Sunday, April 30, 2006

For a Cloud Holding Back the Sun

Sunday, April 30, 2006
Sun rays piercing white
Gray bodies, their shapes shifting
kiss, touch, drift apart.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Deep in the Woods, Watching

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I spent most of the morning deep in the woods, waiting for the sun to get high enough to warm the little valley where I was waiting in hopes of reconnecting with some old, familiar friends. Each spring and through the summer until late July, this east valley on the farm we call Indigo Hill is home to a handful of very special warblers. And on this chilly spring morning many of my old friends were singing, already setting up their territories. Many of the female warblers have not yet arrived, so the males are especially het-up.

One of the things I love about these woods is that the trees come with cupholders.

Into the woods I went hauling spotting scope, digital camera, and my cup of morning coffee. Halfway down the spring trail a male hooded warbler chipped loudly as he flew past me. And a male yellow-throated warbler zipped past, also chipping. Far down in the bottom, where the spring feeds the small creek, the worm-eating warbler (a new arrival today) sent out his insectlike buzz. Also joining the chorus were black-and-white and blue-winged warblers, wood thrushes, and our resident birds, including five woodpecker species.

From east of the trail a Kentucky warbler sang his rolling, bright trill. I spent the next hour navigating the thick underbrush, looking for him. Kentuckies are loud, persistent singers, but they can be devilishly hard to see. Sometimes it seems as though they are throwing their voices like a ventriloquist. Finally I found him and got him in the scope. Great looks, but no chance to digiscope him.

I'm not sure why I love the Kentucky warbler so much. Perhaps because they stick to the deepest, brambly woods. Or maybe it's their Fu Manchu facial markings. Now that I know where one of his morning song perches is, I'll be back to spend more quality time with this particular old friend.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Woodcock Returns!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Tonight's featured performer appearing in the Stardust Lounge for your listening pleasure!

After a 12-day hiatus, the male American woodcock who performs nightly in our upper meadow has resumed his show. I am certain he's back by popular demand (the ladies dig him--we hear them purring when they fly past him as he peents).

Phoebe and I were heading out to toss the softball just at dusk when we heard our meadow man start his nasal, spring sonata. I immediately realized that I might get a shot of him with the digiscoping rig, and so, ignoring Phoebe's whining exasperation, I tip-toed into the meadow where I scanned for our guy. It took us a while to find him in the ankle-high green meadow grass, but soon we did, and I got him in the scope. Like any good, conscientious Dad, I stiff-armed Phoebe out of the way until I could get a snap off a few frames with the digital camera.

When Phoebe was little and we'd take her out to look and listen for the woodcock, she'd always ask us to hold her off the ground. Finally one night Julie asked her why she needed to be held.
"Because I'm afraid the woodchuck that's making that noise will run up my leg and bite my face." To this day we're still not sure how Phoebe came to be such a strange, sweet little bird. We told her that the woodcock (a bird, not the furry mammal) would only do this if she had earthworms on her face (the woodcock's favorite food). And as long as she washed her face everyday, she'd probably stay earthworm free.

As we walked out into the meadow tonight, still scanning for the woodcock (not woodchuck), I noticed that Phoebe was looking in precisely the right direction for the calling male, but she was looking up into the trees, not down on the ground where our guy was bound to be. She's still confused about this mysterious nocturnal bird. At least I did not have to hold her off the ground, but then, she's really good about washing her face.
Phoebe finally gets a look at one of nature's great mystery creatures.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Good News at Chase Lake

Tuesday, April 25, 2006
April 22, 2006. The white pelicans are back at Chase Lake. Photo by Rick Bohn.

Our North Dakota buddy, Rick Bohn, sends along the news that more than 5,500 white pelicans are already back on the traditional nesting islands at Chase Lake NWR, near Carrington, ND. Chase Lake was established as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect the then-tiny nesting colony of white pelicans.

In recent years this site--once the world's largest white pelican nesting colony, with 30,000 birds--has experienced massive failure, with eggs and nestlings being abandoned by parents for no apparent reason. Researchers have many hypotheses about the nesting failure in 2004 and 2005, including disturbance by predators, disease, and a crash in the food base. No definitive answers have been found for these mysterious failures of the colony.

We're headed out to North Dakota in June for the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival, one of our favorite events each year. The birding in ND is fabulous, the people are so nice it's scary, and then there's the knefla soup (which was described by the waitress at the Pingree Cafe as "a nice soup with kneflas in it").

White pelican over Chase Lake. Photo by Rick Bohn.

