Tag Archive 'backyard nature'

May 08 2022

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Predatory Nature

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A couple years ago, we got serious about attracting songbirds to our feeders. Judy did some research, found out what certain birds like, and purchased the good stuff. As a consequence we are visited daily by woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, mourning doves, and scores of goldfinches. Hummingbirds come around during the summer. Other birds stop by, as well. Grey squirrels scurry about beneath the feeders, eating what the birds drop. It’s busy out there.

The local sharp-shinned hawk has taken notice. He stops by occasionally to see if he can grab a winged meal. The songbirds scatter when he shows up, of course. Judy has taken some good photos of that beautiful raptor. We’ve seen him make several attempts to catch a songbird, but without success. Then one day, from the kitchen window, I saw him make off with a goldfinch in his talons. I must admit, I was a little horrified by it. Hawks have to eat, too, but my sympathy was with the finch.

Twice now I have found a patch of mourning dove feathers on the ground near the feeders. I’ve seen this during walks in the woods many times and know exactly what happened. Someone caught and ate those birds on the spot, or started to anyhow. Maybe the doves, so commonly associated with peace, put up a fight. It’s hard to say. But as I gathered up those feathers, it became clear to me that those two doves don’t exist any more.

Several weeks ago a red fox suddenly appeared, chasing a terrified squirrel up a tree. Judy and I cheered a few days later when that same fox hunted down a field mouse. The mice have gotten into our garage and have done some costly damage to one of our cars. We now keep the garage closed up and a dozen mouse traps in there. Still one gets in occasionally.

Last week I shouted to Judy to grab her camera when I saw the fox in our backyard again, chasing a squirrel. This time he caught it. We aren’t particularly keen on squirrels, that like to poop and pee all over our patio furniture, but there was something tragic about seeing that rodent meet such a violent end. It took a while for the fox to subdue the squirrel and haul it off. Sustenance for hungry kits waiting in a nearby den perhaps? That’s what we’d like to think. But the fact is, everyone has to eat and not all living things are herbivores. That’s nature for you. And it’s on full display right in our backyard.

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Apr 27 2022

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Small Springtime Joys

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The flowers are coming up in the small gardens surrounding my house. None of them have bloomed yet, but that hardly matters. Just seeing the first green push up through the soil and leaf out is enough to bring a smile to my face. This time of year is chock full of small joys, both in wild places and close to home.

While working in my yard, I spot a tiny flower in bloom in the forest duff beneath the trees: spring beauty. I kneel down and sniff it with giddy pleasure. Its perfume is intoxicating. Nearby a patch of round-lobed hepatica is also in bloom. I have to touch the petals to make sure they are real, to banish any remnant of winter still lurking in my heart.

My hands are scratched, bleeding and dry from working the soil and putting down mulch with my bare hands. Judy asks me why I don’t wear gloves. I know that would be the smart thing to do, but I just can’t help myself. I want to feel the earth.

A woodpecker drums loudly. Robins sing, crows caw, and the goldfinches gathering at the feeders chatter incessantly. In the distance, frogs peep from a vernal pool. The world is reawakening.

Overhead grey clouds threaten rain. There is still a chill in the air and my flannel shirt is dampened with cold sweat. I keep moving to stay warm, putting certain muscles to work that haven’t been used since last fall. I’ll be sore tomorrow, no doubt, but I don’t care.

As soon as I get things under control in my yard, I’ll go for a long hike in the mountains. Either that or I’ll grab my fly rod and work a favorite trout stream not too far away. But for now it’s enough to putter about the yard doing domestic chores. Even while I do so, an eternal wildness stirs within. What is commonly called Nature is actually home. And it thrives everywhere, all around me, in early spring.

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Mar 26 2022

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Birding with a Passion

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Despite the fact that most of the lakes and ponds here in northern Vermont are still full of ice, Judy and I have done a lot of birding lately. We took a trip down to Dead Creek in Addison County ten days ago and have gone out locally three times during the past week. Judy has bird fever, and I’m reveling in early spring.

At Dead Creek we celebrated the return of the Canada geese. They were there by the hundreds, filling up narrow leads of open water. Before heading home, we stopped by South Slang Creek to see if we could catch the bald eagle nesting there. We did. Judy took some good pictures of it, but what we really wanted was to catch the migrating birds. We got into more of them earlier this week. We found common and hooded mergansers floating in slender patches of open water along the shores of Lake Champlain. We also spotted on land robins, grackles and red-winged blackbirds that have arrived recently, along with the cardinals that have wintered over. The cardinals are calling out loudly from the treetops now. Ah, yes… it’s that time of year.

