While we WERE watching

Although I feel fortunate, as I wrote in my last post, “to witness some of the wildlife here that shares this woods and this planet with us,” sometimes I see things I wish I hadn’t.

I regret to tell you my hummingbird story does not have a happy ending.

After watching the little hummingbird work nonstop building her nest over Memorial Day weekend, on Tuesday when I had breakfast, she was sitting on the nest.

Hummingbird on nest
7:37 a.m.

And like the article I read at rubythroat.org, she sat on the nest most of the day, leaving it occasionally for short trips. She did fuss with the nest from time to time, but I felt certain she had laid her eggs.

As I came to find out, her job of bringing hummingbird chicks into the world was more challenging than just incubating the eggs. One occasion when she had left the nest, I spied a blue jay on the branch just below her nest. Then he hoped up on the adjacent branch. I feared he was going to take the eggs, so I banged on the window, then opened it and yelled, and then went outside adding arm motions to my voice. That scared the blue-jay away, this time, but I knew I was not going to be able to guard those eggs all day long. And without a bb-gun or a slingshot, I wasn’t well-positioned to protect the nest. I knew the hummingbird was on her own.

By the end of the day, the mother was sitting on the nest, doing her thing. She had made it through day-one. Only 13 to 15 more days to go.

On Wednesday she was doing a good job of guarding her eggs. At one point in the day, I saw her come back to the nest and she was flying like a crazy bird up and down, back and forth, near the nest. When I looked closer, I saw another bird very near the nest. With that long beak, hummingbirds can be pretty intimidating, I imagine. She successfully chased the intruder off and went back to the work at hand.

Thursday morning at breakfast, I heard Mark say, “Oh no! He got the egg.” He rushed towards the door. I looked out the window and saw a big blue-jay dip its beak into the nest and come out with what looked like a little white pea or pebble. He got both eggs.

I wondered what the little hummer would do when she returned. At first she just sat on the nest. I don’t think she realized the eggs were gone initially. She couldn’t settle into the nest, but kept shifting and moving around.

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7:54 a.m.

 

Then she got up and started looking into the nest.

She sat back on the nest at one point.

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7:54 a.m.

Then she looked in the nest some more. It looked like she cleaned something out of it at one point, maybe a piece of eggshell.

She flew away briefly and came back. I read that hummingbirds have two broods and sometimes use the same nest. I wondered if she was cleaning things up to come back and try again.

By 8:03, just a few minutes after the theft of her eggs, the little hummer left the nest. We haven’t seen her since.

 

While we’re not watching

The backyard drops away from where our house sits on the hill. Because of that, our view from our windows is at, if not treetop level, certainly a tree-house level. From the bay windows around our kitchen table, I can watch birds while I eat. Since I spend a fair amount of time doing that on a daily basis, I witness things in the woods I might miss were I not watching.

Like this little hummingbird, for example.

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The little humming bird is perched on the sycamore tree in the center of this photo.

“That little bird really likes to land at that spot,” I said to Mark. “I’ve seen it in that same exact spot several times in the past couple of days.”

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I wanted to get it’s picture so I zoomed in with my camera, but the little lady wasn’t there.

 

I didn’t realize it immediately, but you may have guessed. She was making a nest.

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It looks more like a nest when she is sitting on it.

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She doesn’t rest there long.

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Hummingbird with cottonwood seed fluff.

She’s busy scavenging building materials like cottonwood seeds,

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Hummingbird with spider web

or spider webs, that you can just barely see if you look below her beak.

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Hummingbird building nest

Then she has to tuck everything into the nest she’s building.

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By the end of the day, she had made the nest cozy and comfortable with the soft white cottonseeds.

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I don’t know if she spent the night there or not.

According to rubythroat.org, after the hummingbirds mate, the male and female have little or nothing to do with each other. She will be a single parent. A day or two after her nest is complete, she will lay two pea-sized eggs. Occasionally there may be only one, but she knows better than to try to manage feeding three on on her own—so usually only two.

