Monthly Archives: January 2013

Eastern Bluebird

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The male Eastern Bluebird shows a brilliant indigo blue on the head and back, with a rusty reddish brown breast. The female is more softly colored overall, with elegant gray wings, tinged in shades of blue, and paler breast. Joe Ciaramitaro photo

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Several days ago my friend Joe from Good Morning Gloucester blog captured (with camera) a pair of Eastern Bluebirds. Everyone who responded in the comment section spoke so fondly of this beautiful bird that I thought we’d all enjoy knowing a bit more about its current status in Massachusetts. And too, sightings at this time of year give reason to share a favorite Emily Dickinson poem—“Before you thought of spring, except as a surmise…”

Before you thought of spring,

Except as a surmise,

You see, God bless his suddenness,

A fellow in the skies

Of independent hues,

A little weather-worn,

Inspiriting habiliments

Of indigo and brown.

With specimens of song,

As if for you to choose,

Discretion in the interval,

With gay delays he goes

To some superior tree

Without a single leaf,

And shouts for joy to nobody

But his seraphic self!

Bluebirds do indeed appear to sing with great joy from the treetops, and reading this poem always makes me smile, thinking about “a fellow in the skies” singing to nobody but his rapt self. As is so typical of her work, Emily Dickinson’s poem is an astute and honest observation of the natural world, but I also interpret her poem to mean that joy is an emotion that doesn’t need an audience; that it can be expressed for the sake of joy itself.

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Eastern Bluebirds sing several types of songs; one is a liquid birdsong—sort of a turee song—and another is a soft melodious warble. When trying to attract a mate, unpaired males typically sing from a high perch, and sometimes even in flight. Both male and female sing in all seasons to keep in touch with each other and to signal to nestlings that food is on its way. Bluebirds are in the Thrush Family, as are American Robins, and Robins too sing a lovely liquid birdsong.

 From the Mass Audubon State of Birds:

“The very widespread breeding distribution seen in the Eastern Bluebird in Massachusetts today is, in large part, the result of considerable support received by concerned citizens who, for more than half a century, erected large numbers of nest boxes across the state and helped save the species from near-extirpation.”

What does “extirpation” mean? Not that a species has become extinct from our planet, but that it is no longer found in a particular area. We are very fortunate that the Eastern Bluebird did not become extirpated from our region. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and use suitable bird boxes, tree cavities, and old woodpecker holes in trees and fence posts to build their nests. During the era when settlers cleared forests and planted fields and orchards, the Eastern Bluebird became quite common. In the 20th century their population decreased by nearly 90 percent for several reasons, two of which are because vast areas of New England have reverted to forest, and because the bluebird is competing for nesting sites with the alien European House Sparrow and European Starling. The return of the Eastern Bluebird during the spring and summer breeding period is due in large measure to citizens throughout the state building and placing nest boxes along “bluebird trails.”

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Eastern Bluebird and Winterberry

If you are fortunate enough to have bluebirds visiting your backyard, you may want to provide them with supplemental food. Bluebirds are primarily insectivores. They do not visit bird feeders because their bills are not designed for cracking open seed and nut shells (but they will eat hulled sunflower seeds). They eat berries at this time of year because there aren’t any insects. The winterberries won’t last long on the bush with flocks of hungry birds descending to your garden. Mealworms (which aren’t really worms at all, but are the larval form of the darling beetle) are the most nutritious supplement you can provide bluebirds. For more information on feeding mealworms to bluebirds go to this fact sheet: North American Bluebird Society’s Mealworms Fact Sheet.

For a wonderful FREE downloadable 15 page education packet designed for grades 1-5, with coloring pages and puzzles follow this link: Education Packet

For more information on how to build, and where to site, bluebird nest boxes, along with plan drawings, follow this link:  Getting Started with Bluebirds

To read more about the devastating effects of European House Sparrows and European Starlings follow this link: House Sparrow Control.

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Just this past week, 15 Eastern Bluebirds were spotted at Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Westport, Massachusetts. See Bluebird Nestbox Walk at Allens Neck post for information about an upcoming.

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Additional images courtesy Google image search.

Eastern Bluebird Nestbox Walk at Allens Neck

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Male Eastern Bluebird and Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Bluebird Nestbox Walk at Allens Neck

Sponsored by Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

Sunday, February 24, 2013 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Location: Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary
 Instructor: Allens Pond Sanctuary Staff
 Audience: All (suitable for children 5 – 16 years)
 Fee: Adults $0, Children $0.00m/ $0.00nm

Join us at the Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary for a FREE bluebird nest box training session and nature walk. The walk is free and open to anyone but will focus on teaching participants how to monitor nest boxes on our Sanctuary as well as their own properties. You will visit 30 nest box sites along this three mile hike while learning how to attract and monitor bluebirds. You’ll also have the chance to join the Allens Pond Volunteer Bluebird Nest Box Monitor Program. Please bring your questions!

Instructions and Directions: Meet at the Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary Parking lot, located on Allens Neck Road, right off of Horseneck Road in South Dartmouth, MA. Dress for an outdoor hike and be sure to bring a water bottle.

Registration is required.

Register online or call 508-636-2437 to register by phone.

Register by mail: program registration form (PDF 66K)

For more information, contact:

Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

1280 Horseneck Road

Westport, MA 02790

allenspond@massaudubon.org

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Images courtesy Google image search.

Video: Good Harbor Beach Featuring The Great Blue Heron

 

Notes on Good Harbor Beach November Sunrise
One morning in late November I followed the elusive Great Blue Heron up and down the length of the salt marsh creek while a stunning sunrise unfolded in the background. The dance of the lone heron feeding was as hauntingly beautiful as is the ebb and flow of Fauré’s “Pavane” through its series of musical climaxes, and seemed perfectly choreographed to the intensely focused movements of the heron.

