Monday, June 22, 2009

House of Ill Repute

The number of hornets that labor on, in, and around the gray and yellow nest increases exponentially as the structure grows in size. At first, only one or two were visible at a time. Now sometimes four or five work end to end along the lip of each new shroud, while dozens fly in and out of the entrance that moves lower with every finished layer. I can see the results of the outside workers as they move along the cutting edges, but what are the others doing inside? And why? Is it all for the sake of regenerating the species?

The paper machet work of art that grows under the eave over the deck is a remarkable feat of engineering, a dazzling example of teamwork, an orchestrated synchrony of biology, a striped tapestry of terror, a teeming den of activity, a changing chamber of labor, a hooded haven of mystery, a wrapped parcel of energy, a tidy bundle of power and glory---oh---sorry---that was fun---

I researched enough to find out that hornets are the least aggressive of the stinging insects, but given their reputation, they have effectively eliminated our use of their end of the deck for the summer. dkm

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beyond the Backyard: Shanghai

6/15/09 The object of my attention today---my own spectacular daughter---on the other side of the world---doing work of "profound significance to the country and the world"---to quote China Daily. Today the story is in New York Times & Newsweek. Tonight she was on NPR's All Things Considered, and last week her picture was in the French newspaper LeMonde---re: her work as "organizer" of the first LGBT PRIDE festival in the People's Republic of China.

I look at that photo in LeMonde of Hannah's upward gaze and am reminded of her infant profile in a significant memory of mine---a snapshot memory of one of the first times I held her in my arms---alone in the hospital room soon after her birth. I beheld her profile as she nursed---that same cheek and jaw and nose and upward glance---the miracle of her---and hoped to be good enough for her---that I could mother her well enough to prepare her for the world. dkm

Friday, June 12, 2009

Paper Machet Art

The hornets' nest I'm watching began in mid-May as a small gray structure about the size and shape of a Georgia pecan, attached to the eave outside the bathroom window on the back side of the house. It's two stories above ground but the deck affords a close-up perspective. I wish I had started taking photos at first notice. Within a week or so it grew to the size and shape of a perfectly round golf ball with a dime-sized hole in the very bottom. Within two days it had grown a long straight finger-sized tube that extended vertically downward from the hole. By the time I returned from my travels two weeks later it had transformed into a new shape entirely, thrice its size, with the hole, now quarter-sized, moved to the side facing away from the house, and near the top. At that point I began taking photos. In the twelve days since my return it has kept the same shape, but grown, one layer at a time to near coconut size. Its shape defies description. Each new layer is about a quarter inch thick and wraps the whole thing in a smooth papery covering that begins and ends at the side-hole entrance. The photos will tell the rest of the story. A description of the hornets themselves must wait for another day. dkm

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Coitus Interruptus

Had I not been paying attention to the two spinning cabbage white butterflies I would have missed it. Furthermore, had I not paid attention to last spring's courtship and mating flight of the lemon yellow butterflies, I would not have known its significance.

The IT to which I refer is the dropping out of space by a robin (I think it was a robin, though I can't be sure, falling and retreating as it did in the shade of The Wayback---definitely gray---either a robin or a mocker) to snatch one of the dueling cabbage whites from the act.

The two had been courting in the upper yard and had just taken their excitement into the shadows of The Wayback, when WHOOSH, a vertically descending fluttering bunch of gray feathers scooped one of them away. Afterward, a lone white returned to the sunny part of the yard, looking hangdog, if my imagination serves me correctly. dkm

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To Be Eaten by Hawks?

By the morning quiet, it appears my fledgling housewrens are gone. Where did they go so soon? To be eaten by hawks? To begin new nests in other parts of the woods? With more questions than answers, I wonder if the male who now sings by the empty house is one of the new fledglings, or is it Papa Small, hoping to get lucky again? But wait---upon closer attention, several wrens are playing near the ground in the vicinity of the house. Fledglings not gone after all. They hop under the ferns, in and out of the abelia hedge, into the clematis arbor, chit chit chitting, practicing their new skills---only one bubbler at the house, if not Papa Small. They've all already achieved the size of their parents, which isn't much, I admit. I can no longer distinguish the young from the adults, unless by their song. Those on the ground only chit chit. The one by the house is shaking the bubbles out. Is he young or old?

