MORE HINTS OF BLUE – Marilyn Armstrong

MORE THAN A HINT OF BLUE

A kayak on the Blackstone River. Dressed in blue and in a blue kayak. And the water is blue … Just your basic blue day in early summer.

What better way to spend a warm summer day than in a kayak in the river, soft breezes blowing over the water.

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.”

FEATHERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Feathers

Since last November, the bird feeders on the deck have been supplying me with more than ample amounts of feathers. Usually, birds go with the features, though I do have some feathery things that are not birds.


I think the small Goldfinch in the gallery is a recent fledgling. I guess he’s learning “the ropes.” Don’t you love the patterns on their wings? So elegant!


One of our many cowbirds. I have seen as many as a dozen of them in the feeders, waiting on the rail, and in nearby trees. This is one of the boys. Although they are considered one of many blackbirds found all over the world, in the right light, they are almost deep blue or green and they have a matching beak.
Lady Brown-headed Cowbird showing off her dark tail.
Mrs. Brown-headed Cowbird

The weather has been awful since last February. Cold, constant rain. I’m sure the birds are getting depressed, too.

Chipping Sparrow
Another Chipping Sparrow. These are surprisingly friendly little garden birds.

I found a Chipping Sparrow sound asleep on one of the feeders this morning. I finally got worried that maybe he was not sleeping, but dead. However, when I opened the window, he woke up and flew away.

What a relief!

Our feeder has attracted much more attention than I imagined possible. I have learned a lot about the birds and so has Garry who previously showed little interest in birds. But having them so close — and finally being able to hear them sing — changed his mind.

Black-capped Chickadee – our Massachusetts official state bird

We seem to have become the home base for a crew of Brown-headed Cowbirds while the Goldfinches arrive in flocks. That’s normal for finches of all kinds.


Yo, bro, how’s it hanging?
Every Dove needs a bit of conversation and Frog looks so friendly.
The conversation — Dove and Frog — continues.
Thanks for the chat!

Birds are normally so well groomed, but this Dove had obviously just washed her hair. This was a very cute picture that I saw coming. I was just waiting for the dove to actually walk right up to the frog and have a little chat. I did not (for once!) wait in vain.


They have nearly taken over both feeders — except for the squirrels that, if allowed, will eat every seed we put out there. I don’t mind them eating, but there are a lot of them and they seem to be the smallest, cutest, fuzziest and most hungry critters in our woods. They eat nonstop and as soon as one departs, another one or more show up.

Two Tufted Titmouses – with one departing.

Squirrels and bird feeders are one of those things. I just would prefer they leave a little something for the birds!

Mrs. Cowbird and Mr. Chickadee, sharing a light snack

And so it goes. These are our most recent visitors, minus the Pileated Woodpecker who disappeared before I could press the shutter — and the Red-Bellied Woodpecker who like to eat on the opposite side of the feeder where I can’t see him, though I know he is there. What a flirt!

WEDNESDAY’S BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

We’ve got funeral in Boston today and Garry needs to speak. This was not only one of his colleagues but a friend to both of us. I will miss Tom Ellis. We will both miss him very much.

This also means that we have to be there early and probably won’t be back until late. And considering Boston traffic, it might be even later than I think. It’s one of the reasons we so rarely go into Boston … but this is one we cannot miss.

So enjoy the birds. They are beautiful and they remind us of peace.

A pair of doves
Two Tufted Titmouses
Two Tufted Titmouses
A pair of Chipping Sparrows
Looking down Dove
Two finches and a chickadee
One little Goldfinch
Titmouse in the air and Chickadee on the feeder
One more Goldfinch
Diving Chickadee
A couple of Cowbirds

ALL CREATURES – Marilyn Armstrong

Many creatures crossed our deck today. When I first peeked out my bathroom window at around 5 in the morning, there were three squirrels hanging onto the feeders. I went back to bed.

When I got up later, there were at least half a dozen Brown-Headed Cowbirds chowing down. I turned on the coffee and looked again. A big Red-Bellied Woodpecker and a small flock of House Finches and Goldfinches were chowing down. I went to take a picture and before I turned it on, they were gone. Vanished. Poof!

House Finches and I think the bird with the blue bill is a Bluebird
House Finches

I went back to the kitchen, cut open a couple of English muffins and popped them into the toaster. More Cowbirds, miscellaneous finches and a couple of Chickadees. I went and picked up my camera. Both feeders were empty.

