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It was a very white start to Martin Luther King Day here at the Havens.  When I awoke, it was snowing, but the precipitation has stopped for now.   There was no water aerobics this morning, and I am not really excited about getting out on the roads.  While I cut my “driving teeth” in the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado; and then developed them experiencing the roads of Alaska, I still stay off the roads if I don’t have to go out when the weather is like this.

Around here people get way excited when a couple of inches of snow fall and there is a light rime of ice on the roadways, conditions that would make a seasoned Alaskan or Colorado mountain driver simply slow down a bit.  Around here, they close school and the weather people have regular conniptions about how dangerous it all is.  I have no qualms about my ability to negotiate the highways here in the Ozarks.  It is the REST of the drivers that give me pause.  They are so unpredictable I am reluctant to put myself in their vicinity.  Many of them seem to believe that since they have four wheel drive they can still drive over the speed limit and also stop on a dime if they need to. (She shakes her head…)

So I am home, and wondering if I will have any clients this afternoon.  There are three scheduled, whether they will show up is another question entirely.  It makes earning a living very unpredictable.

Meanwhile, the view from my kitchen window is splendid.  The little birds surely did appreciate me filling the feeders this morning.  There was a huge crowd of them at breakfast time.  The hawk flew through and scattered them, afterwards the yard was devoid of birds (and squirrels) for a good half hour.   I did not go out and investigate, but usually that means that the Cooper’s hawk was able to secure her breakfast.  She seems to view the pond area as her dining room.

The petite prairie is looking quite fine, as you can see from my opening photo above.  I love to go out there and inspect the environs after a few hours of no snow fall.  That is when it becomes evident just how important that cover is to the residents of the yard.

There was a small flock of cardinals hanging around after the hawk scare ebbed.   Here is a shot of them I took from the porch.

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That is not all of them, several of them were availing themselves of the sunflower seeds while I was taking these images.

There are more of them in that bush than meets the casual eye.  Here is a closer shot of the same group.

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Aside from the trio of juncos there is one male cardinal and four females sharing this bush.

The male is very suspicious of me.  Even though I was a good 30 meters away when I took this shot, his demeanor tells me “I know you are there and you are probably up to no good.”

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“Just stay on your porch and everyone will be happy.”

 

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We spent a few days down near Corpus Christi, Texas, visiting the Padre Island National Seashore.  It is a truly magical place, a 60 mile long beach you can drive on at low tide when the sand is packed.  This is the view looking south at about mile 15.

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It is a fantastic place to walk next to the water and pick shells up.  Unlike many of our national parks, at Padre Island you are allowed to collect shells, no more than five gallons a day.  They must not have anything living in them, including hermit crabs.

It is also an amazing place to watch birds.   While we were down there I saw a golden eagle sail over the dunes one morning.   There were many northern harriers, red tailed hawks, and peregrine falcons hanging around.  This area is one of the places they winter over.   North of the Island is the place where the whooping cranes winter over.  Many sandhill cranes are also in the area.

The week we were there it got so cold that there were a two mornings when all the shore birds had departed for warmer weather.   There were not even any sea gulls, which seemed eerie.

We did see some pelicans, however.   Mostly they were not interested in flying.  The fish had all gone very deep and it wasn’t worth the effort to try to fish.

There were also quite a few grey herons that stuck around.   One day it was quite windy, and I caught a shot of this gentleman with his feathers ruffled.

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A couple of days later, the wind had died down but it was still very cold.   One of his brethren was posed heroically against the skyline.

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My favorite thing to do was wake up just at dawn and watch the sunrise.  Then take off for a couple of miles on the beach before breakfast.   This was possible because low tide was happening right around dawn during the period we were there.   At high tide, there is no beach to walk on.

There were some grand sunrises.

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That day, when I turned around the gibbous moon was smiling at me.

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The next day we had another fine sunrise.

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That day, the sun was kissing the waves beautifully.

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I love the ocean.   Jim and I both miss living next to it.

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freezing rain

It has been incredibly dry here in the Ozarks starting in July.  We did get a bit of rain in late August, and little dribs and drabs here and there.  But along about November the weatherpeople started mentioning that we had entered a drought situation.

A few days ago, we were teased by a storm that flew by and dropped a whole half inch of rain in about 10 minutes, and a few days later we were graced with 2 tenths of an inch.  Not enough to help.

I found myself saying out loud one day as I was walking the dog in the desiccated woods, “Man oh man, we need some rain bad!  I want to see water falling from the sky here, and I don’t care if it is rain, sleet or snow.  I’ll even take freezing rain at this point.”

Someone must have been listening.   While the quantities are not really enough to be a drought breaker, at least we got some water from the sky.

