summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Cardinal Event

I have always watched birds for years.  I keep my eyes peeled when on walks. I often gaze outside when passing any window in the house as I go about my chores.  I sit quietly a few minutes when down at the pond feeding the fish.  These are my usual, yet a bit informal, ways I watch birds. My bird watching is secondary to the primary activity.

Recently, I have decided to be a bit more deliberate in watching for my feathered friends. I actually go out and sit waiting for the magic to happen.  My favorite perch is from my comfy and well-worn ottoman placed in the doorway of my garden shed.  I am somewhat hidden from view from the birds, yet I have a bird’s eye view of the yard on the west side of the house.  This side is home to my apple trees, grapevines, raspberry bushes, hemlock tree, horse chestnut tree, and a multitude of perennial plantings surrounding the central lawn.   The birds have great cover here as well as unlimited places to land and rest or sing or for a few, watch me.

My goal is to get a photo of a Baltimore Oriole. So far, I have seen several orioles, have taken a photo of an Orchard Oriole, but the photo of the brilliant orange Baltimore Oriole has eluded me.  I will keep trying.

Nevertheless, I was well rewarded with a different bird today.

 I no sooner sat down that I was presented with an amazing show. A female cardinal landed within feet of me.  A fairly large puddle had formed from our frequent rains in a low spot in the gravel lane. That female hopped around a bit before…

taking the plunge. She dunked her head smack down into the puddle and took a bath. 

I have seen smaller birds wade in puddles before, but this was my first time that I was lucky enough to watch a colorful cardinal refresh herself.  It was magic, indeed.

I continued to watch and noticed a robin, or two, continually fly in and out of the chestnut tree.  The bird would go in with something hanging from its beak. Shortly, the bird would fly out of the tree with an empty beak.  I realized that those robins must have a nest in that tree. On closer examination, I proved myself right.  A fine nest was firmly set in forking branches near the top of the tree. Suddenly, the adult robin flew onto the nest. Just as fast, the bird was gone.

The last few years the robins had built a nest under the roof of our pergola. 

The chestnut tree is a much better option for the birds and for us. 

As for me, I had a great bird watching session.  I know there will be more to come. 

What will I see next?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Birds Continue To Amaze

Well, it finally happened!

I was sitting on the deck against the water-facing side of the pond house searching the shoreline for a spotted sandpiper.  The sandpipers have been the most regular bird present at the pond in line behind the red- winged blackbirds and tree swallows. I enjoy watching the sandpipers scamper along the water’s edge and pecking for food.

All of a sudden, without a sound, a Great Blue Heron flew into view from the side of the pond house.  The heron was flying low over the water and landed in the grass at the far side of the pond. 

I was amazed.  So were the dogs.  At first sight, they started to chase as they do with all birds, but when the heron landed, the dogs just stopped in what seemed to be a bit of shock.  The birds they chase never land and the birds are never quite this large.  I think they were confused as to what to do.  Buddy and Snowball just sat and watched as I did.

The heron stood quietly towering over the grass.  Camera in hand, I got a few shots off.  I wanted to zoom in closer, but since the heron is so tall, I had to turn the camera to better frame the entire form.  That turning caused the heron to exit. Ugh!

Once in flight, the heron made its way past me into the far side of a nearby walnut tree.  The heron barked all the way.  This is the only the second time I actually heard a heron bark indicating that the heron was startled. The vocals were a bonus to the already fabulous spectacle.

I could see the heron through the somewhat sparse, early leaves of the walnut, but not good enough to witness any kind of observations.  I looked away for a moment and the heron was gone.

I had been waiting for years for a heron to land at the pond while I was there.  A few herons have come close by flying low, but as soon as the dogs were eyed, the herons just continued flying on and out of sight.

Today, an optimism turned to reality. 

But, that was not the end of my excitement.  As I made my return walk home, I saw a brown thrasher sitting on the fence line adjacent to the area I call ‘the bird sanctuary’. This area is very overgrown with trees, shrubs, grasses and weeds.  Glenn wants to clear the sanctuary, mainly due to the undesirability of autumn olive growing there, bringing this small island of diverse growth back to and adding it to the surrounding pasture. Autumn olive shrubs are not desirable growing in a pasture because they take up valuable space where grass should be growing, yet they provide seasonal bird cover and berries for food in the fall.  After the birds eat the berries, they drop the seeds into the pastures where the nuisance shrub takes hold. Glenn has to manually eradicate the shrub from the pastures because the livestock will not eat it.   I insist that the sanctuary remains for the benefit of the birds’ habitat and for the benefit of my bird-watching.  I have seen many a rare-to-me bird here. So far, I am winning this conflict.

About two weeks prior, I had a quick glimpse of a brown thrasher in the sanctuary. This brief sighting caused me to formulate my self-imposed goals for this summer which are to photograph a brown thrasher and a wood thrush. Seeing both birds are a very rare, sighted only about twice each and each time the birds were partially hidden by foliage, occurrence to me.  Therefore, seeing the brown thrasher in the open was thrilling. Regrettably, Snowball was ten steps ahead of me.  Yep, that thrasher flew off before I was to get photographic documentation.  Fortunately, for me, the thrasher flew into a nearby tree and was perched on a branch in full view.

