May 8, 2008

Who Goes There?

First it was a lone voice I heard in the storm. Then it mingled with another.

Neighbors congregate with binoculars in hand, clamoring for a glimpse of our newest suburban wildlife. Our yard is in the center of the action.

The neighbor behind us revealed he had seen a trio. I asked where and he said, "On the tall tree in the crack house yard." We laughed. The crack house is another neighbor. It's not really a crack house but it does a fair impression.

We ourselves have wasted spent a fair amount of time gazing into the trees. Owl watching. We've learned to recognize their hunched sleeping posture as they doze among the leaves. They swoop. They perch. They stare. Their heads swivel. Their voices carry. Their cries end with a purr as the volume fades.

The other local birds vigorously defend their territory when an owl nears their nests. What a ruckus those smaller birds make, chirping wildly and dive bombing the intruder. The little birds recognize him for the predator he is.

Our neighbor came over holding out her hand, "Look at this!" she offered. I looked. It was a blob of dry stringy gray matter entwined around small bones. I donned my glasses for closer scrutiny. "It's an owl pellet!" she exclaimed. She pointed out a tiny claw in the mass. Together we marveled.

Curious, I consulted the internet and found an excellent quick primer on owl digestion, including this explanation of owl pellets:
"Several hours after eating, the indigestible parts (fur, bones, teeth & feathers that are still in the gizzard) are compressed into a pellet the same shape as the gizzard. This pellet travels up from the gizzard back to the proventriculus. It will remain there for up to 10 hours before being regurgitated. Because the stored pellet partially blocks the Owl's digestive system, new prey cannot be swallowed until the pellet is ejected. Regurgitation often signifies that an Owl is ready to eat again. When the Owl eats more than one prey item within several hours, the various remains are consolidated into one pellet."
Huh. Now there's something I didn't know.

Later, Wendy found one in our yard too. Have a look-see.

Part of me hopes that was one of the mice who commandeered our shed this past winter and feasted on a stored sack of grass seed while leaving mouse shit everywhere.

The circle of life. It turns.


May 4, 2008

Wish You Were Here

When we visited North Carolina recently, azaleas were in full bloom. Now it's our turn! Vibrant colors are bursting forth from the legions of azaleas that grace our landscapes here in Northern Virginia.

Some folks manicure their azaleas into boring bush blobs or awkward hedge-like formations. What is up with that? Personally I think they look best when left to their own devices, to grow as nature intended. Azaleas aren't meant to be controlled!

Last spring, we began working in earnest on our landscape. One project was to relocate several mature azalea bushes whose existing locations did not fit in with Our Grand Plan. We did, however, have a barren corner of the backyard screaming for embellishment.

Digging up a mature bush is no small feat, but my woman is nothing if not determined. An afternoon's labor resulted in the first subject out of the ground, into the wheelbarrow and gently replanted in its new home. Love love love that pink, I do.

A few weeks later, The Boy tackled one from the front yard. It blooms white. A smaller pink one from the backyard and a fourth procured from a local nursery (vibrant red blossoms), supplemented our new azalea garden.

Perhaps you remember last summer and the drought parts of the East Coast experienced. We babied those transplants, watering them lovingly throughout the long, dry, hot summer. We endured an outbreak of lace bugs, which Wendy diagnosed and eradicated. Those bushes stayed alive... somehow (which is more than I can say for the rhododendron we also planted that spring. I've got shitty rhododendron karma).

Throughout the winter, I daydreamed about the coming spring and those azaleas, imagining the beautiful blooms set against the backdrop of the fence, contrasting with the greens of spring above and below, the flowers mingling in and around each other to present a blast of color perfect for enjoying while relaxing on our screened porch. My mind's eye, she is active.

As spring arrived, I inspected our azalea garden periodically, watching for new growth and being rewarded by delicate new leaves sprouting energetically. Soon, I thrilled! Soon they will bud then bloom into the riot of color I have anticipated!

In my fantasy, all the bushes bloom at the same time. Riot of color and all. Seems our corner azaleas have a different plan. It troubles me not. They are pleasing all the same.