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Bus Stop Mornings

Sunday, May 31, 2009


I won’t miss getting up at 5:30 every weekday morning, that’s for sure. But I will miss these moist warm mornings when I get to walk the kids out to the bus, which stops by our mailbox.

I will miss watching Liam run like anything, from an imaginary truck, to an imaginary reward.

I will miss watching him read Harry Potter, lost in another world, as meadowlarks and bluebirds sing all around him.
He won't miss the meadowlarks and bluebirds until he's been away a long, long time. They are the soundtrack of his life, and he doesn't know what it's like not to hear them. He doesn't yet know what it is to live with car alarms and sirens for music. But someday he will. That day needs to wait awhile. Neither of us are ready.

I hang on to these days.

And am thankful for Chet, who stays with me when Liam isn't here.

That's why I wanted a boy dog.

Living Lawn Ornaments

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Like most gardeners, I have accumulated a fair amount of yard art. I have a gnome, for instance, and a gazing ball or two, and a plastic Adelie penguin that covers up an obnoxious pipe.

However, the best garden art we have is the live kind. And when live birds combine with yard art, you really have something. I'm still trying to get a photo of a phoebe perched on the penguin's head. Working on it.

Hummingbirds are the chief carriers of charming around here. They will fetch up on the darnedest things, the main requirement being that the perch be small around enough for their teeny tiny feet. There is almost always one on the bail of my hanging baskets on the front porch.

Little stretching dude.

Look closely, and you will see two tiny and admittedly not very spectacular garden ornaments, each with its own bail to perch on. How sweet. I mean, they're not spectacular until you realize that, while some people have stone lions or Foo dogs on either side of their front door, we have live hummingbirds guarding our door. Arf! Arf!

Not to be outdone, Gouty's mate takes the morning sun on our farm bell, the same one that graced Bill's house in Pella, Iowa, when he was a little kid, the one that, when rung, brought Billy and Andy home from Bunnyland.

My personal favorite is the male hummer who likes to sit on the frog's kitestring in the shade bed on the north side of the house. He likes the little gentle bounce he gets when he lands, or when the wind blows.

For sheer serendipity, though, I have to hand it to this shot of life imitating the Garden Forge art made by our friends Betsy and Jan.

Warbler Photography, Quick and Dirty

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A migrant white-crowned sparrow hops amongst the dandelions and spent lilac flowers.

It's here, that time of spring when everything happens too fast. There were still migrant blackpoll warblers singing this morning, sounding, as Jeff Gordon points out, like a bike wheel out of true: tsit tsit tsit tsit tsit.

I look at my spring bird photos and know I must post them before they go bad.

We won't go bad. We stay around all year.

One of the cuter tufted titmouse displays--presenting the fluffy butt. Good thing they're both presenting at the same time. Nobody gets insulted.

A cardinal sits with a white-crowned sparrow. That little crown stands out like a logo--you can identify this bird at a ridiculous distance.

This pair of cardinals is always exchanging sweet seed kisses.

Meanwhile, the blue-winged warblers are making our old decrepit orchard a wonderful place to be. Part of the courting razzmatazz of the blue-winged warbler is spectacular chases, looping in and out of low prickly vegetation.

Most of the looks you get are like this:

and then they're off again. But sometimes you get a clear look at the warbler's disappearing tail.

or its back as it pauses to catch its breath.

And then sometimes, if you stand around in the briar patch for an hour or so, waiting and taking dozens of pictures, one pauses long enough for you to fumble the manual focus onto it before it wings away again. Autofocus is not an option, with so much bramble in the way. The camera will pick an extraneous twig and focus on that instead of the bird. Maybe I'm weird, but I absolutely love trying to get my lens on a warbler and manually focus him into a decent image. Maybe because it's almost impossible. I love a challenge.

This isn't publishable, but it's good enough for me, and a heck of a nice way to spend a morning before the bus comes.

A Favorite Warbler

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


People sometimes ask me which bird is my favorite to paint. It's kind of like asking about my favorite food or animal or child. I really like the one that's in front of me at the moment. (although scallops in buerre blanc are right up there, and Chet Baker is my favorite animal hands But I can answer with some emphasis that I love painting chestnut-sided warblers about the best of them all.

They don't stay with us to breed, going farther north to Pennsylvania and New England. Chestnut-sided warblers love old fields, and sing their sweet sweet sweet I'll switch you! song from the tops of small trees and shrubs. Where I used to live in Salem, Connecticut, they nested right on the road to my cottage. Oh, how I loved them, but I have traded them for yellow-breasted chats, and the icky deer ticks for icky but not infectious wood ticks, and that is all right with me.

