The memorial tree at Elizabeth Park where all the birdies hang out, beckons me to visit while bearing treats and toting along my camera. I’m drawn to it like a magnet. You will recall I had an earlier visit to this charming little area where bird feeders and a suet holder on a small tree has become a haven for birds. I stopped there on December 7th, took some photos of the birds, but decided to return on Christmas morning and spend some more time there. But Mother Nature had other plans on Christmas morning … no, not a traditional White Christmas, but freezing fog permeated the morning air. You could not see across the street, and it didn’t lift until early afternoon. So I tabled my return visit until the weekend … Saturday, December 28th, to be exact.
First, a little back story about this area of Elizabeth Park.
This venue has a perimeter road that encircles the Park. It is segregated for vehicles as well as pedestrians. The perimeter road will take you past a woodsy area, as well as close to the Detroit River and boardwalk, and you can even glimpse, or walk across, three of the famous historical bridges which span over the canal and connect the island (Elizabeth Park) to the mainland. The scenery is perfect; the critters, feathered and furry, are abundant. A few Summers ago, I was on this well-traveled road and taking in the sights, when I saw a man and woman arrive at a picnic table. They had a big bag with two crusty round breads, a/k/a boules. They set the boules on the picnic table and began tearing chunks of this crusty bread into smaller pieces, then placed them along the picnic table. Curious to see the “takers” I stayed near a tree to watch. When they were finished, the couple wadded up the boule wrappers, admired the bountiful treats, then walked away hand-in-hand.
I was not the only one watching their actions – suddenly the peace and quiet of the early morning was interrupted by bird calls, whirring of wings and the scratchy sound of squirrels’ claws going headfirst down the nearby trees, as they all gravitated in gratitude toward the picnic table with its yeasty tidbits. I watched for a while, took some photos and left, vowing to return with my own boule.
Flash forward a few weeks, and, I went shopping for a boule and there were none, but I got two baguettes instead. I likewise tore each two-foot-long loaf of bread into manageable chunks and distributed it along the table. Once again, feathered and furry critters began coming out of the woodwork.
I did not return to Elizabeth Park until the Wintertime of 2018 and noticed the picnic table was not there – was it tucked away somewhere until Memorial Day, the gateway to Summer, when people haul out their picnic feasts for the first time in the year? I glanced around and saw a tree from where bird feeders and a suet holder were filled to the brim and an array of birds were alighting at the various feeding stations, enjoying the seeds and suet that were there. Amazing I thought … some kind-hearted souls are ensuring the birds can find food in Winter by filling up the feeders. I decided to do something similar with “my” birds at Council Point Park. There is a tree near the picnic tables and I left seed bells and suet near there for them. I have kind of adopted this tree – it does not have a memorial plaque beneath it and our City no longer sells memorial plaques for their trees.
I have spotlighted many of the memorial trees at Council Point Park through the years, simply by taking photos of the trees, the plaque, then researching obituary information of the deceased and that story became a blog post.
I did not see any plaque beneath the tree at Elizabeth Park to indicate it had been planted in honor or memory of a loved one, like I’ve seen with all the other memorial trees in this park or as other local parks do. It was not until December 7th, on my extra-long trek around Elizabeth Park, that I saw an extraordinarily large and ornate memorial plaque several yards away from the tree of feeders. It was/is the size of a regular grave marker and sits atop a huge flat stone. I don’t know how I missed this memorial marker before, but it is not close to the tree and was likely covered in leaves as it was Fall and there are abundant oak trees at this park.
In between spent shells and seed chaff, I discovered a wonderful tribute to a very loved woman.
But, what I noticed most about this brass memorial plaque, that seemingly was on its own and separate from the tree, was the sprinkling of spent, striped sunflower seeds over the marker. I wondered if family members and loved ones would tend to the bird feeders and strangers scattered seeds on the marker? Was it a type of ritual at this location? It certainly seemed that way. Also, you will see the marker’s Biblical tribute mentioning the tree of life.
