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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nesting Instincts

Today's garden chores included work on our most-neglected part of our yard (or perhaps more accurately, one of them): the north side corner. Wild, weedy, and shaded, it is enclosed by Norway spruce, inside which are crabapples and dogwoods - looks of competition for roots. Last year we planted some lovely azaleas there. They were not like all the others at the nursery; these were balled, and had a much more open shrub structure, with delicate flowers, not in-your-face pink like most. They are quite happy, so we are as well, and we've decided to add some hydrangeas to their neighborhood. I had been waiting for the perfect place for a smaller version, a blue lacecap, so we added her in one corner. To hide an ugly metal support to a telephone pole, we looked for a spot for a variegated leaf hydrangea, bigger than the lacecap. So I was happily weeding the area, when I saw it.

On the ground was the most perfect little nest. What strikes me most is the shape of the cup: it is not round, like most nests, but oval. It is small - no dove or jay or robin could fit into it. So I brought it inside to look for a nest identification guide. Not finding it, I googled nest identification, and still came up empty. So I googled Cornell, hoping that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology would be able to help.

What I found at Cornell was "Nestwatch", yet another citizen-science effort this wonderful lab is conducting. They are looking for "regular people" like you and me to record nests. The amount if data they collect with their citizen participants is truly awesome.

So I registered. Not for the next on the ground, but for the lovely Gray Catbird nest that is right by the gate to my vegetable garden.  I had noticed her hanging around every time I was in the garden, but it was Jonathan who first found the nest. It is inside a climbing hydrangea that covers both sides of the fence by the gate - very well hidden, but unfortunately in a place I disturb on a regular basis. Mama bird was not happy when I looked to verify the number of eggs to register the nest. Four beautiful, perfect little eggs in an incredible, rich shade of blue. Like a Caribbean sea, much darker than a robin's egg and richer than an Arcana chicken's (and much smaller). I quickly left so she could resume brooding the eggs, which Cornell says she will do for 12-15 days. What surprised me was how short the fledgling period is - just 10 - 15 days. Amazing.

We have other nests, too, but I don't know what is happening in them because they aren't accessible. In the lilac in the back, we have a cardinal nest for the first time. They don;t seem to be there at the moment, so I'm thinking that the first brood has fledged already. We had bluebirds in the veggie garden box, but they. too, are gone now. We don't know if the bluebirds nesting in the house outside our bedroom window are the same pair with a second brood or a different pair, but when one landed near the shade border just as a ruby throated hummingbird was feeding on blooms, it was pure magic. And house wrens are in residence in the house made by one of my favorite potters, Ken Hankins, and in an old birdhouse that had fallen down and was temporarily stuck in the crook of one of the apples in the orchard. We thinks bluejays, mourning doves, and at least one woodpecker are nesting, too, but we can't find the nests.

I love knowing that our property isn't just our home, but is home for many other creatures. I wish it wasn't home for a groundhog, but I welcome each and every nest. May it be safe and warm.

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