Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Messenger from the Treetops... Yellow-throated Warbler

Yesterday, Julie and I enjoyed a quick hike around San-Lee Park while the boys played a little tennis across town. Even at our brisk pace, the wooded trails were chilly, so when we completed our loop, we paused to enjoy the sun on a bench by the falls. We'd barely settled on our benches when this strikingly clad character appeared at the water's edge.

an outstanding educational website maintained by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, has this to say about our little friend... 

"...the Yellow-throated Warbler is a bird of tall trees. It nests and forages high in the canopy of swamp and pine forests."

There were plenty of magnificent pines along the ridge above the dam, so we couldn't help wondering what had enticed this tiny little bird of the tall trees down to the level of we earthbound mortals. 

 Was it the cloud of small flying insects swarming near mid-stream?

Was it the cool, clear waters of the stream, hurrying briskly away from the falls?

Or maybe it was the warm, sunlit meadow, bordered by bushes dense with just-budding branches? 

Perhaps they were all conspirators,
the babbling brook and the sunlit meadow and the bushes and the bugs, 
in luring the lovely forest dweller down. 

Whatever the reason, we were more than delighted to share our space by the stream,

as the excitable fellow flitted from branch to bridge to signpost to stone at the water's edge and back, 

before making the rounds again...

and again!

And when at last

he settled briefly in the shrub's sunny uppermost branches, 

cocking his head and setting his sights again on his faraway home in the canopy,

the mystery of this rare and wonderful encounter

with the lovely little warbler remained;

a simple gift of beauty and wonder, 

and a gentle reminder from above, 


that the forest and the meadow and the stream are both warbler's home and ours...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Flying Fisher

Cousin Danny spent some time communing with the ospreys this week, 
and he was kind enough to freeze a few frames for his friends at Hoot Owl Karma. 

Raptor royalty, 
effortless flyer,
gliding majestically above the rushing waters, 
oblivious to the raucous mob of gulls so boorishly wheeling and reeling and diving 
and ceaselessly calling their coarse hellos.

Omniscient osprey, 
head on a swivel, 
ever vigilant, 

perceiving the most fleeting flash of scale or fin; 
wings gathered, frozen in flight,
defying gravity,

and then...

the dive!

Another thrilling finish;
one in a never-ending series of exhilarating encounters 
awaiting those with the will and the courage to take the plunge into the wild outside... 

Thanks for sharing, Danny!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pecans in the Wild

From its perch in a birch, eastern gray squirrel savors a succulent snack

a meaty pecan taken from its private reserve next door,
the fruit of a pair of massive pecan trees, 

lovingly planted sometime in the middle of the last century by the residents of a cozy urban cottage 
long since demolished in favor of another fast food joint;
property now of the urban wildlife league.

Tame or wild, 
natural or planted,
one thing is certain...

Nature doesn't end at the city limits.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Flying Pigs and Nesting Nuthatches

The advent of spring brings with it a plethora of opportunities for Hoot Owl Karma, and we couldn't be more excited! Today we spent a while investigating some intriguing avian activity at Papa Jim and Grandma Charlene's house.

The scrubby old oak tree in front of their house succumbed to a variety of natural causes a few years back, but my dad insisted on retaining a sizable hunk of the stump for more than just old time's sake. 

In the warm summer months, it serves as a sturdy plant stand, supporting a large pot in the center and four additional hanging baskets around the sides. In the winter, it serves equally well as a landing pad for the flying pig and a varied assortment of bird feeders, providing all manner of feathered friends the opportunity to dine in the company of the blue-backed porker.

This past fall and winter, however, a pair of birds became rather fond of the stump itself, traversing its surface from top to bottom, with a particular interest in the curious formation of mushrooms on its southern flank. 

In his daily observations, my dad wondered if they were searching for insects, or perhaps eating the dried mushrooms.
Eventually, it became apparent that their interest in the stump was more than culinary. 

Slowly but surely, peck by peck and speck by speck, the industrious pair was carving a tiny custom-made nesting cavity from the old, dry flesh of the oak.

Upon our arrival this weekend, the brown-headed nuthatches were busily foraging among the bark and cones on the stately long-leaf pine which stands sentinel at the corner of the front porch.

Although they loom rather large in the zoom of our lens, these beautiful birds are quite small relative to other common backyard birds, topping out at around four inches, about the size of the tiny Carolina chickadee.

