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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A good day at the feeders

This morning found me at the Wildwood Metropark Window on Wildlife, hoping to see at least one bird that doesn't generally visit our feeders in Parkersburg. Even our usual birds visit the Window in greater numbers than we generally get--three downy woodpeckers were hanging onto their part of the suet feeders at the same time. (There are benefits to mature habitat and a critical mass of feeding stations.) Seeing nothing special (oh, how easily we get spoiled), I prepared to spend a few minutes enjoying the family of ten young mallards paddling in the small pond and the fox squirrels squabbling over the ground feeders. Then--there it was: a blue like no other. Perched on a tray feeder in the company of cardinals and titmice was a male indigo bunting who fed for several minutes, allowing me to enjoy this supposedly common bird that I had never seen before. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes it as "a scrap of sky with wings," and while I hate to argue with people who certainly know more than I do about birds, the indigo bunting is not the color of the skies I usually see. Its color is much darker and richer. Of course, I had no camera, but the Toledo Metroparks have thoughtfully posted a blogger's photo of this gorgeous creature. You can find it here: http://www.metroparkstoledo.com/metro/item.asp?item_id=4356

And as if an indigo bunting weren't enough excitement for one morning, as soon as it flew away, there were two Baltimore orioles feasting on oranges a few feet away.

Life is good.

Monday's sightings

 Yesterday afternoon brought time for a brief ramble along the meadow loop trail at Wildwood Metropark in Toledo. While I wasn't expecting much, given that Ohio's meadow and prairie flowers peak much later in the summer, a number of interesting things were happening. (And of course, I had left the camera at home!)
  • The pasture rose was in full bloom
  • Pale-purple monarda fistulosa was drawing bumblebees, including one large, handsome specimen that totally ignored my presence for several minutes, allowing me a good long look at bumblebee feeding behavior
  • A short early goldenrod was already blooming, attracting lots of tiny bees and hoverflies
  • White yarrow was everywhere
  • I saw my first whorled milkweed. The scent was amazing, something like a cross between lily of the valley and Japanese honeysuckle.
  • Among the butterflies flittering everywhere were an American painted lady and a black swallowtail.
All in all, a good afternoon meander.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The return of Stumpy

I realize that I neglected to post about my first sighting of a near-tailless squirrel in the summer of 2011. In all honesty, I was a little worried about the poor guy. (Gal? I have no idea how to sex squirrels.) Given the enthusiastic use to which all the other neighborhood squirrels put their tails as they dash from the oaks to the hemlock to the pines, I feared that poor Stumpy (as we uncreatively dubbed our visitor) would be unable to out-maneuver the neighborhood predators, which include hawks, outside cats, and the occasional wandering dog (not that I've ever seen the dogs around here attack anything).

But this week, Stumpy appeared again at our tray feeder, as frisky and healthy-looking as ever. While I missed the acrobatics, he had climbed a metal pole to access a tray six feet off the ground. Curious about the life of a squirrel without the appendage that always defines "squirrel-ness" for me, I of course turned to the Internet and learned that squirrels are capable of ditching their tails to escape from predators. According to a 2010 New York Times article, "Part of a tail is sometimes lost to a grasping predator, but the thin covering of skin and muscle can be stripped away without mortal results, and a break-away tail can thus allow the squirrel to escape. The exposed bone eventually falls away and the stump heals" (C. Claiborne Ray. "Q and A: The Tale of the Tail." New York Times 5 July 2010). Evidently, a narrow escape is part of our squirrel's life story.
Stumpy making yet another escape, only a little the worse for wear.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Another life bird

My post on the rest area in southern Ohio didn't include the most exciting thing that happened to me in my brief stop: I sighted a bird that I couldn't identify. It was sparrow-sized, primarily black with white wing bars, and reminded me of a mockingbird, but the size and color were wrong. Sighting the bird largely from below as it flitted from beech tree to beech tree also didn't give a particularly good look at most distinguishing characteristics. Today after lunch I finally got around to using a bird key and have a tentative ID; the previously unknown-to-me creature was most likely an American redstart. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology lists the bird as common, but that's not the case in my yard. The sort of edge habitat found in roadside rests in forested areas is ideal for tree-gleaning insectivores, though. Yet another reason to love public green spaces.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A public good

Today I enjoyed a genuinely rejuvenating stop at a public rest area somewhere on Ohio Route 32 between Mt. Orab and Peebles. This particular rest area backs onto woods, and the great state of Ohio has seen fit to incorporate walking trails to encourage enjoyment of said woods.  Having driven two grueling hours in heavy traffic from Louisville, I was more than ready to take a break in some green space and enjoy what this pocket park had to offer.

