Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Walking across a nearby wildlife 'sanctuary' it is not easy to forget that this was once well-used farmland.

It becomes obvious if you are observant that this land once was agricultural. Above and below are the remains of a barbed wire fence  bleeding out from a trunk with only a faint line to show the scar.  A fence that kept something in or perhaps something out over a hundred years ago.

This beech tree has swallowed the wire remains. This looks painful!

Above in another area, these three trees in the two photos above...or perhaps one tree with three new sprouts...shows even uglier scars from a wire fence elsewhere along the trail.  I wish we could be like some European countries that used rock walls to define property and spaces as they seem to age with grace. Barbed wire is so American.  Of course, many of the areas in Europe with the rock walls have NO trees to work around as they were all cut down.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The mid-morning was unusually cool but had the lingering spring crispness that usually is gone by this time of year. I had the windows open and was thinking about my catch-up list when I heard the most unusual bird call.  It sounded vaguely familiar but also more compelling.  You know from my prior post that my to-do list was quickly discarded and with camera in hand I headed outside.  It seemed that Mom and Dad bluebird were having some deep discussion about something as they sat on the roof of their house.
You can see from that glare from Momma bird my sudden presence was not appreciated.  They both had a mouthful of food, yet were still able to have a conversation with each other.  Singing with food in your mouth is not looked down upon in the bird group, apparently.  They did not move from the top of their mansion.  Eventually I out-stared them and they flew to a nearby tulip poplar and continued to chatter argumentatively.

As I walked by the bird house I looked in the front door with my telephoto lense.  I AM a nosy old lady.  There was junior looking for Mom and Dad.  The second that I was out of range he stuck his head out the door and flew without incident to a nearby tree to be fed by one or the other of the parents.  The Blue Birds were fledging!  Imagine your teenage children heading to the garage, keys jingling in hand ready to drive across the continent.  But they have no helmets, wear no seat belts, use no maps!  Egad!  And you sit loyally beside the roadway at various stops ready to provide sustenance and encouragement for the long and dangerous journey ahead.

I looked in the direction of flight and there the young fledgling sat high on an exposed snag and that helped me find him.  Not the best shot, but he clearly looks like he just left the nest.

Mom and Dad darted around calling and trying to get him to the shelter of leaves but he took his time, either afraid to fly again or too rebellious in his new found freedom to listen to mom and dad anymore.
Then I returned to the birdhouse once more and there was his sister waiting eagerly for her turn.
She was clearly not going to join the family until I removed myself from the area, so I turned and walked slowly toward the front of my house.  But I looked over my shoulder and caught this one last shot before the fast and furious graduation ceremony was all over and the bluebirds left HoodFarm for good...unless they are planning on family two in a few weeks?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I am seeing the blue birds and the wrens flitting here and there with bugs in their mouths. Their eggs have hatched and the young are demanding food...although very quietly it seems.  One wren's nest has at least two and more than likely three little ones with feathers starting and big yellow mouths.  

Ethel, our female osprey, still sits patiently on her eggs and Fred brings her a nice cold slimy fish each morning for breakfast.  He sometimes joins her for a brief time in the afternoon and they perhaps discuss budgets and tuition costs and the long trip to their winter home in the fall.  He does bring in a stick or bit of swamp grass every other day.  I think he is feeling guilty that she bears the burden during this time of family.  He probably tucks it to her side and asks if she doesn't think it adds a certain ambiance that was missing and then smiles nervously.

I heard two blue jays screaming and crying the other morning and went outside to investigate.  They were flying around a hollow tree that had been investigated earlier in the spring by two blue birds.  Also flying and crying were two red bellied woodpeckers and two cardinals!  They were not fighting with each other,  just throwing a fit over something.  I did not see a snake but perhaps one had climbed that high and was now eating someone's young or someone's eggs inside the hole in the trunk.

This black racer was slithering across one of our patio chairs during dinner one early evening and scaring the unskilled wren who had once again built her nest in the upside down kayak!  We did not attempt a rescue this year.  Since the kayak was upside down the nest would be thrown free if we tried to turn the boat and remove it from the snake and we had no place else to put the nest if we were successful.  I lectured the snake on the nutritional value of mice (six of which I have trapped in my basement) and the value of voles (which have begun to ruin one of my flower beds), but I do not think he cared.  A bird in the nest is worth six in the house.

The cardinal seems to have returned to that little maple near my bay window.  But unlike the wren that lets everyone within a mile know where her nest is by singing loudly as she rests on the front porch of her home, this cardinal is a stealth builder.  First I saw a few grasses, then the base of the nest grew in size and now a very nice bowl is formed.  I have NEVER seen the cardinal, though.   The nest is well hidden as would be the bird with the coloring of the maple.  This is such great camouflage.  If you look in the center left of the photo below you may see the gray blur that is the nest.

This morning I looked inside that nest and found two eggs!  I took a quick snapshot and left fearing she would return while I was there.    Looks like a fun time ahead.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Going to the Dark Side

I guess that I should admit that I knew it was a slippery slope on which I stood.  They call them addictions because you lose all sense of being responsible for your actions.  You will do anything for that high.  Just one more time on that sparkly ride.  And, as you may know, I am married to an enabler.  He goes with me right to that edge and he would leap if he could make the high even higher.

