Category Archives: Nature

A Quick Escape

It may require a bit of a mind jerk to move from red lines in Syria and union busting in the United States to a contemplation of the weeping willow, but that’s the way this brain of mine works. Perhaps contemplating heartless dictators and short-sighted politicians sends me back to the safer, simpler days of my childhood. We take comfort where we can. Natural beauties also soothe my soul and remind me that the world is full of both ugliness and beauty. And breathing fresh air removes the cloudy bits from the dark corners of my soul, at least temporarily. Anyway, I have been thinking about weeping willows.

Weeping willows seem to be sort of scare now. They once adorned capacious lawns, pastoral expanses of emerald green well-tended grass. They also like to grow near water. They are whimsical and wispy with slender leafy branches that seem to lift at the top and then drip delicately down to trail on the ground. If cut back these dainty branches drift airily back and forth. They seem to have that same poetic Asian beauty that all weepy things possess, a subject for ancient scrolls or haiku.

When I was a child there were plenty of these trees gracing many a sweeping landscape. We could take our dolls or just our imaginations under the branches of whichever tree had the lowest hanging tips and hide out in the cool green space that surrounded the trunk. It was good for sword fights too. It could morph into a lovely room with a backrest, perfect for escape or reading. It always seemed cool there even on the hottest summer days. We did not own this particular tree that I am recalling; we just visited it occasionally.

But weeping willows take up lots of space and they are said to be messy trees strewing biological detritus beneath and all around. Now these trees are rare to see, at least in my neighborhood, although I found several excellent examples on a recent ride. Instead we go to nurseries and buy dwarf weepers that have the aesthetics but none of the blowsy Scarlett O’Hara decadence and none of the whispered invitations to attend a tea party in their depths. I guess weeping willows are the whales or elephants of the tree world and people are crowding them out. As a friend of mine says, sad……………..


Live Cam

For at least a decade we were treated to a live cam showing a peregrine falcon pair laying their eggs, and raising their young chicks (if you call a baby falcon a chick) on tall downtown buildings. It was an up-close glimpse into a world we would never be able to observe without disturbing it or without being attacked by a sharp-taloned peregrine mom. Today we still see some of those falcons soaring above the territories they have claimed. They are huge and deadly and yet I cannot help watching raptly whenever I see one riding thermals or whatever is happening up there with the wind. We may be a bit nervous when a falcon decides to hunt our neighborhood. We may worry about our cats and kittens. In this context we tune into the fact that this is a predator looking for prey. But falcons don’t prey on humans so we are able to live with them.
This year there is a live cam at Cornell University trained on a nesting pair of great blue herons. These shy and lovely birds, who we love to spot from our cars when we are traveling or on our lakes, ponds, and rivers when we are hiking, are very shy and they raise their young in swampy areas, high in trees where they are difficult to observe. We almost never get a view of their eggs or their chicks. The picture you will see shows the female heron looking at three eggs in her nest, but there are now at least four. I will also include the link to take you to this site. Be patient, the site has a lot of viewers and is sometimes unavailable.
I think this is a twofer. It looks like there is also a camera  watching a red-tailed hawk pair.

Where Are the Birds?

Where are the birds? Usually there are tons of little sparrows twittering around my neighborhood and there are little upside down chickadees climbing my trees and finches singing in the fir trees. This winter, a mild winter until this past weekend, I see no birds. I did see one beautiful red cardinal, but no sparrows, no finches, no chickadees. Is there a scientific reason for this? Are all the birds hanging around the neighborhoods with bird feeders? I miss their singing and cheeping and flying whenever I look out my windows or go outside. Where are those bird brains?
On a site called ajchomefinder, Charles Seabrook wrote an article called “Where are the Birds?”, (how perfect is that) on December 13, 2011. The writer was speaking about somewhere in Georgia, but I am assuming some of the same reasoning applies up here in the north country. He says:
There are several reasons why birds may be missing in some yards – even entire neighborhoods – during certain times of the year. Reasons include:
A new predator, such as a cat or a hawk, in the area. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks in the accipter class of hawks especially prey upon songbirds. If the smaller birds detect a hawk hanging around a yard, they will be leery about coming to it. The same goes for a cat prowling about a yard.
Dirty feeders or moldy seed. Take down the feeder and wash them in 10 percent bleach solution. Let them dry thoroughly before refilling with fresh seeds, preferably black oil sunflower seeds, the birds’ favorite.
Lack of water. Birds need clean water sources, such as bird baths, just as much as they need food sources.
Sometimes, though, birds may not be visiting your feeder simply because a lot of wild food is still available
Todd Schneider, an ornithologist with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, said a possible reason why some people are seeing fewer cardinals and other birds right now is that a lot of the birds from northern climes have not yet headed south to join our resident birds for the winter. Northern weather has been relatively mild so far, but harsher weather later this winter may drive more birds south.
Mr. Seabrook sums up by reassuring us that nothing sinister is happening:
But take heart. The seasons change. Wild food supplies diminish. Predators change locations. The birds will return.
Meanwhile, I am missing their cheerful, busy little selves.

Pardon My Purple Prose

Our weather has been so pretty this week. I do not often appreciate snow by this point in the winter. If I didn’t have to shovel it I might like it better. This week, though, even the shoveling did not detract from the beauty of fine winter days. Perhaps it was because there was a manageable bit of snow each day. Perhaps it was because of the trees, especially the pines, with white delineating every dark branch. Perhaps it was that repetitive single peep that signified a cardinal was hiding somewhere in the green/black depths of the pine. And there was what my mom would call the “sparkly” factor; white flakes soft and cold, float down separately in solitary crystalline splendor past the up-reaching trees. Oh my soul!