Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In An English Country Garden

THE house where I grew up has a good many trees - perfect for bird life. Now we are learning a little bit about bird identification in the Southern US, we had already decided that while visiting my parents, we would get a field guide for UK birds. But Emma's Grandma took this one step further with a wonderful sticker book, and Emma took great delight in recording birds she saw with a sticker and a date. Here are some of the birds we spotted in the back garden, and while tooling around town and country roads, roughly in order of frequency:
  • black bird
  • wood pigeon
  • crow
  • magpie
  • blue tit
  • robin
  • thrush
  • great tit
  • wren
  • pied wagtail

Monday, May 25, 2009

Harbinger of Spring

THE cuckoo is supposed to be one of the first sounds of Spring, in the UK anyway. However, I don't actually recall ever having heard one. Until this week, when on a stroll around our lovely local pond there it was. Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Over and over again. The sound carried across the whole stretch of water, which despite being called a pond is really more like a lake. (Of course, May is not the beginning of Spring, so it should be noted that these birds can be heard between March and August.) The cuckoo is also infamous for laying its eggs in other birds' nests, where the baby cuckoo boots the other residents out and is fed by its foster parent.

Also around the pond was a large amount of cuckoo spit, the frothy foam in which froghopper larvae live. Emma found this very interesting and kept trying to dig out the baby bug. I just wondered why it was called cuckoo spit. Turns out, the name is a reference to the time of year. The spit appears at cuckoo time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Swans A-Swimming

WHAT a wonderful time of year to visit a lake. Back in England, we had several opportunities to visit a pond within walking distance from my childhood home. It is a place that holds many happy memories of climbing trees, picnicking on the beach, riding bikes and watching the ducks.

The waterfowl community here is remarkable. A great crested grebe swam in open water and an elegant grey heron watched from afar. Black-headed gulls circled overhead and a cormorant languished on a small island.

Then there were the more familiar water birds. Most striking were the swans - dozens of them. Some swimming nonchalantly around, others more inquisitive. We watched them climb in and out of the water, rest one foot on their back, feed at the water's edge and fly to the other side of the pond. A group of these large birds landing on water just a few yards ahead is an impressive experience! Canada and grey geese, mallards, coots and moorhens were all out in full force, many of them with babies in tow. From a little friend we learnt a new song and we sang it to the birds as they dined:

Dabbling Ducks
All the little ducks turn upside down, upside down, upside down,
All the little ducks turn upside down,
When they dabble at the bottom of the pond.

All the little tails go wiggle waggle wiggle,
wiggle waggle wiggle, wiggle waggle wiggle
All the little tails go wiggle waggle wiggle,
When they dabble at the bottom of the pond.

All the little beaks go snap, snap, snap,
Snap, snap, snap, snap, snap, snap,
All the little beaks go snap, snap, snap,
When they dabble at the bottom of the pond.

Monday, May 11, 2009

First Family

WE were delighted to see a few twigs sticking out of our gourd bird house and upon further investigation, a nest inside! The next day, a long string hanging out, then some grasses. The first family of residents will have a fine cosy bed once this busy pair of Carolina wrens has finished their construction project. The typical building time is 3 days so there maybe eggs there already, though we can't see inside. We are looking forward to seeing the babies for the first time!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mama Bird's Day Off

AS we enjoyed breakfast on an outdoor patio, we noticed a persistent chirping noise coming from two nearby holly bushes. Two mockingbirds were hopping around the bushes and the grass, sometimes with food in their mouths. Emma and I decided to investigate, wondering if they were guarding a nest. When we peeked into one of the bushes, two wide eyed fledglings peered back at us. Chubby and fluffy, the baby birds were hopping around from twig to twig, all the time chirping at their parents. We hoped it wasn't a distress signal as we continued to watch one of the adult birds give their babies some food, but decided they were just hungry. Hopefully it was the papa bird doing the running around and feeding; it is Mother's Day after all.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Vegetable Destiny

LADIES and Gentlemen, we have liftoff! We finally got a raised bed built, filled and planted. And we even have shoots already, just a week later! We planted three kinds of tomato (transplants), snap beans, Swiss chard, kabocha squash and carrots. Next we'll plant aubergine, which is seeding safely inside. Alas the jalapeno seedling I bought at the farmer's market did not survive long enough for planting, as its earth and pot were apparently needed for a scientific experiment. I found the wizened little stem lying forlorn on the patio in blazing sun. But this little plant had a different destiny - one of a didactic nature. Surprised at its demise, Emma noted that baby plants are like worms. If you take them out of the earth and put them on bricks in the sun, they die. Indeed they do.