Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bus Stop Mornings

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.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Living Lawn Ornaments

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.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Warbler Photography, Quick and Dirty

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.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Favorite Warbler

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.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Looking for Morels, Which We Didn't Find

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

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Birds of Passage

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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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Delightful Spring

Oh, what a delightful migration we've had. We've been busy, but have been home more than any May in memory. So I've had time to plant and weed and mulch and till and mow--all the things that somehow have to be added into the mix come spring. That makes me a much happier camper than when we run all over the country working festivals. I'm beginning to see what I should be doing less, what I should be doing more.

Going out to photograph birds with Bill in the morning is just about my favorite thing. We don't forget for a second how blessed we are that we can do this right outside our house, on this sanctuary we've made. Little visitors pass through and we try to capture their images, to show you these things we cherish. It isn't easy. Ask Bill of the Birds.

Pine siskins have finally left as of today. I wouldn't be too surprised to find them nesting around here, as they're nomadic little things, subject to whim. They share the Spa with a tired Gouty, the bluebird who's feeding four fledged daughters.

A red-bellied woodpecker has chosen the gutter over Phoebe's window for a drumming site.

He looks proud of himself at the end of each BRRUUUUUUMMMMPPP! Luckily, he drums after she's off to school, but she's not going to like it very much come summer vacation. These shots were taken from the birding tower, a perspective we don't often get on woodpeckers.

Discoveries await everywhere I turn. I heard a gnatcatcher's purr, looked up, saw this shredded bark and mused, "Ahh, nesting time. Everyone's gathering nesting material."
And there was the gnatcatcher, so I watched him until he led me to his nest.

It's done, and he plops right into it to incubate the eggs. See his tail sticking up like a popsicle stick?

Here's a closer look. Of all the birds that nest here, the blue-gray gnatcatcher reveals its nest the most readily. It's almost as if they're proud of it, the way they carry on and show it to you.
It's been the best spring for Blackburnian warblers that I can remember. That doesn't mean I've gotten stunning shots, but I keep trying.

Soon, the migrants will be gone altogether, but for now we seek them out and enjoy them while we can.

I've spent the day painting a beach scene with Caspian terns. I have to stretch way back in my memory to get the feel of the beach, but it's coming together nicely. The trick being not to get too tense and tight. Gotta let paint be paint. I've also been on the phone with Customer Service at Uncle Milton's, the manufacturer of the Pet's Eye View camera Chet used until it finked out on us. I gave them my blog URL, which is being passed around their HQ as we speak, and have high hopes they'll see the eminent sense of replacing this wondrous but broken little thing. I've gotten only four sessions out of it and am hungry for more. I keep seeing golden opportunities to send Chet Baker on photo safari.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Clever Grooming Salon Name: FAIL

Well, that's one thing you can do with your old satellite deesh. Whipple, WV, on the way to the New River festival.

Coming back from the New River festival, I ventured into North Beckley, WV for my yearly hit of a trunkful of tony plants at the Greenbrier Nursery. Mmm. Got me a couple of tea roses that I'd always wanted: Chicago Peace (a vividly coral-pink sport of the famous Peace rose). Phoebe says it smells like a ripe apple, and she almost wants to bite into it. Chip off the ol' block.

Here's Blue Girl, who smells of attar of roses.
I always get lost on this nursery-finding venture, because Bill is headed home in the other car and I am left with my own pitiful sense of aimlessness to guide me. All the meandering was worth it, though, when I stopped for gas and found this sign across the street.

Definitely gonna book my party there. Why don't you OK YR PARTY HE, too?

I'm already feeling some nastalgia for the New River festival, and it's only been a couple of weeks ago. It's like nostalgia, but a little nasty.

Speaking of nasty: The real point of this post is to share another sign, this one from my own home state of Ohio, one that might be characterized either as refreshingly innocent or saucily audacious, depending on how it hits you.

I have no idea what the elephant has to do with it all, but the turgid red wiener font only adds to the ignominy. Way to go.

Thanks to Bill of the Birds, King of Irony, Sultan of Silliness, appreciator of Giant Roadside Things, for pointing this sign, and so many other wonderful things, out to me.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Party Dog

Although it appears from the buzz on the Interwebs that many people had fun at the New River Birding Festival, I doubt that many had more fun than Chet Baker.

