Monday, April 29, 2013

Wake-up Calls

The morning is still too cool after last night's rain to sit on my damp chairs on the deck, but I am newly impressed with spring and wrapped in my warm winter bathrobe I take the laptop outside and try to become inspired for something to write...and I listen... and then I hear...

...the sound of a large creaky hinge on a barn door, but since I have no barn with a door in my back yard, I know that it is the familiar creak of a heavy tree branch that leans against another.  If the wind hits it just right it has a second sound like a sputter that a 6-year-old might make when he feels bravely arrogant.

This sound is followed the rush of wind briefly caught in the new spring leaves.  Wind has a much richer sound now that the trees are all dressed in lime green flags.

I hear the sudden sound of a splash and plop in the river.  The fish are back!

Then there is the sound of a distant machine backing up...not the tinny beep most commonly heard but more like an old bell clanging a half dozen times.

There is the sound of the osprey giving out his morning call to his mate.  This familiar chirp is sharp and piercing and high on the wind sounding almost childlike.

The above sound is followed by the loud and raucous crow who calls boldly to no one in particular and everyone in general.

Next is the flat and disdainful yawp of the mallard that stays on our side of the river, but can never be seen when I head down to the dock. 

If I listen ever so carefully I can hear the intermittent clang of a halyard on one of the boats at a distant dock.

Then as the sun begins to warm the view, various tiny birds share their territorial chorale with me.  Some short and lilting and others distant and lyrical.  They sound like cheerleaders on distant teams calling and re-calling their team spirit.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Species Interaction

The sacrifices that some make to preserve a rare species.  You will enjoy this if you have not seen it on the BBC.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Four From One

I got only one red tulip from the dozens that I planted after the raccoon dug and threw them across the deck for several nights in a row!  So I made a bouquet of four from the one while killing the better part of an afternoon when I should have been doing so many other things!  I reduced the size, but if someone wants a higher resolution, let me know.

The Original

The one in the rain.

The one that glows in the dark.

The one made of lace.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Feeling Full

I have come to the conclusion that apples on the tree are almost as filling as apples in the stomach.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The New House

I can actually find the entire drama of spring without moving my butt from my living room couch.  I just keep an eye on my deck.  I had a pot of some annual that had hung on throughout the entire winter and only died in late February when we finally got a normal freezing winter week.  The remains of the plant were brown and scratchy and I was going to pull it out of the pot and toss it into the woods that very week.  But this one morning, I changed my mind.

Above is the female house finch pulling at the twigs of the dead plant.  The photo is grainy because it was taken through the patio window (unable to use flash) in the dark of the morning with the sun still hidden behind the trees.  She worked quite industriously for some time before she had success.

Ta da!  I watched her go back and forth with twigs and sticks for some time.  The bright red male would land on the railing of the deck, but made no effort to help.  She seemed to be flying to the roof of my house and not into the woods, so I had to open the door to see where this architectural wonder was being constructed.

I actually recognize that green grass and know where it came from!  The above photo shows one of the two speakers that we installed above the deck when we built this house so that we could listen to music from the player inside the house.  It does not get as loud as the boombox from the teenager across the river, but if there is only competition from the birds, I can enjoy the style of music that I like.  Except this discovery makes me think we will be limited in that enjoyment for a while!?

Above is the young "music loving" couple catching their breath as the morning moved on.  The male gave a good impression of ignoring all the work the female was doing.  There is always a sidewalk superintendent on every major project it seems!

"Hey Hun, do you need some help with that?"

"Ooops!  I think you dropped some!"

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Curiouser and Curiouser

What a bargain!  A big bag of tulip bulbs for over 50% off.  Yes it was mid-March and the chances of all of them blooming was  a long shot, but I did this a few years ago and got some lovely tulips to push spring on my deck.  I would watch their bonny heads bob in the cold spring air through the window in the warmth of my living room.  I was going for an encore.

A few days later I find holes dug in the pots where I had carefully put in new potting soil and buried the bulbs at a nice depth.  Some bulbs chewed on while others were tossed hither and yon.  I replanted them...twice...determined old lady that I am.  Whatever squirrel was eating my bulbs I had about 30 in the pot and he should soon get tired of that diet.

This week I went out to investigate how they were doing.  Having been planted and then replanted several times, you know that they looked very, very sad.

It is late in spring and my forget-me-nots and my daffodils are already putting out a show to warm my heart winning the race with the tulips.  I am not as disappointed as I was at first.  It will be interesting to see if these even put out buds!

Then, just yesterday, while reading my new book on American wine on the deck I happened to rest my eyes on the smudged lower corner of the patio window.  (Yes, I am one of those who can spot dirt anywhere!)

