The Bird Feed

keeping watch over the nest box
keeping watch over the nest box

 

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!

 

mamagoesin
Busy building

 

mama-head
Mama just hanging out

 

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the circle

 

It would be light before long.

So as I’ve been doing since reading Maria Fabrizio’s fabulous Cultivating Creativity, I pulled my body from beneath the covers, splashed water on my face and headed to the Keeping Room for a little before-work writing. I fed the dog and made coffee, then I made an impromptu decision to walk down to the studio for a quick minute to say good morning to the bluebirds. They’ve been so kind to me with this brood, indulging me while I take endless photos as they feed and feed and feed the five nestlings.

(Did you know there were five? Did I show you the photo with that surprise?)

 

Yup. Five.
Yup. Five.

 

I’d checked on them one more time last night just before dark. They were sleeping peacefully, their little tummies filled with a grand assortment of creepie-crawlies from our yard.

Might as well take my camera I thought this morning and grabbed the one with the big lens.

I stood for a few minutes looking out the window. The sun was up now, so the light was good for a photo. I’d surely not need to wait more than five or ten minutes for one of the parents to show up with breakfast. I could spare that writing time. They wouldn’t be babies for long, after all.

Ten minutes passed.

I don’t know what’s keeping them I thought. Maybe they don’t feed first thing in the morning? But surely they do. I’ll count to a hundred, and one will show by then and I can get back upstairs to my writing.

Okay, I’ll count to two hundred.

Okay, three–but then I have to go up.

About that time Papa flew to the brick column just across from me, and delighted, I snapped this photo.

 

5.20.15

 

He flew over to the nest box, looked in the hole, looked away, then flew toward our yard’s outer trees, the spider still in his beak.

 

papa 2

papa-3papa-4

That’s curious I thought. The Mama must be in the box with the babies. I’ll wait just a bit and she’ll fly out.

Five more minutes pass.

I don’t hear the babies, I realize. So I open the window closest to the nest box and wait.

Not a peep.

Nothing.

~~~~~

It took all I had to walk over to the box, climb up on the chair and shine my iPhone flashlight into the opening. I could see bare nest, so I immediately knew something was wrong. I unhooked the latch, pulled down the door and saw that four of the babies were missing and one was still there, dead.

The nest was undisturbed.

~~~~~~

I have spent this day thinking of those birds: the miracle of them emerging from those tiny blue eggs; the desperate hunger cries from their big gaping beaks; the devotion of the parents, who nonstop cared for the babies and also watched out for each other.

I think of the predator: the snake (most likely) that was simply doing what snakes do in seeking out this meal; my insistence last summer that we kill the giant one we found lying on the mallard nest eating the eggs (and my worry that snake karma would get me back); the horror and magnitude of the circle of life.