Cowbirds

Back to the kitchen. Garry was setting up the coffee, so I cream cheesed the English muffins. When I turned around there were half a dozen House Finches and a big Red-Bellied Woodpecker. I went and picked up the camera. They did not all fly away.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The woodpecker played peek-a-boo with me, then abandoned ship and a squirrel took over his spot. It was the middle of the day when squirrels are not usually out and about, but this squirrel seriously needs to have a chat with an older, more mature squirrel and get a grip on the dangers of squirreldom.

And although the House Finches hung around a bit, mostly, they were out of focus, but then the Cowbirds came back … and they were in focus. Not that they are particularly interesting, but they are big and easy to shoot (with a camera).

SPRING HAS SPRUNG, THE GRASS HAS RIZ. I WONDER WHERE THE FLOWERS IS? – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Friday: SPRING

The birdies are blooming in breeding colors and there are buds (but no leaves or flowers) on bushes and trees. What is up really?

Bugs are up. Ants are up. Birds are nesting and beginning to breed. The temperature is finally swinging around and while we will get some more cold days and night, we aren’t going to get a long month of deep freeze weather … or at least so we hope.

Back from the south, Carolina Wren

I’m waiting for a flower to appear outside. We have giant amounts of forsythia, but they don’t bloom much because they are at the edge of the woods and there’s very little sunlight there. A lot of our bushes bloom very late and some no longer bloom.

Nuthatch who never gets dizzy upside-down!
Our fearless deck squirrel
My personal favorite odd couple …

The winds of winter took down a lot of trees and I’m pretty sure our giant lilac tree has finally been squashed flat. It had taken several hits before, but I think this year, it’s a goner. I would like to be wrong. I guess I’ll know soon enough. At least by the middle of May, if not sooner.

Another odd couple — Carolina Wren and Goldfinch
Down the trees stalks the Nuthatch

Our Carolina Wrens are back and the Goldfinch have turned bright yellow and gold. Young squirrels have come up and hanging around for hours, picking up pieces of seeds that have fallen from the feeders.

Bright little birds!
Red and yellow, oh my! Better than flowers!

It is not quite springtime in the Valley as it is in other areas, but for this part of the world?

Maybe not flowers, but definitely colorful!

This is spring. Or kind of springlike. More or less springish. We are working on it.

I wonder where the flowers is?

HUNTERS AND HUNTED – Marilyn Armstrong

We live in the Blackstone Valley. During our 18 years here, more and more predatory animals have moved into the region.

A relaunch to the feeder from the rail

We used to have rabbits and chipmunks and other small mammals. I remember when the chipmunks used to line up and chatter at us.

Meanwhile, we have gotten bobcats and many more coyotes. Many hawks and eagles (American eagles, mostly, but also Cooper’s and Red-tailed hawks and many others … and Fishers … and bear tracks have been found all over the area and I don’t think they have been hibernating this winter, either.

Tufted Titmouse

I have not seen a rabbit or a chipmunk in years. We saw bobcat tracks after the recent snow, so we know they are in the area again … and the coyote never leave. The fisherS are part now a regular part of our wildlife. A few days ago, a Cooper’s Hawk glided past the deck and the feeders and the birds fled.

The squirrels hid under the metal table on the deck.

I think they feel safer on my deck than they do in the woods. Many of them show a lot of scarring from encounters with hawks.

Two Red House Finches

For several days, the feeders were empty. Today, they’ve started to come back, a few at a time. The Cardinal was back, some nuthatches and finches. They are easily frightened by the hunters.

Oh yeah? What are you gonna do about it?

We seem to have a massive number of hunters and a serious lack of prey.

I’m sure the increasing urbanization in other areas of New England is forcing wildlife towards this region which remains relatively rural and wooded … but there isn’t nearly enough food for all of them.

How did we get heavy with predators and light in prey? Usually, the small mammals outbreed the predators which maintains the balance, but that has not been happening.

Squabbling Juncos

And is there anything we can do to balance things?

I can’t think of any answers. This has happened mostly during the past 10 years, but with the upsurge of the coyote population and the roaming bobcats, it has gotten worse. With the weather warming up, the bears will become more lively, too.

It’s going to become very interesting around these parts!