THE SAFETY OF HOME – Marilyn Armstrong

While I was starting dinner, I was watching out the window. Suddenly, a hawk with a white front swooped by the deck then winged off into the woods.

I followed him with my eyes. The camera was in the dining room and I didn’t hurry to get it. I knew I’d lose the hawk before I got the camera focused. Mostly, I wanted to get a good look at him before he disappeared.

I was curious why he swept so close to the house.

Hawks are hunters and don’t usually get so close to houses. It turned out, after minimal research, to be a Cooper’s Hawk. It wasn’t hard to find because among the white-breasted hawks, there are only two living here: American Eagles and Cooper’s Hawks. I’ve seen plenty of American Eagles. They are much bigger than this hawk, so Cooper’s Hawk it had to be.

And he was hunting for exactly what was on my deck: birds and squirrels. Those are a Cooper’s Hawks two favorite foods. The deck is his perfect hunting ground, his dinner buffet.

This is one of the things I feared when I set up the feeders. We have so many predators in the area and so little prey. How did we get so out of balance? Doesn’t it usually go the other way? Don’t deer usually overtake the area?

I remember when we had so many chipmunks they used to line up and chatter at us in groups. Now, we never see chipmunks. We use to see rabbits sitting on the lawn in the sun in summertime. I haven’t seen a rabbit in years and until we put up the feeders, I hadn’t seen any squirrels, either.

Mice I know about because they invade our house every autumn. We have an annual battle to keep them outside. It’s not personal. It’s just that they make an awful mess in the house.

We also used to see more deer, but I’m sure the coyotes have taken them down.

I wonder now if the reason the squirrels have taken refuge on the deck is that they think the house is some kind of protection for them from the hawks and the other predators. Is this house protection for the birds and squirrels?

By sending them back into the woods am I sending them to their deaths? That’s a terrible thought.

I feel like I should invite them all in for a warm dinner and a comfortable nap, but I’m pretty sure the dogs wouldn’t get along with them especially well. It could get pretty raucous.

GUEST AUTHOR: KARIN LAINE McMILLEN – THE BIRDFEEDER OPERA

I really related to this story! And I thought you might enjoy it too. Oh, the cleverness in the animal kingdom. We think we are so smart but sometimes, I really wonder.

Marilyn Armstrong


The Birdfeeder Opera – by Karin Laine McMillen

I lived at home during my first year of graduate school saving money by commutable proximity to the University of Iowa. It was an interesting experience. The redefinition of my relationship with my parents was a little bumpy.

I poured ice cold water on my mother in the shower one day, no doubt trying to recapture some of the fun dorm life with my college mates. Mom was not amused. My dad found out where my sometimes boyfriend lived and felt it was ok to stand outside his window yelling “Karin I know you are in there.”

But once we had our “come to Jesus” on that topic things went a little better. I also think it was that moment when I grew up and decided I should get a job and my own apartment in Iowa City.

I digress. This is really the story of animal life and the amusement that often comes from human interaction, underestimation of the cleverness of wild creatures, and their symbiosis with our larger world.

Our beautiful home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa had been a run-down, dark, very boxy colonial when my parents purchased it. By the time my mother and father were done with it, a two-year process, it was a light, modern, flow-through home with all the amenities required for luxurious family living with three daughters.

It was situated in the woods atop a large bucolic gully. This was fantastic as it meant that my dad had no lawn to mow. My mom, being an opportunistic feminist, has never pumped her own gas, let alone operated any type of lawn machinery. She uses her feminist views to simultaneously sit atop a “little girl on a pedestal” throne whilst insisting that just because she is a woman, she shouldn’t have to do all the traditionally female tasks.

In short, she made my dad a slave to her every whim, including attempting to orchestrate the nature outside for her viewing pleasure.

My parents are both very good designers.

In our home, where solid walls used to be, a row of floor to ceiling glass doors and windows lined the entire rear of the home, offering panoramic views. A patio was constructed by my dad and my mother purchased and ordered the placing of multiple bird feeders for her viewing pleasure of year-round bird frolicking. Her favorite bird feeder was an oblong, cyclonic, ceramic, cyan, Scandinavian, seed-filled feeder with a lid at the top and holes and perching sticks at the bottom. In order to fill it, the douli-shaped lid slid on the two hanging ropes and was supported by the friction of the small ceramic holes against the rough wool twine.

In winter especially, my mother made it her mission to keep this particular feeder full. She enjoyed watching the birds flutter around it as much as she enjoyed ordering my father to fill it. During this year at home, when the Iowa winter was in full bloom, the barking began.

“Larry, did you buy bird seed for the Scandinavian feeder?” (Because everything is more important and better when it is labeled “Scandinavian”.)