Incubation lasts about two weeks. I should be able to tell because during this time period she will be on the nest 50 to 55 minutes every hour.

When the chicks hatch they are about 2 cm in length and not able to keep their bodies warm. The mother still stays with them, but leaves the nest for quick trips to find food which may be nectar, pollen, and tiny insects.

The chicks will stay in the nest about three weeks.

I’m really hoping to shoot a photo of the mother feeding the babies.

After dinner, Mark and I sat on our screened in porch, also at tree-house level. We saw a young doe, and then later a young buck, wander along the creek just inside the woods at the bottom of our yard. We listened to bird calls, occasionally hearing one we didn’t recognize. And watched an occasional flash of red in the trees as a cardinal found its perch for the night.

I feel fortunate to witness some of the wildlife here that shares this woods and this planet with us, and I wonder at all that I miss while I’m not watching.

 

 

 

Arthur almost gets a squirrel

Arthur just might be able to catch a squirrel, if it is a baby squirrel.

I found that out this morning.

Mark and I were sitting at our kitchen table after breakfast where we have a view of our driveway and the garden and woods beside our house. Mark was reading the news on his iPad and I was playing Lumosity, trying to keep my wits sharp, and not doing a very good job at it.

“Arthur doesn’t even see that squirrel,” Mark said. Arthur, who was in the near vicinity of a squirrel on the driveway. He never allows a squirrel to be in the yard without a chase. If he’s inside looking out at the squirrels, who scavenge bird-feeder droppings on our front porch, he starts barking. “Do you want to get the squirrel?” I’ll say. And Arthur races for the front door, taking the turns around the staircase on three legs. He’s never going to catch a squirrel, but he doesn’t know that.

This morning, I couldn’t see Arthur on the driveway from where I sat, but I could hear him barking. I stood up, went to the door, and saw this baby squirrel on our wind wall post.

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“Oh no. Arthur’s got the squirrel trapped,”I said. I thought it was cute because I never believed for a minute this would end with a satisfying result for Arthur, but he was revved up by the chase.

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I did what I always do, reached for my camera, stepped outside, and started shooting.

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This clearly wasn’t good enough for Arthur. He was going in.

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So close. Just not….quite….close….enough.

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Meanwhile, the assumed parent squirrel could only wait and hope as he or she watched from a nearby tree.

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Arthur darted in and around the post trying to find a way to access the squirrel. Clearly this baby was terrified.

That’s enough, I thought. I’ve got to get Arthur away.

Easier said than done. There was no way this undisciplined little canine was going to come when I called. I was afraid to approach the squirrel for fear it would panic and get itself into a more vulnerable position. That was exactly what happened.

It jumped to the bushes, fell to the ground, back to the bushes, back on the post, then repeated with Arthur inches behind it. Finally the squirrel gave up on the post and tried to make a run for it. Arthur chased it behind the bushes beside the house. The squirrel passed by a tree that could have saved it, and continued on to the porch with Arthur and me, my camera dangling from the strap around my neck, in hot pursuit.

Arthur had the little guy cornered against the wall of the porch. And I could see all the games we played with his toy squirrel had trained him well for the darting, pawing, and biting he was attempting.

I didn’t think, but merely reacted when it looked like Arthur had his prey. I lunged for Arthur and landed full force on my bad knee on the cold hard concrete, banging the lens of my camera against the concrete in the process. But I bought the squirrel enough time to make it to the boxwood bushes where the chase continued. I watched helplessly, sitting on the cold concrete, yelling for Mark.

Mark came and had no better luck than I at grabbing Arthur, but much better luck at not injuring himself during the chase. Finally, the little squirrel jumped to the tulip tree at the corner of the house and achieved relative safety. Mark helped me up and eventually managed to lure Arthur away from the hunt with pieces of cooked chicken.

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I didn’t know if Arthur had injured the baby squirrel until I saw it a few minutes later with the parent.

