Monday, July 28, 2014

Mid summer birds report

Bluejay practices it's songs overhead in the choke cherry tree 

This morning as I was getting my things ready to go out into the garden I heard a familiar sound on the porch roof. Garbled notes and squawks, all mixed up, I wondered what was making the noise. I went to the window as I heard the sound moving towards the roof's edge where I saw a blue jay swoop down into the garden and land on my chair. Then with camera, book and coffee in hand, I took my usual time in the garden to write and photograph the flowers and birds. The the choke cherry tree is beginning to drop it's ripe red-maroon berries that many birds flock to eat. It seems after a few years of watching that many young birds spend a lot of time dining in our tree.
They dart and dangle around a lot so it's hard to get a good photo of them. Today the blue jay came and perched on a low branch and started practicing it's songs. Lots of other noises in the garden this morning but I recorded a short video to share the blue jay's rehearsal. I learned yesterday that it takes about a year for a fledgeling bird to learn the adult songs but they practice and mimic the adults until they master the sounds.
ripening choke cherry 

Earlier this summer I saw a family of blue jays in my garden briefly. They occasionally  stop by for a few choke cherries, sometimes a bath or drink from the bird baths and then off they go to the huge Oak tree down the alley. Their cries are so distinctive it's easy to pick them out. Usually blue jay songs are very bold and memorable once you know the tunes. It's color is so spectacular making it a back yard favorite. Back in 2001, the West Nile Virus arrived in DC transmitted by mosquitos that infected birds blood, the large population of crows and bluejays was nearly wiped out. It's nice to see them making a come back.
Blue jay on the compost searching for food 

fledgeling blue jay in choke cherry tree 
A few days ago I discovered a family of Mourning doves out my bedroom window in the white cedar trees as I was rushing to leave for an art history lecture. There were three of them sitting on a limb so close I couldn't resist grabbing my camera and catching a few shots. The very next morning as I was going out to write with my coffee camera and book when I opened the door to the stairway down I got a shock. Nearly spilled all my coffee as there was a dove out there flapping against the window to try and get away. I quickly closed the door trying to collect myself and clean up the mess I made. I decided to skip going out for that day then watched to see if the bird figured out how to escape. It sat there on the railing looking out the window that doesn't open all day and I assume it had been there all night roosting. A second night and the next morning it was still there. It was clear after about 36 hours this mourning dove wasn't clever enough to realize or discover that going down the stair well would free it to go drink eat and live. I got worried it would die of dehydration or starve so it was time to muster some courage and go help it get out. Towel in hand I wet straight out and it flew to the lower corner of the big windows I finally got hold of some part and swung it over the rail and down the stairs where it quickly saw the light and escaped to the garden. My heart was beating fast but I am sure it wasn't as fast as the dove's little heart. I realized now that it was a fledgeling not quilt mature and a few of it's tail feathers came out in the struggle. I arranged them on the antique foot stool for a document of the incident. It wasn't possible to make images of this story on my own but I have the earlier images to help.

The dove survived as far as I can tell it is hiding now in the low shrubs along our fences. 
Meanwhile the house wrens are working hard showing off all the insects they catch as they come and go to feed the babies growing in the green A framed birdhouse. This image of the adult about to deliver a big bug is pretty exciting to have caught. They feed them all sorts of little creatures every minute or three bringing in a new delight from the garden to the waiting peeps.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Phyllis and flowers

Phyllis, my mother, was the first flower gardener I knew as a child and I have vivid memories of some of her flowers that grew in our yard from those early days in the late 1950s. I returned home to Manassas in 1985 after years of study and fun in New York City to find she had let flower gardening slide and I dreamed of rebuilding a big flowering garden. With a lot of free time and the suburban luxury of the big yard in I began to discover gardening and Phyllis has supported our garden delights ever since. I was inspired also after I worked for a few years in a flower shop in NYC, called Pure M├Ądderlake, where I learned the names of lots of cut flowers and developed a taste for some really nice varieties. In Manassas I had a chance to try and grow them if I could find them and make it work in our climate and soil. Seems from this flower gardening I have developed an ever expanding interest in the environment and the natural world. 

This week I set out to take Phyllis to a native plants ground cover talk hosted by the Virginia Native Plants Society downtown Manassas. It was a great experience to be in a room with some many people interested in local native plants and the speaker Janet Davis from Hill House Farm and Nursery was inspired giving us lots to think about in the way a garden is constructed and grown. I recognized several plants during the slide show from experiences in gardening and walking the trails of the area. This plant we brought home seems to be the same one I was obsessed with photographing on my hike out at the Battlefield recently that was growing and blooming throughout the meadows and at the woods edge. 