Photo by Mary's View. Yes, he is on top of the picnic table, being petted by several people at once. To say Chet Baker was treated like a rock star at the New River Birding festival is a serious understatement. He was treated like the Doggeh Lama.

If you look up "tuckered out" in the dictionary, there will be a picture of America's favorite blog dog after the Orangutangs gig on Saturday night.

Susan was a little concerned to see the Life of the Party looking so...hangdog.

One of your little massages will help, Miss Susan. But I am too tired even for treats.

Are there any other pretteh ladies who would like to make a fuss over me?

 Chet had been interfacing with the public for three whole days. He hadn't had his usual 12-hour naps. He had places to go, people to see, interviews to grant.

To answer your question, my favorite thing about the New River Birding Festival would probably be the crowds of people saying I am cute. 

Give me that microphone. That is the last blogger interview I am going to do. Here's your sound bite.

Sometimes it is tiring being "on" all the time. Sometimes a person just wants to relax on a couch.

But there is always someone plopping down beside me, thinking I am lonely. This person thinks I need to hear some dog jokes. He is wrong.

The Boston Terrier is not called the American Gentleman for nothing. I will be aloof, but cordial. I am always polite.

I think this man they call Paco needs to take some depressants. He is too chipper for 11:30 at night.

Perhaps fame is not all it is cracked up to be. All I want to do is curl up in my fleecy bed. Mether? You probably never expected me, Chet Baker, to say this, but I am tired and I want to go home.

All right, Bacon. Sweet dreams, and jerky on your pillow.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Morning Kisses

I have shown you the all-out party at Opossum Creek. I wish I could convey how much fun it was to have most of our band there. Not to mention the fabulous Flock. Here I am with my beloved Timmo Ryan, who blogs beautifully at From the Faraway, Nearby.

We think we might be cosmic twins.

Photo by Mary's View.

The aftermath of the gig... Here's Chet, wearing the ChetCam, completely done in after partying until midnight with all the revelers.

I am sorry to say that the ChetCam, which is featured in this photo along with the lovely and talented Katdoc, has spontaneously crapped out through no fault of the photographer. I think the manufacturer is counting on the thing falling off the dog's collar and getting lost before it craps out, so tenuous is the clip. (He's shaken it off five times, and somehow we've found it each time). You'll have to put up with my lousy photography until I can get it replaced (I doubt there's much fixing it). Anybody know of a better dogcam out there? It was such a tantalizing little taste of what he could do with his new art form...

It was kind of a tight squeeze in our cabin, El Gordo. Lots of bodies, air mattresses, people strewn about. Just exactly what Chet Baker loves. He bedhopped starting at the first wood thrush song, just as light was creeping under the shades.

Andy and Clay are trying to deflate an air mattress by applying their manweight.
Enter Chet Baker.
I will kiss you and kiss you and kiss you again.

And then I will kiss you some more. There is no getting away from me, Chet Baker. I am the kissing bandit. I kiss girls, boys, children, bass players, drummers, singers, guitarists, the infirm and the elderly alike.

Now you know you have been kissed, Andy Hall. I am sorry about your glasses, but I have to roo now.

Clay donned protective gear, a stuffsack toque.

And fended Chet off with a chewbone and a mummy bag.

But Vinnie didn't seem to mind a few Baker kisses.

Just a quick poll--was there anyone who attended the New River Swinging Orangutangs party who did not get a kiss from Chet Baker? I think he hit everyone, but you never know...We can try to remedy that next year. There will be a sign-up sheet at registration.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chetcam--Meeting the Bus

Every afternoon, Mether takes me along to meet the chirrun at the bes. I love my chirrun. Their names are Phoebe and Liam. This is one of Mether's very old pictures of them waiting for the bes on their first day of school. They are much bigger now.

I know exactly what time the bes comes and I always walk into the studio to tell Mether thirteen minutes before it comes. That's how long it takes us to get to the bes stop.

