You’ll pardon me for paraphrasing the B-52s, but bird watching in my back yard since spring has sprung really has been like living in my own private Audubon. Yang pointed out that we often see more birds (in number and variety) through our sun porch windows than we do on many of our nature walks! It’s been a delight to see many old friends return.
First back were these Mockingbirds. Usually we see one in February or early March. S/He doesn’t stay long, but chows down for a day or two – maybe a week – and then is on the way to wherever Mockingbirds like to chill. This year, we got TWO. A honeymooning couple? I don’t know, but they were a pleasure to see.
Another of the spring early birds are the Red-Winged Blackbirds. In my yard, they are one of the earliest sign of spring rolling in. These guys actually showed up in the end of February – and I’ve never seen so many of them! Usually their numbers tend to thin out as we get into May, but this year we still have many of these visitors with the red and yellow epaulets. You can see this chap flashing his shoulder embellishments as he shares the feeder with a grumpy-looking Grackle – tons of Grackles off and on since February. Below is the blackbird taking a turn on the suet.
In fact, everyone seems to be into suet this year! You saw the Mockingbirds above. And get a load of both the female and male Downy Woodpeckers. You can distinguish their genders by the red dot on the back of the male’s head.
These two aren’t the only woodpeckers who visit us. Through the winter and still into the spring, we’ve had a pair of Redbellied Woodpeckers chilling with us. In fact, this male is probably the one Yang and I saved from frostbite after he was stunned from hitting a window – the woodpecker, not Yang. Anyway, we call him Red and his mate Ruby. Original, aren’t we?
Of course we also had a spring newcomer woodpecker: my friend Flicker (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.). Just last week, I saw him hunting insects where my and my neighbor’s yard meet.
One of my favorite returnees is the Catbird. I love the way they say my name in one of their calls: “Sharon!” Last year we had two. This year, I’ve seen four! I don’t think they’re all pals, either. One day, I saw two of them in my Canadian Maple with their heads up, beaks pointing skyward, and their shoulders thrown back in a stand off. Bird number three was merrily chowing down on suet all the while. Who knows where number four went. Still, I do see two, three, four of them traveling together, making the rounds of the bird feeders in my yard.
We’ve also had some more colorful returnees as well. Although a Goldfinch or two would come by during the winter, we had a huge influx in April. They’ve thinned out a bit, but it’s been fun watching the boys gradually change back to their bright yellow duds. They’ve also broadened their tastes. Rather than only snacking on sunflower hearts, they are now going for the black oil seeds, no longer too lazy to crack them open with their powerful finch beaks. This fella is giving the feeder a quizzical study before he zeroes in on dinner.
Finally, May brought back two of my favorite friends. First, the Baltimore Orioles. This year we’ve seen two adult males and one juvenile. These guys love their oranges! Yang gets them the good ones from the Asian grocery store in town.
One day, Yang and I saw Dad taking his young son out for his first drink.
Then they both turn to our window and stare: “What’re YOU lookin’ at?!”
One week later, who should come to town but the last of our colorful spring regulars: the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Usually we get a couple of couples. However, this year, I’ve only seen the male. Still, for all I know, it’s not the same male every time. There could be a bunch of them, each showing up one at a time. However many, these guys are always gorgeous to see! Here one of them is sharing the feeder with a House Finch. He doesn’t look too chummy, though, does he?
Of course, we’re not the only ones who like to watch the birds from the sun porch. But the girls are kept safely apart from feathered visitors.
Now, bring on the Indigo Bunting and the Scarlet Tanager!
Right after I did my last backyard bird posting, wouldn’t you know that Mr. and Mrs. Grosbeak made their return. And they were ultimately joined by some exciting friends. But enough about the friends later – first, let’s get to the Grosbeaks.
