One for my bird list – the blue-gray gnatcatcher

I’ve been noticing a couple of tiny birds in the two locust trees outside my study window. I think they may have an nest in our birdhouse that’s hanging there.

Photo from The Birds are Back post October 11, 2012.

Heeding the advise of my bird-watching blogging friend, Patti, at A New Day Dawns, I tried to identify distinguishing characteristics. The small relatively nondescript birds always confound me. But today I was successful at identifying the blue-gray gnatcatcher, even if I didn’t get a good, clear, up close and personal shot. The little birds would not sit still for a moment.

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The first thing I noticed other than its small size, was the white-striped tail. At first I wondered if it could be a baby mockingbird because of its size and its tail. Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies describes the blue-gray gnatcathcer as suggesting “a miniature Mockingbird.” Although I didn’t recognize it until I read it in Peterson’s, this little bird also has a distinctive white ring around its eye that you can see in this photo.

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Peterson goes on to say that the its tail is “often cocked like a wren’s tail and flipped about.” Although Peterson doesn’t mention it, I thought that the beak was particularly long and slender.

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Here is an action shot of the blue-gray gnatcatcher giving me the what-for. It had a worm in its mouth and I think it was trying to intimidate me away from its nest by making what could only have been considered a threatening noise and flapping its wings.

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That wasn’t particularly effective coming from such a tiny mite. But I moved on anyway not wanting to intrude on a mother’s work of feeding her young.

This bird’s size makes it irresistible. It definitely has found a place near the top of my favorite birds list.


If the humans left

I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning watching a robin enjoy the hanging planter full of garden refuse that I left for the birds as a kind of discount store or bonanza.

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We had already cleaned all the old dried leaves and winter garden refuse from the ground, and Mark covered it all with a rich, crisp layer of mulch, leaving slim pickins’ for nest-building birds.

I patted myself on the back. If I wouldn’t have created this hanging basket for them, what would the robins have done?

As I watched out the window, I noticed a rustling in the leaves near the top of a tree. A little squirrel emerged with a leaf-laden twig in its mouth and scampered across a few limbs, then up the trunk of a dead tree where I saw she was happily building a nest. It’s a dead ash tree, technically on our neighbor’s property. They plan to have their dead ash trees removed this year. I don’t believe there is anything I can do to save the squirrel, the nest, and any babies that arrive, beyond hoping that the tree-cutters won’t come too soon.

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Yesterday I walked out into our garage and was startled by a small bird in there. I think it was a juvenile wren. One of the two garage doors was open, but the little guy couldn’t seem to find his way out. I spent the next hour or so trying to help him leave. I adjusted both garage doors to try to give him space above and below the door to leave. I moved the car out of the garage so it wouldn’t get in the way. I talked and chirped to the bird, showed him the way out, chased him around the garage with a broom to try to direct him out, and tried to catch him in a sheet.

At one point after I had gone back inside for a few minutes, I found two other wrens in the garage. They left immediately upon my return and my hopes that one of them was the little guy were soon dashed when I heard him chirping. But I was encouraged that I was not the only one trying to rescue the baby.

Eventually I was able to lower the window blind behind him, reach in and catch the little guy in my sheet-covered hand. I patted myself on the back for returning him to the wild.

Bird in garage

What would he have done if I wasn’t here? I wondered.

If I wasn’t here at all, then maybe my house and garage wouldn’t be here either. And the natural progression of that kind of thinking led me to the question, What if all the humans left?

The birds would still be here. The robin would find nature-provided nesting materials all around.

The squirrels’ new home would not be in jeopardy.

And the little bird would never have found its way into a place it couldn’t leave.

When we were driving to Hocking Hills a few weeks ago, we passed an abandoned property on a country road. I first noticed the rusted, decaying car near the road. Then I saw the decrepit house further back in what was becoming woods. The rectangular property lines were clearly discernible where the neighboring properties, still being tended, ended and this abandoned property began,  as if a surveyor had pounded in stakes at the corners and strung a wire around. The grass was long, trees and bushes were sprouting up throughout. The semi-hidden car and the house were falling apart in pieces on the ground. The earth was reclaiming its own.

