Mission Statement

Bearing Witness to Local Natural History-- from the wildness of Indiana

Thursday, June 30, 2011

CAWR Nest, TRES Egg, & Traces

I spent some time cleaning out a few of my nest gourds this morning. I always place nest boxes and nest gourds out for cavity nesting birds. I especially enjoy my tree swallows (TRES). Each nesting season I have several families of tree swallows nest on my property. This year I have had TRES, Carolina wrens (CAWR), house wrens (HOWR), and Eastern bluebirds (EABL). Each year I  participate in the citizen science program, NestWatch, by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Anyone can participate. You simply become knowledgeable about cavity nesters (plenty of information on Cornell Lab's website: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/), monitor your nest boxes/keep data, and then submit that data to NestWatch via online or mail. (TRES, CAWR, etc. are codes used in bird banding to identify bird species--it allows an abbreviated usuage rather than writing out the full common name).

In one of my tree swallow nesting gourds, one egg did not hatch. Below is a photo. As you can tell the eggs are very small. This pair laid 6 eggs and 5 fledged. Tree swallows feed on flying insects and some berries. They nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. Mine love my white plastic gourds for nesting. Nests are made from grasses and feathers. The feathers help to keep nestlings warm and reduce the presence of ectoparasites. They are one of the lovliest nests with all the downy feathers added to the bed of dried grasses. They always look inviting!

                                           Tree Swallow Egg-unhatched   ©Joni L. James

                                          Male Tree Swallow
I also cleaned out the Carolina wren (CAWR) nest gourd which hung inside an open-sided "shed". I pulled the globe of grasses and leaves from the gourd in order to photograph it. CAWRs are very small birds with surprisingly loud voices. They definitely make their presence known! Males and females bond for life and will travel their territory together eating insects and spiders all year round. They typically lay 3-7 creamy white eggs -- finely spotted with brown. This nest produced 5 eggs and they all fledged.

Incubation takes usually 12-16 days and the nestling period lasts 12-14 days.

                                          Carolina wren nest.  ©Joni L. James

In this image the nest is sitting upright on a stone wall-- it is globular in shape with the opening on the front side. This is the positioning it had in the plastic gourd. It is an interesting nest of dead grasses, fine hair, and dead leaves.

                                          Carolina wren    ©Joni L. James

I searched  the trunk of an old maple tree outside the my home this morning hoping to find gray treefrogs hiding in the grooves and folds of the lichen covered bark. Instead I found evidence of the feeding by either a tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, or white-breasted nuthatch. These birds snatch sunflower seeds from my feeder and fly off to the surrounding trees to open the hulls to enjoy the meat within. They will frequently lodge them in crevices and then hammer open the sunflower seed. Seeds will also be cached for later.

                                                        Sunflower Seed Hull  ©Joni L. James

As always, interesting discoveries are awaiting if you only take the time to observe closely. Look up, look down, and look around. What might you find if you look carefully?

Friday, June 24, 2011

An Old Poem: "Journey From the Earth"

A poem I wrote November 23, 1984.


I am born of the Earth.
I entered with a Bang.
A sprinkling of stardust
And from the water I arose.
With wings I took flight
To intercourse with the sky.
I returned to the land to become a proud walker.

My walks brought me many thoughts and contemplations
Filled with questions, awe, and wonder.
A knowledge is brought to me from brothers and sisters who walk with four legs and wing through the sky.
A common ground is shared with unspoken knowledge of who we are.
Is it because of my origins and my travels
That I stand in awe-- inspired as I gaze at the heavens?
That I am drawn by the rhythm, sound, and life of the water?
That I experience a feeling of intimacy with the eldest creatures?
All because of beginnings and distant travels?
I may never know.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nesting Ending & Junior Naturalists

Summer Solstice has passed. Summer has "officially" begun. All of my nesting birds as of this week have fledged their young. The Eastern bluebirds safely raised their young. My tree swallows (all three families) fledged a week or two ago. Yesterday the Carolina wrens fledged and the house wrens are gone.

I am enjoying the cool weather. I am not a creature who is most comfortable in hot and humid weather conditions. I thrive in low humidity and temps below 75 degrees. As I stood at the door noticing the absence of adult birds diligently delivering food to noisy begging nestlings, I heard the soft warbling song of a male bluebird. Sitting on top of the nest box in the front yard was a colorful male. They are ready to attempt brood number two. Later I checked the box and discovered the beginnings of a nest. I still have company.

Today was the final day of Junior Naturalist Camp. I had a fun and rewarding three days with 14 kids ages 9-12 (and the other two staff members). We learned to identify several of the most common Indiana frogs & toads by their calls as well as their life history. Exploration of the creek brought study of  macro-invertebrates. Nocturnal bird-life included learning about three of our most common owls, Eastern screech owls, great-horned owls and barred owls, their adaptations, and how to identify them by their calls.  We also dissected owl pellets to discuss anatomy and the prey of owls. On our last day we discussed what to look for when tracking mammals, followed by making flash cards with track replicas and stamp pads then creating actual plaster casts. Our days also included environmental education games, sit spot time, saunters, and journaling. The young people enjoyed their time. Hopefully seeds were planted which will continue to be nurtured to flourish into adults who care about nature and our environment.

It is growing dark and the indigo buntings are singing  . . .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Excerpt: Dancing With Herons-- "The Night" Poem

A great blue heron coursed across a deepening blue sky this evening as night fell. It reminded me of a poem I wrote many years ago. "The Night" is included in my book Dancing With Herons.

