Thursday, April 28, 2005

Peek-A-Boo Bluebird and Sydney Anne
Five bluebird eggs in the nestboxSometimes nature just doesn't cooperate with my photography.

The bluebird nest box hole faces southeast and is almost always shaded. That's a very good thing for the bluebirds, but not for the photographer.

It's impossible to get a good picture of mom bluebird peeking out of the hole without popping a flash in her face, which I refuse to do.

We've come to a very fragile understanding that she doesn't have to fly out of the box everytime I walk by with the dogs. She pops up, peeks out the hole, and ducks back down in the nest until we're gone.

If you use your imagination, you can see her peeking out the hole at me. See that light shadowy spot? She's there, she really is.

Five bluebird eggs in the nestboxWhen I monitored bluebird trails at work, we were taught to knock on the nest box before opening it to give the adult birds a chance to fly out. It's a good habit and I always do it, but with this peeking mom I know when she's in the box and when she's out.

As part of our fragile understanding, I never knock on the box - or open it - when I know she's on the nest.

When she was out the other day, I took the opportunity to get a picture of her five beautiful blue eggs.

My wonderful granddaughter Sydney Anne at two weeksHere's a picture of granddaughter Sydney Anne at two weeks.

She'll be four weeks old when I get to meet her in person next Tuesday. There couldn't be a better Mother's Day gift than a new granddaughter to love.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Spring Again - No Harm Done
Apple blossoms after the snow with no harm doneSnow is gone, spring is back.

It is totally amazing that the temperature never dipped below the freezing point so all the plants are looking greener than ever - no frost burn on their leaves, no harm to the flowers.

Once the snow melted, the apple blossoms continued blooming just like they'd never been covered with snow. And all the plants were happy for the nice watering when the snow melted.

Fish Hatchery with swan nest and swan coupleWhen it warmed up on Monday, I grabbed Glory and we took a walk at the fish hatchery to check on the nesting swans. I'm hoping to see cygnets before leaving for Idaho next Tuesday.

Since I don't know when the eggs were laid, I don't know when they're due to hatch. Mute swans incubate for 36 to 38 days, so it's possible I'm going to miss the big event.

This picture shows the wonderful paths going between the ponds at the fish hatchery. As I've mentioned before, it's a great place to walk and they allow dogs on leash.

Three of the ponds have a Mute Swan nest. This is the pond where I can get closest to take pictures. All my pictures have been of this nest, but I'm watching all three.

This is also the only pond where we can get close enough to put the swans in a hissy fit. This time it was the female on the nest who got riled. She stood up to threaten us, hissing, and I could see her eggs. I could also see her seven foot wing span. Very impressive. We quickly walked on down the path. Didn't want to upset her too much.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Spring Snow
Front yard full of snow taken out the front windowThis was the view out the front window this morning. Actually not too bad considering the amount of snow that has come out of sky the last twenty-four hours.

It started snowing and blowing yesterday morning and snowed all day. The ground was so warm that the snow kept melting until the sun went down. By the time I went to bed last night I knew I'd be wearing boots to church this morning.

Living in Michigan we are well aware that a late spring snow can happen, although most of us Michiganders would prefer it not happen.

The average last frost date for SW Michigan is the middle of May. That's the average date. Anyone who plants their annuals before Memorial Day takes the chance of losing them all to a frosty night.

Pansies just keep blooming, snow and allThese pansies don't care if there's snow.

I planted them last fall and they spent the winter under a pile of snow. Now that it's spring, they're they're not going to be deterred by a little more snow.

Apple blossoms covered with snowIn the back yard, the apple trees are ready to bloom on the next warm, sunny day. It obviously won't be this day.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Spring Wildflowers
Entrance to Kalamazoo Nature Center in late AprilThis was the week SW Michigan turned green.

The grass is ready for the first mowing. Some ambitious people have already mowed.

The leaves on the trees and bushes have started to unfurl except for a few stubborn late-leafers like the oak trees.

This picture was taken at the entrance area of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Yesterday my friend Luanne and I spent almost two hours in the Nature Center's Beech/Maple forest enjoying the spring wildflowers.

It was a beautiful, sunny 60 degree afternoon at the peak of the woodland wildflower bloom.

Hillside covered with wildflowersBy the middle of May there will be no sunlight in this woods. The woodland wildflowers have a very short time window to flower, gather some sunshine and energy, and reproduce.

Right now, the end of April, there are acres and acres of delicate woodland wildflowers blooming. We had a great amateur naturalist time identifying them with our Newcomb's Wildflower Guides.