I got my pictures. One rare bird photographed, one to go.  And, it is only mid-May.  I have plenty of time to view the wood thrush this summer, I think.  I hope.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Another Bird Bonus

Yesterday was another bird bonus day.

My walk down to the pond flushed up a mallard couple from the shore line.  The male and female are so different in coloration.  Both are so beautiful in their own way. Then, I saw several swallows.  Not the regular tree swallow pond dwellers, but the more colorful barn swallows. I also noticed a swallow that seemed to be combination of the tree and barn. Hmm...? I had to get out my BIG bird book.  The bird could be either an immature barn swallow or an Eurasian subspecies.  You decide.

Can you help me identify?

On return home, I noticed a somewhat unrecognizable bird in the top of the hemlock tree.  This is a favorite spot of my mockingbirds.  Was this a bird a mockingbird?  No, but I could not verify the species.  With the angle of the sun, I was at a disadvantage.  Once I viewed my photos on the computer, I was so surprised.  Even though the photos were out of focus, I could identify this bird as an Orchard Oriole.  The muted orange that I could not perceive came through on the photos. This bird is definitely a rare sighting for me.  Unfortunately, the pics were disappointing. But, better a bad picture than no picture.

About one hour later, I decided to go back out into the yard. I just had a feeling that my unique find must still be around.  I stepped to the side of the house to catch two brilliant orange Baltimore Orioles being frisky in my small sour cherry tree.  More orioles.  WOW!  They were well hidden by the branches, but the brilliant orange was quite noticeable.  Within seconds, they flew off to the nearby woods.  Yet, another rare sighting for me.

How lucky can I get?

Orchard Oriole (female)

Well…pretty lucky.  I decided I needed to make myself a bit less obvious, so I went to my garden shed, pulled over my upholstered stool to the door way, sat and waited.  I did not have to wait long.  Mere seconds.  I saw a bird fly into one of my apple trees.  I zoomed in and focused.  Hurray…the Orchard Oriole had returned and I was ready.  Fantastic!

At the same time, a mockingbird took rest in the top of that hemlock and began to sing. He serenaded me about 20 minutes, no exaggeration, straight with no break in his repertoire of songs.  Songs imitated from many birds.  That was one happy mockingbird. That was one happy me.

A perfect ending to a wonderful day!

Monday, May 9, 2016

A New Discovery and Additional Surprises

Today turned into quite a day of discovery after Becky e-mailed me a photo of a pitcher plant.  She was in an area of the farm which I rarely wander because it is close to neighbors and I try to keep our dogs from straying onto other properties.  Our farm is 180 acres.  Our dogs should be well satisfied with what our acreage has to offer them.

So, I was quite excited to go out and see these ‘new’ plants. In all my years of living at Mountain Glen, I had never seen these particular pitcher plants.

look carefully to see the 'pitcher'

the pitcher plants are hiding, in plain view, in this meadow of green

These pitcher plants are on the short side, I am guessing under 12”, and the flower itself is green just like their leaves and just like the foliage of surrounding plants.  Quite frankly, you have to be downright looking for these plants.  And, since I did not know they existed, I was never looking.

After the amazing plant discovery, I decided to walk a section of fence line home.  This particular fence line separates pasture from mature woods.  I am hoping to see and photograph a wood thrush.  I hear plenty of their high pitch notes coming from deep inside the woods, but I want to see them.  This is a goal of mine for this season. 

cedar shrub in fence  line
Unfortunately, I did not catch sight of the wood thrush, but fortunately I did scare up a Northern Cardinal couple from only a foot away from me.  Those two did not fly off. They only flew up into nearby tree branches. I wondered if they had a nest in that cedar shrub I was standing next to.  Sure enough. On closer examination I saw a little brown nest with two what looked to be day-old birds cuddled and sleeping. An unhatched egg also resided in the nest.  Imagine…seeing a cardinal nest with newborns. This is a FIRST for me! I was one lucky person.

As I left the nest area, I continued to follow the fence for a few feet and quickly stopped.  I saw a black and white fuzzy animal and it was not Buddy as he was at my side.  The fuzzy animal raised its head.  No denying, I was feet away from a skunk.  I hate skunks.  If you ever smelled one, you would hate them, too.  The odor is the worst of any I have ever encountered.  I was easing myself backwards when that skunk scurried into a hole under an old, decaying log.  Great.  That skunk has a home only feet from where I pass during my walk daily.  Makes me feel comfortable…not.

Upon reaching home, I caught sight of an indigo bunting perched in the top of one of our ornamental pear trees. He was just sitting there for my enjoyment.   

This day just could not get any better.  It does not need to.  I was happy enough with the discovery of the pitcher plant! The other stuff, as they say, is icing on the cake, the cherry on top…you get the idea. 

Discovery is grand!  


I invite all to go and make a discovery of your own. Go on…give it a try. Your psyche will thank you.   

P.S. I forgot to mention that Glenn spied a gobbler in the far pasture this morning – strutting his fan of feathers – impressive, don’t you think?