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Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

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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We had our roof replaced and the house sided last month.  Looks pretty good now, like a brand new house outside.   Too bad the inside does not match…  I definitely need new floor treatments.

However, during the course of the work, the siding guys simply had to walk next to the house, which involved walking in the garden on the north side.  This garden mostly consists of hostas, with a few hellebores and bleeding hearts thrown in.   It started out as a real shade garden with several varieties of shade lovers in it, but over the years the less hardy plants died out.

Truth to tell, some of the original plantings, which I established with great forethought, turned out to be unwise choices.   One of those, notably, was the lily of the valley, which was summarily evicted after I discovered it busily strangling the hostas nearest to it.   The violets that I was so sure would look very nice along the house turned out to be a noxious weed and empire builders.   I have been trying to eradicate them for some time, and if I live long enough I may eventually succeed.

But I digress.   I decided that the north border needed to be revamped.  To that end, I removed all the rocks I had placed next to the house, leveled out the area and edged it with some pound-in edging.   The rocks got thrown into a pile over near the pergola.   After the edging was in place, I lined the rock border right next to the house with black plastic.   The idea is to have a strip of decorative rock between the house and the garden so that I do not have plants right up against the house, in the interest of proper air circulation.

It has taken me about a week to get ready to put my rocks back.   These are mostly very cool rocks that I have brought home from various gravel bars.   While I was doing the prep work, though, behind my back the rock pile became habitat.  I was not particularly surprised to find pill bugs and centipedes living there when I started moving the pile.   The big wolf spider also did not seem very out of place.

But this fellow surprised me!

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He (or she — I’m not good at sexing amphibians), had taken up residence under the pile of rocks and wished sincerely that I had not moved them.

I did pick the little fellow up, because I certainly did not wish to hurt him during my job.

As you can see with the scale of my glove added, this is a very small being indeed.  I think this may be the eft stage of the red spotted newt.  This is very interesting, because for a long time I have been aware of having what I referred to as salamanders living in the pond.  It turns out that the red spotted newt has an aquatic stage, and the guys in the pond are more than likely the red spotted newt in that aquatic stage.  This little fellow has found its way out of the pond to transform to its terrestrial stage.

I took it over to the rain garden, which seemed like a good place to relocate it out of harms way.

Indeed, it found the location satisfactory, and crawled back in and under the rocks there.

I am happy to find yet another individual creature that appreciates the habitat we have created here at the Havens.  It is really very exciting!

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A long held dream of mine has finally come to fruition.

Of course, Jim and I have always had compost piles.  The first one was a very informal affair out at the back corner of the garden I created in San Francisco.   When Jim got transferred and we moved to Bremerton, Washington, we loaded that compost pile into a 33 gallon garbage can and transported it with us.   I could not bear to leave it behind, because it contained the remains of all the bouquets that Jim had sent me during his year long deployment to the Middle East.

This may be the only compost pile on record that was moved across state lines due to sentimental reasons.

When we moved to the Havens location, almost the first thing Jim built was a series of bins in which to make compost.   The compost area was always a busy spot, and quite often it was unlovely.

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There are six bins for compost, and then the bench area at the end which was where we  store tools, and all sorts of things too numerous to mention.  As you can see in this picture, there is a large pile of stuff that needs to dry enough to be run through the compost grinder, which is the tool underneath the black rubber cover.   To the left you see two compost tumblers which are useful if you don’t have a lot of compost to make.   With two acres, we generate a lot of material; much more than those sweet little tumblers can manage.

Here is a shot of the bins in action.

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The six bins were just lovely for about a year and a half.   Then the row of elm trees behind them in the picture discovered them.   It became a trial to turn the compost  as it was making due to the invasion of elm roots.   Jim poured shallow concrete floors in a fruitless attempt to discourage the elms.   This worked for about five minutes, after which the elms discovered they could just come up over the edge of the concrete and still invade the compost.