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Baby looked fine as far as I could see. Arthur was never thanked by the squirrels for his role in the valuable lesson in vigilance, awareness, and evasion. And I will be icing my knee today.

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7:10 a.m.

I step out onto the front covered porch. Arthur pulls on the lead in my hand. I am warm enough in my pajamas and robe on this mild winter morning.

Arthur stops at the edge of the porch. I always think he sees, hears, or smells another animal when he does that. Maybe he’s just being sure.

I look around also. It is dark, but my eyes adjust and I can see the silhouette of the branching arms of the locust tree. Four porch lights glow across the front of the vacant house to my left around the bend of the lane. Straight ahead a series of small bright lights from the homes on a neighboring street shine through the winter woods barren of leaves. I’ll not see those lights come spring.  The new neighbors’ house to the right, at the corner, is brightly lit on both the back and the left side that are visible from where I stand, perhaps to discourage burglars. I wonder if our motion-detector security lights around back where it’s near the woods still work. The new neighbors’ strand of Christmas lights sparkle across their back porch rail.

Arthur tugs and pulls on the retractable dog leash as he steps off the porch and meanders through the foliage in the landscaping that stretches across the front of the house and along the bend of the sidewalk to the tree.

I notice a drip, drip, drip from the rain spout to my left. Otherwise I hear nothing except the steady drone of distant traffic. The juvenile owl, with its awkward squawk must not be visiting this morning. Ah, now the soft whistle of a train miles away breaks the silence.

Arthur is taking his time.

The sky is beginning to lighten to a dark gray-blue, as the place where I stand, on this glorious planet we call home, turns towards the sun and the dawn of a new day.

 

20100114 - Sunrise
January 14, 2010

Puzzling

Many things about life puzzle me. For example, why does putting a puzzle together feel so satisfying? This is our biggest ever at 3000 pieces, a Christmas gift from our daughter and significant other. Do we still say “significant other”? I am completely out of touch.

Our adult children helped us get a good start on it over the holiday. Then they left Mark and me to pick up the pieces.

We’re getting there. I can taste victory.

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Baby hippo swimming lesson

A video crossed my Facebook news feed this morning of a horse teaching a filly to jump a short wall. That reminded me of our trip to San Diego’s zoo where we witnessed a mother hippo teaching her baby to swim. It also reminded me that  I have yet to post photos from that trip to the zoo. I hope you enjoy them.

The San Diego Zoo has a reputation for being one of the best zoos in this country, so we knew we wanted to fit it in when we planned a trip to California in April to visit our son who lives in Los Angeles. He met us in San Diego.

I noticed a lot of similarities to the zoo here in Cincinnati, which also has a great reputation.

There were beautiful and exotic flowers and trees. You probably recognize the Bird of Paradise flower. This tree looked like it had huge cotton, or maybe popcorn, balls hanging on it.

San Diego zoo flamingosA convention of flamingos welcomed us near the entrance.

San Diego zoo bearWe saw lazy bears lounging,

San Diego zoo macaqueMonkeys climbing (actually a Lion-tailed Macaque pronounce Mak – ack),

San Diego zooa graceful couple posing for portraits,

and small critters popping their heads up here and there.

 This gorilla was sitting, contemplating life or maybe her fingers. We watched her drag a burlap bag across the enclosure to the window, then promptly sit down on it with her back to us. I can’t say as I blame her.

Also like the Cincinnati Zoo, the one in San Diego cares for endangered species and makes education a priority, as  pointed out by our son Mark Joseph.

San Diego Zoo

I thought the Cincinnati Zoo was hilly, but its hills are mild compared to some of the inclines we walked up and down in San Diego. Overall, the zoo there is well-established and has some great walking trails.  The Cincinnati Zoo has a jungle trail, but the many of the walkways at San Diego are landscaped and make you feel as if you are walking in a natural habitat not on a sterile roadway. This was a feature that I particularly liked.

San Diego zoo tiger trailThis is the Tiger Trail that sits up above the enclosure. Our son is pictured in both of the above pictures. I was not stalking some random guy in a plaid shirt, in case you’re wondering.

