The Sieges of Summer

It all started late Spring when our neighbor’s maple tree began dropping thousands of samaras or in our vernacular “helicopters” or “whirligigs”. These little seed pods were everywhere; edging the lawn, embedded in every flower bed or landscaped area and invading the garage and house at every puff of wind. I could not sweep or run the leaf blower fast enough to get ahead of those things. Given an uptick in spring temps and a rain shower or two the little “helicopters” turned into small seedlings sprouting up throughout the yard and gardens and most noticeably in our second floor roof line guttering… tiny trees waving down at us, untouchable. Their demise would not happen until summer’s withering heat hit.

Just as the invasion of the maple seedlings abated the cottonwood fuzz appeared and covered everything with a thick layer of fluffy cottonwood seedlings. The yard and pond looked like we’d had a summer snow storm. The cottonwood fuzz was to last for weeks and nearly suffocate every growing thing. I’m thinking the abundance of both the maple and the cottonwood tree seedlings may have been brought about by the extreme cold of last February. Stress due to the hard winter would be a cause for more seed pods to be produced. I wish this abundant effect could have happened for some of my perennials and shrubs which due to the cold decided to just give it up or maybe it was the bag worms that came next that clenched it for them.

I spent many hours doing yard clean-up and was just beginning to enjoy being outside again when snakes began to frequent the yard. One wounded snake took up residence on the dock walkway until it recuperated… obviously I wished it well but offered no assistance. After a few days healed up, it slithered off and I did not miss seeing it…not until watering hostas close to the house- there it lay in the cool shade of the large hosta leaves… Dan finished watering for me and I began to look out the door both ways whenever I had to go out the side door by that area. Gaining confidence a few days later I ventured out the side door only to find a 5 foot long snakeskin next to the hostas… how do I know it was 5 feet long? Dan measured it for me!

It has been the summer of the “siege of the seedlings” and the “siege of the snakes”… neither appeals to me and I have to say I am so looking forward to fall and cooler weather. Life on Green Heron Pond…never dull…just look both ways…

Two Timber Tales

I admire and love trees tremendously. They are so varied in size, leaf, limb and purpose; their existence is so ingrained in the earth’s landscape and needs. Here on our small 2 acre pond we have seventeen plus mature Cottonwoods interspersed with smaller native and non native trees whose humble beginnings were probably a seed deposited by a bird or the breeze or someone inadvertently. At the Northwest end of the pond we had for many years a huge Cottonwood tree- larger than all others around the pond. It was at least 60 feet tall and tall enough to attract a lightning strike that clinched its demise. The crew we hired to take it out sent up rope after rope to stabilize tree and personnel. The expert at the top of the tree had chainsaws dangling from his waist as he moved like a trapeze artist high among the large limbs. We watched mesmerized “ringside” as the tree came down. Except Dan and I asked them to leave the large stump (about 16 feet tall) to be a refuge or home for the woodpeckers, little animals and this last spring as a nest for the geese.

Then there is the distinguished Colorado Blue Spruce that has graced our lawn for many years and has become as tall as our second story windows. Dan has always like decorating it at Christmas time and those first four strings of lights have grown to nine or ten the last two years… and with that, a bit precarious to decorate. It has been such a respite for the small songbirds, cottontails and squirrels that frequent the feeder areas. It also has provided shelter on many cold winter nights and a shady spot for a sizzling summer day. One of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen and it has valiantly weathered the Midwest’s extreme heat, cold and Kansas wind.

Both of them, the Cottonwood stump and the Blue Spruce came down this last week. The Blue Spruce had not weathered the heat of several years ago and unknown to us it was weakening, distressed and the minus 17 degrees this past winter just clinched it- but no signs of that until spring growth appeared and it dropped all the needles. Looking at the bare skeleton of the evergreen had to be addressed and it was taken down Thursday. Friday brought great summer rain that covered our dock and much of the shoreline. The Cottonwood stump filled with water and I heard the heavy plunge into the pond in the middle of the night.