Hurry, let me out. I have to do a quick chiptymunk round before we go. Do not worry. I will be back before you buckle your seat belt.
I run around the side of the house
and through the garden bed. Then I put on extra speed to surprise bunnehs in the backyard, and end up at the front porch. Some chiptymunks might be there so I sniff under the porch and in the hostas.
Where is Mether?
She is still inside. I can hear her shuffling around. Come on, Mether.

She's here! I run to the car!
The dogwoods are out and the scenery is beautiful. Here is your photographer, in the rear view mirror. You can even see my camera.
This meadow smells like heaven to me. I can smell bunnehs and deer, too. I think there are mice there. Maybe they are voles. I always get them confused.
I wish Mether would let me hunt this meadow. It smells of deer.

We are at the bes stop. I sniff the air and wait.

It's the bes!

Phoebe always takes my seat now that she weighs enough to sit in front. This is how I like to ride.
My sister Phoebe is talking about her day, I think. When she gets in the car she talks a lot to Mether.

Mether drives us home. She has strong arms.

When we get home Mether lets me out at the corner so I can chase any bunnehs that might have snuck into the yard while we were gone. I am very fast.
Sometimes bunnehs hide under the pines in the backyard. I let them know who is boss. It is me, Chet Baker.
Mether takes so many pictures of me. Here I am, birdwatching in the tower on a May morning. I ask Mether to set up my bar stool when I get bored standing around looking at Mether and Daddeh's knees.
I am enjoying being a photographer, but I think Mether needs to buy me a better camera. This one only takes pictures of my lips. And there is so much more to me, Chet Baker, than soft lips.

Although that is one of my many charms.

Now that I am a photographer, I can tell you more about what it is like to be me.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'm sure all of you have a certain friend with a genius for coming up with the perfect gift. My friend Jen Sauter gives the perfect gift with no warning, just because. And I always squawk like a parrot when I open them, because they're...perfect.

Jen loooooves Chet Baker, and when we get together we talk in Chet Baker talk practically the whole time.How much does she love Baker? Well, when her sister needed a puppeh, Jen directed her to Chet Baker's breeder, Jane.

Some of you will remember Booker T.The last time Booker came to visit was last July. Now he towers over Chet! He was long and lean as a puppeh, promising to be a big boy.But back to the perfect gift, which Jen gave us when we were in West Virginia.

It's called Pet's Eye View. It's a tiny lightweight camera that hangs from a pet's collar and takes photos at a chosen interval (1, 15 or 30 minutes). Could there be anything more perfect than to see the world through Chet Baker's eyes? I squealed!

The following photos were taken by Chet Baker in the space of about an hour in his busy life. I'll let Chet narrate:
I wish Mether would stop drawing and let me out. I want to bake myself in the sun.

Much better. I like the sun. It has been so rainy lately that I have not had a chance to bake. I can drink out of Mether's muck bucket rainbarrel.

I have a very nice front yard. Mether's rosemary tree is getting big.

I will flop down here for awhile. Zzzzz.

But there might be a chiptymunk by the pond. I run across the patio. I almost trip on Mether's sundial every time. My jowls are getting long!

I am standing on the back deck, looking for deer and bunnehs. My soft throat folds get in the way again. Sorry about that.

Time to head down the stairs and make another chiptymunk and bunneh patrol. I am a busy dog. Mether calls me Offisa Pupp.

I am back. Now I want in again. I see my Air Dog donut, but where is Mether? There is a hole in this screen just the size of my head. I remember when that happened. I saw a deer.

Finally. Mether let me in, and I flop down on the cool tile in the foyer. It is hot outside. I took a lot of pictures of this view.

Mether is still planting things. Here are her boots, and all her seeds for the garden. I like it when she works outside. Hmm. Where is Mether?

I see her feet under her drawing table. There is a doorstop that is supposed to look like me.

And there is Mether, kneeling down to kiss me! This is not the best picture of Mether. I will try to get another one. I hope you have enjoyed seeing my world. I will take some more pictures soon.


Chet Baker

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The ToadPond

It was supposed to be a fishpond, a water garden, but it's really a toadpond for the first couple of months of spring. No matter--we love toads around here, and we have more every year thanks to the breeding place we've made for them.