Clearly still in the nest-building stage, this handsome pair made trip after trip to and from the pine next door, bringing small pieces of bark, straw and pine seed wings with which to line the nest cavity.

The brown-headed nuthatch was a relatively common bird of my childhood in the Sandhills, and its range is confined to the pine woods of the Southeastern US like those found in our Sandhills region. Its numbers have been in steady decline since the mid-1960's along with the decline of its traditional pine savannah habitat.

Its cousin, the white-breasted nuthatch (pictured below), shares both physical similarities and similar habits, but is notably larger, lacks the brown cap, and is more commonly associated with deciduous forests. As a result, it is much more widely distributed and relatively common throughout North America.

Both the male and female brown-headed nuthatches are actively engaged in nest-building on this sunny afternoon,

and although the general physical appearance of male and female are identical,

these two individuals can be distinguished by differences in the size and shape of the white patch on the back of their heads. As to which is the male and which the female, however, we'll leave that question for the true experts!

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this nest-building enterprise is the siting of the cavity. As we approached the stump with our camera, having already been told where to look, it took nearly half a minute for our eyes and brains to apprehend the opening, so perfectly was it situated on the craggy bark in the shadows of a multitude of shelf fungi. 

And even as the birds peer from the opening, their brown caps and white throats blend perfectly with the brown fungi and sun-dappled dead gray bark, rendering them virtually invisible to all but the keenest eyes.

We snap a few more shots and prepare to head for home, awed and inspired once more by nature's ingenuity,

and grateful for family and friends who share our enthusiasm for the natural wonders that await just outside the door.

Spring is here, so why not open the door, step over the threshold, and join us in exploring the wonderful surprises it brings!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Silently Speak the Daffodils

Some twenty years or so ago, my family embarked on a pilgrimage of sorts;
a journey to the site of the Farm, a magical land at the heart of many of my favorite tales from my dad's childhood. The Farm was the homestead of Colonel Lodowick Meriwether Hill, located a few miles outside the town of Washington, in the rolling red clay hills of Wilkes County, GA. 

In the days of my father's youth, the farm belonged to his Grandfather and Grandmother Anthony, and my dad had woven many a fascinating tale for my siblings and me of the huge house with many fireplaces and more than a dozen rooms and wide porches all around and the huge barn from which he would leap with his cousins and the children of the household employees during blissful summers spent at the Farm.

On a warm winter day in February, 1996, descendants of the Hill family from England and California and Florida and South Africa and the Sandhills of North Carolina and places beyond and around and in between, gathered among the tombstones of the Hill family cemetery and together gave witness to the place and the people which had previously existed for me only in the words of the storyteller.

The farm and its vast holdings of land had been sold, and the grand old house and barn were no longer standing, but the spirit of the place remained; 

resurrected in the voices and the laughter and the tears of reunited family and friends, 

and in the clumps of silently eloquent daffodils...

I think of the Farm and those daffodils every year around this time, as I make my way about town and along the rural byways all around my own humble homestead. 

The old field daffodils are seemingly everywhere, 
announcing the arrival of spring, and telling and re-telling the same old tale:

A people once settled in this place. 
They planted flowers and stayed a while, 
and now they are gone...

but their flowers remain.

Early morning, on a vacant lot in downtown Jonesboro.

A little later, near the old Deep River dam in Carbonton.

Narcissus near where the original front porch probably stood...

Old fashioned double daffodils, many years removed from the pages of the bulb catalog.

A stone's throw away, on the shoulder of Carbonton Road (Highway 42).

Looking ahead to the Deep River bridge at Carbonton.

Just across the road, dainty golden trumpets...

Hiding near a thicket of old shrubs, more of the double daffodils...

Butter and Eggs, Scrambled Eggs, or Van Sion...?

Old names, old varieties, old voices...

Echoing the same old tale.

A little farther along, between Egypt (Cumnock) and the old Camel Back Bridge on Deep River.

Sounds the silent trumpet, solitary herald -

Where now the settlers, the builders, the planters? 

What of the house and the garden?

Naught now but empty spaces,

brown and gray and neglected, 

perhaps even poisoned...

and the daffodils.

Valley Road, just north of Sanford.

Another old home place...

Carbonton Road, near Cool Springs Road.

We hear you, silent sun-kissed dancers,

keepers of secrets and tellers of tales,

long and far we've traveled, restless spirits all;

you remind us both of what we seek, 

and from whence we've come.

That most rare and precious place;

a place to live and to love

 and be loved in return,

 a place called