Thursday, May 9, 2019

Birds of Blue

If I've ever said on this blog (and I think I have) that I defended bluejays for their beauty against complaints of their scavenging habits, I take it all back. I was of the opinion, based on what I'd read, that they only robbed eggs from other birds' nests in extreme conditions.

Moments ago, I observed, not 30 feet from where I'm sitting, two bluejays fighting in my very backyard over a dead nestling of a species I couldn't identify—grayish, not many feathers, big head, yellow beak, possibly a robin.  One of the jays landed on the grass with the poor thing in its beak. The other arrived immediately after, stole the prey in a flapping kerfuffle, and flew off with it. The first jay followed in close pursuit.

I'd like to think they found it already dead and only took it as carrion, but I suspect they stole it from somebody's nest.

 I know, of course, that one has to take the brutality with the beauty, if one is to sit in the backyard extolling the wonders of nature, but oh, oh, oh, that bit of brutality was more than I could love, given my intention on this particular day to watch a bluebird couple feeding their four scrappy new fledgelings, and to blog about it.

I'll not be able to rid my memory of the image of that nestling flopping around in the beaks of those jays.  After witnessing the incident, I can't help but lump bluejays into the same "basket of deplorables" along with brown-headed cowbirds and bleached blonde bully tweeters. Did I just get too political for a nature blog? I don't think so. As Muti used to say, "I can if I want to."  ~dkm

Monday, April 22, 2019

"How Shining and Festive..."

It seems too ordinary to write about
Morning sunlight
On leaves

Yet there's not a whit of ordinariness to it
If you but still yourself
And pay attention

To the shades of green, from lime to almost black
The light transparency of some
The heavy opacity of others

To the odd variety of depth and pattern and shape
Flat layers, bunchy clumps
Hanging cascades

To the trembling flutters that move in waves
The lung-filling freshness
The shimmering hugeness.

The extraordinary wonder of it all
Is as close as I get to prayer
And recalls a poem

I once read, if I can find it...I did!
Surprised me then, too
The nod to prayer

Look and See
by Mary Oliver

This morning, at waterside, a sparrow flew
to a water rock and landed, by error, on the back
of an eider duck; lightly it fluttered off, amused.
The duck, too, was not provoked, but, you might say, was

This afternoon a gull sailing over
our house was casually scratching
its stomach of white feathers with one
pink foot as it flew.

Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us, if we
only look, and see.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Chicken House

Kindness dwells in this place
This place of solo retreat
This chicken house on a farm by a lake in the woods
The kindness of the muses
Of the Andersons
Of the universe

Chicken house
Turned antique store
Turned guest house
Furnishings restored, preserved
Medieval desk, begging questions
How many have written here? Who has? What was?
Deep grooves, worn edges, ink stains
Antique writing table
Muses wait here, Calliope, Clio, Euterpe

Sleigh bed, camel-back trunk
Corner chair, high-back bench
Mantel of family photos, mantle of pride, love, memory, history
Hearth of copper ash bucket, kindling box
Glass cabinet of Chinese pottery, classic books
Kent's pots of earth and wheel and kiln and soul
Turned, glazed, baked
Kent's paint-splat heart, unfolded
Anderson heart

Noses Creek School of Art
Studio, quiet now, but full
Of heart, spirit, vision, purpose
Lure of art and fish
Orderly, meditative, inviting, unique
Wagon full of iron castoffs, welder's gold
Kent's giant iron sculpture of not rooster, great blue heron
Barn and shed, machine and tool
Four houses: chicken, pool, family, green

Host Tate, twin proprietor, silent protector, museum docent
Kindly understated invitations, reminders, hospitality
Vast knowledge, rapid-fire facts, origin details to the number of million years
Low-light room, bright-light beam, mineral showcase
Iridescent rocks, gifts of the earth, "Been there but didn't get it there"
Civil war relics, framed, displayed
Greenhouse orchids, hundreds, some always in bloom
Generous cuttings, gifts for the chicken house
Anderson heart


Twin lakes, upper, lower, dam and spillway between, one mile around
Boggy places, spongy, wet, black, beauty
Tranquil, ever changing, by shifts of sun, cloud, wind, hour
Colors, ripples, sparkles, patterns, on-again-off-again glass
Colossal dragonfly welcoming, belted kingfisher ratcheting
Firepit warming, rowboat waiting beside the still waters
Natural woods, fallen trees, double kindness
Of the earth, to provide animal harbors
Of the Andersons, not to remove them

Randy's Trail, faded sign, found branches
Leads walkers along near banks of lake
Twin foot bridges, wooden arches, in fond memoriam
Invites hikers to far banks, steep climbs, no paths
One could lose a phone here and never know it
Here are deep leaves, tender twigs, tough branches
Downed trunks, upturned roots
Lichen growths, nature's housekeepers, earth's consumers
Supreme quiet, divine solitude

Return to chicken house, low roof, quaint windows
Kent's hinged gate, iron art
Stone wall, brick walk, full-on charm
Camellia shrubs, full-on bloom
Birdsong unfettered
Eastern phoebe, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird
Tufted titmouse, redwing blackbird
Urgent racket overhead, sandhill cranes
Flying north to mate, full-on migration

The kindness of this place
The noisy silence
Gifts of time, gratitude, grace
Aloud reading, Mozart playing, deep breathing, slow walking
Long sitting, wide thinking, layered writing
Eighteenth draft

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Knock Knock...Who's There?