I don’t know how long the abandoned property has stood there, but my guess is that it hasn’t been all that long in the whole scheme of things.

If the humans left, the earth would reclaim its own in short order most likely. And the birds, the squirrels, the deer and all the creatures would have their paradise without us.


What a difference two weeks makes and the tale of a tree

My last post about spring was two weeks ago when I was Looking for Signs of Spring.

The tree with the swollen buds outside my kitchen door, is in full bloom. Last year this little tree only had one solitary flower. It’s interesting to note that I photographed and posted about that single bud on March 19th last year. We are nearly a month behind on spring this year. That’s the last time I pay attention to Punxsutawney Phil.

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March 30

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April 10

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April 15

Last year on March 19th, I took a photo of the magical green veil as the leaves in woods begin to unfurl. I called it “an elusive green mist where fairies play.” I’ve been waiting and waiting to see it this year, and the mist has finally arrived. It is rushing forward into full-blown leaves. The trees are trying to make up for lost time.

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April 10, 2013

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Five days later

Here’s a sad part of the story. Last year from my window view as I sat at my desk, this little tree was blooming brightly across the lane on our stretch of property there.

About a month ago, I was sitting here typing as I often am in the morning, and I heard and then saw about 5 or 6 township workers with chain saws working across the lane clearing things out. This wasn’t completely unexpected because the manager had stopped here last fall to talk to us about cutting down a big dead ash tree up on the hill. We own the majority of the hillside, but the township owns the top where there is a small pioneer cemetery that is overgrown for the most part. But as I sat and watched the workers, I saw a man come up to the little tree that was not yet in bloom but beginning to bud. “I hope he’s not going to cut that down,” I said to myself. And no sooner were the words out of my mouth than the deed was done. Some things just don’t have do-overs.

Mark was not a happy camper. He loves his trees.

As you may be able to see from the above photo, there was a LOT of honeysuckle over there.

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The workers managed to decimate about half the dense growth over there before Mark and another neighbor put a halt to it, resulting in a half thick, half bare view across the way. We had them finish the removal of the honeysuckle from our property.

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But Mark had them mark the small trees they were to leave standing. They had been removing the smaller diameter trees as well as chopping down the honeysuckle. The yellow tags around the trees indicate they are to be removed, the pink means they are to be left alone. Our neighbor had them completely block off his property with yellow tape. Now it looks like some kind of marriage of a crime scene with a used car lot across the lane.

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After much to-do, several emails, and a township trustee meeting over there, the township will be replacing our blooming tree that they leveled with a comparable one. Mark marked the place for it so they could check on underground utilities.

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Being something of opportunists, with the removal of all the undergrowth, Mark and I went out yesterday and bought then planted  a peach tree shown above

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and a cherry tree. They are both self-pollinating, which is an interesting idea if you stop and think about it. I’m thrilled about the cherry tree because we grew up with two cherry trees in our back yard. My mom made cherry jelly.

“You won’t be making cherry jelly with these,” Mark said. “We had trees like this at our last house and we never reaped a harvest.”

“I’m going to make cherry pie,” I said, undeterred.

“The birds got all the cherries,” Mark said. “You won’t get any.”

I can taste that cherry pie already.

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Meanwhile, a robin kept watch.

“And peach pie too,” I added, “I can’t wait.”


Chickadee apartment hunting

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 Deluxe chalet with garden view  Cozy cottage at wood’s edge Fun and funky outhouse motif  Nature lovers’ retreat

We have four apartments for rent in or near the St. Francis Garden. Yesterday a little chickadee was taking advantage of the nice weather and was out doing some apartment hunting.

I think we’re going to have a new tenant soon.

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The last snowfall

Although March heralds spring, technically it is still winter until March 20 at 7:02 a.m. according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. And today Mother Nature gave us a very clear reminder.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

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We need to keep the bird feeders filled for our little friends.