I can always tell it's spring when Phoebe goes around wearing toad jewelry--rings and bracelets of horny male American toads, amplexing her for all they're worth. Or would that be horny American male toads, or male horny American toads? I do not know.                                                 

I love redheads. You got a pretty mouth on you. Mmmf!  You look very very pretty tonight. Erp!

Urgg. This guy is such a TOAD.
Phoebe spends many hours playing with the toads, trilling to start them singing, staring into the depths of the pond, tickling the shubunkins and listening to the trickling fountain. I spent hours like that as a kid, too, but I never had a water garden, or living amphibian jewelry. We always want more for our kids than we had ourselves.

I am grateful to have a daughter, red-headed, limber elf, who finds the same things funny and beautiful as do I. It is hard to resist telling her absolutely everything, because she feels like my best friend.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Nesting Birds

Well, the spring flocks of robins are all gone, paired up, moved off to get down to business.

Everywhere I go I hear the tiny dry trill of nest-building blue-gray gnatcatchers. I know that's an unusual sentence, but I do. They say Prreeeeeep when they're gathering nesting material.

The inner bark of honeysuckle vines is great for gnatcatcher nests, and he tugs mightily to free it.
His mate has a plain face and an eyering, and she's grayer, but just as curious as he.

Out in the meadow, the tree swallows are well underway on their nest construction. They've started to line it with the white goose feathers we provide. Eggs won't be far behind.

They both try to sit on the same post near their nest box, with mixed results.

An angel lands.

Under the deck, the phoebes have been busy, making a nest on the little television relay box. They haven't nested here for two years, since a snake got the nestlings. This year, I built a better baffle, one with no toehold for snakes. Three large panes of tempered glass and a lot of duct tape were involved. She laid two eggs, then they disappeared, before I even built the new baffle. I am hoping so hard that they come back, but I haven't seen them for a couple of weeks. Why would a bird lay two eggs, then leave? There are questions I can't answer.

A billful of deer hair for the lining. She also added Hollofil from one of Chet's toys.

The finished nest.
Phoebes like a low ceiling.

The kids love to come with me when I check bluebird boxes. They especially love the road where Buck the Bull lives.

Hello, Ma'am. I made it through another winter.

So you did, Buck. So you did. Looking a little rough, but some new grass should take care of that.

Phoebe and Liam sit on Buck's gate, talking.
They love to peek in the boxes.
Sometimes there's a different surprise.
Phoebe holds a Carolina chickadee nest of moss, goldenrod stem fiber and deer hair.

The first egg. 

Chickadee mothers cover their eggs with fur and plant down when they have to leave the nest. It's very sweet. They make a little blanket that they pull over the eggs. I adore chickadees. I would love to tell you how many eggs the little hen has now, but she won't budge off the nest when I open the box, and I am not about to kick a chickadee out of her home just so I can know how many eggs there are. Still, it would be nice to know, because eggs are much easier to count than squirmers.

And what of Gouty, the female bluebird who overindulged in Zick Dough last winter and spring?
Well, she's fine, and her feet show no traces of swelling, but she does have stiff middle toes, which stick out in this picture. I've all but stopped feeding suet dough for the spring. Just a snack in the morning.

Gouty's got four daughters about a week away from fledging in the same box she used the last two years.

Here's Whiskers, named for her dark malar stripes, knee -deep in Zick dough. She's got five babies all but fledged in the box by our vegetable garden. 

And the chipping sparrows are trilling everywhere you turn.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Muddlety's Butterflies

We had very little butterfly weather in West Virginia. Butterfly weather is warm and sunny. When it rains and is cool and misty, butterflies hide away. When the sun peeks out, so do they--it's like magic, like suddenly walking into the movie "Snow White," with butterflies parting in front of you.

I managed to snap a few butterflies in the hour or so of sunshine we enjoyed. Pipevine swallowtails were the most obvious about.
They're distinguished by that bewitching iridescent teal-blue hindwing. Beyond that, the iridescence suffuses the forewing and body. The pipevine swallowtail is one elegant bug.