Before the vowel of the known answer came back “no,” my mom was already on him.

“You go to Menards every day, why can’t you remember to buy my bird seed! And get the kind that has such and such, blah, blah, blah and this and that. NOT the kind that you got last time! I like the kind that is multicolored so that when it falls on the ground it is pretty. “Laaaarrry, are you listening to me????!!!!”

“Yes, Diane!” would come back just as the door to the garage slammed. I listened to this with detached amusement for several weeks. So I barely noticed when the tune stayed the same — but the lyrics changed. The new chorus was “Larry, did you fill the feeder? It’s empty again! I swear you didn’t do it!”

This was followed by the drumbeat of slamming pots and pans and the response “Diane, I filled it! I’m halfway through that bag”.

“I don’t believe you! Why is it always empty? I haven’t seen any birds all winter! You’re lying to me!!!!”

“Diane, why would I lie to you? Do you want to see the bag?”

“Don’t you bring that dirty bag in here!”

“Do you want to watch me fill it?” He would grumble unintelligibly while traipsing out in the subzero temperatures with said bag.

Not a raccoon, but close enough!

This went on intermittently in the early winter weeks and was thankfully interrupted with the new barking orders in preparation for the Scandinavian Advent and Scandinavian Christmas celebrations. But in early January, I heard the familiar call and response continue. As daddy’s little girl, I wanted to defend my dad. But in truth, I knew that he often lied to my mom and I had other things to think about.

Until one morning on my way to class …

As I walked towards our mudroom to retrieve my shoes, coat, and purse, my peripheral vision caught a large, darkish blob moving on the patio. It was sufficiently disruptive to my brain that I froze. Instinctively I knew it was an animal and any sudden movement could render the thing gone before I could ascertain what it was. I slowly turned and was able to fully observe a delightful little comedy.

Raccoon (Procyon lotor) raiding bird feeder at 8 PM in the brush country of south Texas, October. (Wild individual in wild setting.)

Precariously hanging with the use of two back paws from a tiny single branch was the fattest raccoon I have ever seen. He (don’t ask me how I know it was a he; I’ve had far too much contact with raccoons at summer camp and knowledge I wish I didn’t have) had one front paw in his mouth and one front paw inside THE bird feeder. He was scooping out and eating the multi-colored feast as fast as he could swallow.

I thought to myself, “Oh, that is funny. Dad didn’t put the top back on the bird feeder.”

I watched Mr. Fat Racoon steal the feed as the little birds on surrounding branches stared unblinkingly for the few and far between scraps which fell to the ground through the little bottom holes. I glanced at my watch and debated if I should continue to observe the scene and risk being late to class.

I even, briefly, thought of opening the door and chasing the raccoon away so the birds could have their food. But my previous encounters with raccoons made me think twice about that foolish notion. I’m not sure why I didn’t just bang on the window which would probably have scared him away, but I think it was the curious and mischievous nature that I share with the raccoon which made me continue to observe, amused and statuesque.

When the little paw could be seen attempting to find more feed from the open holes at the bottom of the feeder, the raccoon put both front paws to his mouth, licked each digit hungrily and then did something I didn’t expect.

With his two hands — sans opposable thumbs — he held onto the opposite sides of the lid and slid it down to its rightful place atop the feeder, adjusting it until it was even. He looked at his work, nodded to himself and climbed up the tiny branch which had bent 180 degrees from his weight. He then proceeded to climb down the tree trunk and sauntered through the brush displaying his hindquarters to me like a woman comfortable with her hips.

When I next heard the “Larry, did you fill the bird feeder?” opera, I smiled to myself, shook my head and envisioned that animal disappearing into our woods. It was several decades, and long after that house was sold before I told the tale one night at dinner …

FLOWERING CACTUS AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

More Flowering Cactus – FOTD – 03/10/2019

I think the big one is nearing the end of its run, but I noticed today that the smaller one is full of buds too. So maybe we’re going to have a few more weeks of flowers.

I assume they will be pink rather than red, but sometimes the pink one has red flowers.

I have no idea why.

Full flowering cactus

SPECULATING ON SNOWFALL – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Monday: SNOW SPECULATION

We have a very favorite meteorologist, Harvey Leonard, currently with Channel 5 (ABC), but previously a colleague of Garry’s for more than 30 years. He’s a great meteorologist and can tell you — really — pretty much what’s coming.

Garry and Harvey Leonard, famed meteorologist

What he can’t tell you is exactly how much of what is coming you are going to get. Storms move faster or slower and winds push them east, west, north, or south — all of which changes your town’s “how much.” Also, your proximity to the ocean. More rain along the ocean, more snow piling up inland. We are not far from the ocean, but not close enough to get the wind from the sea. We get the other winds, the one that brings big white snow clouds.

