Edge of a Winter Storm

Earlier this week, in its Spring like warmth, I had observed the neighbor’s large oak tree and our River Birch showing slight color at each branch end, a hint of buds.  I also noticed large gaggles of Canada geese surrounding open pond areas- even the small ponds, in preparation for the announced winter storm to come.  The geese and weather predictions were a bit more accurate than the warmth the trees responded to.

Our pond, though popular with some of the resident Canadas is not an attraction for migrating geese as it is fully ringed by dense volunteer cottonwoods and willows.  The waterfowl born here navigate the pond’s treeline easily, not so much any large visitors in large numbers.  But I am fascinated by the migrants.  I don’t envy them but my imagination runs wild with thoughts of the freedom of their flight and journey.

winter cottonwood and cypress

I envision the cold winter wind and air- biting, invigorating, giving the Canada geese a lift to fly, their powerful wings cutting through the heavy cold.  Their “V” flight with its frequent lead changes and the encouraging sounds- the honks of the followers towards the back of the “V”.  Imagine the view from that height, the miles of land to survey, the search for a field or body of water equipped for their V’s landing.  The canopy of wings set to land and the strong black webbed feet that hit land, break the surface of the water or ski to a stop on frozen waterways.  Their cheerful noisy greetings as they maneuver their descent to the watery landscapes, seeking food and respite.  Fatigued from flight and hunger they settle in for an evening awaiting the storm to come, murmuring their satisfaction for rest and sleep.

Sometimes I want to feel the bracing cold they experience.  I want to accompany those powerful wings and soar onto a pond surrounded by the gregarious greetings.  I satisfy myself by watching, listening and observing.  There are times I put on my jacket, lean into the Winter wind and stand at the pond shoreline musing the edge of a winter storm here on Green Heron Pond.

 

 

 

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Pond Reflections-Change and Continuity

2019 has arrived and this year will mark my tenth year on Green Heron Pond.  A lot can change in ten years and yet remarkably there can be great continuity in ten years time.  Often when I read, write or use words, I like to delve into the dictionary and search out their expanded definitions.  The word change can refer to the process of altering, transformation.  Continuity may refer to being unbroken or connected.  I especially like the ideas of transformation and being connected.  Those can be powerful words and thoughts here at the pond.

When I started “lifeongreenheronpond”, one of my first posts was My Neighbor John (June 12, 2015).  He and his wife had become dear friends of mine (already good friends with Dan) and we were saddened to see them move from our neighborhood that summer.  It was a tough change for us; we shared the proximity to the pond, all its goings on and they were like family to us.  We were connected!

We stayed connected as they moved on to a care center but their absence was always noticeable here at the pond.  Sometimes when visiting them I would bring photos to share or always have a story about some creature or pond happening to recount.  John’s memory of us and life here began to fade- as did our visits, not wanting to upset his routine or cause anxiety.  Change came, altered.  And just a few days before John’s 85th birthday in late December 2018, he left this realm.

Sunrise for John

I will continue to hold wonderful thoughts of my neighbor John as I look out over the pond and experience its same four seasons and yet, the seasonal changes.  I will reflect on his kindness to all, his compassionate wonder for little animals and the dry sense of humor that always tickled me.  I will continue to feed the old feral cat he named “Spook”, in honor of his care for her.  And Dan and I strive to keep the pond area clear and clean as John always liked and always did.

Change- transformation has come but with it a continuity of unbroken memories and a “connected-ness”  with his precious wife and our lives here on Green Heron Pond.

Neighbor John
Neighbor John, Dan (holding catfish) fishing with neighbor kids- who are grown ups now!

 

 

The Christmas Crawdad and My New Boots

The holiday season is always busy at our house as I am sure it is at yours. As a musician December has annual events already built into my schedule along with my own traditions of getting ready for Christmas. And whether one is big into celebrating the various holidays or a minimalist of hoopla- it is still a month of action!

