Living Lapis Tuesday, Jul 14 2015 

I am not a birder, but there is one bird that every customer at my store seems to be seeing. And it is annoying. (My other job is also frustrating: somebody stops by and mentions to my boss something like this: ‘Hey did you hear about the bull moose Joe saw on the service road?’ grrr)

Anyway, back to the bird. I was astonished on my way out the drive this morning to finally see it.  Picture if you will, the flagpole garden (white daisies and spikes of cream yellow mullein and evening primrose right now), beyond the hay field and the trees. All vibrant colors thanks to the passing thunderstorm and the clearing sky: whites, grays, and bright blues. And there, on that yellow mullein spike was a brilliant lapis lazuli bird. The sort of high quality polished lapis lazuli that you almost never see outside of old jewelry. Far, far brighter than any bluebird out there. It was, of course, an indigo bunting. Absolutely gorgeous.

You can’t buy that sort of moment.

Chitter, Cheep, Cheep! Wednesday, Jul 8 2015 

After several years of near absence, the chimney swifts are back. At least four adults and likely a nest of young in the old southern chimney. Very nice to see them again! Also barn swallows next door (I hope the neighbors tolerate them for once, pity I can’t explain to the birds that we would be happy to share some space with them, but they do like the big dairy barn better). And two pairs of phoebes.

Almost makes up for the over territorial catbirds that seem to have taken over the gardens. Only the hummingbirds seem to be able to deal with them, seeing as they were happily checking the bergamot. The hummingbirds not the catbirds like the bergamot; the catbirds like the currants, the blueberries, the strawberries, the peaches, the apples, the….

Errrr Friday, Mar 6 2015 

As part of one of my jobs, I have the entertaining duty to try to sell birdhouses. I have been diligently telling people that early March is the ideal time to put up said birdhouses.  It is, after all, that time of the year for a number of the birds that favor birdhouses: the chickadees have been pairing off, as have the woodpeckers. There are a remarkable number of blue birds hanging about, though no swallows yet.  (A good thing, since swallows need flying insects and are long-distance migrants; bluebirds however can overwinter as far north as Pennsylvania and sometimes even southern Connecticut).

However…..there is a bit of a problem with actually putting a house Up this year. Since most houses are best mounted on poles, one needs to put the pole in the ground.  This is fine if the pole is already in the ground.  But if it isn’t….well, I am sure this snow will melt someday… I just hope none of my customers remember what I said in December.  It is true most years!

It is remarkable though, how loud the woods get at this time of the year. All of the woodpeckers are debating their trees, the smaller birds are very active, the crows are beginning to move about more though they are not yet paired off again.  On a warm day, the woods are alive even if they don’t look it.



D-Day Birds Tuesday, Aug 26 2014 

Actually, a flock of Common Nightjars (Nighthawk), but those white wing flashes!

Pretty neat, we saw a dozen or so hunting high above the fields. They caught my eye because they were just not ‘right’ for either the swifts or swallows.  You know it when you see it sort of thing. Too big, wrong wing angle, and the white wing bars.

It turns out that our little group was probably a trailer of a much larger group, numbering in the hundreds. Shortly, after we saw them above our hill, a friend called asking if I had seen a flock in the hundreds on my way home from work.  The main flock must have been congregating in the river valley, presumably it is sort of gathering up birds as migration begins.

Never seen them before.  Two cool birds in one day (the other was a redtail hawk that I routinely see hunting along a busy urban/suburban road) he caught something in the shrubbery near the Staples/Car dealers/McDonalds, next to a four lane road, as I was stuck at a red-light.  Hopefully, he understands traffic….suburban bird-watching!

Apples and Woodpeckers Monday, Dec 2 2013 

The ‘Wolf River’ apple tree that did its once every few years, at random, massive apple crop this year (necessitating marathon sessions of applesauce making) still has a few apples on it.  It shouldn’t, for the health of the tree, but I am glad it does.

The apples are frozen solid at the moment, and look a bit like Christmas ornaments as they are scattered picturesquely through the upper branches*.  That is nice enough.  But what is especially pleasant is the discovery that the odd pockmarks/toothmarks which have been slowly appearing on them belong primarily to the woodpeckers.  Sapsuckers, Downy, Hairy, and the lot.  I don’t know if the Red Bellied has been past or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  A nice treat for them and for us.


*It was Supposed to be a semi-dwarf.  Ten years on and it is quite clear that we got a standard instead….

Feeding the Birds Sunday, Apr 21 2013 

I am not at all sure that we meant the pergola, from which one may usefully survey the garden and all three birdfeeders, to be a perch for a big Red Tail Hawk…. On the other hand, the peas will be safe from the crows that way.
I actually am very glad to see a number of raptors hanging about, it seems to me that if the top of the food chain is around, the bottom must be at least decent.
The count right now includes the Red Tails (a breeding pair who have been here several years), Long Horned Owls, Short Eared Owls, and the Cooper’s Hawk. The last memorably nailed a robin at high speed about twenty feet from me the other day. Quite impressive.

