Feeding the Need

I’ve been known to spend a good chunk of time watching the buffet station from inside the back door, which acts as a “blind” most of the time. I say “most” because some visitors either hear me despite my best stealth attempts, or somehow sense my presence and in a whoosh, everyone leaves the scene.

For the past two days, I’ve assumed my post much like this Blue Jay upon a Quaking Aspen. Blue Jays have a reputation of being the backyard bullies, but maybe there’s more to them that we don’t understand.

Perhaps they don’t mean to be grumpy and scare everyone away. Do they really want to embrace their neighbors, but don’t realize that their own size or loud squawks only serve to make others flee. Probably that’s just my possible consideration because innately they know that by being large and obnoxious they can partake of the feast without competition.

Eventually, though, the jays fly off and the Black-Capped Chickadees return, doing their chickadee-kind-of-thing as they fly in, grab a seed, dash out, sit on a limb, break the morsel into digestible bits, and repeat. Constantly. They’re so cheerful about it, these feathered sprites, but it must be an exhausting way to get a quick spurt of energy between dawn and twilight.

What pleases me is that with the chickadees come the Tufted Titmice, who like the jays before them, like to pause and consider the possibilities before settling on the best feeder to visit.

Any one that offers sunflower seed seems to be the buffet of choice.

Not so for Downy Woodpecker who also pauses upon the aspen.

Fresh suet is her meal par excellence.

The nuthatches, both red and white, this one being the latter, also enjoy the sunflower seeds, but they’ve been known to hang out at the suet feeder upon occasion.

One who thinks he’s a bird manages to make a liar out of the “squirrel proof” baffle and then takes a flying leap to the “squirrel proof” feeder.

For the moment, he is indeed baffled.

But that doesn’t stop him and he moves on to the next feast with his name on it.

Acting as he should, the feeders openings close as the outer “cage” slides down preventing the squirrel from dining. Surely it’s a success?

Kinda, sorta. He succeeds in opening the top, but fortunately, he can’t reach the seed and I learn a lesson: Don’t fill the feeder to the top and the squirrel won’t be able to show off how much of a glutton he truly is.

But, squirrels need to eat as well, so I do make a habit of spreading seed on the ground, which others like the Northern Cardinals appreciate. And I appreciate the color they add to mix.

Other ground feeders include the turkeys.

The neighbors’ dogs also like to snack when they think no one is looking, this being Finn.

His sister by another mother . . . and father (but don’t tell either one), briefly considers the suet, but then moves toward home when she hears her name called–not immediately, mind you, for she likes to test the limits.

One of the best ground feeders, however, comes by himself and takes off when others arrive. The Common Redpoll is hardly “common.”

And I have to wonder what passes through its bird brain, perhaps something like this, “Oh drat, I just stepped in turkey scat.”

Another favorite also likes feeding on the ground, in particular the females of the species.

I think that’s because the male Evening Grosbeaks hog the platform of the feeder above. They give her a talking to as she tries to land.

Other males are welcome . . .

time and again. And still the original two males remain in place.

In the end, in a defiant manner, she gains platform status on the other side.

And I gain more and more understandings for the more I watch the more I see, like the hierarchy that defines the behavior of the chickadees, turkeys, and grosbeaks; titmice are quick, but not as quick as chickadees; Downy Woodpeckers, like their Hairy cousins, always announce their arrival; Northern Cardinals do the same, but in a quieter fashion and tend to visit more often in the early morning and late afternoon light; while the Red-breasted Nuthatch performs a quick “Dinner-To-Go” stop, its White-breasted cousin likes to hang, upside down, of course, for minutes on end, and rather like the Blue Jay, clears the queue; Squirrel-birds love the challenge and in time will always find a way around the human’s attempt to baffle them; the neighbors’ dogs are harmless, but neighborhood cats can mean disaster; “common” should not be part of a common name; and ways of approaching and even timing of approach are all species specific; and color and drama are icing on the cake. This doesn’t even include the nighttime visitors, but when I turn on the light or check tracks in the snow come morning, I discover that deer, porcupines, raccoons, opossums, and foxes also stop by.

Feeding the need means more than that of my feathered and furred friends, for by feeding them, they also feed me.

Cheap Seats

Setting: A backyard in western Maine on what some might consider a bleak spring day, e.g. a snowy April 8th.

