My beloved bluebirds nested three times this season, a record here on Bickley’s Pond. Still that is not the most surprising thing that happened around here this summer. This is.
One precious teenager, whom we assume was born of the early brood, started hanging around during the last hot days of the third nesting. It was mid-July and Mama and Daddy were very busy trying to satiate 2017 babies numbers eleven, twelve, thirteen and fourteen.
(These loving parents were also, I am quite certain, exhausted.)
Junior waited. And watched.
Then he started hopping about the yard digging for worms and spiders and creepy crawlies. But rather than eating them himself, the youngster flew to the nest time and time again feeding the bounty to his little brothers and sisters.
On Day 17 the brave little babies climbed to the opening, flapped their wings and jumped from the nest for the very first time. I wasn’t there to witness their fledging (I’m sad to say) but I am quite certain their big brother was very close by, cheering them on.
It was a sweet way to spend July, watching this little group, a reminder of the strength of love, the power of encouragement, and the bonds of family, united.
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I spend a lot of time obsessing over the bluebirds that nest in a box in our back yard, something you know a bit about if you are a regular here at The Daily Grace. But this Spring I haven’t been around to keep as close an eye on this precious couple (and their offspring) as I’d like.
Then a couple of weeks ago I spotted this cuteness at the new feeder I’ve placed just outside my studio window. It holds a magical cone of seed and dried worms all of birddom now fusses over.
This sweet little munchkin, who I figure is four…maybe five weeks old, is sitting an inch from a full-on mealworm feast. But he refuses to reach his little beak through the bars to grab one. Instead he sits and squawks and demands to be fed.
Mama’s having none of it.
She flies in, eats in front of the youngster, then flies away.
(Which results in an even louder ruckus from the little one.)
Then in comes Papa who does his best to ignore but finally can’t take anymore and pops worm after worm in the mouth of the babe.
It captivated me, this bluebird drama, as I stood back and considered how much the scene resembles my own years-ago baby mothering and that of so many friends in the throes of such today. Parenting is hard. There are so many ways to get it wrong. And there are so few to get it right.
Love well, I’d think, and then I’d pace and worry. Love well, I still think now, andthat will be enough.
And yet the question remains.
Does love fly off?
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MY SOUTH CAROLINA LIFE is centered around the sweet pond on which our house and back yard sit. Through the big kitchen window I have a bird’s eye view of all the goings-on, and to get close to the action I merely need step out the side door or take a quick stair step run down to my studio, which is positioned (thrillingly) in the midst of the action.
All this perfect geography gives me the chance to spend the hours of spring All Up In the activity of the co-inhabitants of the little neighborhood. I could not be happier about this; I never get tired of watching the plants and animals as they quite literally come to life during this birth/rebirth season.
This year has been especially sweet.The pond is full again following a couple of long, sad years during which floods, improper sediment runoff management and Mother Nature’s insistence on returning things to their natural state combined to create rather a mess behind our house. But the cove has been restored and the whole of the animal kingdom–snakes, frogs, turtles, beavers, birds, fish, and ducks among them–the whole of the Bickley’s Pond animal kingdom and I are rejoicing.
MY BELOVED BLUEBIRDS are among them and together we’ve had a rather tumultuous time of it. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I’VE had quite a time–to this day I can’t give you an accurate accounting of their first brood of the season. First there was the precious nest, then that one perfect blue egg, then the egg disappeared! And so the internet told me to build a Sparrow Spooker, which I did, fashioning my own emergency version. I watched and watched and watched until the second egg–which would now be Egg One–was laid. BAM I was out the door attaching said Sparrow Spooker to the box (this was per the internet’s very specific directions). By golly it worked! Or else it wasn’t needed in the first place, but either way that couple and I ended up with four gorgeous eggs the second time around. Mama kept them warm while Papa and I hung close and in no time at all we’d hatched two baby bluebirds with two left to go. It was time for a trip to the mountains, alas, so I left the raising of those two, maybe three, maybe four babies to their devoted and quite capable parents.
We were away just long enough that when we returned an opening of the nest box would have created a great risk of too-early fledging. I was also busy with work and other things and couldn’t keep as close an eye on the family as I’d have liked. Which resulted in some big worries, I have to say. I never saw the parents feed the babies, not even once, in the first three or four days we were home. I’d watch for a while, then go out and stand next to the box hoping at least to hear sweet bluebird baby chirps. I never did. But every time, without fail, those parents would come swooping down out of nowhere, very unhappy with me and my proximity to their nest, which made me very happy as I figured surely they were protecting their offspring.
Still there didn’t appear to be any feeding.
No feeding at all.
THEN I HEADED north again, this time on my own for a writer’s retreat in Kentucky. I left Tim in charge. He’s great about these things since he’s in the yard so much, humors me so much, and cares as much about such happenings as a normal person does. But let’s face it. I never can get him to hover quite as close as I’d like.