San Diego Zoo sky ride

Cincinnati also doesn’t have a sky ride, only a little train. This is a tree-top outdoor cafe that we enjoyed during our visit, also a very nice feature of this zoo. I think we had to walk up about three flights of steps to reach it.

But the best part of our visit to the San Diego Zoo was watching the mother hippo teaching her baby how to swim.

Mother and baby hippoWhen we first saw them, they were both resting in the sun.

Mother and baby hippo

Then the baby started climbing on the mother, like, “Hey, I want to play.” And the mother was like, “Really? So soon? Give me a break. You’re wearing me out, kid.”

Mother and baby hippo“Okay. Alright. We’ll go for a swim.”

Mother and baby hippo swimmingThen they went under water and that mother hippo started pushing the baby around in a circle.

Mother and baby hippo swimmingThe baby didn’t seem to know exactly what to do. The mother kept pushing him around in a circle.

Mother and baby hippoI don’t take a lot of video, but this is one case where I wish I had taken the time to switch from still photos to video.

Mother and baby hippo swimmingAfter some period of time, the mother would get her nose under the baby and push him up to the surface.

Mother and baby hippoThey’d break surface, breath for a minute or two, and then down they’d go again.

Mother and baby hippo swimming

They repeated this cycle several times before they climbed back out of the water and the mother got to rest again. This was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever witnessed at any zoo.

If you ever make it to San Diego, try to fit a visit here into your itinerary. It’s well worth it.

Facing my Fears – Starting small

I am tired of my  gigantic fear of certain small creatures. I fail to understand why, at the age of 58, I continue to cringe, jerk back, jump up, or respond in an aggressive and sometimes violent way, to particular little creatures. So I’m undertaking a campaign to conquer my fear of spiders.

They say we fear the unknown. I am going to attempt to learn my way out of my fear.

First sighting - Monday, August 24
First sighting – Monday, August 24

As good luck would have it, nature presented me with the perfect opportunity to observe that which I fear. We found this creation installed on one of our deck’s shepherd’s hooks upon our return Monday from a short trip to St. Louis.

Somebody was busy while we were gone. The web is one of the reasons I do not have an affinity for spiders. Can you imagine accidentally wandering into one of these, face first, or even getting your hand in it? Not a pleasant experience.

Perhaps a change of perspective will help.

Spider and web
Spider and web

This is an absolutely amazing structure. I’m not sure you can tell from the photo, but it’s not flat, or located in one plane (to use a term from my geometry class too many years ago to remember). It reminds me of the structures they build to provide shade above an outdoor performance stage where a fabric is stretched taut between various anchors creating a three-D effect. I don’t know how this little spider managed it all my him- or herself and undoubtedly without a compass, or protractor, let alone a computer, to boot. There’s some pretty cool geometry going on here.

And just in case you missed it. The spider is all curled up, looking something like a benign blob of mud, on the top of the shepherd’s hook, making me realize that without the legs a spider doesn’t look all that ugly, or menacing at all.

Maybe if the granddaddy long-leg that was plastered on the brick wall, right beside the handle to the sliding screen door, had had his or her legs curled up tight, I would have had less of a start when I spotted it. Maybe then I wouldn’t have had to contort my hand as I was opening the door to keep the maximum space between my fingers and the giant, I mean little, invader.

Spider
Web maker

Just to be certain it wasn’t a blob of mud, I got a closer shot. See, that spider doesn’t look so frightening after all, does it?

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Spider’s new hiding place

On Tuesday, I noticed the spider had found a new hiding place, which I have to agree, was probably a smart move. His or here previous position made him or her pretty much a sitting duck for the all the birds we have around here. (I’m switching to the feminine pronoun because I’m tired of the whole he or she thing. And I suspect if we did a scientific study of it, we would find out that the male pronoun has been much more overused through the years. Just saying.)