I kept hearing a tap tap tapping on the dining room window, but when I went to investigate, nothing was there. The tapping was intermittent, but persistent.  Just three or four taps every half hour or so throughout the morning, loud enough for me to hear from anywhere in the house, gone by the time I could get to the window. Nothing to see but stalwart hedge and brick wall.

I mentioned it to Moe after a few consecutive mornings of the same mystery.  He'd heard it but didn't seem appropriately curious to my way of thinking. I was on my own here. I hid in the next room when the tapping was due again, camera at the ready to peer around the door frame in an instant. I waited. Came the tap. I peeked. Question answered. A female robin  (pale orange breast) was sitting on the outside sill, knocking her beak against the pane. She flew away before I could get a photo.  Had she detected my movement, or would she have flown anyway?

This sequence has continued for about two weeks. We've surmised that she thinks she's protecting her nest from the competitor mama she sees in the glass. I went outside to see things from her perspective. The location of window, relative to morning sun, did indeed allow a perfect mirror-like reflection.  You can also see movement through the glass, explaining why I can't get close enough from inside for a quality photo without chasing her away.

This morning I dressed in black from neck to toe and pulled a chair to the window to wait. She came but flew the instant the camera moved, despite the black clothes.  Moe did get this one yesterday. Just held up his phone and snapped from his reading chair. Go figure.

Today's surprise was that she had a mouthful of nesting material every time she came to the sill, requiring a revised guess about her behavior. Is she only now building her nest, choosing to ignore the silent threat in the window? Eggs coming? Time running out?

Male robins help raise the young, but nest building is the work of only the females.  My outdoor check under the eaves revealed a few dried grassy bits trailing from the crook between the gutter's downspout and the house.  Not a nest yet, but a start. Welcome, Mrs. Robin. ~dkm

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Backyard Spectator, Returned

It's been nearly two years since my last post, and I've missed longsitting outside. If this new start takes hold, it will be good for my health.

This morning I'm watching a smallish hawk with a fuzzy brown head and the shorter tail of a recent fledgling. I don't know its gender, but I wish it to be female.

She's perched high in the backyard tulip poplar, spreading and twisting her wing feathers occasionally, but not moving from her spot.  Her mother (or father?) flies overhead, calling to her with a rapid repeated cackle, but she sits on, looking forlorn and vulnerable in her new world. Is she reassured, as I am on her behalf, by the knowledge that her parent is nearby?

For a few days I mistook the parent's distinctive cackle for the call of a pileated woodpecker. I thought it may have had a nest near where I was tilling the first soil of the season, and that it didn't like my presence in the garden.  It probably didn't, but it wasn't a woodpecker.

When the cackler in question flew over the Ya-yas, who were doing yoga on the back deck one morning, we followed it with binoculars to the top of the neighbor's tallest tree, where we discovered it was a hawk. Our search was rewarded with the sighting of another slightly smaller hawk on the branch beneath a large nest. It tottered on the branch for a few minutes before taking a wobbly flight to another tree. The parent hawk led the way, circling back and cackling in a mode of alert protection. We think we were lucky enough to have witnessed the young hawk's moment of fledge. The parent likely had its eye on those four strange yoga practitioners who were threatening the safety of its offspring.

A little more research on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, narrowed our guess to Cooper's hawk, whose cry is indeed similar to a pileated woodpecker's and is seldom heard except in defense of nest. Bingo. In the days since, I've heard the cry often.

Chances are, the young Cooper's hawk in the tulip poplar is our yoga fledgling from earlier in the week, taking backyard spectatorship to new heights. I've been sharing the breath of the universe with her for almost an hour. It's good to be back.    dkm

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Daring Moment of Fledge

Bingo! Yesterday! The thrill! The joy! The heartswelling breathlessness of it! Of witnessing a nestling bluebird's courageous virgin flight. For courage she must have, to fling herself out of the house with nothing solid beneath her for the first time ever. It's an effort that requires mastery on the first attempt. Otherwise, disaster. Imagine it.

