Archive for the 'Birds' Category

Ganders, Tanagers and Swimming with the Dog

May 9th, 2009

It rained so much yesterday that I saw a creek running through the garden.  Thank goodness I made the rows perpendicular to the slope below… the water just ran out the ends and under a fence.  We previously had a nice dry couple of days, but now I think it has rained non-stop since yesterday. Finally the sun broke free of cloud this afternoon and it was a beautiful evening, transitioning to a full moon… I love bright, full moon nights in the country. It’s almost like stepping back in time, or looking into some strange other world.

It’s not a strange world here for the geese- they seem to have made themselves right at home, and the little goslings are growing bigger everyday.  They had the nerve to be up near the top of the hill yesterday, a stone’s throw to the barn, ripping out grass by the rootfuls!  With visions of eroding hillsides in mind, I called our little hunter, the foxy looking japanese Shiba, and ran around toward the barn hoping he could chase the geese into the water.  The geese knew something was afoot and half waddled and bumbled their way down the hill to the pond at high-goose-speed.  They would never have let him get very close- a big 30 pound goose will beat a dog up pretty good with it’s wings and beak!  I knew they’d make it to the pond as the shiba took his time, trotting toward the water with a gleam in his eye. 

Canada Geese with Goslings

After the geese plopped into the water, the Big Daddy Gander puffed up and stretched his neck, honking loudly in protest at this intrusion by such a fox-like creature, with Mother Goose and the goslings following a few yards behind.  The shiba wandered along the shoreline, looking wistfully at these floating bundles of feathers, and the big goose followed him step-for-step just out of reach off shore badgering the little dog.  Eventually the shiba tired of the noisy scolding and went on his way.  The geese seemed “proudly placated” and swam away.   They seem to know we’re only temporary guests in their native aquatic home. 

Birds are making quite a showing this spring, and yesterday was no exception as I saw a flash of red behind the house.  After a quick double-take, I realized it was brighter than the red of our resident cardinals.  And there he was- the Summer Tanager was back, calling and watching me.  I was admiring his color and sound when I remembered I had a camera in my hand!  Such a beautiful bird, they really only pass through for a couple weeks, and eat many bugs- especially wasps and bees!  “Look out girls, the tanagers are here!!!”


Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote about Summer Tanagers on a Warm Day, and was lucky to have captured some of the most beautiful bird pictures that I’ve taken- those of the male and female Summer Tanager sitting in an oak tree near the house.   I had never seen the female’s yellow green coloration before, and those pictures are two of my favorites.

Not to be outdone by the geese swiming in the water, the young boy seemed to think summer was already here.  School’s out in a couple weeks, so that’s understandable.  But he wandered down near the pond a couple days ago while I was planting tree seedlings…  all he had on were his swim shorts and he carried a floatie.  There I was- shovel in hand, covered in dirt, sweat and untold chiggers and ticks, and all I could think of was that I’d really like to be swimming too (the pond wasn’t my first choice).  

Actually, I chuckled when he said “I’m going swimming!”  And I said, “In the pond? Now? It’s kinda cold in there…”  He didn’t seem to care and I didn’t want to discourage him.  The geese have really only been here a few times, and the area was clean enough.  Otherwise I wouldn’t let him swim.  “Well, what did Mom say?” I asked.  He said, “Well, she was in the asparagus patch and I just kinda walked by her and waved.”   She later thought he was very cute in his swim shorts, not thinking he was serious about swimming in the pond just before dinner.  We went back and got his life jacket since he’s not really at deep-water swimming strength yet.  We let her know, and then back to the pond where he got a good 5-10 minutes of paddling fun in the water.  

Boy and Yellow Lab in pond

He didn’t say, but it sure looked colder than he thought it would be…  Of course the yellow lab wasn’t just going to watch,  he dove right in too!  I had to give the boy credit- it’s a little early in the season for pond swimming in my book, but he sure had a quick bit of fun.   And me?  I’ll get there this summer, but for now I wasn’t quite ready to make the Leap of Faith into that cold water!

An Egg on a Stump

May 4th, 2009

How did we slowly transition from winter to spring, and then Bam!… all at once everything blooms, grows and needs planted, cut, started or fixed?  And then it rains for what seems like forever!  Well, the rain is finished, for at least a couple of days, and we’re drying out for now.   A good thing too or the garden seedlings would rot.

