Monday, June 8, 2009
A buckeye in full bloom.
Women in the Outdoors is a day-long camp for women in my part of Appalachia. There are workshops and field trips and shooting practice and mini-classes. I often give a talk and lead a bird walk. Camp Hervida in Waterford, Ohio, is nestled in a lovely piece of Appalachian hardwood forest, with nice wildflowers, good tall strong trees and lovely birds.
It's just wonderful when you can show people a scarlet tanager, and know it's the first look for many of them.
You just have to gasp at a bird like that.
But my favorite thing is to see birds doing things, to find their nests and share that. We were walking slowly along a trail and I was showing the women Mayapples, and telling them how delicious the fruits were when they were ripe, and that was news to everyone, because most people don't think to eat Mayapples, they let the box turtles eat them all. Because they're just right for box turtles, four inches off the ground, juicy, fragrant, soft, yellow...all the things a box turtle loves.
And a red-eyed vireo spooked from elbow height in a small tree right off the trail. She perched, wiped her bill, fluffed her feathers, and voided an enormous dropping. I knew right away by that evidence she'd come off a nest where she'd been sitting all morning, and told the women so. Having all been mothers, we knew the feeling of being released from duty.
Within seconds, I'd spotted the nest, right where she had fluttered out of the tree.
It was such a lovely cradle, but we didn't go any closer, for fear of bringing our scent to it.
I loved that moment, letting them in on the Science Chimp thought process, which puts seemingly insignificant things together, strongly seasoned with empathy, to find out more about how birds live.
But it got better. A female Acadian flycatcher was flitting up into the top of a tree near a bridge where we were standing, and it soon became apparent that the cluster of oak catkins she was messing with was becoming her nest.
With each addition of nesting material, she'd climb into the skeletal structure and shape it with her body, feet and bill.
But it got better. Because she kept flying to another cluster of catkins and ripping them out and taking them to the nest she was working on. And we realized that she was dismantling a nest that for some reason she was dissatisfied with, and rebuilding it in a site she liked better.
Here, she takes some catkins from the rapidly disappearing old nest. Look how she's used springy grape tendrils, like the springs in a box frame, to give the nest strength.
It didn't take long for us to figure out why.
She had built the old nest directly over the bridge, probably before any campers arrived, and when they did, she realized that it was a lousy place to try to incubate undisturbed.
The old nest is the little dark knot directly over the group.
She kept at it, tearing out the old one and rebuilding in the better spot, while we marveled at her intelligence and beauty.
You can see the catkin in her bill.
Science Chimps love a mystery, solved.
Fire pink glowed in the woods.
And a storm that had threatened all morning followed me home, but it didn't stop me from hitting two greenhouses on the way, and filling up my Exploder with flowers.
I feel so blessed to live where my routes look like this.
It was a good day. We were all happy.
This one is for Suzi, who makes Women in the Outdoors happen.