A New Season of Bird Watching

Illustrations and Essay by Katherine Moes

During my final year at university, a zoology course introduced me to bird watching. I found birding to be a relaxing pursuit that allowed me to immerse myself in nature’s peace while taking in all of its sights and sounds. My interest in feathered creatures grew over the years as I discovered birdcalls and observed new behaviors and flight patterns. Each bird walk I took was different. Most of all, I enjoyed the meditative quality of being out among the birds.

A few years after my first child was born, I tried to go birding with him—but to no avail. A noisy, fussy toddler does not make for easy company on a bird walk. I wish I could say that I got up early and headed out on my own, but I didn’t. I soon let go, admitting to myself that I no longer could go bird watching. At least not in the manner I had known.

Fast-forward a few years. I now was a mama with two small kiddos, one in kindergarten and the other a toddler. My days consisted of LEGO, Play-Doh, school drop-off, school pick-up, reading to my kids, doling out snacks and cleaning up endless amounts of toys. The only “me time” I could manage was a two-hour stretch in the afternoon during naptime and in the evenings when I collapsed into a heap on the couch.

One Christmas, I received a couple of suet feeders and a big sack of black sunflower seeds. If I couldn’t get out on a walk to find birds, I would invite them to find me. I hung the feeders on my South Seattle deck. At first, some common species dropped by: chickadees, bushtits, house sparrows, Steller’s jays and juncos. I’d point them out to the kids as we sat together at the kitchen table. But as time passed, more unusual visitors arrived: Townsend’s Warbler, Pine siskin, Downy woodpeckers. These became our nature moments and soon, if the kids spotted a bird on the feeder without me, they’d run and find me no matter where I happened to be in the house. Together, we chased off the chubby squirrels that would stuff their cheeks with the sunflower seeds any chance they got.

Illustrations of the series in progress from the artists sketchbook.
Illustrations by Katherine Moes

I started maintaining a bird journal. By the end of one winter, I had listed 14 different species that had come to feed outside the kitchen window. Inspired, I decided to illustrate what I had spotted (I had earned a scientific illustration certificate from the University of Washington). Fourteen different illustrations might not seem like much but it was a big commitment for a busy stay-at-home mom like me. There also were times when I realized what I had drawn wasn’t any good and I started all over again.

It took me nearly two years to complete all 14 illustrations. By the time I had finished, my youngest was three and going to preschool—a new chapter in motherhood. Mothering small children is incredibly rewarding—but it also can be exhausting. The time at my desk drawing creatures gave me the same peace and quiet I enjoyed when I used to venture out on my bird walks. My soul, once again, found rest in nature.

The artist's illustrations of Pacific Northwest birds. Illustrations by Katherine Moes.

Above the artist’s series of illustrations, clockwise: Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna | Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis | Pine siskin, Spinus pinus | Townsend’s Warbler, Setophaga townsendi | Downy woodpecker, Picoides pubescens | Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii | Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus | American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos | House sparrow, Passer domesticus | House finch, Haemorhous mexicanus |  Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapillus  | Steller’s jay, Cyanocitta stelleri | Rufous-sided Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus | Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus