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

wren-june-11

wren-june-12

The nestlings grew bigger and bolder each day.

wren-june-13

wren-june-13

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

wren-june-16

By June 16th they showed signs of leaving.

wren-june-16

wren-june-16

And on June 17th …

wren-june-17

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

wren-june-17

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.

wren-june-17

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.

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?

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (and a Publication Note)

Heron May 7

I visited with friends last Saturday, sampling dishes of couscous and sweet potato frittata and chia seed pudding. After eating, we took a stroll around my friend’s yard, which slopes down to a watery area. A watery area with a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!

Heron May 7

My friend has seen these birds in her yard several times in the past, so we weren’t caught completely by surprise. Even so, I was very excited. (And very grateful that she had suggested I bring my camera.)

Heron May 7

We watched for a while as the heron hunted in the shallows.

Heron May 7

Then we wandered on, exploring more of the yard.

Snails May 7

Flowers May 7

Flowers May 7

When I was leaving, as we all stopped on the driveway to say our goodbyes, the heron flew into a pine tree in front of the house. To our amazement, it crept out onto a branch and settled into its nest! Right in the front yard!

Heron May 7

I’ve already packed my tripod in the car, so I won’t forget it next time I visit. The nest is too high for steady video, without a tripod…


Publication Note: My poem “Roads” posted at one of my favorite poetry sites, Poetry Breakfast, on May 9. Many thanks to editor Ann Kestner!

Warm and Cold and Warm Again

Weed Feb 27

The yard is warm and sunny today, sprinkled with blossoming weeds. A few weeks ago it was frozen and snowy.

Snow Feb 12

This year January and February saw days warm enough for house repairs (replacing wood damaged by carpenter bees), followed closely by days too cold for anything but reading and sleeping.

Damage 3

Bee

Ice January 18

Snow January 23

Some days were strangely confused, cold with bright sunshine or warm with dreary skies.

Vulture Feb 14

Seagull Jan 8

Bird Feb 20

Squirrel Feb 20

Sapsucker Jan 12

Robin Jan 20

Robin Jan 18

Our annual writers’ weekend at the beach brought a little bit of everything.

Beach Feb 1

Beach Feb 1

Beach Feb 4

Beach Feb 4

March will likely bring a little bit more of everything, but hopefully it won’t get fountain-freezing cold again.

Town Center Feb 11

Hopefully.

Sleep, eat, read… blog

Yard December 30

When I didn’t put together a blog post in late October, I resolved to make up for it in November. After November passed without a post, I planned something for December. And when January loomed with the blog still silent, I finally admitted that I had been neglecting more than the blog. I wasn’t procrastinating. I was depressed. Again.

Yard December 30

My inertia started with procrastination, but, as the days grew shorter and shorter, depression took over. In retrospect, I knew this all along. I tried to ignore the symptoms, but in mid-October I had quit doing most of the things I enjoy. The blog was just my most public absence.

Flowers Nov 9

By November, the yard and I were weather-worn and brittle.

Flowers Nov 9

Flowers Nov 9

Off and on in November I picked up my camera, took a few photos, and thought vaguely of how I would describe them in a blog post. Each time I decided to pay bills or clean out the closet instead. (More often than not, I then decided to put off the bills and the closet, too.) So this photo of spider eggs never posted:

Eggs November 24

Nor this exquisite moth:

Moth Sept 17

I woke briefly in mid-November, when the Yellow-rumped Warblers arrived, but soon drifted back into my sleep-eat-read-sleep routine.

Warbler Nov 16

Squirrel Nov 9

Rabbit Nov 9

As December counted down, I told myself lies about how busy I was with holiday preparations.

Ornaments Dec 26 2015

I told others these lies, too, because they were easier than admitting to everyone that the holidays made me feel sad and lonely. That, despite my love for festive decorations, much of my nostalgia is tinged with grief.

Ornaments Dec 26 2015

During my lost months, I watched flocks of birds gather and move on, feeling each time as if I had missed an important message.

Flock Nov 20

Birds Nov 9

Crow Nov 9

Then, one bright and unseasonably warm afternoon, a pair of vultures paused over the yard, basking in the sun. These beautiful, under-appreciated birds sent me scrambling for my camera, something I had not done in weeks.

Vulture Dec 10

Vulture Dec 10

Vulture Dec 10

And on Christmas Eve, despite dreary clouds and a threat of storms, I enjoyed an afternoon in the yard with my camera.

Starling Dec 24

This time I felt closer to getting the message.

Birds Dec 24

In the after-Christmas lull, I slept and ate and read and slept, but there was a spark of something different in the routine. A current of ambition to do more than sleep and eat and read. As I put away our decorations, I noticed a pot of pansies that I had never planted. And all the empty bird feeders.

Muscovy Jan 3

On the first Sunday of 2016, I took a walk with my old camera. As I photographed ducks and geese and seagulls, my internal dialogue became a patter of possible captions for the photos. That evening I edited the images with extra care, eager to post them. But I couldn’t decide how to post them. The blog had been silent for so long. Now that I was ready to post again, how should I explain my absence? Should I simply resume posting? Gloss over two months fogged by recurring depression?

Merganser Jan 3

If I tried to explain, would I be able to describe depression without being depressing? (I don’t believe I’ve succeeded, but I decided to post this anyway. Too many people avoid talking about depression for too many reasons, which makes it that much lonelier.)

Heron Jan 3

I’ve lived with depression (and its frequent companion–anxiety) for a very long time. Longer than I’ll usually admit. Compared to past experience, this bout was mild and short-lived. Now I’m making changes that should help speed my recovery. Over the weekend I stocked the kitchen with healthier food, started exercising, and spent more time outside with my camera. These are, I’ve learned, my best defenses.

Seagull Jan 3

So as January progresses, along with a more mindful schedule of sleeping and eating and reading, I’ll be walking and writing and blogging. (And renewing my efforts to learn meditation. More on this later.)

Mallard Jan 3

And as the days get longer and longer, I’ll start looking forward to spring. Because spring will come. It always does.

Mallard Jan 3