The sun gets up early this time of year, peaking over our mountains just after 6 a.m. So if you want to catch the prettiest light, you best be standing on the deck, coffee in hand, 5:40, 5:45 at the latest. It’s well worth the early rise for me; the show is magnificent most days, and very shortly thereafter I can be settled into the studio, happily writing the morning away.
It is my favorite time of day.
As it is for this sweet friend,
who meets me there rain or shine, nearly every morning
This pesky little wren (whom I can’t help but love) made a home last year in the bird box on the east side of our mountain home. He/she built a nest, laid a batch of eggs, and best we can tell, successfully birthed a new generation of babies that grew and fledged and ultimately moved on to establish their own grownup lives in bigger, more exciting cities.
Atlanta, or Charlotte, is what I’m guessing.
The children gone, the parents nonetheless kept watch over the box, checking in, keeping claim.
Then this spring, nest building commenced again. We watched, and marveled, like always. Then we went and left them to it, heading home to South Carolina for a week or two.
We returned to the mountains to (GASP!) discover this.
A bear, Tim and I agreed, what else could have stripped the wood and left the nest box in pieces/parts on the ground below?
Oh little wren, I thought, seeing/hearing/seeing it flit about, hopping around on an old decaying log, chirping/singing/chirping the desperate sad song of its heart.
I am so very, very sorry.
HOWEVER, I REALIZE JUST NOW I have failed to mention the other, newer, more colorful birdhouse we also hung on our previous visit. It came to me as a Christmas gift from the oh-so-thoughtful Island Monettis, and we’d located it on the west side of our home, high above the mass of wild mountain azalea that blooms so profusely in early June.
And you’ve already guessed, I’ll bet. The wrens took the opportunity to relocate!
This time to the beach!
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It’s a wonder he answers his phone at all, my friend Jay Coles, for when I call there is a 100% chance I am in dire need and the situation is an EMERGENCY. Why just a couple of weeks ago I was looking out the studio window when I noticed a bit of a bird ruckus and caught a glimpse of this unusual site.
Then I saw the Mama and Daddy bluebird were all a twitter, and the other birds were making a racket, and Tim came round to say, “I think the bluebird babies are fledging. I saw one on the grass a little while ago.”
“What?” I said. “WHAT? THEY’RE TOO LITTLE. IT’S NOT TIME. THEY CAN’T POSSIBLY BE OLD ENOUGH TO FLY.”
I grabbed my phone and quickly flipped to the last photos of the nest I’d taken. It was before we’d gone to the mountains, before I’d lost my ability to MONITOR THEIR EVERY MOVE. I checked the date. I could not be absolutely positively certain but I was pretty ding dang sure these babies were not more than ten days old.
“I’M CALLING JAY,” I said. “HE’LL KNOW WHAT TO DO.”
And he would, I knew he would as he is not only a fellow nature lover, he’s head of Carolina Wildlife Center, a local nonprofit that sees to the needs of innumerable small animals orphaned or injured in the wild. Every year among the thousands they care for are hundreds and hundreds of songbirds. Still deep inside I knew my fledging babies (which were neither orphaned nor injured) were hardly worth an emergency visit. Even if he is my dear friend. Even if he does live four doors down.
“I’ll be right there,” of course he said. (Jay is a saint the good lord sent to keep my feet on the ground, I swear. He has been my advisor and friend and protector on a number of important matters all across my life.) Tim and I waited and watched as the tiny baby hop hop hopped right into the daylilies, disappearing beneath the thick foliage.
Then here came Jay. We located the baby who was now standing on a rock perilously close to the edge of our pond.
“HE’LL DROWN IF HE FALLS IN! DO! SOMETHING! JAY!” At which my dear friend calmly walked over, gently put his hands around the sweet baby bird, then walked him back to the birdhouse.
He also explained, patient teacher to too-eager student: Unlike some other animals, birds are not ‘marked’ by human touch. You can safely pick up a baby and put it back in the nest.
“He IS too little, though. Don’t you think? He is too little to fly?”
“We’ll see,” said kind Jay.
Just about then something farther down the lawn moved, and this caught our collective eye, and we looked to see IT WAS ANOTHER BABY BLUEBIRD.
(Heavens to Betsy. Good lord. Good heavens they must be fledging.)
Jay collected baby #2 and returned it, as well, to the nest.
“BUT THEY ARE NOT OLD ENOUGH. I swear they’re not.”
“We’ll see,” he said. He smiled his Jay smile, then he and Tim walked off, to talk of other things.
THE NEXT DAY I went to work and was (blessedly) too busy to continue with this obsession. But late evening came, and as good fortune would have it Jay stopped by on a completely unrelated matter.
“Sure would love to know how many babies are in that nest!” I said this casually, just passing by, as he and Tim did whatever it was they were doing. “Sure would be grateful if somebody would crack open that box and take a quick peek!” (I would never do it as it can be a danger to the babies once they are older. But he had the know-how, I knew.) And he did, and lo and behold all four were there, and the following day, another check, and whew still all four!
I was relieved and humbly satisfied. And I left those parents to it.
SUNDAY, THEY DID fledge. (Praise hands!) Five days had passed, and my little heart was satisfied AND happy.
And now we are racing through March! Where here in South Carolina’s midlands we are blanketed in a layer of pollen so thick it is smothering. Even showering seems a gigantic waste of time.
Has itever been this bad?
(Do we say that every year?)
