Subtle Hints of a Changing Season

Here towards the end of August there have been signs of the change to Fall.  This morning I disturbed a Black Crowned Night Heron and a Greenback Heron before light and during a gentle rain as I let Reggie out and threw out some scratch for the ducks.  Earlier this week a Snowy Egret was showing off his “golden slippers” as he strutted across the dock fishing,  Before that there had been a reflection of something white-ish by the opposite bank so I got out the “long eyes”  seeing the reflection was a Great Egret hidden behind a fallen limb over the water. There have been crowds of all sorts of black birds and small swallows lined up on the utility lines chattering their own mass communication…”Heading South!”

When the herons begin to show up in late summer, I know their time with us is short. These birds are not our summer residents on the pond but travelers seeking a meal and respite for just a day or two. I used to be astounded that birds would fly South so soon as the weather is still warm-hot and fishing is still very good… but the light is changing to that glowing autumnal angle with earlier darkness and cooler nights.  The waders are restless to leave and start their long journeys pausing only to say “Good Bye” it seems.

the little herb gardenBut while the birds are flying my little herb garden is flourishing- unaware that the Fall is coming.  Or, maybe it knows its own time is limited and so it grows lush and bountiful.  The chives are blooming now and the lemon grass is as tall as corn stalks.  The scented geranium and lemon thyme have spread themselves luxuriously across the mulch and old brick that I use for stepping stones.   Rosemary and the basil(s) are ready for harvesting. Fennel and parsley provide sustenance for butterfly caterpillars-  sometimes ending up in my herb pick for the day in the kitchen- until I catch a glimpse of a small wriggling striped creature and return it to the garden.

As always on Green Heron Pond as seasons transform, birds come and go, there is always the wonder of change and the anticipation of something new to observe and enjoy.  I am watching for those changes as I look forward to Autumn!

(Since the garden has me thinking of food to prepare using the herbs, I want to share one of my favorite easy dishes, an herb-y chicken salad.)

Lemony Chicken Salad

  • 3 chicken breasts or 10 chicken tenderloins for roasting
  • salt (I prefer Pink Himalayan salt for this recipe), pepper and olive oil as needed
  • 2-3 small sprigs of fresh rosemary*
  • 2-3 springs fresh lemon thyme*
  • 1 heaping tsp of chutney (Major Greys chutney is my preference)
  • 1/2 cup-or more to taste/texture of Vegenaise or  regular mayo (I love Vegenaise!!)
  • 1 tsp coarse ground mustard
  • 1/2-1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 10 red seedless grapes cut up
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 2 scallions cut up fine use both white and green parts

lemony chicken salad fixingsOn a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper drizzle the raw chicken with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and crush herbs- generously sprinkling them over the chicken.  Put in a heated oven @ 350 degrees for an hour or til chicken is cooked through- still tender however.  Remove roasted chicken from oven and while letting it cool cut up grapes, celery, scallions, and zest 1/2 lemon.  When chicken has cooled, coarsely shred adding other items that have been cut up and the walnuts.

In another bowl mix Vegenaise, mustard, chutney and lemon zest- then fold all ingredients together.  Chill at least 1 hour before serving.   Serve on spring greens with a nice crusty bread or with almond crackers.  Serves 2 generously or 4 lightly.

*If you want to use dried herbs just use less as dried always is stronger tasting.

I usually pair this recipe with a phenomenal fresh kale salad I love! from Deb Perelman’s The smitten kitchen cookbook or check out her blog http://www.smittenkitchen.com

Letting Nature Take Its Course?

This blog boasts the musings of someone-me… who grew up on animated films filled with endearing small animals encouraging empathy  (though my favorite is actually The Sword in the Stone with the talking owl, Archimedes), Beatrix Potter books and probably most influential, Thornton Burgess’ The Old Mother West Wind Stories– fascinating insights into the natural world!  The “Little People” as Burgess called the animals; conversing among themselves, making their own observations and exhibiting some human-like characteristics and emotions- both noble and sordid. I loved those stories and all the various little animals featured in them.  From these stories and movies, I have possibly carried an idealized mindset into adulthood about the small creatures that captivate me in the woods, on a pond or in my backyard trees.

A quote from an ornithologist at Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been on my mind these last several weeks as I have been feeding a hurt Mallard.  The duck (alongside healthy cohorts) makes its way up on the lawn from the water for a snack of scratch.  This little one has one strong working leg and the other leg tucked in a tight V up by its wing that moves somewhat horizontally for balance.  I throw feed to the ducks and then quickly turn to toss this one extra- which has be a challenge as it is leery and guarded due to injury- ready to flee at a moment’s notice.  The duck has learned the sound of my voice as I call “Duck Ducky” and is  apt to stay put if I approach- still at a safe distance but close enough to toss the tidbits of corn- just not close enough to disturb feelings of safety.

The hurt duck bounces around like a Pogo stick on its good strong leg or helps itself along while dining by an uneven waddling movement- first the good leg then leaning opposite breast and wing downward  the duck rotates forward lumbering along.  It rests as needed but stays close to the other Mallards and quickly maneuvers into their midst if there is an alert or possible danger.  There are a couple of other Mallards who hang with this duck most of the time and they navigate about the yard and water together.  The hurt duck has a voracious appetite, as all ducks seem to- eating well and other than its leg being tucked in- looks and acts very healthy and goes about its business.

The quote from Ornithologist Kevin McGowan is “Thinking of animals like people is misleading and unhelpful and offers no assistance in understanding animal behavior.  On the other hand thinking of people like animals with the same survival goals can provide profound insights into what we do.”  This quote has provided some solace for me many times as I have witnessed the events and happenings here on the pond.