So we're watching these butterflies puddling (imbibing phosphates and other essential minerals in mud), and this thing that looks like a flying crawfish shows up.
Eek! It's walking on the pipevine! What is it?

Ah. It's a Nessus Sphinx, a kind of hawkmoth, Amphion floridensis. Its brood plant (what the caterpillars eat) is Virginia creeper, grape, or porcelainberry. Lovely.

And exceedingly weird. Here, its forewings are blurred and nearly invisible, enhancing the crawfish similarity.

Not only that, but there's a little bitty microlep, another moth that looks like a miniature. See it just to the left of the giant sphinx? With a dandelion seed for scale? Teeny. Maybe somebody will know what it is, but I'm not holding my breath. All I know about it is: it likes skunkdoo.

On to more wholesome things. Here's Swamp Blue Violet, Viola cucullata. I like the common name of cuckoopint.
A Juvenal's duskywing, dark harbinger of spring. You can tell it from Horace's by the two pale dots on the upper rim of the hindwing.

And for me, the prize of the day (other than spending part of it with Tim Ryan) was a lovely West Virginia White. How appropriate for this rarish little butterfly to show up, nectaring on foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia, at the end of our Muddlety trip.

This lovely little thing is distinguished by its grayish shading on the veins of the underwing. It's a Pieris, like the cabbage white P. rapae, but it's P. virginiensis.

Ahhh. What a nice find.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Rockin' the New River Festival

photo by Mary

I guess I've been working nature festivals for about 18 years now--as long as I've been with Bill of the Birds. My first was the Bosque del Apache Festival of the Cranes in 1991. Yikes, that was a long time ago. It's a niche, made more fun and interesting by the inclusion of music. Bill has added that dimension to my life. Without him, I'd probably be singing krokey or trying out for Elderly Idol. Since he was in high school, Bill has always headed up a band, because he's a natural bandleader.

Just like he's a natural field trip leader, even with half his pants off.

Generally, Bill and I play a duo,

adding in musicians like master fiddler/violinist Jessie Munson or singer/guitarist Ernie Hoffert whenever we can. For most bird festivals, folky acoustic stuff works. This time, we tried something different. Fayetteville is only about 2 1/2 hours from The Swinging Orangutang's home base of Marietta, Ohio. We promised the boys in the band a great time (Jessica had another commitment, waah!) and they agreed to come down on Saturday afternoon for a real blowout that night. Bill and I have done a lot of festivals, but we've never seen a rock band and a private club atmosphere at a bird festival before. We wanted something completely different to honor the festival attendees, including the fun-loving Flock of bloggers.

The Meadow House at Opossum Creek Resort was transformed into a speakeasy.

Five-sixths of The Swinging Orangutangs: from left, Bill Thompson III, Clay Paschal, Andy Hall, JZ, and Vincenzo Mele. We're all missing Jessica Baldwin.

I admit to a touch of apprehension as we worked on the set list. Would birders cover their ears and flee if we really blew it out? OK, let's strike Brick House from the set list. Probably won't do Don't Fear the Reaper, either. Hmm. But there was plenty of material just this side of coo-coo that we thought birders would like. In the end, we wound up throwing in Blister in the Sun and Take Me to the River and Get Down Tonight, along with a couple of hours' worth of mixy favorites. Still wish we'd done Burning Down the House. Oh well. Next year.

As it turned out, it got coo-coo anyway. Bloggers know how to boogie. These people were up for a great time, having birded their brains out for an entire week. You can tell Susan's a blogger 'cuz she's got a beer in one hand...a camera in the other. I shudder to think what photos she captured that night. You'll have to go to Susan Gets Native and see. I believe that's Kathie of Sycamore Canyon in lavender. Laura from Somewhere in New Jersey and Lynne from Hasty Brook were partying, too. Nina from Nature Remains and Kathi from KatDoc's World and Beth from My Life With Birds and Kathleen from A Glorious Life and Barb from My Bird Tales and Jane from Jaylynn's Window on Nature ... Kathy (Denapple) from Life, Birding, Photos and Everything...really entrancing photography in those last three, and all of them wonderful people.. it just went on and on. Just keeping the Kath-people straight was a job in itself.

