Predictability, Change and Barn Swallows

April 7th, 2008

Somehow we are reassured with constancy, or at least routine.  Not that I prefer routine mind you, but I appreciate predictability.  It helps frame our experience, or maybe serves as a foundation for other aspects of our lives.  But then again, I’ve always thrived with chaos and change too.

The Barn Swallows represent a constant in my life, and predictability as well as strength.  They returned last night.  Funny… at dinner I was musing about when the Barn Swallow’s would return because last year it was on the 7th of April… today.  Or at least that’s when I noticed them last year.

But then after dinner I went out to clean up a few things and as I sat gazing at the sky, our feathered friend swooshed overhead!  I thought I was seeing things, but then the other swallow of the pair flew by and I smiled, yelling “Welcome back!” to these fleet birds intent on their mission.  I marveled at their speed and hurried pace.  The day had been warm and insects were emerging everywhere.  So the swallows were having their supper.

 Barn Swallow returns to Fox Haven

How do they fly to South America in late summer and back here 6-7 months later to arrive on about the same day?   This morning I took the young boy to meet the bus, and we watched the swallows flying low over the fields.  Returning to the house, I saw one perched above the roof, preening and enjoying the morning sun after a long journey.  It looked at me briefly and then away.

I wondered what was different along the journey that the barn swallow may have encountered, and what might be different here.  We are different perhaps, and then we are also the same.

I love the chaos and change that seasons represent, and yet too their predictability.  We’ve had our share of dynamic weather, and yet the seasons, the birds, the morning sunshine –  all are new, and all are the same.  All are alive, and flow together as one.

March Easter Morning

March 23rd, 2008

A welcome day as the flood waters are receeding in towns across the region, and for Easter of course. This is the earliest time of year that I can ever remember celebrating Easter. The young one awoke with excitement in his eyes to find out what the Easter Bunny may have brought. Finding (and now hiding) Easter eggs is something I remember fondly too. My father used to enjoy hiding eggs around the house, and many family members may have found an egg or two in the old piano. This is now the young boy’s favorite hiding place as well. Another early memory of mine is when our mother baked little Easter cakes for all the boys. I must have been 10 or 11 years old. It was exciting to find your own special cake on Easter!

We colored our eggs yesterday, and the boy was very proud of this one- it turned out blue from mixing other dyes together. Now why the Easter Bunny takes our colored eggs out of the refrigerator and hides them is a question we just haven’t answered yet.. :)

Easter egg hidden in the piano

We awoke to light snow this morning, but it quickly melted. You can just see a little on the top of the stump which was under water a few days ago. This is the normal “full” level for the pond, until summer sets in with less rainfall. A couple of male Wood Ducks are enjoying time to forage in the shallows nearby.

Wood Ducks in the pond on Easter morning

A Good Friday and Welcome Spring!

March 21st, 2008

Spring is finally here as we eagerly await the warmer days.  Yet so much rain has fallen in the region this week that many areas are still expecting flooding today and tomorrow.  By next week all is forecast to return to normal, but it’s always amazing how fast nature can change our lives.  The animals and birds just “are” and each day is one of gathering, building… living.   We are not so different.

Today this Tufted Titmouse has been working at the last of the suet I put out for the woodpeckers.

Tufted-titmouse eating suet

Rufous-sided Towhee stopped by for a visit the other morning.  They must head south in the fall because this is the first one I’ve seen or heard in quite a while.

Rufous-sided Towhee

We enjoyed the first sunset of spring yesterday.  I never tire of watching the sun fade behind the trees, or over the horizon at sea.

First spring sunset at Fox Haven

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Water, Water Everywhere

March 19th, 2008

We’ve had so much rain the past few days that many areas have flooded already.  I started wondering where Noah was building the ark yesterday…  Some of the smaller towns have evacuated people temporarily, and the larger rivers may not crest yet for a few days. Let’s hope the water doesn’t rise too fast. We received over 3-4 inches of rain this week at Fox Haven, so everything is very soggy and muddy. At least the water table will be strong going into the summer this year.

