Thursday, July 31, 2014

Birds at the Feeders and in the Park News: end of July

     At the feeders in the backyard this week, grackles plus the one male red wing blackbird that hangs out with them continue to abound after a curious absence of maybe a fortnight. The chickadees show up several times a day. I saw one chickadee today that was a bit larger than the rest of them. Looked that way to me anyways. Much to my amazement, I have several chickadees crowding around the safflower seeds and the goldfinches have dominated the sunflower kernels. Earlier this spring, this was exactly the opposite. The grackles of course will eat from any feeder that they want to when not grabbing at the corn and nuts in the two platform feeders. The red-bellied woodpecker continues to show up for sunflower kernels several times a day. Mourning doves, house sparrows, a purple finch and a [red] house finch, a few ruby-throated hummers, and the three regular blue jays round out the list of regulars. Yesterday morning, a female hairy woodpecker came to sample the sunflower kernels. And one crow continues to be among the birds that regularly buzz me when the dog and I are relaxing on the deck.

     Yes, I also bird off the property. We have lots of woods and fields around here. Of note, in a creek that runs through some woods and a park there was an immature little green heron just standing in the middle of some mud flats. It took an experimental hop and then just stood there motionless for at least twenty minutes. Much to my amazement, I spied a sandpiper scurrying up and down in the water near the mud flats [where the immature little green heron was]. I never thought about sandpipers being this far inland. I did not get a close enough look to be able to identify which kind of sandpiper. I did catch the yellow legs clearly and some suggestion of spots along the top half of the sandpiper but that was all. Gis: for sure a sandpiper. Other than that, I cannot say. I saw a blue heron flying along the creek further down.

     The next day along the same creek there was a yellow warbler flitting through a thicket of trees. Very fast little birds. Easy to miss.

     A pretty good couple of days I think.

sapphoq n friends

Sunday, July 20, 2014


     You tug at the pant legs of your expensive jeans so they hang just so over your fashionable boots just so. "Let's get this over with," you say to them with a grimace. Your beau squeezes your shoulder and reaches for your hand. You wince. That hurts, he thinks. He remembers to hide his pain. One older brother checks the car door locks. He doesn't care for the neighborhood. The other-- younger-- stands in the driveway, hands pushed deep into his pockets. "Yeah, get 'er done," he mumbles. He wants to get back to the hotel and the stash in his suitcase. 

     The four of you walk up the driveway and onto the ramp. "New paint job," the concerned brother says. The doper brother is staring about the grounds and the foundation plants. It's a grand house. If he owned all of this, he'd be sure to put in a locked greenhouse way in the back. You know his fantasies well. You glare at him, "Forget it," you say. "You'll never be able to afford this." He flips you the bird when he thinks you aren't looking.

     One of the workers responds to the doorbell and ushers all of you inside. Your overly-applied perfume hangs like sticky fog, not even dissipating in the breeze.  It is good enough. I grab my tools from the back shed and go to work on your shiny automobile. You deserve this. The job is completed in less than a minute. Excellent.

     I crouch behind the bush just under the drawing room window on the far side of the house. I can hear you perfectly. Not so much your words. Those skid around me, vacant and unfeeling. It is your tone of voice that dances around the room clearly and then flings itself with abandon out to my hiding place. A nearby squirrel chatters. He chases another one to a sickly oak. Up and around they go in a crazy zigzag.

     Your beau-- I allow myself a moment to feel sorry for him-- does not realize that he is second fiddle to your swollen false ego. He has often speculated on who his competition for your affection might be. He has hacked into your computer [your first cat's name as a password] and hunted through your addresses. One suspect turned out to be a cousin living in Chicago. Another a much loved gay friend.

     Your grandfather, usually lost to his dementia, is having a clear day. Your beau goes off to find the men's room. "He's not marriage material," he tells you plainly. "Oh grandpa, what do you know?" 

     "Where's your respect?" your younger brother whispers to you. You kick him in the shin. He winces but says nothing further. Grandpa is dying and he doesn't want to upset him. "A gambler," your older brother nods knowingly for Grandpa's benefit but not yours. You glare at him. Screw this, you tell yourself. Your beau returns. "Gotta go Gramps," you say as you bend down to kiss his papery skin. You drag your bodyguards away.

     Your older brother starts the car.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


     Old dog and I went off into the woods today. Some of the trails are grown in a bit, primarily with jewel weed. The roots are close to the surface so they were easy to pull out as we meandered along. More problematic is the grass. Grass in the woods-- who'd a thunk it? Bits of the trails were muddy from the recent rainstorms but that didn't really bother me. A couple of new blow-downs were in evidence from the high winds that we've been having of late.

     Dog trotted along happily. Her rear is a bit weaker these days. In addition to the arthritis in her lower back and right rear hock, I am suspecting a neurological condition. I hope not. Even the best of dogs die. I hope that she will pass on [or be put down] before she becomes incontinent of stool. Stool incontinence plus a bad rear yields something that robs a dog of her dignity. And she is too good for that. I will miss her when she goes. I was hoping to get her to the first snowfall-- she loves snow-- or at least til sometime in the fall. And I don't know if I will be able to.