I hope it grows for us in our home garden as well as it does out in the open untended fields of the battlefield park . 
The home garden was looking good, full of flowers and creatures. A few of them I had close encounters with and brought back images to share. 

While staking and tying up tall flowers in the front flower beds I nearly jumped out of my skin when I lifted a long bough of phlox to step into the garden and nearly stepped right on top of this great eastern box turtle. It's the first time we have seen one in the garden. 

This lovely sphinx moth that looked like a small humming bird or a really big bumble bee was all over the flowering butterfly bush and other deep throat flower trumpets sipping the nectar. It's Moth Week so I was excited to get home and discover I had some images of a very cool one who lives and flies in daylight hours. Its called a Snowberry Clearwing Hemaris diffinis fully described in the hot link. 

Sweet gum or Liquid amber tree by the old Koi pond still stands out in the back yard.
Virginia Creeper native vine 

 Our neighbor down Lomond Drive has six honey bee hives discreetly located behind a six foot tall fence and those bees are regular visitors now to the flowers and especially the purple flowering hyssop that smells like licorice candy when you crush the leaves. Makes me wonder if sipping that nectar impacts the flavor of his honey?

Last but not least the birds were always on my mind and in view when I looked for them in the trees around the house. These cardinals showed up twice and the catbird modeled in a low branch of the crepe myrtle trees for a nice portrait. 

I think I remember in grade school we were given little golden books to help identify various things like an adult I use books and now the internet to look up what I can. Though I never liked to read as a kid those picture books were endlessly interesting because of the great pictures and they helped me look more closely at the world around us where we played in the back yard and on trips to SW Virginia the woods the fields where we learned to respect the dangers and appreciate the other creatures in the world. It feels like I still have a lot to learn about the world around us.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Turtle update

I posted  photos yesterday of the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden walk and thought something was missing this morning and checked my camera's memory card to confirm my suspicion, sure enough the huge turtle I saw on the edge of a lily pond sunning it's self was still there but not in my post. I downloaded it and decided to do an update because it was so big and had such long claws. I don't know what type of turtle this is anyone have an idea what it is?
It was as big as a dinner plate and the others were only bread plate sized out on the logs sunning. The big turtle gets it's day in the sun.

For you to compare here is the smaller painted turtle again:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Walking Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

A rare perfect July day to me says get out of the house and go soak up some nature, right now! Yesterday, I picked up my friend Meron for a day at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to see the Lotus, waterlilies and native plants and creatures who inhabit the park which sits at the edge of the tidal Anacostia river. It's a huge marsh land with a farm for cultivating those delightful water flowers.

Meron enjoying the garden tour
We enjoyed all the wonders of nature in the ponds and around the edges. Frogs we croaking, Turtles were sunning and dragonfly and butterfly were all around us.

Turtles like those we used to get as children for an aquarium pet were much larger than any I ever raised but this is their natural habitat complete with muddy shells. Meron spotted some sort of snake from our safe perch up on the high boardwalk over the reeds, thank goodness.

Kenilworth also is a birder's paradise and I was challenged several times to identify some new ones we saw. The only one I got a good portrait of was what I now think was a familiy of northern rough-winged swallows.

Honestly it was hard to sort out this bird identity even with these photographs but without the bird guide book and the internet's great resources I wouldn't have known anything but that it was likely some kind of sparrow.
One I did know very well was the red winged blackbird and I  didn't get a great shot of any of them but this one and there were about 75 of them in the marsh but they got down in the reeds where we couldn't see them and the grasses were swaying back and forth making it quite difficult from our location. Might be worth a return trip with tripod and time to sit and wait to get a series of this beautiful black bird.

Canada geese were swimming in the marsh channels searching for grasses they like to eat and what I thought was a duck flying by turned out to be a favorite of mine the green heron who gave it's self away by landing on a log at the edge of the channel rather than on the water like a proper duck would do.

can you find two geese in this shot?

In the end the flowers drew me out on this beautiful day but the call of nature has a powerful draw all it's own. So here are the native and tropical waterlilies that are blooming now...

black berries for the birds

Our picture perfect visit lasted from 11 till 4 PM next time I will take along a picnic lunch and iced water. This weekend is the big festival of waterflowers at Kenilworth and I have to say it is a very special place. You can read about it in this week's Washington Post article here: Kenilworth water lilies thrive.