I often get accused of hyperbole by the thoughtful and dignified people in my circle of family and friends. Perhaps they've never watched and waited for a nestful of new baby blues to gather the courage for this:

July 3rd: You can do this, little bird!
I give up. Can't get video to play. You'll just have to believe it's a breathtaking moment...
Moe opening house on June 15 to aim camera blindly inside

 Photo taken June 15, not sure of laying date

Hatched on June 18, Day 1

Growing, June 23, Day 6

Almost ready, July 2, Day 15

Any second now, July 3, Day 16

I wonder what elegant moment in nature excited Henry David Thoreau's hyperbolic exuberance when he wrote:

"Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature ~ rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! The actual world! The common sense!"

Could it have been something as common as the fledge of a bluebird?  dkm

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May No Cowbird Lay an Egg in Your Nest . . .

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars. 

-Walt Whitman, poet (31 May 1819-1892) 

A second bluebird clutch is in the making! So it's come full circle. The first brood has fledged and gone, and the parents are starting over. I never tire of nest watching, but I imagine it gets old reading about it, so after one last post about the Family Blue that stole my affections this year, I promise I'll find some new wonders to ponder.

For almost a month, I've enjoyed watching the gray-backed, speckle-breasted, blue-tailed fledgelings on the gutter, bannister, feeder, and bath—more often than not, in attendance by their father, occasionally by their mother—usually begging to be fed— mostly being refused— but shown by example how to feed themselves. Good parenting. Gradually, I saw less and less of the fledglings as they gained independence.

Then one day, about three weeks after leaving the nest, they flew off into the woods and were gone for good—but not without holding a unique family pow-wow that I was lucky enough to observe. What to make of what I saw, I can only guess.

What I saw:
On May 22nd, the two remaining speckled youngsters flew to the roof of their natal house after not having returned to it since the day of their April 30th fledge, at least not that I had seen. With great pomp, they strutted around on the roof, long enough for me to wonder what they were doing. When one of them crawled down to poke its head into the doorway, both parents swooped in immediately, as if to express displeasure at this development. The mother covered the entrance hole with her body and wings while the father flitted around in the branch that hangs directly in front of the house. The youngsters went back to the top of the roof and stayed there. The father kept up his fluttering while the mother maintained her spread-winged position covering the doorway. After a couple minutes of this unusual behavior, both fledglings took off into the woods. The father stilled, the mother relaxed her posture, and eventually they too flew away together. This happened over a week ago, and I've not seen the young bluebirds since.

What I wonder, in retrospect:
Am I conjecturing too much to think the parents were telling their young they dare not return to the house, and that it was time for them to make their own way in the world?  I'd like to think it was something of a farewell ceremony.

A few days later, during my regular hour of long-sitting, I observed this:
The father flew to the nesting house again and again, entering and leaving and perching on the low hanging branch in front of the doorway.  He sometimes had a piece of grass in his beak when he entered, but not always. I would have thought he was building a new nest for the next brood (we had cleared out the old nest), but I've read that only the female builds the nest while the male watches and wards off competitors. Was he an evolved male bluebird, intending to help his mate with the work? I doubt it. While I was still watching, she came to investigate the box, going in and out a few times without any grass in her beak. Then he returned dangling a long piece of grass from his beak and simply perched on the branch, still watching her go in and out. Eventually she flew away. He dropped the grass and flew after her.

What I think it meant:
I'm no ornithologist, but I'm pretty sure I was witness to that moment of agreement between the two that the place he had selected met with her approval. He had laid a few blades of grass to prove his worthiness, lured her to inspect his handiwork, then hung around with that long floppy grass dangling from his beak as if to make sure she knew he was the guy. Because once she gave her consent and flew off, he dropped that grass like a hot potato to follow her. It was clear he had things on his mind that had naught to do with anymore nest construction. This I think because for the next few days I heard his plaintive mating call. Chew-chu-chu-chu, all day long.

Then on May 28th, she alone began bringing grass to the house at a rapid-fire pace, and he went silent. For two days he sat on the low branch watching her work. I did see him go after a passing cardinal, a blue jay, and several squirrels with his famous flapping and clicking, but I don't think any of them were interested in his nesting box. Mostly his behavior appeared to be justification for his idleness, or displays of bravery to impress his hard working mate. Still, let me not be too hard on him, because I know from last nestwatch, he'll make up for it when he begins to feed the nestlings, and later protects and trains the fledglings to independence. It actually appears to be a fairly equitable division of labor. Efficient and logical, as are most things in nature.

Quiet for the time being
But after those two days of high energy nest building on her part and protecting on his, we've now had relative quiet for the last two days. They both go in and out of the house occasionally, but mostly she's nowhere to be seen and he's hanging around the nearby branches. Looks like waiting to me—for egg laying time. I did see him feed her today on a branch, after which she flew off and he went back to his post. I don't think she has laid any eggs yet, but time will tell.