It was poignant to think of them both gone and in such quick succession but I noticed how quickly the birds adjusted to the lack of landing space, flying a few feet further to some smaller trees and shrubs. The squirrels checked out the vacant space where the Blue Spruce had been and adjusted their” snatch and run” technique. We have been watching small turtles crawl slowly up the side of the big Cottonwood stump in the water, sunning themselves. And then I think about how change is the only constant here at the pond and in life too. The little animals, birds always move forward and adapt to the changes, seeking out the possibilities. So, I will be content with my new expanded view of the pond and the memories that abound here. Life possibilities here on Green Heron Pond.

Cottonwood Condo with Waterfront View

Early April brought our resident Canada Goose couple looking for a nesting site. They have nested on Green Heron Pond for the last six years and had only 3 viable nests during that time. Mostly due to a very determined and hungry coyote looking for a tasty omelette apparently. This year they wanted to nest on the pond again but seemed hesitant. They showed up daily and then we began to notice Mrs Goose showed up less and less but Mr kept being on the pond. Looking up at the monolithic remains of our old giant Cottonwood it began to seem plausible that she was nesting inside a hollowed portion of the remains. Walking over to investigate- very soon a beak and beady eyes peered down at us out of a long ago woodpecker nest hole. The geese had found a condo by water’s edge and safe haven for their soon to be brood.

I just could not imagine a gosling sliding down the 15-17 foot drop onto a gravel filled area at pond’s edge. Wood Ducks do it all the time but a baby Wood Duck and a gosling are a bit different size-wise. So,I began to research (which means googling “geese nesting in trees”) and I found an old Mutual of Omaha TV show with footage of Canada Geese nesting in trees somewhere on a swamp in the PNW. Sure enough the geese would land in trees where there were abandoned falcon nests and they would build up the stick frame with soft down and sit on the eggs. Expecting to see more footage of the goslings sliding down to the grassy area by the swamp I was instead treated to a fight for life between Momma Goose and a predator Bobcat (or coyote) with goslings looking on…. ghastly, but proof that the goslings somehow had gotten down.

So we waited the 29-30 days we figured they would need and the last few days I laid 2 plush Adirondack cushions down at the base of the old Cottonwood to gently break the goslings slide, jump or possibly toss by Momma Goose. And on day 30 they appeared by their mom and dad at the stump next to the water and then straight into the pond. We saw them for a couple of days and they have since moved on. However, I believe the condo has now been sublet as we have a different Momma Goose peering down at us looking sternly through the old woodpecker nest entrance…. will be getting the cushions back out there in a few weeks. Life on Green Heron Pond- we are now in the real estate business… high rise that is.

Spring is an Onomatopoeia

Spring has sprung! The season is springing forward here at Green Heron Pond. And I love it! The first day of Spring I got up in cold darkness only to hear the cheery, enthusiastic song of Mr Cardinal from his tree top perch in the backyard. His exuberance put a bit of a spring in my step as I descended the stairs headed to the kitchen for some coffee. With coffee soon in hand I settled in to watch dawn slip over the pond with its orange-y pink light filtering through the almost bare branches of the tall Cottonwoods. The beginnings of dawn revealed the silhouettes of Mallards and the resident Canada geese couple along the shoreline. Soon two Robins and the Bluebird couple flew up on the deck looking for a breakfast of dried meal worms; peering inside wondering why I wasn’t springing into action to deliver their order. And then I heard it- that unmistakable loud call and I sprang from my chair to see where this almost raucous sound was coming from.

Looking out I could see not one but two Pileated Woodpeckers descending the big Cypress tree, winding their way down like a cork screw towards a suet feeder fastened to a low branch. First of all besides sounding their robust calls, Pileated Woodpeckers are huge birds, very recognizable yet incredibly agile and secretive… not so this pair. They are actually deep woods birds who love old dead trees for their insect diet but the sub freezing cold of this last winter may have forced this pair to become suburbanites and here they were- the true Mr and Mrs Woody Woodpecker. What a start to Spring!

The word Pileated comes from the Latin word pileatus meaning “capped”.