(Cock-eyed bird feeders indicative of ground thawing—really)

Act I, Scene i: I must wonder when “In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.” This one, however, marched on, soon to leave, not once uttering, “Nevermore.”

Act II, Scene i: (enter stage left), And then said one Junco to another, “Junco, Junco, wherefore art thou Junco?” (exit center stage only when sliding snow falls from the roof and lands on the ground with a smack, thus startling all)

Act II, Scene ii: (enter stage right) Where there’s a Junco these days, so is there a Song Sparrow, its conical beak ever ready to crack open a seed. (exit stage left after chasing the Juncos around)

Act II, Scene iii: (enter stage left, right and center) Not to be left out of the gang, Black-capped Chickadees flew in and out at a much quicker pace, grasping a seed and taking it to a Lilac branch to break it open. (exit stage left and then fly in and out, over and over again.)

Act II, Scene iiii: (enter stage right) Making noise as he arrived, a Downy Woodpecker showed off his preference for suet over seed. (exit stage left, with undulating flight)

Intermission: All goes silent as the lights go up in the theatre and in flies a Barred Owl. (finally)

As often happens during Intermission, the owl looked about at the offering of treats. 

He checked the cupcakes and cookies on sale to the left. 

And then he turned his focus to the right, where the drinks were on tap. 

He even checked out the items below his feet, hoping upon hope to find a morsel to his liking.

Despite all the choices, or maybe because of them, he had to stretch out one leg . . . 

and scratch an itch. 

Eventually he changed his orientation to take a better look at the entire spread of food. 

But still, he couldn’t make up his mind and so he looked some more. 

And swiveled his neck around. 

By the time intermission ended, he hadn’t made up his mind and so he moved off without munching any of the specialty items. 

Act III Scene i: (enter stage left, right, and center) The large flock of Juncos flew in, flew out, and flew in again. (exit the same way came in, dispersing in every direction)

Act III, Scene ii: (enter stage left) From the shrubs we hear the song first and then Mr. Cardinal flies to the Lilac. (quickly exit stage right)

Act III, Scene iii: (enter stage left) Mrs. Cardinal arrives only after her guy has flown off. She shows her determination to dine on some morsels of corn.

Act III, Scene iv: (stay on stage, move to the right, then turn sharp left) Showing her determination, she lets nothing stop her. 

Act III, Scene v: (center stage) With a kernel of corn in her beak, she shows off her success. (exit stage right as she searches for her Mr.)

Act IV, Scene i: (enter stage left, right and center) A repeat performance of the Juncos and Song Sparrows (exit every which way when the snow once again flies off the roof)

Act V, Scene i: (enter stage right) With its own flash of color an American Robin pays a brief visit to the stage (exit stage left)

Act V, Scene ii: (enter stage left) With its breast not quite as vibrant, a Red-breasted Nuthatch ponders the possibilities. 

Act V, Scene iii: (center stage) And a decision was made, a morsel of suet consumed. (exit stage right)

Act V, Scene iv: (enter stage right) Waiting until almost the end of the performance, a pair of Tufted Titmice flew in, grabbed a quick bite, and flew off again in the direction from whence they’d come. (exit stage right)

Act VI, Scene i: (enter stage right) Outlasting his Junco relatives, the Song Sparrow continued to eat . . .

Act VI, Scene ii: (center stage) and eat evermore, whether a caged bird or not. (exit stage right)

Act VII, Scene i: (enter stage right) And then a Hermit Thrush sat upon the Quaking Aspen sapling to mark the final act.

Act VII, Scene ii: (center stage) Its upturned bill will soon provide us with the most beautiful, yet hauntingly exquisite song; clear, musical phrases will blend brilliantly as ethereal, harmonious tones. Spring really has arrived in western Maine. (exit stage left)

Grand Finale: (center stage) Spring arrives in its own rendition each year. And the Barred Owl watches.

We watched as well, thankful for the cheap seats that turned out to be the best seats.

