Diary: Spring Sound

Click here to hear “Spring Sound” less than 2 minutes long–

I’m having a rest and sitting in a red Adirondack chair near the house. My morning farm chores are done, and I can enjoy– this spring.  All the wild creatures are playing instruments for the orchestra. Hundreds of male Pacific Treefrogs are pulsing below in Big Pond and throbbing-out advertisements.  As the females prepare to accept individual notes to complete the ancient mating ritual.

 

A large group of various small finch chitter and chatter gayly as they feed and swing about on platform feeders hanging around the farmhouse and in nearby bushes. The finches provide the higher-happy pitch, which is as bright as the clumps of blooming daffodils in our yard.

 

The low-noted caw of a common raven sounds above as the large black bird flies across the farm, and a Stellar’s Jay sitting in the elderberry bush produces a creaky version of the red-tailed hawk’s scream. This raven-trombone and the jay’s scratchy old- time fiddle sounds –seem unlikely players in a spring orchestra; yet, their sounds fit in with the spirit of spring that many creatures around the wood, water, and field bring.

 

Humans don’t make spring sounds. We talk, laugh, cry, and scream, but we do it all the time. It’s nature that makes us notice the change in the seasons.

 

 

 

 

Diary: Cleaning Houses

Click here to listen – 2 minutes 40 seconds

A day to clean houses. With all this snow melt, the song birds will begin building their nests again. Some will use the twenty or so bird boxes we have erected around the farm.

 

Armed with a knapsack and tools, Skookum, Cowboy, and I set out across the prairie. My job is to open the Western Bluebird Boxes, remove the nest from the prior year, check the box for damage, and make sure the stake holding the box off the ground is still strong.

 

Skookum stays right by my side as we hike from box to box, but Cowboy is with the wind. Checking back in at speed; he buzzes by ever so often.

 

One of the walls of the bird box is held together by a single long nail, and if it’s tight, I have to take my pliers and work the nail out.  One of our farmworkers thought the point was to keep the box together, and he put a long screw in three of our bird boxes instead of a nail, so I need to use a Phillips head screwdriver to get those spirals free.

 

Some boxes are empty. Most of the boxes are filled with nesting material and droppings, and some of these nests are finished with a layer of pigeon feathers the wild birds collected from my roller pigeons down at the barn.  This is interesting to me, because I recently cleaned the nest boxes down at the barn, and those boxes of the domestic pigeons are often finished with wild bird feathers from California Quail and sometimes red-tailed hawk.

 

This year I find five boxes filled with wasp nests, and one tree swallow dead on the nest. Sometimes I have found dead nestlings inside an old box, but I have never found a dead parent. I’ve read that aggressive house sparrow males will sometimes kill an adult of another species inside the nest box, and we have some of these non-native sparrows living on the farm.

 

Primarily three species of birds use these boxes: Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and house sparrows. This past year it doesn’t appear the bluebirds have done very well, because I don’t find any of their brilliant blue feathers inside any of the boxes I’ve cleaned out.  I’ll be interested to see what I find next year.

SongbirdNest
White and red feathers from Flying Oriental Roller pigeons topping wild songbird nest.
WaspNest
One of the wasp nests I found inside a bird nesting box.

Diary: A Fated Oak

SnowWalk

Listen to the posting- 3 minutes- click here:

 

“The point of a maze is to find its centre.  The point of a labyrinth is to find your centre”  David Brazzeal, Guerilla Labyrinths .

 

The snow is disappearing in patches. Bare spots here — there. Picking my way from spot to spot I move across the oak savannah for a labyrinth snow walk.  Eventually I run out of open way, so I turn and find the beginning looking for another series of snowless patches that perhaps will lead me further.

 

I run into another wide stretch of snow, so I twist again and seek a fresh run of open ground to set my tennis shoes. Finally, I find an open sea that takes me right to the fated oak.

 

She’s worn and tired, nine branches drooping severely down.  Jagged torn broken limbs litter the ground.

 

The oak’s rough trunk and branches are covered with a black lichen dressing like she’s been on fire. On top of the burn are pumpkin rust dots of roe-lichen and small scattered celadon plant-rosettes. Reef coral of the Oregon oak savannah.

 

The oak trees around the old tree are hearty–healthy with slender limb-fingers lifting in supplication toward the upper.

 

But the fated oak has experienced a turning.

 

We will one day.

 

I think about that as I sit on rough rock with Professor Skookum nearby. He’s twelve now. Maybe another year or two. Skookum lies heavily but comfortably on a big ice patch. Perhaps we both watch and listen for new beginnings- after all it is Spring time.

