wild birds


We have been lucky enough to have a pair of American Kestrels hanging around our property.  Also called sparrow hawks, these beautiful little birds of prey are favored by falconers.

Their favorite perch is the electrical wires that run the length of our property, and the ornamental pear trees that form an alle’e along our 900 foot driveway.

They will fly away as soon as the car approaches, almost racing it down the driveway  to the house.

In mid January, I was very surprised to see one of the pair sitting on our deck bird feeder. They have never come this close! In fact, the whole time the kestrel was puffed up in the falling snow, a tiny junco was underneath, on the floor, literally not moving– and doing his best to remain invisible! The kestrel diet consists of mice, voles, other small rodents, larger insects, and the occasional small bird.  I could almost see the junco heave a giant sigh of relief when the kestrel left!!! The junco can be seen  in the photo below, in the lower pot hanging on the railing.

The kestrel sat, surveyed the scene, and called to its mate.   I was very glad to have been able to see it up close and relatively still.

About a month later, as we were leaving the house, my daughter went out first, then came back in telling me there was something outside that, in one way,  I was not going to be happy about, but in another way, I would!

I followed her outside, and there outside the garage door, between 2 vehicles, was one of the kestrels, dead.

She was right, I was very sad about this, but happy that I would be able to inspect one at close range.

Being a bird of prey, it is against the law to keep him, but since he was right in front of the garage door, he had to be removed. I did take this opportunity to photograph, measure, and weigh him (for a future watercolor) .

I should have been a naturalist, I am fascinated by all things in nature, dead or alive. Death allows closer inspection.

This (and future posts) will include these discoveries- so if you don’t like dead things – heed my warnings, and go no further!!!

This poor kestrel, appears to be a male – males have a  spotted breast, females, streaked- another thing you can’t really see as they go zooming by!!  His dead weight was 3.8 oz, and breast bone was not pronounced, so he did not seem to have been starving. His weight fell on the lighter side of their usual weight range of 80g-156g, but still within the parameters.

After watching a documentary on falconers, it was interesting to learn that the handlers weigh their birds before each hunt, because if their weight is a tad too high, it will affect their hunting abilities.  So, as in the wild, the falcons have to be careful not to overeat.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered the beak was split in half. At first glance, I thought maybe he had crashed into the truck or garage while diving for food, but the break appears to have been there quite a while. Despite this deformity, he seemed to have managed quite well, up until that day!

The claws were quite impressive – for clutching dinner on the fly!

He almost appeared to have a lower lid that would come up to cover the eye.

Not a large bird, the kestrel measured 10″ from head to tail, wingspread from shoulder to shoulder was 6″ , wing tip to tip about 14″. Shoulder to wing tip was about 7  1/2″.  He had about 8 or 9 tail feathers, his lower leg from elbow to toe was about 2″.

Except for the split on the top, his beak seemed fully functioning and in good shape.

It looks like a total of 7 primary flight feathers on each wing.

A beautiful little bird,  I would have loved to preserve him – but it is against the law to have one, dead or alive, without proper license.

Since his death, I have not seen his mate. Hopefully, if she survives, and finds another life partner, she will return with him to our property.

 

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All is well, and never dull, here at Mountain Meadows this bright, sunny March morning……………………..

nighttime prayer

Whoa! What is that????

working on the "sanctuary"

Weeds grow well in the drought.....

drought plus aged tree equals only ONE!

vacancy

crow skull discovered

box turtle remains

more

the top layer just peels off, leaving the white carapace and plastron

And, if we hadn’t already figured it out…………Smokey is down the road to warn us:

Only YOU can prevent forest fires......!

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All is well, dry, windy and crispy, at Mountain Meadows this Labor Day weekend.

I first became enamoured of rural living when I was a child.

We lived on suburban Long Island, and grandma and poppy had a “country house”.  I longed for the summer, and the opportunities to go spend a week upstate, in the country!

It might only be for a week-  if I was lucky, I got to go for longer or several times over the course of the summer.

The most noise I ever heard there, was the deafening din of the crickets, and the cicadas’ hot summer song. The whippoorwill at night, and the occasional caterwauling of a bobcat were the evening sounds that lulled us to sleep.