First it rained all afternoon and most of the evening.  Of course it chose to do this on the day of our Solstice party, which meant that no one really wanted to stand out by the fire…  There was a certain amount of in and out during the party even so, as it became very warm and people went outside for relief.   Also, we had the sauna fired up so some people were going out there to use it and then coming back in.

There was a certain amount of mud on the floor after the party.  No big deal, it is gone now.

Happily, the temperature did not drop into the range where rain turns to freezing rain until long after all my guests had returned home.   And then even later in the night the freezing rain changed to snow.  We are extremely grateful that the ice accumulation was just a smidgen, not enough to break branches and interfere with power transmission lines.

There is a certain beauty in these weather phenomena.  We had a magical sunset scene last night.

And this morning a cardinal decorated the sand cherry for a fleeting moment.

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We are getting some badly needed rain.  It has been threatening all morning, flashing and muttering under its breath, teasing us with brief sprinkles.

The radar shows that all of this activity is moving along to the south, which is odd because most of the lightning and clouds I am looking at are to the north of me.  At any rate, I am glad it is raining.   We need for the ground to be nicely wet and more rain promised in order to distribute the beneficial nematodes that are reputed to dine on Japanese beetle grubs.  With a good rain under our belt, and more promised, we can order the supplier to ship them.  With any luck, the weather will cooperate and keep the ground nice and wet after they are applied.

I am happy that there is a storm, Impy is NOT.   I don’t know what horrible trauma happened to him in his kittenhood, but he is terrified of thunder and slinks off full speed ahead for the nearest closet as soon as the first distant rumble occurs.  This morning has been just terrible for him.  With the sporadic nature of this storm, there have been periods of calm in between the heavenly percussion performance long enough for him to stick his whiskers out.   Inevitably, as soon as he is bold enough to exit his sanctuary, a random clap of thunder will send him scurrying back under cover.

We have hypothesized that Impy can understand the weatherman and has listened to all the instructions regarding what to do to be safe in a stormy situation.   If you don’t have a shelter to move into, you should stay in an interior room (preferably with no windows) and put a pillow over your head.  When you hear thunder, you should keep yourself as close to the ground as possible while you move to shelter to minimize the danger of being struck by lightning.   And for God’s sake, don’t go stand under a tree.

Our local YMCA is so careful about lightning danger that they clear the pool if there is any within a few miles of us.   Consequently, this morning our water aerobics class was only 15 minutes long.

I have been surfing the interwebs excessively, so I finally decided I ought to get something worthwhile done instead of endlessly posting on facebook.  I made the bed, and cleaned the catboxes.   I did the dishes, and I am contemplating the idea of vacuuming.   I am pretty sure I can spend enough time on my blog that I simply won’t have time to do that chore before I have to leave for my mammogram.

While I was washing the dishes the storm finally blew into our area and produced a measurable amount of rain.   I was musing as I scrubbed my pots about how one would depict the skies opening up as a response to a prompt of “Open” on an the Art Journal Adventure.   The view out my window captivated me as I worked and pondered.  The finches are busy at  the feeder, they don’t care it is raining and neither do the squirrels, who use their tails as easily as an umbrella as they do a sunshade or blanket.

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The rain will be good for the garden too.  The peas are about an inch tall, and the lettuce that we tended all winter is going gangbusters.   I heartily endorse the use of cold frames in this climate.   We ate beautiful lettuce all winter.

So as I allowed this train of thought to pass through the station of my mind, a huge ground strike flashed down just to the northeast.

I was standing at the window, scrubbing a metal pot with my hands in running water, and I recalled the wisdom that says you can get a pretty bad shock if lightning strikes near your water line when you have your hands in running water.   Suddenly I thought “If that bolt had struck the house and electrocuted me where I stood, I suppose my last thought would have been ‘Impy was right’.”

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I’m sure that is not the longest title ever put on an ariticle, but I’m sure it is right up there.  We have been working very hard getting the yard in shape.   It won’t be long now before we will have to mow the lawns.  The peas are up and looking very nice.

There is a LOT of work to do around here.   Yesterday I worked on the East Prairie; cleaned out the last of the branches of last year’s tiny white asters.   Do not be fooled by that name, the flowers are tiny but the plants can be absolutely rampant.   They got about 5 feet tall last summer, since they had no competition except for the poke weed and some wild lettuce named fireweed (for some arcane reason).

Let me just say that in my head, fireweed is that amazing magenta flower that grows all over the Alaska Interior, not this 6 foot tall Ozarks giant that has insignificant flowers that the pollinators adore.

