Posts Tagged Wood Duck
Posted by piedmontgardener in piedmont gardening on February 19, 2023
It has been much too warm here in the Southeast Piedmont – except when it is too cold. Rains have been generous – except when the clouds are nowhere to be seen. As a gardener, I track weather forecasts closely, but that is not doing me much good these days. I have watched hourly forecasts change within the forecasted hour. It seems no one is quite certain what to expect from Mother Nature anymore.
We humans are the cause, of course. So thoroughly have we disrupted patterns of ocean and air that the planet oscillates more wildly with each passing month. Flora and fauna work hard to adapt and survive. Insects have wakened at least six weeks ahead of schedule here. Waters of creek and wetland have warmed. Spring peepers and chorus frogs sing lustily day and night, and the American toads joined the chorus weeks ago – at least six weeks ahead of their “normal” time.
It seems to me that birds are also pushing up their schedules. Plumage is brightening, territorial displays abound. Procreative dances are well underway.
Landscape flowers, especially the ornamental non-natives that adorn most yards, are in full, glorious bloom. Daffodils nod their yellow heads in strong south winds. Snowdrops and crocuses have nearly finished their bloom times. The non-native deciduous magnolias in my yard are either blooming or about to bloom – again, at least a month ahead of previous years.
All seem to have thrown caution aside, embracing the warm air as a sign that spring has arrived. Humans, too, are giddy in the warm air – donning shorts and t-shirts, picnicking in parks, working on early tans beneath the strengthening light of the sun.
Those paying close attention may notice that winter has not ushered us reliably into spring just yet. About once a week here, night-time temperatures still dip into the mid-twenties – before they surge back into the fifties and sixties for five or six days – before they dip again. No matter what your local big box garden center may be trying to sell you, I beg you, do not try to plant summer vegetables or flowers in your gardens or planter boxes yet. They may not die outright, but they will never thrive.
Long-range weather forecasts are hinting at a major disruption of polar air that will send it all downhill into the continental United States. Some models believe this surge of arctic air may be quite dramatic – and prolonged.
I worry that the reckless abandonment of respect for winter cold will result in freeze-killed tender vegetation, disappearance of insects currently feeding frogs and birds, and frozen/starved chicks in nests built too soon. I pray I’ll be proven wrong.
For now, I walk our five acres, admiring precocious blooms while urging leaf buds to remain tightly shut at least until mid-March. I caution birds and frogs to delay egg-laying until air remains consistently warm.
But reckless abandon has killed caution. No one is listening to a plant-obsessed white-haired woman muttering to trees and birds.
While they sleep …
Posted by piedmontgardener in Greenhouse growing, Native Wildlife, piedmont gardening, Uncategorized, Vegetable Gardening on March 27, 2013
Just before dawn this morning, thick frost glimmered in the fading light of a full moon. As the sun topped the nearby ridge, surfaces sparkled — walks, benches, lawn, even the trees. The thermometer on my cold hill bottomed out at 26 degrees Fahrenheit before the strengthening Spring sun began its work — Winter cold. Too cold.
The Spring Peepers, which have lustily chorused off and on since late December, have been utterly silent for four days. The American Toads, which had added their exquisite soprano trilling descant to the thrumming of the Peepers two weeks ago, have also gone quiet. The Green Anoles, which sunned themselves on our gutters on warm days all winter, have not ventured from their sleeping chambers in a week. To be sure, our weather has not been fit for cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles.
The plants in my yard agree. Half-open flower buds have opened no further. Some have browned from freeze damage. Others seem suspended in time, waiting for temperatures that match the astronomical calendar, knowing the equinox was last week, wondering like me, I imagine, why March turned so cruel in its waning days.
But while the plants and cold-blooded animals sleep, the warm-blooded ones are scrounging for food. A herd of five pregnant does devours every blade of green from our floodplain at dusk, when they emerge from their hiding places on the other side of the creek. Dark shadows in darkening light, they drift around the trees, more ghosts than flesh in the dimness.
The birds, on the other hand, have refused to concede to Spring’s reluctant arrival. Growing flocks of American Robins patrol the landscape, plucking fat earthworms from rain-moistened soil, muttering in delight at each new-found morsel.
