Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bonnet Head

I posted this photo (in a higher resolution) on RedBubble in my portfolio because I was fascinated with the colors, texture and shapes that I was able to capture with very little post production work.  Flowers blossoms go so fast.  They last only a few days and if you are busy you fail to see the bud, the opening, the blossom and the fade.  This poppy's seed pod, on the other hand, is just as lovely in its futuristic beauty as it was in its full orange petal brilliance a few days earlier.

Don't you think?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cardinal Drama--Part II

Back to the cut leaf maple tree in my front yard.  (Get ready for some preciousness.)

The drama of the cardinal family did continue.  I am an early riser and soon my morning ritual, after making coffee and while waiting for the sun to provide more than gray light, was to peak at the nest through my bay window allowing my eyes to adjust to the shadows to see if mama was sitting on the nest, and she always was.  She was very hard to see because she is the exact color of the leaves.  Later I would head out for my early morning walk around the yard allowing the security light to go on and thus see the tree in much more specific light.  This was the time that woodland birds were singing lustily and bumblebees woke from last night's drunken honey stupor drifting from their all nighter deep inside the hosta blossoms falling into the moist morning air.  During the rest of the day I could not walk by the tree to work in the yard without stopping and peeking at the two fledglings, and taking advantage of a photo opportunity.

Within days the pencil lead wings were covered in soft gray feathers and the naked bodies began to be covered in soft fuzz and slits in the eyelids began to appear.  They still looked comical and alien when opening their mouths begging for food.

By the end of the week the first fledgling with feathered wings hopped from the nest and worked his/her way to the edge of an outer branch looking around at his/her new world with those sleepy bug eyes.  Both parents, who were sitting at the forest edge in the nearby holly tree, behaved the same we way we do when the kids get to use the keys to the car...encouragement, bravery and insane panic.

They tweeted for the little bird to join them, flitted from tree to fence line to trellis at the side of the house, tweeting and looking around.  He looks like he just woke up.  Doesn't this remind you of your teenager at breakfast?  The parents hopped across the front lawn pretending they were gathering bugs while all the while watching the novice flyer.  It took twenty minutes of persuasion and pleading before the first sibling flew 30 feet across and just a foot above the lawn and fell into my bed of pink impatient flowers scattering petals everywhere.  Dad cardinal flew to the edge of the flower bed and begged the little adventurer to fly to the net fence nearby.  The fledgling eventually made it to the fence netting but with graceless balance became caught in the net like a fly in a web and hung there awkwardly for some time.

He looked about stupidly, wing caught on one side and seem to be cheeping, "Help!"  Dad refused to join the fledgling and instead gathered wild raspberries on the other side of  the fence line and held them high in his mouth as encouragement or bribery.

At last, this seemed to work because the bird fell through the net and then flew at a downward angle and crashed into the tangle of honeysuckle and other vines that live on an old tree snag on the woodland side of the fence.  Both parents and fledgling disappeared into the deep shadows of those vines with only the adult cardinals intense conversation indicating their location.

It took longer for number two to make his/her way to the branches.  He seemed to have an attitude problem and his mohawk haircut did not help me be more confident in his abilities.  This freak of nature was determined to wait for food delivery and reminded me of many a rebel without a cause that I have known through my teaching days.

The parents hopped here and there with chirping and cheeping and whistling and all I could think about was all the attention they may be calling to any nearby predators.

Eventually number two took a flying leap and joined mama in the nearby holly tree. There seemed to be a small celebration before he/she also disappeared deep into the darkness of the woods.

Sadly for Tabor, as in human life, this soap opera has now been cancelled and the next season picked up on location in the deep green woods where only Mother Nature could continue to watch.  The nest in the tree was empty.  It got more quiet as the afternoon wore on.  Tabor's yard became still and certainly seemed dramatically changed.  The event was over and the first and second act appeared to have been performed successfully.  Act 3 would probably not be seen by Tabor's eyes.  The next morning's coffee walk was wanting as I wondered if I would recognize anyone this winter at the feeder.  (But wait, I think I see the blue birds feeding family number two just beneath my deck, and yes, the wren has started her second batch of babes undeterred in the house in the flower bed!  All is not over yet.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cardinal Drama -- Part I