Wild violets and spring beauty Wild blue-purple violets are my favorite flower. There is no way to reproduce their rich, royal color in a picture.

At the Nature Center, the violets are mixed in with all the other wildflowers instead of having a patch of their own. In this picture a clump of violets is growing with Spring Beauty.

Spring Beauty is very common in SW Michigan. It will even grow sparsely in an Oak forest, like the one we have across the street from our house. Every spring I have a few Spring Beauty pop up in the yard where, no doubt, the birds have dropped the seed.

Picture Blue Eyed Mary and spring beautyThis is Blue-eyed Mary growing with Spring Beauty at the Nature Center.

During our walk we saw a naturalist sitting on a hillside in the middle of a large patch of Blue-eyed Mary. She told us she was doing research on Blue-eyed Mary pollination. Her job for the day was to sit there and record the insects that visited the blooms.

I want a job like that.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Pappy and Glory playing and romping togetherPappy Update
Thanks to everyone for their prayers, positive thoughts and get well wishes for Pappy.

After three days of Deramaxx he's bouncing around like a youngster. We hope it was a onetime muscle pull and not something chronic.

He does have a large scar across the back of his neck where the problem started. Still, we've had him for over two years and it hasn't been a problem before now.

Wood tick on my hand Outdoor Updates
Here are some brief updates on what's going on in the yard.

It's very dry and we have a burning ban that only a complete fool would ignore. Dry leaves make for easy raking, but I come in covered with dust.

This dryness is atypical. April in Michigan is normally a month of rain, mud, and an occasional tornado.

Another unusual thing is the large amount of wood ticks this year. We're finding them on our clothing, on our skin, on the dogs, and just about everywhere as they crawl around looking for a place to attach themselves.

They're flat, hard, and difficult to kill. I read once that they hate water so I delight in flushing them into the septic system. That's where this one ended up about one minute after I took this picture.

The bluebirds have five eggs now and incubation has begun. Estimated hatch date is May 1.

There are tree swallows sitting on the second nest box of the pair. No nest yet, but they buzzed my head when I walked out there this morning so I think they're serious about claiming it.

Looks like we have a fox den out in the dog walking field. It has three good sized holes that one of my little dogs could climb - or fall - into. No plans to disrupt the fox family, but I wish they had built their home elsewhere.

This morning I spotted an Eastern hognose snake and was able to identify it pronto. I'm learning.

Haven't seen the mink in a week or so. Soon the grass will be too long to see anything.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Why Didn't You Tell Me?
Not only did I spell "cygnet" wrong, the misspelling was in the title of the post in big black letters for the whole online world to see.

The Signets Are Coming

I'm not a great speller. I try to compensate by using spell check (which didn't see anything wrong with me writing about a seal used officially to give personal authority to a document in lieu of signature), the online Merriam Webster Dictionary, and other sources.

It was the other sources that led me astray on this one. I quickly Googled "swan signet" and got enough hits so I thought I had the spelling right.

Guess that just proves I'm not the only one who can't spell "cygnet". It also proves that just because I find a spelling in Google I can't assume it's correct.

I know I have many readers who must have winced when they saw "cygnet" spelled "signet".

Why didn't you gently tell me? It would have been kind.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Will The Real Friday Please Stand Up
This is the first day this week I haven't had multiple places to go. I was looking forward to staying home and alternating between being outdoors, in the kitchen, and knitting.

This was the list for my peaceful day at home:

  • Knit a pattern repeat on Backyard Leaves
  • Finish writing up Cozy Cables CIC Vest pattern
  • Start second Cozy Cables CIC Vest
  • Go for walk at fish hatchery and check on swans
  • Clean kitchen
  • Make bean and ham soup
  • Rake remaining leaves in front yard
  • Uncover hostas and violets next to barn (more raking)
  • Write a blog post

Instead, the day looked like this:

Pappy on a comforter on the floor after being drugged at the vetsPappy was in pain this morning. We had no idea what kind of pain. His whole body was tense, he didn't want to do stairs or jump on or off his favorite furniture, and his tail was between his legs.

I spent most of the morning being "worked in" at the vets office, then waiting for the sedative to work so they could take x-rays, and then waiting for the x-rays to be read.

The results were inconclusive. Once he relaxed the vet could isolate the pain to his right shoulder. Pappy does have a large scar there from his pre-rescue life.

No bone problems showed in the x-ray and his digestive tract was clear. The vet sent him home drugged, with more pain pills and instructions to call tomorrow.

