The rain finally gave us a break today. It felt like summer, with sunshine and 82 degrees. I took advantage of the sunny day to do some work outside. Pruned a few tree limbs that were growing too close to the house. Pulled a wheelbarrow full of weeds from the garden. Cultivated the rain-hardened ground between two long rows of still-tiny zinnias. They always seem to do better if I keep the soil loose around them. A little extra work now will pay off in August, when there will be a beautiful multicolored show of zinnias.
Everyone is complaining about pesky insects this past week, but they aren't bad in my valley. Oh, there's a few mosquitoes and deer flies, but not enough of them to drive me into the house. One insect that I was happy to see appeared just after nightfall. The yard and garden sparkled with the flash of fireflies. They are a little early this year, but I'm not complaining. Now I have something to look at while I stand on the porch and listen to the whippoorwills.
I watched a single yellow-and-black swallow-tailed butterfly hover around the honeysuckle vine. This lovely creature has a wingspan of nearly five inches. Her rich, yellow wings provided a beautiful contrast against the salmon-pink honeysuckle blossoms. She fed on the nectar for a while, then fluttered off to play in the morning sun.
Pretty, lemon yellow flowers hang from the long, swooping stems of Solomon's seal. Around them are lush green ferns and Columbine. The reddish and yellow blossoms of the Columbine are so pretty, they seem to ask someone to come closer. A pair of hummingbirds have accepted the invitation from these little woodland flowers. Their wings are a blur as they gently brush against the fronds of the ferns. They have no trouble maneuvering between the leaves to visit each flower. When they finish, the soft hum of their wings turns into a sharp buzz, as they zip off across the yard. I was kind of surprised to see the female out and about. Perhaps the young hummingbirds are big enough now to keep each other warm in the nest while Mom goes out for breakfast with Pops.
There are lots of new fledglings in the valley now. The young of a family of robins left the nest just yesterday. They aren't good enough flyers to get around much for a week or so, so their parents spend their entire day search out worms and other insects to feed the hungry kids. The adult birds are quick to scold me if I get too close to where one of the young is hiding.
The rose-breasted grosbeaks have brought their newly-fledged offspring to the bird feeder. The first couple of days, the youngsters beg to be fed, but they quickly learn to crack open their own sunflower seeds.
Five white-breasted nuthatches hop single-file down the trunk of a large box elder tree. Four are chirping and fluttering their wings, which they are trying out for the first time. Always hungry, they follow their mother wherever she goes, knowing they will be fed if they do. She flies down to the window feeder, retrieving a single sunflower seed to bring up to a bark-covered branch. Wedging the seed in the bark, she pecks it open and gives the meat to a hungry, waiting fledgling.
In town, a large soft maple tree on a quiet side street is home to a family of screech owls. The pair of little owls had laid their eggs in a hole in a hollow limb. When the young owls appear, they are confronted by a swarm of angry, noisy robins and grackles. The young owls try to hide in the leaves, but are not very good at it yet. In a week or so they will be less conspicuous.
I've been hearing two young red-tailed hawks, begging from their hidden nest high in the oak tress across the road. Their cries have become louder in the past couple of weeks, and they've been branching out the past few days. Late this afternoon I heard one of them calling from several hundred yards up the valley. He must have gotten the nerve to try his wings. The young hawk's begging cries let the adults know where to take food to them, and also let me know where they are. This routine has played out the same for each of the past five years. I'm lucky to have the hawks nest so close to the house.
A pair of adult Sandhill cranes stalked the edge of a cornfield, hunting insects. I watched for the movement of young cranes between the small corn plants, but there are none to be seen. Yesterday I had seen another pair of cranes, with a couple of two-week old, cinnamon-colored young in tow. I suspect the cranes I saw today may have lost their nest to recent floods. Some crane pairs that lost their nests have started second nests, but apparently this pair did not. Not all creatures take the same path down nature's trail.
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