Spring is coming — just ask the birds

It’s been a long, cold winter here. But the month of March always gives me hope for spring. And this year is no different. Even though white patches of snow still dot the ground, I know winter’s days are numbered.

Yesterday I saw squirrels running through the woods hopping from limb to limb in a kind of feverish ecstasy that enters all of our souls to one degree or another with the coming of spring.

01-Robiin-2014-03-03

Our first robin is back. (A quick google search will tell you that some of the robins never leave. We, however, have not seen one solitary robin at our feeders the entire winter until the past few days. You can judge for yourself.)

02-Red-winged-blackbird-2014-03-06

And a red-winged blackbird has been visiting our feeders. (Websites like the Cornell lab of Ornithology will tell you that these birds are here year-round. It also states, “In the North, their early arrival and tumbling song are happy indications of the return of spring.” Again, you can judge for yourself.)

Spring is coming. I can see it in the birds, and feel it in the air.

Soon.

An owl in daytime

I spotted an owl in a tree in the woods above the creek yesterday afternoon.

Owl-2014 - 01-25

I watched this owl as it slowly rotated his head around from front to back. Owls can truly look behind them and can turn their heads nearly 360 degrees according to National Geographic. This is necessary because the owls’ eyes are in fixed sockets and can’t move around like ours do.

I’m pretty sure the owl I saw is one of the Great Horned Owls that we often hear at night or in the early morning hours.

Owls-2013-12-23-9am
Two Great Horned Owls viewed at 9:00 a.m. on December 23, 2013.

 I’ve seen one or two perched above the creek before. It must be good hunting ground.

Owl-2014 - 01-09-8-48am
Great Horned Owl viewed at 9:00 a.m. on January 9, 2014.

Many people believe that if you see an owl in the daytime it is a bad sign. From early times, across many civilizations, owls have been viewed as harbringers of bad luck, ill health, or death and destruction. But sometimes owls are seen as divine messengers of the gods. (Radha on Yahoo answers – 2008)

For many people the owl is a symbol for wisdom.

At Symbolic Meanings by Avia she explains that although owls are associated with death in certain cultures, it is “revered (honored) as being the guardian of the after-life.”

Furthermore, Avia explains, as a creature of the night, the owl is symbolic of inner-knowing, psychic ability, and intuition. “If an owl has visited you,” she says, ” an incredible gift has been bestowed.”

Is the owl a harbringer of death or wisdom?

Unlike known and provable facts like the earth is round, beliefs can be chosen.

On this first anniversary of my father’s death, I don’t have to tell you which belief I’m going with.

Thank you universe for the gift.

The birds that visited on Thursday

00-Snow-2014-01-02

We were among those in the US of A who got a nice covering of snow on Thursday. I don’t mind it yet, although as March approaches my attitude might change.

10-windows-2014-01-02

The windows beside our kitchen table make me feel like I am safe and warm in a magical place where I can watch the birds who come to visit.

04-chickadee-2014-01-02

Our feeders attract a lot of small birds, like this Black-capped Chickadee. (I hope you will correct me if I misidentify something. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a fan.)

02-Titmouse-2014-01-02

The Tufted Titmouse is one of my favorites. I think it is lovely.

20-yello-shafted_flicker-2014-01-02

One of Mark’s favorites is the Yellow-shafted Flicker. It’s a larger bird with unique markings. A week or two ago, I saw another one in the exact same location, but it was dead-still. I mean, it did not wink an eye or flutter a feather. At first I wondered if it was sick, and then I realized there was probably a hawk in the area. I stepped outside and sure enough, a hawk was perched high in a sycamore stalking the feeders. This poor flicker, somehow knew it, had gotten caught behind the feeder, and was making every attempt to be invisible. He or she got away alright this time. It amazes me to see the birds respond to their predators.

05-sycamore-2014-01-02

Speaking of sycamores. I just love them. This is my favorite one. I made a background for this blog out of this photo by layering it over a white background in Photoshop and making it largely opaque.

03b-Junco-2014-01-02

I think this is a little Junco. They are a distinctive small bird with their slate-gray backs and white breasts.

