Three Days at the Bow

For days now,  smoke has hung on the air, seeming to press in on me.  It is a difficult thing to take pause and contemplate the horrendous impact so many wildfires are having on people and their homes as well as wildlife and its various ecosystems.  The yellow cast of grey over every landscape is a constant reminder.  An absence of the mountains on my horizon to the west is disorienting. The burning sensation behind my nose and throat brings on headaches and a heavy feeling.  It is a difficult time for so many people north and south of the border, east and west.  This is a strange and other-worldly experience.

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At the river, the mornings are quiet, with far less activity and chatter from the birds.  I don’t know if other birder friends have found this, but the Red Winged Blackbirds, usually first to arrive in early spring, seem to have taken their offspring and skipped town.  I miss their calls, especially at the pond.

The Bald Eagle couple have been diligently observing the Juvenile as he/she figures out what it means to be strong and determined.  Mr. and Mrs. did an amazing job providing for two kids at the nest.  I will never know what came of the first fledge.

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When I walk the river’s edge early in the morning, the earth is spongy and feels as though it has breathed in moisture somehow, magically, through the night.  I no longer look down as I walk because every day for days I observed a snake silently slip into the brush as my foot fell onto the path.  I’d rather not see that anymore.  Of all of the amazing creatures there are to enjoy, I have not yet learned an appreciation for snakes.

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Birds, in training, are practicing skills of flight.  For days, the Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings and Wrens had taken to the higher canopy.  But, since the smoke, they’ve been found in the lower branches, especially in the evenings.

Juvenile and Adult Cedar Waxwings.

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American White Pelicans.

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Eastern Kingbird.

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Osprey against smoke.

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Juvenile House Wrens actively chittering for food.

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Sometimes, when I get home and download my photographs…I see things I hadn’t noticed while snapping.  The following two unfocused photographs speak to those surprises.

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Yellow Warbler and Cedar Waxwing.

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Berries and berry pickers have been in evidence at the river’s edge.

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It has been a most amazing experience to watch the progression of life and death and life and death on the river, even through the brutal winter.  The wildfires remind us how tenuous life is for all.  The leaves, now turning gradually and the plants-gone-to-seed remind us of how quickly everything changes.

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House Wrens

I enjoyed my river-walk with Max today.  There were several baseball games going on while I was there, so there were more people at the Bow. (Pet Peeve = people who throw cigarette butts into the bush.  Buddy, are you aware of the fires burning in B.C.?)  I made no sightings of the Bald Eagles today, so they must have withdrawn into solitude elsewhere.  I’ve enjoyed the nesting House Wrens as their wee ones have fledged and it’s like all of the dead fall becomes a home for the ‘chittering’ sounds.  This morning, I focused on capturing them with my camera.  I stood still and enjoyed every moment.

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For the Birds

The most calming activities of my day are my walks with Max.  I am either over at the wetlands drainage site that I named Frank’s Flats some years ago or at the Bow River.  I used to diligently pick litter daily at Frank’s Flats…I guess I did that for six years.  A man named Frank slept under the trees through summers there and I made a habit of chatting with him as I circled the pond.  He would drink six beer in the time it would take me to pick a full bag of litter.  He was one of about ten people who thanked me…but, he thanked me every day.  He would also bag up his cans and I would collect those for coin.  At some point he told me he had to head for Vancouver.  He said the weather was more predictable there.  I told him that I was going to name the pond and the area after him.  And, I did.

That space and the river have provided me with a great deal of solace.  I’ve done some grieving and a lot of growing.  Ideas, images and poetry have surfaced in these places. Many walks have been shared with friends and family.  I’ve watched these places change and sometimes, in good ways and not-so-good ways.  Because of walks at the pond, I purchased my first really nice camera, a Canon Powershot.  I began to notice the birds and vegetation.  Some time late last year, I picked up and read the book,  Birds Art Life: a Year of Observation by Kyo McClear.  I realized that she had written about my own journey and my own experiences, somehow.