It offered a great deal. Besides the usual clean restrooms and fountains with cold water, it had delightful diversity. Scattered around the area were beech trees that had been there long enough to grow an interesting collections of lichens and cast cooling shade on the picnic area. The birds and squirrels seemed appreciative and are probably even more so when the beechnuts develop. The edge of the path had the kind of biodiversity that defines "edge habitat" for me: maples as the tall trees, sassafrass and pawpaws (or something with that kind of leaf--I truly can't tell young pawpaws from horse chestnuts or buckeyes) in the understory, brambles that included blackberry, and a mixed collection of vines, including a large-leafed shade-loving beauty whose name I forget. And numerous azure butterflies were fluttering about--looking for violets, perhaps?

Given that both the governor and the state department of transportation would like to privatize a significant number of Ohio rest stops, let me list reasons why privatization strikes me as a bad idea:
  • The privatized rest areas along the Ohio Turnpike offer no green space. Basically, all available space is taken up with parking areas and chain restaurants all trying to sell something.
  • Imagine travelling with a carload of children. Aren't open spaces where they can run around and expend some energy better than a video arcade that demands your quarters?
  • Privatized rest areas are all about selling junk food. The current rural rest stops have quiet picnic areas and places where you can fill bottles with cold water--for free.
  • Rest stops like the one where I stopped today offer great places to give kids mini-lessons in natural history. In a five-minute walk, they could learn to identify several trees, see how raspberries and blackberries grow (and maybe even pick a few, at the right time of year), and be taught the difference between Virginia creeper and poison ivy.
The impetus for privatization comes, of course, from a shortage of funds in ODOT. The "free" water and restrooms  have to be paid for by someone: in this case, the driving public. But public amenities are a public good. I for one am happy to have my tax dollars go for beautiful, safe spaces where people can take a quiet break without worrying whether or not they remembered to bring their credit cards.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

An Interesting Mix

     This week I am in Louisville again for the reading of this year's Advanced Placement tests in English. For my particular exam, 1152 English teachers are together in one room; then another frighteningly large group of faculty are working on the literature exams. So yes, several thousand English teachers have descended on this poor city, and after nine hours in the constant company of that many colleagues, this particular introvert heads away from groups of humans, at least humans with whom I would be expected to engage in conversation.
     Fortunately, Louisville is a city in possession of an extensive waterfront and numerous pocket parks, including one directly across the street from the convention center where we read the essays written by several hundred thousand hopeful high school students. After an exploratory walk through the museum district, I found myself  ensconced on a bench in said park, contentedly observing my surroundings. The downtown areas of big cities are not my natural habitat, and being in one had me contemplating what constitutes the essence of a place.
     Louisville, I learned on my walkabout, was "discovered" by Lewis and Clark, though they of course did not stay there, and the downtown area has no evidence of any of Kentucky's early white pioneers. At street level, the structures feel modern (Postmodern, maybe? I'm not good with any artistic styles after 1920 or thereabouts), but sitting and looking up into the evening sky reveals a number of buildings with upper stories that seem much older, with the detailed cornices of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the faraway ends of bustling contemporary streets rise church steeples that would not have seemed out of place in medieval France. Such sights delight my romantic soul.
     Downtowns have too much concrete and noise for me, but non-human life manages to exist there, too. The only birds near my bench were starlings foraging in the grass and sparrows drinking from a puddle left after plants were watered, but such brazen little avians feel appropriate in cities. Louisville of course has public plantings, highly controlled clipped boxwoods and other well-behaved shrubs, lots of urns filled with tropical color, and park areas with turfgrass where overheated AP readers can throw themselves down with their paperbacks and Kindles. But "gift plants" creep in there, too. One clipped hedge near a parking garage sported the gaudy, tropical-looking orange flowers of trumpet vine, and a concrete wall near the waterfront had poison ivy sneaking in among the parthenocissus. I'm not a fan of poison ivy, but I had to admire this specimen's gall.