Anyway, I got that cleaned up and then we went out to dinner, which was scrumptious.   After we got home it was a dead calm so we burned the little brush pile out in the savanna.  That has been there about a year and a half, ever since I beat a path through the forsythia thicket so I could work on removing elm sprouts.

Today I cleaned up the garden area around the sauna.  Now that has turned into quite the place.  My job, now that all the forbs have gotten established, is to keep the honeysuckle and the elm trees from moving in.  It blooms all summer with plants I collected seeds from while walking the dog.   When I first planted this garden, I put some beautiful day lilies in there, but now that it has turned into a micro prairie, the day lilies have a lot of competition.  They bloom, but it is a struggle.  The little birds love this garden.

After I got that done, I decided to have a beer and see if I could see any birds at the pond.  I was rewarded by a gold finch, who came down to the waterfall for a drink.

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He didn’t stay very long.   I waited for a while, and Jim came to join me.   We sat for a while, and all of a sudden a junco dropped by.   This little bird knew darn well we were there, and did not come down to drink.  It took a while for me to capture him looking in our direction.  It is not safe for little birds, you know, and he was trying to look in all directions at once.

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Then I went off for mosquito dunks, and on my way back to the pond I sort of wandered around looking at the yard.

There are about five million violet seedlings in my path, something for future reference.  They are invisible in this shot, which is all about the grape hyacinths and the dragon’s teeth.

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Other than that, I think it is looking pretty special.   I wandered past the Green Man on my way to the pond.   I can actually see him this time of year.  The bittersweet vine really fills in.  Right now it is barely sprouting.

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Right behind him is the pond.   While I was getting this shot, there were a grackle and a robin in the pond taking a bath.  By the time I got around the corner, the grackle was done and had vacated the area.

The robin was very wet.

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He sat there for several minutes as I stood frozen on the opposite side of the pond from him.  After a while, he decided that he was not sufficiently bathed, and so he hopped back into the pool.

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Well.  That’s better.

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He is even more wet.

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But , apparently, not wet enough.   Back in he went for another splash.

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We have a pretty good sized pile of prunings from the yard, so if the wind calms down at sunset we shall have an Equinoctical bonfire.  That will be nice.

Happy Spring!

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Well, I have been way from the blog for far too long.  It is amazing what a profound effect having people make unkind comments has, it is like being burned by a hot stove and never wanting to approach it again.  I have decided that cruel and unstable people do not get to control me.

A few days ago we noticed that the number of small birds in our yards seems to have increased radically, not quite exponentially.   We hang two big feeders, each will hold 3 quarts of black oil sunflower seeds.  All winter, we had to fill them about every three days.   All of a sudden, they are being emptied in one 24 hour period.

Also, I noticed that the number of birds hopping around on the ground and in the trees and shrubs seems to have increased from lots to dozens and dozens.   The elm trees are blooming, and there are finches all over them, eating the elm seeds.  (My hope is that they eat ALL of them, as every year I have to weed hundreds of volunteer elm trees out of my gardens.

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What is going on?

Well, the fact is we have a housing crisis for small birds in the neighborhood.   There is a place about 400 or 500 feet from here where there are new owners.   Now granted, the property they bought was very overgrown, and they have every right to clear the elms and massive quantities of grape vines, virginia creeper and other stuff that has slowly inched its way towards their house.   They probably are going to replant once the area is cleaned up, sort of like what we have done on our east property line.

But at the moment, there are hundreds of little finches, sparrows, wrens, juncos and other birds that like dense woodsy shrubs who have summarily been evicted from their homes without warning.  They have found their way here and have found the proprietors to be willing to provide their needs.

And so, The Havens earns its name once again.  A population in crisis has found a place with shelther and food to get them by.

 

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Somehow, to me the title of this post sounds like a fine title for a children’s book.   It would be a sort of “Goodnight Moon,” only about birds.

A few days ago I was gazing out my bathroom window at the Hosta Dell, as I am wont to do.   It is a view that particularly pleases me.  These shots were taken several years ago, but it looks much like this now, although the hostas have really filled in.

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Note the bird house on the left post of the pergola.   That is a wren house, and there is a pair of wrens that has “owned” it for several years.

Part of the reason I like to look out the bathroom window is I can watch and listen to the goings on without having my presence disturb the tenants.   It is quite amusing. The redbud on the other side of the fence is the vantage point where the male wren proclaims his territory.   The pergola and shrubs nearby are great hunting grounds for all sorts of bugs, as is the Hosta Dell itself.

A few days ago I heard all sorts of commotion going on out there, so I took a peek and discovered that the rock ridge has attracted a resident, an Eastern Chipmunk.   Although I have no idea what the sex of this rodent is, I shall refer to it as “he” for the purposes of this story.