Still I’d hardly gotten my suitcase out of the car when I got this text from my thoughtful husband:
Soon as I got home we opened the box to sure enough find it empty but for one unhatched egg. That meant there were three little bluebird fledglings flying somewhere around Bickley’s Pond. Maybe? Tim had seen two, and we hoped for a third but we just didn’t know.
(SEE THIS IS WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO KEEP A CLOSE EYE.)
WE WAITED FOUR or five days, then set about cleaning the box. This time when Tim opened it that last egg was also gone. (For the life of me I don’t understand how small birds accomplish that.) He removed the old nest, tidied up a bit in the box and left a clean house for Round Two, should these sweet parents decide it was a go.
A week later we found this.
There’s no Sparrow Spooker on top as the wind finally brought it to the ground and I’ve hardly had time to construct another. For one thing there is the other bird nest I must monitor. And the baby eagle. And the courting woodpeckers, and the goose families X2. And a big happy surprise right in my raised bed garden!
There is so much more to come on all these wonderful Bickley’s Pond developments.
For now I just go ’round skipping and thinking: Spring, I do adore you!
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So much so, in fact, I’ve hardly mentioned the front porch nest identified by my cousin, Meg, who knows about such things. She’s a Phoebe, Meg said, when I complained that it was probably a sparrow who would do nothing more than make a mess and attract snakes.
(Still, we’d kept the porch light off and have tried to respect her privacy.)
Until this afternoon, that is, when I made my bird rounds.
First I visited the Chickadee who was hunched down on the nest and didn’t flinch when I opened the viewing hatch.
The bluebird eggs looked fine, but Mama Blue was no where around. This concerns me, I have to say, as she’s abandoned the early nest so many times. (She knows best, I realize. But still.)
And then I cajoled my husband into bringing the big ladder to the front porch where I might get my first good peek at the other nest.
You could of knocked me over with a feather, so to speak.
A whole pack of precious baby birds right there at my front door.
There they were, tucked in behind one of the lanterns that flanks our front door. I can hardly imagine how she built that nest, much less successfully incubated them!
There’s lots of Phoebe feeding to come. And lots of growing to be done by a whole peck of babies in a tiny, tiny space. There’s also a great risk of nest attack, this I know.
So I will keep my fingers crossed, this time for them all–Phoebes, Bluebirds and Chickadees alike.
Oh, Spring. Oh, my. Spring!
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First there is the miracle of the sweet chickadees moving (voluntarily) from the bluebird house to their own new box. Their little nest is made of soft green moss and topped with a downy fuzz, so tiny and precious. It is also, unfortunately, difficult to photograph. (Too bad for me, that is. I am sure they are quite happy about this.)
And now there is this. The bluebirds have reclaimed their home and have finally built a nest!
Which means I have two couples to watch over, two broods over which to obsess and fret until, safe from the snakes and the heat and other (sometimes) aggressive birds, their eggs hatch and their babies flourish and fledge. I’ll bring you updates and photos, as usual. But since I expect there will be twice as many, this time I’ll share primarily via my Daily Grace Blog Facebook page. So if you don’t want to miss a thing, be sure you follow the page here, then click on the Like button and on the drop down beneath it, select “See First.” That will help ensure the post makes it into your Facebook feed.
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Until then I’ll leave you with this joy!
Meet you there!
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You know all that work we did to make a new home for the bluebirds? The one that’s as snake-safe as we can make it, and that (now) has its own built-in sun shield, thanks to my handy husband? The bluebirds have checked on it day after day after nearly-spring day, this being their third nesting season with us on Bickley’s Pond.
Then out of the blue (so to speak), this happened.
A sweet chickadee couple got to building the cutest little tiny moss green nest in the bluebird box. Which created a real dilemma for me. I mean, what’s not to love about a chickadee!
So we rushed to put up another birdhouse, one with a tiny opening and a smaller nest cavity in the ridiculous hope they might abandon the bluebird house and move on over.
You simply can’t believe this. They did!
Now we’re just curious to see what the bluebirds do. My beloveds seem both 1) a little late building, and 2) not too worried their house was temporarily claimed. I mean, they have visited each afternoon but through the entire ordeal have never shown any aggressive behavior toward the sweet chicks–even when there was a mossy nest being built in their living room.
So we wait. And watch. And hope. Which now that I think of it seems to be the story of my life when it comes to this precious bluebird couple!
Turns out there was a little House Hunters scouting going on, which I learned when I saw the couple check out the bluebird house via my downstairs studio window. Spring can’t be far away!
Know why I was in the studio?
I was completing the final edits on the first draft of my first novel. WOO HOO HOO HOO HOO!
First draft = DONE
I will share much more about the book in the months to come. But for now let’s just say I celebrated last night with a Sweetwater Ale (or two) in front of a roaring fire. It’s been a thrilling/terrifying 27 months since I started this journey, and come what may with the manuscript, how happy I am to have told a big story of love and justice and redemption–and the many shades therein.
On to vacation! My sweet husband and I are going on a dream trip to Hawaii (the first time for both of us) so if you don’t hear from me for a few days, you’ll know why. I haven’t decided the level of my digital unplug, so in true Cathy every-day-is-a-surprise style, we’ll just wait to see what happens.
Here’s hoping you have a glorious weekend filled with February joy!
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I have been surprised to see them there, the bluebirds who have spent a good amount of time hanging around the official* house and the snake** house in recent days. Most often they come in late afternoon when they also enjoy the buffet of creepy crawlies they find in our yard. But now, to tell you the truth, there are so many bluebirds I’m not sure which I’m seeing!
This is a good thing.
Just a couple of days ago I was doing a little writing on the screened porch when out of the corner of my eye I saw a flutter of activity. I leaned forward for a closer look and spotted this.
They come for a bath most evenings around six, the bluebird babies so fast growing up. It tickles me so to see them, the way they fuss and frolic, yammering on with each other about this and that, holding court with the finches, the sparrows, the wrens, the nuthatches.
Today I glanced out to see something a little more unusual. It was early morning–one of October’s first with really nippy temperatures– and this guy was already out enjoying the sights and the sun.
I guess he likes October mornings as much as I do.
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The bluebird parents and I have had a time together the past two summers doing our best to successfully nest, then fledge, our babies. It’s a saga you know if you are a regular reader of The Daily Grace, but for those are new or who drop by occasionally, it’s gone something like this.
SPRING 2014 I purchase a decorative birdfeeder as a decoration for a party. I place it on a small metal table on our walkout porch. Before I realize what’s happened, a sweet bluebird couple has made a nest and laid five perfect blue eggs!
I fret and fret and fret over that nest and sure enough, five babies emerge.
While we’re on vacation, the unsecured decorative nest box is attacked and I find it on the ground, only three babies still alive. We get it set back up and the parents swoop in knowing just what to do.
The remaining babies survive and eventually fledge!
NEST #1: (Mostly) Successful. (Yay!)
SUMMER 2014 I buy a new nest box, a real one, and mount it to a brick column just a few feet from the old one.
I feel good about its security in this location, but it is SO DANG HOT I don’t know how a Mama could survive in there, much less eggs or babies. Nevertheless the cute couple builds away. She lays four eggs, incubates them for five horrifically hot days, then flies away and abandons them.
I am heartbroken even though I know she knows best.
NEST #2: Fail.
SPRING 2015 THEY BUILD ANOTHER NEST (!) in the next box on the brick column. She lays five eggs.
After several days, she abandons them.
Again, I am heartbroken. Is something wrong? Is there something I should do??? Reason prevails and I leave the nest and the eggs alone. The bluebirds return several days later and build a new nest ON TOP OF THE OLD NEST AND THE ABANDONED EGGS. (I later discover she has put a layer of feathers between the old eggs and the new nest. Don’t you love that?)
She lays four more eggs. I FRET AND FRET AND FRET and, as if by miracle, these hatch! We rejoice and obsess, obsess and rejoice. On Day 5 I come for my morning check-in and find three babies are missing and one is still in the nest, dead. WHAT HAPPENED IN THERE? I wonder.
The next day I see this.
It turns out snakes have no trouble climbing brick columns. (Seriously?)
NEST #3: Fail.
I (immediately) go to the bird store and buy a metal pole, a snake buffer and a new birdhouse. Sweet Tim (immediately) gets it all set up out in the yard, far away from all brick columns, and while he works I sort of pray they will build again, but I sort of pray they won’t. Because by now it is
SUMMER 2015 and UNBEARABLY HOT AGAIN. In its new location the new birdhouse has no shade at all, and, even worse, is baked by the afternoon sun.
Undaunted, the bluebirds build another nest. Over the course of several scorching late-June days, she lays three eggs.
There is no way this can end well, I think.
And this time, neither she, nor I, will be able to get over it.
I do something crazy. I fashion some top and back shade for the nest box out of white styrofoam, attach it with bungee cords, then erect a giant golf umbrella over the top.
It is ridiculous!
I know this, and I do it anyway.
Sixteen days later, which just happens to be the exact time during which most baby bluebirds fledge, I come home from work to find the nest box empty. I rejoice!
Then I worry.
Maybe a snake got to them. Or the hawks. Maybe they didn’t fledge at all!
More than a month goes by.
Just this week I’m standing at the big kitchen window when something catches my eye. It looks to be a bluebird, but it hangs on the side of a branch in a rather inexperienced manner. Could it be one of the babies?
Another bluebird baby comes flying in and lands in the bird bath just below. Branch Bird joins in!
Baby three arrives!
They have the finest time in that water, those babies, splishing and splashing like they’ve never, ever had so much fun.
I have the finest time watching them!
Then they fly away, back to the woods I suppose, where Mama and Daddy are watching and waiting to continue the lessons in flying, landing, hunting for food, eating.
(I have beamed like a proud Mama ever since.)
Nest 4: SUCCESS!!!
30 Days Of Fun III
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