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Cerulean Homemaker

Monday, May 30, 2022

It seems I've just returned from a week in West Virginia, and yet I look at the calendar and it's been almost a month. Such is my life during Vegetation Time, when all that free time I fritter away doing things like editing, blogging, writing and painting gets sucked up in Vegetation Management. Oh, there's plenty of that all winter long, but it's more like upper body workouts, and not as horribly pressing. In southeast Ohio in May, you manage your vegetation or smother under it.

People have been asking me about No Mow May. "Is it bad to mow my lawn during No Mow May?"  The whole concept makes me laugh in a snorty way. Whoever came up with that doesn't live in southeast Ohio. Maybe doesn't even have a yard to maintain at all. I've thrown a belt and broken a pulley mowing my paths this spring. Yesterday I mowed a path that I had inadvertently skipped--it went about three weeks without mowing. Aaaack. I barely got through it; the rider mower was gagging and growling and burping on grass.  Then, just as I was finishing up three hours of path mowing, I threw a belt again. What fun. It takes my beloved neighbors Bill and Kathy and me to get the damn deck off, belt replaced, and back on the mower. Every time.  I'm all for not mowing. But around here, you'd better have a tractor and a brush hog ready if you quit for the month of May. Honestly, what could those No Mow May folks have been thinking? 

Kathy and Bill, saving my bacon again, and again, and again.
I am in the market for a new rider lawnmower. I need one that doesn't throw
belts like a Chippendale dancer, and doesn't give me PTSD
every dang time I climb on it.

Anyway, I'm not here primarily to kvetch about having to mow. I'm here to celebrate West Virginia, ancestral home of the Zickefooses, West Virginia University, ramps, and kick a-s birds. I celebrated my 20th year of involvement with the New River Birding and Nature Festival this spring by committing to an entire week of guiding. It wasn't nothing, getting up at 5 every morning, leading a 7-hour field trip, then getting up and doing it again the next morning, and the next...

But oh, the places we went, and the things we saw! 

I will now share some glorious things in a random way. 

One of the things I love about our field trips is that they are entirely bird-driven. If we find a bird, or birds, we stop dead and hang out for an hour or more, just taking in what the birds give us. Such was this moment with a female cerulean warbler we found visiting a junky-looking pile of winter stems on a Fayetteville road bank. 

You'll want to click on the photos to see her.

Birds are natural botanists and artisans. Like me in an art store, they know what materials they're looking for, and when they find the right stuff, they'll keep coming back. This little beauty was stripping papery fibers, perhaps from a winter milkweed or goldenrod stem.

It took some effort, and she'd throw a wing out and flutter as she pulled, which is what drew our attention.

It didn't take her long to get a billful, and she'd bear that off into a tall maple where, unseen, she was weaving a masterpiece.

We were charmed beyond delirium.

The female cerulean warbler has a dusty aqua/cornsilk yellow/dove gray color combination you just don't see on any other bird. She owns that muted color scheme, wears it beautifully. Please see her crown. Heavenly blue!

Seeing this little miracle taking place before our astonished eyes was such a full-circle moment for me. Years ago, I received a commission to paint nesting cerulean warblers in a West Virginia mountain setting for the WV Breeding Bird Atlas. I watched cerulean warblers and shot some landscapes for reference on this very same road, with my same WV friends. And the great big beautiful vastly informative and carefully researched book is out, and it's SO good, and I'm so proud to have decorated the cover. You can find out more at

It almost always rains for part of the festival, and I really wanted to convey a sense of West Virginia's mist-shrouded mountains. 

Taken from the New River Gorge bridge early one morning during this year's festival...wonder where I got the inspiration for the painting?

The little cerulean warbler didn't know any of this stuff that was swirling around through my head. She had work to do. And so she kept tugging and pulling and gathering, and we kept smiling. 


All this on a trashy-looking mountain road bank, that just happened to have the right kind of bark for the nest of one of our most beautiful and imperiled warblers. 


Gorgeous girl.

What a beautiful bird. She came long way to nest in the forest there and show her beautiful self to you.

She is stunning! Thank you for sharing.

Can feel those moments of awe and bliss as you described them!

You were in the right place at the perfect time! Can't wait to see more from your trip!

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This is Cheryl: It was my first time to the New River Gorge Birding and Nature Festival and now the bar is forever set high! I saw more in that week with guides all as wonderful as you making sure we saw every bird. This female Cerulean warbler was such a magical moment in a week of spectacular days. Thank you for your willingness to commit to the whole week! Your photos are so much more focused than mine - lol!

I have a quick bird question - can a male bluebird raise one newly hatched bluebird by himself? Tragedy has struck their box and it is just those two. I have a box of bluebirds with 5 newly hatched and wonder if the singeton should be moved to a foster home? I hate to deprive daddy bluebird of his parental rights but wonder if he can manage it?

@Cheryl, the baby must be fostered into a same age box--get in touch with a local bluebird club or nestbox trail operator to find one. The male will feed but does not have the instinct to brood (sit on) the baby, so it will die of exposure overnight without the female around. If you must take it in, emergency ration of scrambled egg will keep it alive until you can either find a bluebird trail operator who can slip it into a same-age nest, or a wildlife rehabber who can feed it. Google your town and "wildlife rehabilitator" to find one. This is not a great way to shoot a question to me...I don't check blog comments regularly. julieATjuliezickefooseDotCom
is better.

Thanks Julie! I will make arrangements to get this bb baby fostered right away.

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