The following article originally ran in 2013. Other matters have been keeping me occupied so I’m hoping you won’t mind a second helping of this column. COVID-19 was certainly not on our radar back in those palmy days. Stay well!
Of course we were all longing for the spring-that-didn’t-seem-to-want-to-get-started to proceed, but now it seems to have gone straight to summer (at least so it seems right now as I write–next week may be another story!). I am lucky to have a pair of House Wrens who have nested the last two years in my garden. They’re back again this year. The male’s powerful and melodious singing often seems indefatigable, and sometimes before I get up I wish it weren’t! But mostly it is a joyous, life-affirming sound. He’s an energetic busy-body in a very compact frame. He stuffs a birdhouse (often more than one) full of small branches and hopes for a female to come along. When she does, he sings and sings and coaxes her into the nest. If agreeable, she will have a look and then the two of them will engage in a little rough-housing and then fly off chattering at each other–if you didn’t know better you would think they were mortal enemies, not potential lovers.
But mortal enemies there are! A song sparrow has nested in my cedar hedge every year, and he is death on the wrens. He takes every opportunity available to chase them away from their house. But the wrens take it in stride. They fly away, the male singing, the female chattering, and wait out the aggressive Song Sparrow and then simply return to their tasks. The song of both the Song Sparrow and the House Wren are ebullient and assertive. Perhaps they are like opera singers and their big egos clash!
And speaking of singers and assertive songs, the Spring Peepers have been serenading us every night, especially now that the nights have remained warm. In wakeful moments, I lie listening to them, while later I will wake again only to realize it’s the song of the robin I’m actually hearing. The “night chorus” and the “dawn chorus” seem to segue from one to the other seamlessly at this time of the year. In the dawn chorus, it always seems to be the robins that have star billing. The wrens seem to wake a little later and then lustily join in. In June, another night-singer will be heard: the small but vociferous Grey Treefrog has a voice much larger than his body. For those of you who may be little enamored of the sound of the peepers, just wait for the treefrogs! But the treefrogs seem to have better manners–they cease singing about 1 in the morning!
Bluebirds are a cultural symbol of happiness but unfortunately our Eastern Bluebird has become rather a rare sight these last few decades. But in the Millbrook area we do see a few. Lately I have seen (as well as last year) a pair nesting in one of the birdhouses at the Lions’ Den. I understand it was Ron Gardiner and Don Porter who put up the original birdhouses. And what a favour they have done us and the bluebirds! A couple of weeks ago I went up to the Lions’ Den to clean out the houses and do some small repairs; you see I have no idea if anyone is still looking after them. On Saturday, May 4th I was on an early morning walk that took me past the community garden at the Old School. Some thoughtful soul has put a birdhouse there and, to my astonishment, there was a pair of bluebirds. Let’s hope they decide to take up residence. You have to see the male bluebird to believe the colour of his back. It really is sky-blue.
Talking to neighbours by the millpond one evening we were intrigued to see what looked like a small floating island. And this islands was being intently watched (or guided?) by four male mallards. Finally it became apparent that this was a large Snapping Turtle who was moving along with its head underwater. We are very lucky to have what appears to be a stable and healthy population of these prehistoric looking creatures–on the whole their populations have decreased alarmingly. During early June the females leave the ponds and swamps going in search of suitable places to lay their eggs. This often happens the weekend of the agricultural fair. Many people fear Snapping Turtles because they seem aggressive and dangerous, which for the most part is false. Many people also fear for the safety of goslings and ducklings. In reality, these turtles mostly eat carrion on the bottom of ponds and lakes. They walk along the bottom and clean up. They are performing a necessary function in the great scheme of things.
On Earth Day I was privileged to lead a guided walk along the Medd’s Mountain Trail. I had hoped to be able to point out to walkers trilliums and other early wild flowers. But our cool spring didn’t allow anything to be above ground except the evergreen ferns. Well, as you know our weather became very warm and less than 2 weeks later red trillium were in bloom. If you have ventured along the Baxter Creek Trail in the last week or two you may have been granted the sight of Bloodroot and Trout Lily in bloom. The Mayapple is also rapidly putting up its umbrella of leaf, under which it will hide a lovely waxy white blossom. As they emerge they look very weird and very substantial. I am always ‘forced’ to touch them! Along all the trails the croziers of ferns have been unfurling. They look very elegant as they grow up. Some are reddish while others are a healthy green colour. If you have been going up County Road #10 out of Millbrook, I hope you have been able to cast your eyes into the wet area west of the road. It is literally covered with the starry yellow flowers of Marsh Marigold. The whole area is bright with colour. This is one of what are termed spring ephemerals–they appear quickly and just as quickly disappear until the next year.
At this time of year I try to keep my eyes pealed for the birds coming through on the spring migration. Many warblers visit our area on their way north to their breeding grounds. I have heard a few but have not seen them. They are fast little birds that sing in the branches and are often difficult to spot. This is a shame because many of them, especially the males, are beautifully coloured. Another colourful small bird I always try to see at this time of year is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I have been fascinated by these tiny creatures since I was a child. Their blurred wings and needle-like bills have cast a spell over me. I always hang out a feeder for them and fill it with a solution of 1 part sugar and 4 parts water (for example 1/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup of hot water). But I am now concerned that many people put out feeders. These feeders should be carefully cleaned and the solution changed every 4 or 5 days. Not to do this risks the growth of bacteria that can harm the very creature we are hoping to attract. Please be responsible. If you don’t have the time to maintain the feeder properly, please don’t use them.
As always, I’ve gone on too long. Oh the terrible decisions of what not to write about! There’s so much to enjoy at this time of year. Even opening your windows allows the sounds and smells of spring to enchant us.
Get out! And enjoy!
Get Out! by Glen Spurrell