Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

It’s February and winter is still on the lam.  Well yes, January brought some snow, but it’s hard to believe this is Wisconsin in winter.   Here at Sontheim temperatures hover in the balmy mid 40’s and occasionally tumble below 20 degrees.  The migratory birds are confused and the Canadian Geese can’t make up their minds if they should be coming or going.  On any given day you can watch great flocks fly South, only to see them return on the next day to head North again.  It is astonishing to watch such confusion and it makes me uneasy when I think of our Hummingbirds.

Other than experiencing the strange effects of climate change all else seems fine at Sontheim.  Our Sophia had a rough encounter with epilepsy last year while Sam and Lilly experienced good health and unfettered romps in the woods.  All we know is that the seizures started after Sophia had received her lyme disease booster and Dr. Sander, our trusted family vet, and I suspect that the vaccination may have been the trigger.

Sammy loves eye contact.

All together Sophia had four seizures, the first of which took place in the early morning hours on 8-24-11.  We tried medication which unfortunately she was not able to tolerate.  So I decided to treat her with food.   Sophia’s fourth and hopefully final seizure was on 11-01-11 and thankfully there has been no recurrence since.

Recently our Sam also gave us a scare when I heard him give a sharp yelp while he was out of sight.  All I know is that something must have happened to his rear end, because for several days thereafter he was not able to take the stairs.  In consultation with our vet I gave Sam some Rimadyl to ease his discomfort, and sure enough, it did not take him long to be his usual rambunctious self again.

While all things seem right on our beautiful patch of land high on the bluffs, nothing seems right in Wisconsin.  For a year now, our beautiful state has being torn apart by the divisive politics of Governor Walker and his cohorts in the State Legislature.

The Assembly just passed a mining bill which  will roll back long-established environmental safeguards.  All 183 pages of the bill were written behind closed doors by the republican majority and their mining company lobbyist.  As with the bill that stripped collective bargaining from workers’ rights last year, this bill is being rammed through the legislature without public input.  As it stands, bill AB 426 will give mining companies the right to rape our land by looking the other way when they divert water from our rivers, when they deplete our groundwater through high capacity wells, when they pollute the air and dump mining slag into our pristine wetlands.  And all of this for the mere promise of a few hundred jobs.  Or should we also mention the millions of mining dollars that are flowing into the coffers of the six republican incumbents who are being recalled by the people of Wisconsin!!!

All across our nation, the fight is on to preserve citizens’ rights and quality of life.  2012 has barely begun, but it is already clear that it needs a lot more than a just little bit of love.   Oh Charlie Brown, how I envy you Your Christmas Tree.

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After a slow start, Orioles have returned to Sontheim in such large numbers that it feels like an invasion of hooligans at a soccer game.  There must be thirty of them, primarily males, who seem to enjoy making quite a racket as they compete at the feeding stations.  It is such a boisterous group that even the large woodpeckers are afraid of them.

On the other hand, our returning hummingbirds can be counted on one hand.  To date only three boys and two girls have been identified, and even though we are at the end of the migratory season, we are still hoping that more of them will find their way back to our little patch of paradise.

This year our orchard has been slow to bloom and I have watched with interest that the native pollinators are out in force.  There are many more of the mostly tiny insects buzzing from blossom to blossom then I have ever noticed before; but alas, not one honeybee has been spotted this spring. 

Such changes and more are happening all across our planet and it seems inevitable that human activity will continue to degrade our natural word.   It would be wise for every one of us to remember that mother nature can easily thrive without the presence of the human race, but that human beings cannot survive without a functioning natural world. 

With that in mind let me share the work of two extraordinary people whose love of our beautiful world inspires and informs.  Enjoy!!!

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It is mid August and our hummingbirds are getting fat.  This clearly indicates they will be migrating very soon.       

This year’s hummingbird season has been subdued but still filled with joy, as we watched our small yet healthy group of miniature birds take full advantage of the resources available at Sontheim.  Consequently our resident hummers produced as many babies as was possible in one breeding season.  Much to our delight we were able to watch two full sets of fluffy hummingbird babies learn to drink from the feeders in front of the house.        

The first hummer fledglings showed  up in June, while the second set started appearing in mid July.   Here is a good example of how much bigger than the parents these babies look:       

Hummer mom on the left and a fluffy fledgling on the right.