Monday, April 24, 2006

More Spring Birding Adventures

Monday, April 24, 2006
Got out early again this morning to take advantage of the perfect light and to steal the souls of some songbirds with my digiscoping rig. Did not get much in the way of images, but did soak my shoes and socks in the morning dew, which makes me feel as though I've started the day off right.

Here are a few to share with you....

The day's first victim: a white-throated sparrow in perfect light but imperfect shadows. I love the look in his eye.

Not a great house finch photo, but this was the most purple-finch-colored house finch I've ever seen.

Slightly better version of my male blue-winged warbler. I'm hoping he'll let me get closer to him over the spring and summer.

This male prairie warbler is back on his old patch on the hill behind our fire circle. He sings the chromatic scale better than any opera singer, but he does not like to be photographed.

This evening I met a pack of Cub Scouts and their parents at our local wetland park for a bird walk. We got a grand total of 6 species in the spotting scope: American robin, great blue heron, Canada goose, tree swallow, red-winged blackbird, and a save-the-bird-walk osprey soaring overhead. The scouts oohed and ahhed at the large raptor as he circled 100 feet overhead, occasionally hovering over a possible target fish in the wetland's shallow pools. The osprey did not dive, but he obligingly flew in tight, lazy circles in perfect light as I told the slack-jawed scouts about the osprey's recovery from the effects of DDT in the ecosystem.

We were operating under the 3-seconds-at-the-scope rule. You may hog the scope until the count of three, then you must step aside.
Millions of questions, such as: "Why do they call them tree swallows?" Me: "Because they swallow trees. Next question!"

The Amazing Mr. Osprey.

We had a good time. And I hope this experience will help heal my scars from getting kicked out of Cub Scouts in 1974 for pointing a museum cannon at Mrs. Reynolds, my Den Mother. She did not believe me when I told her I was practicing for my artillery badge.

Everybody got good looks at the birds today.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Many Arrivals, Few Photos

Sunday, April 23, 2006
I stepped out onto the deck this morning and into spring migration, finally. Up until today, we'd had a handful of spring arrivals--one or two a day. This morning eleven species arrived, including: scarlet tanager, Nashville, prairie, Tennessee warbler, common yellowthroat, cliff swallow, Savannah sparrow, blue-headed vireo, rose-breasted grosbeak, Baltimore oriole, and great crested flycatcher.

Though there were tons of birds and the light was perfect, few of the birds were very cooperative. I was only able to digiscope one of the new arrivals (actually a species that just passing through), the Savannah sparrow.
Savannah sparrow, eating dandelion seeds.

Some of our regulars were more cooperative for me this morning.

It's pretty tough to get a digiscope photo of a warbler, but this guy (a yellow-rumped warbler) was singing his heart out to impress the ladies, so he was sitting tight.

On our farm this translates to: "Uh, You got any more of that suet dough inside the house?"

Note how my digiscoping technique ensures that the branch and the cardinal's feet are in perfect focus.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Song in My Head

Saturday, April 22, 2006
On this rainy Saturday, while marooned in a hotel room in Canton, Ohio, the song in my head is:
by Jose Gonzalez
on his "Veneer" album.

I first heard this lovely song in a commercial for Sony, a link to which was sent to me by my music-obsessed pal Zane. The commercial is worth seeing.

Heartbeats was not written by Gonzalez. He covers it. The original performer was a Swedish band called The Knife. Have not heard their version--not sure I want to.

This song enters my head because it is so artfully, hauntingly beautiful, even without the incredible visual of the colorful bouncing balls in the ad. This winter and spring my "headsongs" have mostly been melodic, soft, acoustic. Am feeling that may soon change, but one never knows, now, does one?

I took this image of the waxing moon from our meadow. It seemed to fit the mood of the song, and the music currently in my head.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Giant Things of Guatemala

Friday, April 21, 2006
Check out the totally Chia-pet hairdo!

If you think that the U.S., or our fine, hockey-obsessed Canadian friends to the north have a hammerlock on weird giant things, you, amigo, are sadly mistaken.

And I have the images to prove it.

I believe I have documented, in digital photos, the existence of a giant race of Chia pets, living in Guatemala. These creatures (well, we assume there is more than one, though we only saw and documented a single individual) live near chlorinated swimming pools, deriving their sustenance from these bodies of chemically enhanced water by some undetermined method.

We never did determine the purpose of this statue. Was it a slide into the pool.

We did find out that these creatures, though very shy, do like to have their noses picked. This is very similar to making a dog's leg flail by scratching the dog in a certain spot.