Once I had the camera, I captured images of birds and vegetation, as well as learned to identify these varieties.  It has given me immense pleasure and creates a form of meditation for my daily life.

This past while I’ve been in awe of the nesting behaviours of the adults, as well as the dedicated effort that is made once the eggs have hatched and there are so many little mouths to feed.  The predatory activity is also huge and so there are a lot of lessons to be learned regarding the survival of the fittest.  It is sad to see such effort exerted in protection of the young when in the end, a quick visit from a Crow, Magpie, Bald Eagle, Merlin or Osprey can end it all in a flash.  One grows in acceptance as one considers the way that nature provides and one species feeds upon another.  Everything is interconnected.  Life is both brutal and beautiful.

I’ve captured a few little photographs the past couple of weeks…going to post them here.  However, if you have the opportunity to visit Alberta Birds or Birds Calgary, please do!  The photography is beyond anything you could imagine.  I love being a part of this group of people, regularly making observations, whether that is in a back yard or by the water.

Savannah Sparrows…a great program on CBC a few weeks ago caused me to feel even more enamored by these lovely little birds on a CBC program.

A 2016 brief about the Sparrow.

and also, an article titled Different kind of tweet: Study says oilpatch causes sparrows to sing a new song.

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The American White Pelicans have been exceptional in numbers this year and are stunning against the colour of the river.

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The red on the male Red Winged Backgrounds is far more subtle now than in mating season.  They continue to play an important role in protecting their little ones, but most of the feeding seems to be taken care of by the mamas.

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Wild Delphinium…there is just no way that I could capture the electric blue.

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An unlikely duo on July 25.  I looked through my archives and have a series of this Swainson’s Hawk casting dirty looks at this enthusiastic male Red Winged Blackbird.  It’s interesting how, for every raptor out there, there are a whole crew of Magpies or Crows or Blackbirds looking for easy pick’ns.

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Cedar Waxwings showing really brave behaviour around me…coming quite close at a point, although the camera wasn’t ready at the most remarkable times.  I think that I figured out why they were less shy than usual…I’m pretty sure in this set, I captured more than a few fledglings.

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I saw four Black Crowned Night Herons…most avoiding me and flying from one end of the pond to the next, but managed to see this one adult sit quite patiently in the midst of all of the earth moving and noise.  It seemed like a huge visual dichotomy.

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Lots of Blackbird youngsters about…mostly continuing to cry out to mama for bugs and dragonflies.

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Spotted Sandpiper…very distinctive and high pitched call.  It seems like this guy was hanging about for almost three weeks.  I spotted him again this morning.

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I call these Blue Bells, but don’t know their actual name.  The flowers have been lovely in the wild, this year.

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The Bald Eagle family continues to provide much viewing pleasure.  I’ve captured some nice photographs from this side of the river, but, for the most part I love spending the hours just watching them.  I’ve only spotted one fledgling, although I watched two eaglets at the nest for a couple of months.  I’m hoping that one has not come to some demise.  Perhaps other observers know?

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Since fledging, the little Wrens have caused me great delight.  When I step into their little part of the world, their chittering raises up in unison.  There’s just no missing them.  However, they are so darned tiny, it isn’t easy to capture them.

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These sweet buy sometimes-annoying House Sparrows at my backyard bird feeder.  When they’re young they are so darned funny.

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White-breasted Nuthatch…so tricky to capture.

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Here’s the wee guy again…vocalizing to Mom and Dad who are trying to ignore the noise from a tree near-by.  My friend, Doug Newman has captured some amazing close ups of Mom and Dad…

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And of course, there are a few families of Mallards nearby…on this particular day, sunning themselves.  Mom was keeping an eye on me.

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I’ve got some others to add to my portfolio, but, HEH!  A former student of mine and his wife are preparing me an Italian dinner, so I need to blow this pop stand.  I’m glad I got a good start on this.  July has been amazing for the watching.

 

 

Venting!