So many happenings…  The more interesting story the past week was that pair of wood ducks that were here.  I thought they might nest, and apparently they were thinking about it.  They seemed to have a particular affinity for this stump for a couple of days, swimming around and climbing up a few times a day. 


Then the rains came, and they just disappeared.  I don’t know if was because the larger canada geese showed up too, or the rain, or why else they decided to leave.  But around that same time I noticed something white on the stump from quite a distance away .  I didn’t think anything about it at first, and watched it for a couple of days.  Finally the young boy and I walked down for a closer look- and wonder of wonders, Mrs. Wood Duck left an egg on that stump!


I was amazed but also disappointed because I knew the egg had been sitting there unattended for over two days and nights in cold rain.  Just an egg on a stump, sitting by itself for several days… and the ducks have never returned to the pond.    So we went down this weekend and decided to get the egg rather than let it be eaten by some other critter.  That was a story in itself… the water is a few feet deep there, so we had to decide what to do.  We ended up using a long cane pole and a plastic grocery bag to noodle the egg into the bag, and lift it off the stump.  Of course the bag blew away in the wind, and we had to go get it… then back to try again.


Finally successful, we looked at the little egg, about the size of a medium grade A chicken egg. 


It was semi-transluscent, and I wondered if it would have been healthy or not even if the wood ducks had remained. We could have left it there of course, but I know it would have been food for the turtles and such with the next warm day.  It’s now sitting nestled in a towel in a box, why I don’t know.  Maybe we should try to incubate it anyway… it would take all of 30 days or more to hatch if it was still viable.

On the subject of waterfowl, I spotted a migrant Pied-billed Grebe on the pond today.  This little dude was frolicking on the water, and diving and fluffing its feathers all about.  When it saw us trying to get a better look it dove under the water, finally reappearing some twenty or more yards away.  It was amazing to see how far these birds can swim under water! It then poppped its head above water first like a periscope clearing the area, and then it popped up again, perched on top of the water.  I didn’t know what it was until I could get the picture zoomed in for a closer look. 


I also wanted to share the fun of last Friday.  On a lark I stopped by a particular area to look for morels, even though they should be nearly finished popping out of the ground in our area by now.  With so much rain I figured maybe we’d have some more.  I looked for a half hour, and then did a double take walking along the edge of a field, looking under some brambles and vines.  Lo and behold I saw a large morel!  I had to fight my way through the vines, and I finally came upon it, amazed that it was as big as my hand.  I was speechless, and once there I found another morel five or six feet further on, and another… fighting through the vines… it was almost like one of Ed’s mushroom machines! 


I had visions of the day being filled with bags of morels… I was lulled into a false sense of fortune however, because after continuing to search for more than an hour I didn’t see a single other morel.  It was simply a lucky find, yet one that I really appreciated.  Altogether I found nearly a dozen, and cut them carefully just above the ground.  These were good size chunky morels like I’ve never found before.  I share the story because it was neat, and hopefully to serve as inspiration not to give up!  The last two years I was skunked… but Ed motivated me to head out more diligently :)    And no, I have no idea why they grew in that area… I didn’t see any elm or maple trees, no rotting logs, or anything else significant. The leaf litter was thick under the vines, and conditions were just right I suppose.  That and someone else probably missed them. 


On Saturday morning I split them into halves and thirds, and they cooked up beautifully with a little breading and parmesean cheese mix.  Incredibly tasty (if you like mushrooms) but I couldn’t eat them all, and ended up freezing most of them to save for another day.  If I ever find bushels like some folks, it would be nice to dry or dehydrate them and use for cooking throughout the year.

On the morel hunt that day I came upon one of the largest red oak trees I have ever seen.  I could tell it was a red oak species of some kind by the pointed lobes on the leaves far above me.  But this tree was massive!  My hat provides a little perspective, and I became a literal tree hugger for a time wrapping my arms around it to measure its size. 


The tree’s circumference came to over fifteen feet measured by my reach- and I wish I knew what the exact species was, but I couldn’t determine it.  I love seeing big trees like that… the stories they could tell us.  I’m always on the look-out for a new Missouri Champion Tree.  The state has quite a list going, but I’m willing to bet there are other really old trees out there that no one has measured!

