Monday, May 4, 2015

Return of the barn swallows

Where was I during the Great Earthquake that occurred around noon Saturday? At my computer. I didn't feel a thing though Shanna and Josh did. There have been only two others here that I can remember and I only felt one of them. I don't think this one even could knock over a lawn chair.

Allie pushing her trike underneath the swallow's nest. They would ignore her but swoop down on me

Close up of one of the parents. They are pretty and very graceful. They have a very long forked tail.

Blooms are tulip sized. I showed this photo yesterday on my bike ride to 2 workers at a nursery. They were stumped

Barn swallow couple staring me down perched 15 feet away from the nest

Hummingbirds are back!!!!Most of them winter in Mexico and Belize (Naomi and I floated down a river through Hummingbird Alley in Belize one year). Hardest part of their journey is getting across the Gulf of Mexico. I've been feeling guilty that my little flock would struggle to return only to find the feeders gone. And how long will it take new hummingbirds to find my feeder here? I put out a feeder 2 weeks ago tinting the water red to attract their attention from afar (usually I just make colorless nectar). Saturday evening, a little male flashing his bright red throat (called a gorget) was at my bathroom window. He found the feeder just a foot away and just drank for the longest time. But as soon as we returned with the camera, he was gone. Didn't see him all day yesterday. Was all the other avian activity spooking him? I had moved his feeder away from the finch feeder. I have been thinking that the finches are so tiny but they look huge compared to a hummingbird. He was back last night oblivious to us enjoying wine nearby. The males come first. Cheep thrill for this one. Yeah I guess I am easily amused.

Barn Swallows: These are champion migrants wintering in Argentina. Presumably they fly 600 miles a day sucking up insects during breeding season. Do they put fitness trackers on them? I had noticed a nest way up high when we first moved in. I assumed it was a robin's next but now I see it is all mud (robins' nests are made of grasses with some mud to hold it together). I started noticing the swallows last week swooping high above my yard. Yesterday I supervised Allie right by their nest, which as it turns out, is full of babies. Barn swallows will attack if they think their young are threatened. One flew within a foot of my face. A pair had attacked Josh's German Shepherd 2 years ago. When Josh went out to see why Sunny was jumping and yelping, Josh was attacked. When I watched Shanna's kids last week, tree swallows keep swooping near by. They are smaller and have white underbellies and don't have orange chin feathers. Back at the old house, we had no swallows but we had chimney swifts that lived 2 years inside our chimney. They made quite the racket. The nature pond near by put up purple martin houses, large purple-black swallows, to deal with the mosquitoes. They are fun to watch.

Northern oriole: Formerly known as the Baltimore Oriole. Very shy birds that I maybe get a glimpse of once every 5 years. They winter in the tropics somewhere. Never saw one near my old house but today, one was at my feeder. It quickly flew away at my approach. I have since left out orange slices to lure it back.

Smells like teen sex: That would be the Bradford pear. These are very hardy, ornamental trees widely planted in the NE. They have become invasive species there and people complain that the blossoms smell like semen and stink up the neighborhood. This house had one but storms blew it over a year ago. I did come across its roots when planting a spirea bush the other day. The neighbors had one very close to my patio that the hummingbirds lived in. How come I never noticed the smell? Yesterday when I was at the old house, I did make an effort to smell the blossoms. If you crush them in your hand, they do smell like semen but its a very faint odor. Maybe the Eastern variant has smellier blossoms or maybe those East Coasters have more delicate nostrils. There was a NPR story last week about them.

Earthquake: Didn't feel it but it was much discussed.

Our neighbor's memorial: We went to that Saturday though he died back in January. It was very nice. These were our neighbors for 27 years. Shanna would babysit their sons. When the sons were older, I'd hire them out for various jobs. The younger son went through the same engineering program as Josh and now has a great job that flies him all over the world. He is the spitting image of his father. The dad discovered his prostate cancer almost 9 years ago during a routine check-up. He had no symptoms but the cell type was that of the most aggressive kind and he was given only 2 years to live though the cancer had not spread at that point. Even though women do not have prostates, prostate cancer is very similar to breast cancer in its incidence, hormone driven, some of the same chemo, and its spread (bones, liver, brain though I don't know if it hits the lungs). Male carriers of the BRAC gene deletions tend to get prostate cancer whereas their female relatives get ovarian and breast cancer. He went through numerous clinical trials. He would have brief periods of remission but then it would come back. The first line of treatment (beyond surgery and radiation) are testosterone blockers though after 5 years, that stopped working. In the medical literature, these patients are called 'castration-resistant', very odd terminology. He stopped treatment back in October except for pain palliation, which never worked enough. Just awful.

Busy, busy: We had beautiful weather for the past 3 days. But today, when the house exterior was to be painted, we had rain. Some time was spent on the old house which depresses me. I went for a long bike ride yesterday (I increase the mileage gradually though 21.5 miles is less than a third of our high mileage day in just 9 weeks). I stopped for a water break at the nursery that is So excited that we wet our plants. Nice people but they could not identify my mystery flower. They do have lots of aquatic plants if I ever get my pond and waterfall going. Josh came over to help us figure out the extremely complicated watering system. It partially works now but I think we have to hire an expert or ask a neighbor. A friend came over last night to enjoy wine and my birds. Although I have feeders in front, I haven't been able to lure the birds there. Below are Daniel and Oliver enjoying the weather.


Elephant's Child said...

Busy, busy, busy.
Love your birds.
And feel for your neighbours family.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

my male oriole came back who is stunningly beautiful but I couldn't get a photo. All day, I had a female rose breasted grosbeak, who is rather plain, but her mate should be very pretty. Alas she seems to be single.


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