So…earlier posts in the season demonstrated an all-out war between House Sparrows and Northern Flickers, as they fought for dibs on a vent across from my kitchen window.  In the end, the vent remained abandoned for the first round of nesting and egg-laying.  Well, not to be discouraged, look what’s happened.  Strange thing is, this morning two separate males were helping this young lady out.  I recognize the one male as the ‘old guy’ who was widowed earlier this year and the other as being the Casanova (thin, young and with a smoothed back feather style) that I observed when the male Northern Flicker showed up. This is a new female to this location. Don’t know what’s to come of all of it, but I plan on reading about the potential of such scenarios in nature.

Enjoy the slide show…this is a brief collection…two days out of four and a trip every 30 seconds or so, unloading grasses and nesting materials!  Such industry!

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For The Birds: May 19 – 27, 2018

I was down in southern Alberta for the long weekend and basically just sighted a lot of Mourning Doves and heard a lot of Mourning Doves.  For a good part of the weekend, it rained.  It was cozy inside with my auntie.  Walking the dog…early morning and in the quiet of evening, I loved the light and quiet of small town Magrath.

Back here at home, I’ve made visits to Frank’s Flats (the pond) and to the Bow River every day.  I guess I’ve got some questions about some of the birds I’ve spotted.

High School biology students have been down at the edge of the pond, collecting leeches again.  I’ve spoken to one of the Biology teachers…again mentioning that it isn’t the greatest of times for such activities, given that we have four Red Necked Grebe nests and a Black Crowned Heron nest, as well as countless other nests that are active.  She told me that this year they made certain that they told the kids to protect and watch for bird nests.  However, the way in which they were gallumphing about, the Red Winged Black birds were truly freaking.  Damage done.

I’ll post some of my photos…some not very focused, but, keep in mind that I am a bird enthusiast…not so much a photographer.

May 23rd Uploads

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Song Sparrow

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Mr.

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Male and Female Mallard…loved the colours here.

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Watched this chump cool off in shallow water.  Robin

May 25th Uploads

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Female Red Winged Blackbird

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Male Red Winged Blackbird

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Savannah Sparrow

May 26th Uploads

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Yellow Warbler Bow River’s Edge

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Song Sparrow

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Bow River Rising…Many upset Canada Goose couples

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Is this a female Brown-headed Cowbird?

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Dunno?

May 27th Downloads

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Mr. and Mrs. enjoying a Sunday morning over the river.

The Magestic Bald Eagle Takes a Bath!

I would typically do a little segment for the past week and title it ‘For the Birds’ featuring all of the birds I have observed for a week. But, after this evening’s observations at the Bow River,  I decided to make a post that does its best to capture a Bald Eagle taking a bath.  Again, I can’t promise crisp-edged images, but one thing is for certain, I have captured some pretty awesome facial expressions. Do Bald Eagles have faces? (likely heads…not faces…but, you’ll see what I mean)  Some little slide shows.  May 16, 2018

The mosquitoes were out and the electric blue wild violets were in bloom.

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The river is moving fast and the water level is moving up.  Over the past two weeks, I’ve been taking photographs at a single spot along the shore and will use those over the coming days for comparison.

Here’s our Eagle…

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A series of four…check out the fourth slide.  It makes me laugh so hard.

 

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I consider it an honour to be able to spend so much time observing unlikely magic at the river.  I don’t take any of it for granted.  I’ll find a piece of music to play while the slide show runs.

My father’s birthday, May 14, 2018

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Black-crowned Night Heron: 2018

I just wanted to make a quick post.  I’m elated that a pair of Black-crowned Night Herons has returned to Frank’s Flats (not to be mistaken for Frank Lake), this season.  I’ve watched the adults and juveniles at this pond location for about five years, a couple of years after I began my daily circling of these wetlands.  I purchased my Canon Powershot camera the third season I watched them.  I’ve captured the odd successful photograph since, but mostly out of focus bits from places well outside my zone. This photo from 2017 captured the gesture of the birds amazing feet/legs.

