THE END OF THE WAR ON THE POND – Marilyn Armstrong

And when the nest-building and love-making are done, as the long spring afternoon stretches ahead, Mr. Mute-Swan stretches his wings and heads over to the other side of the pond to harass the demon Geese who stole his nest. No matter that he has built a new nest and it is a fine nest.


“Never forgive, never forget” is his motto. He will get the geese out of the pond. There is no forgiveness between swans and geese. This appears to be a permanent grudge.

Casually paddling cross the pond towards the old homestead.

Casually paddling across the pond towards the old homestead.

“What ho! Incoming” cry Mr. and Mrs. Canada-Goose. “Prepare to repel Mute-Swan!”

Incoming, 12 o'clock!

Incoming!!

In the assault, notice that our swan does not actually attack the geese directly. Instead, he attacks their nest. There’s no physical contact between the warring birds. It’s a war of principle, not annihilation.

Attack!

Attack!

Perhaps that is one of the differences between “creatures” and “humans.” We actually kill each other for far less worthy reasons than having had our nest stolen. Mostly, animals don’t kill each other unless they are hungry. Or it’s mating season and there’s a lady creature to be won. Cherchez la femme, even when you are a bird.

A new nest

Full-on attack mode! Swan is much bigger, but the goose is strong.

The attack continues.

Confrontation!

Confrontation!

And again, from another angle … still, with no direct contact.

Another battle

Another battle!

The geese don’t look all that upset. Is the attack part of an ongoing ritual? All parties seems to know the rules of the game. They were probably born knowing.

Paddling like mad, the attack continues!

Paddling like mad, the attack continues!

“I think I hear my wife calling,” says Mr. Swan. He slowly circles the nesting geese one final time. “But I’ll be back. Don’t think this is over. It won’t be over until you are gone from this pond.”

I shall return!

I shall return!

And it the end, the Canada geese gave up and moved to a different part of the river. It’s hard to figure why they bother to fight since there is so much water around. There is more than enough room for both of them and all the other waterfowl, too.

Be at peace, larger feathered friends.

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.”

APPROACHING EARTH DAY WITH THE SWANS – Marilyn Armstrong

Usually, when I publish pictures of swans, I clean up the water, but these are the originals … the way the photographs looked before clearing out the rubbish.


As we again approach America’s “Earth Day,” I find myself ready to go on the “lecture tour.” I grew up in a country setting. Technically, it was part of New York, but really, it was a strange little farming community that got surrounded by a city, but never became a part of it.

I grew up with people who raised plants. Wheat and corn. Who raised horses and burros and geese. Who nursed sick birds. Who cared for the trees.

Along the shore – where all the garbage lives

We were surrounded by woods and trees. We learned how to find rare plants and we played in the woods … and apparently children don’t notice mosquitoes as do their elders because we must have been chewed to pieces. But we never seemed to care.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

That didn’t make me “ecology” conscious, of course. What made me conscious of the ecology was — you guessed it — my mother. She grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That was where most new immigrants grew up, especially Jewish and Italian immigrants.

As a result, my mother believed all trees were sacred — and her personal crusade.  She could not bear the idea of anyone cutting down a tree and that’s why we had so much land. When our neighbors decided to sell the woods next to our house, my mother told my father that he was going to borrow however much money it would cost him to get that parcel because someone else might build factory or an apartment house.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Those were her trees. Really, they were all her trees. From tiny little sprigs to the giant white oaks that towered over the house, they were hers.

Every year, she called the city’s tree specialists to check out the condition of the white oaks on our property. They were the last remaining white oaks in the five Burroughs, all the rest having been cut down to use as masts on sailing ships. How they missed that little corner of New York? Just luck.

I still hate the idea of cutting down trees, even when its obvious the tree needs cutting. We had to take down some trees that were too close to the chimney and we had a cutter come and cut down about two dozen more oaks because they were growing so close together, it was unhealthy. Also, we had no light in the house at all. But it hurt me to see the trees being felled, even though it was necessary, safe, and would in the end, improve the forest.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I grew up hating trash. I grew up believing littering was a crime. That hurting any living creature was cruel and even though I never made it to vegetarian, I feel guilty eating meat. I don’t believe that vegan is a healthier way to eat, but I dislike knowing something died so I could eat. I don’t think it will ever stop bothering me.

I learned early that breakwaters damaged the sea-shore. That sandy beaches can disappear during a hurricane. Several local beaches did exactly that while I was growing up on Long Island. That dune buggies destroy the dunes, the nests, the birds, the baby birds.