I thought it was also interesting that she seemed to build a lot of web around where she sat. I don’t know whether she was hoping for easy snacks within arm’s reach, or was somehow trying to hide or disguise herself.

Spider and cicada
Spider hits jackpot

I noticed something relatively large hanging from the web Tuesday afternoon. I got my camera and shot a picture from the safety of my kitchen window. Jackpot! When I cropped in to magnify the picture I could clearly see that the spider was in for a feast with this cicada.

She does look just a little bit evil in this pose, don’t you think? But I guess the red fox running across the yard with a squirrel in its mouth didn’t exactly look like Little Bo Peep. And I still like the red foxes. Do I detect a double standard?

spider and cicada
Spider and cicada

I cropped in for a closer shot, just so you could see what is going on and learn about this fascinating, and friendly, little creature.

The web was pretty well trashed by the end of this event. It was hanging freely and kind of swaying in the wind.

Spider web
New web

But no worries. I woke up this morning and found this brand new shiny web constructed. I don’t know how the spider got rid of the cicada refuse, or inedible parts. They’re probably lying in Mark’s garden directly below the web. I also don’t know how she got rid of the old ratty web. Did she disconnect it from the anchors and let it drop to the ground? Did she systematically roll it up and reuse it like stitches torn from a knitting mistake and rolled back into the ball or yarn? It’s a mystery to me.

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New web

But this web is looking good, ready to go. Although upon closer examination, I see it may have met with a few casualties already.

Our little friend, hides and waits above. Sneaky little creature, isn’t she? But industrious and creative.

What do you think? Can it be done? Will I be able to overcome my arachnophobia? Or is my irrational fear of spiders deep-rooted in my DNA, or evidence of, or artifacts from, a past life?

Stay tuned.

Spider
She waits

Kit wish comes true

I didn’t have to take my 10-pound hunting dog, Arthur, into the woods to search out the fox den after all. The kits cames to me.

Red fox kits

They were a little bigger than I imagined, but then I don’t know how old they are.
Playful red fox kitTheir playful behavior left little doubt that they were kits.

Red fox kit

And the fact that they hung out on our driveway for at least fifteen minutes,

Two Red fox kitsscratching,

Red fox kitsitting in the sun,

Two red fox kits

apparently completely carefree and relatively unconcerned about me and my camera staring out through the kitchen door.

 Red fox kits

They knew I was watching them.
Red fox kitBut they weren’t too concerned about that. One sat down and scratched some more,

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Red fox kita little bite there.

Red fox kit“I see you watching me.”

Red fox kit in garden

One enjoyed the garden,

Red fox kit

and tried out some of the decorative grasses.

Red fox kit

“Uh oh. I think I’m going to have to sit down and scratch some more.”
Red fox kit “Dog gone it, something is driving me crazy.”
Red fox kit
The red fox activity has been high around here lately. They have become Arthur’s latest arch enemies. It used to be the neighborhood feral cat.

 Little White Peek-a-poo

My little hunting dog, Arthur, alerts me to their presence from his view out the study or kitchen windows. He is armed and ready. He doesn’t know it, but he is never going to step foot one foot outside while fox are visible in our yard. He also doesn’t realize he’s never going to catch a squirrel, but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

Red fox in garden

“Can you see me now?”

Red fox.“Can you see me now?”

Red fox vixen

About 45 minutes after they left, the vixen came trotting by. She doesn’t look too good. It kind of reminded me of how I looked some days when I was raising babies.

Red fox vixen

No wonder she’s tired if she has to chase these kits down every day.

Do you know where your children are?

The Red Fox are busy around here

The first time I saw a red fox in the wild, or anywhere for that matter, was shortly after we moved here in January of 2010. I was looking out the kitchen window at the snow-covered, wooded hillside beyond the creek that runs across the bottom of our backyard hill. The red fox was jogging through the bare trees of the woods, parallel to our yard. It crossed the creek, and then jogged back across our yard. It was beautiful and stunning against the white winter landscape. I was afraid to leave the window to get my camera for fear of losing sight of it.