We moved operations off to the back of the property for a while, building the compost piles out on sheets of left over pond liner and/or black plastic.   The tree roots more or less stayed out, but the bermuda grass  would creep over the edge of what ever barrier we put down.   And I can tell you that neither of those substances stood up to pitch fork tines worth a damn, and so it wasn’t long before the tree roots would find a way into the compost piles through the convenient rents in the base.

I longed for a compost area like they have at the Missouri Botanical Garden, with concrete floors, walls to push against and a front end loader to turn the piles.

Finally, after a certain amount of negotiation as to size and location, we decided to have a concrete pad poured upon which we could pile compost.   We desired it to be done by professionals so that it would have a little slant and water would drain off, but not too fast.   Also, hopefully, if a contractor and his men did it, the surface would be smooth enough to easily turn the piles.

This would have been so much more easily accomplished if it had not started raining a couple of weeks ago, making the idea of bringing a redimix truck into the backyard a potential nightmare of ruts and stuck trucks.  So we had to wait for the weather, and the contractor got the flu, so we had to wait for him to get well.

A couple of days ago, all the stars came into alignment and the waiting forms and wire reinforcement received concrete.   It was polished and smoothed, and now, voila!

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I should have taken a picture of the old bins, too.   They have been cleaned and organized and are now being used as storage for the various bird annoying devices we have created to keep the lovely avian tenants of the place out of the apples and strawberries.   Also, the tools have been organized and it all looks just very nice.   Another day.

The forms are gone now, and in a couple of days the concrete will have cured enough that I can move the waiting piles that are now out by the root cellar onto the pad.   I am very excited!

So, of course, there was some amusement to be had while the concrete was being poured and finished.

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This is a view of the corner of the pad during the time while it was still wet and being finished.   If you look very closely, you will see a little black speck on the edge of the concrete right about the middle of the picture.

This is what it is.

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This is a mud dauber wasp.   They are always looking for wet mud with which to build their nests.   If they can’t find mud, they pick up dirt and take it somewhere there is moisture and create mud.   Apparently, this wet concrete was the Best Mud Ever, because the whole time the pad was curing, as long as it was wet enough to pick up concrete, those little wasps were busy making beautiful little balls of concrete and flying off with it to their building site.

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I really like this shot, because just above the wasp you can see the area where she collected her last ball of “mud”.  That is the mark of her jaws in the concrete.  I tried to follow her to her nest so I could see her impregnable concrete reinforced nest, but I lost sight of her.   I think she was building inside the place where the soffit of the sauna is loose.

The contractor and his workers were fairly amused by the fact that I was taking pictures of the wasps and chasing them around.   But these guys have been here before.  They were the ones who fixed the beams under the house, and when they found the big black snake wrapped around the hot water line, were amazed that the housewife/owner was very concerned that they NOT hurt the snake.   So they already know I am odd.

I compounded my oddness by turning my attention from the busy mud daubers to the goldenrod by the sauna, which was being used by very happy bees.   This one has an impressive collection of pollen on her back legs.

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In other news, the Monarch butterflies are migrating through right now.   I find them on my asters, and they seem to like the sedums too.

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I wish them happy trails and plenty of food plants on their journey to Mexico.

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Every once in a while the phrase “It’s like Grand Central Station around here” passes my lips.  There was a while, back when the economy crashed, when it was more like a crossroads in  the middle of nowhere, but those times have passed.

Last week really seemed to epitomize the sort of busy-ness that brings that  feeling to the fore.   As fearless readers of this blog are aware, we are in the midst of getting our place prepared for installation of a solar array.   There is a seemingly infinite regression in jobs like this.   The very first thing we had to do was move the big rocks out of the terraces on the root cellar.   That was so we could have the mountain range dirt pile placed on it.    Before the dirt could be moved, we had to buy and install landscape retaining bricks so the dirt would stay where we wanted it to.   And so forth and so on.