Guess it was not the squirrel that had dug up my bulbs multiple times .  Can't you just picture this raccoon pausing to rest his muddy hands against the window and peer into the dark living room during the night while wondering what tummy treasures were inside waiting for him?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Time Out

He sits high on the top budding branches of the rose arbor reviewing his domain. The rain is steady but not heavy forcing him to shake his head and then his tail in spasmodic determination sending drops into the air. He cannot leave his watch post in any weather for it is now spring.  This is his new mockingbird territory which he found and claimed at the end of last fall and he has held it steady through the winter since then.

But this month the bluebird has returned to inspect the house he used last year.  The chickadee has returned to review the inside of the small green birdhouse beneath the devils walking stick where he fed his young last year.  Various cardinals also decorate the fence with red showiness near the strawberry patch and near the trees where they had nested.  They all wait and watch the mockingbird and seem just a little tense.

This mockingbird is larger and more determined than all the others giving all the others pause as they wait nearby.  His territory is too large.  There are at least four birdhouses within his range.

I remember a battle once long ago in another yard between a mockingbird and a blue bird.  I had to go outside and actually throw rocks at the  mockingbird every time he dived at the bluebird.  I would wait until the mockingbird rested on the roof of my house and then pelt him with a rock.  I am not an accurate thrower, never really hit the dignified gray bird, and probably did more damage to my roof, but I eventually got the message across.   I left the mockingbird alone when he left the bluebird alone.  This method worked after a few days.  They ended up summering together in the my yard.

I hope I am not going to have to be the referee again?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Once Again

There is an accustomed spring tapestry
That has now renewed its threads
As it does each year
When the days are the perfect length
And the air is soft as baby's breath.

One patient starling
Sits on the branch of the oak
Crisp silhouette against the western sky
Close to the nest
He has faithfully been building
All afternoon in the high oak.
Thick bouquets of dried grass
And whatnot pinched in his bill
Disappear behind the trunk
Of the brown un-leaved tree
Into some hole or V.

The osprey, the two,
Both together in their majesty
Proud on the snags of the dead tree
Close to the edge of the river
Overlook their scraggy nest
On a platform above the water.
The setting sun catches
Their snowy breast
Making them seem proud
And more self-assured
Than they actually are.

The bluebirds are in
Their usual spring disarray
Flitting to a different bird house
Each day.
The males, dashing and arguing,
And determined to win
Even if blood is drawn,
And the females looking lovely
And coldly distant
In their pale patient colors.

The chickadees pick the smallest
Of the bird houses that remain
And scold me often
When I weed beneath them
In the late afternoon
As the sun turns the sky peach.

The cardinals sing
The strongest song of all
And perch in the stark leaf-starved trees
Like alien rosebuds
Fat from the winter feed.

All is ready for
The grand first act.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Tree Hugging

The marshes in South Carolina were alive with color and pungent smells when I was there.  I could almost feel the pulse of renewed life as it moved across the water and grasses.  Then this past week I watched a program about plants, their blossoms, their root systems and their defense mechanisms that seemed to tie into what I was feeling.

Most people know that many plants can put out toxins to prevent complete eating of all of their leaves by a predator.  But did you know that they send out a gas that attracts the predators of the predator?  Did you know that they may evolve to form two types of blossoms to attract non-predator pollinators at different times of the day?  And even more amazing they can have two types of root systems.  One that is more conservative when they are growing next to young plants of their own progeny and one that is more aggressive when growing next to competitive plants of another species.  Some plants can also send out a toxin through the root system that kills the competitive roots of other plants.  Plants do not have a brain or nervous how do they have this sentience...awareness of who they are and who other plants are?

One experiment where a radioactive carbon gas was injected into a sealed plastic bag that had been placed around the lowest branch of a tree proved days later that the radioactive nutrition that was absorbed by those leaves actually was distributed several feet away to other small trees of the same type.  There is a whole network of communication and nurture going on underground in the woods.

All I know is the next time I hug a tree, I will not feel so stupid.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Does this angle of the sun make my rump look yellow?

Yellow rumped warblers were in migrating abundance on Hilton Head. One or two winter over in my yard, but there were dozens everywhere in South Carolina. The ones in these photos do not have the yellow patch on the top of their head so perhaps they are females.

This red algae was in bloom on one of the ponds spreading like a royal velvet carpet. It must have hidden small midges or water insects, because the warblers were all over it balancing carefully on any stick and reaching their bills into the water.

They are one of the few birds that can eat poison ivy berries and digest the waxy berries of wax myrtle.  

In the shadows of the woods they appear a deep blue-gray rather than a dull gray.  They will leave this area and head up north to breed in the pine woods.  They do not sit still for long and capturing a photo is a challenge.  (It is even a greater challenge when a Canadian grannie walks to your side and begins to quiz you on the celebration of holidays in America!)