But oh, Springtime. With her forsythia and spirea, and the eager green shoots that push through winter-hard ground as if to remind us rebirth is possible. And the green/gold promise of the million baby leaf buds–the billion baby buds–their translucent unfurling the stuff of poetry.
And the birds all a twitter! The possibilities of new love! Courting and preening and feeding, beak-to-beak. Romance all around. Prime spot claiming, be it light fixture, high beam, bird house. Even an old shoe will do.
The building of the nest. One blade, one twig, one feather at a time. One morning’s work, and then another. And more until DONE, there it is, a work of art, a new home, the magical weaving (instinctual as it is) of one little family’s future.
I love Spring on Bickley’s Pond. Here, from the big window in my studio, I watch the world come back to glorious life. Everywhere you look there’s something magical to see. I am amazed by the grasses and trees and shrubs, the tiny leaves that appear from nowhere.
But I am most captivated by the sweet animals who share their lake with us.
The Canada Goose couple has been here for years, rearing brood after brood after brood. They’re nesting again and although I don’t know exactly where–the sweet Mama is on the eggs while Papa hangs in our cove keeping an eye out for her and any Canada Goose interlopers.
He floats around out there day after day, waiting, watching. And the moment anyone arrives and lands on his lake, anywhere near his beloved, the most awful racket ensues.
How devoted he is.
And the mallards? (See them there in the distance.) They are thesweetest. They swim side by side every moment, combing the pond and its shoreline for the perfect place to build and bring into the world a new paddling* of ducklings.
You may remember the year they nested right in our yard beneath the day lilies, then that big snake came and ate the eggs. (Well, one snake only ate two or three. The next day the mate came and finished off the rest.)
Good lord I’m still not over it.
And the bluebirds.
My beloved bluebirds.
We’ve raised seven (?) nests together. And now, after all this time (and all my perfecting of their home sweet home), this Spring there is NO NEST.
I am a little heartbroken.
(Now that I am finally supplying mealworms, there is one male/female combo that feeds. But the female looks to be a youngster.)
I feel worried and fretful over Mama and where she might be. Or maybe this isn’t the original couple after all, and maybe after all those babies they’re off in Boca enjoying retirement and the Early Bird Special. (Forgive me.)
Whatever the case, it is a magical time of year. I am reminded April after April after April:
There’s always, always a new chance for joy!
*A group of baby ducks is actually called a “paddling.” Isn’t that thebest?
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I’ve never been one to invest in mealworms for the bluebirds, something that seems a bit silly when the fact is they bring me a great deal of joy. Still we have a gigantic back yard. On a lake. Surely there are gracious plenty worms and creepy crawlies naturally occurring to keep everybody good and satisfied. I mean, they’re birds. Right?
Then last summer some things happened that had me rethink.
First, my beloved bluebird parents had not just one, not just two, but THREE successful nests in the span of five months. That’s a ton of insatiable bluebird babies who must be fed a thousand times a day, even after they leave the nest. You may remember this incredible discovery long about August when I realized it was a baby from an earlier brood actually helping with the feedings!
And so I hopped in my car and drove to the birdseed store to see if there was a reasonable way I could help out. And right there it was–a cylinder of seeds into which a mass of dried mealworms had been smashed.
No muss, no fuss, I’ll take it.
It was hardly any time at all until the woodpeckers and the titmice and the chickadees and the wrens made a feast of the new cylinder. I love them all, and I was pleased with their excitement, but I BOUGHT THE FRIGGIN’ MEALWORMS FOR THE BLUEBIRDS. Where were they? Since they don’t typically eat from a feeder, how would they ever even find it?
In just a couple of days, find it they did. And not just the Mama and Daddy, who seem to hang close all year round. But this time an entire collection of bluebird teenagers numbering at least five, maybe more. Lord those teenagers are fun to watch, they talk so big and still look so unsure.
Oh, and there’s some other bluebird action going on around here long about now as dibs are being claimed on the parent’s bluebird house. (They start building in early March, so time is nigh.) I can’t exactly tell which ones are in and out of it every morning checking on things–but I will have more to share on that later.
For now, these sweeties are bringing me so much joy I thought I would share. Hope you enjoy.
Now I see it every time I pull in the driveway or walk up the stairs or step out our side porch door.
A sweet, empty bird nest, perched ever so perfectly on a long thin branch of our Japanese Maple. It lifts toward the sky, that branch, with a nice view of the lake–a lovely place to build a home and lay some eggs and raise some tiny baby birds.
And still there is another reason this little winter scene brings me so much joy.
I never knew it was there.
Even with my focus on filling the feeders and cleaning the birdbath (for which I had to pass right under this branch), and even for my obsessive monitoring of the bluebird box outside my big studio window, and even with the excitement of chickadee babies this year, I spent the entire spring/summer season not knowing this little beauty was there.
Oh, the gifts of winter, when the leaves drop and gorgeous secrets are revealed!
30 Days of Joy
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We were talking about birds fledging and my hope to someday catch the action as one or two or five jump from the nest the first time. What it must be like to be that young and tender, to summon that courage, then to (quite literally) launch your own body out into the big world.
He mentioned Phoebes had nested near their place, and he’d captured the babies in a photo just after they’d made that scary first flight. They’d scattered a bit. But the parents called them in and in very short order had them all lined up–OneTwoThreeFourFive–for feeding.
It’s such a miracle how nature works, how babies fly, how parents know just what to do.
It’s such a gift that as humans, we can bear witness simply by stepping outside to watch.