Fall Reflections

Our pond namesake Little Green Herons left about two months ago. I’m imagining they wanted to be among the first arrivals to their warm wintering grounds, but they could have stayed! Summer has just now given into Fall with its lovely cooler temps and easy sunny weather. In the heron’s place we’ve welcomed migrating Great Egrets, a Wood Duck couple, a Pied Billed Grebe, Gadwalls and the small divers, the Ring Necked Ducks.

The dock- due to heat, wind and very little rain sticks out of the water looking like a tall skinny legged kid wading in a puddle. Summer’s drought-y weather that has helped shrink the pond showcases the small Blue Gills that swim within the dock’s shadow and exposes the big Bull Frogs lazily sleeping along the shoreline. Like the Bull Frogs, I enjoy a bit of Autumn sun and sitting close to the pond. The water is so still and reflects all the wonderful hues of the turning leaves. The big waxy golden Cottonwood leaves, narrow pale green fronds of the Willows, now crispy from cool night temps, make accompanying lovely rustling music as I look out over the motionless water.

It is hard to tell where the sky and land end and their reflections begin on this still small pond. Clouds float on the water, in the sky, trees above and below display their changing colors. I think on the Summer just past and Winter weather to come, only fleetingly, as I savor Fall. Reflections at Green Heron Pond…

Autumn Afternoon Reflection


Oh you know the time of year when weather, Nature and people are not sure which season we are really in- Spring or Summer? It can change day to day. The past few weeks have ranged from jacket wearing to stripping down practically to skivvies with the roller coaster temps. Flowers and shrubs bloom time have been somewhat later, as has the breeding season of the local waterfowl and wading birds. It has been an interesting series of events around the pond.

We had an earlier arrival of 5 Mallard ducklings that are now ready to fly. And then this week we have brand new tiny “fluff-ball” ducklings just barely able to navigate the grass, but boy can they swim! I have been chased by swallows when out for a walk as they help their fledglings learn how to fly… I was dive bombed by 2 adults repeatedly. I imagine my self defense antics caused a few neighbors to wonder why I was “spazzing” out. And then there has been the pregnant Rat snake in my garden area and a Garter snake and one skink in the basement (much to the cats delight). All due to weird weather changes and probably some help from cats.

But by far the most amazing event has been the late mating (or possibly territorial) displays of a Black Crowned Night Heron. These are stocky built herons that do not mind some limited human activity around them, so I usually notice them hanging out in the willows along the shoreline when working outside. But about a week ago I noticed two Black Crowns in the yard and one began to walk very purposefully and pick up a large stick about 2′-3′ long. It held the stick in its bill horizontally and began to run across the yard in front of the other heron. It did this several times so I as able to get a rather poorly recorded video of this running display. It would put the stick down and then retrieve it and run the other direction. I have never seen this before and have observed heron behavior a lot here at the pond. Did some reading up on Black Crowned Night Herons breeding displays, territory warnings etc to no avail… So I have just chocked it up to being Sprummer here at Green Heron Pond. Whats happening in your neck of the woods this time of year?

Black Crowned Night Herons

How to Tell if Its Mr or Mrs Snake?

First of all, this is “General Audience” rated blog… well most of the time. However in Nature there are just some events that have to be explained with some degree of depth or detail such as my blogs on Raccoon mating or Great Horned Owl mating- but this snake gender reveal is not one of those stories. Though it does take on a life of its own…

Yesterday I was working out in the backyard around noon and as always I keep a pretty close eye out for more unusual yard visitors from the pond. These visitors have ranged from an unwanted Muskrat, a Gander sneaking up behind me to welcomed Turtles and Bull Frogs and once in awhile one of the Rat or Water Snakes that traverse the yard or pond. (A snake swimming across the pond is always the preferred view.)

I had checked on my herb garden and border garden by the fence and walked back to my little raised bed when I noticed a snake- very still, stretched out the length of the lumber along the raised bed which is around 5′! I was not excited to view this, well actually I was excited as I yelled out… The snake just continued to lay there and look rather wrinkled-ish. It was so still I thought maybe it had died or was in the process of doing so, unfortunately just in front of the tomato, pepper and cucumber plants.

