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Birds

The meadow got its spring haircut today. All the tidiness post cut is traumatic and troublesome but temporary. This year it also takes on a new meaning.

I read a book this winter by Isabelle Tree called Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm. While I’m not a European farmer, I have subscribed to the prevailing theory Tree describes that necessitates the mow:

“As any European farmer knows, if you leave a patch of land abandoned, it soon reverts to scrub and, eventually, tall trees. It is the state known as ‘climax vegetation’ — the destination which nature is supposedly endlessly struggling to reach. Before human impact — the prevailing theory goes — any land with the climate, soil and hydrology for trees to grow was covered with closed-canopy forest. By the late 19th century…closed-canopy forest came to be seen as the natural state of European landscape.” (page 62)

Mower in action.

But Tree doesn’t buy it.

“This theory of closed forest overlooks another force of nature altogether, one that works in opposition to vegetative succession, namely animal disturbance…The extinction of large wild animals encouraged closed-canopy forests that replaced wood pasture.”

So, the annual through partial mow is still required. Only the reason for it can now be explained differently: I have “no old, sturdy, primeval grazing animals living in herds without supplemental feeding to create and sustain a species-rich grsssland” through munching, trampling or otherwise disturbing.

Jungle no more or not until mid summer.

Today’s disturbance was not only on the ground but also in the air.

A Bald eagle must have wagered that a vole or two would be uncovered as the mower chomped through the brush because one circled overhead. But the resident Red-tailed hawk also had his eye on the field for the same reason and with some propriety. Two raptors of different species is one too many. An airborne battle ensued, which the eagle won. He claimed the airspace from a perch in the choke cherry.

The grassland species won’t miss a beat. They will continue their annual cycle. The aviary population — seeking lunch and nesting materials, maybe also a shield from raptors — may have a couple of weeks of distress, all because we have to rely on a mechanical marauder to groom the meadow annually.

Today is the Spring Equinox of 2021. But, really, this post is a summary of the last season in photos since it is so overdue. The global pandemic kept me grounded which meant I and others did lots more clearing last spring of unwanted plants in the meadow. Ryan and Emily cleared truckload after truckload …

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By 7;35 Monday 15 June I had looked out my bathroom window to see a pair of grackles mating in front of the bird feeder and stepped out on the porch to catch the first romps of a fawn. The Scrooge in me said, “damn, more of them!” but as a patroness of the meadow, I also had to admit to the privilege of such witnessing.

The fawn was adorable — all covered in speckles and testing its legs by racing around in wide circles. Its mother was trying to catch up with it to finish licking off the amniotic sac. Cute but not cute enough to want deer around.

Advice on eliminating or at least substantially reducing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is to cull the deer population by 90%. Erring on the conservative side, which would not be my preference, would cull this pack who appeared in April back to three. Even that would be a relief. In a restructured, post-covid world, I’d love to see resources spent on such a project. It would pay for itself I’m sure in the savings for the medical treatments and the reduced disabilities, which can be life-long, resulting from the disease. But here are photos of the other reason I could do with fewer deer: the chomping they do on plants. Images from before deer browse and after.

In the returning or emerging from hibernation category, I recently had my first good look (even if the photo isn’t) from that same bathroom window at the groundhog. My neighbors lent me their very large have-a-heart trap when I had evidence he was out of hibernation even if I hadn’t yet seen him. That was a couple of months ago. I pondered briefly what I would do once I had the groundhog in the trap, but decided those odds were so long that I could postpone giving that any thought. How right I was. Although last year this groundhog eat large helpings of kale from the veggie garden, he did not fall for kale as bait when in the trap. He is supposed to love cantaloupe as well. Not this one. My success with the trap was in causing the groundhog to move from under the folly back to his previous haunt under the kayaks. He’s still a free groundhog.

In the long interval of not catching him, he’s had time to break into the garden. So far he hasn’t. Scott finished re-enforcing the perimeter fence with 4-foot quarter-inch hardware cloth buried 2 feet. If this is the new deal: groundhog eats clover flowers in the grass but nothing in the veggie garden, I can return the trap to my neighbors and congratulate myself for not wasting time wondering what to do with a captured animal.

Other returners include the Baltimore orioles and the Ruby-throated hummingbirds who came back on schedule. And while I can’t count bees are returning, I unpacked a nuc of Carnolian bees into a hive on Monday. The nuc with its five busy frames of bees and a marked queen (blue dot) is henceforth the way I will replenish my bee yard. My previous method of renewing a hive by buying a package of bees is history.

Baltimore orioles at feeder

In the missing category — and this is serious — are the monarchs who have not returned. In past years, they have come back sometime in the first 2 weeks of June. Last year they were here on Flag Day. The milkweed is ready for them, and this year’s crop is a good one. I can’t imagine what a loss it will be if they don’t arrive. The privilege of monitoring this old field will be drastically diminished. More importantly, what does this foretell of the crisis facing the Monarch population? I’ll trade deer for the Monarchs.

