Monday, December 8, 2008

Is it Spring Yet?

Last July I wrote about concerns for our bluebird family that always nested in the barnacle house in the corner of our vegetable garden because they chose an alternate location for their third nesting. I finally got around to checking inside this house over the weekend and can report good news. I did NOT find any mites or wasp nests or any broken eggs! What I found was LOTS of nice clean nesting material (mostly dried grass) which consisted of at least two 4-inch nests piled on top of each other. If the birds would have made their third nest on top of this collection the newly hatched babies would have been dangerously close to the entrance hole and may have made their first exit into the world too early!

It was always my theory that one reason it is an advantage for birds to build in a “deep” cavity (and the reason bluebird boxes are designed with the entrance hole approx 8” above the bottom) is because it gives the babies a chance to flutter around and play before they can even think about leaving the nest. This activity helps develop and strengthen their wings so when they do leave the nest the very first time they are more likely to be able to fly UP and get into a relatively safer place vs DOWN where they are much more vulnerable to danger.

At any rate I was glad to see everything in the box looking healthy. I did not mention that what prompted me to check the nest was that Mr. and Mrs. Blue have been hanging out at the box lately. When they are not joyfully fluttering in and out of the box, one sits on top of the house while the other (pictured above) sits on the dried mammoth sunflower stalk next to the house. They sing and chatter to each other the entire time and since the weather had been very cold, then warmed up, I’ve got to wonder if they think it is spring? Maybe. But perhaps, they, like me, are just enjoying the coming of the new season, reflecting back on the past growing season, contemplating their successes and failures and how we can do it all better next year. While I realize they deal with the elements of weather every minute of their lives I will do my best to look after them this winter by providing cozy nesting places and fresh water. At the same time I am glad to be indoors a little more, have the time for more inward reflection from my little window here at MasterWorks Studios, and just sit back and appreciate the awesome power and beauty of nature.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Wise Visitor

A couple years ago we had some big problems with water weeds in the fishing pond on the property here at John's marble base studio. Long story short, this past summer there weren't many fish in the pond but there were LOTS of frogs - big frogs, little frogs, tadpoles and every size in between. One day as John was headed to the studio he felt a presence of something but he wasn't sure what it was. As he gazed around the property, there on the south side of the pond, in the branch of an old dogwood tree that had been damaged in the ice storm of 2007, was a large barred owl. When I say the bird was large, barred owls can get up to two feet in length and weigh 1 to 2 pounds and this one was on the up side of these statistics! As you can see in the picture, the owl had focused it's sharp eyesight and keen hearing downward into the water. It had discovered the frog smorgasbord! Before he knew it John witnessed the owl drop from the overhanging perch into the water, snatch a frog with its massive yellow toes, bring it to shore for the feast, then return to the branch to position itself for the next catch. The process went on for hours.

This owl visited periodically for the feast until the frog population corrected itself and it moved on into the surrounding woods for its normal diet of small mammals, bats, birds reptiles, amphibians, insects and earthworms. Last evening after I fed our 3 dogs we were taking a leisurely stroll and my Springer Spaniel suddenly stopped and gazed into a tree. I saw a quick movement but could not hear a thing. After a few seconds I saw our owl lift off, spread its wings and glide out of the tree and around the corner of our shed without the slightest sound. They are such lovely creatures. Can we learn a lesson from the owl? Some people say the term "Wise Old Owl" is not really true - that the owl is really not an extremely intelligent creature. But I disagree. This owl is a reminder to me of some of the most important things in life today: stay focused, supplement your diet with local, seasonal foods whenever possible and fly quietly to leave a small footprint on the earth.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Other Flying Creatures

Now that the hummingbirds have left us my attention turns to other things that fly the skies at MasterWorks Studios. For the last three years I have planted old fashioned heirloom zinnia seeds given to me from my St. Genevieve friends Charlotte and her mother Florence and each one of those years the beautiful yellow and black butterflies (shown in the image) visit the flowers in late summer. Various other species visit but it is not until mid to late September that the famous Monarchs fly through on their way to Mexico. How lucky we are to get to flag them on their way and what an amazing feat for these almost-weightless creatures to travel thousands of miles to overwinter and reproduce every year.