In spite of the extreme summer weather here at Sontheim, our hummers did very well.  I only had to bury one unfortunate female who ran full speed into a screen.  For the life of me I can not figure out how she had come in contact with this screened area which is well hidden under the porch.  But hummers  are inquisitive and unbelievably reckless in their exuberance, and sadly sometimes it leads to an early death.      

As I freed the tiny bird from its trap and held it in the palm of my hand I marveled at the incredibly beauty of this flying jewel.  Alas she had died before I found her and all I could do was to wrap her gently in a soft cloth and bury her in our hummingbird flower bed.      

For two weeks now the nectar production is running at full capacity to accommodate our hummers’ need for energy.  As a result our flying jewels are getting visibly bigger and soon the majority will reach their ideal migration weight.    

Almost at flight weight.

 By the end of August, most of our precious hummers will be on their way to the Gulf of Mexico.  There they will stop to refuel for their 17 hour non-stop flight across the ocean.  With luck some of them will reach South America and hopefully find a safe haven where they can spent our winter.

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Our Eastern Phoebes have returned.  The first pair raised their young, three years in a row, in a nest they build under the porch.  Since then, each year at end of March, they announce their return with the distinctive call of   “fee-bee   fee-bee”   at the break of dawn and again at sun set.  This year we have at least three pair calling from different areas around the house.  The original nest under the porch is not occupied and looks like it is ready to disintegrate.

If you are interested in the bird’s life cycle, here is a wonderful description with excellent pictures:


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I hate to say it, but the Turkey Vulture is not among the birds I love. 

Yesterday I returned home to find two of the giants perched on the ridge of our roof.   These birds are over two feet in hight with a wingspan of almost six feet, and much to my dismay they are completely unflappable once they have decided that a roosting spot is save. 

The pair just sat there, watching, as I approached the house and pulled the car into the garage.   

Over the last few years I have observed them on our roof top during the blistering heat of August, were they sit like gargoyles, wings half open to let the air cool their bodies.   But this is the end of March and I find it unnerving that our house is being sought out  as soon as the Bald Eagles have left for their breeding grounds in the far North.

Observation has taught me that Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures do not mix.  As soon as the eagles appear in winter, the vultures disappear and rarely are they seen sharing the sky.  Now, with this early invasion of our roof top I wonder what can be done to discourage these unlikely sentinels from staking a permanent claim.

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The Pelicans are coming…

The great migration is underway and several of our summer guests have taken possession of their nesting sites.   

Much to my surprise, the Eastern Bluebird and the Indigo Buntings were the first to arrive.  A pair of Eastern Blues is nesting in our orchard where they have claimed a  well possitioned bird house for the third season.  

A lovely picture by photographer Richard Day for the National G.

 Every Spring we scan the horizon for the big and lumbering flyers that confirm that the great migration is in full swing.  As luck would have it, I spotted our first flock of pelicans circling over the house just yesterday.   

A wonderful closeup by photographer Klaus Nigge for the National G.

I watched a flock of 15 pelicans slowly winging across the sky in perfect V-formation.  It would have made a perfect composition, but lo and behold, the camera was inside.  So I watched with pleasure as the birds tipped their wings toward the house as if in greeting.

According to a North American Indian legend, Pelicans foreshadow the arrival of the Humming bird.  It is said that the tiny Hummers catch a ride on the backs of Pelicans.  How else, it was believed, would it be possible for the tiny birds to travel such a long way from their winter havens in the far South.

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Hunting the Wild Turkey!

So much for contemplation:

Today the girls flushed a young turkey out of the meadow along the wood’s edge.

The flustered bird ran out from the tall grass as Lilly lead the way on this glorious morning.  Sophia could not believe her eyes as the turkey ran full steam toward her.  But a collision was averted – it did not take her long to catch her breath and off she was – pursuing the biggest bird she’d ever seen. 

You have to know that my sweet, shy Sophia never before followed Lilly into the woods.  Today however she forgot herself and off she was, after the turkey,  into the dim light of the woods.  

Well luckily she answered my call and emerged after a few minutes without a kill.  I’m glad for that because one hunter in the family is quite enough.  Lilly as you know hunts birds on the wing and many times she brings me a bird freshly plugged from of a bush.

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