     Dad is dying too. 


sapphoq n friends says: Oh I know some smart ass will say something meaningless like, "We are all dying." The thing is that some of us are dying at a faster clip than the rest of us. Dad is in hospice. That's a pretty good indication that he doesn't have much time left. The old dog is getting weaker.
     I will love both my dad and my dog for as long as my memory will last.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bird Feeder News: July 12, 2014

Chickadees and grackles continue to predominate at the feeders, along with the same three blue jays, a pair of mourning doves, a pair of cardinals and a single younger male cardinal, grackles and the one red-winged blackbird who continues to hang with a few of those grackles, and a few nuthatches.

     I can identify which of the three blue jays are visiting based on their facial markings, although they do tend to fly in as a loose trio most often. The one with the most gray about his face and neck drank from one of the water pans that is hidden by some wildflowers this evening. I was surprised by this as the blue jays will feed out in the open at the feeders closest to the back porch. None of the trio have presented as shy or hesitant. There are several water dishes available and I just would not have figured on him using that particular one.

     A crow came to visit me twice this week, much to my astonishment. I must have passed muster both times. The crow studied me from a perch on the nearby cherry tree and then flew off at a leisurely pace.

     The five or six house sparrows [a.k.a. English sparrows] who hang out in one of the smaller pine trees also stop in to feed along with a few goldfinches, house finches, and purple finches. Folks tend not to care for the house sparrows much but they don't bother me.

     I like the grackles too. They seem to be intelligent to me. I suspect that they hang with particular other grackles [and the one male red-winged blackbird] but that is only a guess. I do not have the means or knowledge to verify or to disprove that notion. One grackle delighted me last night by plowing into the water of the shallow dish on the ground and then taking a "bath." He used his beak to throw water on his back several times. He shook himself off and then flew to a branch to preen himself. The grackles seem to favor the shallow water dish on the ground for drinking but that was the first grackle bath that I was privileged to watch.

     Tonight something landed in an upper section of the tall oak and remained stationary for a good five minutes. I followed him as he flew down to the cherry tree and then crouched on a branch walking until he reached the long feeder and the sunflower kernels. He perched there with no difficulty and ate. I heard him use a soft call. He flew back up to the oak tree, drummed for a short bit, and then took off in a south-easterly direction. It was, no doubt, a male red-bellied woodpecker. The bird books say they will visit a feeder in winter. I have not found a reference to them visiting a feeder in the summer. But this one did.

     He may have ventured out from the woods. Or he may have been knocked about by one of the almost nightly storms we have been having. I did not see a mate or any other red-bellies around the area. Admittedly one could have flown to the oak and hid there. [Or not]. I was thrilled to see the male red-bellied in my backyard. The absence of a female did not detract from my happiness.

     Notably missing from my backyard this week/this summer have been starlings and swallows, flickers, and both white throats and white caps [sparrows]. The fox and the song [sparrows] that I saw last month have also not returned. The starlings, swallows, and flickers are all in abundance in the neighborhood. No starlings in my backyard I find to be curious. They certainly hung out here last year. I don't know what changed. Perhaps the boisterous grackles prevent the starlings from wanting to re-acquaint themselves with my backyard this year. The starlings are in the neighbors' yards though. I'm not complaining. Just saying is all.

     Swallows have never hung in the yard here and I've seen one of the neighborhood flickers in my yard only once ever since I've been here. That the other sparrows have not been around this July perhaps is related to breeding or weather conditions or something else. I think the sparrows are declining in numbers here in general but I am not for sure on that. We certainly have had a wet summer with lots of thunderstorms and high winds-- and some hail ranging in size from peas to meatballs. The summer has been so wet in fact that I haven't had to water the gardens at all, and have only had to water the plants in pots outdoors twice.

     The storms alternating with intense heat have been remarkable, not necessarily in a happy happy way. Perhaps some of the birds are also dismayed with the weather, who knows? Just because they don't use words does not mean that they can't notice weather patterns, identify other individual bird "friends and foes," and think. 

     Human beings have made assumptions that those other animals without words don't have well-developed cognitive processes. Me, I've watched birds as well as the resident squirrels and chipmunks [yes I can identify a few of those individually too] use the environment as tools to solve simple problems. Countless chickadees have used the blunt end of a forsythia bush to pry black sunflower seeds from their shells. A few have also used a rock for the same purpose. The squirrels are skilled acrobats who easily defeat any sort of "defense against the squirrels" bird feeders and baffles. The chipmunks have taken to storing corn kernels in the one compost bin which features a chipmunk-size hole. I can't leave out the one male red-winged blackbird who hangs out with some grackles daily in my backyard. He flies in with them and leaves with them. From these events I've witnessed informal evidence of what may be the deliberate usage of tools, solving problems, and identifying which grackles are in an odd group of peers.

     The birds and chipmunks and squirrels-- and indeed my own dog, cats, and frogs-- are much better at being birds and chipmunks and squirrels [and dogs, cats, frogs] than I ever could be. I don't have the same set of skills that any of them do. My dog can smell every individual blade of grass in an area where she is roaming [with my direct supervision and under voice control always]. I can't do that. Even when leaving out stuff that is accounted for by instinct, there is other stuff they do that give me the idea that thinking is involved. We humans don't have the monopoly on intelligent behavior. To proclaim that we do ignores the observations of well-respected naturalists like Bernd Heinrich. 

     sapphoq n friends