As a field biologist, nature photographer and an 11-year-old at heart, I've had a lot of close encounters with wildlife: Mountain lion stare-downs, rattlesnake strikes, watching spiders crawl in your friend's ear, almost stepping on black bear cubs ... the usual stuff. (The spider incident haunts me to this day, and is the reason I will never, ever sleep without earplugs. I advise you to do the same.)
I've worked a couple field seasons in the Truckee, California area. Housing can be a little sketchy in seasonal gigs, and in Truckee, we had a real gem, a real rarity: Something called a house. This is ridiculously glamorous in the field biology world. Not only did we get to dwell in civilized quarters (please note that this didn't mean that WE were civilized), but we also had a backyard that butted up next to Tahoe National Forest. We set up some feeders and a pretty ghetto drip system near the porch in an attempt to lure in some feathered friends.
I'll call myself a birder and I suppose I'm a bird photographer too, but for anyone who's seen "The Big Year," I'm not THAT kind of birder, though many of my peoples are. My attention span won't allow that sort of commitment.
Anyway, eventually my (bird) friends set up shop at the backyard feeders. The White-headed Woodpecker started showing up a little later and she and I hit it off right away. I tend to become mildly obsessed with my feeder friends and watch/spy on them whenever I'm home. A bit stalker-like, really. Totally creepy if you're a bird. I'll recognize individual birds, their unique behaviors and personalities. I get attached. Yeah, I think birds have their own personalities and I'll happily give into anthropomorphism. So there's that. My point is that I am rather invested in my feeder pals.
Ellen,* my white-headed woodpecker confidant, took note of my schedule after a few days. I had to take the feeders down at dusk every night because suet sure is a tasty treat for bears. I would leave for the field long before sunrise in the morning, and I couldn't put them back up until early afternoon. This didn't sit well with Ellen. The second I opened the patio door, she would call a few times and fly into a nearby tree. She knew what I was up to. Sometimes she'd start yelling at me and give me a bunch of crap about not putting the food out earlier. We had to talk this out.
She very quickly got into the routine and when I opened the door, she'd land on the patio railing, a little closer each time. She had little regard for personal space and soon was all up in my face. I was okay with this. Ellen started following me like a (flying) dog to the feeder tree. One day when I held my palm out, she had no qualms about landing on it. (My heart melted.) I pulled my hand closer, about an inch from my face. Ellen stayed in my hand and we just looked into each other's eyes for a mesmerizing five minutes.
That's when I lost emotional control (this is a frequent happening for me, how embarrassing) and started tearing up because, when the hell does a White-headed Woodpecker just willingly sit in your hand and give you googly eyes while reading your mind and silently whispering sweet nothings to you? When does this happen? I was pretty freaking captivated.