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.
Dad says, “Watch me, son, it’s simple.”
The Kid dives in and proud Pop looks on.
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!
Christmas day approached and so did Rosalind to the manger. Would the baby Jesus be safe? One year Natasha ran off with one of the sheep!
Whew! All is safe in Bethlehem, until Natasha decided that the fake snow on the roof looked delicious. This leads me to an important question: what’s with all this snow on manger roofs that we’re always seeing on cards and in manager displays? How much snow do they get in the Mideast? I know: it’s a miracle!
Christmas day, the girls were absolutely delighted with their presents from my friend, Kathy Healey. Both Natasha and Rosalind liked the Jackson Galaxy-approved “base-camp mat.” Natasha was the more taken of the two. And both had fun with the cat-nipped toys also a part of their feline care package.
After human and felines had opened all our presents, the turkey having been cooked, it was off to St. Matthews for the Christmas service. We had a lovely service, with Mother Judith Lee presiding. The 10:00 service was the third of three services held over two days (Christmas Eve included), so there was a small number of people attending. That only made the experience even more homey and congenial than usual. Yang and I both were the lectors! Yang did the two readings and I did the Intercessions. We’re lucky to be part of a church that makes us feel at home and happy.
Back home, we put together a wonderful Christmas dinner to share with each other. I love cooking the Christmas and Thanksgiving meals with Yang. It’s perfect teamwork, sharing the chores of preparation – and we haven’t dropped a turkey on the floor yet (knock on wood!) ! Of course Natasha was impatient to get her share. She pulled that turkey right off Yang’s plate! Little devil!
Here she is getting some turkey in a more acceptable manner – from Yang’s hand. Kathy Healey take note!
I saluted Yang and the girls before we all tucked in! It was a yummy meal, suitably stuffing everyone. And speaking of stuffing, that’s my Mom’s simple but delicious recipe. The squash was my own, with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, along with walnuts. The meal was followed by a long walk around Millbury, checking out Victorian houses and Christmas decorations.
The end of the day gave us a glorious sunset, which I have to share with you in some spectacular shots.
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.
Here’s a melange of interesting autumn images that I’ve come across this past September. One Friday afternoon, while riding the bicycle trail from Coventry, Yang and I came across these funky caterpillars. We’d seen them last fall on the same trail, so apparently these are their main stomping, er crawling, grounds. Does any one know into what they ultimately metamorph? Notice how they have prongs on their derrieres, no doubt to confuse predators as to which end they are biting. We wonder what these guys are.
The following weekend, we did 22 miles on the Nickerson Park Trail on the Cape. What should we see on the trail but this adorable quail! I suspect s/he is domesticated because the little critter did not seem at all unnerved by passing cyclists or walkers. I’ve seen pictures of domesticated quails on line, and this little guy seems to match up. Nevertheless, I’m counting him/her as one of my bird sightings for the year. I hope you can see the little guy in the center of the picture to left on the trail, almost in the leaves. Click on the image for a bigger picture.
Though not nearly as cute, here are some pictures of me in Brattleboro, VT. Every year this house creates a tunnel of enormous sunflowers. We went up last weekend and took these shots. The house used to also have a hutch for chickens and bunnies, but alas, those adorable creatures are no longer kept there. I’m not quite so adorable as a bunny, but I like to think I have some charm. Yang staged the photos nicely, don’t you think? Is there anything he can’t do?
Finally, Natasha desires to send you the best of autumn holiday greetings!
Rosie wants to photo bomb Natasha’s greeting – and Natasha is NOT amused.
Yang went to pick up the watering can for the plants the other evening, and this is who greeted him. My friend Sarah tells me that he/she is a grey tree frog! We always have plenty of toads in the yard. In fact one used to sit on a floating platform in the fish pond and sing away the afternoon. However, I didn’t even know we had these guys in our yard! Quite the cutie, isn’t she/he?
Here, you can see, from left to right, a Blue Jay, a Mourning Dove, and the edge of a shy (or hungry) Red-bellied Woodpecker’s wing. I always get them mixed up with the Common Flicker. I can tell the difference in how they look; I just can never remember which name goes with which bird. Ah, here he is peeking out at us!
Here’s a Downy Woodpecker. It could be a Hairy Woodpecker. I know the latter is bigger, but I can’t exactly make the comparison here. I also know the Hairy has a longer beak, but unfortunately the picture is not quite sharp enough. We get both types, as well as Flickers and Nuthatches. No Piliated Woodpeckers, though!
Next are a Cardinal and a Mourning Dove. Some of these images aren’t as clear as they could be because I had the screen down on the window and had to shoot through it.