One of Dan’s sisters is here spending a few days with us for Christmas and this year one of the kid’s dogs- Mannie is hanging out with us too.  Dan’s sis is an easy, fun house guest and Mannie is an old gentleman of a Lab mix.  (He and my cats get along most of the time…just an occasional bark if one sneaks up on the dozing dog.) Mannie also loves going for walks and I love getting out and strolling around the neighborhood with him.  At this time of year with the busy holiday, end of year schedule- the fresh air, a brisk breeze and a walk around the neighborhood and ponds is a particular treat!

Not yesterday though.  It had rained most all day with varying intensity and the sharp wind whipping up the rain was not to my liking.  Mannie still needed to get outside a bit so Dan and his sister- in heavy rain gear headed out with him.  Today I was to make up for yesterday by promising Mannie we would take a long walk- which we did early this morning.

It was still very soggy and I donned my brand new Christmas wet weather boots…bright pink with all breeds of cats pictured on them.  I had asked for some Slogger boots on my little Christmas list that Dan always requests I make.  I have a couple of pairs of the clogs and I figured he would get me a matching pair of the boots.. I have yellow “chicken” clogs and purple “cat paw print” clogs… but Dan who always thinks I need more color in my wardrobe got me pink kitty boots… As the dog and I trekked out on our walk I wondered if any neighbors were looking out to see the big black dog on a leash accompanied by a person in a purple coat and pink boots.

pink kitty boots

Mannie and I made our way on our usual route until we turned away from one of the ponds due to a gauntlet of goose poo on the walkway (this dog like goose droppings).  Our alternate route took us by the first pond’s culvert and overflow area where we discovered a crawdad on the road.  It had washed out of the pond in the abundant rainfall onto a curb area where the wet was quickly evaporating this morning.  I thought it would probably die there as the small crustacean was now a long way from its watery home.  How could I get him back to the pond?

Now I am a big lover of all things nature but I do not customarily like picking up anything outside ie worms, bugs, even a hurt bird and especially not a pinching crawdad!  This morning it was warm, humid and my gloves were still in my coat pocket…my nice “smart tech touch” glove soon became low tech with a crawdad pincher and crustacean body attached.  The little crawdad latched onto that glove like a predator and hung on tight!

What a sight we must have been!  Bright pink boots perfect for sloshing through the mud, water and soggy soil on our descent to the pond.  Mannie pulling at my leash hand (that also carried a careening bright green eco friendly used doggie poop bag); the other hand- dangling glove with attached crawdad.

At water’s edge I gently flung the crawdad into the murky water and started to turn away as I heard the loud close rattling of a Belted Kingfisher heading our direction.  I shrugged, turned on around and began picking my way up the incline back to the road.  Before Mannie and I made it up to the roadway a piercing croak of the Great Blue Heron was heard behind us as it landed nearby to do some fishing… or crawdad hunting?  Had these two shore birds been observing us?  How could they have missed us?

I don’t know about the good or bad fortune of the little crawdad- if I helped lengthen or shorten its lifespan… it was either my Christmas Crawdad (a present just to see it in winter and help me “break in” my boots) or maybe a holiday dinner for a hungry predator.  Either way the little crawdad was a gift on our December morning walk…  from Life on Green Heron Pond, my best to you for a wonderful Nature filled New Year!

A Tree for All Seasons

While much of the action on Green Heron Pond takes place near the water’s edge out back, today’s pleasant surprise visitors were to be found out in the front yard at our Euonymus tree.  With the 3″ snow last night, there has been an abundance of small creatures seeking food for fuel in the cold and wind.  The Euonymus tree has been a superb source today.

Until a few years ago I was totally unfamiliar with Euonymus trees; my childhood memories of Euonymus were as a pale green, skinny limbed shrub that had nasty fly attracting orange pods.  Anyway, a few years ago Dan and I were needing to replace a couple of trees and a nursery owner recommended the Euonymus tree. We were told it would provide color and structural garden interest in all four seasons plus it would do well in a hot Western exposure. I was skeptical as my memories were still strong about the shrub (nasty flies), but the tree would be different- compact growth, delicate white blooms and pinkish color in the fall- so we had it planted.

euonymus tree
Snowfall on Euonymus Tree

The birds have loved it, especially the little Juncos and Bluebirds in the early spring and late fall.  Today they have dined on the pinkish pods amid the snow covered leaves.  I noticed them early this morning when I opened the curtains to let in morning’s pale soft snowy light.  The Juncos were the first to arrive soon joined by the Bluebirds- unbothered by two kitties viewing from a window perch.

