Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boiling Cauldron

Like from a boiling culdron, the mist burns off the lake every morning. I would feel cheated of part of a day if I missed it. The mist brings those perfect sentences---the ones that appear on the inside of my forehead when I'm away from the computer---the ones that send me running to my manuscript---that elevate my heartbeat----that are responsible for the ridiculous amount of time I spend honing the imperfect ones.

The mist swirls, billows, and puffs upward, or travels in long straight lines back and forth across the lake like the security queue at the airport, until somehow it wafts away without my knowing. This morning it leaves behind a perfect mirror that reflects the opposite shore in fine enough lines to show single clumps of leaves and the details of a rock wall. Three geese, like six, fly low across the mirror. And all the while the song sparrow sings F-F-f-f-f-f-C#/D-C-C. Again and again. dkm

The Question of Strange Bedfellows

Is it sport, warfare, or a love affair? A crow and a mockingbird fly together across my watch several times a day. I've seen them every day I've been at the lake. They fly beside the lake but not over it. At first I assumed the mockingbird to be chasing the crow from a nearby nest. It was always a few inches behind the crow, they always flew in same direction across my porch view, the mocker would turnback at a certain point, and the crow flew on. Now I think otherwise, because I see them so often, and because the mockingbird doesn't always turn back. Early this morning the crow perched on a fence rail and allowed the mockingbird to tease him by knocking into him again and again. The crow opened its black beak as if to snap at the mockingbird in a playful way each time they made contact. Just now, in the late afternoon, they flew together, all the way across the yard, then came to light in the grass, there to sit together for a few minutes before flying off in opposite directions. A cross species friendship? dkm

Mother Goose

It was the stuff of which childhood nightmares are made. On today's walk a small red-headed girl, about age 5, got between a mama goose and her eight goslings. It wasn't her intention to do so. The goslings had just crossed the sidewalk, leaving their mother on the other side, when the child stepped between them on the path to watch the babies. Instantly, mother goose alerted and stepped closer. The little girl froze. Mother goose stretched her neck tall, eye level with girl, and hissed---complete with fluttering tongue. The girl screamed, the goose hissed more vehemetly. Had the girl's own mother not jerked her out of harm's way, I believe the goose would have attacked. I understood why the girl screamed. I stepped back myself. May I never have a mother goose look me in the eye and hiss.

Lake's Surface on Rainy Day

The changing character of the lake has attracted my notice again and again on this rainy day. With no window of time rainless enough to walk, I would have expected the lake's surface to be nothing but murky ripples all day. Wrong.

Multiple effects in turn. Tiny ripples, larger wrinkles, smooth as glass with perfect reflection of opposite shore's mountains in full color, wide strips of gloss alternating with wide strips of ripples, smooth patches and rough in paisley-like swirls, bright glints of reflected sun on slow small waves, obscured by mist, no mist, smooth enough to show circular ripples made by raindrops fast or slow, rain ripples bumping against each other, choppy enough to accept raindrops without effect, splashing when the rain fell hard, smeared reflections, sharp clear images.

While I barely understand the physics of any of the lake's effects, most baffling are the simultaneous side-by-side strips of high gloss and pebbly ripples. dkm

Around Lake Junaluska

A deep breathing walk around lake upon arrival for solitary writing retreat reveals much:
(above date is off by few days---no internet at lake---lake entries added after the fact)

1. Seven male mallards swimming together along the shore, ducking and eating as they go, at about the same speed I walk. Is this unusual? Aren't they more often seen in male/female pairs? As we progress two of them break off and climb ashore (it is evening). Five continue. Further on, two more break off, leaving only three. Presently, lead duck turns and the three begin swimming and feeding in place. I walk on. Further round I come across countless #s of mixed pairs. Why that group of seven males? Sibling youngsters? Youthful gang? Unpaired adults?

2. A fledgling swallow on telephone wire, too young to be frightend by my slow approach. He allows a long close look. Scruffy head feathers. Skinny short neck. Almost no feathers on neck. Huge chest muscles relative to neck and head. Needed for constant and rapid wing beats of the swallow species is my guess.

3. Several pairs of long necked geese with goslings. Some feeding in grass with four or five adolescent goslings, already turned brown, but still fluffy. Best was a long line of six goslings swimming across lake behind mother. Father came behind sixth little one with a seventh trailing behind him. Father kept stopping to wait for the slow straggler. Be still my heart. dkm

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ivied Arbor

They enter their nest like helicopters on a landing pad, the mysterious and beautiful rufous sided towhees. Today is day #15 for the nest they have built in the top of the arbor that was first a gift from Moe on our 25th, now covered with English ivy.

SHE of brown head and shoulders has lain her eggs, I think, for I don't see her as often as before, and when I do, she looks slimmer. She comes off the nest occasionally, but doesn't go far or stay away long. She looks bedraggled and hangdog, with feathers out of place, not as sleek or elegant as during the courtship. Yet HE continues with the pomp and circumstance of his station, to rustle in the leaves in all his black head and shouldered beauty, or to brag from a nearby branch. Gi-ver-neeeeeee!

For all his pontificating, he is an attentive husband and father. Do towhees take turns keeping the eggs warm? Or are these two already feeding nestlings? I see both of them, at different times hovering and lowering into the ivy topped arbor pad. dkm

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Avian Acrobats

It's a newly fledged family of white-breasted nuthatches. I'm sure of it. Black-topped heads, long beaks, bluish wing and back feathers---and fluffy, like yesterday's titmouse. The siblings must be eight, though hard to count for their acrobatic jumping and flipping around in the dogwood. They drew my attention from the housewrens by their squeak-pitched whee-he-he-he-he-he's, descending from one location high above the swing, in the pin oak tree. I couldn't see them at first---then the pin oak and dogwood branches filled up with their flitting and darting and leaping and dropping and whee-he-he-ing.