So, when the opportunity arose, as an adult, to move to “the country” – we jumped at it and delved right in to our version of country living!!!

We are at the foot of the National Forest and couldn’t be happier!

Surrounded by farms, there are different types of night noises, and day time odors- something I never experienced in my childhood days upstate!

The sound of the river, after a rain, is one of the most peaceful sounds I know.

At night, we fall asleep to the hooting of an owl, and are awakened at dawn by the rapping of a woodpecker searching for breakfast.

On the down side, summers here bring the less than pleasant aroma of cow and chicken manure, and the flies that accompany that odor!

Autumn arrives with the sounds of gunfire- hunting season – one plus AND minus of living near the National Forest – or any wooded area out here!!!

Last night, the lowing, moaning, bellowing and constant mooing of the cows across the road, indicated that the calves had been separated from their mothers. I can look forward to that sad sound for a couple of days.

Two nights ago, the eerie yapping of a fox woke me from a sound slumber. He, or she, was pacing the treeline outside my bedroom window, vocalizing at the top of his/her lungs. I call it screyapping- it’s an unforgettable combination of screaming and yapping.

Deer speak also – usually only when scared- and as a warning to their herd. It’s also an unforgettable sound- a combination huffing screeching noise. Certainly worked on me, the first time I heard it at close range!!!

What I am hearing now, is the tapping of a chickadee or tufted titmouse as he opens sunflower seeds. The birds have discovered a wire planter on the deck is a handy implement for opening seeds. So, they perch, pound, and eat- all morning long! This sound is accompanied by the whistle of wings. The mourning doves have a distinctive sound when they flap their wings. That, along with their cooing, is a soothing sound I never tire of !

Although not as quiet as the sounds of the country of my youth, the sounds of this “country” have become music to my ears. Far from the cacophony of urban  living, the sounds that emanate from this Gap area, have become dear to my heart. I hope we never leave…………………………..

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Hoof & Feather Breakfast Bar!

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All is well at Mountain Meadows this brisk and sunny November morning….

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the hummingbird exodus. The males leave ahead of time, and the females make their way shortly after. We had a mass of females, who very vocally scrapped over who “owned” a particular feeder at a particular moment. I could tell they were nearing their time to leave, as the activity became more frenetic!

They all left on the 12th, while I was away for the day. About a week later, at least 2 more hummingbirds began showing up. I had left the feeders out, for any stragglers passing thru on their southern migration.

There were at least 2 females hanging around. I would see them together at dusk, heading for the treeline right near the house. There could have been more, but it seemed like only 2- but then, they all look alike!!!!

I was starting to worry, as the weather began to change a bit, after the first day of autumn. Some people take the feeders down, in an effort to encourage the little ones to move on. I have always left them up – the hummers have always moved on when it was time.

Last night, I was watching tv, and noticed a tiny bird just sitting on the feeder. She was puffed up, a tiny little ball of iridescence, quickly fading to a shadow, as the sun went down. Another female came twice to check on her and to try to get her to leave before darkness fell, but to no avail. The ailing bird sat there for an hour. I left the room for a  moment, and when I returned, she was gone. I looked out the window, and there she was on the deck, on her side and barely moving.

Just before dark, and her fall...

Just before dark, and her fall...

I ran and got a box, and a soft towel, and went outside. I thought she was dead, but as I gently picked her up, she let out a tiny peep, with a frail flutter of wings. That flutter had neither the power to lift her off my hand, nor the ground.  The day before, we had an inch and a half of chilling nonstop rain, she might be an older bird, there were alot of possibilities for her condition.

I thought about bringing the box inside, but instead, covered her up with the warm towel, with enough of an opening for her to escape, if she regained her strength. At this point, her leaving seemed unlikely. I left the box on the cushioned rocker, and turned off the porch light.

Early this morning, while the fog still covered everything, I ran outside to check the box, fully expecting her to have died during the night. I was very surprised to find the box empty!

It had not been moved or disturbed, and I did not see the tiny bird anywhere. It was 49 degrees, so I decided to refill the feeders for any remaining hummingbirds. As I removed the feeders, 2 hummers zoomed in and flitted around my head!! The perfect Disney-esque scenario would be that one of those tiny birds was the one I rescued last night!!  I will keep on thinking that, altho the likelihood of that being the truth is slim to none……..The one little hummer perched on the feeder right now could be…….

