The Garden Chronicles ~ June 15, 2010

Contending With Baby Birds and Shadows                              

You might think that, by now, a few years into serious amateur gardening, I would be prepared for the mishaps and escapades that occur in my backyard. That I would be able to anticipate danger. You would be wrong. Gardening with birds continues to be my daily nightmare (there’s an oxymoron for you).

Birds must be exceptionally lusty creatures. There’s a second batch of babies in my yard! Recently I wrote about the poor little baby robin entreé on the blue jay’s menu last Sunday. Well, today I was contending with a baby mourning dove and a baby grackle.

I wanted to get the wheelbarrow from our “corral”, an enclosed area beside the shed where the compost bin, the wheelbarrow, and other odds and ends are kept out of sight. These utilitarian items don’t enhance the ambience of the garden; so our design is evidence of rather good planning, I think.

Our bird feeder hangs above this corral, a good spot for it. I can live with a few scattered seed hulls littering the ground in this screened area. Plus, it keeps the birds relatively far away from the patio. And me.

Birdseed attracts birds. I know this. I like watching birds …  from a distance. Well, not mourning doves and grackles, of course. And blue jays have dropped considerably in my estimation since the aforementioned infanticide.

What I really want are pretty birds to grace my yard.  Cardinals and orioles and goldfinches whose bright plumage coordinates well with my vivacious orange Iceland poppies and jaunty yellow Ozark sundrops. Birds that have the decency and decorum to dine on seeds only! Pretty birds that don’t have any subliminal connection to the frenzied chickens of The Birds  (like the mourning doves), or to the “Nevermore” raven of Edgar Allen Poe (like the grackles).  As an aside, I visited the Tower of London in 2004. The ravens there are protected and wander menacingly about the grounds. They are huge fearsome birds! I found them deeply disturbing, but there were some handsome Beefeater types around to protect the cowardly. 🙂


Ok, back to getting the wheelbarrow. From past experience, I know that mourning doves might be hiding around the corner in the corral where I can’t see them. In order to prevent these stupid fowl from flying right at me in their panicked flush to get away, I give them ample warning of my approach. I tap my shovel on the flagstone path a few times. (Yes, I know this makes the neighbours wonder if I am trying to contact aliens, but so be it). A few doves flutter up from their pecking circle under the feeder. Having taken the necessary precautions, I enter boldly. And almost stumble over a baby mourning dove. Instead of Escape Plan A, fly away like mommy, this poorly-trained novice has selected Escape Plan B – the camouflage freeze. The strategy is to remain perfectly still, show no fear, and try to blend into the ground. Until you are almost stepped on. Then flutter around frantically and bang against all three sides of the corral before you realize you have to fly up to escape. I leave it to your imagination to judge who was the more traumatized by this encounter!

The day progresses. I shovel dirt. I sweat. Once in a while, I lean on the handle, wipe my brow, and survey my acreage (70’x 130’) with satisfaction. I decide to throw some triple mix in a low spot under the mature redbud where I had removed a hosta earlier. I bend to tilt my shovel at the right angle to reach the hole… and yup, encore! Baby mourning dove versus gardener. The usual truncated yelp, the embarrassed sideways glance to see if anyone has witnessed this second humiliation, and the silent cursing of avian sexual appetites.

Fast forward to the end of a productive day. Time to put away the wheelbarrow. I take all the necessary precautions. I tip the wheelbarrow up the way Mark likes, so it doesn’t collect water. I put my shovel in the shed. I have a coffee on the patio. I forget about the birds, admiring my new tiger sumac and white dome hydrangea and all the black dirt I’ve spread around. I notice that the sumac is drooping a bit. I grab my watering can, saunter over, and water it. Then it occurs to me to water the impatiens on the west side of the corral. Now don’t think I didn’t check. I did! No mourning doves. I lean in to water. Out jumps a baby grackle with a frightened squawk and takes its turn madly fluttering around, desperately seeking the exit door of the corral.  Meanwhile, I’ve nicely watered my feet and legs instead of the impatiens.  🙂

And the shadows? Some time ago, I bought a large brown concrete jack rabbit to grace my garden. He’s quite handsome and imposing, standing at attention under a bushy redbud sapling. Mark positioned a solar spotlight on him for a nice lighting effect in the evening.

It was breezy throughout the day but the wind really picked up tonight. I glanced out my window, hoping to see rain. The redbud branches were waving and whipping around. For a heart-stopping instant, I thought I saw an alien in the garden! OK, a small alien, but it had a horrifying howling expression like the guy in Munsch’s painting, The Scream.

A second more and I realized it was just the play of shadows and light in the gusty wind animating the jack rabbit’s face. Remember how we used to shine flashlights up into our open mouths and bugged-out eyes to scare each other at night when we camped out in the backyard? It looked just like that. But, given my day of contending with baby birds, mistaking a piece of garden statuary for an alien apparition seems understandable. Not verging on delusional at all.  🙂


The Garden Chronicles ~ June 9, 2010

Our stories today focus on wildlife in the garden, a favourite topic of mine (Not!). You animal lovers might as well change the channel right now! Last week, I gloried in the first appearance of a delicate Queen Alexander poppy. Its salmon pink bloom waved at me shyly, poking up at just the perfect height behind the phlox. Precisely according to plan. I was ecstatic with the success of my garden design. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy tilling and planting in my west bed. It finally dawned on me this morning that I haven’t seen any more poppies! There should be a nice cluster of paper-thin white and salmon heads nodding in the breeze. So, on my walkabout this morning (yes, I do walkabouts… and your hysterical snorts are not very becoming!), I was perturbed to discover a gruesome scene. Half a dozen poppies in bloom, lying forlorn and trampled on the ground. That lazy, fat, rascally, trespassing rabbit has been reclining in the very center of the plants. The splatted stems and leaves told the whole story.  Where’s Elmer Fudd when you need him?

Commercial Break: Critter Ridder does not work.

Our next segment contains some graphic scenes. Reader discretion is advised. On Saturday, Mark cleaned out the lawnmower and changed the blade. He left a sticky matted mess in the backyard. I was pouty, but he sprayed the muddy clippings with a hose and assured me that the next rainfall would clean it up entirely.  The next day, on one of my many window checks (yes, I meander over the window occasionally to look at the garden… and your hysterical hooting is equally unbecoming!), I noticed a blue jay voraciously ripping at a damp green clump. I observed his ravenous behaviour with interest. I called to Mark, who was watching golf on TV, and said, “I think there must be some sunflower seeds stuck in the grass clippings. There’s a psycho blue jay out here going nuts!” I thought I saw a red impatiens petal in the grass clippings, and wondered how it got there. A few minutes, later, when I wandered by the window again, the blue jay was still determinedly pecking and gorging, and the red impatiens blossom had suddenly grown. It slowly dawned on me that the red spot wasn’t a flower. It was blood! The blue jay was cannibalizing a baby bird! I saw a tiny wing tip before I turned away in absolute revulsion. Mark, my DeCon (decontamination) hero, had to go and clean up the crime scene. He reported that he found a small nest under the maple tree. The victim was a baby robin. Who knew blue jays were carnivorous? Last night, when I cut the grass, there was nothing left to indicate the grisly event, but I almost gagged as I mowed over the spot where the ugly incident occurred.

Commercial Break: The roasted BBQ chickens available from Wyoming Foodland on Monday nights are delicious. Pulling one apart to prepare it for sandwiches tends to trigger revolting memories. I had a hotdog instead.

Stay tuned for happier stories and more girly gardening features. Upcoming: Fashionista Gardener…