Karen Norris/Staff

How I’ve spent my extra time

I’d always wanted to watch bushtits build their astonishing nests. Now I had a front-row seat, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

What would you do if you had more time than money?

For a lot of us, this is no longer a hypothetical question. But at least this pandemic has got us on the right side of the equation. Time, without money, is still valuable. Money, without time, is just a sad hobby.

So now people are taking up music, reading for enjoyment, gardening. Or they’re discovering that a lack of time was never what was holding them back after all.

When the world took an unexpected breather, we were just coming up on springtime in this hemisphere. And I knew just what I wanted to do with my time at home. I wanted to watch bushtits build a nest.

That’s been on my wish list for a while. We have no bushtit shortage here in the Pacific Northwest. They’re delightfully plural little birds, so if you’ve seen one, you’ve probably seen 30. Bushtits like each other a whole lot. They talk over each other constantly and nobody minds. “Road trip!” they squeak, pouring out of a tree in an adorable swarm, and off they all go to the next tree over. We have bunches of them. They have to be nesting somewhere. And their nests are extremely cool.

If you take the time to look, they’re easy enough to spot, dangling from low branches. That’s right: They dangle. Bushtits knit themselves a sock. There’s an entry hole in the top, and the eggs go in the bottom. It’s made mostly of stretchy spiderweb, chinked with lichens and moss. A mated pair puts it together. You know it’s the right season because suddenly you’re seeing one or two bushtits and not a whole bustle of them. 

KAren Norris/Staff

The teenagers and hangers-on and unlucky suitors have to hole up somewhere in miserable isolation, hyperventilating until they get the invitation to the open house. Then they’re all back together again, reunited, crammed happily into the sock and jabbering away.

Obviously this is something I don’t want to miss. Many of the trees around our house are likely candidates for a nest. We have plenty of bushtits. I thought if I paid close attention, and saw a bushtit or two flying around with a bit of nesting material, I could scout out where they were going, grab a lawn chair and a pair of binoculars, and happily while away the lockdown hours. If there’s anything better to do with my time, I certainly don’t know what it is.

In fact, I’d stated this plan out loud to my husband, Dave, on the very day we came home from a walk and started up the stairs to the front porch. And right there, big as life and small as a pair of pingpong balls, were two excited bushtits in our wisteria vine, checking anchor points for a sock and nattering about the pattern. Could it be? Right on our front porch, a few feet away from our watching-the-world-go-by chairs?

It could! 

It was!

This has to be a sign we’re living right, I thought. So we’ve taken up our chairs in gratitude and humility, and monitored the knitting progress. 

They were just casting on for the first few days. It didn’t look like much: maybe dandelion fluff held together by static cling. Then it started to take shape. They’ll spend about a month on the whole project. By the time they’ve turned the heel, they’re practically home free.

Then it’s egg time, and the announcements go out, and pretty soon the whole extended family is back together and tickled to death about it. Everyone’s got a compliment. The mated pair has done a magnificent job, and they have every right to be proud.

The only thing they’re really no good at is social distancing.

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