This warm energy drink will hopefully give these stragglers  sustenance for the long journey ahead! As much as I love having them hang around, they need to leave, and I will look forward to their return next year!!!!!

The hummingbirds have left.

They left on a day I was not home.

Maybe they thought it would be easier on me.

It was not……..

I miss them.

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A week after they left, a stray female showed up at the feeder. I hadn’t removed it, just in case. So yesterday, I made new syrup for the feeder, hung it up, and my hand was still on the bottle, when a hummingbird buzzed in for a sip! I don’t know if she is from my original crew, or just someone passing thru on her southern migration.

A friend on mine in the next town, still has hordes of hummingbirds scrapping over her feeders. That is their usual activity, when it is nearing the time to move on. So, I guess last Saturday was the time for my bunch to start the trek south.

I wish I had been home, altho’ I could tell they were getting ready. My regulars would follow me to the garden, and buzz around like giant bees. At times, they would perch, just above my head – one of the few times I ever saw their frantic wings at rest- and just watch me in the garden.

I worry about the last traveler, still hanging around at the feeder, but I hate to take the feeder down-she will need that extra sustenance for that long journey to South America.

I will miss them, and already have my next year’s calendar marked for their return!!

As soon as the hummingbirds left, some new entertainment arrived! Under the hummingbird feeder is a large patch of coneflowers.

An exuberant  “ti DEE di di” drew me to the window- and there was a vibrant male goldfinch balancing on the top flower. He stayed for an hour at a stretch, feasting on the  seeds. The goldfinches are now regular visitors. The window screen blurs his brilliance- but he fills in the blank  left by the hummingbirds’ absence.

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The other day, as I drove down the driveway, a massive bird in an old dead tree caught my eye. I ran in the house to get the binoculars and my camera. The neighbors have mentioned an eagle nest in the area. The property owner where the nest is, is very secretive of its exact whereabouts. Apparently, out here in the boonies, there are those who would shoot any thing that flies.

I think, the large bird in the tree, might have been a juvenile eagle. More likely a bald eagle than a golden, since a bald eagle is what has the nest nearby.  I could not get close enough, in the glare of the sun, to be able to tell for sure. He flew off, and is definitely larger than our resident hawks! I wasn’t able to get a good picture- (I definitely need a better camera!)

Juvenile eagle?

Juvenile eagle?

One of the larger hawks flew brazenly by us last night- low to the ground and within 6 feet of us and our dogs. This one is one of a pair of pole sitters, who hang out in the horse paddocks on a fence post, or on the telephone wires, waiting for dinner to scurry by in the tall grass! Another reason , if we ever get chickens, for a very secure, fenced in coop!

My favorite photo of all time- and one I have been trying for years to get- is the white heron. We have several blue herons who hang out at the river and soar over in the evenings, like prehistoric pterodactyls. I have never been successful in photographing them. As quiet as I can be, there is no sneaking up on them at the river. They are off before I can even focus the camera.

A week or so ago, while leaving a neighbor’s house, there in the trees, at the edge of the road, was a white heron!!! We stopped, backed the truck up, and altho he eyed us leerily, he did not move. I got my picture!!!! Woohoo!!!

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Our winged residents are a never ending source of wonder.

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All is well, peaceful and cloudy, at Mountain Meadows this Sunday  morning.

Last night, I had everything baked, wrapped, and ready to go, for this morning’s Farmers Market. The fog was as thick as pea soup at 5:30am, and the weather forecast was dismal.

I went back and forth between should I go, or should I not? Note to self, get phone numbers of the other vendors, to see what’s up! I am, apparently, a fair weather “farmer”, at best!

The daughter went into work and called at 7:30am to let me know it was raining in Broadway. Soooo, guess I ‘m not going to sell at the market, and  by a little before 9am, it was pouring here, so it’s a no go this weekend.

Took all the baked goods, and put them in a box to be mailed to my son on Monday. Somebody’s gotta eat them!!!