It's clearly still nesting season in Decatur. A pair of cardinals flies in and out of the fallen confederate jasmine trellis near the ground, a robin totes huge clumps of dried grass and leaves to the top of the tallest dogwood in the back right corner of the yard---not the same dogwood of the housewrens. Brown thrashers hop in and out of the azalea thicket with pine needles in their beaks, and that singular housewren is perpetually bubbling outside the newly vacated rhombus house.

But where are the rufous sided towhees that had a nest in the top of the ivy arbor? By my count this is day # 42 for them. If tiny housewrens required 45 days from first day of nest building, I would have expected the robin-sized towhees to take longer. Did they come to some harm in my absence? Or did I miss their coming out? dkm

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where Will They Now Sleep?

Later on same day of fledge, one wren, I think one of the parents, returns to the dogwood where hangs the empty house. Forlorn or bereft or relieved, I can only imagine. This wren hops around from branch to branch, singing its bubbly song. Job well done, the lyrics might as well say. Presently the wren begins to enter and exit the house repeatedly with a downy feather or tiny broken stick or tuft of dry grass in its beak---taking its cargo only as far as the first dogwood branch outside the front door, there to let it go. The brown blades flutter like chaff, the twigs drop directly to the ground, and the feathers swing away on otherwise undetectable drafts. Housecleaning. Not unlike shaking a rug.

Is it preparation for a new brood already? And what do bird books mean when they say "Fledgling period: 12-15 days?" Before this spring's observations, I would have thought the new birds continued sleeping in the nest while practicing their flying---until fully adult. Now it appears that once out they never return.

Which brings me to my years-old question: Where do adult birds sleep when not nesting? Bird books go on about mating and nesting behaviors, but I've yet to find the answer to the question of where birds sleep. The audubon birder I asked dismissed the question authoritatively without saying a damn thing. It may be a stupid question, but I still don't know the answer. Does anybody out there know? I would be humbled to hear from you. dkm

Hawk and Housewren

A loud gutteral call came from high above us---Moe and I having coffee on the deck again. Sort of a cross between a blue jay's caw and a crow's---yet unlike either. More bird-like than squirrel, but we were unable to identify it. Until just now, arriving on swing at 10:30, I hear it again, flying overhead, approaching---a duck or goose, I wondered? Then across the open center sky of the backyard, just above canopy level of the trees around edge of yard, flew a brown hawk, emitting the same gutteral call we heard this morning. Another mystery solved.

BUT---it brings little satisfaction on this day because I MISSED the housewrens' fledge! Too quiet, the house, at 10:45. Beyond disappointed, I cling to the hope that maybe they're sleeping and parents are away taking advantage of a moment to rest. But now I hear the same definitive squalling in the azalea thicket that, just yesterday morning, came from the rhombus shaped bird house. I walk back to investigate. Sure enough, a bunch of tiny tiny houswrens ( I counted 5, maybe 6) flew, as I approached, to low branches in The Wayback. Two sat squalling from the shed roof. Others cavorted nearby, fluffing. Perhaps I only JUST missed them. Alas, I calculated the days and waited long to see the glorious moment, only to miss it on Day 45. Makes me realize how lucky I was to share it with the nuthatches earlier this spring, at a time when I least expected it. Grace enough for one season. dkm

Following Grandma K's Best Advice: Never Give Up

Who builds the nest in squirrel world? Male or female? Whichever it is, this one entertained Moe and me over our morning coffee for nearly an hour. Unsuccessfully she kept trying to begin a nest high in the pin oak tree in the adjacent yard and was still at it when we went inside. She was cutting large leafy end-twigs and dragging them to a high Y in the interior of the tree. Each deposited twig pushed the one before it out of the Y, but Madame Squirrel appeared not to be discouraged. Again and again, she ran back out to another end-branch to cut a leafy twig twice her size, sometimes dropping it in process, starting over, dragging it back to the Y, consistently pushing out the most recent deposit in the delivery of the next. Do hope she gets the nest built before she goes into labor. dkm

Next day progress report: No nest in the Y, no sign of squirrel in the vicinity.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Meanwhile . . . More Surprises

Being on the swing for the bulk of the morning awaiting the miraculous moment of housewren's first fledge affords too many backyard moments to write about in one day. Four on this day from 7:30-noon---one being the fecal sac removal of last entry.

Two being a brief encounter with a mad mama. Moving fast so as to return to observation point ASAP, I carry the copper bucket of yesterday's kitchen scraps to The Wayback for burial, but am stopped at the top of the granite steps by a sudden insistent flurry of rusty brown thrasher, first in my face, then on the bottom step. (There are only 4 steps.) When she sees I am not to be deterred from my path, she reluctantly flies to the fence rail---but scolds and watches. Poor thing must have been in a panic. When I get to the bottom step I understand why. In the leafy path just beyond the landing step, a brand new brown thrasher, quite possibly on first fledge, is struggling to upright after a clumsy landing. But for its fluttering and shuffling, I might have stepped on it. It was the exact dull brown of the leaves, not yet the brilliant rust color of its mother. Feathers still fuzzy, tail still stubby and short. I'm not sure which of us was more startled, but the brief encounter served to halt me and send the youngster into awkward flight to the Wayback fence rail where its mother stood by. My apology did not unruffle their feathers. I buried my scraps and returned to Jim's swing to carry on with the nestwatch and Chapter 11.

Three being a jack-hammer in bird world. Back on the swing my attention was drawn to a violent sort of up and down movement on the ground under the arbor that arches the steps into The Wayback---the same steps where I had encountered the thrashers less than an hour before. An adult thrasher was thrusting its beak again and again directly into the ground. Each thrust involved a comical vertical stretching of the back of its head and neck upward into a sturdy posture that enabled it to force its beak, like a jack-hammer, vertically into the ground at its feet. It looked like it was trying to break something hard. I was astonished at the force of its downward thrust. So engrossed was the thrasher in the effort, I had time to get camera and make a slow approach. Alas, he/she flew away before I could get the shot, reluctantly abandoning her project. She had successfully opened a tiny acorn, leaving the bright orange nutmeat on the ground. I was sorry to have disturbed her, but happy to have the mystery solved. So many of my observations end in wondering.

Four being a raccoon! An arch-backed, tippy-toed, ring-tailed, black-masked, full-sized raccoon ambled across the slate patio between the corner arbors that lead to The Wayback---most likely attracted by the pungent leftover cooked red cabbage I had just buried. The cabbage had gone bad in the refrigerator in my latest eleven day absence. Investigating, I found the compost heap undisturbed, but Makayla's bucket of child-sized garden tools was upset inside the open shed and a number of clay pots lay shattered on the floor, explaining the loud crash I heard earlier and thought to be a falling branch. dkm

I make little progress on WL manuscript waiting for this fledge. Sun beats hot on the swing. Time to go in. Bye Bye Birdies, until tomorrow morning. Hope you can wait for me to cheer your first out-flying.

Fecal Sacs!

I've learned to expect the unexpected within my hour of observation, yet am always surprised by it. Today's mystery was to notice that after every few deliveries to open-mouthed babes at doorway, one of the housewren adults ducks its head inside the house and flies away with something white in its beak---about the size and shape of a large vitamin capsule, and bright white in the sun. Backyard Birdlover's Guide answers the question: "Both parents feed the young after the female stops brooding them, and both carry off fecal sacs."

By 7:30 a.m. I was on the swing with my breakfast and a day's worth of writing supplies, hoping to witness the moment of new freedom for the nestling housewrens. When this watch began 42 days ago I stood for long periods with camera poised, attempting to capture a photo of Mama or Papa Small entering or leaving the house. It required patience and resulted in weary arm muscles, not to mention many photos short of mark. Could never get camera still, shutter open, and bird in doorway simultaneously. When at last I captured a blurry shot I considered it a prize. Now, so often do they come to the door with special deliveries, I can get clear shots almost at will. Next prize will be the fledglings pushing off, if I'm lucky enough to be here at the moment. dkm

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Halleluia Chorus / Nestwatch Day#41

NOW the housewren nestlings make the noise I was waiting for. The nest came alive in my absence. I had guessed the nestlings would have fledged in the eleven days I was gone.