The Pileateds have been here every day since at that suet feeder and we believe they must be nesting nearby in some of the surrounding wooded areas. The ducks and geese love when the Pileateds come to eat as their large woodpecker bills chisel off not only bites for themselves but chunks that hit the ground for any hungry waterfowl around. They also loosen up the suet cake for the smaller Red Belly and Downy Woodpeckers who patiently wait until their big cousins leave to do their own dining.

There have also been some Spring waterfowl visitors this week here at the pond; Shovelers spinning all around the pond and five Blue Winged Teal-such beautiful petite ducks! There are five Teal drakes and a Teal hen. They love to hug the shoreline dabbling for their meals and travel in tight formations to move across the pond. I am wondering if it might be a family unit migrating through? We have had our Winter visitors the Juncos leave this week too and as they leave we always anticipate the Spring and Summer residents to arrive shortly!

Spring springing here on Green Heron Pond… see what’s outside your own window… you will be surprised and filled with wonder- let me know! Life on Green Heron Pond.

Red Letter Day at the Pond

A few years back photographer Wayne Rhodus was kind enough to share one of his wonderful photos of a male Pileated Woodpecker. I would use the photo for my blog (2/2/2016) about these woodpecker’s presence in the Mark Twain National Forest in SW Missouri. I have longed to see one here on Green Heron Pond for as long as I’ve lived here- to no avail until today. Dan observed a large black bird jet diving across our yard and the pond to land in one of the Cottonwoods. Getting a closer look, Dan spotted the bright red crest, red mustache and the animated swagger of this large bird as it moved up and around the Cottonwood’s trunk. One quick yell sent me sailing down the stairs, grabbing the binoculars from him and taking an amazed and excited look.

Photography: Wayne Rhodus

Now you may wonder why I would be so excited about Pileated Woodpeckers but they are truly phenomenal. Intriguing birds; agile, gregarious, loud, (their “monkey calls” are unforgettable) and they possess an uncanny ability to just fade from sight. I wondered how he came to be here at the pond- my thoughts were due to the extremely cold weather he was seeking out a new food source. He flew from tree trunk to tree trunk until I could no longer get a view of him.

Mr Pileated has not been the only uncommon traveler to grace the pond area this last week. Though our pond is not a large one, we have had a nice sliver of open water throughout the arctic weather- seemingly one of the few open water areas around. A small number of tired, hungry and more unusual duck visitors spent a few days here seeking respite; Redheads, Canvasbacks, Ringnecks, Gadwalls, Blue winged Teal, an American Widgeon and then our familiar crew of Mallards and Shovelers. On shore we hosted Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, a young Yellow Bellied Sapsucker among others and then our usual winter feathered friends.

I always like the idea of these little creatures finding some rest, nourishment and companionship here before they travel on to their next destination. It is a privilege to be a small part of helping them through tough times. It truly has been a Red Letter day here… all week in fact!. Share with me who you have been seeing…. life on Green Heron Pond.

That sliver of open water on the pond

Fun House Feeder…

A few years ago Dan received a mounting bird feeder from his brother and sis in law for Christmas. This little feeder is quite special as it has a camera for documenting (front and center) whoever shows up to dine at the feeder. The cool little camera will record up to 1000 images if left unattended. Guess how we know… We certainly enjoy looking through these photos- though usually not 1000 at a time. Sometimes it is just a glimpse or a blur but many times it provides for some hilarious viewing. The images recorded make me think of amusement park fun house mirrors with the birdies hamming it up and unexpectedly mugging for the camera. It is certainly a convenient, comfy and entertaining way to do some bird watching at your leisure.

http://www.sonix.com.tw

Speaking of bird watching the next 4 days, February 12-February 15th the Great Backyard Bird Count is happening. With the weather being polar vortex worthy this bird watching activity would be great for families (little kids love it) or for yourself if you are social distancing, bored with your routine or just avoiding the arctic air. Check out the website http://www.birdcount.org and if you are new to bird watching you might like to visit the Merlin Bird ID app to help you identify your visitors.