Shannie's bluebird
Mr Bluebird at Euonymus in early Spring 2018

By this afternoon I was hoping to snap some photos of the Euonymus tree’s snowy leaves, pink pods and its feathered visitors.  Heading out into the deep cold I encountered a flurry of small birds around the tree.  I heard slight voices that are not heard here often but are very familiar…Cedar Waxwings were also feasting at the Euonymus tree.  What a surprise and what a treat!

I too love the Euonymus tree, it is truly a tree for all seasons.  In just a few years it has grown to provide shade at our West windows.  It has given the little courtyard garden where it resides lovely color, year round interest and an air of dignity.  Though I do notice a rather raucous buzzing in early summer…. hmmm.  Life on Green Heron Pond.

 

 

 

‘Peter, Peter’ Peanut Eater

The weather has been that perfect mix of Fall here in Kansas- cool nights, warm days, dense rich color.  Combined with a slight Kansas breeze we have watched the vibrant hued leaves drift down slowly, expansively- carpeting walkways, lawn and pond’s edge.  These are halcyon days for the song birds frequenting the feeders and with the mostly leafless branches these little birds are on full display.

It is also a opportune time for Dan and I to assess our feeding set-ups and change things up a bit for the birds.  We have our constant “Squirrel Buster”  hanging feeder (best squirrel denier ever!!).  A flat feeder made by a friend and much loved by the usual ground feeders.  The flat feeder though is almost worn out from the occasional freeloading raccoon and possum scaling it for a midnight sunflower seed snack.  We also put out a carefully monitored suet feeder (raccoon again) and lastly a specific squirrel corn feeder…don’t ask…

What would be a change up for this year?   Thanks to the current Birds and Blooms magazine article on attracting fall birds we decided to try Peanuts.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  Except I have always thought raw peanuts in the shell would guarantee big birds arriving and shooing little birds off the feeding areas and what tiny bird could fly away with a shelled peanut- let alone get it in its bill.  I was wrong.

cropped titmouse
Tufted Titmouse picking out a peanut.

We don’t even have a peanut feeder (yet), we just set an array of peanuts out on our deck’s small bistro table and watch the antics and ingenuity of particularly the Blue Jay and one of my all time favorite birds- the gregarious Tufted Titmouse.  Now the Blue Jay noisily announces its arrival and with its considerable bill it can hoist a peanut shell up and disappear in a flash.  The “Peter, Peter, Peter” call of the Tufted is silenced as it approaches the deck.  Instead the Tufted Titmouse uses stealth and strategy to pick up the peanut.  I watched as one opened wide, pushed and maneuvered a peanut in its bill.  Another poked a hole in the flimsy shell and with a skewered peanut almost obstructing its view, it hovered like a small helicopter gaining momentum and then off flew.

Sammy Jay and peanut.jpg
We call this Blue Jay “Sammy Jay” in honor of Thornton W. Burgess and his book The Adventures of Sammy Jay, 1915.

Were these birds possibly hiding some of the peanuts as they would disappear and return momentarily ready for another?  Dan began to find peanuts hidden in some prairie grass plantings around the deck and garage… I watched as the Blue Jay would pick up any peanut shell dropped in flight by the smaller birds…  would these birds even remember where their tasty treasure was hidden?

All I know is they or some other little creature will enjoy finding these peanuts on a cold day under cover of dead leaves, maybe snow or feasting now as they bulk up for Winter weather.  Why we could have a small peanut crop next summer…who knows…  So grab yourself a handful of Planters and a fistful of unsalted raw in the shell peanuts for some  of your bird friends.  Just some Fall fun at Green Heron Pond!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Falls Softly at the Pond

After a poignant end to Summer- the loss of one of my beloved Green Back Herons and the small cygnet from the pond across the way, I was ready for a change of “scenery” to dull the harshness and sense of loss here at the pond.  The summer seasonal shore birds had moved on and had yet to be replaced by our migrant visitors going South with the exception of a Widgeon hen I found eating corn chops on the lawn with the Mallards. Some Orioles and Hummingbirds stopping through for jelly and/or sugar water- bulking up for their long journey Southward to Central America or farther!  And yesterday the tiny Ruby Crowned Kinglet was seen flitting in and around the giant fronds of our Blue Spruce. This little bird and the others are always such welcome visitors here!