Two wide open mouths at a time, poking through the doorway. How many in all? Do they take turns coming to the door? Time will tell, but only if I'm here to see it. Moe tells me he first heard them four days ago. Today they make a constant chit chit chit chit even when their parents are away hunting food. And when one of the parents arrives at the door with a new delivery they go stark raving mad. Halleluia Chorus or me first, me first me first!

I thrill to find I'm home in time for their first out-flying---the better to discover what happens immediately thereafter. The brown headed nuthatches disappeard completely on the lucky day I observed their first fledge, at 10:15 in the morning, never to be seen again. Heard but not seen. I was under the impression they would have returned to their house for a few days---wrong again---as in so many of my guesses based on limited observation and knowledge. Their fledge was a surprise to me, just four days after I first heard them. What a glorious moment it was, though. That was before I turned my backyard journal into a blog. Sorry you missed it.

Now hoping to be more attentive to housewren fledglings, as I'm home for almost a month before next trip. Mama and Papa Small no longer enter the house with the pizza deliveries. They only poke their morsels into the gaping mouths in the doorway and take off again. The nestlings are running their parents ragged, never to be satisfied, not unlike human families. If you look closely at the photo by the header of this blog, you can see the gaping mouth of a nestling through the doorway. That photo was taken today. Will try to capture a clear one of the nestlings as they emerge. That would make me sing.

Perhaps today or tomorrow will be their big day. Let me not miss it while I go to house for binocs. dkm

Remembering the Crane

Came a crane---large, slow, level, low, close, gray.

Each downward wingpump pushed 5 cubic feet of air out of the way as the crane moved along its path over the water. How can wings that slow keep a bird that size aloft? And it was silent.

A farewell gift from the bay. I drove home all day spinning Ch 11 and remembering the crane. dkm

Fresh Supper

An hour ago this mullet was swimming happily in the bay. A fisherman motored by, slow and close to the dock where I was sitting. He was throwing nets. I flagged him down to ask if he'd sell me a couple mullet for my supper.

F: I only got three. I'll give em to ya.
D: I'd gladly pay for them. Don't you fish for a living?
F: (Might as well have rolled his eyes) Yeah, but 3 or 4 hunderd pounds at a time. I'm just fishin today.
D: Trouble is, I don't know how to clean a fish. Can you fillet them for me?
F: You got a knife?
D: Not a sharp one. Can you do it with a dull knife?
F: If you hurry up!
D: (Laughing) Okay, I get the point.

Three large mullet and three smaller fish were flopping on the floor of his boat. I ran to the house and returned with three knives and a grocery bag. He chose a knife and set to work on my dock.

D: While you're at it I'm going after my camera.
F: I'll be done before you get back!
D: But I want to give you a couple of greenbacks for your trouble.
F: Suit yourself.

I returned in time to get several good photos. He threw the heads, backbones, entrails, and the three little fish into the bay.

D: What kind are the little ones?
F: Junk in the net.
D: The crabs will eat well tonight.
F: You gotta crab trap?
D: No, I'm leaving tomorrow. Take this for your trouble.
F: I can't take $20 for three fish. Don't you have change?
D: Keep it. It was worth it for the photos.
F: If I had a stone I'd sharpen your knife.
D: Buy yourself a good bottle of wine and have a nice evening.
B: Thank you, ma'am.
D: Thank YOU.

I dredged the fillets in salty flour and fried them in olive oil. Mmmmm. dkm

Quiet Interrupted / Red Shouldered Hawk

Oh, that I could keep my mouth shut. I might have been able to make a positive identification with the help of my friend Roger Tory. But who wouldn't have been startled by the loud crash in the tall grass on the other side of the screen? I had been deeply engrossed in revisions of Ch 10.