I started my walk down the road an hour and 15 minutes after the solstice. An eighth of a mile along the moon was high enough to see. It was as big as I remember seeing a moon (it’s supposed to be 15% bigger). It’s intense glow (it’s supposed to be 30% brighter) made it seem even bigger. A Great horned owl might have spotted it too; unless he was just calling from the tree with the Osprey nest because it was dusk. In fact, lots of birds were calling with their final messages of the day and maybe their bellies full of worms.

This has been a super year for viewing super moons right from my stoop. I reported here on the super moon eclipse in January that took a path that conveniently allowed me to follow it from the mud room landing. I managed only to notice how white the meadow was in February so awash with moon light that I had to go to go outside to make sure it had not snowed. Tonight’s moon followed me up and down the road as it climbed, lost some of it’s yellow and, ironically, both filled out to its fullest and shrank.

My photos will show you that you had to be here to fully experience this and that I don’t know how to take photographs of glowing objects in low light.

Not surprisingly, the National Geographic has better photos than mine — though they aren’t of this Worm moon — and a clear explanation of the moon’s orbit. Two facts about this moon struck me. First, the moon is only 223,309 miles away. I have easily flown that many miles just as an adult. Maybe people are not crazy to think that soon we’ll be invading. Second, the next time a super moon will rise this close to the equinox, 19 years from now, I might not be around to see it just as I hope not to be around for non-astronauts landing on the moon.

The full moon of March apparently is called the Worm moon because the sun has warmed the earth enough for worms to begin moving around, feeding birds including American robins, who dutifully have begun to return. The Farmer’s Almanac says that native Americans called the March full moon the Crow moon. They were on the something: the crows came back about a week ago along with the FOY Red-winged black birds, a New Englander’s real harbinger of spring.

The crocuses and the daffodils also attest to the warming earth and the longer day. These popped out of the ground earlier this month. The skunk cabbage appeared on the 1st. Who needs iCal. Certainly not our orb or the flora and fauna.

 

 

 

 

Since I can’t manage to mount a little hunting camera I bought over a year ago, I have to use fresh snow to record traffic through the yard at night. It works pretty well when the tracks clearly resemble the mud prints in the Animal Tracks of New England book I use, and when I apply Occam’s razor.

We nearly got through the winter without snow, but on 13 February, we had enough to find tracks.

Raccoon tracks

Deer tracks

See the clear tracks of a raccoon and deer in the photos.

The raccoon tracks appeared around the house before heading into the field; the deer tracks were down at the bottom of the field near the blueberry bushes.

Deer tracks, of course, are unmistakable, but I was also catching sightings of a family of three deer nearer the house and even in daylight. They would hang out grazing in the early morning beyond the guest house and around the compost pile before cutting across the field.

I got a photo of each of them but only post two. Not wanting the area around the guest house to become part of their regular route, I sprayed there with Deer Out. That seems to have worked well. I have not seen them there or anywhere of late.

 

Parent deer

Baby deer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 28 February we had more snow. Before I could get out to check for new tracks, I saw what looked like a fisher cat or maybe a mink. He came out of the woods by the pond at the bottom of the field. I grabbed my bins for a closer look and, after a safe interval of time, my boots and camera. This snow was very wet and I did not get a good impression. I also could not match the footprint to either fisher or mink. For one thing, the impression this animal left was smaller.

Fisher really Oscar

Fisher in mud from Animal Tracks

Mid afternoon today, 17 March, I looked out the kitchen window and saw what I realized was the same animal. But this was Oscar, the neighbor’s cat. He not been around for months maybe because his master and mistress have put their house on the market and even, I thought, moved away. Certainly Oscar had retreated from my concerns. Yet today there was no denying that Oscar was back. I could see his white paws even if I could not see his white bib. And yes, he must have been my fisher or mink. Think horses, not zebras.

Just this afternoon I caught a glimpse of an Eastern bluebird and his mate. When they are here in March, there is a chance that they have chosen one of my bird houses as a nesting spot. But they were in the part of the field that Oscar had just been prowling. Please find a buyer for Oscar’s house! The bluebirds join me in this fervent hope.

 

Each type of bird feeder had a different way of becoming frozen shut after the heavy rains of yesterday and the single digit (that’s right 1) degree of temperature this morning.

Rhode Island birders have reported sightings of the Baltimore Oriole in the past few days. I will put out a new feeder Charlotte gave me for my birthday that dangles a piece of fruit to see whether any are around here after we get back to higher temperatures.

The Evening Grosbeak never honored my feeders this fall with a visit — at least not that I spied. in other places this fall, they were almost common. This would be a life bird for me, so I am disappointed.

More disappointment may be in store if the Eastern bluebirds again decide not to nest in my boxes. January is the month when a male will venture by on a house hunting expedition. Scott hung a nesting box on each of the poles in the meadow, so our houses are open. They won’t go empty: Tree Swallows, Carolina Wrens and the dreaded House Sparrows will use them no matter what.