06-birdhouses-2014-01-02

I have houses for the birds, but so far not many are using them. Do you see the squirrel on the small tree leaning to the left? He or she sat there for the longest time.

08-squirrel-2014-01-02

Here’s a close-up of it. It might be a youngster. The other day I saw several juvenile squirrels running up and down the trees. They are fun to watch. I suspect they were driving their parents nuts with cabin fever. I didn’t realize the squirrels had babies this time of year, although truthfully, I don’t know when they were born. It’s hard for me to imagine what that clump of leaves in the top of a tree looks like when it is full of juvenile squirrels and their parents.

01-Squirrel-2014-01-02

We’re keeping the squirrels well-fed too. They love the peanut feeder that Mark keeps on the deck. Arthur works hard chasing them off the feeder when we let him out. He takes off around the deck corner, sprinting on three legs.  But if he happens to get lucky and trap one, he is the first to back off. I think he’s probably afraid of them.  He makes a good show of it, though.

19-housefinch-2014-01-02

A little House Finch,

18-American_goldfinch-2014-01-02

American Goldfinch,

16-white-throated_sparrow-2014-01-02

and White-throated Sparrow all came to call.

17-nuthatch-2014-01-02

As did the Nuthatch,

15-downy woodpecker-2014-01-02

and the Downy Woodpecker.

13-mourning_dove-2014-01-02

A Mourning Dove huddled in the cold nearby.

14-male_cardinal-2014-01-02

The male Cardinal always makes a show,

12-female cardinal-2014-01-02

but I love the female Cardinal with her subtle coloring. Very classy.

11-bluejay-2014-01-02

And, the Blue-jay. We seem to have quite a few Blue-jays this year. I am becoming rather fond of them, even if they are a bit of a bully around the feeders.

I also saw a Carolina Wren and a Red-bellied Woodpecker, neither of which I managed to photograph. Next time.

possum-2013-12-26

Although this isn’t a bird, and visited on the 26th of December, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the possum. He is, after all, benefiting from the bird-feeders.

Owls-2013-12-23

Finally, again not seen yesterday but worth mention, Mark heard the owls’ calls, and spotted them in the tree early one morning right before Christmas.

It pays to keep your eyes and ears open around here.

If you are somewhere bundled up from the cold and the snow, I wish you the warmth of a glowing fire and a nice hot toddy. If you are somewhere warm and sunny, I don’t want to know about it.

