Saturday, September 19, 2009

Baby Lizards, Baby Birds, and Baby Raccoons

The twins are back. I am watching their black-masked faces as they watch me from the table where I feed the squirrels. They pat around the table with their paws, feeling for sunflower shells that still have the seed inside. I slid the door open a few minutes ago to toss out some bread and cranberries and they scampered off, but now they've returned. They prefer the cat food, which I set out before I go to bed, but I don't like leaving cat food outside. Our neighbors bring home cats and leave them to roam, refusing to feed them, hoping they will take care of rodent problems, but instead the cats come to our house and eat the birds, so I try to avoid the cat food.

I nearly stepped on a baby lizard in my bathroom the other night. I was only half-awake, but as I walked past, I realized I'd seen to tiny black eyes staring up at me. I returned to the beige carpet and squatted down to look. Sure enough, it was a lizard so tiny it was translucent. I scooped it up in my hand and it did not struggle too hard. Either it was weak from being inside to long or it knew I meant it no harm. I set it outside the door and waited for it to scoot away to make sure it didn't jump back into the door jamb. It's so hard living here sometimes. I have to watch everywhere I step, check the doors before I close them, check my clothing and shoes for scorpions and toads. It's such a busy place.

The flock of brown baby birds has fifteen birds I discovered today. I did a very careful count. Most of them are babies. I searched and searched on the internet and finally found an exact match. They are Grasshopper Swallows, a somewhat shy and endangered variety of bird that has decided they are not afraid of me at all, though they're not particularly partial to my dogs. Chewy the chihuahua thinks it's funny to run to the sliding glass door and bark hysterically when the flock of birds lands on the driveway, so they will fly up into the grape vines, then fly back down. Then he barks and they fly away, then they fly back down. Then he barks and...

Last week, as I walked through the garage, I saw a grasshopper dying on the ground. It appeared to have a puncture in its chest and some of its legs were torn off, but it was still alive. I couldn't stand to see it in so much pain and I knew it didn't have long to live. I was frustrated and a little angry because I assumed one of the dogs had captured it and punctured its chest with a tooth. I scooped up the grasshopper and said a prayer, then dripped some sugar water nearby from the hummingbird feeder I had just filled. The grasshopper ate the water and died a few seconds later. Today, however, I learned that this is exactly how the grasshopper swallows kill their prey--they puncture the chest, remove the legs and eat the grasshopper. I think I must have disturbed a bird getting ready for dinner when I opened the door. The grasshopper swallows clearly explain why our property has not been over-run with grasshoppers in spite of the severe drought this year, and for this I am grateful.

I also realized today as I was researching birds that the smaller mourning doves that live in our yard are not small at all, they are babies! Mourning doves generally only have two babies at a time, and this is what I've seen, two smaller mourning doves hanging out with two larger ones. Generally, mourning doves migrate North in the summer and return in the cooler months. I think it's interesting that these mourning doves have stayed with us the entire year. Perhaps they thought it was safer to remain with a reliable food and water source!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hummingbirds and Toads

So many, many little birds. There were ten at the feeder again today, all day. It was pouring rain, and yet, there they were, chattering and fluttering about, moving gracefully in all directions as if they were dancing. I filled the feeder before I went to bed last night and it was empty again this morning. When I went outside to take it down, they fluttered around my head. Their tiny, yet remarkably fast-moving wings creating the so-familiar buzzing sound as they circled about. I will miss this when they move on. It is so precious to me that I dream about it at night.

It rained all day and Mrs. Toady climbed out of the toe of my garden shoe to watch. She perched in the center of the shoe, sliding back inside only once when the dogs stood too close for her comfort, but I really do not think she is afraid of them. She is so familiar to them now they are like old friends. She looked like she was captain of her own little boat as she sat in the center of the shoe.

When it grew dark, Mrs. Toady hopped out of the shoe and we watched from the den as she slowly hopped from puddle to puddle. It was still sprinkling, and she seemed to enjoy the rain as much as the splash from the sitting water. She moved into the backyard. When I took the dogs out for the last time, it was already dark and I didn't see her until I nearly stumbled into her. I knelt down to apologize and she patiently waited at my feet.

We stopped at a plant store this afternoon to pick up some trees we purchased this summer. In Texas, trees are planted in the fall, and since it's supposed to rain all week, this seemed like the best time. The store had begonias on sale for a quarter and I stopped to pick some out. I thought I'd pot them up and keep them on the porch where everything seems to grow longer, sometimes into early winter, enjoying the heat that radiates from the picture window.