The next part of the job is to get Jim’s shop arranged in such a way that the inverters (and ultimately our back-up batteries) will have a safe, secure and weather proof spot to live.    Over the years, the barn has begun to severely show its age, and Jim’s shop was far from being any of those things.   In point of fact, last year the door of the shop devolved into such decrepitude that it could not even be closed, much less bear any resemblance to an actual door.  At any rate, we have people working to remedy the situation.

The shop has been radically changed.    This is how it looked before Jim started cleaning it out.

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Outside the barn, once the clearing up was begun, looked like this.  Notice the “door”.

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After all the gear and detritus was cleared out, the workers came it and removed the sheetrock and 1/2″ styrofoam board insulation from the outside walls and ceiling.   At that point it became obvious that the previous owners’ idea that cardboard and 1/2″ masonite would be adequate barriers to keep varmints out of the space between the floor of the barn loft and the ceiling of the shop area was ridiculous.   As our poor workmen began to tear down the interior, they were showered with sticks, nuts, sunflower seeds, straw, and sundry bird and rodent leavings.   The squirrels and starlings and rats and who knows what else had found that six inch space to be a delightful place to live.

At any rate, after deconstruction and cleaning, the space looks like this.

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Outside, the barn looks like this now.

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Right now we are waiting for the electrician to come and do his magic.   When he is done, there will be proper wiring in the shop, including 220V and several circuits WITH circuit breakers.   Additionally, the origin of the  electrical service to the barn out by the meter pole will also have a circuit breaker box and a couple of proper outlets so we can run our pool and concrete mixer in more safety.   Granted, that box “does” have fuses, but we would like something more updated.  After the electrician, the insulation contractor will do his thing.   Then the actual windows, doors and sheetrock can be installed.

So, in addition to having workers in and out of the yard and barn, we have electricians and insulation contractors knocking at the front door so they can make their measurements and estimates.   Of course, my regular procession of clients proceeds through as well.

Did I mention that we have a young man working for us two days a week?   We do.   He is the epitome of youthful strength and enthusiasm, and was instrumental in the moving of rocks listed above.   He has also helped us split wood, move dirt, build rock wall, and I don’t know what all else.   Observe the transformation in the back area of the property.

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To add to the list of jobs going on, our lovely tenant was taking his wife and family to Walmart when his spouse informed him that she had forgotten her list and they needed to go back and get it.   For some reason, this infuriated him; not that Walmart is that far from here (less than 2 miles), and not that they had gotten that far (to the end of the block).   He drove around the block and pulled into their carport, yelling and carrying on.    She hopped out of their van and ran into the house to get her list while he sat impatiently in the van with his foot on the brake, muttering imprecations.  She got back in the vehicle, at which point, still yelling at her, he stepped on the gas and promptly drove the van into the side of the house, since he had neglected to put the thing in park while he waited and had forgotten he was in “Drive” rather than “Reverse”.

So we have had the insurance people ringing the doorbell and the phone, as well as the contractor who repaired the damage:   one exterior door and 7 studs in the wall with all the associated  demolition to siding and interior that that entails.

Are you surprised to know that on Saturday morning, when things were all quiet, I was not all that polite to the hapless Jehovah’s Witness who rang my doorbell, disturbing my peace?

However, things are getting along.   The wood fired oven platform/barbecue pit area is now walled.   We finished that yesterday, except for the coping stones around the top.   I think it looks rather splendid, actually.   When there is actually an oven it will be really cool.

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For the first time in years, the path along the back of the house is a path, rather than a repository for rock designated for the wall.

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Lest you think all is perfection here, there is a project at the end of the path that has been put on indeterminate hold.   The sewer line at that corner was dug up and then promptly reburied when winter arrived.   There is a need for the entire line along the back of the house to be dug and replaced without the dip in the middle and with a proper drop so that the drains will remain clear.   I have no idea when that will get done.