I put him to bed back in the bedroom, but his people dog instincts kicked in and he staggered out in into the room where Bob and I were sitting. I made him a bed on the floor where he wanted to be. He's been sleeping on it for over eight hours now.

Swans on the nest at the fish hatchery Since Pappy was drugged and Glory was barfing up her annual grass eating binge, I took Sunny to the fish hatchery for a nice walk to check on the swans.

Daddy swan was grumpier today. He started hissing before we ever got to the path. We didn't linger.

There may be cygnets in that nest under their mother's wings. If there are, she's not ready to show them yet. We'll be back.

The fish hatchery is a great place to walk - great paths and so much to see - incentive to visit often.

Eastern hognose snake found under the leaves next to the barn My goal is to rake up several large piles of oak leaves every day. Today I cleared out the hosta, fern, violet bed next to the barn.

Imagine my surprise when I uncovered a thick, brown spotted snake that immediately curled up and hissed at me. (I'm getting hissed at a lot this spring.)

I'm a novice at snake identification. I've been working on learning to identify the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake ever since I was assigned a biological inventory area where Massasaugas have been seen.

Most spotted snakes look alike to me. And they usually slither off so fast I don't have time to grasp the differentiating details.

I thought this might be a Massasauga so I took pictures.

Even though my naturalist friends would have been totally impressed by a Massasauga picture, I was not disappointed to discover it was only a harmless Eastern hognose snake in my backyard.

Three bluebird eggs in the nestbox After the raking was over Sunny and I took a walk in the back field to check the bluebird nest box. There's been a new egg every day for the last three days.

There will probably be two more eggs with the last egg laid on Sunday.

Fourteen days of incubation puts the estimated hatching date on Sunday, May 1, just two days before I leave for Idaho. I'm going to be missing some cute hatchling baby pictures, but I'll be taking some much cuter granddaughter Sydney baby pictures.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Cygnets Are Coming
Female swan on the vest with male swan guardingThe swans are nesting at the nearby state fish hatchery.

Glory and I approached the pond about thirty feet from the nest and daddy swan came right over to give us an escort. As we walked the path along the pond edge headed for the nest, he swam along with us.

I had tight hold of Glory's leash just in case she decided it might be fun to chase a swan. She does chase ducks on our pond. Fortunately she's a smart girl. She pretended the big swan swimming about ten feet from us just didn't exist.

After I had taken a few pictures, daddy swan decided we had lingered around his nest long enough. He started hissing. Glory and I left. I don't care to tangle with an irate swan.

But I'll be back. There are going to be cygnets soon and I'm looking forward to seeing them.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Bluebird Nest is Ready For Eggs
Pair of bird nest boxes with round holesLast spring I took my retirement gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited and blew it on four outrageously priced nest box poles, baffles, and nest boxes.

The saleslady showed me nest boxes with slits on the top quoting statistics claiming that bluebirds will nest in slitted boxes and house sparrows won't.

Since we have a serious house sparrow problem here (the house sparrows kill bluebirds for their nest box) I was a sucker I decided to try two slitted boxes along with two traditional round hole boxes.

The boxes were mounted in pairs on opposite sides of the back field. Bluebirds won't nest close to each other. The second box of each pair is for the tree swallows. Ideally, at full occupancy, there would be one bluebird nest and one tree swallow nest in each pair of nest boxes.

The outcome didn't agree with the saleslady's statistics. The bluebirds completely shunned the slitted houses except to perch on them for their early morning poop. The tree swallows were also unimpressed and selected the second box with the standard hole, making it unavailable for bluebirds.

The final straw for the slitted boxes was when the house sparrows moved into them. That was better than the house sparrows stealing the bluebird's nest box, but I was still unimpressed.

This year I bought two new boxes with standard round holes to replace the slitted boxes. Granddaughter Kimmy and I put them up last week and threw the slitted boxes in the garbage.

Bluebird nest in second nest boxThe bluebirds have been here for several weeks. They claimed their nest box from last year while there was still three inches of snow on top of it.

Since the weather warmed, they've been busy building their nest. It is ready for eggs.

Some morning soon when I take the dogs out for a walk, I'll see the female peeking out the round hole at me and we will detour so she can finish laying her morning egg.

Last April we repeated that routine for five days, five eggs. All eggs hatched and lived to fledgling size. Then the parents repeated the process to produce four more fledglings.

I'm hoping for another productive bluebird year and for some tree swallows to move in next door.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Daffodils and Mink
Late daffodils in bloomThe daffodils in the picture normally bloom a week after the early blooming daffodils. With the very cold late spring we had this year, they're both blooming the same week.