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But I don’t mind the snow.

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Daffodils aren’t up yet to have their backs bent by the weight. And the trellis is empty still.

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This wet, heavy snowfall colored my world bright, white, peaceful and calm. From my view out of the kitchen window to the office where I sit as I type.

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Like so many other things in life, the trips we take, the people we love, the snow will be gone soon. I’m soaking this one up as if it is the last one, like a last hug, a last smile, a last word. For lasts do come, most often without an announcement.

This is a beautiful snowfall, and it is the last.

Or maybe not.


Audubon BirdCam – Take-1

I was excited when Mark surprised me with an Audubon BirdCam for Christmas. Now I could see what was going on outside when I wasn’t watching.

As you may know, beginning December 2, the months of December and January were difficult months for me as I tried to help manage our parents’ illnesses and moves to other living facilities. I was gone a lot, stopping home for brief pit stops, a change of clothes, a good night’s sleep. Under normal circumstances, given an exciting gift like the BirdCam, I would have immediately rushed outside and set it up. But these weren’t normal circumstances, so you’ll understand that I didn’t get my BirdCam set up outside until January 3rd.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been checking the BirdCam for new photos daily. As it was, I left it up outside and didn’t give it a second thought until February 11th, when I went out to retrieve the stunning photos of  birds that I was sure my new BirdCam had recorded in my absence.

I thought I’d share my first results using the BirdCam with you in the slide show below.

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One thing you will notice right away is that the BirdCam did an excellent job of recording Mark, in various states of dress, filling the bird feeders throughout the weeks. You might also notice he was accompanied by Arthur at times who kept watch. You can see other wildlife, even an occasional bird or two, the best shots being of the squirrel that attempted to sneak its way up the pole. And you undoubtedly noticed the fine up close shot the BirdCam got of my red purse when I retrieved the photos.

Here is a cropped and enlarged photo of what may be a hawk in flight—the pride and joy of my first attempt with the BirdCam.

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Clearly, the BirdCam is not idiot-proof and I suspect I could profit from taking a close look at the instruction manual.

However, if I ever need to see what Mark is up to outside, I have the equipment to do it.


Just when I thought I’d seen it all

I thought I had probably seen all the varieties of interesting birds that I would see here in our woods. After all, in addition to the smaller more common species, I had seen a red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Wood Ducks, and a Great Blue Heron. What more could I hope to see?

And then there was a flash of red in the trees and a “Tat, tat, tat, tat.” Woody Woodpecker, a pileated woodpecker, was paying us visits.

Unfortunately, unlike the owl, hawks, ducks, and heron, the pileated woodpecker was not content to calmly perch or stand for his photograph. He was too busy moving from tree to tree, climbing up trees, and looking around. His jackhammer head was in constant motion.

I determined to try to get a photo anyway. I really wanted one for my “Birds” page. So I grabbed my Nikon with its 300mm lens and went out on the deck in my pjs, robe, and slippers and shot away trying to catch a photograph from a distance, through tree branches.

I thought that this might be the best I could do.

Or this.

Here’s where my patience paid off. After five or ten minutes of this, perhaps even longer, Woody flew closer.

I got lucky.

And I see now that Woody may actually be Wanda.


Witnessing nature — the good and the bad

As you know if you’ve read many of my blogs, I enjoy watching nature, especially the little birds that frequent our feeders. Surrounded by this small woods, we get the opportunity to observe nature up close and personal.

Sometimes it feels more up close than I might prefer.

Last week I wrote about the hawk haunting our feeders. On Saturday, while I was sipping a cup of tea at the breakfast table, a movement caught my eye out of the window and I saw what I believe was a large hawk take off from the ground beside our deck and fly low away through the woods with something in its grasp.

I told Mark, who was oblivious to the whole small drama. “Where did it go?” he asked.

“Just went a short way in that direction. It’s probably stopped to eat whatever it had,” I answered. “Do hawks leave behind the bones? I’ve never seen that here anywhere.”