I looked up, directly into the eye of what I think was a red-shouldered hawk, not 5 feet away, with only a screen door between us. He flew away immediately, gone from sight by the time I hollered, stood, and got to the door. What I could see in his momentary landing and take-off, aside from that scary eye-to-eye part, were large rust colored wingtops and a distinctly striped tail as he pushed off. His body was about the size of a crow, with smaller head, larger wingspan. I'm pretty sure he was after the little green lizard that had been rustling around in the sunny grass, entertaining me as I worked. Imagine HIS surprise. I hope I saved him by my scream.

I couldn't tell if the hawk was successful. I'm thankful I have only to open a carton of yogurt and stir in a few almonds for my lunch. dkm

What the Titmice Taught Me

Watching this family of fledgling titmice at close range over my week of breakfasts on the front porch swing at the fish camp/bayhouse has been enlightening and confounding.

Enlightening in that titmice have a much wider variety of songs than the simple Peter-Peter-Peter that Roger Tory Peterson describes. They also have a chirring sound, a chip chip, and a meowing-like tune. And sometimes a cheer cheer similar to a cardinal, all directly observed. Not as loud as a cardinal.

Confounding in that the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. They sometimes sound so much like a cardinal I would have thought I was mistken, if I hadn't been watching them produce the sounds. I may never again be able to distinguish between the two without an actual sighting.

And to complicate the conundrum, I did spy a cardinal in the driveway later, when called to the porch by what I thought was the song of titmouse, only to discover a mockingbird singing his heart out on the porch rail, making a mockery of the whole question. dkm

Mullet Shower

While most of my outdoor meditation this trip is done over WL ms, I've done enough yoga and think-sitting on the little dock to see on multiple occasions, single silver fish jumping straight out of the bay and landing with a belly flop. Long lean fish, about 12" in length, 3-5" wide, and irridescent in the sun. I wonder if they are the same fish of that glorious ferris wheel I saw here last year. This year I've seen only solos. Jumping as often as they do, I would have expected a more graceful arc, ending with a nose-first slip back into the water. But no---this is a sudden vertical burst from the water, a mometary flail in mid-air, ending in a clumsy side-slap drop into the bay. Is it sport or do they fear for their lives? And what kind of fish are they?

My questions might have remained unanswered in this isolated "fish camp." I see only one fisherman pass by in the mornings and return in the evenings in a small motorboat,standing upright on the bow in serious fishing attire. Classic fishing hat with sun and rain flaps, sometimes draped in a net (?). I see him several docks away after his evening return, throwing nets.

Until Mr. ___ _____came to build a ladder on the side of this dock today. Born and raised here, a character of considerable quirk---my favorite kind. The fish are mullet, he said. They jump to escape the dolphins that come in from the ocean to play, and with whom he is on a first name basis. The dolphins won't hurt them, but the mullet don't know it. If you're lucky, you'll see a "mullet shower." (That explains last year's ferris wheel.) The dolphins are responsible, he said.

He said a lot more, soaking wet. "Who else has a job where he can swim while he works?"

Wish I could recount entire conversation, but won't, this being a public blog. As he was leaving he indicated the dead live oak, "That tree needs to be cut. Tell Ms._______I'll cut it for her." He confirmed my guess that the bees are honeybees. "Well then, we'll just cut the top and leave this part for em. Look a there. You don't see that very often. They're endangered, you know."

I said it would make the animal advocates of the world happy, to leave the tree.

"And me too," he said.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nobody Came to Choir Practice

As I become increasingly familiar with the song of the Carolina wren I learn the quality of the song varies by individual bird. All follow the same general pattern and rhythm but each has its own characteristic sound. I have yet to see any wrens on the coast but I hear them early in the morning. This morning two of them woke me with their echoing call and response pattern. The first was a loud insistent chee-boogie-chee-boogie-chee-boogie-CHEE, with extra-emphatic accent on the final CHEE, as if trying to teach the other. The responder had a softer flutier sound to her call---more like video-video-video. And she never added the upswinging tag to the end. The more she didn't add it, the more insistent the first one becme in flaunting his upward CHEE! Until the lovely video stopped althogether and the braggert chee-boogie man went on as unrelenting solo for quite some time. Bully behavior?