Near my front door is a four foot high and four foot wide cut leaf maple tree.  These trees are expensive to buy, and theoretically, worth lots of money as they get larger and add a certain gravitas to ones yards.  Gardeners sometimes view them as an investment...but, in reality, no one is going to pay more money for your house because you have a stunning cut leaf maple.  These plants were a big garden fad about a decade ago, when Americans thought they could add a bit of sophisticated Asian Zen to their gardens by buying and planting them.  Fortunately, for the American gardener who understands gardening as a "throw more money at it" activity, they are hardy and grow fairly well, although slowly, in almost any area of the yard.  Several weeks ago a rustling activity in the feathery leaves of this tree drew my attention as I passed. I investigated and this is what I saw giving me the evil eye.

I could not help but notice that she blended perfectly with the color and shape of this tree.  Had I not heard a noise, I am sure I would never have seen her.  Nice and exciting to have the bird's eye view of a spring soap opera so close to my daily path.  I noticed a few days later, while the female cardinal was off eating, that there was one small speckled egg resting in the nest.  My husband, ever the investigative biologist, had to pick it up and examine it.

Alas, the shell had a small hole in it and was empty of any bird life.  Had the female cardinal abandoned her nest in grief?  The next day I went to collect the egg as a souvenir and found it was gone!  A day later I saw the female cardinal again sitting on the nest, and as the days passed, I was excited to see the scene in the photo below one afternoon while mama was out hunting bugs.

I clapped my hands like the little old lady that I am and smiled in joy.  Each day I watched the female cardinal sit on the nest.  For several days this spring(!) weather reached into the 90's F and she still sat there panting with her mouth open in the unbearable heat.  I would see the male cardinal bring her food.  It did not take long before I was rewarded with this exotic scene below.

Blind baby birds.  Ugly with mouths half the width of their skulls, naked pink backs like plucked poultry for dinner and wings with pencil lead protrusions where wing feathers should be.  These two babes only a mother could love.  Both she and dad would visit the nest several times a day and bring gutsy breakfasts, lunches and dinners.  The babies would stretch their scrawny necks, open those cavernous mouths, and cheep ever so quietly, singing "My turn...My turn." while wavering on tiny legs and then releasing a pillow of white poop which mama picked up in her mouth and then dropped on the ground as she flew to the trees.  When parents were not near, they slept quietly hunched down in the nest and invisible to all.

I watched this drama at my window and door carefully each day trying to keep all the dangers these young ones faced far to the back of my mind as I cheered them on in their survival.  The spring varied from hot to cool from wet to dry and yet all were surviving.  Part II of this soap next.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Virgins

Lily:  "To the ancient Egyptians, the trumpet-shaped lily was a symbol of Upper Egypt, the southern part of the country. In the ancient Near East, the lily was associated with Ishtar, also known as Astarte, who was a goddess of creation and fertility as well as a virgin. The Greeks and Romans linked the lily with the queen of the gods, called Hera by the Greeks and Juno by the Romans. The lily was also one of the symbols of the Roman goddess Venus.

In later times, Christians adopted the lily as the symbol of Mary who became the mother of Jesus while still a virgin. Painters often portrayed the angel Gabriel handing Mary a lily, which became a Christian symbol of purity. Besides being linked to Mary, the lily was also associated with virgin saints and other figures of exceptional chastity."  The Myth Encyclopedia  

This Asiatic lily below is the first to bloom in my garden and has a little bit of blue in the red.  The petals are as smooth as a baby's bottom and the flowers open their faces up to the blue sky.

My second lily to bloom puts on a big show before opening her buds. The buds are large and full of interesting texture and almost look like an alien animal.  The petals remind me of red leather.  

When the flower actually blooms she is so full in your face that you must briefly look away before you move in for that longer study.

