Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nesting Phoebes!

eastern phoebe,
sayornis phoebe      order: PASSERIFORMES       family: TYRANNIDAE 

Phoebes are part of the "flycatcher" group.  They catch flies (and other insects).  Their flycatching habit is one of the reasons they must travel south for the winter.  However, they don't travel quite as far as some of the other flycatchers.  Also, they are the first of the flycatchers to return in spring and the last to leave in fall.   If they are being quiet and not giving themselves away with their "fee-bee" call, they tend to be tough for me to identify against the other flycatchers.  I have to study them and take identification photos to compare them to the other birds in the flycatcher group.  There is one hint though:  the phoebes are known as "tail-waggers".  While perched, they have an odd little habit of constantly wagging their tail up and down!

It all started two weeks ago.  I was outside on the screened porch of the cabin, when I heard the phoebes calling their raspy, unmistakable, "fee-bee... fee-bee". Phoebes are easy to identify by ear.  Once you hear one, you won't forget it.  Plus, the phoebe says his own name... which is very helpful!

I noticed that the phoebes were making trips to the old wood shed.  I suspected they were scouting nesting locations. They like to nest in the overhangs and eaves of man-made structures.  However, they also like natural cliffs and rock faces.  I was lucky enough to watch a phoebe build a nest and raise a family at the Indian Rocks on our property two years ago!

On this particular day, two weeks ago, the phoebes kept making their rounds to the forest edge, back to the large hickory tree, then back to the wood shed.  I was certain they were nest building.  However, by the end of the day, something had changed their plans.  They abandoned that location and didn't return.

The next morning, bright and early, I heard them once again right outside the screened porch by the hickory tree.  This time, they decided to fly UNDER the CABIN!  I was perfectly still and quiet, very aware that I could frighten them and derail any future nesting plans.  I left the porch for the day and tried to "ignore" their frequent under-the-cabin trips.

After the passing of a week, I decided to go under the cabin and search for the nest.  I looked and looked and looked.... and then looked some more.  I saw no nest and no birds. How disappointing!!  I reported to Phil that they must've moved elsewhere and there was no nest to be found.

A few days later, Phil had to go under the cabin to mount and install our hot-water tank.  Sure enough, it was PHIL who found the nest!!  He could not wait to tell me that the phoebes were nesting directly beside the water tank.  He had inadvertently flushed Mama from the nest, which clued him as to where to look.

This is a view of the side of the cabin.  Look underneath and you will see the hot water tank suspended from the floor joists.  (by the way... that unsightly messy mess WILL SOON be covered by under-pinning! Under the house is our "basement storage"... and.. well... it's messy!)

The arrow is pointing to the location of the nest.  Even if I were to lay on my belly, the nest is not visible from the side of the cabin.  One must go entirely under the cabin to see it.  Very cleverly hidden!

Phoebes build sweet little nests... all snug with moss.  If you discover a nest in a similar location, but made of mud, it is probably the work of swallows.  BUT if the nest is made of moss... phoebes are probably your bird!

 Mama, under the cabin... making sure that I don't come any closer!

.... so mystery solved!  They are tricky little birds.  I'm glad that they found a very secretive and safe location to nest.  I will leave them be as much as I can.  I flushed Mama once while first approaching the nest, but now that I know where it is, I won't do it again.  I can lay on my belly from under the cabin and try to get photos with my zoom lens.  Hopefully she will allow me to get photos if I keep a respectable distance. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Nighttime at Meadowlark Cabin

It STILL has not been warm enough for us to thoroughly enjoy our screened porch and to dine the night away while listening to the nocturnal creatures of the forest.   Instead, we bundle up in sweatshirts, sit close together snuggled for warmth, and toast to all things good!

This is my favorite time of day.  Always has been, even when I was a little kid.  Unlike a lot of normal people, I actually feel a rush of energy at the end of the day, as the night air settles in and the sun disappears until dawn, I feel alive and keenly aware of my surroundings.  No, I am not a vampire... just a night-owl.

 The view of the twilight woods from the porch.