As I lifted a plant pot at the store, a baby anole scampered across the leaves. I looked down at the shelf and noticed an adult anole at the base of the plant pot, watching. I waited for the baby to move away, then picked up the plant and noticed another baby still inside the plant! I tilted the plant sideways so the frightened lizard could hop down, then I noticed the plants were crawling with anoles! They must have hatched recently, because they were all very tiny and delicate-looking. I wonder if the larger anole on the shelf was their mother? She didn't move far. In fact, she didn't move away at all, but sat nearby, watching carefully. They really are such lovely little creatures.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Mysterious Red Hummingbird

I cannot even begin to explain this marvelous creature of God that has been seen floating past our windows. She is bright red, shiny, breathtakingly lovely. I am in awe of this delicate little creature.

When I first saw her, I thought it was my imagination. I've never heard of a red hummingbird. I've seen quite a few ruby-throated hummingbirds, and these tiny birds are also absolutely spectacular. But the red bird is...different.

She moves very quickly, of course, and I cannot tell for certain if she is completely red, or just has a red body and darker wings. Her color is different from the ruby-throated. It is deeper, richer. Her body seems to shine. It catches the light when she moves past, but she is so fast! I wish she would slow down so I could get a closer look.

The local papers keep warning us that the hummingbird season is over. Our sweet, little hummers are moving on, they say. But the activity around our house has increased, and to record numbers. Our back door feeder has between three and five birds flitting about at all times, and there have been many times lately when I have counted eight birds feeding at the feeder or chasing each other around the patio.

My neighbor's daughter comes to visit when school lets out. She loves to sit on the patio with me and just talk. She wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up, and she loves the hummingbirds. It is a magical place, where we sit and talk. The hummingbirds fly around us in circles, singing and chattering at each other, sometimes flying so close that we can feel the brush of air from their wings against our skin or in our hair. You can actually hear the movement of their wings when they are that close. It is a soft humming sound, like the sound of a bee buzzing around your head, but a bit louder, and yet, gentler, somehow. Such pretty little birds. Sweet, delicate, pretty little birds.

Friday, September 4, 2009

baby snakes and baby birds

I saw a tiny baby garter snake this morning slipping beneath the hundred year agaves. It had a yellow stripe down its back and two white stripes running beside the yellow, and its head was almost black. It was only about six or eight inches long. I heard it before I saw it as it moved across the dried leaves and mulch. When I knelt beside it and spoke in a soft voice it paused and turned its head toward me the way the baby lizards do when they hear my voice. Then the dog ran up beside me and the snake tried to climb the cement retaining wall, but it was too small. I told Buddy to sit and we both stood very still, watching as the snake tried to find its way to a safer place. It finally turned back toward me and slithered beneath the oregano leaves at my feet. It was so tiny, but I could still see the tip of its tail sticking out. When it was settled and confident that it was hidden, Buddy and I walked back into the house.

We have been tracking the birds around the house and I am certain now that the baby birds from all three nests are still living on our property. Some of them stay in the forest behind the house, but the small brown birds seem to be living in the trees in the front yard. The cardinals are starting to look less like teenagers and a little more like adults. They looked so awkward for awhile. They look far more mature now. I have to admit, though, that when their feathers were changing, they really did look beautiful in their own way. Innocent, even a little naive.

The hummingbirds seem to be increasing their activity, which surprised me. I thought they would be moving on by now, migrating further south, but they're not. In fact, we are seeing more of a variety. In addition to the ruby-throated birds, we are also seeing birds with sparkling green backs, and birds with gray patterns on their chest and throat. They are all so delicate, and yet, when they circle around each other, fighting for a spot at the feeder, they also appear to be tough and resilient, like little scrappers. I love watching them. There was eight of them at the back door this afternoon, swooping and diving and chasing each other. When I took the dogs out, they continued to fly around my head, seemingly oblivious to my presence. They fly so close to me sometimes that I can feel the air against my cheek from the flutter of their wings, and their song is a lovely musical chirp that is almost as delicate in sound as their tiny bodies.

I see more and more baby lizards each day, too. We had a record baby lizard hatching this year. I was working in the side garden yesterday, transplanting rosemaries, when I disturbed a tiny lizard with black stripes running down its back. I stopped to speak to it and it paused and bobbed its head the way they do when they hear soft sounds, and just as it started to move away I noticed a baby anole a few inches beyond us, and the large, dragon-like lizard who lives on the side wall scampered past and into the rocks, as well. I haven't seen the road runner in our yard since spring, which may explain why we have so many lizards running around.

I found two scorpions in the house this morning. One was on my yoga mat when I got out of my shower. The other was in the doorway leading from the den into the kitchen. I was worried at first that the one in the doorway might have stung one of my dogs because they were all acting a little strange, then I realized they were just whining because they wanted to go outside. The scorpion on the yoga mat was curling its tail, ready to strike my cat. The one in the doorway was lying flat and almost dead. I keep thinking they are slowing down because the weather is changing, but I guess not. I do love all of God's wonderful little creatures, but there are some that I wish would stay in the forest behind our house!