Before I sign off today I'd also like to honor another one of my new favorite flying things, the honey bee. Now I am NOT talking about the nasty little bees I call "sweat bees" that have given me the only two stings I've gotten in my life! The "sweat" bees are about the same size as the honey bee but are more of a yellow color vs the honey bee's golden tone. No, a honey bee is a very sweet creature that merely tries to make a living moseying from flower to flower gathering pollen to take back to the hive to make honey. As I was cutting back some perennials the other day I got one of those zoomed in views through some branches of one of these little fellows buzzing around a trumpet shaped flower, landing then tiptoeing around and all the way inside the flower until he disappeard. A few seconds later he emerged, covered with pollen. It almost weighted him down as he took off into the blue fall sky! The whole episode was almost as sweet as I know the honey he creates will be in my tea tomorrow morning!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bye Bye Birdie

It's mid-September, the time we say goodbye to our hummingbirds for the season as they prepare to migrate south. When we moved and set up John's sculpture restoration and repair studio out into the country an elderly neighbor told us that "out here" the hummingbirds have always arrived about the 15th of April and left September 15. Give or take a day here and there, she has been correct! It is so interesting and fun to observe the birds - from the first time we hear the buzz of the tiny wings in the spring until the last drip of nectar has been sipped in the fall, they provide better entertainment than any money can buy!

The season starts with a few birds - hungry and active from their long trip from South America. The activity slows down in early summer while they are nesting and finding nectar from real flowers. At this time we always wonder where the tiny, thimble-sized nests are, if we'll ever be lucky enough to see one and ponder how really tiny the babies must be.

Wondering is soon replaced with watching again as the babies start feeding, buzzing, bombing and chasing each other around the house. Occassionally they will hover at our window to let us know the feeders are empty and then play guard and chase when it is refilled. The little bird on the right, who we nicknamed "the Queen" stood her ground on the feeder for days in late August. Perhaps she was feeling the shorter days, cooler nights, or whatever magic it is that tells the birds "it is time to get plenty to
eat and plenty of rest because you have along journey ahead." God bless you and protect you on your trip little birds - we look forward to seeing you next year!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Splish Splash Birds Love Taking a Bath

It's been a beautiful summer here at Masterworks Studios and as September arrives it is still warm but the season is definitely winding down. Leaves are turning colors and although we can still hear various bird babies calling parents from their hidden perches in our giant cedars, all of them have left the nest. Looking back over the season one of our most joyful bird memories was the day John decided to turn over the old cement birdbath we had down at the Studios many years ago, scrub it out and fill it up with some refreshing cool water. It did not take more than an hour before a few of the little bluebird babies from an early nesting were enjoying a nice bath! Many birds have enjoyed it since including these two big fat robins that took a dip just yesterday.

We have provided water to the birds for several years in a heated "bath" close to the house but the birds do not visit it nearly as much or seem to enjoy it as much as this little retreat out in the more secluded "woodsy" area of our property. We may have to consider adding a heater to this special little watering hole over the winter!

Monday, July 28, 2008

More Bluebird Nesting Surprises

As I mentioned last week, bluebirds have nested here on the grounds of John's sculpture restoration and repair studio for at least the past 12 years. For the last few years we've hosted the birds for three nestings each year in one of the Louisianna cypress and Gulf barnacle bird houses similar to the one on our back deck being used by the wren family I mentioned on June 16. This year however, when the parents came back for their second nesting they seemed unsettled. They went in and out of the barnacle house but at the same time spent as much time exploring a house on our porch made by our friend Lyle. It seemed like something was not quite right with the barnacle house and that possibly they were looking for a new location. Sure enough, after a week of going back and forth they finally settled into the porch house and the picture shows Dad getting ready to enter the house during the consturction phase of the nest a couple weeks ago. At this point in time they seem to be sitting on eggs so we're glad that at least they are settled though we are still perplexed as to why they did not select the usual locaiton.
Of course one possibility is that there is a broken egg in the old nest or possibly it had gotten infested with mites. We will wait another week or so to check in the box for this sort of problem and try to resolve it. In the mean time my theory is that I planted my mammouth sunflowers a little too close to the front of the nest. At the time the birds were checking it out the plants were only a few feet tall but now they are over 5 feet tall and completely block the entrance. Birds and other animals seem to have instincts for things like this and I believe it is one of those cases where they just knew the plants might be a future liability - a way for predators to gain access to the nest and also hamper their own view of the nest and quick entrance and entry into their home.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bluebirds Find "Apartments" for their Babies

