Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tiny Little Birds and the Squirrel by the Garage

I love the tiny birds that live outside my back door. Today, the light was perfect and I took about twenty pictures of the little clan. When I downloaded them onto the computer, I realized they're not just one type of bird, as I thought, but perhaps three or four different kinds of birds.

At the front feeder this morning I saw a bird I've never seen before. I heard it early this morning while walking the dogs and did not recognize its song. I knew it had to be a small bird because I couldn't find it in the trees. I tried to take it's picture many times, but as soon as I'd click the camera, it would disappear up into the trees. Then, while editing pictures of other birds, I discovered I inadvertently photographed the little creature hiding in the bushes. Using its markings, I am pretty sure I've identified it as a Carolina Chickadee.

There is a pair of gray doves that likes the front bedroom feeder now. I was walked the dogs down by the road and the doves followed me in the trees. I took some good pictures of them, as well. They seemed rather friendly. They sat on a large branch watching me for a long time, then followed us back to the house.

When I reached the house, I put the dogs inside then walked into the back yard to check the bird seed and I was "flocked"--a small flock of birds fluttered up and around me and into the trees. I love when that happens. It's like being surrounded by tiny angel wings.

There is a male squirrel who prefers to eat alone out of a clay pot tray that I fill with seeds and keep near the back garage. When it is empty, he pushes the tray through the fence, or flips it upside down as if leaving me a message. Today, it was buried in the dirt. He's never done this before. I was really surprised. It seems somewhat out of character for him and I'm not sure he did it. A little mystery...

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Small Herd of Deer

It has been raining for days. When I took the dogs out this afternoon Chewy the chihuahua immediately ran to the front where he could keep his paws dry by standing beneath the overhang of the roof. The chocolate labs quietly made their way down the driveway, sniffing here and there, glancing over at the front lawn then back at me, looking rather sheepish.

I sensed that there was an animal in front, most likely a rabbit, and that they wanted to bark and chase, but knew this would make me unhappy. They reached the end of the driveway and stood very still, staring, waiting.

When I reached the end of the driveway, I suddenly understood. On the side of the house, near my bedroom window, a small herd of deer was standing in the rain and lying down on the grass. I could see a small, brown fawn lying near its mother and a taller female standing just a few feet from my labs. They were all holding very still, but they weren't watching the labs. In fact, they seemed to sense that Buddy and Holly did not intend to harm them. They weren't watching me, either. They were watching Chewy...and this was probably very wise!

I quickly took a picture then called to Buddy and Holly who immediately turned and followed me to the back door. I was hoping to attract Chewy, who loves to chase the larger dogs and generally does not allow them to beat him to the door, or anywhere else. Unfortunately, just as he turned to watch the labs race up the driveway, he caught sight of the deer and raced down the stairs--suddenly quite willing to dampen his paws--chasing the deer back into the forest.

I was heartbroken. We have lived in this house for four years now and often see droppings or signs that the deer have slept in front of our house, but rarely see the deer themselves. Ever since I have returned from Colorado, though, the deer have appeared in front of the house nearly every day. I feel as if they are trying to connect with us somehow, and the dogs are getting in the way! I think I will start searching for them in the morning through the windows before I walk out with the dogs!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Squirrels and Cardinals

Squirrels in my backyard. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

I was lying in bed this morning, watching a movie, when I noticed a squirrel hop onto the side of the bedroom patio trellis. I thought this was a litlte strange so I leaned forward and looked out the window. I couldn't see any other squirrels, though I assumed it was another male chasing the squirrel away. A few minutes later, it happened again, then again. I stood up and walked to the window, careful to stay to the side so they wouldn't see me, and then I saw a deep red, large male cardinal flying onto the patio, chasing the squirrel away from the food dish. I quickly ran outside and refilled the bird dishes--they seem to eat more when it's cold outside and we've had very cold weather the past few days.

This isn't the first time I've seen a bird chase squirrels away. We had two bluebirds in the backyard last year and they would chase the squirrels away from the corn cobs. They would wait until the squirrels loosened the corn nibs with their teeth, chewed out the white section then dropped the rest back onto the tree branch, then the birds would chase off the squirrels and eat what was left of the corn niblet.