All this is great, but biggest surprise so far this year happened right in our back yard. A sharp-shinned hawk swooped down on the many goldfinches at our feeders, scattering them everywhere. We’re pretty sure we’ve seen this same bird before. It showed up here last fall, and I spotted it in the neighborhood once before that. Judy got some excellent shots of it right through the sliding glass door leading out to the patio. It wasn’t more than twenty feet away! She called up the stairs, so I was able to see the hawk out the window of my study before it bolted. I was writing at the time and usually don’t want to be disturbed while I’m doing so. But this was an exception to that rule.

Judy is on a roll. She has taken some great photos of all the birds mentioned. She has taken bird photography to the next level after learning the best settings for her camera. She has a passion for it that is a delight for me to witness. I assist her however I can. Mostly I drive the car, spot the birds with my binoculars, and identify them whenever possible. We’re a good team, I think.

All this said, my passion for birding doesn’t match Judy’s. I’m into wild nature in all its manifestations, and thoroughly enjoy a raw, early spring day even if there are no birds around. I got all excited the other day when I saw a red fox out the kitchen window, chasing a squirrel up a tree. Judy managed to photograph that fox, but I would have been just as happy if she hadn’t. Judy’s an artist with her camera, while I simply enjoy the moment. It’s all good.

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Sep 07 2021

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Befriending a Chipmunk

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I now have a chipmunk friend. We get together almost every afternoon on my patio. I really don’t know how this happened. Gradually, I suppose.

Last year something was tearing up the flowers that I’d planted around the patio. When I spotted a chipmunk darting past a couple times, I figured that was the culprit. So I put out a Havahart trap to catch and remove the varmint. But the bait kept disappearing and the trap shutting without anyone inside. I took advice from a friend and used string to make the trap trigger mechanism more sensitive. Still no varmint.

The chipmunk I’d seen last year stopped coming around, so I packed up the trap and forgot about it. My flowers were no longer disturbed. I figured a local fox or barred owl must have eaten the little guy. A tasty little morsel, no doubt. Ah, well…

Early this summer, a chipmunk started coming around again. Hard to say if it was the same varmint I’d seen last year, or one new to the neighborhood. Whatever. It didn’t mess with my flowers so I ignored it.

Judy and I have several bird feeders in our backyard. The chipmunk joined the squirrels feeding on what the birds toss to the ground. Woodpeckers are especially fussy. They throw down a lot of seed. That upsets Judy, but the squirrels and the chipmunk feast on it.

We’re not exactly sure which one of us started feeding the chipmunk, but I recall it taking seed directly from Judy’s hand on at least one occasion a month or two ago. Then I left a small pile of nuts on the knee-high wall of the patio. Next thing I know, the chipmunk was running circles around me – every time I sat on the patio reading. So I put nuts and seeds on the wall on a regular basis. Then Chippy (yes, we named him) licked the sweat off my cold can of ginger beer one very hot day. So now I put out a cup of water. I keep that fresh.

Chippy pissed me off once, when he started digging up the soil in a flower box containing my herbs. Judy said it was just trying to stay cool. Indeed, Chippy has stretched out flat on the foot-wall on several occasions, no doubt to cool his belly. Chippy often lounges on the patio with me during the shady afternoons. That’s now one happy rodent, I think.

Chippy has built a rather large home in our front garden – right where we used to have a patch of forget-me-nots. We hope Chippy is a male. If she’s a female, there could be lots of little chippies running around next year. Then we’ll be sorry. But for now I’m taking a live-and-let-live attitude. What the hell…

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Jul 12 2021

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Backyard Wildlife

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Early this morning I spotted an turkey with its new brood in our back yard. Last year we had a bunch of them come through our yard on a daily basis. Judy and I are hoping that happens again this year.

We live in a grove of maple trees that used to be tapped for syrup but is now a cluster of homes. Only two miles out of town, our neighborhood hardly qualifies as being rural, but the wild animals living around here don’t know that. They visit us on a regular basis.

