PHOTO PAINTINGS BY THE DAM ON THE MUMFORD – Marilyn Armstrong

I need to go take some new pictures. I feel a bit lost without the birds. They have been my mainstay since last November and now, they are gone.

We’ve had a couple of beautiful days, but I didn’t get outside to shoot. Now, there are going to be three or four more days of rain coming up, so there aren’t going to be more pictures until the weather clears.

I might have to go and process a lot of pictures that are just sitting in folders, waiting for my magic touch.

Field of flowers
The dam at Mumford
More buttercups
If Rembrandt lived in Uxbridge
Painted dam on the Mumford
Spillway on the dam

SOME OF THE LAST OF THE BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

They are not the very last. We’ll put the feeder back up in November when the weather begins to get cold. And I have a lot of folders of birds with a fair number of unprocessed photographs. But now, it’s time for our cohort of squirrels to go back to the forest and rediscover the joy of squirreldom.

This morning I went out on the deck and there were half a dozen of them. Two in the feeders, another couple on the railing, and a few on the deck itself. I suppose they were all awaiting their turn. I finally went out onto the deck and physically ejected them. They apparently believe it’s their personal stash of goodies and are protecting it from humans and birds.

If I didn’t think Duke would jump the fence and break all his bones on the way down, I’d put him out there to guard the stash. Sadly, he is a jumper and Gibbs mostly wants lots of time spent napping on the sofa. Chasing squirrels is not high on his agenda.

And, I should add, with considerable determination.

Lady Cardinal in a tree
Rosefinch and Cowbird
Rosefinch on the rail
Possibly pregnant squirrel?

Now that I look at the pictures I realize I have more of them. Possibly a lot more of them. So you’ll see more. I have to process more of them too.

SOMETIMES, THE SQUIRRELS LET THE BIRDS EAT SOMETHING – Marilyn Armstrong

It seems that the more I try and discuss the eating all the food situation with the squirrels, the more squirrels show up. It used to be one at a time. Not the same squirrel each time, but it was a definite group. I could tell by the scars in their fur and the shape of their tails.

A cowbird a day keeps the finches away! And we have a lot more than one.

Now, we have two babies — about half the size of the bigger gray ones. I have to assume the big ones are their parents. Or maybe aunts and uncles. hard to tell.

This is young lady Cardinal, sprucing up her feathers because there are a couple of boys down in the bushes.
Still preening!

I’m pretty sure they’ve been told to come here, that this is where the good food is. And it seems that the more I talk to them, the less afraid they are. Maybe because I’m so polite?

Awaiting her beau

On the other hand, The Duke goes completely wacko when he sees two, three, four squirrels on the porch and when he gets to barking frantically, the squirrels tend to get a bit hinky and move elsewhere for a while.

The Mourning Dove just watches, but they are quite romantic these days, too.
Ah, romance …

But people? They just eyeball us. I swear this morning I looked on the deck and in the spot where we used to keep the stone frog (I moved it because the squirrels kept knocking it down), there was a little squirrel. Sun-bathing.

Waiting and watching in her tree …

Another was literally lounging on the deck. Relaxed, just lying there. He looked up when I said: “Good morning, young squirrel. How’s it going? Enjoying the sunshine?”

Wooing Cardinals on the deck!

He looked at me, stretched, yawned, jumped up on the railing, then grabbed the feeder and wrapped himself around it.

Meanwhile, there were a couple of Cardinals looking very lovey-dovey on the deck.

The young Cardinal

Lady Cardinal decided to go flying and right after her, flew a young red boy. Literally, right on her tail. I knew he was young because he didn’t have his full coloration. Immediately behind him flew an apparently eager, bigger, redder male.

All three birds headed into the woods at high speed. I couldn’t see them anymore, but I could hear squawking as the two males attacked each other. When those red males meet, they always fight. Very territorial — and there was a young lady involved.

Boys will be boys, even when they have bright red feathers.

Squirrely!

SQUIRREL DU JOUR – Marilyn Armstrong

The little squirrel that seems to live on our deck (I found him lying on the deck sunning himself yesterday) is not afraid of me. Or the dogs. Or Garry.

I know he’s a baby because he’s about half the size of a normal adult squirrel. I bet he’s one of the offspring of the other big feeders. As he was growing up, mom told him where to go to get his meals.

He hangs on the feeder or does a wild swing on the flat feeder. He’s too short to quite hop into the flat feeder like the bigger squirrels do, so he has to take a long leap. The wild swings of the feeder as he enters and exits make it really obvious who has been by.

He’s a very cute little thing. I’m often torn between letting him eat so I can get some more pictures, or asking him politely (I always say “Please” when I discuss his visits with him) to move on.

He doesn’t really leave. He just hangs around on the stairs, or right under the deck until he thinks I’m gone, then he is right back up.

Garry says they have a whole station set up right under the deck. This does not surprise me. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were using drones to check for fresh food.

CLYTEMNESTRA’S LAMENT – GUEST POST By KARIN LAINE MCMILLEN

Introduction

Many of us have the mental image of nature as somehow kinder, sweeter, more gentle than the lives we lead. On a fundamental reality level, I knew that wasn’t true, but as long as all I saw were flying birds and leaping squirrels, I could ignore the rest. Even knowing that the large eat the small, and the strong kill the weak, that nature is fierce.

Nonetheless, the rattlesnake and snapping turtle have as much a right to their dinners as the bright yellow finch or the ladder-backed woodpecker. I didn’t realize how many of the creatures in my own backyard bore significant scars from hawks and foxes and bobcats until I got a distance lens and saw it myself.

A hurt squirrel

With the camera, I see many of the animals I photograph bear significant scars and damage from attacks by other creatures. Some have healed, others have disappeared and probably didn’t survive.

This is a story about love and nature.


Clytemnestra’s Lament: The Story of the Swans – By Karin Laine McMillen

We bought our swans, as all the bourgeois do.

They came in the US mail, in boxes with pointed tops. We had a swan release party. Restricted beauty reigned as pinioned swans flew across our one acre, man-made, engineered and certified pond.

A swan on the lake at the farm

Relocating swans is a precarious commitment. An unexpectedly large rectangular enclosure needs to be built in advance, part of it in the water and the remainder on land. This is so the pair can acclimate to their habitat, lest they try to walk back to Illinois from whence they came.

Named Illich and Odette after the heroine of Swan Lake by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, they acted as guardians of my gentleman’s farm and performed their duties of chasing geese and eating the algae with instinctual vigor.

Every spring our female, distinguished by her slightly diminutive size, built a large, perfectly round nest which always reminded me of Big Bird’s nest from Sesame Street. The first year, she just built it. I don’t know if she had eggs or not, but if she did they didn’t hatch.

Illich, Odette, with cygnets

The second year, my family arrived for the weekend from New York to discover four baby swans on the pond with their parents. We quickly discovered, or more accurately researched, that baby swans are named cygnets. We disseminated that information to anyone who would listen.

The following weekend I was saddened to see only two cygnets. My toddler was fascinated by who might have “eatted” them. I grabbed my camera to be sure to capture the fluffy whiteness and inspiring family unit in action. I unrealistically fantasized about having two sets of swans forever gracefully adorning our pond.

I don’t remember how long the last two babies lived, but at some point in the spring, I heard that one of the cygnets had been dragged out of the pond and eaten by a snapping turtle. I was furious, and have been trying to kill those prehistoric looking creatures ever since.

Swans with cygnets

The following year I became excited in the early spring as Odette started constructing her nest and proceeded to sit on it for weeks on end, for a gestation time I never fully researched.

On May 4th, 2007 the French National Orchestra was touring with Kurt Masur on the podium. The date stuck with me due to my bird-loving grandmothers anniversary of birth. New Yorkers turned out in droves to see their former popular conductor. I was seated in one of the side boxes at Carnegie Hall with a fellow musician. We were beyond excited to hear Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony as the highlight of the program.

Our familiarity with the work was such that we glanced nervously at each other when the horns flubbed their perfect fifths in the first movement. We knew that the difficult horn solo at the beginning of the second movement was extremely exposed, and would dictate the success of the evening.

I went to bed on a high that I am convinced one can only get from music and had an unnerving and unexpectedly feverish dream filled with violence and unrest. Black and white converged; blood, death, and fear prevailed. I woke in a sweat and shortly got the call.

It happened that the previous evening. My darling Odette was ripped to shreds by a bear. She was guarding her eggs.

When haunted by the violent passages of Tchaik 5, I still reflect on my culpability. Did I doom this mother by naming her after a heroine who dances herself to death?

 

Illich survived. He graced our pond for season upon season. I often wonder if he sang in mourning for his bride and offspring, while I sat ninety miles away in a red velvet adorned box at Carnegie Hall.

Years later, on a spring morning, I got a call informing me that the body of Illich was immobile on the land beside the pond. I envisioned him with his beautiful neck resting on the ground. I begged our sensitive caretaker to bury him appropriately on the property.

Last spring a single grey swan grace our pond for a little while. He did not stay. This spring another has been spotted and I am nearly desperate for him to stay. Precariously, I follow the new swan with my camera as I stroll around the pond on Memorial Day.

My nearly white golden retriever and the white swan seem to have come to an equilibrium. My retriever seems to inherently understand the complex relationships before him. My mind weaves restlessly between questions and wishes.

Do I dare name him? Will he find a bride? Will they stay?

Suddenly peace washes over me with the warm breeze and I hear a whisper: “Nature, as is her habit, will forgive.”

RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t usually get to take a lot of pictures of favorite birds, but this guy really settled into the feeder today and he didn’t flutter off the moment I had the camera up and ready. That’s not entirely true. He flew off a few times into the tree, cracked open some seeds, then came back to the feeder. Sometimes, it just takes patience. And waiting!

The following four pictures were taken from wildlife groups.

Before everyone points out that this bird has a red head and not a red belly, I know that. But there already is a Red-headed Woodpecker who looks a lot like this guy, but his entire head is solid red, not to mention the Pileated Woodpecker who has a red topknot and is about the size of a medium-gauge hawk and a beak you wouldn’t want to mess with. I’m pretty sure he’s the bird the creators of Woody Woodpecker had in mind.

The following are pictures I took this morning. Even though this bird looks (to me) as if he has an orange rather than a red head, I have been assured that he is a Red-bellied Woodpecker and not a Gold-fronted Woodpecker.

The only difference between the two is the color of their head. Worse, they live in the same parts of the country.

However, this is quite a thin bird and I’m pretty sure he’s recently fledged so possibly has not fully developed his colors yet.