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Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Gardener's Diary Archive: Life's for the Birds, May 10, 2015

I've been a pretty slack-jawed gardener this past week, though I can plead medical exigencies. Allergies laid me low for a couple of days early in the week as I did some more brush clearing for a neighbor whose yard she has let go to ruin the last five years.

Then I took a few days off to let my latest poison oak outbreak subside. That seems to be an occupational commonplace in the wilds of outer suburbia, where people who kept up half-acre lots when they bought them thirty years ago are now rather older and more tolerant of vines and creepers and general junk. I am thinking of looking for a goat to rent and see if it will do some of the remaining dirty work for me.

All of which made it a good week for birdwatching from my desk. Gardening pays even less well than bookselling, and I had to redouble my efforts this week as an order booked three weeks ago has not yet turned into a check in my account.

The Battle of Britain continues being re-enacted in my front yard, between the established Robin Clan and the Upstart Grey Mockingbirds of recent arrival. The male mockingbird took time out from harassing the robins the other day to tear after a crow; he was right on the bigger bird's tail a good two blocks before breaking off the chase. The crow hasn't been back.

Mostly the robins have decamped to the back yard, where the grub is plentiful and the mockingbirds infrequent. Housemate put a bird feeder out on the railing of the deck- a fine, philanthropic gesture.

For the squirrels. Where I have gotten used to one around and about since the Day of the Red-Tailed Hawk Luncheon- there are now four bellying up to the buffet like it's all you can eat night at the Western Sizzler. And in less than a week, the feeder has gone empty. But I keep my counsel. Sometimes it is better to let events unfold rather than predict the inevitable. It's not inevitable to everyone, after all.

It has been a big week for big color! A pair of eastern bluebirds I first saw a few week ago are regular front yarders now, and don't seem to vex the mockingbird cops. Their backs and wings are truly dazzling when they leap into flight.


Four purple martins showed up last weekend and have been strutting about from day to day since; for a while I thought they were immature crows, but finally got close enough to see the blue-black iridescence of their coloring.

Red birds are in vogue at the feeder: I've seen some summer tanagers this week, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker, with its little red cap on. Most surprisingly, today- after two days' off and on research- I confirmed a pair I first saw day before yesterday at the feeder are common redpolls: a striking bird way out of its normal range, though. Mr. Peterson says they are tundra dwellers, though they sometimes "casually move south" in the winter as far as these parts.

Summer tanager

Yesterday my neighbor, Mildred, came over to tell me about a harrowing encounter with a singularly ugly creature in her driveway. It turned out to a be an opossum in extremis: by the time she got one of the other neighbors over, he determined it had died and bagged it in a shopping bag before leaving it out at the street. Animal Control was called, and confirmed they'd be over within one business day, which, it turns out, does not include weekends.

This morning, under overcast skies spilling out from the enfeebled Tropical Storm Ana, I looked up to see a right large bird pulling the hapless possum corpse from its bag and donning a bib for the pending feast.

I've seen vultures way up in the air, circling lazily as they do in film and television; mostly I see them in that operating theater over a very large wooded area about a mile from where I live.

But this one just plopped down at the road's edge and tucked in for a good hour. When I looked up again, I had gone and the possum looked rather less plump.

An hour later, as I went to the kitchen, the vulture was back, this time with company: a black vulture, funereal as an undertaker and, by the look of their interactions, an alpha male undertaker-vulture. The turkey vulture kept getting the corpse by the tale and trying to drag it off; the black vulture just clamped down on the other and and pulled back. Eventually honor was served and hungers sated, and both vanished into the air.

Five new species in a week! That makes 27 since I started paying attention to what goes on around me six months ago.

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