We’ve put up several bird feeders so we see the usual suspects during the day: woodpeckers, goldfinches, nuthatches, and other avian inhabitants. Crows and mourning doves scrounge around at the base of the feeders. Squirrels take advantage of the situation, of course. All our feeders have baffles on them because of the squirrels – circular metal obstructions halfway up the poles to the feeders that confound those rodents. A single chipmunk scurries about, as well. Yeah, our backyard is a busy place.

Recently field mice got into our garage and made a real mess of things. That probably explains why I found a garter snake in the garage once. But the snake didn’t keep the mice from damaging one of our cars. So the garage doors stay closed now, and eight highly effective mouse traps take care of the occasional mouse that gets in anyway.

Gary Snyder once said that the wilderness isn’t all berries and sunshine. The same could be said about our backyard, even though there there are plenty of berries to be had, as the deer passing through know all too well. They like to munch on the flowers in our garden, as well. Hmm…

When a mouse dies in one of the traps, I lay its body on an open patch of ground near the edge of the woods. I hear a barred owl back there around daybreak, thinking that she gets the treat. Or maybe one of the wandering skunks or raccoons does. Or maybe the red fox that showed up once knows about that snack bar. Hard to say.

With the help of Judy’s nephew Rick, we’ve just put up a game camera in the backyard to find out exactly who’s getting what. A bobcat showed up on a neighbor’s game camera earlier this year. We’re hoping to see that, or some other big surprise. After all, there are plenty of critters out there. I see more wildlife here than I do while wandering around in deep woods. Go figure.

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Jul 09 2020

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Judy’s Hummingbirds

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With the pandemic raging, Judy and I have been spending a lot of time in our backyard lately. Oh sure, I’ve been getting into the woods some. Earlier this week I hiked into the Breadloaf Wilderness to find a camping spot that I intend to use in a week or so, and I’ve done a little trout fishing to boot. But with hummingbirds visiting on a regular basis, our backyard seems like the place to be.

For years Judy and I have tried to attract hummingbirds, but only this year have we succeeded. Judy brought home a couple large hanging plants with red, tubular flowers. We hung them from wrought iron shepherd’s hooks not far from our patio, along with a couple feeders. We displayed all this early in the season, and Judy has been diligent about keeping the sugar water in the feeders fresh since then. Lo and behold, the hummingbirds came! First they came once or twice a day, then all day long.

Living a few miles outside of town, with our home backed up against some woods, we’ve had plenty of other visitors as well. Barred owls hoot in the evening and have flown across our yard a couple times. A flock of turkeys passes through daily, taking whatever grubs they can extract from our grass. Woodpeckers and various songbirds visited our feeders in early spring. Deer, skunks, raccoons, garter snakes, dragonflies, toads, field mice – we have plenty of visitors. But the hummingbirds are something else.

What is it about these little creatures that make them so attractive? Is it the sheer beauty of their iridescent feathers, the way they hover in mid-air, or the sheer speed in which they come and go? Whatever it is, hummingbirds captivate us – not just Judy and me but a good number of people. Go to any hardware store and you’ll find a wide variety of hummingbird feeders there.

I have every intention of getting in the woods again very soon, midsummer heat or no. But I won’t expect to see as many creatures up close and personal as I do in my backyard. The hummingbirds now feed while Judy and I are sitting on the patio only a few feet away. And that feels pretty special.

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Feb 17 2017

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Cutting Tracks in Local Woods

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Two back-to-back winter storms dumped 20 inches of snow this week. That’s more snow than we’ve seen in a long while. It’s finally starting to look like Vermont around here.

A couple days ago I did my fair share of shoveling, clearing out a 10 by 12-foot space in the back yard for one thing – a place for my dog Matika to pee. But she looked pathetic when she was out there walking tight circles in her prison yard. She looked as cooped up as I was feeling. So I strapped on my snowshoes yesterday and cut tracks out of the prison yard, across the fresh snow, and into the woods. Matika happily followed.

It wasn’t easy cutting tracks. I broke a good sweat. But the air was clean, all was quiet, and the snow still clinging to naked tree branches looked beautiful. Wouldn’t say I have cabin fever these days, but being outdoors feels a lot better than being indoors. I really get tired of sitting inside, staring at a computer screen all day, don’t you?

After completing a big loop in the woods, I doubled back on my tracks, creating a nice smooth trail. The second time around is always much easier so I able to really enjoy my surroundings. Matika enjoyed it, too. She romped in the snow like a puppy, collecting ice balls in her thick fur. Nordic dog!