What am I writing about?  "Enough with the analogy!" you complain?  Okay.  I am talking about birding and my love of birds.  After taking that birding class, the music of birds became my muse as well as my gateway drug to even more hours of birding.  First you listen for a song of a bird that you know, but that you have not seen often enough.  Or, as you walk in the woods, you hear an odd compelling song that makes you excited for more as you anticipate the shape, color and size of the owner of such an exotic throat.  Then when the reward is that you have started to see birds that you never noticed before, and believe me I have seen at least six new species that have always lived here but never noticed at my doorstep, you are in it for the long haul.  Below is the summer tanager not to be confused with the scarlet tanager and the first time in my life I have ever seen one...and I get a really lousy shot but I was so excited that I have to share!

This is the drug of songbirds.  You start to make notes in your bird book.  You start to begin a "life list."  This is a serious step because most "lifers" have seen thousands of birds and pay small fortunes traveling the world in search of those last few hundred!  You do not want to enter this club lightly.

You start buying donuts to entice your husband to wake earlier in the morning and drive out to the nearby state park.  Then in a few weeks you pack lunches because you are going to be there for hours.  

Most recently we brought our camp chairs and sat near a wild cherry tree full of red fruit that attracted a number of hungry feathered fellows.  As you can see from the photo below I did not get great camera shots and actually the more I am birding the worse my photography is getting---maybe there is a book in that.  Also, please remember that this addict is juggling coffee, camera, binoculars and a bird identification book.

The next level of addiction involves a smart phone.  Perhaps you read my other blog and remember the post about hubby's new phone.  Well, I now think this was a great idea.  We cruise the web, find the Cornell bird site and then listen to the song of the bird we think it is.  Next we get a little crazier and start playing the song on speaker phone!  Sometimes it actually brings in a desperate bird who behaves a little panicky as he hops from branch to branch in a nearby tree looking for the singer.  Perhaps what our phone said was enough to start a fight or entice a mate who is now very horny?

If you think we have now gone over the are so wrong as the edge is near but not yet at our toes.  We found more room for craziness.  Yesterday I saw a yellow bird that looked very much like a rare warbler.  He looked a little like the hooded warbler but was NOT.  ( And of course I did not get a photo.)  So I listened to his song and then threw back my head and mimicked the call.  It bought him in closer!!  I still do not know what the species ID was, even after study with binoculars, but I can tell you, I sang that damn song up and down the hiking path and hubby was so thankful it was a weekday and that no one was walking dogs or jogging as they do on the weekends.  I cannot carry a tune, but I obviously can mimic some bird songs.

So, if you pass some gray haired lady with a lot of equipment around her neck and with her head to the sky singing weirdly, just give her wide berth.  She is harmless, but she is on a mission and she may walk right over you and never notice.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spring Abundance

Walking the yard and looking for photographic subjects is one of the strange past times of this old lady.  As I rounded the high tulip tree with the un-used bird house, something caught my eye.  Do you see it?  No?  Let's move in closer.

What is that red thing on the top of the bird house?  I moved closer.

I was pretty sure that I knew what red decoration was sitting on the roof of the abandoned bird house and I was right!

It was an unripe strawberry.

The squirrel had absconded with it and 'squirreled' it away in a nice safe place to enjoy at his leisure.  Then while eating it, he realized in his speedy theft he had grabbed an unripe strawberry.  It was far from ready and he left it there and scurried down the tree back to our strawberry patch for another shopping trip.  I do not mind, because we have lots to share.  This photo below is the third harvest of at least six we have made this spring!

We have eaten them raw with a sprinkle of sugar, we have eaten them sliced on pancakes with homemade strawberry syrup, we have eaten them on top of ice cream, we have frozen several batches for winter desserts and 12 pints of jam.  And I have made a pie or two.  Lots of healthy vitamin C in that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Returning to Eden

Upon my return from travel of only three days I was rewarded with thousands of weeds and a mole or vole hole that had begun to destroy my dianthus by eating all of the roots. Sigh! I also lost about 40% of my zinnias to rabbit salad.  But also a lot of flowers burst into bloom to greet me and remind me if you plant enough stuff, something survives.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


It was a normal spring morning. Coffee in hand I opened the front door to hear the songs of the birds more clearly. There is the wild cherry tree at the side of my driveway that now catches the sun the fallen 100-year-old tulip tree used to block.  I adjust my eyes to the new forest profile and notice a large black bird sits on the hefty right branch.  Ah, yes, an American black vulture sits patiently and studies me as I sip my coffee.  I walk to the bench on the front porch and he does not move.

I call to my husband and tell him of our new visitor.