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They have this way of looking other-worldly…the red eyes…fantastic!

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It has also been explained to me that these beautiful and amusing males have long plumes at the crown that dominate during mating season.  I particularly enjoy this article that describes them as ‘masters of motionlessness’!  Somewhere in my archives I have my very first siting of a Night Heron at this location.  I will add it later.  I can remember how excited I was.

I particularly enjoyed watching the seeming-connection between the two juveniles of last season…they were wonderful to watch…early articulations, flying together, hiding together and practicing their fishing together.

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There has been such destructive development that has come with the South West Ring Road (Stoney Trail) that oft-times people like me who are crazy about birds feel their blood boil.  It has been difficult to watch the huge impact of human encroachment.  Such a dramatic loss of natural plants/shrubs and trees!  Loss of water sources…loss of shoreline and the addition of many fence systems, barriers and pavement.  It’s a wonder this sort of magic can surface in the fray.

Yesterday, I watched an adult Black-crowned Night Heron feeding on minnows/small fish for quite some time.  Statuesque stillness and then a flash of motion, followed by a big gulp and then repeat.  I think I laughed out loud.  These images, again, taken from a huge distance, but they capture the gesture of the experience.

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For the Birds! First Week of May 2018.

As I scroll ,daily, through the profoundly detailed images and exquisite moments photographed by my friends in Alberta Birds, I feel modesty take hold while I peruse my own captures of the week.  However, for my own enjoyment, I’m going to contain some of my own favourite bird memories in this single post, so that I don’t lose sight of the wonderful visual memories of this past week.  Since Venting! Again!  neither sparrows nor flickers have settled in.  Honestly, I have not seen a single appearance of either.  What??

So…I’ve focused my attentions to my little place at the Bow River and also, a stop at the Frank’s Flats to see who has come to town after a horrendous amount of development along the Southwest Ring Road/Stoney Trail.

Monday April 30, 2018

The spectacular thing about Monday was watching the mating rituals of two lovely geese in a quiet wetlands spot down near the river.  Dipping their heads and long necks into the water over and over again, the movements looked like a ballet, when finally Mr. mounted Mrs., her head fully submerging into the water and bearing his full weight on her back.  Once finished, only moments later, they continued in a choreographed ritual of arching and extending necks, until finally they swam to the shore where they continued preening like a couple of lovesick mates.

Tuesday May 1, 2018

A year of watching Bald Eagles and their behaviours from a distance…learning all of the time.

Wednesday May 2, 2018

Song Sparrow doing the splits and filling the world with a lovely song.

Northern Flicker at Bow River’s edge.

Mourning Dove

Thursday May 3, 2018

I saw my grandson and my daughter.  I am so blessed by them. Three nesting couples of Red Necked Grebes are back.

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The Red Winged Blackbird males are very visible at both the river and the pond…it’s good to hear their songs again.

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This year I’ve especially enjoyed the Song Sparrow’s melodic string of notes…overpowers everything for me.

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Female Mallard in a Magpie nest…

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Tree Swallows have been very entertaining.  Love watching their antics as they weave in and out of the tall trees.

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Heavenly observations at many different spots along the river.

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Friday May 4, 2018

A late evening walk at the river after a day of exploring space with Grade six students.  I live a beautiful life.  Sometimes I forget that and think that it is an ordinary life.  When I see the archive set down, I feel differently.

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Saturday May 5, 2018

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A bush that I photographed every day for almost a year…just checking in.

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Savannah Sparrow…a different song…just so lovely!

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Always looking at these guys…waiting for the females to return.  They typically arrive two weeks after the males.  This year is so much later than last, as I look at 2017 archives.

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Not certain what these are…a type of Merganser yet to be identified.

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And the Red Necked Grebes were out on a bit of a flotilla on yesterday!  It’s been an awesome week with the birds!

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Post Script: No sooner had I finished this post…closed it down…put the memory card back in the camera…got up to start tidying for the day and Max went crazy over the voice of the Northern Flicker!  Sure enough, when I stepped up to the kitchen window…there he was! He’s been rat a tat tatting inside the vent ever since.

