Water and Ice

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A few days ago it was warm, so warm that rivers ran high and snow melted and we had lots of water. I walked down to the bridge to see the fields. The river gushed under the bridge. The fields had become a lake. The snowmobile trails were a wash. Just recently we finally had enough snow for snowmobilers to buzz around on the local trails. That afternoon they would have needed a boat.

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Last night the temperature was in the single digits, as it was the night before. Yesterday morning I went for a run. Where a week ago I was dodging mud and puddles and piles of slush, yesterday I ran on frozen dirt. A dusting of snow made the ice patches hazardous. It was a different landscape.

Winter came, then spring came, then winter came back. As I have said, I prefer snow. As many have said, if we have winter we might as well have snow. The sun shines today. The temperature might rise to the twenties. It is too cold for sugaring now, although some sugaring happened just last week. In a couple of days the temperatures will rise above freezing and stay there–too warm for sugaring. Hopefully things will settle out so the sap will run this month–below freezing at night, above freezing during the day.

In a month we will have spring for sure. Today I plan to reattach the birdhouse that fell off its post this winter. I want it up by nesting season. Who knows when that will be there this year? Red-Winged Blackbirds have been back for a week, so it could be here in a few days.

We might get another snowstorm. Would love that, but I’m not confident. Tomorrow morning I will get out and run again. Maybe we have mud. Maybe we have ice. Either way I look forward to getting out there again. Winter and Spring can duke it out. Regardless, I am going to do my thing.

Emptying the Nesting Boxes

imageIt is November, which means time to tidy up outdoors before the snow falls. This weekend I put away the hoses, stashed the kayak in the basement, put up bird feeders, started moving the compost from one bin to another, and several other winterizing tasks. I also emptied the birdhouses.

This summer we were lucky to have three bird species nesting at the same time, using all four of our bird houses. Eastern Bluebirds occupied two of the boxes, Tree Swallows shacked up in a third, and House Wrens built a nest in the fourth. Things were active. I cleaned the boxes out in hopes that they would again be attractive spaces for nesting when the birds return next spring.

The bluebirds liked the two boxes that are closest to a big maple tree. They like to hop up into the tree and to perch on top of the boxes, back and forth. The swallows prefer the one that is most open, accessible to the open field for their insect foraging. The wrens like to be close to cover, so the nesting box next to the Norway Spruce was just right for them.

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Bluebird nest in nesting box number four

The boxes are built with hinged front panels, so they are easy to open. When the panel is closed they are open only at the round entrance hole, the bird doorway if you will. With the panel swung open, however, it is easy to pull those nests out and do some general cleaning up.

I started with the wren nest, which was made of twigs with a softer inner layer of grass and feathers. The swallow nest was compact, made mostly of grass, and covered in bird droppings, which seemed unusual. The bluebird nests were made almost exclusively of pine needles. The odd thing about the bluebird nests was that they each had eggs in them–two in one nest and four in the other. They were clearly abandoned. My guess is that the bluebirds had one successful clutch, then laid another set of eggs too late.

The eggs were pretty cool to see. It is a little sad, to anthropomorphize a little here, to see all that potential life never to be realized sitting in snug little packages. Those little blue orbs could have been bluebirds that flew to Florida or Mexico and then returned to build their own nests. Only humans really care about such things though. The bluebirds do what they can. If the eggs don’t hatch, they simply try again next year. I guess flying up to 2,000 miles twice each year is enough to worry about.

I didn’t scrub the boxes out with soap, as some people do, but I hope our birdhouses are clean enough to be welcoming to next year’s birds. This was the first year that House Wrens nested in one of our boxes, so that was a treat. I hope they decide to stay with us again. Of course, the same goes for the bluebirds and swallows. We may need to open up another box or two, expand the whole operation. We certainly have plenty of room, and waking to the crazy burbling and whistling and chirping of spring birds is well worth a half hour of November housekeeping.

Wren nest on the left, bluebird nest on the right

Wren nest on the left, bluebird nest on the right

Diverse Neighborhood

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House Wren

In front of our house we have four birdhouses on posts. There were a few of them on a fence when we moved in. We took out the fence. I hammered in a few cedar posts. I replaced the birdhouses. In past years we have had bluebirds nesting in one of them. Swallows have nested as well, sometimes in two boxes at once. The bluebirds seem to favor the one closest to the sugar maple. The swallows like the one that is the most in the open. One of them gets used by the bluebirds when the swallows take over their favorite. The one on the end, however, next to the tall spruce, has never had residents. This year, however, the wrens moved in.

House Wrens have nested in the old Christmas tree stand next door for several years. They have been pretty reliable. If I walked past in the morning, I could count on them singing their bubbly, and loud, song from the dense needles of the firs. This year they have decided to nest in that long-empty box near our house. Every morning now, and much of the rest of the day, I hear the male singing. He is loud. Every day I am amazed that such a small creature can create such a complex song and belt it out with such volume. That little dude has heart.

So this year we have three birdhouses in a row with different birds nesting in them. The Eastern Bluebirds pop in and out of the maple tree to their abode. The Tree Swallows zoom in fast to theirs after grabbing insects in the air over the field. The House Wrens hide in the spruce or the forsythia as they zip back and forth to theirs. It is quite the family neighborhood.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow