Discovering Nature

Category: Back Yard (page 1 of 2)


Big leaf, small butterfly

IMG_0259For the first time in the 15 years we’ve lived here, sunflowers actually came up. Always before the chipmunks ate them when they were mere sprouts, but these are at least 12 feet tall and just starting to bloom.

We have a hedge of shorter varieties too.




I join the goldfinches, bees, and butterflies in my fondness for these bright flowers.


Sights and sounds of spring


It was 27 degrees when we got up this morning, but the sky was blue and it was destined to warm up into the seventies. Who wouldn’t take a walk?

Today it was more about sounds than sights: tiny rustlings that turned out to be kinglets, squirrels, cardinals or chipmunks. A distant woodpecker. A faraway wood thrush. The vigorous sound of running water in the thawed creek. I did see some deer, but only for a split second before they fled.

Then I saw a pair of quiet, elusive birds. I wanted to sit still and see if they’d come closer, and behold, there was an inviting bench just to the side of the trail.


It just happened to be near the tree where I got to watch some nesting chickadees a couple of years ago…


It won’t happen again — not in that tree. It was lying beside the trail, fallen over the winter.

chickadee tree

But it was neat to get to see the inside of their home. The top of the tree had broken off so the soft nest cavity was visible. I also admired their wall decor.



Finally the other birds came close enough to see. There’s a chance they were oven birds, but I’m pretty sure they were veery. They made no sound so I couldn’t confirm by their voices. But I enjoyed the way they accepted my being there as they hopped around flipping over leaves and looking for breakfast. They’re birds more often heard than seen, so it was a treat.



When I got home we had more excitement: a redtail rose out of the brush beyond our house. A moment later, the leucistic redtail rose up too, and we saw its blazing whiteness as it circled high into the air. We ran outside in our socks to watch, and discovered there was a third redtail — which the white one chased, screaming and seeming to collide with it. It chased it three or four miles away and then turned, tucked its wings, and sped back at incredible speed. What would have been a ten minute drive took about 15 seconds. I guessed it was a male, defending its nesting territory and and its mate.

I got some awesome pictures, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because after I had excitedly snapped them I got inside and my camera informed me there was no card inserted. I had taken it out to download the pics from my walk! None of my pictures were saved.

Fortunately my daughter got a few pics with her point and shoot, and she says it’s okay if I share them.



It was an amazing sight! I’m hoping for another chance — but meantime, it’s thrilling to have the memory.

Unusual Feeder Visitors

Our usual winter crew at our various bird feeders consists of cardinals, goldfinches, house finches, Carolina wrens, downy and hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, blue jays, and dark-eyed juncos. The ground feeders include white-throated sparrows and mourning doves.

When spring rolls around we’ll see chipping sparrows and rose-breasted grosbeaks. We’ll hang the hummingbird feeder for those tiny beauties. Robins and catbirds will frequent the birdbath. Sometimes grackles and cowbirds hang around.

That’s all I can think of for now. But I thought it would be fun to recall a few of the more unexpected or exceptional feeder visitors who’ve come through.

This pileated woodpecker, for example. We see him and his Mrs. around the neighborhood, but it was an exciting day indeed when he actually tried for the suet cake — and even more exciting that my camera was close at hand!


A couple of years ago, redpolls came through the area in multitudes, and for a few days we were swamped.


Once in awhile, pine siskins come to visit. They look a little like goldfinches, but streakier.


The winter before last, we had a red-breasted nuthatch who came pretty regularly. He was so beautiful and delicate. I wish he’d returned the next year and become a regular.


The grosbeaks and Baltimore orioles aren’t unusual in the spring, but last year they hung out together like buddies and for the first time were really interested in the suet. So many years I’ve hung oranges out hoping to attract the orioles to the feeder, but without results. It was strange the way they came for the suet.


There will be one day every year that we have indigo buntings. They never hang around for long, and it’s always on a rainy day. My pics are never very good.

indigo bunting

Evening grosbeaks often pass through, too. They’re never around more than a day. If we didn’t have such a habit of watching, we’d miss them.


Once in awhile, a Cooper’s hawk passes through. We saw him get a robin once a few years ago, and a few times we’ve found piles of feathers. But most of the time when we see him, he’s unsuccessful — except at invoking terror.


Then there are the non-bird visitors, starting with these clowns…


We’ve outsmarted them at our pole feeder with one of those squirrel baffles. It’s fun to see them try, but they never make it to the feeder. But they would jump from the roof to this feeder when we had it out — which we don’t anymore, since the visits from Mr Black Bear last fall. When he tore down the feeder hanging from the eaves of our house, that was a little close for comfort! He did a number on the pole out back, too.


Then there was the gray fox who’d sneak out at dusk and eat seed.


But this was the prettiest — and saddest — visitor, an injured fawn who came to drink from the bird bath, then curled up to sleep.



I called a wildlife rehabber about what to do, but the little guy never came back. At least he was able to get some refreshment on a hot day.

How about you? What riff raff — invited or uninvited — has your feeder brought into your life?

Lunar eclipse

Our family had a little pre-breakfast astronomy study this morning, observing the lunar eclipse — or “Blood Moon.”




Rose-breasted grosbeak

I love this guy.


Even though I rarely get a focused picture except when he’s right next to the window, munching seeds and warbling.


It’s my goal this summer: to get a really good picture of Mr. Grosbeak unawares. We have at least two pairs of them in our yard. Hopefully that doubles my chances!

One like this, but in better focus, would make me happy.


Things in the grass

Rabbits with excellent posture…


Chipmunks pilfering the seed beneath the bird feeder…






Canny white-throated sparrows.



Quiet beauty

Quiet beauty



It’s been a long, very cold winter this year. Since my last post here, I’ve said goodbye to our dear 14-year-old border collie, had foot surgery that kept me convalescent for weeks, gotten a new puppy, and generally been unable to get out and about with my camera. But things are warming up a bit at last, and I hope to be able to enjoy some of the welcome sights of spring.

I’d like to post some of the few winter photos I have gotten in the last few months. This one is of a redtail that sat behind our neighbor’s shed all afternoon one day back in January. I wondered if it was hurt, but it eventually flew off. My guess is that it was feasting on mice around the shed. I’ve always wondered how long hawks will sit in the same place hunting. The answer, in this case, was hours.

We named her Patience.


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