Happy New Year.

~~~~~~

Time for grasshoppers

Grasshoppers dot the sun-warmed paved path every couple of yards or so where I walk Arthur beside the rippling lake on a cool autumn day. Arthur gets close and pokes his nose at one. It hops away.

Arthur scampers along beside me in the grass, his nose to the ground. Following a trail. His little white paws startle grasshoppers hiding there. Arthur ignores them.

I remember a long ago fall day on the river levy of my dad’s youth where we scampered along the hillside, our little Ked’s-clad feet startling the grasshoppers who hid there. Grasshoppers popping up all around us.

We set chase, catching them with bare hands then letting them go again. The thrill of the catch enough.

We had time for grasshoppers then.

Arthur-Oct 21-21

The perils of the sun

01a-Beach-2013-09-10

You might wonder by the time you finish reading this post, why I still like, in fact insist on, going on beach vacations.

“I can’t remember ever going to the beach and not having a problem with my skin,” I told Mark just this morning.

I have always burned fairly easily in the sun, and although sunscreen has been a fact of life for me as long as I can remember, I still inevitably end up with a burn somewhere on my body, often on my chest, upper back, and almost always on my face.

I stopped using sun lotion on my face several years ago after I was unable to find one that didn’t make my face feel like someone had sprayed gasoline on it and lit a match.

Now I trust only my faithful Oil of Olay daily lotion with broad spectrum SPF for my face. It only has a rating of 15, but I reapply it obsessively.

This year on our beach trip to the southern North Carolina shore I came well-armed. I bought Coppertone Sport high performance, broad spectrum, 30spf that “stays on when you sweat” lotion and spray.  And I used both liberally in the first two days.

The third day I began to develop a red, bumpy, itchy rash. At first I blamed it on sun poising which I had self-diagnosed several years back.

If it hadn’t been for Mark, who liberally applied the lotion to my back at my request, I might not have figured it out yet. But Mark took his job seriously and put that lotion all over my entire back, most of which never saw the light of day under my suit.

The rash eventually covered all my exposed body except my face, thanks to the Oil of Olay. It also developed on my back.

The rash, I believe, is from the lotion I was using to protect myself. I revised my self-diagnosis.

Now I’m on a quest for sun lotion that I can tolerate, perhaps a combination of zinc oxide and titanium oxide that work to reflect the sun off of the skin. The other lotions somehow modify the rays to render them harmless.

I came to the beach also well-armed with light-weight long-sleeved shirts, and other various cover-ups.

Yesterday, I wore long sleeves, my hat and sunglasses and went to the beach sans lotion except for the Oil of Olay on my face. I sat under our umbrella the entire time, covering the bottom of my legs with a second cover-up, and taking an indoor break during peak sun hours.

At the end of the day I had a sunburn from mid-thigh to mid-calf where my legs had remained bare under the umbrella.

“What’s your next act?” Mark asked me this morning.

Today I look like a spy out of a low-budget movie—broad hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, and capris. A second cover-up protects the bottom of my legs and feet once I’m seated in the shade. Only my hands are exposed.

I still love the beach.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tips, advice, and general commiseration are all welcome.

What’s blooming now that it’s September

It’s been a while since I photographed the flowers in our gardens, but to be honest, it’s been a rough summer on them and they haven’t looked all that picture worthy.

Recently Mark and I spent a couple of days digging out the last swatch of Chameleon Ivy tangled with the roots of the Liriope and Daylilies in the Angel Garden. Halleluia. I think we are done with that for the most part.

In our St. Francis Garden the roses have made a come-back since earlier scorching heat followed by a good drenching, or vice versa, pretty much decimated them. I cut them all back and they came out in full force a week or two ago. They are starting to fade now. And the Sedum are starting to turn color. Otherwise it is pretty lean pickin’s in the garden. We plan to plant some mums again this fall. For some reason we’ve not had good success with them here.

Out front the Hosta are blooming and so are the Liriope. We have quite a few Liriope around the yard and in the garden.

We added a few Caryopteris to the Angel Garden last year. I’ve always loved this blue misty bush.

And finally a single zinnia bloom made it to the light of day. I think the deer have been pruning the plants that sprouted from the seeds I planted in the spring. I like to cut zinnias to bring them inside. Perhaps a bud vase this year. I dead-headed the spent daisies a few weeks ago while we were working on the ivy, but a few are brightening up the garden still. Let’s hear it for the late bloomers. We put marigolds in a bare spot that we are trying to decide what to do with. We may keep that area for annuals. It’s nice to have color you can count on all summer.

I was thinking about abandoning the Woodland Garden. It is just a lot of gardens to take care of. But I walked up there today to see if there were any wildflowers blooming. The Woodland Garden looks so inviting. I startled a robin that was perched on a tree. I may take my camera and camp out on the bench some afternoon to see if any of my winged friends come to call. I think I may keep the garden after all.

11-Dogwood_berries-2013-09-01

