The Rest of the Wren Story

In June of 2015, I noticed that one of the yard’s House Wrens had begun feeding a family of Northern Cardinal nestlings. (Read my initial blog post here.)

Nestling May 30

The adult cardinals, especially the male, were also feeding the nestlings.

Nestling May 31

In that early blog post I wrote, “I wonder if this kind of behavior is common. Have the yard’s birds been feeding each other all along?”

Cardinal May 11

In searching for answers to my question, I ran across the Tough Little Birds blog, run by biologist Katie LaBarbera. I contacted her through the blog, and she replied that the behavior was unusual enough to be of interest to other biologists. Before too long we had a short article ready to submit for publication. After peer review and a few revisions, the article was accepted by The Wilson Journal of Ornithology and can be found in the current (September 2016) issue: House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) provisions nestlings of Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

And now, as Paul Harvey might have said, it’s time to post the rest of the story…

wren-june-4

Back in June of 2015, while I was searching for answers online, the wrens’ brood hatched. For a few days the male wren stayed busy feeding both nests, dividing his time somewhat unequally in favor of the young cardinals. But something changed as the cardinals neared fledging. The last time I saw the cardinal nestlings accept food from the wren was on June 5th, and the last time I saw him approach their nest was on June 6th. (They greeted his visits on the 6th with silence.) On June 7th, the young cardinals left their nest.

cardinal-june-7

The yard stayed in a turmoil on the 7th, loud with the cries of hungry cardinal fledglings and nervous cardinal parents. (The male cardinal was particularly aggressive with larger birds that day, much to the dismay of a hungry brown thrasher.)

cardinal-june-7

cardinal-june-7

The wren, formerly so devoted to the cardinal nestlings, never approached the cardinals after they fledged. Instead he spent the 7th, and the following days, feeding his own nestlings. The young wrens stayed in their nest box until June 16th and 17th, eating spiders and praying mantises and a variety of other insects brought by their parents.

wren-june-10

wren-june-10

wren-june-10

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The nestlings grew bigger and bolder each day.

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wren-june-13

And their parents worked harder and harder to keep them fed.

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By June 16th they showed signs of leaving.

wren-june-16

wren-june-16

And on June 17th …

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They were out of the nest box, but they were still hungry!

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wren-june-17

wren-june-17

When they left the yard that evening, I felt bereft. As I always do when the yard’s children move on.

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I wished, as I always do, to follow the fledglings. Or at least to know their futures. Did any of them survive? Have they, perhaps, visited the yard again in the weeks and months since?

wren-june-17

Let me know if you see them.

2016 Hampton Roads Writers’ Conference

I quit writing this summer.

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Each time I opened a document, new or old, my inner critic won. Sometimes I closed documents without saving them.

robin-july-18

I avoided my notebooks, partial manuscripts, and poems.

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Something inside me whispered that my unpublished words were worthless. That no matter how much time I spent arranging them on the page, they would always be worthless.

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But then I went to the 2016 Hampton Roads Writers’ Conference.

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Where I remembered why I started writing in the first place.

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I remembered how stories haunt my dreams and daydreams. How the convection of my imagination brings characters and scenes to the surface over and over again, how writing these characters and scenes frees my imagination to create more characters and scenes.

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I remembered the shiver of recognition when lines and phrases turn to music in a poem. It doesn’t happen in every poem I write, or even in every tenth poem, but when it does happen it’s magic.

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I remembered how satisfying a difficult revision can be, both during and after the process. Like solving a puzzle or riddle. Pieces falling into place, sometimes falling into unexpected places. Creating order out of the chaos of previous drafts.

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This insight was alchemy, the combined effect of a series of excellent presentations and workshops.

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I can’t praise these presenters highly enough:

I’m grateful to Hampton Roads Writers for putting together such a wonderful conference.

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If you write, no matter what you write or why you write, check out one of the writing conferences near you.

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Especially if you’ve quit writing.

Lost Time

Squirrel May 2

Every so often, time slips sideways. One week it’s May, and the next week July scrolls into August. I have photos and bills to prove that June actually happened, but it happened in a blur of travel, home repairs, and unhoarding.

Rabbit May 11

My unhoarding saga began after Mother died, when the extent of her hoarding (and mine) could no longer be overlooked.

Eggs May 14

Mother’s hoard was generational. Parts of it accreted as she raised five children, other parts were passed down from two much-loved grandmothers, a formidable mother, a pair of admired aunts, and a somewhat difficult mother-in-law. With each obituary and burial came new photos, letters, books, furniture, glassware, doilies, and quilts.

Hoverfly May 14

The women who raised Mother had filled their homes with small treasures, and, because each of them had very real memories of hard, empty years, they treasured everything. Everything held a story, and all of the stories were passed to Mother (who had no siblings) for safe-keeping.

Ladybug July 15

Fighting her own memories of hard, empty years, Mother made room for everything, stuffing her house to the eaves with family history. She made room in her heart, too, and genuinely loved this patchwork collection of heirlooms.

Dragonfly July 15

She loved it, that is, until it overwhelmed her.

Swallow May 26

The hoard took over Mother’s house, just as my hoard was taking over mine. In her house, as in mine, cabinets were jammed full, drawers wouldn’t close, shelves bowed under their burdens, one entire room was given over to storage.

Ducks May 11

In the wake of Mother’s car accident and death, as I helped my siblings sort and pack five generations of Mother’s belongings, I resolved to make a change. I didn’t want to carry on this tradition, the death ritual of dividing the hoard. Treasures or not, I no longer needed or wanted most of the stuff I had been hoarding.