Where are the chickadees, cardinals, sparrows, swallows, nuthatches, and towhees of middle Georgia? Do they not live on the coast? From 7:00-8:00 a.m. on the front porch swing, the woods are eerily silent and not a breath of air. One turtle dove in the distance. dkm


Today I will take my meals on the front porch swing to see if there are more birds in the thick growth of vine & moss covered trees on the land side of the house. Have heard Carolina wrens nd tufted titmice in the mornings, but haven't seen them, but for the persistent titmouse after his reflection in the car mirror.

This morning a family of fledgling titmice cavort in the trees and vines not 20 feet from where I swing. Small and disheveled looking, they don't yet have their sunny colored sides. They appear to be having time of their lives, swinging and hanging from the softer more flexible twines of whatever vines have taken over these trees.

I think now the one that is so enamored of its own reflection in the side mirror of my car is a youngster. Again and again it returns to have another go at it. It pecks and flutters against the mirror then perches on top to rest a moment before trying his hand again. I'm thinking the poor bird will have a distorted view of the world in later life.

All at once the titmice are gone, and the trees are silent. Where are the other bird species? dkm

Shore Birds

Knowing Audubon wrote that he felt incomplete if he didn't kill 100 birds a day is shocking enough. That he was able to do it is even more of a wonder, first for the question of how (I assume he shot them down), and second---where did he find them? That was the 19th century. It's a sad commentary on the pollution and habitat destruction of the intervening generations that I can't, in the 21st century, imagine such an abundance of any one species, unless in a migrating group. I was on the porch or dock almost all day today and did not come close to seeing 100 birds. Those I remember are pelicans, seagulls, hawks, a blue jay, that purple woodpecker, and a cute tufted titmouse that kept pecking and flapping at my car's side view mirror. I'm surprised that I see and hear many fewer birds here than at home. Different kinds, but fewer in number. Aside from the shorebirds over the water, only the woodpeckers and jays in the trees between backporch and bay. Where are the swallows of last year?

Question: Who says "ta whittle weeet?" One loner I hear only at night, including the night I arrived. An owl of some kind? That particular voice not described in PFG, but it sounds owl-like. And in the daytime, somebody I can't see sounds like a loud cat meowing. Only one. dkm

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Amazing Feat and Feet

I was shocked to read that James Audubon killed as many as 100 birds per day until he found the perfect specimen for his scientific drawing. He drew from freshly killed models into which he threaded wires to hold them erect for the drawings. This I do not understand, for my recent practice of close observation of woodland creatures has given me enough respect for each that the act of willfully killing a single one becomes unimaginable.

Case in point, the lime green lizard I watched on the porch nearly all day today. Before keeping this journal I would have swept him away with a broom. But I would have missed his yoga-like cobra stretch and nod that came before every throat puff, which was a bright orange vertical disk about the size and shape of a penny that protruded from his neck whenever he came to a patch of sun. I would have missed his spectacular five toed feet on the screen, his blinking eyes, his pumping belly, his twisting neck, his laying low, his peeking from behind a board, his agility on every surface.

Two notable exceptions to my elevated mode of respect---mosquitos and cockroaches. I can kill either with pleasure. dkm

Life Supporting Dead Tree

A woodpecker like the one who comes every morning to the dead live oak I cannot find in the birdbooks. It has a dark red head, not bright red, and a fully black body with no white that I can see. Almost looks purple against the light over the bay. By its characteristic movements, its shape and beak, and its tap tap tapping on the tree trunk, it is definitely of the family woodpecker, but I've never seen one so dark---so lacking in white---so marooon of head. Is it a crossbreed? Does that happen in bird world?