The Red-shouldered Hawks circle the floodplain, then dive at crowded bird feeders in the hopes of pinning a slow-moving Mourning Dove or a greedy Red-winged Blackbird that lingers too long for one more bite. When the birds elude their grasp, they settle for patrolling the ground, pulling back fallen leaves with sharp yellow talons to reveal earthworms, which they greedily devour. When they’ve had their fill, they fly off with more; hungry nestlings must be fed, even while their favorite cold-blooded prey sleep securely in their winter hide-outs.
Flocks of Purple Finches grow daily. I think groups migrating from further south have heard about the snows in their summer homes up north. They linger at my feeders — free food — all you can eat! A pair of Carolina Wrens busily inspect flower pots, deck underpinnings, and an open garage for potential nesting sites. Wood Ducks paddle up and down the creek, preferring water warmer than the air.
A Great Blue Heron stalks from sand bar to sand bar. Rising into the air on massive wings, its majestic flight starkly contrasts with its harsh squawk of frustration at finding nothing tasty.
Suet feeders are perpetually busy from dawn to full darkness. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are feeding nestlings, and insects are difficult to find in the frigid air. They are joined by increasing numbers of warblers, which must be arriving for spring nesting season. Like the woodpeckers, suet is their fall-back food until the insects finally emerge.
This morning as I filled the feeders, I heard the characteristic melodic gurgling call of Brown-headed Cowbirds. They usually arrive a few days after the warblers, lingering at my feeders until they pair off, and egg-heavy females deposit their eggs in the nests of unwary warblers.
Warm-blooded life does not seem to have the luxury of waiting for Spring to assert itself. Somehow it must carry on despite the dearth of natural food and warming nights. I keep my feeders filled and birdhouses clean, in the hopes that this eases their struggle a bit — for my local population anyway.
The weather forecasters predict that our perseverance will be rewarded. Warmer days are promised soon. I think perhaps they might be right. I spotted a bright yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail this afternoon struggling to make headway against a gusty northwest wind.
Any minute now, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be arriving for their spring nesting season. I’d best dust off their feeders ASAP, because their usual early food sources — blooms of Red Buckeye and Eastern Columbine — remain tightly closed against the unseasonable chill.
Like the warm-blooded life surrounding me, my garden and I must persevere. Lettuce transplants huddle beneath garden fabric in the vegetable garden. I’ve been afraid to check on them, fearing that lifting the fabric might chill them more. And the tomato and pepper seeds I sowed a week ago have mostly germinated in the greenhouse. I’ve raised the thermostat to reduce the chances of cold air being fanned onto new-born seedlings.
Gardening is always an act of faith. This season, however, is requiring a bit more of it than usual. Believe, my friends. Soon we’ll be up to our knees in tall grass, mosquitoes, and summer squash.
But don’t blink. I have a feeling we’re mostly skipping Spring this year.
The Paddlers Return
Posted by piedmontgardener in Native Wildlife on February 24, 2011
I was wandering around my yard this morning trying to decide what to write about when the Wood Ducks decided for me. I have been wondering where they were for a few weeks now. For all of the 21 years that we’ve lived here, a pair of Wood Ducks has nested beside our creek every late winter/early spring.
These beautiful birds (the males are the gorgeous members of their species) are quite shy. I rarely know they are around until I unintentionally get too close, startling them into flight.
Today, they were sitting in one of the massive river birches that overlooks a deep spot in the creek when I stepped onto my front deck and startled them. As is almost always the case, the female took to the air first, her squat little duck body struggling to get airborne as she shrieked her characteristic shriek.
The females scream like the Hounds of Hell are after them when they are alarmed. If their purpose is to startle their perceived enemy, I can attest that it works on me. They always get my heart pounding a little faster until my brain figures out what I’m hearing.
About thirty seconds after the female flew off, the male, who had been sitting on the branch beside her, flew off in the same direction. In years past, I’ve noticed that the male follows the female quite closely for a week or two before they go into stealth nesting mode.
When the ducklings hatch, I often see the whole family paddling on the creek in the early morning. All signs of the Wood Ducks vanish as soon as the ducklings mature. I don’t know if they leave the area, or if they simply are very good at hiding in the dense summer vegetation along the creek.
Wherever they go, I am glad they are back — another sure sign that spring’s reign is nearly upon us.