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.