That evening, I researched a little to find an obituary for Mary Ann Price, half-expecting the death notice to speak in glowing terms of a nature lover, or an avian admirer, but there was no mention of those attributes. All I learned in the obituary notice and tribute pages was that Mrs. Mary Ann Price was a friend to all who crossed her path. I learned the origin of the “GG” on the memorial marker – “GiGi” was an affectionate term for their grandmother.
I was interested to learn more about this unique locale.
I returned to this area on December 28th, a woman on a mission. I parked the car, tendered peanuts to the squirrels who circled the car like a posse closing in on a bandit in a spaghetti western, then I stole away from them, moving toward “the tree” down the road. Overhead, a half-dozen Mourning Doves were staggered along a branch, braving the chilly air, while a few gave a lazy glance in my direction. You can see them in the image at the beginning of this post.
I brought a package of shelled sunflower seeds and the rest of the peanuts to strew upon this memorial marker, just as others have done.
After this task was finished, I stepped back, partially standing behind a nearby tree, and waited for the action to begin.
Within moments, a bevy of birds and two types of woodpeckers flew over, some going down to the marker to feast. Here are some of them, including:
A Red-Bellied Woodpecker who caught sight of me and gave my presence a quizzical head tilt, from his perch in the tree …
… but swooped down anyway, from the tree to the ground in record time and posed prettily.
A Downy Woodpecker was reluctant to leave the suet feeder, enjoying his status as “King of the Hill” (or at least “King of the Suet Feeder”) and chose to remain here, but glanced over repeatedly to see if perhaps he should change his mind?
A sweet White-Breasted Nuthatch would not be left out – he contemplated when to make his swoop, adhering to bigger-birds-eat-first-protocol and waited respectfully, and finally flew away before I could capture his image. Meanwhile a Gray Tufted Titmouse was woolgathering …
… then beat a hasty retreat to ground level to check out the goods.
A Black-Capped Chickadee left the remnants of suet (which I don’t think he could reach anyway) and flew down for a nibble as well. He studied the seeds, a puzzled look on his little face.
A Blue Jay, always the dominant peanut or seed grabber of all the birds I see at Council Point Park, in the ‘hood, or here, gathered no moss in his attempt to join the feeding frenzy. He checked out the array as he contemplated “peanuts or shelled sunflower seeds?” He decided on both, but sampling the shelled sunflower seeds first as the other birds would not snatch the peanuts like he could; see how he positions himself among the peanuts for a quick grab-n-go – yes, he’s a beautiful, but sneaky fellow isn’t he?
The area was filled with the sounds of these birds calling to their kin to come for food – the Chickadee was the most verbal, even louder than the screeching Blue Jay.
There I was, taking it all in, camera clicking away, enjoying the sight which played out before me. What birds didn’t feast on the memorial marker and rock platform, were hopping and bopping around the feeders. They were often too quick for me because the feeders and suet cage were nearly empty, so consternation and hungry bellies led my fine-feathered friends to the ground – for now anyway. All too soon, (maybe 45 minutes), the birds had polished off the seeds and prized peanuts and it was time for all of us to return to our respective nests; I also began to think about heading home to my own “nest” as I had already walked many miles at Council Point Park and Lake Erie Metropark earlier on this chilly morning.
On the way home, my mind, just like my camera was still clicking away. My thoughts were still with that little birdie nirvana I had just visited. My mother loved birds and she would peek out her back window to watch the birds gather at the feeders and birdbaths around the yard and garden. Mom not only collected duck decoys and near life-sized geese, but she also favored figurines of Cardinals and Blue Jays.
There are many more around – but this cardinal, pictured above, bought at Wild Birds Unlimited in the early 90s, was one of her favorites. There are even Cardinal and Blue Jay trivets on the kitchen wall.
At Christmas time, I took out Dutch artist, Marjolein Bastin’s ornament of a bird feeder with birds alighting on it and feeding on sunflower seeds and put it on the window ledge. The birds brought Mom joy, just as they do for me. I decided to just leave the ornament out a little longer.
Today’s post is a tribute to my mom, Pauline Schaub, whom I lost ten years ago today. Mom would have similarly delighted in the birdie nirvana at this venue and also duly taken note of the gentle doves watching from above.