Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stoking Up

I didn't  need the radio earlier this week to warn me of the coming rain from tropical storm Beryl. The birds came in droves to the feeder that morning, as they always do before a storm, but they seemed more intense this time.  Somehow they knew they may be holed up for awhile and needed to fatten for the siege.  I could almost see the seeds moving down the feeder tube—in the same way the hands of a clock move.  Nearly every feathered species we have here came in groups.

One bright breasted robin even came to stoke up. I have never seen a robin at the feeder, ever. He didn't actually light on the feeder bar, but took advantage of the seed chaff beneath it. A first.

The tiny brown-headed nuthatches got away with a bit of arrogance because they're so darn cute. Not easily intimidated, they chatted away on the deck rail, waiting while I refilled the feeder. "Hurry it up, woman," they might as well have said. "Can't you see there's a storm coming?" They sound a bit like the squeak of a baby's squeeze toy. Whee-hee. Whee-hee.
Brown-headed nuthatch
Taken today, through the window, not on the day of the supposed rain. 

So when the clouds rolled in, I expected torrential rain, and looked forward to a reprieve from watering the flower beds. The sky turned dark, the air heavy. But the rain never came. It spritzed a bit, making dark spots on the deck floor and nothing more.

If it's going to be another hot summer of drought, I fear for the hydrangeas who are already on their last legs from the past two summers.

And the blueberries, which are just beginning to ripen.  They're usually finished before the high heat of summer arrives.

Low 90sF/30sC today. And it's only May. dkm

Sorry, flowers. You're only getting coffee this summer. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Found the mystery bluebird nest of last post, but not before days of watching Sir Blue work overtime chasing away squirrels. He and his girlfriend have settled in the little house on the pine trunk afterall.  I was dead wrong about their having borrowed the squirrel's nest.

She is sitting on eggs now and only comes out occasionally, looking bedraggled and small. Is it the stress of growing and laying eggs that has taken such toll on her formerly robust appearance? Sometimes she sits on the doorstep and looks out for long periods of time. Sometimes she flies to a cherry branch for a short spell away from the nest. Imagine how boring, her long ordeal. I wonder if our early summer temperatures (93F/34C degrees yesterday) will affect egg-hatching.  Seems like it might be good for eggs, but bad for mama. The box is in the shade most of the day, but it probably gets hot in there. I'd want some fresh air, too.

 No swing-side observations for awhile because the top of the swing is Sir Blue's post of choice this go-round.  Ever watchful, he sits long and alert on a variety of nearby perches, but most often on the swing.

 I've grown so fond of this little blue daddy for his noble vigilance, I call sweet words of encouragement to him from afar. Watching his valiant safeguarding of his progeny is Moe's and my newest evening entertainment from the deck. He wows us with his protective aeronautics. 

He begins each aggressive chase with a divebomb at the squirrel's head, then follows in hot pursuit after its bushy tail, till the fellow is run off.  His chasing flight is accompanied by a rapid clicking sound. I can't tell if it comes from his wings or beak or throat, but I'm thinking it's his wing feathers hitting against each other. However he clicks, it's an effective defense against squirrels four times his size. They don't stick around to argue, but they always come back.

 I don't think herbivorous squirrels pose much danger to a bluebird nest, unless they've buried nuts in there, but what Sir Blue doesn't understand is that the pinetree is one of their most direct and frequent routes to the playground in the canopy. It's going to be a long and arduous nesting round for Sir, however self-imposed.  

If the first day of divebombing was egg-laying day, and it takes two weeks to hatch, we should have new baby blues by the middle of next week, June 5th or 6th. dkm

Friday, May 25, 2012

Go Bluebirds!

Drama in the cherry tree.  Who knew bluebirds would attack a squirrel?

Earlier observations had given me the impression bluebirds are as meek as they are beautiful. They allowed a tiny gregarious house wren to run them out of their chosen nesting box. They come to the deck feeder only when no others are there and leave the instant another approaches. He offers a quiet murmur of a song—never pretentious or arrogant—more complacent, even timid. They seem the model for quiet contemplation when they sit long on a low branch watching for worms in the grass.

Not this morning. Again and again Sir Blue came at the squirrel, preventing its progress along a branch in the cherry tree. When the squirrel didn't give up, Madame Blue joined in the aggressive flutter and dive-bombing act until the squirrel retreated down the trunk.

I knew the Blues had a nest nearby because he's been ever-present in the yard recently, busy in the relentless search for food. I've guessed she is sitting on eggs, and he's feeding her, but I couldn't tell where.