Little welcome dots of yellow here and there and all around the property to let us know it really is spring now.

Mink hole in grassy bank by pondI'm 90% sure we have a female mink reproducing in this hole. We saw the larger male running on the bank and swimming in the pond the last week in March.

He has moved on to another female and hasn't been seen since. Male mink do that. They're a member of the weasel family, famous for weaseling out of their obligations once the mating is over.

I've seen the female swimming and entering this hole several times since the male left.

So far my dog concerns have been unfounded. The female is wild, timid, and not inclined to show herself. I've only seen her from inside the house.

For those with enough pond knowledge to wonder if I've got mink mixed up with muskrat, I don't. We have muskrats, too. They're ugly and they look like rats.

The mink is pretty and graceful and looks like a small otter.

I'd love to get a picture, but I don't think it's going to happen.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Going Home In Handknit Socks
John, Anne, and 2 day old Sydney waiting to be released from the hospital and all wearing Grandma B's handknit socks for the trip homeSydney Anne went home with her Dad and Mom today, all wearing socks handknit by Grandma B.

This picture was taken while they were waiting for the paperwork to be completed. Do you think Sydney can feel the love on her feet?

Mom and Sydney have matching Fluted Banisters knit in Opal Handpainted 12. Dad has John's Basketweave Ribbing Socks knit in Opal Handpainted 14.

Grandma B. has a cold and is coughing and blowing in Michigan, 2000 miles away, but smiling at the pictures she's seeing of the new family. How did long distance grandparents ever survive before digital cameras and computers?

Sydney Anne, 2 days old and happy to be homeSydney Anne is home and looking very pleased with the life she was just born into.

We are very blessed to have such a sweet addition to our family. Thank you to all my online friends who left congratulations and good wishes on the baby announcement.

I think this is about as close to smiling as a two day old baby can manage.

Note: This post was written on April 7, the day Blogger decided to do a very needed system upgrade which made posting impossible until this morning, April 8.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Baby Announcement
About 4:00 am Monday morning I got a call from two happy people in the car on the way to the hospital. The water broke and Sydney was about to be born.

Yesterday seemed to drag on forever for Grandma 2000 miles away. Sydney wasn't very cooperative and wouldn't get in position and labor was going slow or not at all.

This morning about 8:00 am we got THE CALL.

Sydney Anne
Born April 5, 2005 at 4:26 am Pacific Time
8 pounds, 6 ounces
20.5 inches long

Everyone is happy and doing well.

I'm supposed to have a picture in my email, but I don't. I'm guessing Dad/Son John was so tired he sent it to Australia by mistake.

If it comes before I leave to pick up granddaughter Kimmy, I'll try to get it posted here. Otherwise, it may not show up until late tonight or even tomorrow - or whenever Dad wakes up enough to actually send it.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Castle Ratter
Papillons are one of the oldest breed of dog. Their history can be traced back 700 years when they were known as toy spaniels.

Marie Antoinette owned Papillons and, according to legend, she took one of the little dogs to the guillotine with her for company and comfort. (The dog was not beheaded.)

In those times, few people could afford to keep a dog that didn't earn its keep. The Papillons worked as the castle ratters.

It's important to know the history of a dog breed you are thinking of adopting, because dogs retain their breed characteristics whether their owner wants them to or not.

Sunny, our little mixed breed, has a herding instinct. Herding dogs need to have a job to be happy. If a job is not provided, they will make up their own job description and their owners may not be pleased with the duties their dog has chosen.

But I've digressed. Papillons are not herding dogs.

Pappy the Papillon out in the field hunting for rodents in the grassPapillons are hunting dogs. Our little fourteen pound Papillon Pappy is obsessed with rodents. Since we live in the country, he is never bored.

He can sense small rodents under the snow and will dive into snow banks after them. During the other seasons of the year, he is forever diving into grass clumps. Sometimes he comes out with a screaming rodent in his mouth.

I hate it when he catches something. If he's on the leash, I give the leash a hardy tug and tell him "drop it". He does. Reluctantly. Only because he has no choice.

A few weeks ago he was off leash when I saw him catch a mouse. "Drop it!" didn't work. He swallowed it whole so I wouldn't take it away from him. I had no idea that was physically possible. Even more amazing he didn't get sick, although he was a bit sluggish at his agility class that evening.

I can only conclude that as well as inheriting his breed's ability to catch rodents, he also inherited the ability to digest them.