I grieve for them all and worry greatly about the Mama bluebird. I haven’t seen her and can only hope she is somewhere safe.

~~~~~~

At a client event this morning, a local pastor offered a prayer that included a passage from Psalm 118.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Rejoice and be glad, I thought.

Some days this is tougher than others.

 

 

 

Note: I posted a precious, happy video of the babies yesterday before discovering the situation downstairs. After that I didn’t have the heart to put the link on Facebook or Twitter, so if you’d like to see it but didn’t, click here. It’s a nice memorial, I think.)

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Wishes

I’ve been thinking, lately, about wishes.

About the physical sensation of wanting something so badly your heart feels it, you get that tug, like there’s a magnetic field outside your body pulling your heart toward it.

It’s not something that’s generally been on my grown-up mind, this idea of wishes. But as a kid, I remember lying in bed on more than one Christmas Eve longing, dreaming, wishing for something on my Santa list. I can still feel my heart stretch at the mere possibility of an Easy Bake Oven (I got one) or a Play Size Kitchen (I didn’t) under the tree the next morning.

I wanted it so bad.

I’ve had a wish come true, here of late. Remember the five bluebird eggs the Mama didn’t incubate? The ones that had disappeared when I got home yesterday? I knew from my research there was a chance they’d built a new nest over the old one. Maybe that means, I thought, they’ll lay new eggs.

I wish I wish I wish I wish.

This is what I found when I got home from work today.

 

my wish come true
my wish come true

 

Another chance at baby blues. Be still my heart!

 

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Whatever happened to those bluebirds?

I’ve put it off for a while now, but I know it’s (beyond) time to give you the latest on the bluebirds. You probably remember the story up to now:

1. A surprise nest is built in a decorative birdhouse.

2. An inexperienced human rejoices!

3. Complications arise; inexperienced human worries.

4. Mama and Daddy bluebird know what to do. Four of five eggs hatch; three of four babies fledge.

5. Inexperienced human buys a regulation bluebird house and hangs it in a much better location, hoping for another nest next Spring.

6. Nest appears within two days! Within five days, four eggs are laid!

7. Mama incubates eggs.

8. Temperature hits 94 degrees four days in a row.

9. Human frets, considering all manner of cooling mechanisms. Including a misting system.

10. (She leaves the nest alone, however.)

11. On day five, Mama disappears. The eggs are left alone.

12. Days pass.

13. Weeks pass.

14. Hearts break.

15. Human accepts truth: Mama has abandoned the eggs.

16. Human comes to accept a second (more important) truth. Mama knows better than she does.

 

look-mama
back when she was still laying eggs
nest-with-eggs
the clutch is complete!
papa
Papa, from afar

 

And, just because my heart needs a little lift, this recent glimpse of Harry after a bath! Isn’t he getting big?

baby-bath

Meanwhile, at the bluebird nest

There are new things to worry about, now that the bluebirds have a Summer nest. We’ve hardly raised Harry and the boys—as you well know they took their first flight just four weeks ago—and lo and behold there is a new clutch of four more eggs! At least these are tucked safely inside a real bluebird house that hangs securely on the brick column just outside my studio window. (We learned so much last time.) But I have to say June has brought a whole new slew of treacherous possibilities that keep me on edge, and we’ll just start with these two.

ONE
How will she they all of them ever survive the heat?

 

4

 

She’s sitting on the nest 24 hours a day. Columbia is famously hot and today it reached 95. What’s it like to be in that box at 3pm on a day like today?

 

photo #001
Oh, the things we mothers will endure.

 

TWO
While the location of bluebird house is much more secure, I have recently become aware of a snake’s ability to slither up a brick wall. This freaks me out, as I have first-hand knowledge of at least two snakes that live in our yard, and that’s not counting the babies that snake experts assure me have been born this Spring. So even though my Hero Husband Tim killed that seven foot snake that was sitting ON TOP OF THE MALLARD NEST EATING THE EGGS WHILE THEIR MAMA TRIED TO SAVE THEM—oh, wait. Wait wait wait. Did I not tell you about that?

Well then, do I have a story coming up for you.

I’ll just leave you with this.

 

ducky

 

 

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big daddy

I looked out the big studio window today and guess who was hanging about?

IMG_8792

IMG_8797IMG_8796

About that time a little Carolina Wren came flying from the wood stack there beside the brick column—the one that holds the new bluebird house. And the Papa Bluebird got ALL KINDA UPSET. So in spite of his fretting, I took a little peeksie in the little round hole.

house

Well, well, well.

eggs

YAY! YAY! YAY!

 

 

 

 

A Wing And A Prayer

baby1

I hope you will remember this photo for a long, long time. Take a good look; hold the image tight in your heart where its glory can root and lay claim. It is one of the baby bluebirds, you see, one of the miracle babies, now four days out of the nest.

They took flight while I was elsewhere, doing other things, and so I don’t have a full report. Just bits and pieces, snippets here and there, a story pulled together one thread at a time, a story so filled with assumption who even knows. And yet it is all we have, you and I, fellow travelers in a remarkable journey of love, and loss, and liberation. And so we shall bravely go there together, into the final (?) chapter of an unlikely tale, the saga of the bluebird babies who came into this world—we might as well say it—on a wing and a prayer.

~~~~

This was the scene six days ago, two days after that awful birdhouse attack that left the nest overturned and the babies in a listless, unmoving pile. But we righted the nest and the parents came and the babies rebounded and we rejoiced!

 

three
One! Two! Three!!

 

This is what we know for sure:

  • There were, in the beginning, five eggs.
  • Four babies were born, a substantiated fact.
  • At least three babies (see above) survived the attack.
  • While three survivors was more than enough reason to rejoice, still I prayed and prayed and prayed that when they fledged, there would be four.

This is what made me believe:

  • The parents fed those babies every 10 minutes, no exaggeration.
  • The routine was always the same.
  • From the perch, fill the big, hungry, demanding, extruding mouths. (See below.)
  • Then go completely into the nest, and in 30 seconds or so, fly out again.

Surely that meant there were one or two little ones inside there. Surely that was evidence Mama and Papa were providing for everyone—even the least strong of the family.

 

Mama
so many mouths to feed
I haven't forgotten about you.
I see you in there.

 

~~~~~~~

I came home on Saturday after a full day out. Tim was sitting on the deck by the water when he said Oh! Did I tell you? I think the babies flew!

I ran for my camera so fast I didn’t even get the whole story. He may have said something like two of them or there were three or who knows? And then I was on the patio and I saw the Papa in the Crape Myrtle and the flash of a baby just to my right, on a low branch of the Redbud Tree.

Hey baby I said as I tiptoed nearer. Look at you.

 

final
Harry?

 

And there he was, so uncertain all I wanted to do was reassure him, to rub his head and say I am so proud and what a miracle you are and how marvelous it is that the whole world is in front of you. 

And then he flapped his wings and made a move to fly but instead, clumsily landed on the pine straw below.

 

baby2
Harry.

 

I love you little guy I said and he looked back at me and this time he flew off, his sights set on a more distant tree.

I watched and waited, waited and watched in hopes of spotting his siblings. The parents were all about, that was for sure, fretting and hunting and calling. But I never saw him again. And I never saw his brothers and sisters.

After a long while, I made my way back to the birdhouse for a final look. I turned on the iPhone light and to my surprise there, just beneath the bird cutout opening, was the spread of a baby bluebird’s tail feathers.

There is still a baby in the nest! I said out loud, running for Tim. How many did you see fly? In my head I was sure there were three, so maybe this was the mysterious fourth baby, in need of some extra growing time.

I didn’t see them leave so I don’t really know, he said.

The parents didn’t return to the nest Saturday night, best I could tell, and I didn’t see them Sunday morning. I got up early to watch, knowing it was prime feeding time. With no sight of them I made my way over to the nest, praying praying praying I would find it empty, that the last baby had fledged sometime during the night. But the tail feathers were still there; there hadn’t been any change at all.

~~~~~~~

I know how I should feel about the miracle of the fledglings: immense gratitude and joy and hopefulness. I know I should trust that the parents knew what to do, that the remaining baby was not simply forgotten. (In fact, I do know this.)

Still my heart longs for more. I want to know how many are out there, how many made it. I want to know if the last little bird was #4. I want to know what happened, why—even though its tail feathers look fully developed—the last nestling never made it out of the die cut bird opening of my silly decorative bird house.

~~~~~~~

And so let’s make the story our own, shall we? Let’s agree that right this moment, just there in the woods at the curve of the cove, Baby #1 (Harry!), Baby #2 and Baby #3 are having a glorious afternoon flying and landing and swooping and hopping and laughing, all together.

And just in the distance is their mother, quietly watching. Knowing this victorious day is one for pure joy, but feeling all the same it happened too soon. The days flew too fast, the time with her babies—precious and holy—passed much too quickly.

 

IMG_8020
keeping watch

 

The Bluebird Story, start to finish

April 23, 2014  Surprise, Surprise, (Surprise, Surprise, Surprise)!

April 28, 2014  The Good, The Bad, and the Oh My

April 29, 2014  UPDATE!!! (OR Day 27)

April 30, 2014  Panic: Day 2

May 1, 2014  Day 3: (Happy) Drama

May 4, 2014: There’s Something About Harry.

May 6, 2014: Baby Bluebirds, the movie

May 8, 2014: And So On.

May 11, 2014: Sometimes, you just have to shout.

May 14, 2014: Heartbreak. And a Little Joy.

May 19, 2014: To Feed or Not to Feed.

 

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Heartbreak. And a little joy.

How will you ever write about this Eliza said in a quiet way that made it much more of a statement than a question. We were standing together looking down at the overturned birdhouse, and I could feel her heart breaking right alongside mine.

Just a few days earlier we’d giggled together as we said goodbye to the bluebird nestlings, a short beach trip in our immediate future. They’d been so rambunctious, those wild little creatures, their beaks stretching impossibly wide as they screamed for food. I hate to leave them I said back then (as if my being around would do anything to prevent a highly likely attack on the nest. Ha.). Danger lurked around every corner, that was for sure.

And so I took one more precious photo of the babies, wished them well, and along with Tim and Eliza, boarded a plane for Sarasota.

~~~~~~

We made the return trip home four days later. Even though it was quite late, I headed right down those steps the moment we arrived, eager to get a look at the birdhouse through the big studio window. They’ll be so big! I thought. I hope they haven’t fledged already—I would be so sad to miss that! And then I made my way to the window and looked in the direction of the nest.

There was nothing there, no birdhouse at all.

Oh No I thought.

I stepped back quickly and turned on the porch light, knowing my next move would need to be a trip outside. I was terrified of what I might see when I crossed over the door’s threshold. And sure enough there it was on its back, my bought-on-a-whim decorative green birdhouse, knocked to the ground two feet from the table on which it previously sat.

The cute little bird cut-out opening looked like a crime scene.

Oh my God I said out loud. What happened? Who did this? Are the parents around? Can the little ones still be inside? Is there a chance any of them survived?

And then I called out Hey babies, hey babies, are you in there?

There was no sound at all.

~~~~~~~

It took me a minute, I cannot lie, to look closer. But I knew I had to. And so I summoned both my courage and my iPhone light and shown it into the opening. There were birds in there, yes. But there was no sign of life.

I stood back a moment, in despair and disbelief. Where were the parents? What should I do?

I took one more look. This time I saw a tiny moment from one of the birds, a minute shift of the head and then breathing so slight I wasn’t even sure it was real. I bounded up the stairs.

Tim, Eliza, come help. Something’s happened to the nest. I’m afraid the bluebird babies are dead. And I ran back down, frantic, unsure, lost.

~~~~~~~

I didn’t know what to do. Should I try to get to the breathing baby, to remove him from that awful dark den? How would I even accomplish it? The only way in was through that small opening on the front, and surely I would further injure him in my attempt. Should I move the birdhouse itself?

WHERE WAS THEIR MAMA????

And so I dialed my dear friend and neighbor, Jay Coles, who just happens to be director of Carolina Wildlife Center.

You need to leave the baby where he is said Jay. But move the birdhouse back and set it upright. Put it where it was, so the parents can get to him. They’ll take care of it.

BUT I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY ARE I nearly yelled.

It will be okay said Jay in a voice so sure and calm. The parents will know what to do.

And so we carefully uprighted the birdhouse and we put it right back on that table and I went to bed praying (without much hope, if you want to know the truth) that the little guy would make it through the night.

~~~~~~~

I woke up around 6am, when I heard the call of a bluebird. I grabbed my shorts and ran down the stairs, making my way slowly and quietly into the dark studio. I sat still as a statue on my stool in front of the window. The birdhouse was still on the table, still standing. At least that’s something I thought. About that time I saw the Mama bird just to the left of the porch, clinging to the brick column. There was no food in her mouth, but she was looking toward the nest. In short order she flew to the perch and put her head inside the opening.

She was there a long time—at least it seemed a long time, as I was holding my breath—and then she flew away. What did she see in there I wondered. What will she do next.

In no time she was back, and this time she went straight to the opening and disappeared into it. Then she was gone again.

I made my way quietly out the door and tiptoed toward the birdhouse. All at once I saw this little head and snapped the photo as quickly as I could.

lone survivor
He made it through the night!

Then it was time to get ready to go to work.

~~~~~~

It was a long day away from that nest, unsure as I was to the goings-on there. When I finally got home this afternoon I found this joy.

3
One. Two! Three?

(In fact, I believe there are four surviving birds, although that is currently unconfirmed.)

I continued to fret, and so dear Jay made his way down the street to help me relocate the birdhouse to a higher spot. It is now attached to the brick wall making it all but impossible for the offending beast (cat? raccoon? possum?) to knock it down.

How grateful I am for this latest miracle. How in awe I am that just as Jay said, the parents knew exactly what to do.

Thanks and praise, is what I say. Thanks and praise.

night night
night night

 

And so on.

There have been other happenings here on Bickley’s Pond, a fact that may surprise you as I have been so focused on those baby bluebirds and on all it has taken their Mama and Papa and me to keep them safe and well fed and properly photographed. For instance, my sweet neighbor and friend, Stephanie, discovered a nest of squakers right underneath their deck stairs, safe and dry and hungry. How thrilled I was when she sent me this photo.

next door babies
this nest is a work of art, right?

(I made my way over there the first moment I could and lo and behold the nest was empty—those babies had already flown the coop!)

I have kept my eyes on the ducks, as well. Do you remember the Rock ‘n Roll ducks with their crazy pouffy heads? You couldn’t have fit a 12″ ruler between those two, devoted as they were to each other. Well, several days passed and I saw no sign of the couple. And then I was sitting out on the down-by-the-water deck when I noticed a gaggle of assorted ducks swimming out from behind Rodney’s dock. Following just behind was one of the white crested ducks. It was obvious he was hesitant to get too far from the shore.

lonewhite

I’ll bet there are eggs I said out loud, my heart a little thrilled. I’ll bet she’s sitting on a nest.

The very next day I spotted the Canada Goose couple, the ones who spend nesting season here every year. Over the years we’ve raised several broods together, those geese and I, including clutches of seven, five and three.

our little family, circa 2010
our little family, circa 2010

They were way across the water so I pulled out the big zoom lens and hoped for the best. Sure enough I could make out one baby. I felt a little sad for the couple, knowing how precarious it is to try keep a family safe on this lake what with eagles and hawks and snakes and gigantic starving turtles there just below the surface of the water. How many have they already lost I wondered.

onebaby

 

And the next time I saw them, there was no baby at all–just a big, empty space between them.

wide-open

That’s when I realized I hadn’t seen either of the white crested ducks in over a week. Perhaps their nest was not successful. Perhaps they have packed up and moved on.

There has been good news. First, the baby bluebirds continue to thrive. Their devoted parents must be exhausted trying to get enough food to keep them full and happy.

hunt, hunt, hunt
hunt, hunt, hunt
Anybody hungry???
Anybody hungry???
YES!!!

 

And then there is this, the most wonderful of all.

 

monkeys
I cannot believe she is 21!

My own sweet baby, home for college. We spent three days together on a little mini work/vacation in Key West.

duo

It. Was. Glorious.