Rambling in the Rain

April 30th, 2009

 I’ve been trying to catch up everywhere it seems, and today is no exception.  I’ve felt lost in the work both outdoors and in, and a little lost in my head lately with everything!  Strange goings on these days with the economy, health news and so much more.  I drive a Ford by the way- and climbing into my truck listening to the news with the other car companies makes me wonder if I’ll be driving around in a truck made by the last independent American motor vehicle company!?  Hard to say, but hopefull we’ll get things turned around.

We’ve had oodles of rain though, and more coming.  Fortunately it hasn’t been too hard, but steady and long.  Good for the garden, which I finally managed to get in this week after bending over in the rain for hours.  Only a few weeks late with getting it all planted, but better late than never! Planting seeds in the rain was kind of fun actually- warm enough weather to enjoy the gentle rain, and very peaceful even with wet clothes.   That and pruning and a host of other chores… I’ve been rambling in the rain.  Or maybe mumbling in the rain, I don’t know.   It was kind of muddy though- but I’m sure the plants will like it.   Hopefully a little fertilizer and organic compost will help the garden make up for lost time and really get things going.  I’ll show some pictures when it looks better than rows of mud :) 

And do you know what these are?


Cherries!  I planted two Northstar var. cherry trees last year to have cherries for pies, cobbler, etc.  So far they are doing well, and both have flowered and set fruit.  With any luck and some netting to keep the birds away we should have some awesome cherries by the fourth of  July!

Speaking of birds, I saw my first Orchard Oriole yesterday.  It was high in a red oak tree eating something on or from the catkins drooping down.  It’s a fairly common oriole, but I just had never seen one.  I was surprised how much smaller (and less colorful) it was compared with the Baltimore orioles we see each year.  It’s a nice looking bird although the fuzzy picture doesn’t do it justice.  Another bird for the list…


We spent some time hiking last weekend, and found some neat wildflowers (no morels though!).  I had not seen a white trillium so large before- I think this is Trillium grandiflorum sp.


And here’s the little flower from wild ginger (Asarum canadense) , tucked under the heart shaped leaves. You really have to look carefully or you’ll miss it- I’ve always enjoyed finding these, but haven’t ever tried the roots as a ginger-substitute before. 


On the home front the young one found a four-leaf clover in the grass- he was excited. Really he found several of them and I found one too.  We layed on the grass, rolling around on one of the drier afternoons.  Then the dog ran up and ate my clover…  chomp!  Ah well, he’s a lucky dog.  Interesting that the genetic variation in one patch of clovers produced quite a few of the four-leafed variety.


Spring Unfolding Quickly

April 25th, 2009

Spring has moved so quickly that we’ve seen temperatures in the high 80’s for the past few days.  It has been downright hot and windy!  Where’s my cool spring air?  Ok, I’m not complaining- and the leaves are just bursting forth along with insects and everything else.   The bees have been frantically busy, and I’ve tried to keep up with them, adding boxes of “supers” so they have plenty of room and can continue to build comb and store honey.  The bees need these warmer temperatures to help produce and manipulate the wax while building comb.  Since this is the second year for my bees, they still need to build, or draw, honeycomb on many frames of plain blank foundation– the sheets of wax or plastic that give them a start in each frame. 

The redbuds were beautiful this year, and the bees took the most advantage of it that they could. 


They didn’t seem to mind when I got up close- they simply went about their business.  For at least a week I enjoyed the hum of their efforts all around the house.  I love this rear-shot of a a honeybee, heavy with pollen, cruising in to another redbud flower.


The critters of the pond have really emerged too. I’ve noticed that the bass and bluegill have begun swishing out nesting areas for the spring spawn, and the frogs are all about now.  And we have more turtles this year!  I’ve seen at least four different ones around the pond, and caught a picture of these three enjoying the the sunshine on a warm afternoon.  I need to sneak up closer to see if they’re the same species- I don’t think so, but they “plop” off the log really fast if I try to get too close.


We did have a pair of wood ducks hanging about near the woody area at the top of the pond.  I hoped they were nesting, and saw a pair last year with a half-dozen ducklings paddling about. 


But lo and behold, yesterday I found that our too-friendly Canada geese have returned, bringing with them a half-dozen of their own goslings! If you know much about these big, beautiful birds, you know that having them around- right here where we live- is a mixed blessing.  While wonderful to watch, especially while raising their young, they can also be a mess- leaving bird stuff all around the pond, and they have voracious appetites, pulling grass by the rootful from around the edge of the pond.   I do enjoy watching them swim gently around the pond, and the little ones are really cute.