I am planning to be at the market next weekend, but the husband may not be able to help me – so we will have to see. I have my new canopy, and am much more organized!!! Don’t think I can raise and lower the canopy by myself tho – we need a practice run at home!! If I don’t go next weekend – it will be the following weekend for sure – I may actually have real produce by then!!! Once the gardens start producing, I’ll be out there every weekend! In these economic times, in a small town, it is easier to sell produce than lavender wands or apple pincushions!!!

By noon today, the sun was out, and the husband wanted to go to the co-op’s open house – free lunch and entertainment! Woohoo!!

We went, it was a very nice gathering of all the patrons of the co-op. For those of you who aren’t in the know (and believe me, I wasn’t in the know, til I moved here!) the co-op is the Rockingham Cooperative – the place where you get everything from farm machinery,  plants for the garden, farm supplies, animal feed and meds, and fencing.  You can also get local gossip, tips on a job, or the best place to buy something if the co-op doesn’t carry it!

Yesterday, the employees were furiously cleaning and painting and moving stuff around, to make room for the food and ice cream freezer. A little stage with a canopy for the musicians was set up outside, and straw bales for sitting lined the loading dock and parking lot. All sorts of items were on sale, the representatives from the main office and different suppliers were there with coupons and free food and drink.

The young man playing the guitar, was saying how it was so hot and humid out, that his fingers get soft and makes it more difficult to strum the guitar. He was on his break, on the long line inside to get lunch.

We got our pork sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches, mac salad and chips, and took our place on a straw bale. Ice cream sandwiches in 3 flavors were the dessert of the day~and a local country trio, or was it a quartet, serenaded us with bluegrass tunes.

I’ve begun to recognize a few faces – our neighbors were there, the lady from the thrift store, various Mennonite families, plus alot of local folk  I’ve yet to meet.

The local feeling is you don’t get much for free at the co-op, so when they are offering free lunch – you go!! I think that is just some gentle ribbing- the co-op’s the best shopping in town!!

I wanted to take more pictures – especially of the folk sitting on the straw bales, enjoying their food and their neighbors. But still being a bit of an outsider – I didn’t want to draw more attention by being intrusive and snapping too many pics! It was really a study in rural americana, hard working , regular people- not the fancy urban types you see within the Beltway or any metropolitan city or suburb. These are real people, that have been living their lives this way for generations- and it’s really not a bad way to live!

I love the co-op. As I ‘ve written before, when I first moved here, I was afraid to go in – I stuck out like a sore thumb, and felt I really didn’t fit in. And, I probably didn’t!!! I still don’t really fit in – but they know my name, and everyone is very nice and helpful – and it is one of my favorite places in town to go!!!

My dogs love it when I go there – and they KNOW when I’ve been there. They get giant dog biscuits – 4 biscuits- 3/4 lb each time. We don’t even have to weigh them any more!! Sunny even got to go in with me one time – and I could see the bells go off in his mind as he headed straight to the biscuit bin!! Soooo, this is where she gets them………….!!!

We headed home, and after stopping to rescue a box turtle sunbathing on the double yellow line(!), we  pulled in the driveway to discover the killdeer eggs on the edge of the driveway, have finally hatched! Eggs # 1 and 2  were running around, with mom frantically trying to protect them from the huge car monster.

The former occupant of egg number 3 was drying out in the hot sun, flat on the gravel, a little dazed by his efforts to break free. Egg # 4 had hatched while we were at the co-op. Number 4 was still wet  and exhausted – his little rear just clear of the egg shell.  Unlike  most other baby  birds, Killdeer hatch almost ready to run. They are fully feathered, and just need time to dry off , fluff out and recoup from the hard work of breaking thru a shell! They are a member of the plover family and look very much like the birds you see zipping along the sand on the beach.

As the hatching time grows near – the mother becomes more frantic, putting on her wounded bird act, to draw predators and nosy humans away from her nest.

When the first egg was laid, on May 20, we marked the nest with a huge orange traffic cone – so no one would run over the eggs. There is no real nest, it is just a depression in the rocks, always in the most inappropriate place – right along the edge of the driveway, too near the road for me! What are these birds thinking!?!?! Every year, we keep an eye out and search for the eggs, and mark it with a cone, much to the amusement of the neighbors, I’m sure!