I am totally fascinated by space, the moon, constellations, etc.  Unfortunately, I've never learned the constellations and it all seems like a foreign language to me.  One of these days, if I feel I have the time to devote to it, I will study it in depth, but for now, I am completely satisfied just being a casual observer and admirer.

I do know that the above photo is Orion.  I was mighty proud of this photograph since it was my first real attempt at constellation photography, which is quite tricky I might add.

..and this is the Big Dipper (or little dipper)... heck, I don't know which it is, but I know it is a dipper... or a drinking gourd.  I would rather refer to it as a "drinking gourd" because I do love Civil War era history and I believe this constellation was very important to The Underground Railroad's travelers.

Good-night from Meadowlark.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spider Serenade

Oh, you sexy little thing, you!
Would you believe that I was serenaded by a wolf spider in love?  Well, actually the song of love was not intended for me, as I am lacking the required six extra legs.  Indeed, the love tune was intended for the female brush-legged wolf spider.

Allow me to explain:
On the Thursday of last week, I meandered through the woods, looking for serendipitous gifts of nature, when I decided I was in need of a peaceful rest.  I found a stately tree that beckoned me to prop my tired self down, lean against the trunk, and snack on some curds and whey granola.  As I was munching my lunch, along came a spider and sat down beside her me, and frightened delighted me, hooray!

How did I discover that the spider was near?  It was his song!  ....or seismic vibration.  At first, I could not believe my ears!  I was clearly hearing what sounded like a tiny voice singing in low alto.  With my head tilted down toward the leaf litter, I listened ever so intently for confirmation.  And I heard it again!  Actually, I am giving much more credit to the little arachnid's voice than is deserved because his "song", in reality, is more of a grunt.  Imagine a noisy grunting pig, shrunk down to spider size... that's what I heard!

....And then before I knew it, I heard it again coming from a different location!  ...and again and again!  It was in that moment that I realized I was surrounded by spiders!  At any one point, if I allowed my eyes to lose focus and go kinda crossed (in blurry fashion), I could detect movement from at least a dozen singing spiders.

Of course, I was totally fascinated and was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.  I took as many identification photos as possible, went home, and dove into the field guides.  I discovered that my handsome fellow is very possibly named Schizocosa Ocreata, but you can call him Brush-Legged Wolf Spider.  He is a forest dweller and grows to half-inch in size, which is considered "medium" in the arachnid world.  According to ODNR, he is most commonly found in our state from mid-April until mid-August.  The "singing" is actually a vibration set out amongst the forest floor to attract mates.   The females listen to the songs and are absolutely swept off all eight of their feet!!!  They crawl to the song they like best.... and then, well, you can guess what happens next! 

how can you not love me? ....admit it! you do!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Deer's View

Since moving back home in 2006, I have completely transformed my life.  Actually, it is an ongoing process that never really reaches full completion.  Meditation is an important part of my life and the process. It is a practice that I've adopted as part of my attempt at Deliberate Living. 

Sometimes my meditation involves the complicated notion of sitting and staring.  I do this often actually, but it is most beneficial to my health if I can be outdoors while performing the "sit and stare".   I like to sit on the back porch and just stare out at the woods.  I don't think of anything.  I just sit and stare in a zoned out state with my eyes not focused on anything in particular.  It is wonderful... and essential for me.

Anyway, I was meditating Tuesday morning, when something broke my concentration.  I detected movement.  I heard nothing, but I saw movement down in the woods. I stood up and quietly inched forward until my nose was practically pressed to the screen.  YES!  Indeed there was movement.  Two deer casually meandering through the woods in a section that I call the "wildflower bottoms".  A somewhat flat clearing in a steep valley. 

What a beautiful site!  Such magnificent creatures acting in their natural state -- unafraid and unbothered by humans. I try so hard to appreciate these gifts and never take nature for granted.  I realize that overpopulation is an issue and that deer can cause serious car accidents.  I know that.  I also know that they are a nuissance in the form of a flower-muncher... and they eat the tops off of prized tomato plants.  I know that.

BUT they are so beautiful and elegant and poised.  I love that they are so large and yet have a gentle nature.  They are strictly herbivores and pose no threat to anyone (other than humans!).  Their quick legs are for escaping, not for chasing down prey.  They are beautiful.  I do hope that one never darts in front of my car.  Please dear deer, do not jump in front of my car.