Said chipmunk was over near the fence where there are rail road ties that keep the gravel of the rock garden from migrating under the fence and into the front yard.   The ties are pretty old and decrepit, and have lots of rot in the center, places where maple seeds and other edibles tend to collect.   So he was investigating the possibilities for breakfast and suffering through a proper dressing down from the Papa wren, who was bouncing along the top of the fence and generally making his displeasure known in no uncertain terms.

This intrigued me, as I could not see what danger a chipmunk could possibly pose to the wren family.   My amazement grew as I observed the wren take a couple of dive bomb runs at the chipmunk’s head.   He took cover in a crack in the railroad tie, and I settled in to watch the proceedings.   The wren was not deceived by the disappearance of the chipmunk, and sat on the fence proclaiming “You’re not fooling anyone, you know!”  Eventually the chipmunk stuck his head out and began looking for maple seeds, an activity I heartily endorse.  The more he eats the less there will be sprouting in my garden.  I wish he would eat cherry pits.

The wren was having none of it, however, and once again flew down intrepidly and pecked the hapless chipmunk on the head.   He gave up on breakfast and dashed across the rock garden to his front door, pursued by the wren.

For the life of me, I could not understand what was the big deal about the chipmunk.  It wasn’t a cat, or anything I perceived as predatory.   Curious, I repaired to Google and looked up chipmunks.   Suddenly it all became clear.   The chipmunk, eater of seeds and other vegetarian sorts of things, is not so innocent.   It turns out they are opportunistic predators and will eat bird eggs and fledglings if they are convenient.   They have been observed to climb trees to get to nests of eggs.

Suddenly the wren’s attitude did not seem quite so odd.   The wren is a very small bird, and the fledglings would make a tasty morsel for  a hungry chipmunk.

Wrens ARE very small, and one year I observed a blue jay attempting to eat a freshly fledged wrenlet.   It was only because I intervened and liberated the chick from the jaws of death (literally) that his nefarious plan was foiled.

I suppose this post could be entitled “Wrens do not like much of anybody” as pretty much everyone is a potential predator when you are that small.  I have been keeping my eye on the wrens for a couple of weeks.  I have been listening to the chicks get louder and more demanding as the days go by, and I was hoping to catch the fledging.

Today was the magic day:  They fledged this afternoon.   No wonder it was so loud in that bird box.   The proud wren parents managed to raise up FIVE little wrens.   I discovered them in the snowball bush at the far end of the stroll garden (far from where the chipmunk lives!).   All five of them were grouped in a nice organized troop on one branch.  Of course I did not have my camera, so I ran to get it.

Mama wren is no dummy.   She saw me looking at her kids and knew the jig was up.   By the time I got back to the location with the camera, she had started marshaling them in a different direction.   There were still three in the snowball bush, but they were moving away fast, urgently directed towards safety by their mama.   However, I did manage to get a great shot of one of them in the snowball bush.

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One of his siblings had ensconced itself in the clematis.

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Another one was in the beach plum bush, but that picture was very blurry due to the fact that the wind was blowing and the little bird was not still enough for a good shot in the shadows.

But another one of the chicks got very excited by the whole thing and flew over the fence into the forsythia by the pond.   Immediately the parents went ballistic, telling it that it was too far away and it should just get it’s little butt back over to the group.   Obediently, he returned from his foray and perched on the fence, where I got a delightful portrait.   “What are you looking at?”  he seems to be saying.  “My mother told me not to associate with strangers, you should go away.”

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The mother wren seconded his sentiments, emphatically.   So I left them to it.

In other news, the second round of robin babies have hit the ground.   I had a new heuchera to plant, and I had sat the pot out under the pergola to await my attentions while I gave a couple of massages.   When I returned to my chore, I reached down to grab the pot and discovered that while I was gone it had been graced with an inhabitant.  Again, I ran off for the camera.   Can you see it?

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How about now?

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That bird child was the noisiest little bugger!   I scooped him up to put him on the spirea bush while I dealt with transplanting the heuchera, and the screeching that the little bird put up was impressive.

“I’m being molested, kidnapped, help! help! help!”  was the burden of his extremely loud complaints.

I expected his parents to come to his aid, but what I did not expect was every male robin in the yard.  They ALL came over and started yelling at me.   There were at least five male robins, a female (probably the baby’s mother).  Even more surprising was that  a gold finch and both wrens gave me what for right along with the robins.  Avian solidarity, I guess.

I put my head down and planted my plant, and then got the heck out of Dodge while my eyes were still in my head.

Life at The Havens is never dull!

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