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August 01, 2015
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Empty nest syndrome

The nest no longer empty, Mr. Unidentified Species guards it against predators, including columnist Fox.
TRR photos by Jonathan Charles Fox

I thought that it was a thing of the past. More than 20 years ago, my little one toddled off to pre-school as I wept copiously, longing for the day when she still needed her diaper changed. It seems like only yesterday that she wouldn’t go anywhere without holding my hand, or gazing lovingly into my eyes for the approval that has never waned. That little girl is all grown up now and doesn’t need me in the way she used to, and the melancholia that swept over me during the “empty nest syndrome” has faded from memory. Until now. Wikipedia describes the condition as “a feeling of grief and loneliness that parents or guardians may feel when their children leave home for the first time to live on their own” and concludes that “it is not a clinical condition.”

Little did I know that I could experience the sadness again; this time in the most literal sense, involving birds, eggs and an actual empty nest. Many of us living in the Upper Delaware River region do so in part because of our love of the natural world that surrounds us. The flora and fauna that abound are often breathtaking, and I try to capture the essence through the lens, hoping that a photo will somehow make the moment last. Utilizing the freeze frame, I can review the fleeting scene at my leisure and relive a precious memory, or share it with my friends. True, some city slickers think that I’m nuts, but “there’s a lid for every pot,” as mom was fond of saying. But I digress.

Back to the birds. First of all, I have to admit that birds scare me. Hitchcock’s “The Birds” terrified (admit it, the film spooked you, too) and imprinted me with a healthy respect for all things winged. I never understood “what makes the caged bird sing” and couldn’t comprehend keeping one in the house. The last time one flew into my home, I ran shrieking, praying that the Wonder Dog would encourage it to leave peacefully. It didn’t work out as planned, and she’s still picking feathers from her teeth. But I digress.

Soaring through the air, or perched on a limb singing sweetly is where I want to see birds. I’m perfectly content to insert a zoom lens into the camera and snap away from a safe distance, as the vast array of feathered friends chirp merrily, while adding bits of string and twigs to their intricate domiciles scattered around the property. In fact, living in the Catskills has given me a new appreciation for the Audubon Society that inhabits our region. So, I was tickled flamingo pink when a pair of birds set up shop just outside my front door several weeks ago. Camera at the ready, I sat vigil on the stoop, observing the progress as Mr. and Mrs. Unidentified Species went to work.

I’m not sure they were thinking clearly, since the nest is three feet from my front door, and the pooch. As the days progressed, Mama took up residence, and the sit-in began. Each time we left the house, Papa buzzed us, causing me to duck and cover and encouraging Dharma to bark her adorable head off, racing around with glee. “Tastes just like chicken,” she cooed, when I admonished her for terrorizing the newlyweds. “Leave me alone,” she woofed, “I’m a dog.” I marveled at the precision of the nest and how camouflaged it really is, since attempting to photograph the lovebirds, eggs and the nest itself was a challenge. So too, was my fervent wish to have my eyeballs remain intact, and as the big day approached, Pop became more determined to peck them out whenever I dared to sneak a peek. On my way to see “Mary Poppins” in Forestburgh (, I checked the progress while Dad was out foraging and noticed Mom was sitting higher in the nest, unmoving. Sensing that hatchlings were on the way, I managed to get a pic before being threatened, and patted the girl for remaining motionless herself, while I captured the moment for posterity. The next day, we came home from seeing Lionel Richie and Cee Lo Green ( and heard cheeping greet us at the door. It took days of silence and precarious balance to see the babies, much less snap a photo while holding my breath, camera poised, as they lifted their little beaks for breakfast. I held a finger to my lips, lest the pup scare them away, as the proud parents did their best to freak me out. The kids are growing in leaps and bounds and all too soon will take flight. While I accept the natural progression, I can’t help but feel a slight sense of loss, and wax nostalgic about my own baby and the day she flew the coop. Bye bye, Birdie.

[Editor’s Note: For more on “Mary Poppins” at the Forestburgh Playhouse, go to Jonathon Fox’s review, which is posted online at

To view photos of Lionel Richie and Cee Lo Green at Bethel Woods, visit]