Fortunately there were no giant Chia boogers.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Brain Bowl

Thursday, April 20, 2006
This afternoon Phoebe and I are driving north to the Akron/Canton area where, tomorrow, Phoebe and a team from her school, will compete in the state Future Problem Solving Bowl in Alliance. It's too complicated to explain, so we just call it The Brain Bowl. Or sometimes "The Bowl of Brains.
I've loved walking Phoebe out to the bus each morning this week. Chet loves it, too.

I'm so proud of Phoebe and her smarts (inherited from her mom). Spending a few days with her at this event is going to be really fun (I've promised a mini shopping spree). She does not seem to be at all nervous about the weekend's competition, which impresses her Nervous Nellie dad.
Phoebe and Liam, dressed for the school carnival, themed "Hollywood."

Not forgetting the purpose of this blog.....
Several new birds arrived yesterday and today at Indigo Hill: white-eyed vireo, black-throated green warbler, ovenbird, black-and-white warbler, and double-crested cormorants (a V of about 30 flew over yesterday morning).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

For a New Tulip Poplar Leaf

Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Tiny, tender leaf
of perfect shape, lime green
each vein, its own tree

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hummingbird Hallelujah!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Late in the day on Easter Sunday, while Phoebe and I were tossing the softball, our sharp-eyed red-headed girl spotted the first returning male ruby-throated hummingbird.

"Mama! There's a hummingbird at the feeder. I think it's an adult male!" That's my girl!
Redhead and redbud.

I was unable to get an image of First Guy until this morning. Can I hear a "hallelujah?" The hummers are back.

Now the question in our minds is: Will any of the three males that Julie raised from orphaned nestlings to releasable youngsters two summers ago return to spend the summer with us again?

We'll know if they come peeping around us as we eat our dinner outside in the front yard. Last year all three returned. You can listen to Julie's NPR commentary, "My Hummingbird Summer" here.

Incidentally, if you live in the Washington DC area, Julie is presenting a program and signing books at The National Zoo this Thursday evening, April 20, at 7:00 pm.

Monday, April 17, 2006

My Sunday Shadow

Monday, April 17, 2006
After our fabulous Easter dinner in town at the home of the BT2's, our little family foursome retreated to our farm and went in four directions, all of us needing some alone time.

Following a failed nap attempt, I followed my shadow on a walkabout.

First, he pointed me west, toward the setting sun. It was 6:45 pm. As I entered our old, barely hanging on orchard, I naturally took the northernmost path, past our old sweat-lodge frame, past the middle-orchard bluebird box (five warm eggs), and onto my favorite path, Secree. Secree (our slang for Secret) is the section of the north orchard path that is totally closed-in in summer with grape vines, Virginia creeper, and poison ivy, creating a dark, green cave. It's a place I love to visit on summer evenings. For some reason, the wood thrush songs sound so much sweeter from this, my secret spot.

I found the Secree path blocked by a blown-down yellow poplar tree. This is a common occurrence on our farm--these poplars dislike strong wind, so they just give up the ghost and topple over. I made a mental note to get the chain saw out here soon. Must keep Secree passable.

I love the filmy yellow-green effect created by millions of tree buds in earliest spring. After a long, gray winter, it's so nice to begin our journey across nature's color palette once again.

My shadow showed me where the spring's first Blackburnian warbler will be making his appearance in a few weeks, maybe less.

There are incredible, soft mats of moss all over our farm. My shadow stretched out for a nap on this lush clump. And after taking a macro shot of the moss, I decided to do the same. No need for a blanket, the sun covered us both in its warmth.

Our oil well was the next place I caught up to my shadow. He was wondering about something--it appeared to be troubling him. This realization caused me to give an involuntary shiver. If shadows have problems, what hope is there for the rest of us?
I brushed this turn of mind off as a side-effect of too much rich food in the middle of the day. Little did I know, "a ghost was about to step across my grave," as my grandma Thompson used to say.

While checking this vernal pool for tadpoles (there were many) I had the distinct feeling that someone was watching me. Then I heard footsteps in the nearby copse of pines. And for a moment, I swore I saw a dear old friend, walking toward me, smiling. But I know that she's long gone. It's a dream, only a dream, and it's fading now.

I walked back through the meadow, sun on my bare shoulders, heading home. The house was coming back to life, and I needed very much to do the same.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Blooming Love

Sunday, April 16, 2006
Love is in the air, my friends. As I staggered around the farm this afternoon, drunk from the yellow sunshine and the heady smell of plum blossoms on the evening breeze, I managed to grab a few macro shots of the flowers' best advertising efforts.

The blossoms on our plum hedge smell heavenly.