First, I saw the female and managed to get some nice shots of her. I never noticed this on females before, so I’m not sure if this gal is unique, but you can see from these pictures that this gal has some lovely orange coloring, analogous to where her hubby has his rose breast – a broad splash, with a narrow taper. There may be another couple, because I believe that I have also seen a female this year without the orangey coloring. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled. We’ve been having Rosebreasted couples visit us for more than five years. At first, we had only females, then one year males joined in. One year we had two males. We may have more than one couple as it is, but I just haven’t seen all four at the same time.
Anyway, is it me or is this girl giving Yang a smile?
It’s fun to watch the male and female come and feed together. They seem to prefer the single copper-topped feeder. I usually hear one of them singing, then, there they are, having a meal out! I love to hear them sing in the trees as well. I can’t help wondering if they have any nests nearby. I do know that the pair with the gal in the peach-colored breast feathers makes the round with some of my neighbors, as well. According to the Cornell Ornithology site, both parents brood the children, with the Daddy often singing away in the nest. Here’s a link for more information on these wonderful birds. I also love to watch the males fly away, with the flash of black and white on their wings like a special optical effect.
I have also noted that these birds can be pretty aggressive. No Grackles, Starlings, Mourning Doves, or Blue Jays better mess with them when they want to feed. Who you Lookin’ at?
Another fairly aggressive beauty that I found on my feeder this year was the Baltimore Oriole.
Yes! We do have Orioles this year! Usually, one or so will cruise through in May, take a look at our suet and seeds, then turn up his beak and take it on the wing. This year, I got wise and noted how people placed their orange halves for Oriole delectation. It worked! I cut the oranges across the equator, then impaled them on the trellis for our Morning Glories. Now I can’t keep the Orioles away. We have two adult males, one juvenile male (below), and two females, one orange and one yellow (yellow to the right). And woe betide the Oriole who wants to join another Oriole at the juice bar, even if it’s a female with a male or they can sip from different halves. Orioles may have lovely calls to announce their coming, but their aggression chatter is NOT soothing. We even had an Oriole/Grosbeak confrontation – Mr. Grosbeak won. Still, if two Orioles can rarely feed together, the disappointed party will usually go to town on the suet. One time, Yang looked up to see a male Oriole perched on the window ledge and staring in at him!
If all this weren’t exciting enough, on three separate days we had a hummingbird on the hummingbird feeder. I couldn’t tell you if it’s the same one or not, but there have been repeat appearances. Yang was even able to snap some photos, as you can see – well, you can see better if you click on the photo. I normally don’t see these guys until July, but I’d been hearing on FB about all kinds of sightings. So I thought, maybe if there are no flowers around, the hummers would be more interested in my feeder. Bingo! It worked.
Now, for my final extraordinary sighting. I’ve never had a clear look at one of these guys before. I’ve always wanted to see one in all his glory. It seemed as if everyone in Massachusetts was sighting these guys but me! Then, yesterday, while we were watching the episode of Father Brown that I’d dvr’d, Yang said, “Wow! What is this strange bird. I’ve never seen this before.” I hopped up, took a careful peek around the window curtain, and there it was in all his indigo glory! Yes! My first full-color Indigo Bunting! Well, I guess he hasn’t completely changed from his winter to his summer duds, but he is still something!
I don’t know if he’ll be back. He wasn’t crazy about the oranges, he was skeptical of the suet, but the sunflower hearts did seem to grab his attention – though the Grackles kept getting in the way. Let’s hope we see more of him! Wow! What a bird- watching season!
Way back in the ’90s, when I was first married and either working on my dissertation or teaching part time at UConn and Eastern Connecticut State University, Yang and I had a place we liked to visit that we called “The Secret Place.” The name didn’t quite fit because we would run into my students canoeing by or other walkers in nature. However, “The Secret Place” was not crowded with people and a little hard to get to. In fact, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never think of going there. So what is this secret place and how did we ever find it?