Seeing Red

I wander through the same woods on a regular basis, sometimes following old logging roads and other times bushwhacking through the understory–a mix of young conifers and hardwoods that are slowly reclaiming their territory. Always, there are water holes to avoid as this is a damp area, so damp that in another month I probably will have to curb some of my wandering habits because it will become difficult to navigate.

h-maleberry-buds

But it’s that same water that gives life to the flora and fauna that live therein, such as the buds on the maleberry shrub. Notice how downy the twig is. And the bright red bud waiting patiently within two scales–preparing for the day when it will burst forth with life.

h-maleberry-pods

On the same shrub exists evidence of last year’s flowers, now capsules reddish-brown and five-celled in form.

h-red-maple-buds

And like the maleberry buds, the red maples buds grow more global each day, some with three scales of protective covering and others more.

h-snowflakesbuds

Today was a day of contrasts, from sunshiney moments to snow squalls, as well as greens to reds, tossed in with a mix of browns and grays.

h-moose-scrape

Continuing my venture, I soon realized I wasn’t the only one enjoying red. The moose and deer with whom I share this place, also find it a color of choice–especially the bark of young red maple trees.

h-moose-scrape-2

As I looked at the tree trunks, I could sense the motion of the moose’s bottom incisors scraping upward and then pulling against its hard upper palate to rip the bark off. Everywhere I turned, the maples showed signs of recent scrapes.

h-moose-rub

Less frequently seen were antler rubs such as this one, where the middle was smoothed by the constant motion and the upper and lower ends frayed. Such finds offer noted differences between a scrape and rub–the former has tags hanging from the upper section only and the teeth marks stand out, while the latter often features a smooth center with the ragged edges at top and bottom. But . . . like us, nature isn’t perfect and not everything is textbook, so I often have to pay closer attention.

h-moose-bedscat

I saw more than red and so I could hardly resist a moose bed filled with scat and urine. I’m always in awe of the sense of size and again I saw motion, of this large mammal laying down to take a rest and perhaps a few hours later, getting its feet under itself to rise again, do its duty and move on to browse some more.

h-witch-hazel-scattered

Deer tracks were even more numerous than moose and the solidness of the snow allowed them to travel atop the crust. At one point I spied something I didn’t recall seeing before–witch hazel capsules decorating the snow.

h-witch-hazel-pod

At this time of year, these grayish tan capsules persist on the trees, but their work was completed in the fall when they expelled their two glossy black seeds.

h-witch-hazel-bud-nibbled

Ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and snowshoe hare like witch hazel buds. As do deer, who rip them off in the same fashion as a moose and leave a tag behind–as a signature.

h-witch-hazel-bud

Not all were eaten–yet. Notice these buds, ensconced in dense reddish/yellowish/brown hairs rather than the waxy scales of the maleberry and maple. And the shape extending outward from the twig, almost in scalpel-like fashion. Yeah, I was still seeing a hint of red.

h-witch-hazel-flower-bracts

If I wanted to carry my red theme to the extreme, I could say that the bright yellow bracts that formed the base of the former flowers were framed in red, but really, it’s more of a hairy light tan along their rims. Eventually, the bracts will develop into seed capsules and next autumn they’ll be the ones to shoot their seeds with a popping sound. We always talk about that sound and refer to Henry David Thoreau for as far as I know he was the one to first hear it. This past fall, a friend tried this and like Thoreau, he was awakened during the night by the seeds being forcibly expelled. (Credit goes to Bob Katz for that experiment.)

h-british-soldiers

Back to red. Under the hemlocks where the deer had traveled, I was looking at some mosses when these bright red soldiers showed their cheery caps–it’s been a while since I’ve seen British Soldier lichens, most of it buried beneath the snow.

h1-red-oak-bark

As I headed toward home, a red oak beside the cowpath asked to be included. It seems in winter that the rusty red inner bark stands out more in the landscape, making the tree easy to identify. Of course, don’t get confused by the big tooth aspen, which slightly resembles a red oak at the lower level, but a look up the trunk suddenly reveals similarities to a birch.

h1-acorn-cap

Many of the acorns have been consumed after such a prolific year, but their caps still exist and the color red was exemplified within the scales.

h1-icicles

Back at the homestead, I walked by the shed attached to the barn where icicles dripped–again speaking to this day. By that time the snow squalls had abated and sun shone warmly, but a brisk wind swirled the snow in the field into mini whirling dervishes. My cheeks were certainly red.

h-cardinal

My red adventure was completed at the bird feeder. A happy ending to scenes of red.