Dogs on the sofa, gazing on snow
The deck and feeders

He did say — repeatedly — that this was a big one. We were going to get a lot of snow, no matter where we were in New England. Or for that matter, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and all points north. He was figuring around a foot but upped it towards the end of the news because new maps were coming in.

We got more — as we typically do in the valley.

Dove waiting on tree limb for a shot at the feeder

Eighteen-inches in our little town, so we are in this house until the plow shows up and digs us out. My son is at work and he says if the plow doesn’t show up at his place (same plow), he can’t go home because he has nowhere to put the car.

A lot of flapping and flying going on

It’s not that the plow won’t show. He will. It’s just with this much snow on the ground, it’s going to be a long day. I’m pretty sure we are nowhere near the top of the list.

Mostly Goldfinch while I was shooting
With one incoming Goldfinch (on right)

Usually, we get big snows and it warms up the next day and everything melts. Not this time. This time, the temperature is supposed to drop to around zero (-18 centigrade) for several days. Which means this snow is going to hang around, get icy and crunchy. And it’s not a light fluffy one, either. It’s, as Harvey put it, “like oatmeal.” I like the fluffy ones much better.

So we speculated and I do thing the last thing I said to Garry before drifting off to sleep was “Maybe it won’t be as bad as we think.”

Good morning, Uxbridge

I was wrong. We speculated. I’m glad we didn’t actually gamble on our speculations. We’d have lost money on big snow.

I’d have posted this earlier, but there were pictures to take and process. There are more, but I’m tired. The birds have cold feet.

THE DAY THE SQUIRRELS DROPPED BY – Marilyn Armstrong

I was looking for birds. Seriously. It’s supposed to snow tonight and maybe tomorrow or Sunday, too and that usually puts them in a feeding frenzy.

Instead, there were not one, but two squirrels, each gripping one of the feeders. And it was the middle of the day, not the time when you normally see squirrels. They tend to be early morning and twilight feeders.

I got some great squirrel shots and there was a Cardinal on a branch back in the woods who wasn’t coming near the feeders until those weird, funny, furry birds left.

See the cardinal in the woods?
Athletic, isn’t he?
Hanging on with rear claws
Squirrel on the rail
A relaunch to the feeder from the rail
The thinking squirrel

And a Cardinal back in the woods.

Cardinal back in the woods

A BIG DAY FOR THE FINCHES – Marilyn Armstrong

Having not picked up the camera except to shoot a flower or two, once I got started shooting, I didn’t stop for quite a while. I missed the Cardinal who was sitting there until the exact minute I pointed my camera over there. He must be eating because he’s quite a porker of a bird. Garry commented that he could even see his feet past that big red belly.

I think the real issue is that he is an early morning feeder and I am not usually taking pictures early in the morning. That’s when I am sleeping, or at least trying to sleep.

And then, there’s the diver …

But from when I got up and managed to have coffee and a muffin, there were finches. Red ones, purple ones, goldfinches and a couple I didn’t recognize, but they are obviously finches of some kind. This is also an area through which birds heading further north — to Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Canada pass. Or maybe this was a house finch who was more orange than red.

Titmouse watching from the wires

Finches do look a lot alike and sometimes, their colors seem to blend from the lightest yellow to the deepest reds. This is part (there are a lot of pictures!) of the collection.

This could also be a Pine Grosbeak — another local resident. All the birds are changing colors right now, which makes the confusion even more confusing

The flat feeder was the big draw yesterday. It was a group celebration of seeds!

There is at least one Tufted Titmouse in the collection as well as a Nuthatch, but the rest are various kinds of finches. House finches and purple finches … and the brown females who are the mates of the purple and red-headed house finches.

I’m sure there was some kind of conversation in progress here!
Goldfinches and a nuthatch
Two red finches. I think one is a house finch and the other is a purple finch. Also a lady in the mix but I don’t know whose lady she is.

I have another fifty or so that are not yet processed. Probably another couple of dozen of Garry’s pictures awaiting me, too. All of these were taken in pouring rain.

All lined up at the feeder. Don’t even know how many are in the feeder!

They eat like crazy when it’s snowing or raining. Some instinctive need to eat extra in case the weather gets worse?

 

SOUTHBOUND END OF NORTHBOUND BIRD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Reverse

I was wondering what to do with some of my bird butts. There are always a lot of them and I’m never sure where to put them. So …

Birds in reverse. The southbound end of a northbound flyer.

Goldfinch in reverse
Not sure whose but it is … House Finch maybe?
Reverse Chickadee amidst Goldfinches and a House Finch (I think) …