The Empty Nest

There’s a bird’s nest inside this birdhouse outside my window.

Today I sit and watch as two little wrens go in and out. They fly away, return, then leave again. There are chicks in that nest, I think.

I marvel at the energy and devotion of the two parents, for both of them are involved in the feeding of these babies. Their search for food on endless flights seems to occupy every single moment of the day. Hard workers, are these little birds. And demanding are the babies.

One day, and I likely won’t see it happen, the babies will leave the nest to fly away, as will the parents. The nest will sit empty inside the birdhouse for weeks, months, nearly a year I suppose, until the next breeding season.

What will those hard-working parents do? How will they spend their time now? Do they realize it is but a reprieve until next season, next year, when they will be back at this hard work again? Or perhaps, with a limited view of time cycles and the future, do they fly away with a song, set free at last?

In either case, I suspect they rest, and play, if birds can play. Maybe they soak in the sun on their backs, ruffle their feathers in a soft breeze, and drink in the fresh and cool summer rains.

Our children have left this nest, but we have not. We are still here. But the nest feels empty now with the cessation of incessant needs, and the purpose that energized our flights back and forth dissipated.

How will we spend our our time now?

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My own home town

I was born in a small town near the middle of Ohio along the I-75 corridor, north of Dayton, south of Toledo, called Piqua. My parents, and their parents, and grandparents, and further on back in their genealogy lived in Piqua. Most who immigrated here from Germany, or Ireland, or England, settled in Piqua and established homes and families. Many are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery along the river in the north section of town.

In March of 2011, I wrote about my memories of growing up in Piqua.

Even back in the 1950s, it wasn’t easy to find a job in a small town. When my dad returned from the service in the mid-1950s, he started working for NCR in Dayton, Ohio, about an hour’s drive away. In the 60’s my parents packed up our bags and moved us there. Neither my mom or dad really wanted to go. My mom didn’t work outside the home. All her family and friends were in Piqua. Over the years, my dad made no secret of the fact that he always missed Piqua. My parents had conversations about moving back “home” during their  retirement years. They finally made it back in January of 2013, when they were both buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.

I understand the allure of small town life.

So, this morning, as I watched a CNN report on Beattyville, a small town in Kentucky where people are struggling to get by, it brought me to tears. I am a small-town girl at heart.

But sometimes you have to move. Times change. Opportunities shift. Throughout history we can find example after example of towns and cities that once prospered but then failed. The Dust Bowl comes to mind (probably because I just watched the documentary on Netflix). Sometimes we see cities that came through a rough patch and are beginning to thrive again. Buffalo, NY, is a good example. Buffalo was a rich city at one point during the height of waterway commerce. Then other forms of transportation developed and Buffalo was left with empty grain silos decomposing along its riverfront. The good news is that Buffalo is finding a way to reinvent itself. It is finding a way to thrive in the country and world as it is today.

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St. John the Baptist Church in Bakum viewed from Elmelage farmland.

My husband, Mark, and I visited Bakum, Germany last summer. It’s a small agricultural town in northern Germany about a half-hour’s drive south from Bremen. We’ve traced Mark’s ancestors back to Bakum from 1530 until 1850, when they emigrated to Amerika. In some ways, you could argue that Bakum is Mark’s family’s “hometown.” Certainly it was his great-grandfather’s.

In the early 1800s, the population in Bakum grew at a fast rate and  the farming communities became over-crowded. People were living in barns, sheds, bake houses, in any available structure they could find. There was no food to eat. Parents struggled to provide shoes for their children. Poverty was rampant. Mark’s ancestor, Bernard Dominicus Grote, lived in the farming community of Elmelage and worked as a hired hand on land owned by the Knese family. Dominicus’ brothers all lived nearby on other farms. They all went to St. John the Baptist, the small church in town. I’m sure they did not wish to leave their family, their hometown and their homeland to come to a strange country with a language they couldn’t understand.

But they did. Like other ancestors of probably most, if not all of us.

I’m not talking about immigration right now. I’m talking about people following opportunity and doing what they need to do to survive. There is nothing new about this. It is the story of human survival from the beginning of time.

I truly hope our country can find a way to make things better for the folks in small towns who have lost their local industries and jobs. No one wants to see people suffer like that. But I also believe the way forward is exactly that, forward. Not back.

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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

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.