Earlier in the month of November I had filmed three herons feeding simultaneously—the most I typically see at Good Harbor are two at a time. That footage is lost, and perhaps it is just as well because it may not have been the most interesting as the focal length was some distance in order to capture all three in the frame. I found it captivating to see this lone heron feeding alongside the seagulls and ducks, not an event I have often seen. Whenever a dog approached or some other imagined disturbance startled the birds, all would take flight; the seagulls and ducks dispersed and the heron invariably headed to the opposite end of the marsh. This went on for several hours, back and forth, up and down the salt marsh. The Great Blue Heron is majestic in flight, with deep powerful wing beats, and a wingspan of five and a half feet to six and a half feet. Oftentimes difficult to find in the cameras’ lens, the heron’s subdued blue-gray and brown plumage is perfect camouflage against the rocky shoreline, particularly in the pre-dawn light and early hours of sunrise.

I looked for the herons again after that late date of November 29th, but I think they had all departed for warmer shores further south.
If you stay until the end, look for a funny clip after the credits have rolled. I couldn’t figure out how to make this most ordinary of body functions fit with the heron’s beautiful dance.

“Pavane in F-sharp minor, Opus 50,” was composed by Gabriel Fauré  in 1887. Fauré’s “Pavane” obtains it slow processional rhythm from the Spanish and Italian court dance of the same name. The earliest known pavane was published in Venice in 1508 by Ottaviano Putrucci and is a dignified partner dance. The original music seems to have been fast, but like many dances, became slower over time. For this film I looked for a recording approximately 8 minutes in length, although Fauré’s “Pavane” is more typically six minutes long. The origin of the term is unknown; possibilities include from the Spanish pavón meaning peacock.

The following is the same video, only shared on vimeo. I find in both vimeo and youtube you get a better viewing experience if you watch full frame, but i am curious to know what my readers prefer–vimeo or youtube. Please let me know if you have a moment. Thank you!

Gloucester Seagulls

Random snapshots from recent photo trips with Fujufilm X-E1. Ubiquitous, and from every vantage point, the gulls always make their presence known. Gloucester seagulls are the best–so photogenic!

 

Click photos to view larger.Gloucester Seagull  ©Kim Smith 2013-1

Gloucester Seagull  ©Kim Smith 2013-2Gloucester Seagull and Geese  ©Kim Smith 2013-1.

Gloucester Seagull  ©Kim Smith 2013-3.Gloucester Seagull  ©Kim Smith 2013-4

 

More Snowy Day Photos

Winter Garden©Kim Smith 2013

The morning after the beautiful snowfall (I hope it isn’t the only real snow of the season!), I took several snapshots of our garden before heading over to the Harbor Walk, then ended by photographing at Niles Pond. The Harbor Walk photos are posted here, and I am just getting to the rest of the images.

Winter Garden

The waves that can be seen crashing in the distance beyond the narrow strip of land are at Brace Cove. Click photos to view larger.

Niles Pond

Niles Pond after new fallen snow

Our Most Cherished Gifts of All ~ Daughters and Sons

For Christmas Liv gave me an early edition of Emily Dickinson’s poems. I cried. The poems of Emily Dickinson play a beautiful role in my book, Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities, but the sweetest poem of all found within the books’ pages is the poem written by Liv, when she was only twelve.

Emily Dickinson early edition poem s©Kim Smith 2013

Emily Dickinson, published 1892

When Liv was twelve I hired her to transcribe the first draft of the manuscript for Oh Garden, which I had written in longhand, to our then new computer. I had not yet learned how to use the computer and she was quite proficient. The original manuscript included recipes and illustrations, but no poetry. She took her job transcribing very seriously and one day, about halfway through the project, announced that I needed a poem for the book. She dashed upstairs to her bedroom, returning only half an hour later with her contribution, “My Mother’s Garden.” Her tender poem suggested to me that I include more poetry and it was a joyous experience searching for just the right poem to illuminate each chapter. The book grew to comprise many poems by Emily Dickinson, along with works by Federico García Lorca, John Keats, Amy Lowell, Chinese painter- poets, and even a funny and sweetly sarcastic poem by Dorothy Parker titled “One Perfect Rose.” When the time came, I showed my publisher, Mr. Godine, Liv’s poem. He was delighted to include “My Mother’s Garden” and it can be found on page 206.

Now I keep this cherished gift of Emily Dickinson poems by my bedside table and each time I reach to read it or simply when the cover catches my eye, I am reminded of Liv’s gentle, thoughtful love and of the most cherished gift of all, my daughter.

My Mother’s Garden

An exotic sunset-tinted rose

Intoxicating breath of a magnolia

The small windy brick path

Leading to a hidden paradise

Butterflies flutter their own petal-wings

Over the smiling face of a daisy

A hushed lullaby to the garden sings the stream

Honeysuckle vines twist their elegant tendril,

Grasping the delicate lattice

Gorgeous, vibrant hollyhocks stretch their faces

Towards the radiant sun

Drinking in the soft light

Soon the sweet mellow silence is broken

By a joyful cry of children,

Two, three, now four

Suddenly the garden is a place of singing and frolicking and dancing,

Youthful and inviting.

This blessed garden’s soul shines forth in each and every existence

From the flitting butterflies

To the smallest thriving plant

To the noisiest child that finds peaceful comfort,

In the gentle haven.

                    -Written by our Liv when she was twelve