By my count, there were no less than 17 nature bloggers in attendance and snapping away at New River 2009. This will be the best-documented festival that has ever happened.

Huh-oh. We did Love Shack and it got even crazier, with guide and Orang alum drummer Steve McCarthy taking the male vocal lead. I'm doin' the Belinda Carlisle, serving it up oldschool with a shared mic. Mary's View gettin' DOWN with Jane of Wrennaissance Reflections. What a total thrill it was to meet them! And then to play for them all, really show them a good time.

Maybe that's an understatement. If the Solid Gold Bloggers had half as much fun as the Orangs did, it was a fabulous time.

News flash: The Bump did not die in 1978. It is alive and well with Tim (From the Faraway, Nearby) and Mary (Mary's View). Oh my goodness.

When he wasn't hangin' with his buddy Cameron, Liam was doin' the Schroeder on the dance floor. Our son has some truly fancy footwork.

The uproarious highlight of the evening was when Tim Ryan joined us to play cowbell on Low Rider. I doubt there was a person in the room who wasn't on their feet by then. Our beloved honorary Orangutang.

This group of bloggers is so generous--everyone showed up with arms overflowing with handmade gifts--pins and pottery and jewelry and bacon-flavored jellybeans and other Minnesota favorites from sweet Lynne at Hasty Brook--there was even a care package of handmade Peruvian crafts from Mel at Teach Me About Birdwatching, sent from South America, just because.

I didn't bring anything you could hold in your hand, but singing for our beloved friends felt just right.
Vincenzo Serafino charmed with his velvet voice and nimble guitar.

Jeff Gordon, fabulous trip leader and nature blogger, heated up the place with a dangerous rendition of Secret Agent Man. Too bad nature blogger and walking encyclopedia Jim McCormac wasn't there to see it, but after leading field trips in the first part of the week, he was getting the Ludlow Griscom award from the American Birding Association in Texas!

Many thanks to the incomparable Jen Sauter for grabbing my camera and documenting the night so splendidly. For she's a jolly good bombshell!

Many thanks to the people who know how to laugh and dance and live life large. You know who you are! Many thanks to Bill, for making it all happen, to Geoff Heeter and Keith Richardson of Opossum Creek, and to the Swinging Orangutangs for giving themselves to make Saturday, May 2, 2009 a night to remember, a delightful anomaly in the heretofore rather sedate world of nature festival entertainment.

And if it weren't enough...what about tomorrow?

art by Andy Hall, who is also our drummer, how lovely!

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Misty Morning Birding, Teardrop in My Eye

It usually rains at the end of April and beginning of May in West Virginia. When I was corresponding with other members of the nature blogging Flock about the trip, I advised raingear, lots of it. And this turned out to be a very wet festival.

Which was something to deal with, but not a problem. People who love warblers are happy folks. They kept their sunny attitude.

The flowers were still lovely. Golden ragwort and cranesbill (wild geranium).
The magnificent large tree, Fraser magnolia, Magnolia fraseri.

The birds' colors were a bit compromised by the fog and rain. In sunlight, cerulean warblers are sky blue.

They still sang, if a little less persistently. Their black necklaces were all that distinguished them; their stunning blue backs would have to wait for better light, better days.

It was all very ricepaper and watercolor, very Japanese. Even a male scarlet tanager looked grayish in this light.

Well, it's shaped like a tanager... Photo by Nina.

The direction of light became paramount in getting a decent look at a bird. This northern parula cooperated for a nanosecond, showing his sunny breast.

As we walked, I noticed a female eastern towhee as she burst frantically from the ground. She appeared to have been trying to stay still, then lost her nerve. I knew that meant she was on eggs somewhere nearby. I split from the group and walked carefully along the foot of the bank.

And found the nest, using a laser pointer to show it to the festival participants. Photo by Nina.

Four white eggs, speckled with rust, well hidden in a grassy nest tucked into the bank, under a big multiflora rose. I wish her well.

Some black rat snake eggs were less fortunate. Examining these, I decided that they had been washed out after having been buried by the female snake last summer. The eggshells were unpunctured, but there was nothing inside. So it wasn't a predation event--it was a dessication event.