Well, without giving away too many secrets, I’ll explain. We’ll go to the second part of the question first. Yang and I lived in the Mansfield/Wilimantic area in Connecticut while going to UConn. When driving one of the yellow-line-divided roads (no route number), we’d often pass over a bridge that let you look down into a lake made by a dam, with an abandoned asphalt road running alongside. It looked like such a cool place to walk, so Yang did some map snooping and found the road to take us there. That road in and of itself was almost a secret: a right that intersected the main road at such a sharp angle that taking it was almost like hooking a U-ie (non-New England translation: making a sharp U-Turn.). That brought you onto an old paved road tunneling through trees on both sides, a road slowly crumbling on the edges and being submerged by encroaching woods. A steel gate prevents vehicles from going more than about 1/2 mile down the road, but pedestrians are welcome. At one time this had been a route with houses following a river, but building the dam not only turned the river into a small lake but ended the status of the street.
The asphalt does continue through the woods and opens up along the body of water, ending in the dam. I have so many fond memories of coming here when the wild roses were blooming through the woods along the road, chickadees, titmice, and even Baltimore Orioles were flitting through the trees and brush, and all kinds of water fowl sailed along the lake, sometimes putting in at the many coves. I’d come here with Yang in all seasons to relax in nature, and even sometimes took a blanket and whatever books I was reading for my orals or dissertation and did my studying chilling in nature. What a wonderful place! But moving to Worcester and finding new places there and around the Northeast to explore, Yang and I put our thoughts of “The Secret Place” on the back burner – until the first week in March, when the good weather made us determined to explore something so old it was new again.
After a tasty breakfast at Bagel One in Windham – still the best bagels and cream cheese in my book! – we drove on down to find our Secret Place. This was not easy since we hadn’t been there in so long – and that entrance really hooks back from the road, making it difficult to see. But we found it! Our excitement grew as we drove down the old paved road through a tunnel of winter- denuded trees – it doesn’t take much to excite us. We found that metal gate and were surprised to see a sign calling the place a park – but a park with no name. I guess the state of Connecticut wants to keep it secret, too, sort of. We slipped through the gate and strolled in the sunny cold down the old road and found ourselves fascinated by stone walls and trees nature-crafted into twisted forms, which we’d never really noticed before. The bare bones of wild rose bushes tangled through the brush, but later in spring we knew they’d be bursting with sprays of white and soft pink tiny blossoms.
We emerged out of the tree-hugged road to see the lake sparkling silver-blue in the cold March sun. In days of yore, you couldn’t always follow the asphalt to the damn at the end because flooding would cover the road. You could still see the ghost of floods past in the scallops of dead plants and small debris across the road – nothing impassable, though! So, today, we were able to travel all the way to the dam, across an old bridge built in 1927. A place where in summer we would sit and watch fish and turtles take their leisure in the waters. And today, those waters sloshed over and under sheets of ice, hosting a variety of waterfowl: swans, golden eyes, mergansers, and the ubiquitous sea gulls!
The state has also now cleared and marked trails here that you can take through the woods. We circled back to the car over a roundabout route around coves (more ducks!) and up and down ridges. But they haven’t give the place a name. maybe they want to call it a “Secret Place,” too – but with well marked trails. Late spring and summer should bring us more beauty when we return – but, “Shhh! Don’t tell anybody!”
Here are some other neat shots:
Though some of these summer flowers have passed, like the roses, we still have some beautiful flowers going strong in our yard. The sea roses bloomed gorgeously and gave us a lovely scent for about a month. Here you can see the pink ones coming into flower. Years ago we started with three bushes, then they propagated across the back slope of our yard so they now look lovely, as well as ensuring that Yang has far less space to mow on the slope. My mother-in-law also gave us a beautiful yellow rose bush that flowers with one bud, once a year. It’s a lovely, delicate yellow!
Some people head for the Edson Cemetery in Lowell because they want to visit Jack Keruac’s grave. Me, I’m more interested in visiting my own late family’s digs – so to speak. Something else that has always fascinated me about this graveyard are the two bronze (or bronze-coated) statues that dominate the landscape. Ever since I was a kid, when my parents brought me here, I always insisted in checking out the statues of Passaconaway and the giant elk honoring the B.P.O.E.
