Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Arrogance and Beauty

I thought I knew all the sounds of a blue jay--a caw and a shriek both raspy and harsh. But a clutch of new jays have fledged from the next door oak, and have all this week been saturating the backyard---showing off their wider repertoire.

A fluty whistle was the first surprise. One short high syllable, followed by a long airy whistle, so like a hawk's that I looked up many times expecting and fearing to find one perched too close for comfort. Always it was a jay, looking full grown---sometimes performing its whistle while I watched, lest there be any doubt---as if to teach me how little I know.

They are not subtle, the jays. They demonstrated another sort of toot as well---a single hollow owly hoot on just one tone---no rising or falling, no waver or rasp. It's a tone I've heard often and have long wondered who made it. One mystery solved in exchange for another. If they can whistle nicely, why the more prominent and unpleasant caws?

Not that I've ever minded the raucous jays in the yard. Their visual beauty can not be denied. But why such a curious mix of poor manners and beautiful feathers. The parallel in the human world makes me wonder if it must exist in every society---and if it must, why?

One can always feel relieved not to be a beauty, as it improves one's chances of being kind. dkm

Monday, May 24, 2010

Be Still My Heart

A big departure from my usual today---sorry---to indulge the first grade teacher in me---well, more accurately, the grandmother----

My six-year old grand-daughter and her mother were sorting through outgrown toys yesterday to take to Goodwill. When her mother warned her they would be getting rid of a lot of toys, she said, "That's okay, as long as we don't mess with my library."

Happiness. My job is nearly done.

The only photo I could find that showed a portion of her wall of books. dkm

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kissing Cardinals

They're not really kissing, of course---he's feeding her---but it has all the appearance of a tender kiss---and it's the sweetest observation I've made yet in this meditative backyard journey.

A pair of cardinals comes to the deck feeder for sunflower seeds. She sits on the banister and waits. He gets a seed from the feeder and takes it to her on the banister. He strokes her open beak with his in the transfer of the seed. They do this two or three times before flying off together into the neighbor's holly tree across the sideyard fence, where they most certainly have a nest, judging from their frequent entering and exiting of the holly. Though I can't be sure, they are likely the same pair I saw mating in the azaleas last week.

That cardinals mate for life is their most endearing trait, I think, not to mention the brilliant gift of red they offer to anyone paying attention. dkm

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bluebird Dilemma #2 and Cardinals in Love

After the premature and silent disappearance of the first bluebird family from the copper-roofed birdhouse in the corner of the backyard, M and I debated the wisdom of removing the abandoned nest or leaving it undisturbed---not knowing which would best invite the bluebirds to try again and most discourage the house wrens from setting up shop in place of the bluebirds. We decided in favor of removing it, thinking it might harbor bad memories for the bluebirds, and if left, might be precisely what the house wrens wanted, since we think they are who ran the bluebirds off in the first place.

We still don't know if we made the right choice, but yesterday, the male bluebird, who has continued to come and go around the yard, investigated two houses---a smaller one in the front part of the yard, and his first copper-topped home. He showed a definite preference for his first house. As I observed him in and out of its doorway, sure enough, appeared the female. For many long minutes they engaged in the same coy teasing and copying behavior observed in my March 19 blogpost, he on the house, she on the nearby trellis, before offing into the woods. I'm hopeful.

Even as I write about the bluebirds, I think a pair of cardinals are mating in the azalea bushes behind the birdhouse. I hear a low and urgent chip chip chip chip of a different character than most cardinal sounds, and see them both hopping around in the azaleas in a she-said-he-said sort of a chase.

It might be the same pair that nested last year in the overgrown confederate jasmine vine on the trellis by the birdhouse. I pruned that vine severely this winter, and was afraid the pruning would discourage the cardinals' return, so I'm glad to see them back. The jasmine is too bare to protect a nest this year, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for a nest in the azaleas now, and a return to the jasmine in 2011. dkm

Monday, May 3, 2010

Heartbreak Times Infinity

My grief for the family bluebird, as intense as it is, pales in comparison to that of the heartbreak generated by the news this week of the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Oil spill. It is nothing of the kind. It is an unchecked flow of crude oil from a drilled well in the floor of the ocean that flows yet---and is expected to go on flowing for months---while "the experts" search for and argue about ways to contain it.

I shudder to consider the long term damage to the ecosystem caused by the greed and short term thinking of all humanity. As devastating as this will turn out to be for the economy of the area and for the country in its ripple effect, at least the human population is resourceful enough to gain alternative ways of life, however altered. But the birds and the fish---my god---the birds and the fish---and every species of plant and animal that will experience long term horror and death without hope as a result of this disaster is a consideration that shakes me to the core.

But aside from increasing my donation to the Audubon Society, and encouraging others to do the same to environmental organizations of their choice, I only watch and despair for the creatures of the earth who are helpless against such force of human destruction, and for a society that has sprawled unchecked to a point that it would act in its own disinterest---indeed, at its own peril. I can make no sense of it. dkm

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Achy Breaky Bluebird Heart

Back in my own backyard again: The bluebird box is silent. Madame & Sir Blue have gone missing. I know not what ill befell their family in my two week absence, but it most certainly was disaster. I suspect house wrens were involved. The time was not right for the bluebird nestlings to have fledged, so they could only have come to a bad end.

Here's what I do know about their timeline, some by research, some by my own observations, and some by the eye-witness reports my husband gave me via phone while I was at the bay.

Nesting Facts: In Georgia, bluebirds begin nesting behaviors in early-March. After mating, the female lays one egg a day for 4-6 days, usually by late-March. Incubation period: 13-15 days. Nestling period: 15-20 days. Two to three broods per season.

Observed timeline of this particular pair of bluebirds:
Mar 8: First sighting of male bluebird in backyard and investigating birdhouse
Mar 16: First sighting of female in and around birdhouse and birdfeeder.
Mar 19: First sign of courtship on dogwood branch
Mar 23: Observed both birds in and out of house. Female getting fatter.
Mar 28-Apr 4: Egg laying week. Fat female got thin again by end of week. Both birds seen often at feeder and in and out of birdhouse. (feeder kept filled with shelled sunflower seeds)
Apr 6-11: Now thin female seldom seen, but occasionally perched on branch near doorway of house. Male came and went from house often. She was likely egg-sitting and being fed by him.
Apr 12: More of same. I left for bay, asked Moe to watch and report.
Apr 13-18: Moe sees only the male coming and going from house.
Apr 19: Moe reports seeing both male and female flying and perching in tandem around the yard. Hatching day? Unable to see or hear anything in house. Hatchlings too small to be audible?
Apr 20: Bingo! Moe hears tiny nestling chirps inside house. Very soft chirps.
Apr 21-22: No observations made
Apr 23: No sounds from house. Moe observed a small brown house wren in and out of the house several times.
Apr 24-26: No sounds, no activity of any kind, either bluebird or wren. I returned home on 26th.
Apr 27-30: No activity. Moe confirmed that house wren was seen only that one day, on 23rd.
May 1: Today, in fear and trepidation, we opened the house to see what we could see. Nest was empty but clean, soft, fresh-looking---no sign of nestlings, no sign of shells, no sign of struggle. BUT, we observed male bluebird several times on various perches around the yard, offering hope that he may try again. Where is the female? Do they feel the grief that I feel on their behalf? dkm