Dirty water swan

And my loathing of people who throw trash into the woods or the river grows with every passing year. Every time we go down to the river to take pictures of the swans, I see them swimming through trash and wonder how they can eat whatever is growing in the grungy water that’s full of filth.

It wasn’t hard to make me ecologically conscious and six years working at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory taught me much more than I wanted to know. I saw the plumes of pollution pouring out of the rivers into the Mediterranean. I saw the reports of what was in those plumes.

I understood also that just because a microbe is in the water does not mean you will necessarily catch it because not all microbes are absorbed the same way … but after seeing those pictures, I could never bring myself to swim in the Mediterranean again.

At this point, I don’t even like swimming pools. All I see are tubs of microbes.

PROTECTING THE NEST AND OTHER WILDLIFE

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Wildlife


I’m proud of this shot. It took place so far away from me that all I could see was some white feathers in the sun. I just ran the lens as far as it would go and hoped I would get something. I did. A once in a lifetime shot of a swan defending his nest again incoming geese. Ultimately, the geese left the pond, but the swans lost their nest and eggs.

Protecting the nest — Incoming geese and nesting swan


On a less serious note, this week, Cee’s subject is wildlife. Although this probably doesn’t include The Duke, I think that might be an error. I’m pretty sure The Duke is a wild dog who decided it’s okay to live amongst humans where the food is better and you don’t get rained on while you nap.

Following are other wildlife I have encountered. Watch out for the lions and bears!

Lion – Roar!

Black-crowned-night-heron

 

Heron catching a fish

A bear and a mountain goat

Another bear

In glass

REVELATION? MORE LIKE (FINALLY) SUMMER!!

The weather — suddenly, the way things happen locally — turned warm and sunny today. I’m itching to get outside and shoot some pictures, but my husband made a date with someone (he’s late and I wonder if he’ll even make it) so I don’t know if it’s going to happen. But we are moving — finally — into summer weather and I’m itchy to be outside. So I guess this is when I realize that I’m going to write a little less.

My writing crew has moved to summer mode. The Curley’s are out on their boat. Rich is off on vacations. Garry is just being Garry. We aren’t going anywhere — I wish we were, but the money isn’t there. Nonetheless, we aren’t glued to our keyboards.

Is this the revelation of summer? It IS summer. Time to do something . I think I’ll pick up a camera and see what’s going on outside!

We got sprayed again and the past few days of rain may finally have (I hope, I hope) moved us past caterpillars and into some good days, though it will be too hot for comfort before I swirl around twice.

Next time I see you, I hope I will have pictures!

SWANS AND THE POND AT NORTHBRIDGE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It was quite the day for taking pictures. Not only were the swans enthusiastically cozy, but it was the last nice day of that entire week. We had a few minutes of sun today, but I think our first clear day will be Monday. If we are lucky.

The swans walked right up onto the land and gave me that look which screams: “FEED ME!” Sadly, I had nothing to hand out.

We’ve been following the life and times of our local swans for a long time. In a few weeks, the cygnets will be up and about. We’ll have to go back and take some more pictures as the family sets sail.

When the babies, mom and day go swimming on the pond, they look like a flotilla. A formation of huge swans setting forth into the world.

POND IN NORTHBRIDGE – SWANS IN MAY

It was just seven in the morning and there was a roaring in my backyard. I looked out to see the turf people spraying for ants and crawlies — and hopefully not damaging anything else. It’s pretty hard to spray for one pest without harming another, but with the influx of Gypsy Moth caterpillars, we don’t have a choice. If we don’t take care of them, they will definitely, without question, take care of us.

If you look carefully, you can see the nested swan on the opposite shore

Today is a dark gray day with torrential rains predicted for later in the day … as much as five inches (or more) rain this afternoon and tomorrow. The floods that hit the rest of the country have arrived. I hope our drains, sump, and pump can handle the water.

Thursday was beautiful. Sunny and bright. The trees were blooming and buds were bursting or just about ready to do so. We grabbed cameras and went out. I had wanted to go to Manchaug, but I have temporarily forgotten how to get there. Instead, we wound up by the pond in Northbridge. There were swans. Two big ones, a mated pair.

I could see the nest. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera with a super long lens, so I could only shoot it from a distance. Garry got a ton of pictures too and I’ll put them up in a separate post.

I always forget to bring food for the swans. They must get fed by people. With a bit of food I think they would happily come home with us. You can never call a swan “friendly.” They aren’t really friendly beasts, but they can get pretty chummy if they think there’s a snack available. Not surprisingly, this behavior is familiar to us. We know begging when we see it, whether doggy or orange beak.