                                           Copyright Joni L. James
The Night
This evening.
The waning light from the setting sun.
Darkness enveloping the ponds.
Full moon glowing bright.
Coursing through the sky in dark silhouette,
To eclipse the moon,
Your powerful wingbeats carry you.
Left with my thoughts,
I wonder where you are going.
How will you pass the dark hours?
It's a different world you know . . .
The night.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lovely Evening: Deer & Kingbirds

What a lovely evening it was tonight! I stood out on my deck and watched deer, bald eagles, catbirds, wood ducks, tree swallows, and Carolina wrens. A cooling breeze blew lightly as the sun illuminated the "lake" as the clouds parted. Cricket frogs were beginning to sing as the sun dropped below the tree-line.

                                          Copyright Joni L. James

The white-tail deer have been foraging on the far side of the "lake" among the young willow trees. Last night two does ripe with milk foraged and tonight I observed 2 bucks with velvet covered antlers feeding and later one doe.

                                          Copyright Joni L. James

I have noticed the last several evenings that Eastern kingbirds have been following the deer as they forage on the vegetation. No doubt a symbiotic relationship in which the kingbirds benefit not only from the insects stirred up by the movements of the deer but also the insects which prey on the them.

Invasive Plants: Are They Really a Problem?

In the last several years a new battle has been waged on plants that are considered invasive to our landscapes. The premise is that identified non-native plants when planted or not controlled, can over-populate and over-run our native plants.

                                                        Copyright Joni L. James
                                                        Great Spangled Fritillary on Coneflower                                                                                     

I finished reading an article titled "A Friend to Aliens" in Scientific American (February 2011) by Brendan Borrell. Borrell interviewed plant ecologist Mark A. Davis (Invasion Biology 2009). Davis at one time felt the same about invasive plants until he began re-thinking his stance. He now believes we should be concerned about invasive species only when they can impact economics or be a direct threat to health. According to Davis we must understand that species do not stay put and accept this.

He argues that a species is a problem only when humans deem it so-- they aren't good or bad. We have to ask if a species is causing harm or is it just representative of change.

He does state that when species cause extinctions, especially in insular environments, action must be taken. He goes on to say that they have conducted field experiments with garlic mustard (a prolific "invasive") and found no relationship between the abundance of garlic mustard and the population of other plant species in their field plots.

This was an interesting article and it caused me to think on the topic of invasive plants in a new light. I don't profess to be a plant expert or to truly take a stance on the subject. I merely present this information as an opportunity for readers to think about this issue and perhaps learn more.

No doubt non-native species can have a devastating impact on our local landscapes and the organisms that live there. I believe in planting and nurturing native plants as often as possible. But perhaps somewhere in the middle is the starting point. Perhaps each unique situation must be evaluated as to how an ecosystem/area might be impacted and how species--native and non-native may interact.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Give-Away!

Please note the book give-away for DANCING WITH HERONS at the top of the blog. The Give-Away ends June 25, 2011. Click the button to go to a really cool site (especially if you love books and love to read) to sign up. I have an author/book page there. Simply search by the title of my book or by my name.

121 people are signed up to win the book!

Good Luck!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

First Bloom

The first bloom of my "wild" Day Lilies occurred yesterday in my field. This flower allows me to have a garden in which I expend no money or effort to maintain. It grows randomly along my rock wall, in a bed in a yard, and along the border of my backyard & field.

                                          Copyright Joni L. James

According to my wildflower guide, Hemerocallis fulva, is a native of Eurasia and was introduced into our gardens. It has escaped from cultivation. I suppose this plant would be labeled an invasive. It reproduces vegetatively from the roots and each flower lasts one day. Its habitat consists of roadsides, meadows, borders, and fields.

None of my others have bloomed yet. This lone early bird is the first. The "petals" are lovely and the reproductive parts mesmerizing. These flowers keep me company most of the summer as they color the greenery of my landscape. I look forward to the blooming of many more.

More to come about invasives!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bound by Language?

I have been thinking about something that was mentioned at my spiritual growth center--yes, I prefer not to use "church" for all the negative connotations that term creates. (This is another characteristic of language--words have negative and positive affects).

One man (I will call him TC)  said that while preparing for his presentation, he had asked a friend for a meaning of "love". The friend (MM) stated-- Why do you need a definition? (Not verbatim). This response captured my thoughts for days.

Language can be such a hindrance when we attempt to discuss or explain the unexplainable. For all the beauty of the English language, it often fails when speaking of that which can't be seen. Or those strong emotions and experiences which we try to convey. I am not suggesting we should do without language. I am a lover of words and know the power they hold.

What is "love"? It is many things to many people. There are many kinds of love . . .? Some would say yes . . . others no. Is love the same but simply different when it involves different relationships? Does love need words to explain it?

Strip language away. It would force us to "feel" more. Free us to feel more. Perhaps we would rely more on our intuition or that inner voice which converses with us at all times. What if you could not use words or sounds to communicate?

In my book, Dancing With Herons: Bearing Witness to Local Natural History, I discuss how language restricts our ability to deeply and accurately express ourselves. How do you explain the sacred?

In "When Eyes Meet" (a chapter in the book), I conclude an encounter with a White-tailed Deer during a blizzard by writing the following: "Something indescribable passes between us. My language is limited in describing this encounter and all those like it. But my word of choice is Knowing."

So does love need a definition? Beauty? Joy?

You will find me asking many questions in my writing here. Many of the questions will be rhetorical. They are merely questions for you and myself to contemplate.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Wait . . . don't answer-- that would involve language.