I was successful at discouraging them from nesting here in February and early March, but there are 2-3 smaller ponds in the area that they can use for nest sites.  Once their young have hatched in March, they gradually get to know the area.  And yesterday they walked them through field and forest to our pond where they would like to spend a lot of time.  It’s fun to watch them paddle about and learn to fly, but I’m not really a fan of the idea… given their tenacious nature however, we may have little choice!

The oak trees are in full bloom right now too- these red oak catkins must be 3 inches long.  I wonder if bees gather pollen from oak trees?  Maybe not when their is so much flower nectar and pollen available.  But they do gather maple pollen, so…


I hope you have time to get outdoors and enjoy the warming weather. Spring and fall are my favorite times of the year- I don’t think I can really pick just one!

Our Barn Swallows Return

April 15th, 2009

This morning I thought I would write that we haven’t seen our barn swallows return yet this year.   And I was going to guess that they would return today… really I was!  So what happened?  The young boy was outside feeding the dogs before school, and when I came out he said, “Daddy! I think the barn swallows are back- I just saw something fly out of the nest!”    And he was right…  one of our little friends was sitting up on a wire, returning after spending the past 7+ months in transit to Central and South America.    There are many signs of spring, but it’s so neat to see the swallows return.  Last year I wrote briefly about predictability and change, and how we live among constants and chaos.   Symbolism with birds.


For the past few years the barn swallows have returned almost exactly within the same day or couple of days in early April.  This year they were over a week late- but obviously sense the weather knowing it was very wet and cold during that time.  If they can’t find insects to eat they will starve within a few days- so they don’t come back until they really know it will be warm-  and today begins a long stretch of warming days. 

Many people make a big fuss about purple martins- and they are beautiful and fun to have around too.  We even put up a new purple martin house this year in the hope of attracting some, but we haven’t been successful in the past.   Instead we have had a nesting pair of barn swallows for many years- and last year three nesting pairs right here at (or on) the house.  Which is really a bit much, because they build these muddy nests under the eaves, and then leave droppings everywhere.  But to watch them fly is sheer joy- and to know how many insects they eat… it’s just nice to have them around too.   Here’s a picture of one of the first-year swallows in late summer last year, stretching its wings above the house.


The odd thing is that the main nesting pair built its nest on top of the floodlight in front of the garage, under the eave. Right where the cars come and go, and we walk around playing and working, just a few steps from the house.  The birds fly off when I stand under the nest, and return when I step a few yards away.  I’m always there.  They don’t seem to mind too much until the eggs hatch- then it’s a bunch of squawking and chirping, and if a cat is on the driveway they swoop down at it, hecking and trying to chase it away.  But they don’t leave their nesting site right in front of the house and garage, just a half-dozen steps from the kitchen.  They’re no dummies- they know a good thing when they have it, but it still seems kind of strange.

It’s hard not to think of them as friends while they nest right above my head, and fly all around the driveway during the day.  When I cut the grass in the fields they follow along, and swoop in front and behind the tractor, scooping up the bugs stirred up around the clippings.  Somehow I like them hanging around- even with all the mess.   Last year those three nesting pairs had at least two clutches of eggs each, and in one season they produced a combined 15-20 young barn swallows.  Where do they all go?  I hope they’re not all planning to come here!  Three nests are enough. 


They’re not really our barn swallows of course, but I like to think of them that way.  It’s good to see them again, and this morning I said hello, and “Welcome back!” after a long journey.  The barn swallow sat on the gutter nearby, cocked its head and just looked at me.   Wouldn’t you love to know where it went, and what it saw on its journey?

A Simple Day

April 11th, 2009

Beautiful day today- it felt so nice to get things accomplished.  Finished restoring the old tractor’s mower deck and changing oil and filters to get it in shape for the season.  Took me forever to get the deck coupling reconnected to the power take-off… yes, the same one from before!  The boy played in the barn while I worked, and learned how to set up a wooden mousetrap while only getting his fingers snapped a few times.  After he figured it out you’d think it was the hottest new toy around- he got the biggest kick out of setting it up and tripping it with rocks or sticks.   He also helped me with some bolts and hard to reach items- he’s getting to be a big help these days.  We finished the day to a delicious supper of ham and potatoes.  All in all a simple, enjoyable day.  The kind of day that goes on forever, and when the sun starts down it’s almost a surprise.

