Saturday, May 24, 2008

being out in the garden

Today after doing my morning pages out in the garden and taking a few snapshots, I find I am delighted with much and have a desire to share it with you.  I wonder if showing pictures really imparts anything? I wonder if the picture lay out is too far from the text to illuminate the narrative? I don't know if I am using all the tools I could be, to make these pictures really speak what I want them to relay. I have a ritual of writing in long hand on three blank pages my first thoughts of the day. I like to do this in the garden in good weather at a table I bought with this in mind for our small back yard. I usually write in mid morning before the sun gets over the roof top to bake the back yard. It is also a good time to see the flowers and photograph before the light gets too strong and contrast disrupts detail. I don't always get my pictures that early.
I take great joy in sitting watching the birds and listening to their songs and identifying which bird is singing what song. Where they are nesting in the area and considering their interactions. For years I have been interested in the house wren for its small size and odd habit of holding it's little tiny tail erect in the air at a right angle to the rest of it's body. I also like it's clear and loud song. I was delighted some years ago while visiting  home in Manassas to discover they took to a small house I had mounted on a big beech tree. That is when I got to know more about this bird and it's habits. I also learned that they nest in houses with small openings to protect their brood and babies from invaders. They also like a cleared out house for spring so I dutifully emptied all the old nest materials out of that bird house in Manassas until it was worn out by time to make it useless. Then I began here in DC to try growing bird house gourds. I got a nice crop the first year and saved and dried them out and in spring cut a hole about the size of a quarter and began the work of cleaning out the seeds and spraying a coating on the gourd to protect it from further rotting in the spring rains. I hung three the first year in various places in our back yard. None very high because there was no place to mount a gourd up high. We have a dying lilac shrub in our yard right in front of the trash cans about ten feet tall. Those thick old wooden trunks seemed to me a good place so I mounted two there and one over by the fence in a small red Japanese maple only about six feet tall. Soon a house wren came to inspect the gourds and began work collecting twigs to fill the gourds. He worked (seems to me the male builds the nest) then a female came and inspected all three gourds she didn't like any of them and left only coming back a couple times to double check. This is part of the drama that unfolds as I am sitting writing my morning pages in the garden each spring. That first year no eggs were laid and no babies born in our trees houses but last year 2007 something clicked and the female chose a gourd right next to the trash and sidewalk that was larger than the other gourds. She laid eggs and raised 3 young house wrens. I delighted each morning to go see the progress. Watched both adults feed and guard the nest. Laughed as the chicks were big enough and hungry enough to hang their little heads out of the quarter sized opening to yell for food! Soon after that everyone departed on wing and I only saw them once or twice more in the yard. This year I made a new gourd and saved the old one and hung them both in the lilac tree. A male house wren has returned and a female has inspected several times. I don't know if there is going to be a brood this year. Seems like something up the street may be more to her liking. I went all out and made that new house too. Sad but it is still fun to wait and watch as this new soap opera unfolds. here are some good pictures of the house wren. A female cow bird tried to get in the house the other morning and the wren chased it off. They lay eggs in other birds nests and then come back to extort the raising of their chicks by other species I think. The threat of raid and destruction of the host birds babies is the motivation for the hostess to treat the cow bird babies as her own. I have never seen brown-headed cow birds in our alley. This morning I saw the male and female so they are in the area hunting for a suitable home for cow bird babies. Sparrows, robins, starlings, mocking birds are common in my yard. Cardinals, blue jay, woodpeckers, crows and sometimes a hawk come by too but so far no nesting in our garden. 
Another delight is to grill in the evenings and wait sometimes at dusk a lonely bat will buzz the yard round and round the big choke cherry tree it flies looking for bugs. You see right at the edge of the table in my photo the old Weber round grill. We have another bird that is called a chimney swift that also flies high above the houses catching bugs all day and evening. They have a distinct chirping call and only alight at night to roost in chimneys and clinging to bricks like bats do in the day. I wish there were more birds and more of each type. Only one bat is pretty sad and the chimney swifts number about four or five in view from our garden. I have two bird baths to encourage drinks and bathing and we chose some plants and trees that some birds really love. The choke cherries draw numerous  northern mockingbirds, many American robins and a few common grackles with their yellow eyes and iridescent blue/green black feathers when the cherries are ripe. Tropicana floribunda rose is a perch next to one bird bath and it was chosen for it's startling bright orange color! Starlings and sparrows seem to bath and drink more than any of the other birds in my bird baths. Smaller birds go to the trays under my bonsai trees for a more protected place to drink if it is holding any water. Lastly this time of year the sky is so blue and the clouds so soft and bright against the new green leaves. I look back at the other yards in our block of apartments and we have the only garden. Every other building has cut lawns and at best a couple shrubs well healed. There is one other feature in our alley way that stands above all others. The enormous oak tree in the middle of the block. It must be big enough to require at least two big men to hug it in unison and it stands three or four times the height of the two story apartment buildings. It is so big I haven't found a way to photograph it in it's entirety. If I do I will post. You see the profile of the giant oak tree in the photo of the long line of yards to the south of our garden. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How fascinating to hear about the birds! I love your descriptions and stories. Makes me feel like I am sitting right there next to you in the other chair! We have bluejays, cardinals and lots of morning doves. The dogs like to bark and chase them, but they always are just out of reach! I like to watch the little sparrows take dirt baths! They stir up little clouds of dust, like little Pigpens on Charlie Brown. Love, Jenny