Put a little bird seed out, which I highly recommend in these frigid temps as it will help them stay warm and well. Sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts in the shell and meal worms will be greatly appreciated and the birds will thank you by showing up, chowing down and entertaining you and yours! In the meantime I will share some of our Fun House Feeder photos from the “Amusement Park” here at Green Heron Pond… Happy birding!

The Bluebirds of Happiness

At breakfast this morning I stared out into the early darkness illuminated only by a faint orange glow on the horizon. I treasure the early morning stillness and calm; always wondering, anticipating who will show up at the pond. However, this morning I had a sense of someone watching me, peering in at me. I looked up to see a mostly silhouetted bird perched on the back of a deck chair literally leaning forward staring intently at me. The message was clear- breakfast was needed for someone besides myself.

Little Bluebird & prized treats: photo Dan McPartland

This past week there have been three Bluebirds frequenting our deck area in search of suet and dried meal worms- their favorite. There is the couple; a brilliant blue male with his smart little rust colored vest and the female, a paler nuanced version. The third Bluebird is a bit smaller and echoes the female’s coloring- just a bit less defined. It causes me to wonder if this might the couple’s offspring undergoing its first winter. And its voracious appetite makes me think it is a ravenous teen having a growth spurt.

My husband Dan mixes some sunflower seeds, peanuts in the shell and a few dried meal worms in a saucer to attract the smaller songbirds. The Bluebirds- like the other songbirds sift through the assortment until they locate their preferred treat. On one occasion the smaller Bluebird practically danced on our little bistro table waiting its turn for the prized meal worms. Made me laugh and stop what I was doing just to enjoy that moment.

The Bluebirds of Happiness: photo Dan McPartland

We have started looking for the three of them throughout the day- they perch on a limb high in our big Cottonwood tree next to the water. Their patient surveillance, waiting for one of us to appear with the container of meal worms. Then before we can get back inside, shut the deck door and turn around, they have arrived and are chowing down.

This week the Kansas winter wind has been a factor but these Bluebirds have raced across the deck following and swallowing the weightless, crumbly meal worms that have blown out of the saucer. It is charming and endearing and I find a smile lingers on my face long after these beautiful Bluebirds have flown. Happiness on Green Heron Pond.

A Lone Loon

A favorite place combining Table Rock and the woods of the Mark Twain National Forest; waking up there always makes me happy. This morning I woke up somewhat early and headed out onto the porch, coffee and reading in hand. With blankets piled on, my coat over my robe and gloves on, I sipped, read and watched small birds flutter about the feeders. It seemed colder today and the porch’s small temp gauge read a bit under 30 degrees. But the cold did not deter me as the birds chattered among themselves as they came and left the feeders and sometimes they stopped to chirp in my direction as if to include me in their spirited conversations. Delightful despite the cold.

During one short lull of feeder activity I heard a sound I have seldom heard in person, coming from the cove. It had that lonesome, primeval tone and I leaned forward hopeful and there- it sounded again. The almost mournful call drew me in and I decided to head down to the water wishing to see it, a Loon. With a quick change of clothes, I was soon crunching the frozen mud and grass of the lake path under my shoes. I wondered how the animals traversed so soundlessly over frozen terrain as I felt the Loon would hear me coming to waters edge. Luckily it was in the channel just past the cove.

small cove at Table Rock

I watched in awe as the Loon dove deep and long under the silent, glassy water. It seemed to stay under at length and I held my own breath wondering how it could hold its breath so long. And then it would pop up with a bit of breakfast or fan out its wings and dive again if it had come up empty. I marveled that it was here all alone and seemingly carefree and hungry. Was it a lone migrant and where had it traveled from?

I had walked up onto the frost covered walk to the small communal dock and began to notice other signs of visitors, travelers. There were the droppings of a River Otter on the dock, filled with shiny slivers of fish scales that glittered in the morning sun, I sidestepped them. At my best vantage point for viewing the Loon I noticed I had wandered onto a whitewashed area of walkway; evidence of a Great Blue Heron resting and watching for fish off the dock. And a small head poked out of the water swimming, creating a V across the cove- the River Otter possibly?

