Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Sneeze

(This post was written several weeks ago.)

The woods had been muffled
By stunning white cotton
and downy feathers of snow.
I had been fighting a cold
and therefore avoiding people.

All that I heard 
was the squeak of my boots
and the click of my camera.
But THEN suddenly,
somewhere a tree
shaking white crystals all around
my shoulders.

(Click on photo if you want a sneeze in your face.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Belated Goose Dinner

(As a prescript the following is about death and a little bit of blood, in case you are the queasy type.)

Hubby was the one who had first heard the heavy rustling beneath the holly tree down by the dock. He had gone to check ropes and cages and what not.   He was brave enough to cross the frozen marsh grass and see what was going on.  I was a little afraid.

There in the shelter of the grass against the river bank, and just hidden by the marsh grasses and part of the holly tree, a large and regal hawk had managed to pull in a goose for his dinner. We are guessing that the goose had been maimed by a hunter. We hear shots routinely from the fallow corn field down the river.  The hawk was pulling hard with his claws trying to drag the remains of this heavy bounty over the hills of marsh grasses and closer against the bank of the river away from the quick eyes of other predators.

While he did not seem to mind our visit, he was cautious and made it clear by the spread of his wings, this dinner was his and his alone and he would defend that if I looked too hungry.  His wings also hid the snow white of the goose breast that had been exposed.  He would dip his head and pull hard at the breast and come up with a mouthful of feathers.  Soon the feathers were tipped in red and he began the real meal starting with the sweet organs.

More than several hours later when I returned to the river for more photos he had reduced much of the goose to down and white feathers that were beginning to drift everywhere across the marsh as evidence of his good winter meal.  His mouth was touched in red as were bits of flesh that had landed on his wings.  He had really been enjoying himself.  Later in the evening he rested in a nearby tree above the river and was able to digest the meal as the cold weather kept tomorrow's breakfast nice and chilled below him.  These were taken with a telephoto, so I did not get as close as it looks.  Be sure to click on the photos so that you can also enjoy the meal.  

When I returned several days later I found the entire carcass had been spirited away, perhaps by the gray fox we saw the other day. All that was left was the downy evidence shown above.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Brittle Waters

My breath is knife sharp.
The air is ice.
The forest is quiet,
except for the cold splash of water
pushed by latent
melting snow.
Brown-red leaves
cling in scooped layers
like rose petals 
against the broken stones
lodged in the river,
unwilling to finish
the journey.
Winter holds fast
keeping us all
quiet, in stasis and ever
for tender spring.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Happiness Bird

We had been greeted by the second snow of the season. It was soft and white and fell from the branches like big globs of cotton that had been pulled from some abandoned comforter in the sky. The snow was damp and clung to the tree bark, the dried leaves and then fell lumpy on the lawn as soon as the sun warmed the air. I dressed in my new Michelin-man coat that I had purchased half price at the outdoor store just the week before. It was a comfy warm just like the down of a bird because that was what was inside!

We decided that a walk was in order as the temperature had actually climbed to the tempting level of 37 F and the wind had died down.

Since we had not taken the walk to the cliffs and beach in months it was decided that would be perfect.  We were a just over a mile down this trail and as we rounded the corner path that followed the swamp we saw about twelve of these curious (they were not curious to us but we were curious to them) blue birds flying just over head.  They were nice enough to rest between dives and study us to allow a photo shoot.

There is something very inspiring and hopeful about seeing bluebirds in the middle of winter.  If such lovely delicate creatures can deal with this mess, so can I.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pink Cotton Candy

Yes, I did slightly change the hue of these photos of our second snow of the season by blowing warmer pixelated air upon them.  I was up early during the sunrise and the pink cotton candy color of the scene was actually not far from this edited version.  It is amazing how weather, light and shadow, and angle of the sun can transform where I live into a temporary carnival fantasy land.  All this mood needed was the tinkle of temple bells from Chiang Mai.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bad Hair Day

No matter who you are and no matter that you have been named after one of the most powerful and regal icons in the history of the world, you still grasp the perch one claw at a time and you still can have a bad hair day just like the rest of us.  It is your choice, hat hair or the wind blown look.  (Golly was it cold that day!)

Thursday, January 14, 2010


These blue jays which live up to 15 years and mate for life are clearly unafraid to let me know when they are in my backyard.  They call loudly when I step outside my deck, perhaps telling others that the big white bath-robed bird carrying that black box is back---yes, I do go outside in my PJs in this cold weather.  The jays have chased me all the way to the dock to remind me that the bird feeder is empty!  The only thing I see them duck away from at the feeder is the woodpecker who is pack'n a weapon.

They are not totally fearless of me because they hesitate diving to the feeders when I first arrive.  They watch me for some time before going after the sunflower seeds.  I have read that, like parrots, they can mimic sounds in the woods including squirrel chatter.  They also store nuts, usually acorns, just like squirrels.  They have been seen to stash over a thousand acorns for their winter larder. 

The seeds they pull from my feeders are placed carefully in their claws and pried open with their beak although I have seen them recently swallow sunflower seeds whole, unlike the woodpeckers that place the sunflower seeds into holes in the trees and then peck them open that way.

I found this anecdote on the Cornell bird site:  "Bird watchers sometimes notice Blue Jays "anting," rubbing their wings with ants, spreading a substance the insects secrete, and often losing their balance and falling over in the process. Scientists don't have a convincing explanation for this intriguing behavior yet, though they have suggested the secretions could help clean the feathers or soothe skin irritated by the molting process. Some have hypothesized that the secretions repel feather parasites, but experiments so far haven't found the evidence."  (Personally I think they saw and fell for one of those deceptive 'keep your feathers young' ads recommending the use of queen ant butter.)