The day Yang and I took these pictures was really sunny, We found that when we were shooting straight up at the sky, the colors tended to wash out or the darks and lights formed too severe a contrast to capture detail. So, my apologies for those photos that look washed out. You can perceive more detail if you click on the photo to see a larger version of your computer or iPad screen.
The story behind Passaconaway is especially interesting. He was a Sachem of the Penacook tribe in the 16th and 17th centuries who united the Wamesit and Pawtucket tribes in a protective league against the Mohawks, whose territory extended from Western, Mass. His organization of tribes drew on a democratic order that later influenced the establishment of English settlements. He kept peaceful terms with the Europeans immigrants, allowing the them to settle in what is now Chelmsford and Billerica. In fact these immigrants admired his wisdom, honor, and good governance. After his death, sadly, the Europeans proved aggressive and greedy, driving off their predecessors from their rightful lands (Kelley). At least the names Wamesit and Pawtucket remain in circulation in the Merrimack Valley area, as well as other First Nation names. According to marie Donovan, the statue was commissioned by the Improved Order of Red Men in 1899, but had not been kept up over since 1967. I can well remember the changes in its appearacne over the years that I lived in Lowell. In the twenty-first century, the organization turned to “Fred Hein and his students in the metal-fabrication shop at Greater Lowell Technical High School” to do repairs and return the statue to its glory (Donovan).
The Elks Rest Statue is also a monument that intrigued me as a child. I have seen it refurbished over the years, but have not been able to find any background material on the statue other than that it honors deceased members of the B.P.O.E. If anyone could add something, like when it was created and by whom, I’d love to hear. I could incorporate the info into this blog – giving you credit of course!
History of Passaconaway: Michael Kelley, Tewksbury Town Crier, 12/02/2017.http://homenewshere.com/tewksbury_town_crier/news/article_e16632ee-9dbd-11e9-b94c-2b88e245c7a4.html#tncms-source=article-nav-prev
Statue Refurbishment: Marie Donovan, “Refurbished statue of Chief Passaconaway rededicated Sunday in Lowell” The Lowell Sun. 5/20/2011. http://www.lowellsun.com/rss/ci_18103578
The other weekend we had a fun mini-vacation in Portland, Maine. It was only two days and one overnight, but we had a great time. Luckily, the weather was beautiful! Sunny and cool: quite comfortable. We stopped in Portsmouth for lunch at White Heron Tea And Coffee on our drive up. Click here for my review.
The first day we got settled and then checked out the Evergreen Cemetery in the afternoon. There was lots of beautiful statuary. I was also lucky enough to spot a Thrush at one point and, later, a musk rat swimming in one of the cemetery ponds. The second day, we came back and did an early nature walk. We did hear a lot of fine birdsong – but sighting was another matter. Nevertheless, we saw a beautiful white crane. I’ll set up a blog on the cemetery visit later. I’m really hoping to come back here in the fall to get the gorgeous colors.
The second day, we also visited the Victoria House. It’s a spectacular building with lots of intriguing trompe l’oeuil effects in the architecture. I’m including some pictures of the stained glass. You can see the pelican cutting its breast to provide blood to feed the young – an important Medieval and Renaissance type for Christ.
In additional to walking the twisty, cobble stone streets and enjoying old-New-England ambience, we visiting one of the harbor walks where we had beautiful views and were repeatedly mocked by, you guessed it, Mockingbirds! People who know Portland can identify the islands better than I can. I definitely think a harbor cruise should be on the agenda for the next visit.
Yang particularly got a kick out of the narrow-gauge coal-powered steam train that you could ride along the harbor. We didn’t this time, but I hope we can do so on our next trip – again, I’m hoping for an autumn visit! Here’s a video Cecil B. DeYang made.
Of course we could refuel with delicious exotic sustenance and tea at the Dobra Tea room. Check out my review here. This was the least awful of the pictures Yang took of me there. At least the food looks great!
We’ve been seeing lots of beautiful birds as we move into June. Many of the usual suspects are still showing up. I managed to get some interesting close ups and Yang took some videos, so our birds are moving-picture stars!