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We have a couple of other projects going on.   The fence line marking the north border of the Stroll Garden will be changed.    We are rotating it 90 degrees to extend towards the vegetable garden.   That will make the pond area part of the Stroll Garden.  Tomorrow, our worker will dig the post holes for the new line, and the fence will be built shortly thereafter.

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Just to the north of that is the garden fence, with the raspberry bed in front of it.   In short order, I am going to dig out a path next to that raspberry bed, and then Jim is going to build a bird cage over the raspberry patch.   At the far end I will install a small blueberry patch.    The cage will also keep out the rabbits and the squirrels and the groundhogs, so I believe that we will be the benefactors of the berry bushes rather than all the wildlife.

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Another project that will be completed PDQ is the pouring of a concrete slab on which to keep the compost piles.   Here again you can see a transformation in the area.

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It was while I was trying to find a good picture of the mess sort of indicated in the first picture above that I discovered how very very good I am at framing photographs in such a way the big messy areas of the yard do not show up!

Meanwhile, the Petite Prairie is absolutely beautiful.   The culmination of the Stroll Garden proves how very worth while all the improvements around here really are.

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For those of you who have been following the saga of the mouse in the house, I can report that all the attempts Impy was making to catch that mouse that fell from the attic were unfruitful.   She, however, was.   And so now we have her and her litter of progeny disporting themselves about the house.   The young mice are about an inch long and very very cute.   Also, they are very very fast and very very light, so the cats are not catching them and neither are the mouse traps.

Now.   I have a few hours before my first client, so I intend to go work on the rain garden, which needs some severe curbing on its enthusiasm.

And rain.   We need rain.

Talk to you later.

 

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I have never made any pretence of particularly loving rabbits.   They can be a nuisance, one which we went to quite a bit of trouble to fence out of the vegetable garden.  They serve their place in the world, though.   The fact that we have a healthy population of them at The Havens accounts for the presence of Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls.   I’m sure the black snakes are happy to find a tiny tender tidbit upon occasion.

I was out watering my potted plants this morning during the break I had between a couple of clients.   As is my custom, I was gazing about the place, admiring the view while I was waiting for the right amount of water to flow into the whiskey barrels full of beans and morning glories.  I am very pleased with them.

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The Petite Prairie is looking pretty good right now, despite the dry weather we have been having.

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The silky dogwood was looking a little peaked, so when I was done with the pots I made my way over there to give it a drink.    Of course, the hose had to kink during the trip across the lawn, so when I turned the spray nozzle on, nothing happened.   I laid it down and attended to the kink.    The water began to gush out of the nozzle, and very soon afterwards I heard a vociferous complaint from the bed just below the dogwood.    It was a very loud complaint indeed, and obviously was coming from an infant.

I investigated, and this is what I found to be the source of the racket.

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Honestly, this little baby bunny seems way too small to be able to make such a very loud noise.

After I photographed the Small One, I placed him carefully back in the nest with his siblings.    Of course, I had to document it all.

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My client had arrived, so I carefully put the grassy cover back over the babies, and went in to do her massage.    She admired the baby pictures.   Although we both  agreed about rabbits in general, we also both agreed that when they are so very small they are very cute.  No way could I exterminate them, even if they will probably be chewing through my iris stems when they get older.   I just found a Naked Lady stem that was full of buds that some rabbit decided looked edible.    I guess it wasn’t that edible, because it only chewed through the stem, it didn’t bother to actually eat the buds.   I have to admit I was perturbed.

So anyway, a little while ago, having finished the massage and my lunch, I thought I’d go back out there and see if I couldn’t get a better shot of them in their nest.

I was interested to discover that in the intervening three hours, Mama Rabbit had been around to tend to her youngsters.   The grass and twig cap on the nest had been seriously beefed up.   And if you take a close look at this next picture you will notice that there has been a further change.

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Apparently she had not quite finished furnishing the nest when I took the first picture.   Now there is a beautiful soft layer of rabbit fur encasing the babies.

I covered them up again.

They really are very cute.

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