On juncos Tuesday, Apr 2 2013 

I don’t care to have favorites, with the implication of exclusion and rank; so I never played the ‘my favorite X is …’ game well.  Still, watching a flock of juncos yesterday, I had to admit a certain fondness for them.  We have many birds here in the winter months, gathered in flocks, so it is easier to observe them closely.  The bird feeders attract the usual suspects: chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, cardinals, white throats, all the woodpeckers, finches, etc.  They all have a certain unique charm and habit.

Of all of them the juncos are the least flashy.  No striking colorations, no loud conversant songs, no gymnastic manuevers.  Just a group of little, ground-feeding birds.  Yet, I would challenge one to capture all the nuances of a junco’s colouration.  They are described as ‘slate coloured’, a laughably useless descriptor, unless you know slate very well indeed.  Then it is quite accurate.  Purple, green, brown, blue, black, grey…not iridescent like a starling, but a subtle constant shifting of colour.  The white flash of the belly, tail, and the light edges of the wing feathers make them remarkably eye-catching in motion.  Somehow, they also have a gentleness that other flocking birds seem to lack.  I have never seen a quarrel in a junco flock, unlike the finches or starlings.  A dull coloured bird well worth the second look.

Distractions Tuesday, Mar 19 2013 

It is currently doing the freezing rain thing.  At least the several inches of snow didn’t stick to the trees, so the weight shouldn’t be too bad.  But we are back to a white and grey landscape.

The distraction factor comes from several very disgruntled chickadees which are hanging out on the west porch, right out side my window.  One of them just came and perched on a chair arm and gave me quite the look.  They are clearly of the opinion that this oughtn’t to be happening.  The cardinals are also of like opinion.  The male cardinals have been quite busy chasing each other and any passing female.  Several inches of snow topped with ice was clearly not in their plans.  I suspect that the chickadee in question is the same one that was determinedly investigating the porch and house for any likely nesting holes a few days ago.  Granted, this is less of a distraction than last year’s woodpecker, he attempted to enlarge a hole in a post right outside the window.*

….I now have three cardinals, two juncos, a titmouse, and several chickadees in the quince and forsythia bushes below the porch.  Every year I think about getting rid of those forsythia, (they bloom for a week or two and then I spend the summer trying to keep them in control and below the porch railing)*, and every winter the birds remind me why I haven’t yet.  The birds adore those bushes.  I suspect that they are on the route between the tall trees to the north of the house and the bird-feeders on the south of the house.  Some chickadees use the Japanese Maples and the redbuds to the east of the house as staging points between the tall conifers and the birdfeeders.  Birds coming from the pines to the north and west probably use the forsythia and the apples.  If I could tell the birds apart, I would bet that there are distinct patterns and territories used by the birds.  There may be east side and west side families for all I know!

The perils of wildlife.*

*the porch posts are box posts, the hole is for the awning poles.  I suspect the woodpecker gave up when he realized that this wonderful hole had no floor.

*The railing is a good six feet high, you would think that would be tall enough…

*Actually, it really is spring.  The bear has raided the trash cans and I nearly walked into him late one night a few days ago.

The Robins of Fall Tuesday, Nov 20 2012 

Spring migration is always seen as a big thing, spotting the first robin or bluebird is a harbinger of hope.  However, fall’s migration tends to be equally noticeable.  The juncos appear by the dozen, as does a wintering flock of chickadees.*  And sometime between October and December, the robin flock descends on the property.  We must have a pretty popular stop-over place for them; because they will hang out in the area for some time; usually twenty or thirty in a group.  A few stalwarts will hang late into winter if it doesn’t snow. It took me awhile to figure it out, the mystery of the vanishing ilex berries, a much favoured snack for robins.  The roadside bush is always the last to go, despite it having an abundant crop; I suspect because it is right next to the road, whereas the others are tucked into the woods a bit. 

Today, I nearly collected a group of robins as I turned into the drive.  They all flew up into the trees, as if a sudden swirl of red and brown leaves had chosen to return to the sky.

*Unlike the titmice, the chickadees do not hang about in the summer nor does the cardinal, though he/she nests here.

Crows Saturday, Aug 18 2012 

I like crows sometimes, watching them (rooks and jackdaws actually) playing on the wind off the Salisbury Crags above Edinburgh gave me many hours of pleasure.  And I was glad when they returned here after being nearly wiped out by West Nile Virus.

The operative term there is ‘was’.  I could do without the daily conversation that occurs each nice morning as the sun begins to rise.  They talk for hours.  And for whatever reason they don’t do it while in one place.  The preferred method is one group in the big tulip tree, one in the hemlock, and one in the ashes by the barn.  It is nicely amplified by the corner of the house….where my room is.  On the other hand, they are effective at cleaning up the bugs in the barnyard and the lawn, and they don’t seem interested in the garden.

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