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Venting…Again!

I give up on trying to understand who has or is going to claim territory where the vent is concerned. It truly seemed that the Northern Flicker had dominated the space for a few days, anyway.

On April 29, 2018 I made my first sighting of a female, but have never seen her from the kitchen window. If she’s hanging about, she’s being very secretive.

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On April 30, 2018 this goofus was observed hammering away at the interior of the vent. He seemed just a little frustrated and a video of the event would be most entertaining, but this is what we have, folks.

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I was out to the pharmacy to pick up some Buckley’s, on my father’s recommendation, and when I got home, light was fading and I saw a protrusion from the vent. THIS! I think we’d all agree that would not, in any way, represent a House Sparrow nest, so I was left thinking that perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Flicker had decided to settle down, maybe have some babies…it looks that way to me.

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It was a tough night of coughing and spewing, sleeping and waking and half sleeping and half waking. I found myself reading several chapters and drinking a full glass of orange juice at 3 a.m. At some point, I passed out again. I got up by 8 this morning. My son had already made a pot of coffee, so there was that comforting aroma in the air. I looked out the kitchen window to find the nesting material gone, but not on the ground below. Must be pushed in, right? hmmmm

I’ve seen our buddy only once today…and he hung for what seemed an eternity, simply looking into the black chasm of this piece of prime real estate.

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In the meantime, crazy shenanigans involving the House Sparrows carried on throughout my random observatuons…in and out, in and out, seeming to test fate at every entrance into the prized abode.

I think that Mr. Handsome, here, is the young fellow little Missy would like to settle down with. Remember the slicked back hairdo?

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But, this is the guy who wishes to win favour…looking a little pushy, me thinks.

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This little girl has been on the defense whenever I’ve observed her today, being threatened and chased by several males. It seems so violent to me. And all at the same time, it is unclear who dominates this location. It still seems there is no real winner.

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I know this for certain, however…this is Mr. Widow Sparrow…evicted some time ago. He remains depleted on my fence, observing as I do, all of the goings-on in the very place he had once chosen for his home. You’ll hear from me again, on this subject, when we have youngsters…not a minute before.

May 1, 2018

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You Know You Want to Ask!!

Meet Mrs. Flicker!

Upon my return to the house last evening, I saw this guy…he looked like he had been through the mill…he looked hot…he looked weary…but, heck if he was going to give up!  The new House Sparrow couple were moving from fence to eaves to fence to eaves, chattering and shouting at the top of their lungs.  Mr. Flicker just panted at them and then took to the air, chasing them both deep into my back yard.  It was very dramatic and I said to my son, “I don’t know why he wants that vent anyway…he can’t find a Mrs!  There are no contenders!”

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Evicted….after quite a dispute.

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Well…it’s amazing what a new day can bring!

I made my pot of coffee.  Max and I got up early this morning so that I could attend 9:00 Mass.  I curled in to the red couch and scratched his ear for a while.  It is after this initial relaxation each morning that Max and I walk to each of the windows to see what’s going on in the neighbourhood.

Quite a change in weather!  It was both windy and very grey.  Rain clouds were gathering.  I decided to get Max out to the park for some ball-throwing…but, before I did, I took a look at the back.  May Day is sprouting green…so beautiful to see.  Soon her boughs will be covered with aromatic white blossoms.  Movement!  Are you kidding?  Quick, I whispered to myself…”Get the camera!”  If I don’t whisper, Max barks loudly, especially where Northern Flickers are involved.  He can hear one coming by a mile!

Readers…meet Mrs. Flicker!  I think I laughed out loud.  She’s a doll and I’m sure my readers will agree…and, she is a first for me as I’ve only ever seen males.  And, if she and Mr. settle in across from my kitchen window, I will possibly see fledglings for the first time, some weeks from now.  One thing’s for certain, Mr. chased the House Sparrows away.  Patience and determination are sometimes rewarded.

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