Around our plum hedge, bees, weighed down by saddlebags of orange pollen, droned about their business, mostly oblivious to the rest of the world. How I envy them. To know your purpose in life and to follow it, no matter what. How completely liberating that must be! Or bee.


Daffodils of every description are found around our farm yard. Some we inherited from the owners immediately previous to us. Others are very old daffodils that have been blooming here, around the old farm house site, for half a century. Some are ancestral daffodils that we dig up from our old family farm site, near where I-77 crosses the Ohio River.
Bleeding heart, nodding under the weight of its blossoms.

The bleeding heart is already advertising itself to our yet-to-arrive hummingbirds. They should be here tomorrow, according to our 14 years of spring nature notes.

Yesterday evening I heard the dee-deeeee! of a newly arrived broad-winged hawk over our orchard. After I was done appreciating him, I looked down and took this image of one of the thousands of dandelions in our yard.
I love the sunny yellow of the dandelions on the deep-lime-green spring lawn.

Back at the plum a sphinx moth (sometimes called a hummingbird moth) nectared on the plum blossoms.
Redbud blooms throughout our woods, looking like dark twigs wrapped in magenta crepe paper.

The humble violet winks at me coyly amid the grass and clover leaves.

Spring beauties. Such a perfect name for a sweet, tiny spring flower.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ten Signs That It's Easter

Saturday, April 15, 2006
Our first bluebird brood hatched yesterday.
  1. A wood thrush sang from our north woods just after dawn this morning.
  2. There were no kids' dress shoes at the shoe store.
  3. I found a song sparrow nest with four eggs. It was cleverly located in the tall grass around our septic tank. No predator is going to find THAT nest by smell.
  4. Entire creaking cartloads of Easter candy were being wheeled through the Wal-Mart parking lot.
  5. Our neighbors across the valley are shooting skeet. This is an Easter tradition since we moved here 14 years ago. Later on, when I grow weary of the gunshots, I will play them some guitar with my amp set on 11.
  6. Every patch of lawn is flush with dandelions, spring beauties, and a lush carpet of green.
  7. The sound of lawnmowers fills the air. I find it's best to mow before the Easter egg hunt, rather than during or after. Last night I had a nightmare about weed-whacking.
  8. Our first clutch of bluebird eggs has hatched. Little pink squirmies--very unlike the yellow marshmallow chicks that kids everywhere will be gagging down tomorrow morning.
  9. I spied the first monarch of spring this morning.
  10. Our kids are already buzzed out of their gourds on sugar. It's only gonna get worse.
Wishing you a joyous and peaceful holiday weekend. BOTB.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Song in My Head

Friday, April 14, 2006

Today and tonight (and for the past several days) the song in my head has been

Gotta Have You
The Weepies
from their new album "Say I Am You"

Ever since I heard this song on my fave local radio show, I've been aswim in it. It's sweet but not treacly sweet. It's melodic, but unexpectedly so. And I love the arrangement.

If you go to The Weepies site, you can hear a lot of their songs for free. My guess is, if you're like me, you'll hear it, then buy it.

The fave local radio show is called "Crossing Boundaries" and it's hosted nightly from 7 to 10 pm by Athens, Ohio musician Mark Hellenberg on WOUB-FM. This is the same studio where Zick records her NPR commentaries.

Three Voices of Spring

Lord of the noisy bramble, our alpha-male brown thrasher.

These early spring mornings the birds are singing, but the singers are not always in peak form. For example, our brown thrashers (two more arrived on Tuesday) are only just now playing their way into shape after several days of half-hearted effort. The bramble patches now ring with that special thrasher sound. Amazing what a little competition, a bit brighter daylight, and a shot of testosterone will do. Game ON!

We have a lot of eastern (rufous-sided) towhees here on the farm this spring, including one with a decidedly unmusical drink-your-tea call. This particular male towhee looks for all the world like a full-adult, so I'm not sure it's his youth that makes him sing this way. His song has more of a buzzy, metallic quality than our other, bright and musical towhee calls. Mr. Metallica's territory seems to be in the edge of the woods along our north boundary, behind the garage.
Ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Metallica the eastern towhee!

Our final notable performer this spring is a young red-winged blackbird who has the perfect song, conk-a-reeee! of an adult male, but still wears the streaky-brown plumage of a young bird. It's as if his suit is still at the dry cleaners, but he's showing up for work anyway.
Song? Check. Good singing perch? Check. Breeding plumage? Oh *%@#!

Cannot imagine what it would be like to wake up without a symphony bird song to greet the dawn. Let's not let that happen, OK?