“Owls eat everything,” Mark said.

I know.  I have seen an owl pellet here.

“There’s a lot of chipmunks out there,” Mark said.

That didn’t make me feel a lot better, because I actually like the chipmunks.

“If we had mice, the hawks would be helpful,” I said. And even though I actually think mice are cute too, I don’t care for them so much if they get in the house.

Then Mark stepped out on the deck and looked down. “Oh no,” he said. “There’s a bunch of feathers out here.”

When our senses get involved, everything has more impact. Knowing that hawks eat small critters is one thing. Seeing the carnage is another.

This is true for everything. Reading or being told about something affects our intellect. But seeing, hearing, or smelling, a traumatic or tragic event or its aftermath affects our emotions. That’s why authors are encouraged to provide sensory information to make a scene as real as possible.

I think the link between our intellect and emotion is an interesting one to explore. I think the opposite of what writers attempt to do, and using our intellect to distance ourselves from the emotional overload of sensory information, may also be possible and helpful in some circumstances.

Is that something you are able to do?


A hawk haunts the feeding grounds

The hawk watches the birdfeeder.

Since we put our bird feeders back up a few weeks ago, we have had a constant parade of small birds like finches, chickadees, sparrows, and wrens, and larger birds like red-bellied wood-peckers, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, and blue jays enjoying our hospitality.

But sometimes the absence of birds is notable and I look to the trees for a predator.

The hawk watches me as I photograph him from inside our house.

I know the hawks need to eat too. I just find it horrifying to contemplate one darting down, capturing me with its sharp claws, and flying off with me in its grasp, if I were, say, a small bird, or a chipmunk that frequents the ground below our feeder. How horrifying to end your short life as a predator’s meal.

I saw this happen a week or two ago.

It happens everywhere all the time.

Survival of the fittest.

We first noticed this hawk at 12:46 p.m. I don’t know what time it had arrived.

Nearly two hours later at 2:38, the hawk has slightly changed his position in the tree, but still waits. And watches.

I thought it might be a Cooper’s Hawk, but my good friend and naturalist tells me in the comments below that it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

It’s a beautiful bird.

And it needs to eat too.

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Posts and photos about other hawks I’ve seen:

The Red-Tailed Hawk or Arthur’s narrow escape – January 2012
Hunting in the daytime – The Great Horned Owl – January 2012
The Cooper’s Hawk shines golden – March 2012
The big birds were out today – Birds of prey at the VOA – September 2012

Read more about the Cooper’s Hawk at Cornell Lab’s All About Birds.


The doe returns

About a week ago, I read a post called “They’re back” by a blogging photographer that I follow, Maralee at Through my Lens. Maralee lives in central Oregon and had posted over the summer about a lame fawn that was staying in her yard. It was a beautiful tale of nature. Maralee watched the doe and sibling come and go as they checked on the little lame fawn. Eventually the fawn was able to walk well enough to go with them.

Our doe – October 18, 2012

I commiserated with Maralee because I had been posting about “our” lame doe here. I haven’t seen her since early August when she froze beside the drive, her two fawns curled on the grass and a buck nearby as our son and his family from St. Louis arrived late at night, their headlights illuminating the deer family.

For the three years we’ve lived here, “our” doe has come through our yard on a regular basis with her fawns in tow—until this August.

This spring we noticed that she was walking with a limp and had a visible lump on the bottom of her foreleg. (You can see it in the photo above.) I worried about her health and safety. Then when she virtually disappeared from our yard for nearly three months, I feared the worst. “I think she’s dead,” I told Mark.

But she was back today.

Where are the fawns? I wondered.

I stepped outside to release a flying insect that I caught in our kitchen, and I heard a loud rustling in the fallen leaves in our woods. You might be surprised by how loud little squirrels can sound as they scurry along, but this was exponentially louder than that. Then I saw a yearling fawn burst out of the trees and run along the creek.

Welcome back.


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