Life was flowing, swirling all around that Loon this morning and it was reveling in its diving, the prize of fish and the knowing of other creatures around, close by. It was not alone. And the thought came to me, we are never totally unto ourselves. Even alone, sometimes isolated; there are still connections. Connections with others- past and present, with the natural world; life all around us when we take time to watch, listen- sometimes breathlessly. The contentment of such a beautiful quiet moment on the lake and the lone Loon will stay with me for a long time. May you find that moment of quiet contentment this Season.

The Cardinal and the Culprit

Yesterday was cleaning day. To avoid the vacuum noise and added activity the cats headed downstairs and out to the catio seeking quiet and escape from the indoor clamor. When all was vacuumed and order restored I headed to the basement myself to put up a couple of items. There my newly vacuumed carpet was sprinkled with tiny bird feathers- strewn about and my heart sank…

I caught sight of my cat Bob stark still observing something closely in the corner of the window just inside the small catio door. It was a female cardinal, panting, wild eyed and missing its tail feathers and some of its crest feathers, it made me feel sick. I attempted to gently capture her in my hands but she flew with Bob close behind. Screaming at Bob he gave up chase and frantic, I called for Dan to come and retrieve her while I managed Bob. Dan checked her over and took her out front to a holly bush for cover.

The cardinal was exhausted and injured but exhibited strong wing power, so we just kept an eye out for her all afternoon. She soon flew from the holly to our little courtyard garden. There the euonymus tree would potentially provide a snack of berries, bird bath underneath and sufficient branches to hang onto- some cover in the brutal Kansas wind. By evening she had disappeared and I prayed she would make it and not be suffering.

This morning there was no sign of the little cardinal and our hope and prayer was that she was resting and gaining strength despite awkward flying ability due to the missing tail feathers. Mid morning I looked out back to the flat feeder where a plump bird was hunched down enjoying sunflower seeds. I got out the binoculars to get a very close view and yes, it was her- the little Mrs Cardinal had survived the culprit from the catio.

Somehow the cat had snagged her, brought her through the catio pet door, into the basement and then relentlessly chased her. For all the terror she endured she is looking great except a bit shorter right now. We spent yesterday afternoon looking for a solution to avoid any other birds the horror she went through yesterday,,, the catio fencing is now surrounded by additional hardware wire (Thanks to Dan), still allowing the cats great viewing but little birds no entry into the area.

She has been christened “Stubby” by Dan, but she is little Miss Courage the Cardinal to me. And Bob, well he is in the “dog house” for a bit…. but today we are feeling blessed and relieved at Green Heron Pond!

Fall’s Decor

Awhile back Dan and I decided it was time to get new carpeting. I remember perusing tons of carpet samples for color, texture and design. Even spending a few days placing the samples various places to determine how it would look in different lighting. In my somewhat practical nature I decided on a neutral colored and textured carpeting called Gray Dust. There ya go…

Now Nature has practicality but also such a sense of design, texture and color! I so experienced that yesterday when I went out early to feed the ducks, songbirds and (non intentionally) the squirrels. As I stepped off the porch I set foot on the most luxurious carpeting of leaves fallen from Dan’s Blaze Maple. My footsteps were silent and smooth as I glided across the yard. It was like floating along on this golden, orange-y, scarlet designed path and I wondered at myself- why had I picked “Gray Dust” and its ambient texture.

Blaze Maple Carpet

I thought back to just a little over a week ago (before the early ice and snow storm) when my flowers were at peak with the warm day/cool night fall temps, giving a last fabulous memory of such a beautiful season. I have taken so many photos to savor over the coming cold months. The decor, the colors of this Fall have been brilliant; quite an antidote to pandemic and politics.

So my sense of excitement remains for which fall migrants will fly into the pond next, what Nature will reveal as leaves continue to fall and who else will appear, as much else in Nature sleeps. Fall decor- courtesy of Nature here on Green Heron Pond.