Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dogwood in Bloom

The dogwood in my garden is blooming beautifully this year for the first time. It escaped a late freeze that prevented bloom last year, and enjoyed a shot of rain recently that allowed the "petals" to fully unfurl. I put the word petals in quotes because they are really bracts, protective coverings for the flowers which look like a cluster of beads in the eye of the blossom.
The dogwood flower is a beautiful sign of spring, and it's rich in Christian symbolism. The four bracts represent the cross of crucifixion. Each sepal bears a mark representative of the nail marks in the hands and feet of Christ. The flowers in the center of the blossom represent the crown of thorns. The red berries that are often found on dogwood trees represent the blood of Christ.
Although dogwood trees are said to prefer moist, acid soil, it's obvious that the one in my yard is thriving in clay and in spite of a dry, difficult year previously. And, although it doesn't show in the photos I took above, behind the dogwood is blooming a beautiful lilac bush for the first time ever in my yard. A neighbor who always calls when her lilac blooms to make sure I get bouquets told me to help myself to the numerous suckers that had sprouted beneath her large shrub. After just 2 years the baby lilac produced enough flowers for me to cut my own bouquet!
And so my garden grows. Photos by JulenaJo.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Wonder of Warblers

Yesterday as I was leaving work I heard a "check, check" from the topmost branches of a blooming ornamental pear tree just outside the library building. I saw a tiny bird nervously flitting about. I stood beneath the tree, trying to get a good look, knowing it had to be a migrating warbler. Yes! A yellow rumped warbler, or myrtle warbler as the eastern species is often called. The yellow side patches clearly gave it away. This is a first sighting for me. Warblers are confusing, I think, though not as confusing as sparrows--I had to make mental note of the field marks and ID the bird when I got home. I felt fortunate to have seen it.

In April and May the warblers are migrating, and if you pay attention, you might see many colorful birds in the treetops that are only passing through on their way to their breeding grounds, wherever they may be.

I've always been interested in nature and birds (and flowers), in particular, but I am not an experienced birder, by any means. Birds fascinate me, though. How could there be such a dazzling array of species? Why are some plain and others brightly colored? Why do some sing sweetly and others not at all? Why do some eat seeds and others worms? And why do they migrate and how do they know the way? How can such a tiny creature fly thousands of miles? It's all mysterious and wonderful. And it assures me of God's existence.

I often overlook the infinite wonder of people, I guess, because I am one. I overlook the wonder of stars, rivers, mountains--all because they are familiar and I take them for granted. But warblers? How can one overlook the wonder of a warbler? Here is a tiny bird, just passing by unobtrusively. In all my 50-plus years I have never seen a myrtle warbler. Yet every year hundreds of them flit through the treetops on their way to where, I do not know. People speak of feeling God's presence in the mountains and oceans and other huge natural splendors, but this little bird comes to my attention and I am no less moved.

Garden Notes: The snows that covered the garden throughout February were depressing, but the payoff comes now, in the garden. Everything was protected by the cold with an insulating blanket of snow and is blooming wildly now. There's a lot of work to be done, but it's all a pleasure. The roses that showed chlorosis last year appear to be suffering this year as well. Action needs to be taken, but what? Photo from Wikipedia.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bluebirds are Back!

One of the best things about living in the country is the return each spring of bluebirds. Townies never see them, nor do woodland dwellers. I almost pity them. The eastern bluebird is truly a piece of the sky sent down to earth--the back feathers of the male are dazzling cerulean, the deep rust breast feathers are a cheerful counterpoint. Often I hear the arrival of the bluebirds even before I see them. The gay trill is not unlike that of its cousin, the robin. Here's a link to a site where you can hear the call and read up on them: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/eastern_bluebird/id

Another informative site is http://www.sialis.org/

We've had much luck in attracting these charmers to our five acres. In fact, one year a gourd that stuck in a fence and dried there even became a home to them. After seeing the birds fluttering around it, I asked Gourdo to drill a hole in it and within minutes, Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird happily set up housekeeping!

Attracting bluebirds is only part of the process, though. Protecting them from the evil English House Sparrow (HOSP), a non-native competitor for their habitat, is the largest part of the providing haven for bluebirds--as well as for tree swallows and any number of other native birds. I used to feel that if a species is so tenacious as to be able to adapt and survive anywhere, it should. After all, it's nature's way, isn't it?

This is true, perhaps. But it's also human nature to protect what we love. And we love bluebirds.

I've had adult bluebirds killed on the nest and newly hatched bluebird babies stabbed and ejected from a nest by the HOSP who wants a nest box. It's heartbreaking.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but, for me, traps are a problem. I can't kill the enemy even when I catch him. Shooting isn't easy either. The HOSP is as wary as the bluebird is friendly. I'm hoping two things will help this year, an elaborate arrangement of fishing line around the entrance of the birdhouse which supposedly makes it spooky to the sparrow, and eliminating HOSP food source. No more millet! Black oil sunflower seed and thistle seed only in my feeders.

We shall see.

The bluebirds are here and are busy at one of the houses. In the offing I hear the bold chirping of the HOSP. Will he let the bluebirds be? The drama continues for another year. But if we're lucky, we'll see the successful raising of a bluebird family in our backyard. Photo from Wikipedia.