Red efts (the wandering, terrestrial, juvenile form of the red-spotted newt) were easier subjects than birds.

The smallest red eft I'd ever seen enchanted Nina. I'm sure he'll make an appearance on her blog, Nature Remains.

Katdoc joined her in the photoquest. Katdoc is geared out, full birding plumage.

Nina has ferocious focus. She folded up like a tripod and became one with the newt.

One of Nina's many gifts is looking very closely, and waiting.

Everyone moved on, which is just what Nina needed.

And she became a rock in the road, and captured the eft without touching it.

As Nina and I walked the last bit of Spruce Run Road, loosely known at the festival as Muddlety, we marveled at the abundant life all around us--prairie and blue-winged warblers, chat after yellow-breasted chat, redstarts and hooded warblers, the federally threatened cerulean warbler, scarlet tanagers, and everywhere the flutes of wood thrushes. A tear coursed down Nina's cheek, then another. We had both seen the coal company permit sign about halfway up the road, that, to those who know its significance, means that this entire woodland--all this habitat, all this mountain--is about to be blown up, never to be woodland habitat again.

When you flip a light switch on, there's a 50 percent chance that the energy you're using comes out of what used to be a mountain in West Virginia. Blowing up the richest and most diverse forest in the US--leveling these mountains-- to get the coal underneath it is not a sustainable way to get energy. It is insanity itself. It buries the streams, chokes the rivers and poisons the people. Please, please watch this five-minute video. Maria Gunnoe says it so much better than I ever could. And if you're moved to action, go to the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition web site and see what you can do to stop this abomination. Muddlety probably won't survive, but there are so many more equally beautiful mountains--and communities, streams, rivers and lives-- the coal companies are planning to destroy.

Watch, then go. Keep spending your ecotourism dollars in West Virginia. All profits from the New River Birding Festival go to environmental education in local schools--a slow but, we hope, ultimately effective way to shout STOP THIS MADNESS!! Thank you.

And thank you, Cassandra.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

New River Birding Festival

Thank goodness it rained, that's all I can say, because I started downloading photos from West Virginia's New River Birding and Nature Festival this morning at 9 AM, and it's 2:30 PM, and I just finished sorting and editing them. Because I am hopelessly ADD in spring, or anytime, actually, that isn't all I've been doing. I feel really bad for all the other nature bloggers who attended, who had their cameras out and were snapping away constantly, because I barely took mine out from under my slicker, and I'm still overwhelmed. Don't expect to hear much from The Flock for awhile. They're editing.

This is a great festival. One of our very favorites. I've been speaking and leading field trips at it for every one of its seven years; Bill joined me and has been even more heavily involved for the last six. I just checked my list and it has 90 species on it for only three days of birding. Twenty-three of them are warblers. You see the attraction. Fayetteville, WV, is the place to go if you like eastern wood warblers.

It's a small festival, but it was at capacity this year, and that's no surprise, because it's extremely well-run and homey. At this point it really feels more like a reunion than a festival. So many great people, both organizers, leaders and participants. So much fun.Dave Pollard, one of the festival's masterminds, far left, does the Life Bird Stomp. Happy birders watch a prairie warbler strut his stuff.

I'm going to try to give you a taste of it, and it really will be just the tip of the whole diverse particolored iceberg, because I was otherwise occupied for most of the time, running around like a beetle, trying to fulfill all my commitments.

Basically, what happens is you get up at 5:30 every morning and head to a central meeting place, where all the field trips depart. You climb on a long white van with your guides and drive 1 1/2 hr. or less (usually less) to a great birdwatching destination. It might be a mountain road or a high spruce bog or a national forest or a meadow popping with bobolinks. Wherever you go, it drips with birds. Your guides call birds in and set you up with stunning looks in the scope and you rack up the life birds.Me and Whipple Bird Club Royal Meteorologist Steve McCarthy, bristling with tripods, ready to show bird. Photo by Nina.

You get back around 3 pm and kind of lay around, alternately moaning, rubbing your warbler neck and sipping your beverages of choice or, if you're lucky enough to stay at Opossum Creek Resort, sinking into your hot tub until you're served a delicious dinner at 6 pm, capped by a program of some kind. So it's a week of all-day field trips and evening programs. Bill and I do both, and there are many other talented presenters.