There's so much going on on this little bird--crown patch, back stripes, wing bars (yellow, no less!), flank stripes, moustaches, tail spots, eye lines. And all set off with that fabulous white belly. It really is a party to paint.

But the attitude and poses chestnut-sided warblers strike are just as charming as their outfits. They tend to hop along branches, wings dropped and tails cocked, wagging side to side as they hop first this way and then that.

They look carefully at the undersurfaces of leaves and hop up to glean insects off them. Then they'll flutter-jump, snag a treat, and keep hopping. Each warbler has a distinctive foraging style, and the chestnut-side gleans the undersides of leaves, always looking up.

Maybe that's why I love them so.

Here's a photo from last May I never got the chance to post. May's like that.

Looking for Morels, Which We Didn't Find

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Oh, the things you find when you go into the woods.

Looking for morels, which we didn't find

We found other things.
A whole new patch of pawpaws in a place I hadn't looked

Dangling bloody blossoms, calling flies to tickle and play

So that from this strange bell a fruit will form

Banana custard, pulp and seeds in a soft yellow skin.

We'll come back in September.

Looking for morels, which we didn't find

I stopped on a hillside to watch a cardinal build her nest

Followed her to a honeysuckle tangle
And there found a butterfly
never before seen on our land

The round rings on its wings rang a distant bell.
And there in the woods I combed the books of memory
Found the answer waiting, struggling up through the pages and the hard cover of time

A Harvester! Fenisecus tarquinius
Only the second seen in a life of looking for butterflies
And here! on our land, not one but two.

Its caterpillar, the only predaceous one, spurning leaves for aphids.

Number 73 for the property.

But I digress. Numbers are not poetry.

Walking a little farther along, the first turtle of spring
Frozen, watchful

I pretended not to see him. He never pulled in his head.
A victory, however small.

And farther along the same slope
I stop, become still
A crunch of leaves, almost inaudible
I focus like an owl on a spot yards away

Where the second turtle of spring
has drawn in its foot

That sound enough to betray its presence.

Its eye an angry garnet
Discovered but resolute.

Looking for morels, which we didn't find.

Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. The word has been voted as one of the ten English words that were hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company--Wikipedia

"In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind." Louis Pasteur

Harvester, Fenisecus tarquinus, #73 for Indigo Hill, Whipple, Ohio, April 26, 2009

Birds of Passage

Thursday, May 21, 2009

They are still coming, the migrants, though the peak has passed. This morning, a blackpoll warbler gave its sibilant coded song, herald of the end of migration. They have the farthest north to go of almost any warbler; I'm sure it's still snowing on their breeding grounds in far northern Canada right now.

Rainy weather prevents many from singing, and we have to get out and search for them visually, or we'd never know they were there. I've seen five magnolia warblers for each one I've heard singing this spring.
While gardening May 15, I heard not one but two Canada warblers singing from our woods. I threw down the trowel and tromped down there to feast my eyes. I saw one, but never got the lens on him. Next spring...

This blue-headed vireo never said a word as he hopped through the sycamore, but we spotted him anyway.

The bay-breasted warbler's weak s'wee s'wee is easily overlooked as emanating from an American redstart, but we've learned to chase the wispy song down.

The prize: a designer warbler in rust, buff, black and gray.

Finally, a decent shot. Morning light is lovely, but it can be harsh, and Bill and I madly twiddle our camera dials looking for the right exposure, while trying to stay on a rapidly flitting warbler.
It ain't easy, but it's really fun.

Black-billed cuckoos are raiding the tent caterpillar nests and gathering twigs for their own. They're ridiculously easy to call in using only my voice, imitating their soft tripled coos.

Notice how his tail spots are small and grayish, and how his wings lack the strong rufous of the yellow-billed cuckoo's. There's also that black bill.

Cuckoos are a lot more common and easier to see than people realize. Or maybe we're just lucky.

Yes, that's it. Speaking of lucky, we've had orchard orioles nest in our yard only once in 17 years. Each spring I cross my fingers and hope.

A young male belts out his chattery song from a wind-whipped birch. He's olive green with spots of rust, and the famous black "beard."

Off he goes, but maybe some spring they'll stay and grace us again. Oh, to have orchard orioles feeding their babies in my vegetable garden once more! A young male was singing in the yard again today. I can hope.

It's another clear, pellucid day, the kind of day when a load of laundry dries in an hour, when I have to water the bonsais twice, when I haul out my 600-foot garden hose to water the lettuce because all the rain that seemed like it would never stop is simply gone. A classic southern Ohio spring. You're drowning, and then you're dry, and that's pretty much it. Not complaining, just sayin'. And loving every minute of it.
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