The housewrens, btw, are still tending their quiet house on nestwatch day #23.

Was I witnessing the first fledge of the family nuthatch? It moved within 2-3 minutes from a single locus of sound to a surround-sound effect, as if spilling into the trees from the nest. I had a front row seat at the circus ring, until one by one, the squeaky siblings followed each other across the yard to the holly trees on the other side of the fence. There they offered a thrilling act of high-wire stunts. I followed and watched from the deck. One of them, a clown, performed a free-fall on a plumb line to the slate patio below, without wing flutter, but soft upright landing. Does she know I feared for her life? I watched her antics in the holly until rain drove me inside. Where will my young nuthatches find shelter? dkm

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mighty Struggle

Thunk. A fledgling tufted titmouse fell at our feet in the grass. Had it crashed into the swingpost? All at once it was there on the ground, wings spread akimbo, lungs heaving, beak opening and closing, tufted head turning, black eyes staring. Its back and chest and head were fluffy and gray.

Moe and I had been watching the housewrens from the swing after supper. Now we watched this little bird's terrible struggle. It made no sound, but I did---gasps of pity. Many thoughts spun, all ending with what shall we do. Too late to call vet---can't leave it to founder and die---must put it out of misery---how? Moe suggested we scoop it up and return it to its nest. Where is nest? For days an adult pair of tufted titmice has been coming to the yard for mulberries, indicating a nearby nest, but never divulging its location.

Our crooked little bird continued to struggle as Moe and I discussed the options. With two mighty heaves, it lifted, spread, and folded one wing, then the other. This looked hopeful. It straightened its neck, shivered, sat upright for a few seconds, and flew. Little wings flapped like crazy, effecting slow progress through the air, encouraged by our cheers. I imagine the poor thing's shock when it hit that swingpost, and wonder at its recovery. Or was it pushed from its nest? dkm

Monday, May 11, 2009

No Crying They Yet Make

Question of the day: Are they hatched yet? By the day's count methinks they must be, but the adult that can only be Mama Housewren still enters the house and stays for long periods, maybe ten minutes, as if sitting on eggs. Need x-ray vision into house or ornithology degree to know for sure. She also flies out and stays gone for about 5 minutes at a time. Just saw her return with a morsel of some kind in her beak, entered with it and stayed inside, leading me to believe she must be feeding new hatchlings. Observed same scenario several times during today's hour. Can't yet hear their tiny cries though. Could she be bringing her own food, while still keeping eggs warm? More likely, they are hatched and too tiny to cry, yet featherless enough to need her warm cover. Time will tell.

Mr. Housewren, while not visiting the house, seems more present today than he has been so far. He flits from branch to nearby dogwood branch, shaking out his bubbly song. Has he given up on attracting her to house #2? Today he stays nearer house #1---sounding like he's biding his time---unlike yesterday when he was consumed with performing his aria atop the pole of the abandoned nuthatch house (#2).

New guess based on today's attention: he has been unsuccessful in attracting her to 2nd house b/c she's not ready to leave her first family. So he waits. Right or wrong, I'm peeved at him for chasing Saturday's bluebird from the house he only hoped for. Were it not for greedy feisty little housewren, might I be watching bluebirds build a nest in empty nuthatch house right now? dkm

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Simple Act of Paying Attention

Today I begin a blog that is the natural outgrowth of a backyard journal I started in Sept 2007. The idea for the journal was spawned while reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Chapter 2, Seeing)---to sit for at least one hour every day in my ordinary backyard---reading, or writing, or contemplating writing, or simply paying attention to the space and time and action and sound of the place---so to write at the end of the hour the singlemost significant thing observed.

Before trying it, I anticipated that some days would require a mental stretch to find anything worthy about which to write, misconceiving my backyard to be a place of serenity. What an education I've received in just 20 months. What have I learned? Tons about backyard wildlife, and beyond that, to expect the unexpected---yet every day surprises me.

By way of example, below is my first entry, dated 09-27-07. If you will indulge me this one flashback, I will return to current observations tomorrow without trying to catch you up on all I've seen and learned in the past 20 months of paying attention.

9-27-07 I've been here not ten minutes and the most comical baby squirrel (baby squirrel in September?) has captured my imagination. This I have never seen. A crazed lunatic of a tiny squirrel with tail twice his size in breadth and length darting and dashing and jerking at a dizzying pace from legs to arms to seat to chains to supporting bars of my brother Jim's handbuilt wooden swing. What is the matter with this squirrel? He's in a state of deranged panic. Something must be eating him alive, though I can't see what, for his mad thrashing about. Every now and again, in the course of his terror (Or is it simple play?), he lands on the ground beneath the swing to hop frantically with 12-inch vertical jumps, flopping and landing once on his back, next on his belly, or on his feet, or even on his head. He keeps this up for many seconds. A larger squirrel sits in the center of the grassy area in front of the swing, watching the antics, tail occasionally flipping, but otherwise still of body and head. His mother perhaps? Now the small one tears out into the grass beside the swing to roll and thrash and knock about, showing flashes of pure white belly, gray back, tiny feet grasping in every direction, giant tail all the while following, dragging, wrapping around him, obscuring my view. Did he get into a hill of fire ants? I've not seen any in the grass. Now back to swing. It's a wonder the swing doesn't swing, as hard as the poor creature keeps knocking his head on it. He looks not unlike a first grader caught in a nest of yellow jackets. Why doesn't his mother help him? I step inside to retrieve binoculars. When I return, the squirrels are gone, the mystery never to be solved. dkm