We do sit up fairly high, although a large watershed drains into the pond.  We’ve never seen water crest the dam, and I hope I never do.  But it was within a foot or two yesterday, and the water rushed out the spillway to the side of the dam and down through the woods.  Today it’s all colored brown and muddy.

Here’s a picture of our “rain gauge stump” under the water for half the day yesterday.  Today it’s finally back a few inches above again as the water drains.

Pond stump under water after heavy rain

Compare the picture above to this one of the same stump!  This is our “Old Man in the Stump” and in August last year he was quite dry. Hopefully we’ll have a little more rain through the summer this year.

Old Man in the Stump in August

But not everyone minds the rain and high water.  These wood ducks enjoyed playing all around the shoreline, but kept a wary eye out too!

Wood Ducks on Fox Haven Pond

Harbingers of Spring!

March 11th, 2008

The season is changing fast… and what’s a “harbinger” anyway?! All I know is that we went from freezing at night to a beautiful warm afternoon today, and it just feels like spring is coming. I think the plants and critters are feeling it too.

Dwarf apple tree buds in spring

We planted this dwarf apple tree about 18 months ago- it’s about 3-4 years old. Last year’s blossoms were snapped by the late spring freeze, but maybe we’ll see an apple this year? The tree is still young, but we’ll see! The apple trees we planted last year have all been chewed by deer at night. I need to put up some kind of fence because they just chew the buds, leaves and shoots as fast as they grow.

The Red-winged Blackbird is a very common bird, but we only see a couple of them in the area. This one is looking for a handout near the feeders.

Red-winged Blackbird

While working outside I heard what sounded like the high nasal whistling sounds of White-fronted Geese and finally saw them very high up. Last year I watched a small flock fly in over the treetops and land on the pond- I had never seen them up close before with their yellow legs! These could also be Snow Geese which have become too abundant across many regions of North America.

White-fronted geese migration

The Pussy Willow tree is blooming early with it’s fuzzy “catkins”.

Pussy Willow catkins

And here’s one of the Pileated Woodpecker holes in a large Oak tree. There were many other smaller holes near the base of the tree, but the depth of this one is amazing. Hard to appreciate the size of the hole- I need to use something for reference next time, but this one’s about the size of a half-dollar. I’m curious about what insects are in the tree that the woodpecker is after.

Pileated Woodpecker hole

I can say that there were a ton of paper wasps around this tree last year, near a woodpile I was stacking. When I got too close to the area with the tractor the wasps would buzz all around. Ever try to run away from a wasp on a tractor? Just not going to happen if they’re really angry. But I never knew where they were coming from, so maybe it’s inside this tree? I woudn’t have noticed the holes/cavities near the base if the woodpecker had not been tearing it up this year. Hmmm… It’s kind of close to the barn so I’m tempted to seal it up with expanding foam.

About an hour before sunset we were amazed to see a hot air balloon cruising across the treetops! The young boy ran around waving and yelling “Hi!” Not sure they heard us, but it was fun to watch! Made me wonder what people in rural America must have thought when airplanes began flying around the countryside in the days of the barnstormers. I would have really loved that…

Hot air balloon

Woody the Woodpecker

March 9th, 2008

A cool weekend but the days are longer with more sunshine now! The forecast looks great and we can see the coming of spring in full now. The spring peepers are out almost every night, and I’ve seen Redwing Blackbirds back in the area. A great mass of Turkey Vultures were flying above the fields the other day, a sight I haven’t seen since early December.

This year we’ve gone through about 70 pounds of mixed bird seed at the feeders, and an additional 15 pounds of thistle seed for the finches. I’ve also put out suet for the woodpeckers and nuthatches. Yesterday a large Pileated Woodpecker was probing for insects among the top of the oak trees. These guys are very powerful and can shred the bark off a tree in a short time. I’ve seen a lot of woodpecker damage on various trees, but I like to think they are taking care of many harmful insects that would otherwise kill or damage the tree. They are beautiful birds however, and I enjoy seeing them. I call this one Woody:

Pileated Woodpecker

Whatever happened to the “Woody the Woodpecker” show? I think of it when I see these guys, and remember enjoying watching it as a young boy.


