago—three years short of my plan to retire at 70.
But with time I have learned to appreciate life and nature. This essay grew out of my late in life discovery of nature.