One thing I'm keeping my eye on.  I've heard a cowbird in the vicinity and saw one perched on a favorite branch of Mr. Blue's today. Here's hoping no cowbird eggs get deposited in the bluebird nest!  I'll keep watching and counting days, as in last nestwatch, but I plan, assuming no cowbird mishap, to go back to blogging about other surprises in the yard until it's time for the next bluebird fledge. I intend not to miss it this time.  dkm

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Amendment to Last Bluebird Post

My hypothesis about a one-egg clutch has been proven false. Aren't they cute? When one of the parents comes near, they all open their mouths and crane their necks. But the parents don't feed them. Instead they hop to the feeder and show them what to do. I hope they're also learning to get worms from the earth. I don't think sunflower seeds are supposed to be their primary diet. dkm

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bluebird Timeline

They've fledged!  My best estimate of the overall timeline for this year's bluebird nestwatch, calculated by daily observations and counting backward from day of fledge:

Day 1             Feb 23                  Mating behavior observed
Days 1-37      Feb 24-Mar 31     House exploration and nest building
                                                      (37 days)  
Day 37           Mar 31                  Egg laying day
                                                      (perhaps across several days?)
Days 38-51    Apr 1-14               She sits on egg(s) / he protects nest
                                                      (14 days)
Day 51           Apr 14                  Egg hatching day
Days 52-67    Apr 15-30             Both parents feed nestling(s)
                                                       (16 days)
Day 67           Apr 30                   Fledge day

The moment of fledge likely came sometime on Saturday, April 30th. As expected, I missed it due to traveling, but family at home reported lots of parental nest tending on Friday, that they made no observations on Saturday, that the nest box was totally abandoned and silent on Sunday morning (May 1st).

Having returned from trip on May 9th, I've since caught daily backyard glimpses of one speckled fledgling, always closely attended by a parent, often being fed by said parent on the banister near feeder. Appears to be just one newbie. Don't know if only one fledged or if others were snatched by hawk or owl (I hear a barred owl every evening). I'm going with the theory of a one-egg clutch from the beginning, since the nestling cries were never very loud. I had actually worried that the clutch wasn't healthy, because they didn't make the racket I remember from years past.

All in all, even if only one fledged, it was a successful nesting venture. Whatever happened, the one looks hale and hearty.  Not sure yet if male or female. Will watch as new breast and back feathers grow in. Already it comes to the feeder with its daddy.

See its still speckled breast as it peeks around the feeder.

Its new blue tail

Its fluffy innocence

Good news: Today I heard the male bluebird's mating call start up again. Chewwww-chu-chu.
Day 1 of next brood? No trips planned for the next 67 days. Yay.

I may have missed the bluebird fledge, but happiness of all happinesses, Moe and I were witness to a significant fledge in our own family---that of our firstborn daughter's PhD graduation and hooding ceremony at Michigan State University on May 6th. A glorious day from start to finish, full of breathtaking moments. But none more tender than watching her wait on stage, tall and proud and confident, while her advising professor spoke with eloquence about her considerable accomplishment. Our hearts swelled, our tears flowed.

 I wonder if the bluebirds felt the same pride on the day they watched their young take flight. dkm       

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bluebird Nestwatch, Day 63

When you watch a nest every day, you don't see so many changes from one day to the next, but across days. The baby blues are clearly growing bigger and louder and hungrier, and the parents enter the house with their floppy morsels at increasingly shorter intervals, but otherwise, there hasn't been much new to report. If I sit too close they don't come at all, so I stay back about ten yards.

A few days ago, both parents began entering only halfway through the doorway, leaving tipped up tail and rump to protrude outside as they stuff their offerings into the throats of their offspring. Today, there's a bigger slight change.  Now, both parents stay fully outside the doorway when they arrive, ducking only head and beak through the hole to make their deliveries. Those growing screaming nestlings must be standing tall, reaching and craning their necks long.

 I wonder if either Mr. or Mrs. Blue feel intimidated or exhausted by the loud crying. Ay yi yi, like quarreling selfish siblings, these nestlings are. Their devoted parents are flying ragged trying to keep up with the demand.

Waiting and silent

All hell breaks loose inside

Alright, alright, be patient, already! 
There's more where this came from. 
Your mother is right behind me. 
You are NOT going to go hungry.  

This is the twelfth day since estimated hatching, so it's soon time, given the reported 15-21 days from hatch to fledge. But alas, I'll miss it, as I leave for Boston trip tomorrow. Will try to entice Moe or Sarah or Nick or Mak into a few days of nest watching, so as to be able to record the day and count the fledglings. If lucky, the fledge will be this weekend, while the kids are out of school. They'll know when it's time by the poking out of heads and shoulders that goes on for long minutes before the fluffy speckled newbies get up nerve to make the leap. I hope my grandchildren can witness the breathless and magical moments of the fledge---and tell me about it. dkm