The Solace of Songbirds

Written By: Deanna Cznadel

Traveling toward the tailfin of our strikingly piscine island has always been a highly anticipated and greatly coveted adventure for me, one which reinvigorates my excitement with each and every trip. Humans are fewer and farther between, and those who do reside there have accepted a more simple and wholesome approach to life than people farther west have. Nature is viewed as an ally to their livelihoods and is therefore free to shape the landscape far more than it would be allowed to in cities or suburbs. Moreover, local wildlife is also able to exist more harmoniously alongside them. This makes the area an incredibly serene and grounding retreat for individuals like myself who are easily overwhelmed and suffer from bouts of anxiety due to the fast pace of busier towns. The easygoing atmosphere of the East End encourages exploration and nurtures my curious mind, and with such an abundance of new places to tour, there is always something fresh and exhilarating waiting just around the bend to be discovered. Recently, my mother and I came upon one such gem nestled within the forests of Noyack’s shoreline; the Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge has quickly become as much of a safe haven for me as it is for the animals that live there.

The Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge is a sanctuary where one is given the rare opportunity to closely interact with and observe native fauna in their natural habitat, particularly those of the feathered variety. Its Black Capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Nuthatches are stouthearted, undaunted by people so long as a cupped hand of bird seed is held out and offered up to them with good intentions. They will readily flutter down from tree branches and perch atop my steady fingertips to grab a morsel from the personal birdie buffet that rests in my palm. On occasion, they’ll even become finicky and toss a few seeds aside before finally settling on one to take, then back to the branches they flit to settle down and enjoy their little feast. It’s incredibly endearing and wonderfully rewarding to watch them peck at whichever seed they’ve selected and just as charming to see them scrape their beaks against the branch’s bark to clean up once they’ve finished eating. Oftentimes they’ll come back for seconds and even invite friends along, so with some patience and a little bit of an arm workout, I’ve got one eating right out of my hand again. While the Refuge’s regulars are far bolder than usual backyard birds, there are times when they too can be shy and elusive. I am similarly timid and wary at times, and my understanding of such feelings allows me to determine what behavior would keep them the most at ease. I gain their trust through my empathy, patience and gentle perseverance, and that is something I take great pride in.

It typically takes a few moments to locate a feathered friend who is in search of a snack, and some time thereafter for it to acknowledge and accept an offering, so I never expect the process to provide instant gratification. Birds are prey animals, after all, and their survival solely relies on their innate skepticism of anyone or anything that is unfamiliar. Keeping that in mind, there are certain ways in which I approach them to make them feel more at ease in my presence. Ambling softly along the dirt paths of their home, I never tread too heavily or rush about. I scan each bush and tree branch I pass with fleeting glances and keep a keen ear out for any rustling or quiet tweets emanating from them. Once I’ve found an area where avian activity is apparent, I step aside to the edge of the footpath and cautiously extend a handful of seed toward the surrounding foliage. The inquisitive creatures are generally quick to come out of hiding, but spend a bit of time perched a short distance away so they may safely examine me. While they consider approaching, I greet them in a hushed tone, hoping that the sound of my voice might further convince them of my benevolence. I’ll often turn my head and gaze elsewhere as the birds investigate me, since they seem to find eye contact rather intimidating, just as I do. Giving them this level of privacy reassures them that I am not a threat and in most cases is enough to finally draw them to me. When they reach my hand, I am able to glance back and admire them in close proximity for a fleeting time before they’re off to the treetops again. Such closeness to these creatures has kindled my creative mind, evoking such a positive response within me that time and time again, I’ve found myself taking the trip out to them almost instinctually. These birds have helped motivate me to chase dreams I’d previously thought unfeasible.

For many years now, largely due to my lack of self-confidence and driving inspiration, my muse has been almost entirely barren. I’ve struggled immensely with self-loathing thoughts and a crippling fear of failure, which have hindered me from even attempting to realize my goals on many occasions. Even so, there has always been a part of me that desperately clung to my desire to create, absolutely refusing to completely give up on it. I continued to hopelessly conflict myself, trying my very best to make the abstract thoughts inside my mind into something tangible, but it always fell short. No matter what I tried, it always felt too forced and I could never bring myself to complete my work. Once I discovered the refuge, however, my mindset gradually began to change. It seemed to give me the nudge in the right direction I’d been waiting for, and over the months since then, I’ve been able to work on reviving my old hobbies with some significant success. I saved up and invested in a camera so I could pursue my love of photography and birds are without a doubt my favorite subjects. Refuge regulars are quite content to pose just feet away from my lens, even allowing me to shoot them while they are poised above my palm. I’ve also mustered up the courage to try writing again, which I’ve had difficulty doing since my sophomore year of High School. The sanctuary’s songbirds have truly become the source of my inspiration, urging me to experiment and make mistakes without letting my insecurities discourage me. They are the only reason I was able to compose this piece in the first place!

To me, the Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge is an ever-welcoming hideaway and an intimate escape where I have the incredible privilege to spend time among creatures that never cease to inspire me. Since I was young, I have always identified in some way or another with birds and their mannerisms. To this day, in many ways, I continue to see myself in them. They are chipper and curious spirits, constantly exploring all that surrounds them with interest in even the smallest of details. Unbridled and independent, they ride the shifting breeze, floating wherever their airy hearts may lead them. Though they remain vigilant in everything they do, the possibility of danger is never enough to completely dissuade them from pursuing their goals. With keen eyes, they observe each situation carefully from afar, sometimes choosing to give a threat time to move along and other times directly confronting it with impressive courage and vigor. To those who treat them with kindness, they offer their trust and good company in return. I can relate to birds in all of these regards, so I truly feel in my own element when I am among them.