I admire the tenacity of the injured Mallard.   I am in awe of this small creature’s adaptability. It never considers the hurt leg, the challenge is accepted and the duck is occupied, surviving and being alive;  eating, resting, swimming and traveling the pond shoreline with the other ducks. Dan and I know it would harm the duck more to try and catch it, so nature is taking its course- with our yard and Green Heron Pond,  a small slice of sanctuary for this duck and the other Mallards.

I wonder about the seasonal change to winter though…open water may not always be easy to find and soft snow for a landing or easy maneuvering may not always be available either. Perhaps this duck will fly farther South for warmer weather?  Would it have the strength? Will I see it struggle in the winter or possibly see it flying back next Spring with only a slight limp to indicate past injury? If this little duck is a female (hard to tell which is which during the end of molting season) I wonder how she will endure the spring mating ritual known as “duck rape” around here.  Would she then swim along the shoreline to show off  newly hatched ducklings early next summer? Or will this injured duck be an easier target for a hungry predator in the heart of winter?

In my human-ness, I am projecting all sorts of possibilities for this little duck…however, it is busy being a duck, cautious but able to sleep in the duckyshade or veiled sunlight, cleaning and preening its feathers, swimming in the cooling waters of the late night and early morning…nature taking its course…I will only attempt to intervene by being available to call “Duck Ducky” and toss scratch to this Mallard and the others.

Late Evening on Green Heron Pond

This is one of the few summers recently that has produced a green Kansas, not a brown one.  More rain than we are used to and cooler overall temps have produced a lot of that wonderful deep plant green that I love and mosquitoes– which I loathe.  Despite the skeeters, Dan and I have spent many evenings on the dock well armed with citronella candles, herbal oils, long pants and shirt or when faced with full blown mosquito attacks, heavy duty- deep in the woods skeeter spray- which I dislike immensely…

Last Saturday evening was the exception to this temperate summer weather as the temp for the day rose above 100 degrees.  We headed out to the dock at dusk, my jeans feeling hot and weighty- but covering stretches  of mosquito prone skin. It was just a bit uncomfortable in the dark evening heat, but I was interested in feeding the fish as they hit the surface of the water just as our feet hit the dock, waiting for dog food kibble as their evening snack.

I soon forgot how warm (and wet) my neck and face felt as I watched the water; catching a glimpse of the big carp, their diamond patterns disappearing in the lessening light and then my little friends- the turtles, who appear and come near the dock, heads stretched out- begging for their own tiny bite.  Silent and shy, they wait- alert, as I gently toss a bit of kibble their way.

The evening had slowed down, the pond quieting, bull frogs and cicadas beginning  their muted sounds… a breeze floated across my face and arms- a gentle veil of cool on a hot summer night.  I looked up to see the old cottonwood leaves swaying in this welcome breeze and I was so grateful.  Grateful to have felt the intense warmth of the day, grateful for the cooling effects of the breeze on my neck and arms.  There are evenings in which I always turn to Dan and say “the air feels so good on my skin”, this was one of those evenings.

I looked up again as the moon began to peek through the silhouetted leaves, leaves like lace dappling the glow of the moon on the dock. I was content to linger there until very late. Dan always one for easy conversation or compatible quiet-  much like me was lost in his own thoughts.  Thoughts of this warm summer night, the softening breeze and thoughts of small turtles, big fish…grateful, I am so grateful that the air feels so good on my skin. full moon ghp

Green Heron Pond Updates

I have been wanting to do an update on the Green Heron nest close by our house, with hopefully great news and future blogs about Green Heron babies cavorting all around the willow tree that has housed their nest.  It is not to be…  Dan and I were out of town for a few days and had talked on our drive back home about the potential of newly hatched herons, but on arrival home we checked the nest area and there was no sign of babies or mom sitting on the nest.  We headed out to the boat for a rapid row near our shoreline for a better view, hoping to see the pale green-y blue-ish eggs, but instead, just the frail looking stick nest with NO eggs.  Disappointed we rowed on looking for signs of  any of the Green Backs, but found none.

Back at the house we discussed possibilities: too late in the season so the adults abandoned the nest, too hot with its Western afternoon sky exposure, predators, eggs that were not fertilized?  I would be hard pressed to think of many predators that would risk the rapier sharp bill of this small heron and we most likely would have heard a commotion if there were predators in the vicinity.  Secondly, I know they have nested in areas with a great deal of sun exposure and this has been a more temperate summer than most.

So I assume they gave up due to the lateness of the season.  It was the second nesting of the summer and may not have worked well.  After my initial cautious excitement over 3 weeks ago about them being so close- on our side of the pond- it was funny that being so near meant staying away, being very discreet when outside and due to all the willow fronds and limbs barely a view of any nest activity, just shadowy movement and a couple of binocular provided egg sightings.

Then in an earlier blog about the Mallards,  I had also mentioned a new brood of eight Mallard ducklings on the pond.  After my initial sighting, they have not been seen again.  Now I know that large bass and turtles have their share of tasty morsels but eight would be unimaginable and I would give Momma Duck more credit than that! But I have looked for the ducklings and their mom on all the other ponds around our area but have never found them.

I am always so amazed at what one will see if just a few minutes are spent watching nature, but apparently this summer it has been what I’ve missed from not watching for those few minutes.. the mysteries still intrigue me and I find myself scanning the water ever more carefully wondering who I will see, who will I hear and what will unfold in my own back yard?  Any disappointment is quelled by the possibilities, a Kingfisher “rattling” at me, a Great Egret gracing the shady shoreline, the Mallards pacing back and forth in hopes of scratch…waiting to hear my voice to approach.   I will keep you posted.ducky