We marked the calendar for the approximate hatching date from the day the first egg was laid- and it went a few days over . But, if you figured the hatching date from the day the last egg was laid – today was exactly the right day.

I’ll miss being on killdeer watch, but am relieved to be able to move the cone and not worry about someone running them over!!!

One of the baskets of goodies that did not make it to the Farmers market today!

One of the baskets of goodies that did not make it to the Farmers market today!

Big time Saturday afternoon at the co-op

Big time Saturday afternoon at the co-op

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musical entertainment

musical entertainment on the loading dock

Unappreciative, but rescued turtle!

Unappreciative, but rescued turtle!

parent Killdeer, doing the broken wing act, in an attempt to draw me away from the babies.

parent Killdeer, doing the broken wing act, in an attempt to draw me away from the babies.

Baby #3, almost ready to run. See egg #4 in the lower right corner?

Baby #3, almost ready to run. See egg #4 in the lower right corner?

#3, two hours later, with newly hatched #4

#3, two hours later, with newly hatched #4

Where's Waldo? Can you spot #2 (or is it #1) trying to blend in?

Where's Waldo? Can you spot #2 (or is it #1) trying to blend in?

Very vocal parent- when her broken wing approach didn't work on this pesky human!

Very vocal parent- when her broken wing approach didn't work on this pesky human!

Thanks for spending Saturday with me, an average day, in a small town, in rural America!!

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All is well, sunny (for a change) and peaceful, at Mountain Meadows this Saturday afternoon……………………



I have a long list of to-do’s today!!! But, a quick visit to my blogs is always a must before the actual day starts!!!

Yesterday was a peaceful, warm Sunday. We started the day by rescuing a starling who somehow got into the basement woodstove. The workmen swore to me, when the house was being built 2 years ago, that the chimney was securely capped to prevent this from happening!

The bird might have been in there for 2 days – or found a way to come and go. The husband just had wrist surgery, so he couldn’t climb on the roof to check out the chimney (and heights are not my thing – so you KNOW I’m not going up there!) He set up a safe trap against the stove door, and went outside to try and figure out if the bird might have gotten in another way. While all this was going on outside, the bird flew into the cage inside!!!

I took the starling out the back door and set him free – he was apparently none the worse for wear and he soared across the field to the safety of the trees! Good thing we had not lit the woodstove again!!!

Yesterday’s warm weather drew everyone to outside activites!

I planted my pansies in vintage pails, and some rosemary in the garden, while the husband painted some kind of salve on his flowering pear saplings. Over the winter, the deer had rubbed about half of his 36 trees – and  he was hoping that having wired them earlier and now applying this ‘paint’ would save the trees.

I took the horses out for their first greens of the season. Their paddock is always the last to grow, while the fields all around them turn a rich green – tempting and teasing them from over the fence! The grass is always greener, you know…………..!

I brushed the horses while they were grazing – still lots of winter coat to shed! The “old man” has 4 inch feathers on his legs in the winter! Note to self: don’t wear black while brushing horses – no matter how you try to position yourself in the breeze, the hair will ALWAYS find a way to adhere to your clothes!!!

Next on the list was mixing the horse feed. I am weaning the horses off the commercial food and making a blend of  a locally purchased and healthier feed with the commercial. So, dolly in hand – I dragged the 100 lb bag of the good stuff and the 50 lb bag of the old stuff and mixed them in a covered bin in the garage. That now sits next to the bin of feral cat food, which sits next to the cracked corn for the deer, and the wild bird seed!!! And let’s not forget the plastic tubs of plants waiting for warmer weather so they can be planted outside. No cars in MY garage as you can tell!!!

On yesterday’s list was – construct jumps and trotting poles for the daughter. That has been moved to today’s list – along with hanging the bird houses! Those are the fun things – the other things on the list run the gamut from go to the dump (ugh!) to go to the bank to dropping off resumes. Go, go, go, go, go……!!!!!

I guess that’s what I better do – or nothing will get done, done, done, done, done….!!!!!

All is well and busy, busy, busy, at Mountain Meadows this morning………

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