Raptors, Raccoons, O’Possums, Oh My

It has been a busy few days on the pond recently.  The temps are beginning to take on that “end of fall- start of winter” plunge at night and there just seems to be a lot of activity when this cooler change comes along.  Though my flowers and planters still show beautiful blooms and vivid green today; I imagine that by tomorrow morning or the next morning they will be shrunken blackish green and the petals, blooms lifeless on the deck and dock.  It has been a rare fall to have all the plantings last this long and I have been so grateful for the extended period of warmth and beauty!

The planters on my deck have provided cover for little birds seeking an errant seed from the hanging feeder, the squirrels poking around hidden somewhat by dense plant foliage and a host of late night visitors.  In one of my earlier posts I told of an old feral cat one of my dear neighbors fed for years.  Upon this man’s move out of the neighborhood- this last June, Dan and I continued to try and feed this feral cat so appropriately named “Spook”.  She soon disappeared and we gave up on trying to find and feed her.  However this week she has amazingly reappeared and has been one of our first deck visitors in the evening hours- camouflaged by dark and hidden by potted plants.  Dan had caught a glimpse of her heading towards the deck.

A  bowl of food was set out immediately for this ragged-y survivor (who had once been an indoors pet) and of course she cautiously crept to the food dish, ate-  hurriedly, glancing constantly over her shoulder.  I only know this as Dan had set the trail cam up on the deck close to the food bowl. And I only know who came by later due to great candid shots clicked by the trail cam throughout the night.

Our next visitors to the deck were an opossum, another feral cat we see occasionally and lastly that evening, Mr Raccoon, who- though by this time there was no trace of cat food in the dish, managed to discover a suet feeder in the tree…he promptly climbed up, tore it down and ate almost the entire cake of suet…

Upon viewing these pictures the next morning, Dan and I decided we would time Spook’s arrival by the trail cam’s timer and then remove any leftovers before there could be other visitors.  That worked well until I looked out to see the opossum had returned to eat sunflower seeds still randomly  scattered across the deck…my cats were very intrigued by this funny little critter.  I was not…nor was I amused when he returned with a friend later…. these little creatures are best viewed from a distance, like shuffling away, close to the shoreline…

The opossums, unlike Spook, have limited eyesight and unless one goes outside, where they are, they seem oblivious to your presence just on the other side of the glass.  Which brings me to my last last recent visitor to Green Heron Pond, a visitor who sees quite well…  and by quite well I mean “staring into my house and watching me” well.

I am sure the raccoon had also checked out the flat feeder (pre or post suet fest), a few feet away from the deck as did probably the opossum. But by day I had replenished it with fresh sunflower seeds and was busy with an inside task when I just felt like someone was watching me through the window… I turned to see a raptor seated on the flat feeder viewing me from his perch. It was a little eerie as I turned my head and moved a bit- he just kept staring at me, watching my movements with slight interest…only when I crept by to find my camera did he finally fly.   At first I thought he was my little Sharp Shinned Hawk, but his facial markings, my lack of being able to see a long-ish tail and his somewhat feathered legs made me think this raptor had to be one I hadn’t seen up close before.

Still this bird looked familiar and made me think of another raptor I have periodically noticed in the willows observing the flat feeder.  That had been a bit larger bird, camouflaged in brown not the blue-ish gray of this raptor but with the same facial markings, same patterns and then it came to me- this was a male Merlin, letting me know by his stance on the flat feeder that he was here for a meal… a meal that would not be forthcoming as he was standing in the middle of the “bait”.   He was a very handsome, hungry bird just a few feet away outside my window.

Just a few feet away, outside my windows, a seemingly silent spectacle takes place daily, nightly…life on Green Heron Pond, Oh My!Pond WordPress 013



Bobby and the Boat

bereft little row boatThe little row boat looks rather sad hoisted up on its side and marooned by leaf detritus at the North end of the pond.  Dan turned it over several days ago in prep for the winter months; knowing a launch now would involve waders, heavy lifting and inhaling the intense rotting leaf aroma to get to the water’s edge.  I never think about the smell of the pond until I open a window and catch the scent on a breeze or come back inside and realize my clothes have taken on a watery odor.  But I love it- except for the deep dank stink of the leaves that accumulate by the boat area.  The fragrance is similar to a permanent I once got in 3rd grade…that odor cured me of ever wanting another…

However, today the wind has picked up quite a bit and any obnoxious odor is driven away with the gusts.  Due to the winds almost all the leaves are now gone and I have an unobstructed view of the little row boat against an old dead cottonwood. I have such fond memories and expectations for this little boat; when I first moved here a maiden voyage provided my first up close view of the many little creatures and their homes on or along the water’s edge.  And an evenings boat ride with Dan at the oars was always such a pleasant end to the daylight, quiet, peaceful.

Quiet and peaceful until one summer evening when there were lonesome, begging cries emerging from my cat Bobby along the shoreline.  We rowed towards the sounds to find out the cause of his distress when it became clear that all he wanted was to hop on the boat.  So, up we rowed, in he hopped and away we went.  From then on Bobby was a fixture on almost every boat ride we would take, sometimes perching on the bow or walking the perimeter on the 1″ surface peering into the water or surveying the shoreline, confident he could not fall in.

Capt_Bob 002 (2)Bobby enjoyed close up views of the Mallards as they would come alongside to see this funny little character crouched on the boat’s edge, almost daring him to jump as if knowing he would sink before ever laying a paw on one of them. From our mid pond vantage in the boat we would search for Green Heron nests, the bulging eyes of Mr Bull Frog or maybe encounter an Eastern King Bird or a Belted Kingfisher hidden among the shoreline willows.  Once in awhile we’d flush out a preoccupied Night Heron who then would silently wing across the pond.  Bobby would take it all in-interested, silently satisfied with his twilight boat rides.

