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Northern Cardinals

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.

Last Saturday was a miserable day of snow, subzero temperatures and gray light so dark you needed illumination all day. Sunday morning when the storm was over we had more than a foot of picture-perfect, spotless dry powder. The snow was so fluffy that my snow shoes couldn’t keep me on the surface, but it was impossible to stay indoors. I plodded around the meadow sinking knee deep with each step despite the snow shoes.

A winter sun, strong as it can be in January, tinged the shadows, lengthened by its low arc, blue. That sun’s photons also promptly cleared both solar arrays of their snowy blankets, and popped the electrons in silicon cells of the PV panels into action. My energy factory was fully operational by noon.

If you have to have winter, it should be like the day after the storm. By mid week, warm rain, falling at night, washed the snow away. I’m old enough to know that winter isn’t over in January. But I’m not too old to wish that a warm day with a strong breeze could hasten spring’s return.

Maybe it did. The ground is workable. Despite temperatures under 40, the sun was out. In an hour and a half, I cleared a 15 foot by 15 foot section of meadow of both Chinese wisteria and honeysuckle (Lonicera I presume japonica, i.e., no good!) roots. I’ve let the Lonicera vine get too firm a foothold in that north western area close to the house and under the Maple. It thrives as well  in the section of the meadow behind the western evergreen hedgerow and out to the road, but this is to be the year of trying to control the more open part of the meadow to prevent its escape into the boarder field.

I like to think I slowed the vine’s spread down. Slowing down a weed by pulling it up by its roots is a cherished concept of mine. I know eradication doesn’t work according to this metaphor, but I’ve held the notion so long I can’t remember when I did not use it as a mantra while weeding. Did I inherit this from my father? He preached trying to get all the root out when pulling weeds. But his battlefield was a lawn and his target mostly dandelions. You can slow down a dandelion by removing most of its tap root. Did I invent it myself? Whatever its origins, eradicating an invasive takes lots more muscle than pulling some of its roots.

Let the record show, however, that I found less than 3 feet of Bittersweet root and only one grub. When I’d finished the ground looked not dissimilar to terrain I’d seen in the Hill Country of Texas where wild boars are a nuisance.

Wildlife is reappearing as the days lengthen. Three robust squirrels with fulsome, twitchy tails have been prowling under the bird feeders. I can’t figure out their familial relationships: one seemed perturbed by another; these two ignored the third. A red squirrel has come out of hiding. Though I have not seen two together, its a good bet we have two red squirrels. I scared one down the driveway — that is in a different part of my yard from where I’d seen a red squirrel before; he darted across the road and through a hole in the neighbor’s stone wall suggesting he might live over there. One red squirrel is plenty.

I tried to snap a photo of the FIVE male Northern cardinals who are in residence. By the time I had my camera out (photo of three attached), two males had flown into the Douglas firs. Five couples increases the carry capacity of past years by one pair.

Three of five male Northern cardinals

Remains of a Blue jayThe Blue jays have not done as well. Carrying capacity has been two pairs. Earlier this year a Sharp-shined hawk had a jay for lunch. The pile of feathers was the tip. I had a rare sighting of the hawk recently. It perched atop the bird feeder with its back to the kitchen window allowing me to decide it was Sharp-shined not Cooper’s by the shortness of its tail. Needless to say, the entire meadow was silent of all bird calls while he visited. Had I not been on the phone, I just might have caught the hawk on camera; he sat for longer than I anticipated.

Looking forward to the breeding season, I emptied inactive nests from the four bird houses. One nest had been built by a Carolina wren, two were made by Tree swallows and one was an incomplete effort by House sparrow. I did not remove a sparrow’s nest from a Prairie rose bush. I also just admired the many insect galls attached to the stronger stems still standing in the meadow.

My book dealing neighbor gave me a book on moss gardening. I don’t need another project, but it’s encouraged me to be more accepting of what moss I already have. On my circuit around the meadow today, I photographed the club mosses in the path in the lower field and the moss that has taken hold where I’m allowing sedges to propagate under the three Amelanchier trees.

It was snowing as I returned in early April from a month in NYC. I guess it can’t rain at 22 degrees F. The spinach seeds I had planted in a few warm days of early March before leaving for the city in the anticipation that they would be ready to harvest upon my return, germinated, grew and froze. The lettuce seeds did not even bother to germinate. Only the peas survived that experiment in jumping the gun: they germinated but only now are they finally starting to grow.

By the second week of April, night time temperatures were hovering around but above freezing. Precipitation fell then as rain. On 7 April, notwithstanding the rain, I needed my sunglasses to look out the kitchen window at the grass it was so intensely green. My little bit of Ireland. The grass greened up early but it has been slow to grow. The rabbits have been the only lawn mowers needed to date. I seem to have two rabbits at present. How long can that last?

Maybe the photo does not capture the intensity of the green

Maybe the photo does not capture the intensity of the green

The first-of-year (FOY) chipmunk appeared before Emancipation Day. The lilacs in the dooryard were again not  close to blooming that day, though the branches did have buds. Even today, at the start of May, blooming lilacs are a full two weeks away. Whitman and I following different blooming calendars.

I expect peonies to bloom by Memorial Day but that’s because I grew up in more southerly places, Here I can report that the ruby red shoots have emerged. Likewise, the first asparagus spears have finally appeared. I must be confused, but I thought I was already getting sick of asparagus by this time last year. The first rhubarb leaves are moving from red to green. The sage made it through the winter and one of the two tarragon bushes did as well. Along the road side of the stone wall where three years ago Emily planted four types of daffodils, only one type seems to be blooming — and it started after all the daffodils in other parts of the yard have finished.

The blueberries, both low and high bush, appear to have liked the winter if that’s what setting lots of fruit buds means. I was tardy in pruning them, but spring is arriving slowly as well.

On 18 April, I saw a gigantic bird in the folly. A Harpy eagle, I thought, as I raced to get my bins. By the time I had the bird in focus, it had become a turkey. She was doing what I love to do when the weather warms up: sitting, well, she was standing, on the bench in the folly taking in the late afternoon sun and observing the meadow. The hen has been around frequently since then, although I have not seen her again in the folly.

Female turkey in the herb garden looking smaller than a Harpy eagle

Female turkey in the herb garden looking smaller than a Harpy eagle

Other FOY birds include a male Ruby-throated hummingbird who came to the nectar feeder on 25 April. A male Eastern towhee was feeding on the ground under the front feeder on 27 April. “Oh Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” (the White-throated sparrows) have been highly conversational of late, though their numbers seem to be declining suggesting they have started flying north.

All four pairs of Northern cardinals are in residence. Can they be the very same birds who have been here for several years? One of the males is distinctly more orange in his plumage than red just as in past years.

For the record, the Cabbage white butterfly arrived mid April.

Perhaps to make up for a dry April, the onset of May was raw and rainy. Spring seems slow to bloom this year.

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