Sunday, July 20, 2008

Growing fast

Wow. I always thought our babies grew up fast, but they can't compare to baby birds. The wrens in our birdhouse are now five little balls of fluff with voracious appetites. Last week they could barely hold up their heads, and it was impossible to distinguish individual birds except by counting the beaks.

Now we can see why the parents are so busy, constantly bringing worms and insects back to the nest. The babies are so hungry that sometimes, one little beak can be seen poking out of the entrance hole. "M-o-o-o-o-m, hurry up!" I imagine him calling.

I actually got caught taking the top photo by the ever-vigilant parents. I chose a moment to check on the nest when the parents were away, but they returned while I was still up on the ladder-- and oh, boy, did I ever get a scolding! Both parents were hopping from branch to branch, chattering and screeching at me. Chastened, I got out of there fast.

The garden is in full bloom now, and visited by birds, bees, butterflies, and even dragonflies and an occasional toad. The goldfinch in the photo below is perched on one of the sunflowers in the butterfly bed. All too soon we'll see the end of the gardening season. It will be some comfort to watch the birds plucking the seeds from the sunflowers, coneflowers and zinnias-- but let's not think about that just yet!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Baby wrens

Mr. Lonelyhearts is lonely no more. The little house wren we've been watching in our backyard as he sang next to all our birdhouses and stuffed twigs into each one (a kind of birdie hope chest) has finally made it. Not only did he get a date, but he has married (for the moment), settled down and is raising a family. It's difficult to count the babies. Two little beaks can be seen on the left; in this picture they're closed. They have feathers, so they are a few days old, or perhaps a week.

We opened the roof of the house to take this picture. It's OK to do this if you're quick. The parents resumed bringing food in to the nest as soon as we were out of the way.

Both parents are helping to feed the little guys, coming and going in an endless relay. They also clean the nest, carrying away the poop sacs so that parasites don't endanger the health of the babies. (Been there, changed those diapers!) I won't be able to check on them again until Saturday, but I'm thinking about them often.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Engage silent drive!

I love our canoe. There aren't too many kinds of boats in which you can sneak up on a heron, but we're lucky enough to have one of the best. We have two travel modes. There's Full Steam Ahead, in which my mate-4-life, sitting in the back, applies full power to a kayak paddle (blade on each end), so he can easily alternate strokes. I sit in the front seat and pretend my paddling helps, while my expensive, can't-live-without-it digital camera sits wrapped in a towel in my LAP, for heaven's sake! We make a bit of splashy noise in this mode, but I have never yet dropped the camera.

But we have the most fun when we travel in Silent Mode, paddling very slowly through the shallows, looking for birds, snakes, turtles, flowers -- anything interesting. We usually manage to see something new, or learn something, or at least come up with a new question.

This past weekend we went exploring in a flooded area of Lake Monroe, gliding through "islands" of swamped trees. We watched herons and tracked songbirds through the trees at the edge of the water.

We spent a long time following songbirds. One bird that I didn't recognize was heavily streaked with brown and white, with an orangey throat. It turned out to be a female red-wing blackbird--a very common bird after all. But at least next time I see it, I'll know it immediately.

We saw a couple of other unfamiliar birds. One tiny black and white bird was very elusive. I have several pictures of big green leaves, with a beak or a tail sticking out one side or the other.

We saw prothonotary warblers for the first time ever. [This is a correction--I had earlier identified this bird as a pine warbler, but pine warblers have white wing bars.] These energetic little yellow birds were difficult to keep up with, but fun to watch as they flitted from branch to branch. The bird in this photo has caught a caterpiller. (I wish they'd eat something that wasn't supposed to turn into a butterfly!)

Photographing birds and nature is an obsession for me. I'm not sure why, but I just have to take pictures. I'm not a great photographer--in fact, it's very frustrating for me. I have terrible eyesight and find it difficult to focus my camera. I lack patience with manuals and can't figure out my own light fact, taking pictures is so frustrating that next weekend, I'm going to do as much of it as I can. Go figure.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Water Lines

Water, water, water. It's clear to everyone by now that Indiana, though hit hard by flooding in some areas, got off easy, and it's hard to imagine the situation in Iowa.

We've been canoeing around Lake Monroe whenever we get a sunny weekend. The lake is at 548.73 feet this week, with a level of 538 feet being normal. Last weekend, when these pictures were taken, the level was 550.79 feet. (As my mate4life has carefully explained to me, the lake levels refer to feet above sea level and not the depth of the lake -- thank goodness!)

The businesses around the lake have suffered, as several weeks of boat rentals, cabin rentals, camping and so on were lost to the flooding. You'd have a hard time cooking anything on the grill in the photo! But a few weeks ago, we canoed right over top of it and couldn't even tell it was there.

The high water has left a brown strip of dead foliage all around the lake. Herons can be seen hanging around in areas that would normally be woods, while the sand bars they usually occupy are no longer in shallow water. I don't know if the fishing for them is better or worse.

My garden, too, would like to see a little more sun. The bee balm has mildew on its leaves and some of the shorter rudbeckia flowers look beaten up. The forecast calls for sun tomorrow. Shabbat Shalom!