Autumn on dock
Early Fall morning @ Green Heron Pond

 

This subtle start to Autumn along with coolness and the misty intermittent rain has caused me to sit on the dock just looking and listening.  The Cottonwoods- ever a favorite except when”raining” cotton fuzz down on us- now a golden yellow and their thick waxy leaves soft.  Breezes lend a quiet sound to their movement on the branches- a soft applause for a season well lived, now over.  The leaves fall unheard into the pond water forming small vessels that swirl, dip and then disappear.   I could stay on the dock for hours just soaking in all the pond’s offerings on these Autumn days.

Ev and Ilya
Evan and Ilya enjoying the dock!

Last week the visitors to the pond were dear to my heart little people and their parents.  I always try to not forget how special it is to wake and view this reverie out the window or catch a reflection in the night off the water’s glassy surface.  But seeing the expressions of wonder and joy on the faces of our grandkids and their parents as they viewed the pond reminded me how incredible this small slice of Nature is and how grateful we are to experience it daily…Autumn on Green Heron Pond.

 

July Anguish, August Joy

The smaller Greenback Herons have been coming to our pond since 2009.  We took it upon ourselves to name the pond after them as they have now come each year, nesting and producing some sturdy progeny.  And they have been so fun to watch.  Excitedly awaiting their Spring arrival, having an up close view of “rookery” life and experiencing their progress to flight- maturity!

heron reading his sign

There have been a couple of years when a hail storm ended the lives of both a protecting parent and nestlings and another year an unknown predator totally wiped out the nesting area.  Otherwise there have been successful broods through the years until this year. Dan and I had noticed over the last two years a small group of Black Crowned Night Herons seem to like the same areas as the Greenbacks…the Greenbacks for nesting- the Black Crowns for hanging out and doing some fishing.

I guess the Greenbacks had had enough as this year, there was no sign of any nest or much activity when they arrived around the pond.  So we satisfied ourselves with watching the Black Crowns (mostly an adult and one juvenile) and the occasional Great Blue or Great Egret.  That is until towards the end of July when while out watering on a very hot afternoon, there was horrid shrieking and a great ruckus among the willows.  First a Great Egret emerged from his fishing spot letting out a Pterodactyl worthy screech, heaving up in flight- closely followed by a Red Tail Hawk with talons wrapped around something and an adult Greenback (hot on his red tail) repeatedly calling and  coming close to flying into the hawk.

The Red Tail perched in one of the tall Cottonwoods to consume its prey; the adult Greenback retreating.  I walked around the pond to get a better look and saw he had a baby Greenback.  The nest had been in a secluded area around our neighbors yard and the Greenbacks had quietly raised their brood unbeknown until then.  Dan and I took our little boat out to get a better view of the nest area- also where the Red Tail had been.  Floating just below the Cottonwood in the pond were remains- small heron legs, tail feathers.  My stomach clenched- anguished, even as I understood the cycle of Nature.  Here there has been just a small family of Greenbacks- now born here, returning every Spring- they have become quite special to us.

So with heavy hearts we rowed to shore and went on with our outside chores over the weekend.  By that Sunday evening and throughout the beginning of August there were two clumsy little green birds flying from willow limb to limb, landing awkwardly and jabbering to each other.  A patient parent followed at a distance.  These two survivors learning to hunt, taking longer flights across the pond and they are now seen here usually once a day before or after they fly to other ponds- increasing their endurance before the long flight South next month.  They have been so comical and endearing to watch.

Today I happened to catch one on the dock walkway seemingly reading the name of the pond and calling to its sibling.  Greenbacks growing up on Green Heron Pond.  What a JOY!

talking heron