There was a lot of trash along the shoreline. Shame on you! Haven’t we got enough problems without trashing our own homes? All you tossers of beer bottles and junk food boxes and cups, CLEAN UP YOUR ACT. No one needs your trash. It makes me sick looking at it.

DOUBLE TROUBLE – THURSDAY SPECIAL

Thursday’s Special: Double


When you have two black Scottish Terriers that you, yourself have trouble telling apart at a quick glance, double is what you see. The two pups together are more obviously different. Gibbs is bigger, longer, and lower. He’s more “doggy” and Bonnie is more “bitchy” which is as it should be. Gibbs is stronger and more gracefully athletic. Bonnie is bouncy, cheerful, the happiest dog in this best of all possible worlds, the Candide of small dogs.

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And then there are the swans and the geese. Both mate for life and you will rarely see one bird without the other nearby.

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swan 93

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DAY THREE – THE SEVEN DAY NATURE CHALLENGE

I feel honored to be chosen by Cee Neuner  to participate in the Seven Day Nature Challenge.

The challenge calls for posting one photo a day for seven days. The subject can be anything from the natural world. Today, I thought I’d stay close to home. Show you some pictures of the Blackstone River. It’s the main river in this watershed valley.

Forty-eight miles of river from where it begins in the Worcester hills to its outlet in Narragansett Bay near Providence, Rhode Island. Along its course, it drops 450 feet and generates a lot of power. Mills and factories used to crowd the banks of the Blackstone.

This is where the American Industrial Revolution began, but it also caused horrible pollution. Pollution which is lingers yet. Better than it was, but not gone. There are always people who refuse to believe it’s a bad idea to dump waste into your drinking water. It’s a level of stupidity I have trouble comprehending.

But I digress.

THE BLACKSTONE RIVER

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These were all taken in March in Whitinsville, the next town west of us along Route 122. The swans and seagulls were having a party and they let us take the pictures.

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Cee and I are acquainted with most of the same groups of photo bloggers and pretty much anyone I can think to nominate has already been nominated. If by some quirk of luck, you have been overlooked, PLEASE participate. Consider yourself nominated and chosen! Especially if these are the kind of pictures you usually post, it’s no stretch to just post them as part of the challenge. Come one, come all!

SWANS AGAIN

Garry and I aren’t at our best. I’m coughing. He’s all stuffy. Neither of us can hear. The problem is worse for him since he has hearing problems anyway. A cold makes everything much worse.

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Even so, there didn’t seem any reason why we couldn’t take advantage of the lovely spring weather and take a few pictures. We had to stop at the grocery store anyhow …

Garry’s Gallery

The original destination was Manchaug. To check out the falls. As we were passing the river and Whitins Pond, I saw the flash of white and I knew the swans were back. I have not seen a single swan since 2014. I don’t know which hit them harder — the brutal winter or the drought which reduced the rivers and ponds to mud flats.

Marilyn’s Gallery

There’s water now. Not as much as there ought to be, but the waterways don’t recover from five years of drought in a season. There was also a lot of trash in the river.

People! Stop throwing garbage in your water supply. Are you stupid? If you pollute your water, you will have nothing to drink. This is a water shed.

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Garry took a few pictures. I took some more. The swans were not only obliging, they obviously expected a payoff for posing. Sadly, we were unprepared.

I must remember to bring a few treats for the birds. They expect them.

FOLLOWING THE BIRDS – CEE’S WHICH WAY PHOTO CHALLENGE

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge: 2015 Week #2

Cee’s Which Way Challenge is all about capturing the roads, walks, trails, rails on which we move from one place to another.  You can walk, climb, drive them, and ride them, as long as the way is visible.  Any angle of a bridge is good, as are all signs.

The wild birds always know where they are going. In the air, on the water, and or marching across land … they have a built in GPS that is close to flawless. In this valley, the rivers and ponds are their highways. They swim in rows, like a flotilla. The herons fly over the waterways, watching for fish to eat. The swans and geese nest along the waterways and raise their young.

We have gone through several very hard winters in a row. The population of swans and geese is smaller than it has been in all the years I’ve lived here. Nature rules. We can only watch and hope for the best.

So far, this winter has been kind to them. The waterways remain unfrozen. There is food for all. Perhaps this year we’ll see an early spring and many ducklings, goslings, and cygnets to repopulate our streams and ponds.

YOGI’S BLOGOSMOS wrote an entire blog analyzing the pictures in this post. Please check him out. A thoughtful blogger with a devotion to nature and beauty.