I ran inside to get my phone to take a photo and on returning to the raised bed I could see it was moving rather primly and gingerly along the lumber. So I took a couple of videos and a photo to send to Dan as he planned on doing some work on the house right at that spot when he returned home. Viewing the photo he let me know that the snake looked weird to him also.

This encounter left me curious as to why a snake would appear so disjunct and lump-ish looking, so I googled pregnant Rat Snake photos and there was an the exact replica of my 5″ long snake. Our snake (who I am now calling Sylvia) looked like she had swallowed about 2 dozen chicken eggs at spaced intervals in her slithery snake-y body. This process is scientifically called “lumping up”. That’s exciting… actually NO!….

Maybe this is how one determines a snake’s gender if not a herpetologist? And as I never plan on being a herpetologist, Dan is looking for some new “creekside property” to transport this possibly pregnant lil momma and her eggy crew. I wish Sylvia Snake well but I do not plan on babysitting for a couple dozen soon to be hatched snake eggs. Spring- especially not dull…life on Green Heron Pond.

The joys of Nature close to a pond! Sylvia… Snake-y Momma…

The Bagel Bandit

Usually I write about the wonderful little creatures outside our windows- on and around the pond. Cold weather has brought many to feed at the feeders filled with sunflower seeds for the Cardinals, Chickadees, finches; some peanuts for Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice (and squirrels) and mealworms for the Blue birds and apparently Carolina Wrens. But since it has been sooo cold we have spent more time inside than out and my attention has turned to the indoor residents…the cats, particularly our new rescue, Pasha. We are still getting used to each other and since she is several years younger than the other two cats, it has been an adjustment for everyone.

Pasha (means an orange-brown butterfly)

Pasha has endless energy and begs to play always (unless she is asleep) it seems. All the cat toys my other two cats have sniffed at and then ignored, this little cat has loved and played with until destruction or being “put away” for awhile. Her meow has dramatic flair and can be suspended like an operatic aria. And can she jump, making me think she may be part Ocicat. She contorts her tiny muscular 6 pound body through the air over and over after any toy presented.

We play with her often, as the other cats tire of her quickly and she really does receive a lot of attention. Now I say this as somehow she still has time and energy to engage in activities that we sometimes find out about later… like cruising the kitchen counter where a big red colander has been the catch all for crackers, chips and bakery items always. Well, it has been until recently. Pasha has a passion for any bread-type item in a plastic bag, which she will drag throughout the house, up the stairs and deposit in our bedroom closet. The bag never totally survives the trip and it looks like Hansel and Gretel have been here in search of another way home. Bread slices litter the staircase and bagels crumble along the carpet. So now if I forget to store bread items in the refrigerator, we just head upstairs to the closet to get a slice…

Fortunately no raisin bites were taken!

Hoping you are staying warm on these cold Winter days and enjoying the goings on without or within your windows. And know that I will be writing again soon as life here at Green Heron Pond is never dull, inside or out!

Velvet Autumn

We have had the perfect mix of temps and sun for dense, saturated fall color this year. Sunrise and sunset reveal a luminous quality to all trees, shrubs and flowers, so my (mostly) daily walks have been sheer pleasure! And in case you are unfamiliar with Kansas being a breezy state- that only adds to the magical effect with the rustling and swaying of the flora and fauna. The waxy quality of the pond’s cottonwood leaves is turning brittle and the breeze stirs up an applause from the cottonwood’s big yellow gold leaves. There’s an Autumn Blaze maple with flame colors etched in the edges of the leaves and it seems these leaves fall soft to the ground depleted by all the work of producing color. And then there are the golds, the russets, oranges and reds of the many other trees along our street. It is lovely!

Shrubs like the brilliant red of the Burning Bush and flowers- chrysanthemums have been incredible. My Burning Bushes have yet to totally turn but the mums have been the showstoppers. Cascading down and over rocky ledges, potted on porches and carpets of velvety hues in garden beds, it just makes me remember that pinching back all those little buds several times this last summer was worth it!

I have felt so rich luxuriating in these magical colors and textures. It is a wonderful season here on the pond and I hope you are finding treasures in your own backyard or neighborhood this velvety autumn. Life in color on Green Heron Pond!

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