It’s a weekend of shared celebration and memories too, and really feels like we can welcome the spring season now.  We’ll be looking for what the Easter bunny brought tomorrow- but it appears we aren’t the only ones looking for something… this robin spent several minutes burying its head inside this spruce!  Have a wonderful Easter sunday.


Birds, Flowers and Surprise!

April 2nd, 2009

With days of warming sun, flowers and wild life abounding, it’s easy to find spring as a favorite time of the year. Finally we enjoy getting outside more and seeing so much of life around us.  Especially birds and flowers.  I love it when the wild violets emerge- I don’t know the species exactly, but isn’t this one beautiful?

Wild Violet © Fox Haven Media 2009


But the birds are so amazing right now, and if you get the chance I hope you’ll stop over and visit Carrie at Great Auk – or Greatest Auk? and read an amazing discourse between two elderly gentlemen about birds.   Elderly is a bit optimistic, considering the discussion at hand, but it’s a really enlightening and humorous effort while hosting the I and the Bird #97 blog carnival.

It’s a fitting day for the carnival anyway as I watched a Great Heron this morning by the pond… perhaps the same heron I snuck up on a couple years ago?  It was poised on the shoreline in quiet contemplation (not!), until I saw it strike quickly and then wolf down a small bass.  I’m a little protective of the fish in the pond, so I wandered down the hillside and the heron flew away.  They can be voracious.  I had to smile though- I hope it enjoyed its breakfast.

There’s so much more going on than just birds and flowers of course.  Yesterday my faithful labrador was huffing and whining quietly on the porch… I wasn’t really listening.  He continued nosing around a plant and then looking up at me until I realized he was trying to tell me something.  I’m a little slow sometimes… but I nearly jumped as I leaned over to see what he was looking at.  Turns out we had a guest, probably overwintered in a pot we brought in- raise your hand if you know what it is!  (And you herpers out there… Shhhh!).


Okay, the answer is… a Red Milk Snake!

Yellow Labs and Brown-Headed Cowbirds

March 18th, 2009

The young pup is almost two and half years old now- a big, strong yellow labrador with a heart of gold.  I know everyone thinks their dogs and pets are pretty special, but I swear this furry guy is unlike any animal I’ve ever known.  I’m thinking about having a round of tests performed on him to consider breeding.  He’s not a show dog or champion field trialer, but he has good lineage and beautiful form.  His personality is amazing in so many ways, and if he could contribute to the breed I think that would be a good thing.   Have you hugged your dog today?  More importantly, how about your kids?!  For some folks they’re the same…

Yellow Labrador Retriever in a field of Bluestem

Interesting that you can actually clone your dog these days for the princely sum of $150,000 dollars.  Can you imagine?   Perhaps if money was no object someone could consider that, but it seems, well… ethically selfish to me I guess, among other things.  It’s a free country, but you can help an awful lot of people with that kind of money.  I do understand loving an animal that much, but it’s hard to rationalize spending so much money for that purpose.  Of course I  say that, but based on how I feel about my own lab-  if it didn’t cost very much I might consider getting another pup just like him too.  Heck, twenty or thirty years from now who knows what we’ll be able to do.   For now I just appreciate that he gets to be part of our family. 

Don’t you just want to give him a big hug?!



Maybe I should’ve titled this ‘The Dogs We Love and the Birds We Don’t” or “Cute Dogs and Ugly Birds.”  On a different note it’s about time to take the bird feeders down, and as if on cue the Brown-headed Cowbirds showed up for a party to pick through what was left.  Okay, maybe they’re not ugly, but they sure act that way.  Research has shown that they can impact songbird populations negatively through brood parasitism.  They’re the only species in our region that sneaks into other birds’ nests and lays their own eggs.  So a hapless goldfinch or flycatcher ends up feeding and raising a cowbird usually instead of their own young since the cowbird is bigger and has a voracious appetite.  

Well over a hundred species of birds end up raising cowbirds in this manner and there’s quite a debate regarding how destructive or natural this is.    We typically see them grouped up in spring while they migrate through in flocks.  Soon they disperse to look for a host nest, and we only see or hear them as solitary birds.  What a strange critter and survival mechanism- kind of looks like an unruly mob!


Dancing in the Sky

March 16th, 2009

It was so warm out this weekend that it felt like the middle of spring.  We’re not there yet of course, after seeing the low 20’s last week.  Many trees and shrubs have begun to leaf out, and hopefully everything hangs in there as winter gives way and the days grow longer.  Will we have another hard freeze?  I hope not… with luck we may actually have a little fruit from our small orchard this year.