Darned old Mourning Dove with a Red-winged Blackbird. The Blackbird is hard to catch. He comes by all the time, but always seems to see me and fly off before I can get a good shot. I’ll have some more bird pictures later with him in it –– as well as other birds. I would also love to get a shot of our Catbird. She is forever landing nearby and popping around looking for food or getting a drink from the bird bath near the fish pond. All I have to do is hold still and she’s my buddy. I’m happy to say that on our bicycle rides, Yang and I have seen a plethora of Catbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Song Sparrows!
Oh, and by the way, Yang and I aren’t the only ones in the house who like to bird watch.
When we went to Plainfield for me to participate in the Sisters in Crime panel on creating mysteries, we stayed over night in Plymouth, NH at one of our favorite places, the Red Carpet Inn. For years Yang and I, myself alone, or myself and a pal had stayed there for the Medieval and Renaissance Forum when it was at Plymouth State University. It’s always been pleasant. Look at the beautiful view we had from our window!
The next day, we drove over to the Red Hill Cemetery where Claude Rains is buried with his wife Rosemary. He has a beautiful epitaph: “All things once are things forever, Soul, once living, lives forever.” His wife’s is a variation on lines from Christina Rosetti’s “When I Am Dead” Sonnet – one of my favorite poems. We always try to pay a visit. Just a simple way of saying, “Thanks for the great celluloid memories.” It’s a special treat to know that my favorite actor is resting near me. It almost feels like we’re neighbors. Don’t they have a beautiful view? That’s Red Hill in the background, which Yang and I try to climb in good weather –– we’re tired afterward, but it’s worth it.
When we stopped in Center Harbor, I found a neat independent book store, Bayswater Book Co. (12 Main St.). Of course, I scoped out the lovely little shop –– and ultimately managed to make arrangements to give a reading and signing on Saturday, July 9th, from 1:00-3:00. Drop by and meet me. Bait and Switch‘s Dusty will be be on the lookout for you!
I always wonder if this pun carries exactly the right connotations to bring in customers. It must work, ’cause it’s been there for like 20 years!
Once we got home, we were happy to see that, on occasion, Rosalind and Natasha can rest peacefully together. The Moe will lie down with the Curly.
So, on May 28th I gave my final reading of the month at my alma mater’s bookstore, River Hawks. It wasn’t exactly a trek back to Tara, but it was a wonderful experience for seeing so many old friends at UMass Lowell.
First of all, the day was a scorcher: in the 90s! Of course, I had to have a hot cappuccino before my performance! Thank God this place is air conditioned – but the nice, comfortable kind of air conditioning, not the Arctic temps that make polar bears shiver, which you find too often once May rolls around. Here, I’m sitting, looking over my notes and finishing my coffee in the lobby. The building is really nice, with lots of windows and airy space.
Ham bone that I am, I had to get a picture of myself with the display for my book! The young woman clerking at the counter was nice enough to do the honors. Like the dress? Yang made it for me by copying a vintage dress I’d bought on Ebay. This way we get the beauty of authentic vintage design combined with the convenience of material you can hand or machine wash! There’s not much he can’t do: from using physics to move boulders to building an oxygen chamber for a kitten recovering from double pneumonia. Note the luxurious quarters: litter box, bed, blanket, toys, and inspiring pictures (Rosie the Riveter, Rosalind in AYLI, and Rosalind Russell).
Before the session, I had a nice chat with Abbey and Christina, who had taken charge of setting up the space for me. As you can see from the pictures, it’s a great area for doing a reading. What I could really kick myself over is that I had such a wonderful time seeing old friends that I forgot to have my entourage (Yang) take any pictures of folks. Damn! Not even a group shot! So, who’s on the red – or here royal blue- carpet?
Sue Thorne-Gagnon and her husband Bobby were first to arrive. Sue and I were at ULowell together at the same time, but darned if we never met until years later when we were working at BASF systems before we both went back into teaching. She’s a wonderful teacher and flutist. Next came Lisa McCarthy and her daughter Hedda. I’ve known Lisa since the late seventies, and we’ve been through everything together from rambles around Boston, hikes through the woods, and Star Trek conventions. My nephew Phil and his wife Steph also appeared on the scene. Steph is responsible for addicting me to Psych; Monk; Murder, She Wrote; and Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. Can I get her hooked on Murdoch? Steph is a teacher and Phil is a filmmaker – check out his co-production of My Name Is Jonah. When he and his older brother were kids, I used to hold them under the arms and swing them in a circle, which they loved. Now they can do it to me, but not at the reading. Here’s a picture of my giving Geoffrey a whirl.