Another wonder of the dead live oak: swarming bees all day every day outside a knot hole in the tree. They look like the same kind of bees that swarm around cultivated bee hives. Honey bees in their natural raw, a phenomenon I've seen only in books and movies before this week. What a gift, this tree. dkm

But For Two Branches

But for two green branches, the live oak tree is dead. Its beauty lies in its ancient curving skeleton and its being all hung with spanish moss. One clump in particular is notable, not for its size or complexity, but for the lowly image its growing shape brings to mind. Last year, April '08, it was the exact size, shape, and color of a large sewer rat hanging by its tail from a thin brittle twig. The twig itself was the tail of the rat, and hung vertically from a slightly more substantial twig, now dead, that had once grown out of the thick now dead bough that points toward the house. I would never have imagined the rat could survive, hanging in the balance as he did. But there he still hangs, having grown to look more like a possum in May '09.

Let me not forget to mention how the skeletal remains of the live oak frame the sunsets. Last year and this, I strive to stop writing at 7:00 to have dinner on the porch swing and watch the sun set over the bay through the arcing tree trunk. dkm

One-legged Sandpiper on Navarre Beach

Most sandpipers move fast across the sand. This one was no exception. What set it apart from the others was its peculiar bobbing. I had not yet noticed it had only one leg. It was the bobbing that caught my attention. The bodies of the others glide in a straight line while their agile black legs skit beneath them in scissor-like fashion. The object of my attention required a slight duck of head & neck and a forward bounce of back with each pace---a tiny sort of hop. It looked more like a wavy run than a hop, and fast. This bird did not appear to be handicapped in any way. It kept to speed, its balance was sure, it was not lacking in size or color, and it appeared to be as adept as the others at digging insects with its long beak in the sand. Indeed, this observer took long seconds of careful study to see that only one leg propelled and supported this bird and was the reason for its bobbing.

One other thing of note: this bird was a loner---isolated from the others by some distance. I wonder if by chance, choice, or discrimination.

I was on a beach walk with Moe, who arrived today for the weekend and to fix the toilet for my keep. dkm

Night Noises

The rain and I drove hard all day---on the way to Gulf Breeze, Florida on the panhandle, for a week and a half of uninterrupted writing time on East Bay---a gift from a friend. She calls it the fish camp. It's a tiny one-room house all painted white, with an enwalled bathroom in one corner and an alcove for a bed on the opposite wall. Screened in porch on the bay side of the house. Perfect for my Emily Dickinson-like purposes. The long overgrown lane welcomed my arrival at dusk.

I thrilled as I unpacked the car, made the bed, and set up the table with reference books, writing supplies, and laptop, remembering the good luck I had finishing the 3rd draft of WL last year here. Now the 7th draft pulls. Unable to wait for tomorrow, I began revising the two chapters on my mind as I drove today.

I work late into the night to the nearby calls of an unfamiliar predatory bird. Does it love being out there in the night as much as I love being safe inside listening to it call? A high whistle-like call. Like Maggie's night hawk on the night she wrote her long letter.

Home from Lake Junaluska/ Nestwatch Day 30

Have the housewrens gotten used to me, or are they unaware of me? The latter seems unlikely, but when I stood near the nest this morning, after six days away, to listen for nestling squall, Mama and Papa Small carried on with their work---in and out of their rhombus shaped house with morsels in their beaks. Constant activity now. They appear not to mind my presence. Still, I hear no tiny voices from inside the box.

Checking earlier entries I see that I first heard the brown-headed nuthatches only four days before first fledge. I fear I will miss the houswrens fledging while at the fish camp next week. dkm

Why the wrong dates?

These dates are off, since I've been traveling and have not had internet access. They correspond to the date I copied entry from travel log into blog after return from trips---not the actual date of observation. Will add a few each day till caught up to real time.

Should also note that recent observations were not made in my backyard---but at Lake Junaluska in South Carolina, and on the East Bay in Gulf Breeze, Florida, where I have had two long solitary writing retreats to work on 7th draft of current manuscript.

Thanks to the kindness of friends, who have loaned me their quiet places, and husband, who encouraged me to do it, I've had the unmatched gift of 16 days of solitude in which to immerse myself in problem solving with WL manuscript, slow thinking, writing, re-writing, yoga, deep breathing, and observation of nature.

The title of this entry reminds me of Moe's joke: A horse goes into a bar. Bartender says, "Why the long face?"