In central Missouri bluebirds are well into their second nesting and at MasterWorks Studios we have been blessed with bluebirds nesting in various places on our property since we moved to the area twelve years ago. Especially enjoyable is a pair that selects a spot in the corner of our vegetable garden where this "barnacle house" is posted. The birds do overwinter in the area but we don't start seeing them on a regular basis until March or April when they start making irregular visits to the house to claim it as their official spot for each upcoming season. By mid April they are usually starting to build thier nest and by sometime in May they are busy sitting on eggs and eventually feeding babies. Some years we have been lucky enough to see the sweet little baby heads peek out before their first flight out of the nest but this year this first group must have been a strong little flock. Before we knew it they were up in trees testing their wings and discovering the big world while all the time staying close to Mom & Dad in hopes of keeping their regular insect "deliveries". Bluebird parents are very serious though about the cutting apron strings and getting started on second and third nestings each season. They can sometimes be what seems a little rude to their young as they chase them away after teaching them all the required survival skills.

This year however John observed a different twist on the routine. From his shop window he could observe this gourd house we had put up over the winter and for several days noticed bluebird activity. We assumed a new pair of birds were about to start a nest but after closer observation realized it was the same pair from our garden site luring their young to the shelter as if trying to find them a little "apartment" where they could feel safe and rest - a little "home away from home". The babies actually did go in a couple times while Mom and Dad went ahead with their second nesting back at the house.
Next week: More Bluebird Nesting Surprises

Monday, June 30, 2008

Not One but TWO Wren Families

Monday again, time to get out my MasterWorks hat and webmaster tools and get busy. Reminding me that the first thing on the list is to report on the birds, "Mr. Music" is seranading me at the kitchen window. Mr. Music is the father of the family I wrote about last time. Believe it or not, in two short weeks, he and Mrs. Music sent off their first set of babies and are already setting on a second batch of eggs. The picture at the left shows Mom feeding one of the babies after a cool maneuver we had never seen before that I call "the handoff". One parent would fly by with a bug, and while in full flight hand it off to the other one that would be stationed at the hole. The bug then got passed off to a seemingly always-hungry baby.

On Saturday June 21 we woke up to find all was quiet at the house and we knew the babies had finally taken off on their maiden flights and were learning to find food on their own. The following day, as John walked to his shop he spotted what he though might be Mr. Music entering the birdhouse on on our back porch. After closer observation we discovered that the house contained another whole family of wrens. This batch was still in the feeding stage and as of this morning are all still occupying this sunny location.

Next week: Bluebirds Find "Apartments" for their Babies

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wrens - Today's Activities at the Nest

As the webmaster for my husband John's bronze and sculpture repair business, MasterWorks Studios website, every Monday I sit down to take a look at what needs to be done in the day ahead. Before I take this seat however, a few other things must be taken care of! These tasks include feeding our three dogs Chip, Birdie and Buster, our two parrots Donovan and Missie, seeing John off to the studio, watering the garden and tending to our outside birdfeeders. This time of year the rounds also include checking in on all the nesters on the property.

Today my attention is drawn to a wren family right outside our kitchen window. Mom and Dad have been feeding for over a week now and we can hear baby racket each time one approaches with a fresh green worm or other tasty morsel. The parents picked a great location - this little house made from Louisianna cypress and decorated with Gulf barnacles is 20' from our winter woodpile which hosts an endless supply of meals for the growing family. The little parents do not seem to get a bit of rest during the day! At least the babies are all inside the house for now. I always think about how nerve wrecking it must be when the babies first jump out, are discovering the "world" for the first time and the parents must keep track of them all going different directions. What a miracle they perform. When will the adventure start for this sweet little family? John thinks he saw a baby face peep out yesterday so their time to leave the nest must be approaching. Stay tuned!