After the reading started, I was so excited to see, first, Barbara DeMeuth then Mary Lou Beausoleil slip in! These guys have been my friends since grammar school! Clearly, they have much forbearance. It was fantastic that they came to support me! Barb is actually my oldest friend – not in age but in duration. We met when we were going into the fifth grade. Mary Lou is only a few months behind. But we can’t get together as much as we’d like, so it was fantastic to catch up! Mary Lou was one of the earliest readers of one of the earliest versions of Bait and Switch – and she still came, anyway! Barb and I have managed to stay in touch on the phone or over an occasional lunch lo! these many years. Both have wonderfully wicked senses of humor!
It was an absolute delight to see people I care so much about, and who showed me they cared by being here to share in the success of Bait and Switch. And thanks to Maria Shusta, Christina, and Abbey at River Hawks for doing a wonderful job of setting everything up for me and making the day run so smoothly.
So, if you’re a friend from the Merrimack Valley, old or new, who missed the reading but still would like to get Bait and Switch, they have copies awaiting you at the River Hawks Bookstore, 220 Pawtucket Street, Lowell. Dusty from Bait and Switch will be watching for you.
We recently did the North Central Pathway rail trail. It technically extends between Gardner and Winchendon, though there is a break of about a mile that has not been developed yet. It’s a beautiful paved trail that runs through clear, lovely, green woods in a straight path. At the Winchendon end, we cycled down toward a sports/recreation area, but right off the trail is this cool abandoned factory and what appears to be a ware house. It’s all next to a set of falls and canal off the river. Since there weren’t any “No Tresspassing” warnings or locked gates, we checked out the area, being careful not to take any risks of falling or hurting ourselves.
Here’s a picture of a smoke stack; somehow the rest of the factory seems to have fallen away – although there was a building behind it that looked as if it might have been part of the original manufacturing site. Look at how gorgeously azure-blue the sky was that day. The sun was so bright, I had to wear my shades – prescription, of course, or I’d have been riding off the road.
In this other shot of the chimney, you can better see the tree growing up around it and what’s left of the building behind it.
There were man-made falls next to the buildings and a canal running along it for water power. The scene was beautiful. I have no idea what they made here. Since this town was the rocking horse capital, perhaps that’s what they produced?
We got back on the trail for our return ride, passing a pond that had some Barrows Golden Eye Ducks. Would that they had been close enough to photograph. These are diving ducks. So it was a hoot to watch the flock sit up on the water, flap their wings, then dive down and disappear beneath the surface for a stretch. Then, up they’d all pop. Now you see them, now you don’t, now you do!
We did get to photograph some cute critters, though – at least I think they are cute. So, here’s the trigger warning: PICTURES OF A SNAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I almost ran over a little one of these guys when he was trying to cross the trail. I guess he wanted to get to the other side. Playing chicken? He was too small for me to see right away, but Yang assured me he was okay. Then, I came across his big sister right here. A beauty, eh? I don’t know what kind this one is. His/her color is coppery with darker markings, so it doesn’t look like a garter snake to me. What do you think? Can anyone answer my query?
Here Mr. or Ms. Snake seems to be saying: “I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. Demile!”
So, for those freaked out by this lovely creature, here are some soothing images. First, the ginormous (for us, anyway) pumpkins Yang and I grew last year.
Then, Yang, himself, always a calming influence.
And, of course two of the most adorable black cats in the world, Natasha
So, you’d think these two were little angels: nice without a hint of naughty. Albeit, Rosalind looks a little worried about which of Santa’s lists she’s on.
Still, look at Natasha as “O Little Cat of Bethlehem” here.
Not so much. Here, you have the reason for the Great Christmas Blackout of Bethlehem, 2011.
And of course Rosalind isn’t above diving into the fray to tear apart the pile of presents under the tree.
Popping out of a bag of wrapping paper scraps like the creature in Alien has its appeal for Miss Rosalind as well.
We used to blame Rosie for knocking ornaments off the tree and batting them around, often to be found under the couch, sometime in July. However, one day I came home to find Natasha sitting on the arm of the loveseat next to the tree, smacking down ornaments to her sister on the floor. I was never quite sure if ‘Tasha were doing Rosalind a favor or just setting her up to get blamed for striking down the bauble with which we’d catch her playing. I don’t have any pictures of that, but I do have a couple of Natasha showing me that the mantle piece is not off limits in her book.
Natasha is also quite sly about getting around rules. One cardinal one is that cats are not allowed to walk, rest, or put even a paw on the dining-room table. I’ve been fairly successful at ensuring they obey while I’m in the house. With the clever mind of a lawyer or a student trying to game the syllabus, Tasha found a way to sleep on the table without sleeping on the table.
So, there, Mummy!
But at the end of the day, after gifts have been gnawed, paper has been shredded and disemboweled, turkey and gravy has been consumed, both girls collapse together in a moment of holiday quiescence.
The Best of Holiday Cheer from