My only disappointment with the lunar eclipse last night was my inability to capture it in a photo. It was spectacular and easy to monitor from the mud room deck. Despite the rapidly falling temperature, I could step outside in my nightgown and slippers every 15 minutes till the Earth’s shadow turned it red at 23;45, and coppery at 00:15. The speck about in the middle of the photo is the moon. You can see how good my viewing spot was.

lunar eclipse

Super Blood Wolf Moon from the mud room deck. A prize to anyone who can find it

 

 

It’s a busy day today — the second full day of Passover, Easter and April Fool’s Day — to start the first full month of spring. Looking ahead, on the 4th, Martin Luther King will have been dead 50 years. On the 15th, Abe Lincoln will have been dead 153 years. And on the 11th, Edward Wightman will have been dead 406 years. Not one of them died of natural causes. Assassins bullets, I need not say, took the first two. The last burning at the stake in England for heresy took the last, my ancestor.

The cruelest month opened with a brief shower that finished before I could get through the Times. My Easter bonnet for my daily walk down the road was not a rain hood but a grey fleece ear warmer. It may be 50 degrees, however a wind was lowering the feels-like factor quite a bit. The general direction of the wind has shifted, as is appropriate for the season, to originate in the south(west) causing a pattern of cold out, warm home that is the reverse of winter walks — a harbinger of hot out, hot home.

But before leapfrogging to summer, here’s some record keeping of late winter. On 5 March, the Red-winged Blackbirds announced their return with their welcome but harsh gurgle. Two weeks later, migratory American Robins were doing their run-run-run-stop-cock the head-peck the ground routine all over the yard. About the same time I had my first conversation of the year with a White-throated Sparrow:”Oh Sam pee peebody peebody” we took turns saying to each other several times. Down the road at 800 in a stand of spruces with an understory of green briar bramble, an Eastern Towhee scolds me whenever I pass to “drink my tea, tea, tea.” I trust my Towhee will return soon.

The Eastern Phoebes should be back, but I haven’t heard or seen them yet. The male will arrive first. When his mate gets here, they’ll take up residence somewhere in the electricity-producing infrastructure, either between the rafters and the PV panels in the folly or between the meter-that-runs-backwards and the north wall of the guest house. I don’t remove the nest I can reach because they seem willing to reuse it. The House Sparrows are here again. Is that why the Eastern Bluebird has not taken up residence in a nest box? Bluebirds have been reported elsewhere nearby for several weeks so I fear they just don’t find Kennel House homey enough.

Last season I had five pairs of Northern Cardinals but a female died (was eaten maybe but was not burned at the stake) in the fall. I have seen four males together at the feeders but not five. I might be down a pair going into the mating season.

The spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are chirping from the pond as of Wednesday. (Is crucifer related to crucifixion?) The ground hog seems to have moved house from under the canoe to under the large brush compost pile. The entrance to the new house is easily accessible for a have-a-heart trap. But suppose I caught him, what then (the assassin’s bullet)?

Ground Hog hole

The crocuses and the daffodils in the lee of the house are in bloom. An Italian honey bee was taking pollen from the crocuses as I was trying to take a photo only to realize that my battery had just died. That’s likely a honey bee of mine from a generation that escaped my careless beekeeping. I popped the inner cover off one of my hives (no tool needed); the smell of honey wafted up. Clearly my hives didn’t starve, but no bees emerged to check on what I was doing. Maybe they could not rotate to the honey in the long cold.

For the record, I pruned the blueberry bushes — the cultivars — today before it SNOWS later this evening! Historical records say it can snow here until the 10th.

We abide by the laws of nature around here so come May Day, there will be other deaths, timely and otherwise, more first-of-year (FOY) bird sightings and early season plant awakenings to recount from this first full month of spring. There is the fate of the ground hog to consider as well. But if past years predict, I’ll be counting how many pups were in the litter and survived the first moth of spring.

A flock of birds, likely robins, devoured the winterberries. I missed the feeding frenzy this year. with its loud, chaotic soundtrack. The berries are said to have a higher nutrient value after a hard freeze. We’ve had plenty of those, so I assume the birds got a big boost from the berries. They certainly stripped the bushes clean.

Small-waisted red cedar

Deer have browsed an even smaller waist into the red cedar at the edge of the meadow. The “Deer Out” I sprayed in the fall apparently was not a deterrent or maybe the deer have been especially hungry this season. I am grateful they have left the rhodies along the road intact.

A great horned owl called all night on Valentine’s eve. I heard him while I was snuggled up in my reading nook before bed, the couple of times I awoke during the night and again in the light of early dawn. If he was calling a mate, he got no answer. He’s moved out of hearing distance the past few nights, but I know I’m living in his territory.

I love the rufous hue of little bluestem in winter. Its fuzzy flowers catch the sunlight in a magical way. The tan switchgrass is a blah color, although its inflorescence–the highest in the field now as in summer–is majestic. The broome sedge has more red than switchgrass and less little bluestem, but it’s feathery stalks make up for the fact that its a lousy forage plant. Unlike the winterberries and the cedar, no one’s eating it anyway.

Finally, the days are getting longer. The sun rose today at 6:32 and set at 17:22. The arc it takes through the sky is still low to the horizon making long shadows, even at noon.

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.