At the end of the day there was this little fellow that clearly had almost lost a battle with a hawk or eagle.  He was not as nimble at the feeder or in landing on the branches due to his compromised shape.  I have read that they will re-grow these tail feathers at the next molt.

"I got away, didn't I?"

(If you like birding adventures may I be so bold as to suggest you read my posts -in three parts- about "Zorro," another bird friend, on my other blog.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Berry Nice

Enough of ice and snow and brittle gray weather!

In the dead of winter at the end of December and just before the New Year we took a walk along the shoreline in a nearby park. Weather was about 50 F which made for a pleasant afternoon. (That weather is now a very distant memory since temps rarely break 34 F.)  The ground was spongy from the recently melted snow and the grasses that were peaking from beneath scattered patches of snow were still deep green.  Most of the rest of the area was brown and drab.  Bordering the path were many leafless thorny shrubs, hanging in until spring.

As the path followed the shoreline of the river, I came across this coral berry shrub, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus.  These stunning pink berries may be toxic as they were not being eaten by any birds, but then again, perhaps they were not yet 'ripe'.  While this shrub is indigenous to this area, I think it was an ornamental escapee from the manor house that was now a wedding house at the top of the bluff above the river.  The tiny white flowers of this shrub are not distinctive, but it certainly makes a lovely winter highlight when it produces these berries.  If you click on the photo you will see that it looks as though they are tiny pomegranates...for the fairies' winter ball I guess.  The trio symmetry in growth of seed is also interesting.

I put a few seeds in the pocket of my coat...just to see if I can reproduce the beauty in my yard although it may take a few years.   I am an optimist.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

City Winter

I am sure that not enough cold and wintry photos have been posted in blog-land.  But these are the first that I dug from last month's archives.

Just before the Christmas Holiday and actually a day before my birthday, we got a large snowfall in the area.  As little as eleven inches in some places and closer to two feet where I was staying, at my daughter's house in the city, where we drove to help her with the little ones.  I admit I was torn not being able to be in my woods to capture the first virginal snowfall of the year, but city suburbs have their winter beauty, even if different and slightly limited.  Below are some of the things I saw through the windows (mostly clean) of my daughter's house while holding small children up high so they could share the view with me.  I have become somewhat adept at holding a camera in one hand and a child on the other hip.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Fat Buddies

These beautiful winter jewels are expensive!  We must replace about 8 pounds of sunflower seed every 6 days and slightly less on the mixed seed and fruit mix for the other feeder during the week. There are NOT that many birds in my backyard. They are few enough in both species and number of species that I can recognize them. I could even give them names as I sometimes do.

Many are small like the titmouse and the chickadee, and as hubby says, one would think about 6 sunflower seeds should fill up their tiny tummies for the day or at least the morning meal.  But these birds can put away the food!    It seems that eventually they would become flat footed plodders awkwardly balancing the extra weight on the tree branches reminding one of drunken clowns as the orgy of eating continues throughout the day.  One might think that I could see their bellies dragging along the snowy wet grass as they try desperately to start flight.  One would think that they would spend more time sleeping in the holly trees near the feeders burping away and waiting for the meal to digest.

None of this true.  We are spending a fortune on seeds and these birds have a metabolism that does not quit!  We should all be so lucky.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Magical Misty Morning

It was the first morning sunshine in quite a number of days brave enough to poke its golden head from behind heavy clouds of rain.  But in determined competition, the fog was moving in from the bay and from the large arm of the river and catching like a wispy net in the tops of the trees.  It was carefully covering the sun with its veil.  This fog was masking the first warmth I had felt in days.  I hurried down to the dock to see if I could catch the last of the geese swimming out into the river on the far shore and found my feet sliding ever so dangerously on the glistening frost on the dock when I arrived...our first real frost of the year.

The glassy surface of the water was dotted with white confetti-like down from the prior nights goose gathering.  It looked like the remnants of a very joyful party.  The geese appeared almost magical as the early angle of the sun highlighted their white behinds in crystal light reflected on the mirror of still blue-gray water.  In contrast they seemed also to hang in some gray ethereal space.  The far shore was almost invisible, only a smudged charcoal line.  The distant flocks of water birds coasting out to the river were ghostlike.  These geese mimicked the mood of stillness that was waiting for the sun to pierce through by making very little noise as they floated slowly away.

Such magical moods do not last long.  Fog sweeps in, and then, within the hour, is removed and the bright winter day is exposed.  (Click on the photos for some magic.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010


We have some unusually beautiful purple finches this year and they are so busy darting about at the feeders that they are hard to capture with my camera.  I was sitting on the edge of the steps freezing my 'arse' off and actually wearing gloves waiting for a good shot of their rosy breasts while trying to feel the camera button.  While being patiently frozen, I saw this fellow out of the corner of my eye fly into a nearby tree just behind me.  I knew if I was lucky I would be able to get a good photo!  And I do think Hilary is correct in calling him a sharp-shinned hawk.  In the first photo he appears to be checking his manicure or seeing if his claw is sharp enough for an attempt at dinner.

Some days my back yard is more exciting than any city intersection.

Friday, January 01, 2010

After Midnight

It is now 7 minutes before 2010.  I had been asleep when I coughed and then was suddenly awake.  While I cannot see the blue moon through the haze of clouds outside my bedroom window, I can see that the world out there is misted in the most amazing white.

Fog hangs like spider webs heavy in the air.  
Does this mean 2010 will come in like the lamb?  Does this mean the year will be shrouded in mystery?  Or is this New Year just being shy because it carries so much new purpose?
I open the door and strain to hear the sounds of the night.  All sounds are baffled by the heavy fog.  This is a quiet celebration.
There, the clock has just turned and I now hear the very distant sound of fireworks. Someone must welcome the New Year loudly.
I just tell the young girl to make herself at home, and maybe I will return to bed.