Meanwhile I’ve enjoyed watching some of our avian friends returning, including several juvenile Red-tailed Hawks.  


I remember writing two years ago that I worked with raptors quite a few years back.  I worked alone as a biological research technician in a southern swamp for a few splendid seasons… big words for someone who ran through fields and forests gathering data. 

It was a great job, with some key prerequsites, like being okay wading through waist deep water with snakes drooping from branches above looking down at you.  For me it was an amazing experience though- I saw the natural world first hand and thought about what I wanted to do with my life.  It was quiet yet engaging work, and afforded time to watch the unfolding rhythms of nature as the seasons changed. 

In this case my charter was to follow a nesting pair of hawks around most of the day for three overlapping seasons.  Using radio tracking equipment I could tell when they were flying or sitting, and then go find them to observe what they were doing.  Sometimes I would climb trees adjacent to their nest and watch them feed other critters to their young fledglings, witnessing the stark realities of nature each day.  I remember seeing otters in the wild for the first time in my life.  While abundant in Missouri now, they were rarely seen in those days. 

One time I was canoeing down a swampy canal in the middle of the bottomland forest, peacefully watching those snakes glide off branches into the water.  And then while feeling totally relaxed, a loud “Smack-splash!!!” from a beaver’s tail and I nearly jumped out of the canoe.  The beaver non-chalantly climbed up on the bank and sat there licking it’s fur and watching me glide by.  How I wish I had taken a camera along on so many of those days.

On another warm, early spring afternoon in that watery place I watched in amazement as a pair of bald eagles performed incredible aerial maneuvers in preparation for the mating season.  It was like nothing I had seen before- I was enthralled, watching them zooming, climbing and diving towards each other with talons extended, and then doing quick snap-rolls as they passed while their talons touched briefly.  

I had dreamed for years as a youngster of learning to fly, and not just anywhere… watching the eagles was incredible and at the time seemed like a vision or a sign to pursue those dreams.  Through a series of fortunate events, I then met someone and took a job as a graduate assistant at the University of Missouri, studying and teaching biology.   There I was, barely out of college, teaching science labs to over a hundred undergraduates.   That was a wonderful, humbling experience in itself, and as lifetimes go I ended up meeting someone else and fumbling furiously towards my dreams to fly. 

I ended up spending the next 20 years traveling around world, flying off aircraft carriers for much of it, and seeing places and things I would never have believed.  I haven’t written or talked about it much because it was a different chapter of my life.  In some ways it’s almost like a movie that I saw long ago, and wonder about at times.  Parts of it are difficult to share, and others better left unsaid.  I enjoyed most of it, especially the sights and sounds of lives and places I didn’t really understand.   It fulfilled a desire for service and I loved the flying immensely- in many ways it was hard to let go.  Flight became an extension of an earthly life- literally to see new horizons in a given day.  Much more, but with that said I think I’ve been looking for a way to share some thoughts about those days or places, and maybe where I’ve held back at times.  I’m not really sure yet.   But when I might write about something far away, you’ll have some idea of how I got there.   Now we’re here, on a new journey for the past few years and it’s a chance to explore a whole new set of dreams.

I was thinking of that day long ago watching the eagles when I saw a pair of Red-tailed Hawks last week.  They perform similar flight maneuvers and I watched as a juvenile pair circled high above the pond calling to each other.    Here’s a fuzzy picture of one several hundred yards in the air as it dropped towards another hawk. 


They too extended talons and flew at each other, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that day with the eagles long ago.  Still it is something to watch and I can only wonder why they seem to love dancing in the sky?  Are they showing what good hunters they are with legs and talons thrust out aggressively, kind of “showing their stuff”  to their possible mate?  

Their flying antics continued for about five minutes, with shrieks and cries, and then all at once they separated and headed back over the woodlands towards their nesting site.   One of them dipped quickly toward the treetops, wings tucked and whispering quietly as it flew past me just a few meters away. 


Birds, and raptors especially, have always been part of my life.  I’ve watched and studied them since my school days and there’s a connection with flight that I’ve felt closely through the years.   I loved the change that flying provided too- a physical change of perspective as well as a mental shift.  You can be sitting on the ground, shrouded in fog and drizzling rain… and a minute or two later you burst forth through clouds into a shimmering sky,  with sunlit mountains of white all around. 