"He is checking your general state of health this morning.  We ARE getting older you know!"  Hubby gently shares this thought.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Little Gems

If you are not spending time bird-watching which involves craning your neck into the canopy branches of trees or peaking through dense shrubbery and you keep your eyes on your feet so that you do not trip over a tree root or step in a nice deep  mire of mud, then you might see some of these tiny and wonderful woodland wildflowers.  A few I know and the rest you are on your own.  I have gone through a few references in my library and because I only took photos of the blossoms I cannot identify accurately.  But you do not want to be bored with history or species ID.

Jack in the abundance this year!

Blue-eyed tiny and so lovely.

I think a wild clover?

Wild Geranium

If you live near a woodland park, take time to explore your toes as you walk.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Along a Spring Path

I live near several areas that are preserves or trusts held in a natural state for perpetuity.  Some of these are preserved by the state or county and include small amenities such as children's playgrounds, picnic tables and restrooms and there can be a small fee to enter them.  Others are owned by private environmental groups and exist primarily due to volunteers keeping paths open and swamp trails covered with small boardwalks and donations from the public (sometimes matched by environmental groups) paying property taxes and signage.  There is no entry fee for these private lands because they have no money to staff collection of entry fees.  Both of these types of areas are precious jewels as far as I am concerned.

A few days ago I walked along a trail in a land trust called the Southern Trial.  Come walk with me, as it was lovely!  Weather was in the high sixties and sun was shining.  Wildflowers were blooming (another post on those.)

I saw some new birds:  A grosbeak, a scarlet tanager, and a hairy woodpecker.  We are getting very good at listening for birdsongs and identifying songs since our class.  Spring is the absolutely best time of year to find birds in the high canopy of the forest.  You need binoculars and good ears.  You cannot see birds with the binoculars until you see some shadow of movement using your eyes and know where to train the binoculars.  Birds are now very active and now singing for territory and mating.  They will have either moved north or become more subdued when summer reaches my area, and therefore, much harder to spot.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak
Scarlet Tanager
Hairy Woodpecker

I also saw a familiar character from the American Children's TV show...Arthur

You don't recognize him...let him put on his glasses...

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Now for the rest of the story...

As my blog friends know, I have erected an osprey platform in my river tributary in self-defense against osprey who wanted to build a nest on my boat.  More than 20% of the population of osprey in and around the Chesapeake Bay depend on these artificial platforms for nesting.  Approximately two thousand breeding pairs nest in the Chesapeake Bay area representing 20% of all osprey in the United States, so my platform is of importance.

Now pay attention to what follows below so that you can enjoy my notes on the nesting behavior of Fred and Ethel in the coming months.  There will NOT be a test but the clue to the back story from the prior post is at the end.  (If you have to read and run, this will be up and you can come back later!)

At 3 years osprey mate for life returning to the same nest each year. Some osprey live for 30 years, but most do not.  Pesticide residue was responsible for severe population decline in the 1950s.  In the late 1960’s DDT was determined to have caused a 2-6% annual decline in the population of these fish hawks due to eggshell thinning. Pesticide runoff today still impacts insects and shellfish that fish eat and that impacts osprey also by decline in food.  

Osprey parents also bring junk to the nest which endangers the fledglings. Little birds have been caught in holes in bubble wrap and swallow pieces of plastic among other dangers. Fishing line is notorious for causing death in osprey. Please throw away your trash and pick up trash on the shorelines!

Osprey arrive in my area in late February and early March as did "my" Fred and Ethel. They mate and dance and nest build. In mid-April they lay their eggs and begin the brooding process. Normally 3 eggs are laid but rarely all three survive. The female sits for 38 to 42 days on these eggs and then the birds hatch in early June. Osprey feed on surface schooling and spawning fish. Healthy and abundant fish populations are key to osprey survival. A healthy male must capture 5 to 8 medium sized fish EACH day to sustain himself, a mate, and three young osprey. I know fishermen who use radar, artificial smelly bait and do not have to expend such energy to fly and they could not keep up this pace. 

Predators of the osprey fledglings include raccoons, rats, crows, great blue herons, bald eagles, and horned owls. All of these live in or near my neighborhood but the raccoons would find it very difficult to reach the nest off-shore. Powerful great horned owls and agile golden eagles have killed adult osprey for food as well. But osprey have also been known to kill herons and owls. It is a bird eat bird world out there. The other day I saw our red shouldered hawk scare the female osprey to the side of the nest briefly and I am guessing he was looking for fledglings. Since she still has eggs he flew away.  I am hoping the hawk finds plenty of other food this summer.

Fred and Ethel still shriek and fly off the nest when we use the dock, but I can only hope they grow to accept us as most osprey eventually do.  I have read that we should gradually increase our presence.  I think that, like crows, osprey are smart enough to remember a face and she knows I was the one who kept her from successfully nesting last spring.  Maybe she will never forgive me ? :-(

Now that you have read through the whole treatise on osprey, I will admit that as some of my readers guessed, the back story is that the female is banded.  Banding took place a few years ago with osprey on this river.  I also learned that with powerful scopes the ornithologists have been able to read the band numbers from a distance to collect their data and do not have to capture or wait for a dead bird.  My next step is to contact the scientist that did the banding who has moved to the northern part of the state and see if they are interested in my observation.