 

Killdeer, circling high and calling not far away are searching for snow-free ground to lay 4-6 precious eggs. They arrived as expected, but our land didn’t welcome with its season-late deep snow blanket.

 

And, a Say’s Phoebe, our earliest nesting bird sallies forth from an old wooden fence post as an unseen male robin sings trying to establish territory somewhere over there.

 

Weak- weak spring, but we’re all here –journeying– endings and beginnings surrounding the center.

FatedOak
A Fated Oak

Diary: Mallard Spray

Click here for audio version –less than 2 minutes

From whence she came I do not know. Her shadow glides over me and snow and soars silently across the valley meadow– over Kickin’ Mule Creek, over another meadow where she alights heavily in a sentinel Ponderosa Pine. The dogs seem to have completely missed the turkey hen’s passing.

 

Sixty head of elk have worn a snow packed path through the meadows, into Spanish Oak alley where the lichen and moss streams down from branches; their path angling sharply downward and crossing Kickin’ Mule Creek.  Professor Skookum, Gypsy, Cowboy, and I follow the easy elk road instead of trudging our own path through three feet of snow.

 

Like buckshot from a shotgun—a rising spray of eleven mallards peppers the sky after the dogs and I surprise the ducks. They were floating in the tiniest wild-mint filled pool in the creek.  A pool just large enough for three big dogs.

 

How the ducks got up so quickly and cleared the branches of the woods seems magical. Gypsy stiffened into a hard stop-to -flush, but Cowboy glanced up at the fleeing ducks, wagged his tail, and tore off in glee, but not after the ducks. He ran through the creek, up the snowy embankment and into the meadow other side. While twelve year old Professor Skookum just watched then proceeded carefully with me and we picked our way around slippery creek rocks—to meet the other side.

Mint

Blizzard Feed

Below is the audio version of this story. It’s just under 3 minutes long.

The birds are busy feeding for indeed they are feeding for their lives.  Blizzard feed. A commanding chorus of red-winged blackbirds are arranged like a cloud in the old gothic elm in front of the farmhouse. From the cloud– trills, buzzes, and thin seductive whistles. Three pipes of a low noted flute followed by a lusty buzz is the most majestic of the blackbird sounds. Punctuating this chorus is an incessant chip, chip, chip, chip. The blackbirds perform not for us, but somehow the raucous orchestra bursts through our glass windows and fills the living room with sound.

 

When the blackbirds descend onto the platform feeders, the platforms swing and wildly. Older males flick their bright red epaulets and the younger males keep their wings in close.

 

Mostly, posturing is minimal, because everyone is focused on getting food. The males and the striped females swing side by side.

 

Only a midnight blue Stellar’s Jay is bold enough to stop in and grab a sunflower seed. The smaller birds keep their distance.

 

Once the blackbirds return to the elm or the telephone wire, one can see the blizzard feed is not a single species event. English sparrow, house finch, Eurasian collared dove, mourning dove, spotted towhee, golden crowned sparrow, and white crowned sparrow drill for thistle, cracked corn, millet, and sunflower seed. A Northern flicker hits the suet cake. Even a denizen of the prairie the Western Meadowlark sits in a doorway, leading to the deck, watching as snow pours down and covers the grasslands more and more deeply

 

Snow has been falling so densely the past six hours, that the farmhouses’ exterior window sills are supporting many little birds. The sills are snow free, because we have a hip roof with deep eaves.  Miniature-bodied juncos have lined up along all the sills. Their unblinking obsidian jeweled eyes register the environment as the birds rest and conserve energy.

 

The bleakest bird today is a young Cooper’s hawk sitting bunched and weary on a branch of the old elderberry bush just outside the kitchen window. The raptor might survive another day, if it could just catch one of the small birds flitting about it. But, already the hawk seems past the blizzard feed’s tipping point.  The tipping point, the tipping point, the tipping point…

 

 

 

 

Diary: Feeding Elk

Though we are seeing a thaw- the forecast predicts 4 days of coming snow, and a fair amount too– a foot or so more. We’ll see.

The elk are here. Here because their grounds up in the highlands are totally covered in snow. So, they come down in search of food to the lower lands. They have torn apart the ground on about 50 acres of scrub oak in search of acorns.

Since this is becoming a tough winter- the neighbors have been talking about how to ease things for the elk.  So, we have hundreds of pounds of grass pellets and brought in a large load of hay yesterday. My husband placed some of it last night.

Several of the neighbors are doing the same.

Some say you should feed the elk and some say it’s not a good idea. It reminds me of the hummingbird controversy – to take the feeder away or leave it hanging until the birds decide to leave on their own.