Robin May 24

Resolve is one thing, doing is another. And unhoarding is ridiculously hard work. It got even harder after I scraped off the easiest layers — books I was never going to read, clothes I was never going to wear, dishes I was never going to use. Then came the emotional stuff. Tattered childhood books. Scarred toys and threadbare stuffed animals. Memory-laden trinkets and gifts that warmed my hoarder’s heart.

Bee July 16

I spent hours and days and weeks putting off decisions, moving containers from one room to another, painting around them as I dithered. Some days I was tempted to ship them all off to thrift stores, unopened and unsorted. Other days I fought an urge to unpack everything, to binge on dusty memories.

Skipper July 8

But I don’t want to live in a box of memory. To be owned by the past. So this summer I’ve been cleaning and repairing toys and stuffed animals. Some few will stay with me, others will go to thrift stores. What can’t be salvaged will be recycled or sent to the landfill. (After being photographed, of course.) I’ve also been cutting up old books, calendars, and posters for use in current and future art projects.

Clearwing Moth July 16

Some memories I’m voluntarily discarding, others have been lost in the commotion. But the house gets lighter and brighter with each newly emptied container, with each completed project.

Carpenter Bee July 16

And it feels like an even exchange — memories for light. Time for time.

Tiger Swallowtail July 9

I think Mother would approve. I think all of them would approve.

Identifying the Birds

Cardinal May 23

Northern Cardinal

In 2012 I wrote a blog post about the Unknown Birds folder in my photography archive. The folder was over-full and impossible to navigate.

Robin May 24 1s

American Robin

I needed a better system.

Grackle May 20

Common Grackle

The obvious solution was to separate my Unknown Birds folder into a series of known bird folders.

Brown Thrasher May 3

Brown Thrasher May 3

Brown Thrasher

At first I tackled the problem in my usual way, with books and bookmarked websites and a notebook to keep track of everything.

Carolina Wren May 23

Carolina Wren May 23

Carolina Wren

Over time, I found that Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site was often the only resource I needed. Their “Browse by Name or Shape” page suits my learning style.

Sparrow May 3

Chipping Sparrow?

I still find sparrows, warblers, and chickadees endlessly confusing.

Unknown Warbler May 23

Blackpoll Warbler

Ruby crowned Kinglet March 13

Ruby-crowned Kinglet?

Blue gray Gnatcatcher April 13

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

But my Unknown Birds folder is almost empty.

Unknown Bird May 2

Still unknown. Probably a warbler, possibly a Tennessee Warbler?

Almost. The above bird has defied all of my attempts to identify it. (It also defied most of my attempts to photograph it, which is why my best photo from the encounter is poorly lit and out of focus.) So I’m asking for help. Can you identify my unknown warbler? Is there enough information in the photo for a definitive identification? Please comment, especially if you can correct or confirm any of my other identifications!

Finally, the following photos are evidence of what happens when I get over-excited about a visitor in the yard and forget to check my camera settings…

Hawk April 30

There’s more wrong than right in these photos, but I kind of love them anyway.

Hawk April 30

Cooper’s Hawk?

Polyphemus Moth

I spent much of Tuesday dodging rain, popping in and out of the house with my camera, hoping to catch a photo of our returning hummingbirds. The hummingbirds didn’t cooperate, but the yard’s other birds were quite willing to pose.

Warbler May 3

Brown Thrasher May 3

During one session of waiting and watching, a brief disturbance in the pear tree was followed by a grackle landing in the grass.

Grackle May 3

Just before I snapped the above photo, I caught a glimpse of what looked to be a rather large moth disappearing down the grackle’s throat. See all the fuzz on its beak? That’s moth fur. A few moments later an intact wing (and parts of other wings) drifted out of the tree’s upper branches.

Moth Wing May 3

After I finished photographing the wing, I noticed something else in the grass. Another moth!

Moth May 3

I haven’t seen a Polyphemus moth up close since I was a child. This one seemed stunned, letting me take photos with my macro lens from every angle. I have a suspicion that the grackle had just eaten her mate.

Moth May 3

She didn’t have any visible wounds, but she was clearly unable to fly. I let her climb onto my hand, then snipped a twig from the pear tree–something familiar for her to rest on as she recovered from whatever shock had knocked her to the ground. While she rested, I took a few more photos…

Moth May 3

The Polyphemus Moth page at the University of Florida’s Featured Creatures site explains the origin of the moth’s name: “It is named after Polyphemus, the giant cyclops from Greek mythology who had a single large, round, eye in the middle of his forehead (Himmelman 2002). The name is because of the large eyespots in the middle of the hind wings.”

Moth May 3

When it became apparent that my moth wasn’t interested in leaving her new perch, I propped the twig in my butterfly box and moved her into the garage.

Moth May 3

I meant only to keep her safe until an approaching storm had passed, and planned to release her after dark. (Polyphemus moths are nocturnal. Also, they don’t feed as adults. Their sole occupation after emerging is to mate and, in the case of females, lay eggs.) But my moth had plans of her own. By the time the weather cleared, she had begun laying eggs.

Eggs May 4

I didn’t want to disturb her during such important work, so I left her to it. By morning, I was the stunned one. So many eggs!

Eggs May 4

Eggs May 4

Eggs May 4

I’m planning to put most of the eggs back in the pear tree, when she’s finished laying.

Eggs May 4

Most, but not all. I can’t resist keeping a few. For documentary blog purposes…

Eggs May 4

Stay tuned!