This morning I looked out my office window at first light and spotted that snowshoe trail crossing the back yard. It’s calling my name now. How long will I be able to resist it? No doubt I’ll be out there again, tomorrow or the next day, cutting more tracks in local woods. Not quite as good as being in the mountains, but there’s something to be said for snowshoeing right out the back door. Wild nature doesn’t feel very far away at all.

 

 

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Sep 16 2016

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The Quarry

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Version 2Judy and I didn’t actually see the quarry until our house was well under construction. We had heard about it before our builder even broke ground back in February, but we didn’t think it was that big a deal. We were mistaken.

The folks who own the quarry kept telling us that we should check it out. When finally we got around to doing that, we were pretty impressed. It is much bigger and more beautiful than expected, with a shallow end that’s ideal for launching boats. We were encouraged to use the quarry so, when the grandkids came to visit shortly after we moved into our new house, that’s what we did. They loved it, of course. They kayaked, swam and fished there on several occasions. I think they would have camped out there if we had let them.

In the middle of the summer, I went swimming there for the first time. My dog Matika accompanied me. The hot sun warmed the surface, but a few feet down the water was cold. Another pleasant surprise.

A few weeks later Judy and I kayaked the quarry at sundown, breaking the glassy surface of the water with our paddles while making long, lazy circles upon it. A kingfisher called out then swooped low over the water. Then all was quiet. That’s when we realized just how charming the place really is.

It’s only half a mile away from our house. We go past the quarry while walking a two-mile loop around the area. The owners have told us repeatedly that we can use it any time, and I suppose we will in the years to come. But it still doesn’t quite feel real to us. It’s like having a small park steps from one’s door. More than we bargained for when we moved here, that’s for sure.

 

 

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May 27 2016

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The Ten-acre Wood

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10 Acre WoodTemps reached into the 90s today – the hottest day so far this year. Ridiculously hot for May. I went for a short walk in nearby woods anyway.

After visiting the house under construction that will soon be home to Judy, my dog Matika and me, I slipped into the Ten-acre Wood. That’s the name I’ve given the woodlot less than a hundred yards from where I will most likely spend the rest of my life. Most of the woodlot will be developed someday, but for the time being it’s mine to enjoy.

I’ve been following the procession of wildflowers in the Ten-acre Wood since early spring when bloodroot and hepatica came out. Trilliums and trout lilies soon followed, then came violets, bleeding hearts, and a host of subtle bloomers. Most of those are gone now as the canopy overhead has closed. But today I found Jack hidden in the lush greenery covering the forest floor. Jack-in-the-pulpit, that is – a wildflower that is easily missed.

Jack’s an old friend of mine. We’ve had some good times together during my past springtime excursions into deep woods. It’s good to see him taking up residence close to where I’ll soon be living. Or is it the other way around?

No doubt I will make other delightful discoveries in that woodlot during the years ahead. I still plan on making lots of trips to much wilder places, but it’s nice knowing that I’ll soon be able to take a twenty-minute break from my computer and tramp this small, wild place. Sometimes a few minutes among the trees is all I need to clear my head. What a blessing to have such a place close by!

 

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Mar 25 2013

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On the Verge

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lily shootsThe green shoots of day lilies push up relentlessly through the half frozen soil in my front yard, as if seasonal change is inevitable. The tips of some are frostbitten, brown and withered, but they keep coming anyway. A recent big dump of snow convinces the winter weary among us that spring will never come. Yet in some ways it’s already here.

The buds on the maple tree in my back yard are red and swollen. The sap has been running for weeks. A red-winged blackbird – migrating north to be sure – landed in it a few days ago. A cardinal sings loudly from the top of another tree, establishing his territory early. There are a lot of squirrel tracks in the snow now. The snow itself is slowly disappearing in a barely discernible melt-off driven more by sunlight than warm temperatures. Yeah, to those of us paying careful attention, the spring season has already begun.

“See how the snow is drying up?” I kept telling my wife Judy yesterday, to the point where she grew annoyed with me. I couldn’t help myself. My favorite season is on the verge, and all I want to do is sing about it as the wild birds do. One daylong rain will make it obvious to everyone. The Vernal Equinox is behind us. The natural world is awakening from its long sleep.

 

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