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House Sparrow

The Monarchs are back. I spotted the first on Flag Day (14 June) — a full 11 days later than my first spotting last year. It was in the lower meadow and took me by surprise when I flushed it. In fact, while it certainly seemed the right size and coloration for a Monarch, I did not get a good look. Then two days later a pair of Monarchs were aloft above their more traditional portion of the meadow near the evergreen hedgerow.

Common Ravens, an uncommon sight here, are disturbing the Common Grackles who do a top-rate job of devouring whatever seed or suet I put out for target birds making them my least favorite feeder. Three Ravens at least are back and forth between the Norway Spruce and the evergreen hedgerow making their distinctive call as the Grackles — uncharacteristically silent — chase them. Who am I rooting for in this contest?

Today’s Espresso email from The Economist included a story they titled “Art of the deal: clever corvids.”The corvid family includes crows, ravens, rooks and magpies but not the lowly Common Grackle which is a member of the icterid family. But the Grackle is one wily bird and, as I hinted above, eats me out of house and home. The ravenous Grackles at the Kennel House have learned to feed upside down so as the polish off the suet intended for the Woodpeckers and Nuthatches. They have developed an insatiable appetite for the grape jelly on the Baltimore Oriole feeder, maybe because they are both icterids. The Cowbird — also in this family — has not developed a taste for grape jelly, although it too is around. Restocking that feeder could be done twice a day, if I chose to keep it full. All this is to say that the Common Grackle is not without its own form of smarts.

The herb garden with four bird feeders, including the station for the Orioles

And speaking of the “Art of the Deal,” I had been planning to post the Song of Sixpence nursery rhyme to offer our American king a disgusting desert. Wishing even such a vile person as our king anything unseemly would no doubt have meant that I’d been the maid in the garden hanging out the clothes of the final verse when down would come a blackbird and peck off my nose.

Eastern Phoebes nested again this year in the rafters of the folly, though I never caught a glimpse of them. Tree Swallows have nested in two bird boxes. A pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived last week. The Gray Catbirds came back last month; I do love its slaty gray with a little black scull cap and rufous undertail coverts. A friend from Princeton and the 70s was visiting last week. She remarked that she’d dress like the female Northern Cardinal; I’d choose the Catbird for my sartorial model.

Phoebe nest in the folly’s rafters

The Downy Woodpeckers are showing their offspring how to eat the suet.

Downy parent feeding baby atop the suet feeder

Remarkably few House Sparrows have elected to feed and nest here. Writing that no doubt will produce an influx.

It’s June so the lightening bugs are flashing in the meadow at night. And the heat ans sun of an early summer afternoon bring on the Dragonflies. Look hard to see them. One’s in the upper left-hand corner but you can see others as well.

Dragonflies, upper left and upper center

Finally, belying the title of this blog, is this only tangentially related photo of an uncommonly marked White-tail Deer in the meadow. Photographing through the porch screens creates that double image. With its distinctive patterning, we’ll be able to keep tabs on this meadow visitor even if s/he arrives on foot.

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Disaster — in the form of weak hives invaded by wax moths — awaited, I was certain. So certain that I called in a veteran beekeeper to help me open my hives. True, bees were flying in and out of both hives but this summer challenged my sub par beekeeping skills more than ever. First, …

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The newspaper coverings I taped to the living room windows blew off yesterday. (I drafted this post on 13 May!) The American Robin is again flying at its reflection upsetting the peace of the house and, I have to believe, reducing its chances to be selected as a mate. Maybe this Robin already knows he has been overlooked, and depression at rejection is driving this behavior. If he doesn’t have a headache, I do.

Tree Swallows are nesting for about the 4th year in the box closest to the vegetable garden. The couple successfully defended their home from a third Swallow, who after buzzing the box for an entire afternoon, gave up and went away. Perhaps that third bird was taking out his aggression on the mated pair because his intended lay dead in a box across the meadow. The eyes of the Tree Swallow had been pecked out suggesting the role of a House sparrow in its demise. House Sparrows are building a nest in a neighboring box.

Dead Tree swallow on top of box where it died

Dead Tree Swallow on top of box where it died

In 2010, Gary, the carpenter working on my house, reduced the opening of the box to suit Bluebirds. Bluebirds dutifully came to build a nest only to be chased away by House Sparrows who then chipped away at Gary’s new door until it was large enough for them to enter the box. House Sparrows nested there that year laying round after round of eggs that I kept removing. However, after a generally successful campaign against House Sparrows, none appeared again until this year. The box they have chosen is the box with the altered doorway. There are now 5 eggs in the nest.

Bluebird retrofit with opening enlarged by House sparrows

Bluebird retrofit with opening enlarged by House sparrows

House sparrows nest side view

House sparrows nest side view

A pair of Easter Phoebes hopped around on the eave beside the open porch area. They were measuring, I was pretty sure, for nest building. Then I did not see them again until I went out to the folly where a Phoebe nest was tucked into a narrow space between the roof trusses and the back of a photovoltaic panel. Had they used the porch eave, I might have been able to see inside the nest. In the folly, I can only see the characteristic signs of Phoebe nest — brushy material held together with mud like hair falling from a french twist.

A pair of Wild Turkeys have made themselves at home here of late. First I thought it strange that there was only one Turkey. A couple of days ago, two Turkeys were here together. They are fairly unperturbed by humans. Their feathers have the sheen of armor until they shake making them look like dust mops. See the video, if you’d like.

Turkey Dust

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are back and so are the Baltimore Orioles. The Hummingbirds drink sugar water and the Orioles eat the oranges I put out in suet cages. The biggest snackers at this time of year are the Grackles. They’d eat 2 patties of suet a day if I’d put it out. But feeding Grackles is not my idea of attracting interesting birds so I leave the suet feeders empty every other day and feel badly about the Woodpeckers, the Cardinals, the Titmice and the Jays who would also like the suet but eat more moderately.

For the record, I have 4 pairs of Northern Cardinals this year. Two males were dive bombing a Blue Jay who must have his eyes on the eggs in a Cardinal nest. I guess that’s a reason to keep the suet feeder stocked.

Finally in the bird update, a solitary Canada Goose seemed to have been left behind by other Geese who fly in lazy formations while squawking across the meadow. After about a week of watching this bird hang out in a tightly circumspect patch of the meadow where the bee yard will go once the bees return, I came to think of this as MY Canada Goose. For one who comes by a strong dislike for the species genetically, this seemed a marked softening of heart. My Canada Goose took no interest in the Geese flying overhead. I thought that showed acceptance of  my bird’s predicament. I developed theories about that predicament: injured, jilted, otherwise defective. It must not have been so injured that it could not fly into a tree to roost at night. It showed admirable good sense not to sleep on the ground in the meadow.

The Canada Goose and I had this routine of what I presumed to be mutual observation down to a science so imagine my surprise when this morning (still 13 May) I saw the Goose with a mate and two ducklings. My camera can’t reach the far side of the meadow so the evidence of the Goose is displayed in its poops on the weed block for the bee yard.

Evidence of Canada goose

One Canada Goose’s poop