This lily is more orange and edgier, although it does not appear so in the photo above.  This lily must look sideways and not up to the sun. She is more demure.  Neither of these two lilies have that thick sweet smell of the stargazer lily.  But they are so beautiful, I do not mind.  The next to bloom is my tiger lily...which is still forming little buds.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

All the Little Birdies

This is a lengthy post and may require a stiff drink, a box of  tissues, and an open mind.
You may remember my excitement at finding six little wrens in a nest in the kayak beneath our deck a few weeks ago.  Watching them grow each day and watching the work that the wrens put forth in collecting insects was compelling.  I was worried about raccoons and other predators since their nest was so close to the ground and so accessible and I did often question the intelligence of this wren as I have the intelligence of other wrens in the past.

But bird mothers are like our own homeless mothers when they are forced to select a nest site quickly as the time is impending that they must lay their eggs.  We had some very heavy storms in the weeks prior to this and that is probably why this little dove was forced to abandon the nearby tree and selected this precarious window ledge in the suburbs of Arlington, Virginia to raise her two little ones.  (Only one can be seen here.)  It amazes me that baby birds survive at all!

Back at my stomping grounds, a recent afternoon was filled with a mystery regarding my bluebirds that are also nesting in the bird house on the opposite side of the deck.  Both the male and female are bringing insects throughout the day, but without the speed and energy of the wren.  The mystery was why both were sitting on an iron trellis doing nothing one afternoon.  I had pushed the trellis into the lawn a few yards from their front door anticipating the danger of fledglings trying to fly to somewhere nearby to land as they took their first precarious flight.  The bluebirds just sat there for the longest time staring down at the patio.  There were at least two, maybe three, titmice, newly fledged, making a tremendous ruckus in the nearby pomegranate tree not far from the bluebirds, and I guessed that the bluebirds were irritated by this flying circus of crazy juveniles...behaving much like drunken teenagers so close to their nursery.  Eventually and thankfully the titmice flew away but almost immediately a chickadee landed very close to the bluebird parents on the same trellis.

Very odd to see so many different birds in the same place!  I did not figure out what was going on until many minutes later  when I heard the wren throwing a tremendous fit on the other side of the deck perched on a nearby tree branch.

I walked down to the lower level to see what was going on.  As I lifted the kayak seat my heart fell hard into my stomach.  I saw the resident black snake curled ominously across the top of the nest completely covering it with only the rat's end of his tail draped across the red edge of the kayak.  I called in panic to my husband (who was making an important phone call) and he quickly handed me a gaff hook to go forth and battle on my own.  A gaff hook?  I had neither the courage nor the will nor the skill to gaff a snake.  This was not your traditional light weight aluminum gaff but a heavy duty tool that had been hand crafted by a friend many years ago with a very sharp hook end and a most solid handle.  Holding the gaff high above my head, I screamed at the snake, and next banged on the side of the kayak hard with the handle.  Before he gave up his larder he rattled his tail (just like a rattle snake) and hissed malevolently slithering off the nest.  He slowly disappeared beneath the black kayak seat and abandoned the little ones who seemed to still be all there.

I did not know what to do and was too afraid to really battle this fellow as snakes have me snookered before the word go.  In reality he was too small (3 feet) to do much damage to me.  Unfortunately in my banging panic as I tapped him on the head with the handle of the gaff each time he stuck it out from beneath the seat of the kayak, I managed to do some serious damage to my waist one stroke as the hook facing my side scraped me breaking the skin painfully.  This forced me to calm down, before I seriously hurt myself more than any black snake could.  I turned on the hose to see if I could flush the snake out from beneath the seat with no luck.

Finally my husband joined me and I pulled back to let the snake peer his head out and he almost immediately started to curve up toward the seat once again.  My husband with instant skill grasped the snake with the hook end of the gaff, but unseen by our eyes the snake actually thrust with lightning speed before being lifted away and caught one little bird in his mouth. The bird fell to the white pebble gravel below as my husband threw the snake to the ground.  The blind baby bird wobbled fragilely for a second.  I grabbed the warm and ever so light baby wren and put him back in the nest.

My husband looked at me with question and all I could say was get rid of the snake.  Hubby banged him hard on the head several times and then threw him/her into the woods.  He was not dead.  We learned a hard lesson the next day.  The next morning I saw the wren perched on the empty bird feeder.