Isn’t life often the same?   Stretches of rain and gray at times, and then days filled with light and promise where we embrace our surroundings, finding it a sheer joy to be alive.   We’ve all lived lived through such challenges and bright days.  And I believe we have a great deal of choice regarding whether it’s the gray skies or the sunlight we see the most.  It’s neither the weather or our eyes that really tell us so.

Elderberries, Juncos and Schoolwork

February 25th, 2009

It’s a beautiful day today and I have grand ambitions for taking care of many outdoor chores.  By the way, that little shrub that I mentioned the other day in the picture is an Elderberry.  How it grew there I don’t know, but it blooms in May and June with pretty white flower clusters- and I love the berries for jam and jelly that mature in late August or September.  Here’s last summer’s efforts at making jam– the elderberry jam never set up, but the sauce is wonderful on pancakes or biscuits.  We’re almost out of the elderberry sauce now, and I’ll have to pull some more berries out of the freezer.  Maybe I should trim around the elderberry bush so it has a little more space to grow?  Last year I was stuck in a patch of briars trying to reach the elderberry clusters.  The good thing is they were blackberry bushes… but ouch!

We’re still feeding the birds- they go through almost four feeders full of seed every week or so.  I think we’re finishing the second 40 pound bag of mixed seed, and the second 15 pound bag of thistle for winter and that should be it.  I love having them here, but you’ve got to keep the feeders full.  The young boy helps me with that and loves seeing the birds.   I’d like to think it helps some of the birds make it through winter that would otherwise have a difficult time.    And yet with days like today in the 60’s the birds are off exploring for insects and other natural fare.   Soon it will be time for them to disperse to nesting sites, and for birds like the Junco to head back north.  We don’t have them here in summer- they leave in March and come back in November.   Here’s a Junco on the Mugo!

Junco on Mugo

By the way, have you seen the math the second grade kids do these days?  I’m amazed by the expectations that schools have and how much work they are assigned.  Overall it’s a very good thing, but it seems like so much more than we ever did as youngsters, and I have to wonder if the strategies are really effective at times.

Between the reading, weekly book summaries and reports, spelling tests, composition and math, it’s a wonder they have time to be kids. At least his school still has recess, music, art and PE. But our little guy is having a tough time being fast enough with his “math facts.” That’s where the kids are timed- and he has to do 25 addition or subtraction problems in 2 minutes! He knows it really well, but it takes him 4-5 minutes to finish them. We even practice them every day on paper and with a little electronic gizmo to help memorize them, but he’s at a plateau… I’m sure he’ll improve with time.

Personally I don’t believe in forcing speed drills on kids so young- and to grade them poorly even though they know the math. In fact he’s very good in math, but because he sees himself finishing slowly and he thinks he’s “not good at math.” I try to help him understand that he is good at math, and with time and practice he’ll get faster. I just want him to continue learning- remaining receptive to it, and to understand that it’s not all about speed. Skills he learns now are important as building blocks for the skills he will need in later grades, but some children develop more slowly in certain areas. Obviously the standardized testing is a big part of it- and those tests begin in 3rd grade where he will start taking the timed tests that will be part of academics for the rest of his school days.

What’s very strange is that he can naturally remember the words to poems, jokes and songs without even trying- he’s far better at that than I am. And yet he doesn’t remember numbers the same way, or doesn’t think he does. Contrast his math with his reading… he’s already at an advanced reading level, and simply devours books. I’m so proud of him, and feel like lots of effort really paid dividends. I used to sit with him for hours as a 3, 4 and 5 year old, going over sounds and sentences every day to develop phonemic awareness, and practice his reading skills. And he always had mom or dad or grandma to read to him as well at bedtime. But the reading practice wasn’t easy, and he didn’t always enjoy it. At one point he really didn’t like the book/program I had, so I gave it a few week break and switched to a more fun phonics reading approach. He loved it.

But I remember at one point wondering if he would ever get it, and finally around age 6 he just took off.  To this day I still remember the first little phonics book he read on his own-  afterwards I said “Guess what?… You just read that all by yourself!”  He didn’t believe me at first, and then he was surprised at himself.   Now he knows he’s good at reading, and he really enjoys it and is proud of himself.   I hope he can develop his skills and appreciation for math and such to feel the same way.   Yet who knows, maybe he’s just more of a word person than a number person… everybody is different.

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