Not long ago they gave me hope when they investigated the two corner nesting boxes nailed to pinetree trunks in the upper yard near the house. One of those pines stands right next to the cherry in question, but I supposed the Blues chose a more hidden spot when I saw no more activity there.  Nobody has nested in those old boxes for years, I think because the squirrels have chewed the holes too large to be safe, but I don't know for sure. The last nesters were a family of tufted titmice several years ago.

This morning's repeated attacks on the squirrel sent me in search through the cherry tree and environs.  I could find only this messy collection of leaves and sticks. I thought it belonged to a squirrel, but other than the empty birdhouse on the pinetree, there could be no other place.

  Have my good and gentle bluebirds purloined a squirrels's nest? Wahoo! This will be fun to watch.  dkm

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Moment of Clarity

Every now and then, in the ongoing attempt at the practice of mindfulness, one is graced with a visionary flash of enlightenment incomparable in character. One never knows how or when it will arrive. The only certainty is that such a moment can not be predicted.  One came to me a few evenings ago when our good friend Sheila, about whom I've written before, and who is my model and mentor in the spiritual practice of genuine mindfulness, joined Moe and me on the deck overlooking the backyard.

It was the end of the week. We brushed off the chairs. We relaxed with an appetizer and good beverages of choice to the tune of evening birdsong. We exclaimed over a steady stream of feathered species at the feeder and in the trees, including the beautiful and dignified pair of bluebirds I knew to be actively nesting somewhere in the vicinity, though I hadn't yet discovered where.  

Squirrels entertained us by leaping and marching boldly past to clean up the seed chaff on the floor of the deck under the feeder, confident we would do them no harm.


The evening was mild, the scene was peaceful. Dusk folded around us and we chose to move inside for dinner. We stepped across the threshold into the kitchen. Then came the moment of truth that is the topic of this post. With all the elegance of the successful trial attorney that she is, Sheila turned to me and said, "Debby, your birding hobby is an admirable one, but are you aware that your deck is covered with shit?"

poo of squirrel

Well, yes, there is that. dkm

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Hot Sun / Cold Rain

A Robert Frost poem surfaced today, unbidden, from somewhere deep in my first-grade-teacher memory.  I was thinking about how, in my ignorance (innocence?), I evicted that queen bumblebee from her nest by leaving it in the hot sun, a few posts back, and then about  Julie Zickefoose's story of how she cares for her nestlings in cold rainy weather. Y'all, she makes “omelettes” for them.  Don't take my word for it. Read it yourself. The ends to which JZ goes for her baby birds is a remarkable story. 

These things were moiling I guess, because somehow I found myself leafing through poetry books for a verse I thought was called “The Exposed Nest.”  Found it, wonder of wonders. Too bad RF didn't know about JZ's recipe for baby bird omelette.

The poem is exquisite, full of just-right turns of phrase.  I have loved it in years past. Today it made my throat catch.  And just now, typing the words made me "go all soppy," to quote the lovely New Zealand blogger, Jane Robertson

I like to think Frost’s mother-bird did come back and was filled with gratitude. dkm

The Exposed Nest

You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But 'twas no make-believe with you today,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
'Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven't in my memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.
                                                                                                       -Robert Frost

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ground Exercises

Oh frabjous day, calooh, callay, the baby squirrels have come out of their nests.  There is nothing quite like the crazed frenzy of a  baby squirrel running amok in the yard.  The first time I witnessed it, I thought something was dreadfully wrong, (see very first blogpost in the sidebar archives, but don't judge me by my naive ranting---since then I've learned they fledge twice a year, spring and fall, so that poor little thing was a September fledgling). Now I've seen it often enough to know it is what newly fledged squirrels do when they discover their amazing strength and agility. Imagine the exhilaration of finding a whole new world outside the confines of a deep nest.

Today's little guy had a small stick about the size of a pencil, all covered in green lichen, with which he rolled and tumbled and played so vigorously it's a wonder he didn't exhaust himself. Sometimes he would stop long enough to nibble along the stick, as if eating an ear of corn, then suddenly return to his frenzied antics, wildly leaping and twisting into the air like a crazed gymnast. Sometimes he'd settle on his haunches perfectly still, then leap a vertical 18 inches into the air, only to land straight back down on his haunches like he'd never left the ground.  Then he'd return to tumbling around his stick, tearing partway up the tree trunk and back down to attack his stick again. How cute and white, his upturned belly when he landed on his back.  How giant and furry his tail, seeming way too big for his tiny self. Of course, he's gone by the time I get back with a camera.

More than newfound freedom, these are probably ground exercises, for the purpose of developing the life skills needed to leap safely through tree branches at high altitudes.

Do your exercises well, little squirrel.  You're going to need all the speed and agility you can get when Moe runs you off the deck with his tennis racket. dkm