The day was still and there was no breeze, yet her feathers were quite ruffled as I watched through the binoculars.  She looked from side to side.  I put down my morning cup of coffee and went below the deck and you can probably guess that I found an empty nest.  We had not wanted to kill a snake as they are important predators in our woods, and we had adopted the wren babies as if they were our own small children and this broke my heart.  What a mess when mankind gets involved!  The snake had come back in the early morning or had a partner!

I have also discovered a perfectly engineered round nest at the top of my four foot high cut-leaf maple tree in the front yard a few days later just below my bay window.  I watched closely from the window and saw a female cardinal sitting in it as you can barely see above her shiny little eyes and her orange bill.  She is the exact color of those maple leaves.  She could barely get her big breast into the nest and she was panting open billed from the high heat of the afternoon.  I wondered if the nest was hers until I saw an egg in it a few days later when she was gone.  My husband, ever the biologist, picked up the egg one evening to discover that it had a small hole in it and an ant crawling on it.  We were very disappointed.  I went out the next day thinking to collect the egg shell and instead picked up a perfectly good new egg in the nest!  She had discarded the broken egg and had laid a new one and then a day later another one!  These birds do not need me after all.

As a brief follow-up to this long soap opera on spring and birds and life, I was just now called to the door by my husband while writing this very post.  He said he saw a four foot black snake in the back yard on the lawn below the bluebird nest.  We were not going to have another tragedy if I had any say in this and I hurriedly went to my bedroom to get a pillowcase and hubby went to the basement to get that famous gaff hook.  When we got back to the place where he had originally seen the snake, it was gone!  Hubby looked around everywhere and I stood on the small stone wall that looked over the hill of the lawn toward the woods and could not see anything looking like a snake.  I was just beginning to lose heart when, with shock, we saw this below at our eye level only 5 feet away from us.  Me and my stupid trellis aid for baby birds!  This persistent snake was reaching out long and carefully to see if he could reach the opening to the bird house across the space.

We got the snake onto the gaff hook and into the pillowcase and then took him on a three mile trip to the nearby park. There are lots of frogs and other edibles for him/her there.  Let us hope this is the end of my spring adventures for a while.  Oh, the wren couple are building a new nest in the front yard in the tiny brown bird house, an actual bird house, and unless this is just the energy of grief and shock, there is hope.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Bug Shakes Its Booty.

I spent some time watching this guy shake it to the left and then shake it to the right over and over again, and it took forever to get such a close photo in focus! He would raise his right wing and then his left as he moved his body from side to side as if in some dance with only music that he heard.  A mating dance?  A way to beat the heat?  No video but here is a still life!  Aren't you glad I find all this odd stuff?  (This is a post I wrote a few weeks ago as I am now taking a break from blogging for a while.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

My Bluebird is a Bitch

She is. She really is. She has completed her nest beneath my deck, seems to have laid some eggs, and she and her husband seem to be tending them with sporadic care.  Her duties are recessed in the early evenings when she has been freed by her mate.  She spends these precious moments smearing insects either on the deck posts or against my windows.  One would think this new mother would take advantage of the free time and instead watch the sunset with a nice martini!  She flits from breakfast nook window to living room window to my bedroom window (all on one side of the house) determined to get my attention.  When she finally sees me in the room, (I wave my arms high over my head against some light background to catch her eye--no photos) she stops and stares at me for the longest time.  She looks as if she is trying to figure out how to communicate or if indeed I can be that large and odd looking and be allowed to live.

In the early mornings, immediately after the sun is up, her mate gives her another reprieve from nest sitting, and she flies out to collect a bug or two and then returns to the deck eating part of her repast and painting the leftover guts on the backs of my deck chairs after which she promptly drops last night's digested meal on the seat of one of the deck chairs.

A short time later, after she is satiated, she comes again tapping at the bedrooms windows (this all happens about 6:00 AM!), only this time she is grumbling and hissing under her breath and puffing out her chest as she talks to herself.  She looks at me as I sit up in bed bleary-eyed and then mutters and shakes her head.  It sounds like angry muttering and spitting, really.  More guttural than the bird's lyrical song.  Is she complaining about the lack of air-conditioning in her abode, the lack of a window, the fact that due to lawn mowing I moved the hammock further away from where she used to stop on her way into the birdhouse?  Or is she regretting  her decision to start a family after this reality has set in?