Pileated Woodpecker

If this guy came to the bird feeder he would probably tear it apart!

Pileated Woodpecker



Early March Snow is Fun for Everybody

March 5th, 2008

After an amazingly warm weekend, we were hit by 5+ inches of snow. Made for an interesting day, especially watching the animals.

Many birds hung around the feeders through the storm, especially the litttle Juncos.

Juncos at the feeder during snowfall

The snowfall covered the barn quickly.

Country barn after snowfall

A flock of Robins perched around the trees, looking out of place with the ground covered in snow.

Robin perched in tree during snowstorm

And I learned something new about Robins. Several of them flew in and out of this Juniper tree eating the juniper berries. Who knew?

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Canada Geese are Back

February 19th, 2008

Our feathered friends have been wandering the pond a few times the past week… they are probably looking for a place to nest.  I went for a stroll with the pup and the geese decided to spend the morning elsewhere.  The Lab looked at me… “Can I get one of those?!”  He looked wistfully at them as they flew away.  It was about 9 degrees this morning- Brrrr!

 Canada Geese looking for a nesting site in February

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Cold, Sunny Days in January

January 25th, 2008

A sunny week with really cold nights… but when you wake up around 10 degrees F, and then the high is close to 30 degrees you actually start to feel warm.   Isn’t it amazing how the sun makes all the difference?  And it provides an opportunity (and motivation) to get some more things done outdoors.  We’ve been going through the firewood pretty quickly the past few weeks.  The tractor helps immensely with carrying loads of wood closer to the house.  The year before we got it I was pushing wheel barrows back and forth forever it seemed.  The tractor helps make the trip from behind the barn to around the house where I stack it near the doors outside, and then it’s not such a far reach in the middle of the night, or early morning!  This year we’re using about three bucket loads every two weeks, but that will drop off quickly after a few more weeks I suspect.  It really helps warm the house and cut down on the electricity bill however.

Loading up firewood in the John Deere 2320 tractor bucket

The birds have been eating an incredible amount of seed at the feeder.  I put up some suet for the woodpeckers.  Here a female Red-bellied Woodpecker uses her stiff tail feathers to help prop herself up for a quick meal.  The male’s heads are entirely capped in red as opposed to the top patch in gray for the females. 

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

I’m starting to feel ready for spring again.  Funny how the seasons can do that… just enough time and enjoyment to look forward to the next season.  In a few weeks it will be time to plant seed starts indoors, and order from the catalogs.  We may try a different garden approach this year, as we’ll be gone on vacation visiting relatives for a few weeks.  Last year we started too late and missed the early growing season… time to plan ahead a little better!

Bully Birds and Moss

January 18th, 2008

     A beautiful sunny, cold day today and some colder weather coming.  I think it’s going to be around 7 degrees F/ -14 Celsius tonight.  Time to bring the dogs into the garage and let them sleep a little warmer.  And the birds are really stocking up on the food.  When a storm is approaching there’s always a lot more activity at the bird feeder… but sometimes a big bully comes a long and ruins it for everybody.   Usually it’s the cats prowling for some unwary bird…

But this Purple (Common) Grackle hung around the feeder for a few hours guarding his new-found hoard of birdseed.  I didn’t see him eat very much- he just tossed it around, looking for the bigger pieces.   The other birds kept their distance while he thrashed about.  I suppose calling him a bully is being a bit anthropomorphic, but like Jays they can steal eggs and eat the other critters!

Common Grackle guarding the bird feeder 

There’s always something to notice while walking the property.  Is there anything more green than Carpet Moss in the forest in winter?  It just has that deep vibrant, lush feel to it that you can get lost in.  Everything else is so brown it really stands out.  I’d love to have a mossy terrace just covered by it!

Carpet Moss in the forest in winter

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