The other day I heard an unfamiliar racket out the window and discovered a small flock of northern flickers had come to visit the garden. They were eating bugs in the ground, and also poking their long beaks between the pavers on our patio, so I am going to guess they were eating ants. They settled in for a feast, and made themselves at home.
They are so distinctive and beautiful, a spotted breast with a black bib (and cheek patches on the males), red heart shape patch on the back of their head, and white rump feathers visible when they fly. Oh, and a bit of yellow on the tail. I also saw a plain looking smaller bird that I believed was a juvenile flicker, but then noticed it had white spots on black instead of black on white. It was clearly hanging out with the male and female flickers, but it looks more like a starling juvenile. Does anyone know if starlings ever drop eggs with the flickers to get them to raise the young starlings?
Stranger than it first appeared.
We put up the hummingbird feeders five days ago, and the hummingbirds showed up within a couple days. Today I got some photos, while sitting on the deck a few feet away. This is a male ruby-throated hummingbird, and a female came around as well. It is rather marvelous that they can find these feeders, considering the length of their travels.
Hummingbirds migrate to and from central America where they spend the winter, usually in the same place that their ancestors did. They fly alone, not in flocks, and instinctively know where to go. Isn’t that incredible? Hummingbirds have an average life span of 3-5 years, so maybe these are the same hummingbirds as those who found the feeder we put up last year, before we had the roof on the deck. Or maybe they are descendants. Now we have two feeders, and they’ve already used both. Hummingbirds are very territorial, so I wonder if we’ll see others, or these two will claim it all for themselves.
My birthday isn’t until the end of June, but Margy gave me a wonderful free-standing hammock as an early birthday gift. With all of the working in the garden, it is easy to forget to just BE–to just lie there and watch the sky and the trees and the birds. It is large enough for both of us, and on Friday afternoon Margy and I were just being in it together. Several little birds came to check us out in the trees close by–a tufted titmouse was singing, so much louder than one might expect from its small size. Catbirds, cardinals. “What is this new nest in the back of the yard?” they seemed to be asking. “What new thing are you humans doing here?”
But we weren’t doing anything. We were just being, watching, enjoying, listening, seeing. On Saturday, I came back and tried again. I especially like the symbolism of this gift, since this summer I will be retiring from my work at the church. It is a bittersweet time, because I have loved my work at the church, and I will miss the people there. But I like to imagine that in retirement I will have more opportunity for just being. The hammock is a reminder to take that time–to not get caught up in all the projects I might be doing in the yard or the house or out there in the wide world–but to be still and spacious, to relax, to observe, to delight. Thank you, Margy! I love this gift!
Yesterday, I looked out a window and saw a turkey in the driveway. When I went on the deck to get a closer look, it flew up to the maple tree in our neighbors yard. But then I looked up and discovered two turkeys on the garage roof, another roosting in the pitch pine, more in the spruce and small maple on the other side of the house–we were surrounded!
The one on the roof seemed to enjoy our conversation–it was looking at me so intently as I spoke. I wonder if this is the same family that visited often during the summer and played in the dirt in and near our future pond? They were younger then, of course. But maybe? If you look closely you can see two of them in the photo below, from their visit in September. This morning on my walk, they were out walking too. Perhaps the deep snow has disrupted wherever they were hanging out during the winter. But they look very fat and healthy. A visit from wild neighbors always makes my day!
On my walk this morning at sunrise, I heard the cardinal singing, and then, for the first time this season, I was able to see him up high in the trees. There is a symphony of birds each morning, that has been going on for a couple weeks–since around Groundhog Day actually. I read that birds have photoreceptors in the bases of their brains that record the length of the dark period each day. As the darkness shortens, and as days lengthen, birds get spring fever. Just like us. So their songs signal that spring is just around the corner. Or at least that we are halfway there. Maybe we in Maine should call Groundhog Day, “Bird Song Day” instead.
On my walk yesterday, I followed the brook trail by the Hall School. Then, as I was going along the road that crosses over the brook, I happened to look through the chain link fence to my left, and saw these huge birds resting in the underbrush near the brook. They had not been visible from the trail–in fact I went back to see if I could get a closer look, and they were completely hidden. Turkey vultures. I had never seen them in the neighborhood before, but while watching for several minutes, another bird emerged–looking scruffy like a juvenile. So maybe this was mama and papa’s protected home for raising their baby.
You never know what you’ll see in the little thickets and woods along the brook. Further along my walk, I cross over another branch of the brook. (My neighborhood is situated between two branches of flowing water that both feed into Capisic Brook.) Stopping to see what I might see, I almost missed this tiny bird. I want to guess that it might be a black and white warbler–I saw one of those last year on the warbler walk at Evergreen. But I am not sure. Anyone?
Yesterday, Margy found the binoculars, and I walked to the Evergreen Cemetery to join in the Audubon Warbler Walk. During the walk, this American redstart flew right up to where our group was standing next to the pond. I had never seen one before. How amazing that I was able to take photos of a warbler with my small camera!
I love the warbler walk because wise folks will identify and point out birds that I might not have noticed–tiny, and often hidden in thick brush, or in high branches. I am getting better at spotting them and moving between using my eyes alone and switching to binoculars. I can’t keep track of too many new species, though, so after seeing a wood thrush, a pine warbler and this American redstart, I made my way back home.