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January 21, 2012.  Notice the bushy tail, and how slim the fox is.

Over the next couple of years, we had the occasional surprise visit by a red fox. One morning as I sat at our kitchen table, I saw one in our garden right below the deck outside our kitchen door. It was moving towards the front of the house. I grabbed my camera from the kitchen shelf and raced through the house to the study where I caught a shot of the fox before it disappeared from sight. They’re usually on the move and don’t stay around very long.

September 2, 2014. This red fox was lurking behind a bush in my garden. A doe and fawn were nearby.
September 2, 2014. This fox has a much longer tail than the fox in the first picture.

This red fox was lurking behind a bush in my garden. A doe and fawn were nearby. I had heard from neighbors that we had a fox family with kits in the area last summer. I never saw the family. In the fall I was lucky enough to see two young foxes right outside my study window one morning. They looked more like young adults to me, than kits.

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January 24, 2015. The long-tailed fox.

This year the fox activity has picked up even more. According to National Geographic, “Red foxes are solitary hunters who feed on rodents, rabbits, birds, and other small game—but their diet can be as flexible as their home habitat. Foxes will eat fruit and vegetables, fish, frogs, and even worms. If living among humans, foxes will opportunistically dine on garbage and pet food.”

Should I put out some of Arthur’s food for it? Probably not.

January 27, 2015
January 27, 2015. The bushy-tailed and long-tailed fox.

One day in January I got lucky when I happened to look up from typing on the computer where I sit in my study. Outside the window, in the wooded hillside across the drive, I saw these two foxes. I watched for a while, thinking I didn’t have time to retrieve my camera from the kitchen. But they were just kind of hanging out over there so I took the chance, ran and got my camera, and shot a few pictures.

One of the foxes has a bushy tail, and the other a long one.

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January 27, 2015

If you look at the bushy-tailed one, you might notice that it looks a little thick around the middle. My theory is that this is the female who may already be expecting babies at this point.

Red fox
January 27, 2015

According to All About the Red Fox, “Red Foxes are often mates for life. Mating occurs between mid-January and March, depending on the climate they live in, and the babies (called kits or cubs) are born about 58 days later.”

Red fox
June 3, 2015

Does this look like a tired papa to you? He’s starting to look a little gaunt.

A fox can have from two to ten kits in a litter. According to National Geographic, “Both parents care for their young through the summer before they are able to strike out on their own in the fall.”

The mother stays with the kits constantly for the first two weeks and the father hunts, bringing food back to the vixen. After a few weeks, the parents give the kits regurgitated meat to eat. Then later they bring them small, live prey. (All About the Red Fox.)

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July 5, 2015

One evening, Mark and I were sitting on our screened-in porch, that looks down on our back yard from a second-story level, when Mark taps my leg and points down to the yard. A red fox was trotting past with a dead squirrel in its mouth. Arthur started barking. The fox dropped the squirrel and ran into the woods. “That fox will be back for the squirrel,” I said. I had my cell phone in my hand, and sure enough, the fox came back out, grabbed the squirrel and high-tailed it across the yard.

A short while later, we saw it run past again with what looked like a small rodent in its mouth.

Then we saw the stubby-tailed fox jog by a little later. Arthur barked at it. It ran faster. Then it stopped, looked up to see where the noise was coming from, and stared at Arthur. After a short while, it turned and went on its way. This one seems a bit more bold than the other.

They sure are busy. They must be trying to feed hungry babies.

That hard-working fox just ran past the front of our house as I sit here typing this.  I believe it was the male.

A couple of days after the squirrel incident, I saw a fox in our garden. Looking for a nice juicy chipmunk, no doubt. I am convinced there is a den nearby with kits in it. When I take Arthur out on our screened-in porch some mornings he stares at a point in the woods where it seems he senses something. Dogs have a good sense of smell.

I think Arthur is a hunting dog.

Maybe I should take Arthur for a little hike in the woods to find the kits. I’ll be sure to take my camera if I do.