Here's a typical New River festival experience. You're walking down a beautiful wooded road with about 15 other birdwatchers, and your guide stops and says, "Prairie warbler. Let's try for that."
And Jeff Gordon, a peerless field guide, whips out his iPod and plays a few prairie warbler songs. A minute or two later a tiny yellow bird darts in and everyone gasps and scrambles to get binoculars on it as it mounts to the top of a sapling and sings a challenge to the vanishing iBird.
And when it whirls off, not to be bothered by a recording of its song for another year, you lower your binocs and sigh happily, exhilarated because you've just seen your life prairie warbler, and it was so beautiful, and almost best of all there are a bunch of other birders standing right there who feel exactly like you do.

Note: People who like warblers are very nice people.

Leslie can't help doin' the Life Bird Wiggle. It was my honor to be there when she saw a number of life birds this weekend. What a feeling!

In case you think field trip leaders only want to guide people who already know their birds, nothing could be further from the truth. It's a blast to show people life birds, to watch them see something rare and precious that they've never seen before. It makes you see them afresh, with brand new eyes, all over again.
photo by Nina

My deepest thanks to Nina of Nature Remains, who sent me these pictures of Science Chimp in display mode.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Chet Baker, Birdwatcher

Chet Baker. What are you doing standing up against the birch tree? Do you have a squirtle up there?
Mether, you know there are not nearly enough squirtles around here for me to be lucky enough to have one up this tree. There is something else up here that intrigues me.

Well, Chet, there is a goldfinch singing very loudly at the top of the birch. Is that what you're wondering about?

You say it is a goldfinch? It has a very loud song, and I am curious about it. I would like to get a closer look at it.

These are the times I wish a Boston terrier could climb. I can run and jump very well, but climbing is hard for me. I do not have the right kind of hands.

Oh, how I would like to see the bird that is making that song.

Finally! Now I see him. All that noise from such a small small bird. Hummm.

Chet Baker, now you can add American goldfinch to your life list. Just one more reason to call you Little Cat Dog.

Bill, Phoebe, Liam, Chet Baker and I got back from the New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, WV, last evening. We had the most wonderful time. We're overflowing with love for our friends, many of whom we knew but had never hugged before! I promise to get to my photos today, to try to encapsulate the experience in something resembling a cogent blog post. For his part, Birdwatching Chet Baker stole about four dozen hearts and was treated like the rock star he is by almost everyone except Geoff Heeter, who has the audacity to talk to him as if he were an ordinary dog, or something less than a hairy demigod. More on that later.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Chet Baker, Birdwatcher, Deerchaser

Chet Baker has had some pretty extraordinary encounters with wildlife, and we owe species #183 for our property list to him--a Virginia rail that he found and flushed in our backyard last October 19, 2008.

He takes notice of birds, and when he was a pup he used to watch and try to chase turkey vultures that swooped low over the yard, even jumping up to see if he could touch one!

Now, I watch him on our hikes, and I enjoy trying to get photos of him birdwatching. On an early spring hike, we heard a male cardinal singing very loudly at the top of a bare tree. Chet headed right over.

He circled the base of the trunk, trying to get a better vantage point.

The cardinal was equally curious, watching this funny pied animal, watching him.

I like a dog who notices birds.

But then, I like this dog anyway.

A much more typical Baker encounter with wildlife is his morning deer chase. I know a lot of people hate to see dogs running deer, but Chet runs deer in a most civilized way. When he first wakes up, he goes to the patio window to see if he can spot any deer in the meadow. There usually are some, but he can't see them until they move or flick their white tails. Then he moans and cries until someone lets him out.

You again. You little black nuisance, you.

Chet streaks out the path like a black bullet, sometimes tumbling head over heels in his haste. That dog can MOVE.

The deer flip up their tails and lope toward the woods.

Baker slams on the brakes. He don't like prickers, so he gives up the moment the deer enter the brambles. He gives a ferocious rrrowwf! as he gives them the bum's rush.

But he always stops to show them who the Boss of #1 is.

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