One day when I was exercising in the parlor, I was lying on the floor, and when I cam up to window level, I saw the Rosebreasted Grosbeak up close. So, I snuck off to get my camera and managed to take some wonderful close ups! You’d swear he knew what was going on and decided to pose! We’ve been so lucky to see one of the males almost every day. We often see one male and one female together, while sometimes we also see a lone female. We can hear their birdsong quite often. I suspect they may be nesting fairly close by. Maybe they’ll bring the kids to brunch some day.
We’ve also been blessed with some frisky catbirds who mainly love to chomp down on suet from the two such feeders we have in the yard. I and the cats often watch them through the sun porch windows. Today, one was chattering to me while I was hanging out the clothes on the line. Anyway, here are some shots that Yang took for me.
The Downy Woodpeckers also like to feast on the suet as well. Yang got a few shots of one doing so. We haven’t seen many Hairy Woodpeckers this year – or Flickers or Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers. Maybe the latter were too scared.
Yang also took some videos. Here, we have The Adventures of Cardinal with special guest star Rosebreasted Grosbeak and a cameo by English Sparrow Roll ’em!
We also have some mammals in our yard as well. I managed to get a few shots of a baby rabbit, from which we strenuously held back both Rosalind and Natasha on separate occasions. Enjoy watching him/her nibble.
Someone else enjoyed watching the bunny, as well. She thought he looked delicious, er, adorable. We made sure that she was restrained.
The snow has finally been gone for some time now. Even though it’s raining and chilly today, we’ve had a whole week of sunshine and warm weather with just a touch of rain to treat the thirsty plants. And our spring birds are back! April brought a caravan of wild turkeys, one at a time, through my yard and past my sun porch. Though I was too busy watching them to take a picture, I did get some shots of one of my favorite avian harbingers of spring, the Redwinged Blackbird. He showed up at first on March 3rd, then I gradually saw more males flashing their yellow and red epaulets. They sometimes get resistance from another spring returnee, the Boat-Tailed Grackle, but the Redwings are pretty staunch in defending their places at the feeder. Just over the past week or two, I’ve been seeing the female Red-wings show up as well.
I mustn’t forget to mention the multitude of Gold Finches. They do tend to stay around all year, though the number of their appearances dwindles in the winter. However, in March and April I would see more and more of them. I loved watching their dull winter coats turn gleaming yellow as the spring progressed. I like that they are feisty and don’t let the bigger birds bully them off the feeder.
Another of my favorites is the Catbird. I first spotted one this year on May 5th, but this day I was lucky enough to catch two together, feeding with a Mourning Dove. I love how the Catbirds have such a plethora of different calls, many so musical. For me, it’s fun that one of their calls, though not of the musical variety, is “Sharon!” They’re always looking for me. It’s nice to be wanted!
We really hit the jackpot this week! Shortly after spotting a sleek, coppery fox gamboling in my yard, Rosalind focused my attention on the backyard feeder, and what did I see but a male Rose Breasted Grosbeak (5/8)! The next day, I heard a lovely birdsong (not Cindy) in the trees, and when I investigated, I saw the Grosbeak again! I’ve seen him at least once a day since, usually feeding on suet or black oil sunflower seeds. He’s quite the cheeky fellow, for when I was feeding the fish in our small pond, he sang me a song. When I repeated it back to him, he popped over to the nearby birdfeeder and chowed down for some time. This morning, he finally brought Mrs. Grosbeak to one of the feeders. I’m glad that these Grosbeaks are not easily intimidated by Grackles, Blue Jays, or Mourning Doves.
In the same week, (5/9) Yang called me to look at the backyard feeder, and what did I see but a Baltimore Oriole! He also appeared for a snack on the suet feeder by the side of our house, as well. I haven’t seen him in a few days, but my neighbors usually report on him. Of course for all these birds, I may not be seeing the same one every time, but it is fun to note that they seem to show up at almost the exact same date every year. It’s lovely to see old friends!
Of course, I have lots of help bird watching.