Today as I look out and see the boat prepped for the cold and listen to the wintry wind blowing- blowing in a cold snap, I am thinking of those wonderful summer evenings on the boat and am filled with pleasant, happy memories.  And as much as I look forward to experiencing each season and am ready for winter to arrive, I also know that by winter’s end even the pond’s fragrant leafy stench will be a welcome harbinger of spring.

Arrival of the Cold Season Birds

dock in fallThe weather has continued to be more temperate than one might expect of November in Kansas, but limited sunlight has generated migrant movement to the South.  I know the weather is about to change and winter is really coming when the little Juncos arrive…and arrive they did last week.  Smallish slate gray males dancing about at the flat feeder, their little brown female counterparts joining in, all with pink bills, busy cracking sunflower seeds.  With them have come some White Breasted Nuthatches, who I have not seen here in several years, and my beloved Tufted Titmice.

Chickadees seem to stay with us here during all seasons, but their compatriots- the chatty, scrappy Tufted Titmice only frequent our feeders during colder weather.  Their raucous camaraderie is always so welcome on the frigid days of winter. And I  enjoy listening to the Nuthatches’ little car horn-like beeping sounds as they travel head first down tree trunks and eat bottoms up at our feeders. A few years ago we had a couple of Red Breasted Nuthatches around all winter and I would love to see them again.  Tiny (smaller than the White Breasted Nuthatches), they were fun to watch as they rooted around among the dead leaves and flitted across the deck to the hanging feeder grasping sunflowers seemingly too big for their bills, deftly cracking and consuming seed after seed.

Traveling with these winter residents are many familiar LBBs (little brown birds) who defy my efforts to determine exactly who they are..though some of these may be juvenile Juncos…but many are varieties of sparrows hopping along the deck looking for scattered seeds with my indoor kitties trance like- observing and sounding an occasional “Mecccckkk” at them….kitties wishing for a closer, more intimate view of these feathered friends…

Trailing just a day or so behind these diminutive birds was a Sharp Shinned Hawk looking for a quick and easy meal at a feeder or mid-flight.  The  smallish raptor, perched in a willow, happened to glance towards my window as I reached for my binoculars- to get a better look at his bluish gray back and rusty barred breast. Sharp eyed he quickly headed off and I have not seen him since…am thinking the hawk may be remembering an earlier encounter with the wild lady swooping out of the house and off the deck to shoo him on his way.  And yes I know that the bigger birds need to eat too…just not in my yard when I can help it…

Cooler weather also brings the return of the Gold Finches, the Downy and Red Bellied Woodpeckers to the yard.  I can hear them among the trees around Green Heron Pond during the summer but rarely spot one- and they do not frequent our feeders until after nesting season each year.  The Gold Finches have such pretty little voices, the Downies, so matter of fact, business-like in their black and white and the Red Bellies- big, brash and comical with flashes of brilliant red showing as they arrive at the feeders- half as large as the feeder itself- contorting themselves, balancing with their tails to reach the seed- everyone else darting out of the way.

The pond’s waterfowl have remained much the same these last few weeks; Mallards, Shovelers, and the arrival of the winter resident Canada Couple. We have had the occasional Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfishers rattling along the water’s edge.  But vibrant fall color is fading, the leaves mostly gone now.  No shimmery sounds of cottonwood leaves in the wind…just the rattle of dead leaves scurrying across the lawn and the new but familiar sounds of the arrival of the winter birds.  Always excited with the prospect of a new season- there are many stories of the winter season.  I look forward to the telling of the coming cold season.

Remnants of Summer

This first day of November with its 75 degree temp has found me outside watering all my blooming plants, picking cherry tomatoes and finding Lady Bugs… in my hair, on my clothes and all over the exterior of the house.  They crawl up the bricks and then fly almost propeller driven into me, onto my plants- eventually landing in the sunshine on the walls.  Maybe they are migrating as some Lady Bugs do, but personally I think they are just enjoying the remnants of a beautiful temperate summer often wished for in Kansas.  They fly with abandon and seem cheerful about the warmth, the slight breeze…and they have made me cheerful- grateful for their presence in our yard today.  ladbug n geramium

Soon many of these little Lady Bugs will crawl under the refuse of  raked leaves that scatter themselves back over the lawn on many a windy and crisp day we will yet experience this fall.  The Lady Bugs will burrow down in the soft dampness and darkness settling in for a winters ride of cold, snow, wind and sleep for nature.  I will remember to tread softly as I go about the yard…viewing the architecture of the large cottonwoods devoid of their glossy circular leaves, witnessing the willows bent over by icy, deep winter winds.  The only accents of color left will be in the blue grays of the tall Blue Spruce anchoring our backyard, a few other evergreens at the boundaries of the yard and the dark blackish green of the pond trembling in the winds when not under cover of ice.

geraniumBut today I will revel in the Lady Bugs and the beauty of my flowers- at their peak of color and maturity-vibrant and possibly unaware that change has been coming and will soon be more than they can bear.  The fall colors are rich with reds, oranges and yellows but my flowers still possess the frail spring pinks, rich purples of summer and candy striped magentas of hot late summer- all radiant colors blending in to make this fall and this day a time to fly with abandon propelling oneself into the warmth of plant, person.  The warmth of a November day I will remember throughout the winter.