The cardinal surprised me, though. I've never seen them chase squirrels. In Colorado, I watched a squirrel in the park who liked to run up the trees and chase away the crows, but the birds chasing the squirrels seems odd as the squirrels are so much larger.

Male cardinals can be very aggressive, though. In the spring, during mating season, they attack each other often, trying to establish a heirarchy in their tiny flocks as well as fighting over females. We often have bird strikes on our huge picture windows and more often than not it is the cardinals. They see their own reflection, puff out the chest and attack. We even saw a cardinal attacking the side mirror on my husband's truck once. It would back off, then dive, back off, then dive. It may sound funny, but it's a serious situation for the birds as they can easily break their own necks.

This has happened a few times in the four years we've lived in the house. I have a small animal cemetery beneath the wysteria vines. I bury them with cards that my artist-sister made with drawings of angels and a little seed, then I pray over thier grave. I know some may find this eccentric, but I believe all God's creatures deserve to be recognized for the contribution they made on this earth and honored for their beauty and grace, their precious gifts from God that make them gifts from God to us.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Deer, Squirrels, Grocery Store Sparrows and Grackles

I woke up this morning to the glorious sound of rain, reached for the cord on the blinds and gave it a good, hard tug, and as I did so, I thought, "What are you doing? You always open the blinds slowly so you don't frighten any animals standing by the pond!" And, of course, there was a small herd of deer standing just outside my bedroom window!

They didn't run off. They stood and stared at me for a few minutes as I took pictures then wandered into the forest when I ran to fetch my husband to share the experience. They were lovely, calm and graceful creatures, such wonderful gifts from God.

The squirrels are back in full force. I knew they would return as soon as they realized I was home. They spent the morning scampering up and down the tree branches and one sat on the back porch munching on sunflower seeds until she had cleaned out the entire dish. She appears to be pregnant. There doesn't seem to be a pregnancy "season" for squirrels around here. They seem to have babies year-round.

We went to the store and the grocery store was filled with the sounds of sparrows chattering as they flew back and forth amongst the metal rafters. I think they come in and out through the huge windows on the ceiling, but that could also be where they keep their nests. It amazes me how many birds live in the grocery stores out here, and no one seems to mind that they can't here the drone of the elevator music over the lovely bird songs.

In the parking lot, two grackles hopped nearby as we unloaded our groceries into the truck. I took out my camera and they moved even closer as if they were posing for shots. They really are lovely birds with their many shades of brown and black. I like the way the chocolaty feathers on their necks blend into the black feathers on their backs. Very pretty.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I've been home for five days and it's taken that long to convince the birds and squirrels to return. My husband leaves seeds on the picnic table, but I know all the secret places the little creatures like to eat, the safer places that offer more protection. I leaves sunflower seeds behind the fence beneath the half-dead tree for the male squirrel who lives near the second garage and sunflower seeds in a cup hanging from a tree just inside the forest for the baby squirrel born in the fall who is still too shy to come into the yard. The sparrows like seed on an easily-cleanable tray beneath the grape vines where they sit year-round, singing until nightfall when they hop onto the roof in small groups and fly into the forest to find safe places to sleep. The doves and cardinals prefer the picnic table in the backyard. They are larger birds and it provides a larger eating space.

The first night I returned I was taking pictures of the sunset in the front yard and spotted a young buck walking across the lawn. He stopped to watch me as I took a few pictures, then slowly walked into the woods. I set some corn out for him, but he hasn't eaten it yet. I think he's returned, though. There are a few spots in the grass where it appears as though a large animal has been sleeping.

I am surprised by how many butterflies I've seen considering it's the middle of January. It hasn't been terribly cold here, according to my husband, and last years torrential rains seem to have taken a break, thank goodness. There is still a little water in the creek bed, but the creek is not running and the water is filled with algae. Our two ponds in front of the house are sparkling clean, though. The fish and plants have a solid system going now.

I dropped my husband off for a haircut yesterday and drove down the road to see if I could photograph any vultures. I spotted two about twenty feet away from each other sitting on posts. I spent about half an hour photographing them. They were very cooperative! At one point, a truck driver honked his horn and spooked one of the vultures. Instinctively, I clicked the camera and got a shot of him spreading his wings, looking down at me. It looks very spooky...