From Gardening to Birdwatching

My Virginia Garden

Gardening has been a way of life for me. My grandfather, my mother, both avid gardeners, bequeathed to me and my 6 siblings and to our children the joys of gardening, landscaping, and developing a harmonious relationship with Mother Nature. Since we are still renting a home and the gardens are not mine, the intimate relationship I had with the soil has metamorphosed from active gardening to becoming a custodian, a steward and a caretaker of this property. I’ve done all I can to restore the once tangled and overgrown small gardens in this rental. Now I have developed an insatiable interest and curiosity about the grassland that surrounds this property.

Durham, New Hampshire

The salt marsh and fields behind our home have provided a great education on the habitat of breeding and nesting birds. This amazing grassland, a tapestry of color in summer bloom, has engaged me. I am entertained daily by the bobolinks, the redwing blackbirds, the eastern meadowlarks that fly in and out of their sanctuary, very vocal and always ready to defend a territory. I’m drawn to their breeding rituals, territory claims, and their banding together for common attacks on crows and hawks.

I’ve been accustomed to gazing upward to tree canopies to follow birds in Virginia. It’s a whole new experience in New Hampshire as I gaze down on meadow events, binoculars in hand, from our elevated deck east of the fields. The one bird that I especially enjoy is the colorful bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), a member of the blackbird family. This is a new bird on my life list. Their aerial displays are entertaining and their enchanting songs serenade us throughout the day.

The most noticeable thing about the bobolink is the stunning bright buff colored cap he wears. His breast is black and the bird’s back is white, almost as if he put his clothes on backwards. Males claim territories a week before the arrival of females and the bright colors are helpful when females search from above for males in the grasses.

Male Bobolink, Image courtesy of Andrea Westmoreland, Creative Commons

Arthur Cleveland Bent (1866-1954), author of Life Histories of North American Birds, wrote, “It is unique among bird songs, a bubbling delirium of ecstatic music that flows from the gifted throat of the bird like sparkling champagne.” To experience a little of what I see and hear every day, check out the youtube video below.

This grassland is owned and protected by the homeowners. Although it will be eventually harvested to feed farm animals, that process must be delayed until the bobolink nesting period has ended, something that happens much too early in many fields. In the fall, the male changes into drab plumage, the birds begin to flock and they migrate about 6,000 miles to spend the winter in the grasslands of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

A Backyard Whodunit….

We have six hummingbirds at the feeder now. They eat a lot less than the dozens of hummers at my Virginia feeders so only one feeder is needed. All hummingbird feeders have small bee guards on the openings to prevent insects from crawling into the nectar. A few mornings ago I noticed two of the bee guards were missing. The next morning, another of the guards was gone. The birds were left with three gaping holes from which to feed and one bee guard. This is an obvious sabotage from some creature. But who or what could do this? Hmmm…..

The number one suspect is the squirrel. He’d been caught with his hands in the cookie jar many times.

So I moved the hummingbird feeder to the squirrel proof pole with the rest of the feeders. The hummingbirds didn’t seem to mind mingling with the larger birds and Mister Squirrel seems to be mystified by the baffle. In and out of the pole’s squirrel baffle he goes but has not yet found a way to the feeders. (He hasn’t given up so stay tuned for new tricks)

All was well for a day until I noticed the fourth bee guard missing. Jeepers! It wasn’t the squirrel after all! I quickly bought a second hummingbird feeder and organized a round-the-clock stakeout with camera in hand for the other. The hummers migrated to the new feeder and I watched the old feeder. It didn’t take long before the culprit appeared. Click…click…click….click.

A beautiful Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) has claimed this nectar as his own. He’s the one who pulled off the bee guards, quite common I read, and he drains a feeder in a day and a half. We are delighted. Oranges and a new oriole feeder go up today. We believe Mister Oriole arrived on June 1, ahead of female orioles, to stake out the best territory for his lady. We are waiting and watching for her.

The Icterids are a group of birds, mostly black, often with splashes of yellow, orange or red. This group includes the bobalink, meadowlawks, and red-wing blackbirds that we see breeding and nesting across the meadow surrounding this property. Matter of fact, we have seen these two ‘cousins’ coming face to face atop the feeding station, each going to different feeders. Birdwatching sure is fun and full of surprises!

Baltimore Oriole and Red-Wing Blackbird

Rain Dance

I love a rainy day. Overnight the temperatures dropped and we awoke to a brisk chill in the air and wind blowing rain in sheets across the meadow. It’s the type of weather that makes one want to snuggle beneath the down comforter and just listen to the patter on the roof. The birds were happy, the gardens were happy and later, with a hot mug of java, I was happy to linger at the window and watch the activity at the bird feeders. There will be a slower pace today. No garden chores. No pulling the hose out to water the baby grass or the hydrangea in pots.

By noon, the storm intensified as I bundled up to walk the pooch in the yard. Blooms that stood tall and colorful yesterday, hung low and disheveled in the wind and rain.

The rain came down in buckets for the remainder of the day. Tomorrow may be a day to tidying up in the garden but today was a day to slow down the pace and enjoy the quiet.