And my final bloomer isn’t a flower at all, bu the berries that came after the flowers on the Gray Dogwood trees (or shrubs). I think they deserved mention. Don’t you?

How are the flowers doing where you are?

Beaver or groundhog? Looking for clues.

01-Groundhog-2013-07-18-05

The other day I showed you this picture of what I called a groundhog. Some of my readers thought it was a juvenile beaver. So I’ll pose the question, what do you think?

Meanwhile I went looking for clues.

01-creekin-2013-07-28-02
Creek bed at the base of the hill behind our house. It swells with rainfall.

I took my ferocious wildlife tracking canine and my human body guard with me.

02-tree_roots-2013-07-28-02

As we walked along the creek bed, we saw the big tree where I’ve photographed groundhogs in the past.

03-deer-track-2013-07-28-07

We saw quite a few tracks in the mud, but they were mostly white-tailed deer tracks. No big surprise.

05-trax-2013-07-28-11

I did see a couple of tracks like these. I don’t know whether they are just messed up deer tracks or something else.

06-trax-2013-07-28-12

When I looked online I couldn’t identify them.

04-dam_or_not-2013-07-28-09

We also saw this pile of tree branches across the creek bed. One of the dead ash trees in the woods had fallen across the creek, and Mark thinks that it served as a barrier to block other sticks  that got washed down the creek. I don’t know what to think. In the pools visible at the bottom of the photo, Mark noticed a couple of small gold fish swimming around with many minnows.

07-goldfish-2013-07-28-22
Circle and saturated color around goldfish added in photoshop for visibility.

Where do these guys come from? We believe our creek is part of the Mill Creek Water Shed, but mostly it carries runoff from the rain.

08-reflection-2013-07-28-32

I tried to capture a photo of the many minnows that swim about and are easy to see by the naked eye due to their motion, but apparently are not so easy to capture as a digital image. I got a lot of reflection of the trees and skies.

09-minnow-2013-07-28-37

I think you can see one minnow in the middle of this photo. I’ll have to admit; I just wasn’t expecting there to be fish living down in the creek.

10-hawk-2013-07-28-53

We had the bonus of a couple of hawks landing above our heads. I only got one in the picture.  This might be a Cooper’s hawk, but I’m not sure.

11-chair-2013-07-28-65

The final piece of evidence came from one of the plastic chairs we use at the bottom of our yard. Can you see the teeth marks? Somebody was gnawing on this. What do you think, beaver, groundhog, or maybe just a squirrel?

Here’s a site that might help.
http://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-woodchuck-and-vs-beaver/

I hope somebody can clear this up for me.

Arthur has a bit of excitement

Arthur and I were hanging around the kitchen after breakfast this morning. Arthur was at his post by the side door monitoring the garden outside and I was still at the kitchen table when a little motion from outside near our deck caught my eye. I saw a little black nose attached to a small gray-brown head that was poking itself up through my deck railing right above the space where we’ve housed a family of groundhogs in the past.

Before I could react, the little critter, groundhog I think, made its way up onto our deck. That’s when Arthur noticed it too.

Then all heck broke loose. Arthur started barking. I ran for my camera which somehow rarely manages to be in the right room at the right time.

When I returned with camera in hand, the little critter was gone. I hurried into the adjacent laundry room, Arthur at my heels, but didn’t see anything from that window either. I didn’t see which way it went, and Arthur wasn’t talking.

“It’s gone,” I told Arthur.

A few minutes later the little wild critter came walking along the deck from the back of our house where Mark grows two tomato plants in pots. Need I say more?

The groundhog, I think, was taking its time sauntering back off the deck the way it had entered. That’s when I caught the photo and evidence of at least one of our produce thieves.

01-Groundhog-2013-07-18-05

He walked down through the St. Francis garden and out into the woods. When he was out of Arthur’s boundaries and reach, I let the little dog, who could hardly contain himself, outside. Arthur did his thing of sniffing, finding a trail and nosing around for a few minutes while I investigated the tomato plants. I didn’t see any tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean much. Mark might have gotten them all earlier.

I heard a loud rustling sound and looked down by the creek where the ground hog was tearing across the bottom of the yard and then jumped down the creek bank. Arthur somehow may have rustled him out, although I don’t know how. Arthur was up by the back of the house and the groundhog was down by the creek. It might have been a diversionary tactic to get Arthur away from the nesting space under our deck.

Nature can be exciting.

Arthur agrees.

I am adding an addendum to this post to correct the identity of the wild animal pictured above. I have been informed that it looks like a baby beaver, and I have to agree. At the time I saw it, I didn’t think it looked exactly like a groundhog, but I wasn’t sure what else it could be. I was worried it might be a big rat, but it’s tail was too broad. The thought of a beaver never crossed my mind. You can see a diagram of a beaver in the link graciously provided by Teepee 12 in the comments below.

~~~~~

In case you missed them, here are earlier posts about the groundhogs that sometimes share our abode.

Are groundhogs vicious—or is my nosy little dog safe?
I shot the groundhogs—twice
The groundhog saga continues
I saw a baby groundhog