My Nikon was pushed to its limits to try and capture any photos at such a far distance.  I extended my 300mm lens and tried to manually focus to minimize the distraction of trees and branches. I cropped and enhanced the photos, but still the deer are barely visible.   Here is what I managed to get:

After they left,  I decided to walk to the "wildflower bottoms" myself.  I wanted to see Meadowlark Cabin through their eyes..... A Deer's View...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


There are many reasons why I love nature.  
... it is soothing, restorative, calming, peaceful
..... a lesson in life, purpose, survival, cycles
.........beautiful, artistic, real and true

BUT the reason that always seems to be at forefront ... the reason that comes back to my mind over and over is this:
Nature is for everyone.  It cannot be bought, planned, or scheduled.  It is a serendipitous gift.  There are no real guarantees.  And there are no advantages to being young, old, rich, or poor.  Nature only requires patience, openness, and a willingness to wander (and wonder!). 

Sure, I can research where a certain bird may appear based on habitat, food source, nesting grounds, etc.  BUT there is no guarantee that I will actually get to witness that bird.  Believe me, all birders have at one point gone to look for a certain bird that they were certain to find... only it certainly was NOT there!

Loving nature is truly immersing oneself in the opportunity of the moment and being open enough to realize the gifts that surround us.

Monday morning I went for a walk with binoculars and camera in tote.  On these early morning walks, I have no real plan.  Most of the time, I do not even know exactly where my walk will lead.  I just follow my ears, eyes... and instincts!  I always hope to see something new... and I always do in some form or another.  But I just don't know exactly what the "new thing" will be until it happens.  And sometimes the "new thing" may not seem new to others, but for me it is new because I am looking at it with more experience, knowledge, and openness than the previous time I saw it. 

As I sauntered along Monday morning, through the open field that I refer to as "the moors" (not because it is anything like a moor, but because I love to randomly reference Wuthering Heights!!) , I listened to all of the birds that usually sing on our acres during early (EARLY) spring: eastern bluebirds, northern cardinals, mourning doves, american robins, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, american crows, tufted titmice, carolina chickadees.

But what I did NOT expect was to catch a glimpse of a PAIR of PILEATED WOODPECKERS off in the distance perched high in a sycamore at the edge of the field!  At first, I wasn't sure if I was really seeing pileateds because they are so secretive and I rarely get a good look at them.  I put my binoculars to my eyes to confirm.. and YES, indeed there was a pair of pileateds!

Before I could plan my next move, one of the woodpeckers took off across the open field right over my head!  I quickly grabbed the camera to try to get whatever shot possible.  The camera, still in clumsy autofocus, was doing its best to keep up with me and my rapid-fire shots.  My hands were shaky and my heart was racing!  I live for these moments!!!  I got several shots of the bird before it disappeared into the state park side of our property.  WHEW!  Just when I put the camera down to catch a breath, the second pileated left the tree and took off on the same path as the first!  Once again, I threw the camera up to my eye and began the difficult task of trying to track a fast moving bird on the wing!  What excitement!!  I got several shots!  YES!!!!!

You may be wondering (if you are not a birder) why this woodpecker is such a big deal?  Well besides the fact that it is absolutely gorgeous, it is the largest by far of our woodpeckers.  It is huge, ranging in size from 15 to 19 inches!  It is secretive in nature and seems to know when someone wants to get a good picture of it! ha!  It has a call that is so loud and powerful and primeval that it gives me chills!   ....also, it is the closest thing that we have to the ivory-billed woodpecker (which is believed to be extinct) and every time I see a pileated woodpecker it reminds me of what we have and what we could lose.

 click here if you want to hear the call of the pileated woodpecker

That pair of pileated woodpeckers left me with all of the gifts I mentioned at the beginning of this blog entry.  But here are the tangible gifts they left with me.  While a far cry from "good photos", they are a special reminder of my serendipitous moment.  They aren't good photos, but they are what I saw, real and true:

The series is in chronological order.  The photo after the pine tree shot marks the beginning of the "second bird" photos.