Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Phil’s First Rule of Landscaping

One of the members of my Mens Garden Club died recently.  His obituary described him as "a master student of 'Mother Nature', observing and studying wildlife. A true naturalist, he believed in living, hunting and foraging. He enjoyed endless hours tending his gardens."

He offered advice willingly and expressed it colorfully.   Here, paraphrased slightly to make the Haiku poem syllable count, is:

 Phil’s First Rule of Landscaping

Trees want to be shaped
so birds can fly through them,
and rest in their shade.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Whodunit? And What Did They Really Do?

On my walk the other morning I passed by a beheaded pigeon body on the edge of a lawn brushing up against the sidewalk.  It was a little disconcerting – although not nearly as much as it was for the dead dove I’m sure.
I paused briefly to take in the sight – I mean it’s not something that I see everyday – and continued home.  However when I mentioned it to Mars later I noticed that my tone of voice seemed to be implying that it was nothing special. 
Later, on our way out to run errands, I spotted what looked like a small pile of snow in our front yard.   But it turned out to be, on closer inspection, a mini-mound of pale gray and white feathers – apparently the end-product of a scuffle between a pigeon (what else in our realm has those colorless plumes?) and a predator of some form – hawks that we’ve seen circling over the ‘hood perhaps, or Tillie the cat from across the street.
 Like the more corporeal earlier crime scene there were no signs of blood, or any indication of who or what the perp might be.  I had been ready to let the first incident fade into the quickly-forgotten-incidents portion of my brain but the second occurrence reinforced my original notion that something unusual was going on here.  So I asked the Great Google “who beheads pigeons?” and found, as I frequently do, that the Internet has all of the answers and therefore none of them.
“That's typical of a cat attack.
“I've never seen a cat behead a bird.
“Hawks also will decapitate birds, but they usually eat the heads. We get a fair # of calls from people that they found birds in their yard with no head.
“Beheading is a trademark of a weasel kill
“Cats tend to take the heads off their prey, but the heads are usually chewed.
"Raptors ignore the head and eat all the meat off the breast, typically leaving a carcase [sic] lying flat on it's back with all the breast missing. They also pluck their prey and masses of feathers are left lying at the scene.
“Typical of beheading birds are the corvid family - crows etc.  And crows will hunt, attack and kill pigeons
“The head of an animal is a favorite part for raptors (sorry to share this but the second favorite part are testicles)."
Don’t care to know about that last piece of evidence – I did not go back to more closely scrutinize the initial “vic” – nor did I re-search the Internet for a graphic depiction of what I would have hoped not to see.
So I resigned myself to never knowing “whodunit?”
After all I shouldn’t have been walking in that place at that time anyway – and would not have been there except that (1) Mars and I had each spent a largely sleepless night after accidentally imbibing non-decaf coffee at my garden club’s holiday party and (2) our luncheon plans with a friend for the following day had been cancelled; which freed us up to go to a book discussion about Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen” at a local art museum; which in turn necessitated a trip to our local library for a copy to read.  Too tired to do a “real workout” at the gym I trekked by foot to the public book dispensary instead.

We reread the now classic hardback that night – having probably not looked at it since regaling our son with the story in the mid seventies.   Then at the book-talk we learned, among other things, that the three identical looking bakers – who reminded Mars and me of early film comedian Oliver Hardy (“Laurel and …”) – were intended to be Adolph Hitler, and that the story represented, at least in part, the holocaust.  
Who knew that all those years ago Mars and I had innocently exposed our innocent offspring to metaphor?  Which got me to thinking  – maybe I was taking the whole bird dismemberment thing too literally.   Trying to find out what “really” happened to the poor creatures when instead I should have been looking for the allegorical story that these two gruesome incidents were trying to convey to me.
 On my home computer I found an online article called “Headless Bird Symbol dream interpretations” which provided a myriad of avian dream interpretations – “If a bird flies into one's hand in a dream, it means glad tidings. A bird in a dream also means work. An unknown bird in a dream means a warning, an advice or an admonition. If one's bird looks beautiful in a dream, it denotes the quality of his work. If one sees himself in a dream carrying an ugly looking bird, it also denotes the quality of his actions or that a messenger may bring him good news. An unknown bird means profits” – none of which, in spite of the essay’s title, were even remotely related to detached budgie crania.
So here is the subtext of these past day’s experiences as I interpret it.  The message for me is – no matter what, I should stick to my routine and go the gym every morning at the regular time.  I never see any wild life anomalies when I’m cruising along on the elliptical machine.  When we first retired Mars and I decided that our daily workout would be the one part of our lives that was scheduled.  This would keep us in good health – and allow us ample time to engage and embrace the unplanned, the unknown, and the unexpected aspects of life.
But not all of them.  Sometimes trying to figure out how new things fit into our ever-evolving view of the world can just lead me right down the rabbit hole – speaking of another story that probably doesn’t mean what I think it does.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Tolerable Planet

Mars and I have been busy counting crows, smashing pumpkins, and raking leaves.  It is how we folks in residential New England commune with nature this time of year.
The glossy black birds pass through in annually during late October/early November – stopping temporarily by the score and more in the front of our property.  They are, so I have read, migrating from the even colder northern realms a little ways southward to the Mid-Atlantic States for the winter.  Some will actually spend the cold season with us – well not literally “with us” but at least in the general neighborhood.  This week they are gobbling up many of the little acorns that drop into our yard from the phalanx of oaks that front our property.  There is a surfeit of the cup-shaped tree fruit this autumn because the squirrel population in our neighborhood is severely depleted as compared to previous annums. 
 Which is why we are smashing pumpkins – or at least why I am decimating the large orange-yellow gourds in a single massive violent ceremony rather than plopping them into the compost bin one-by-one throughout the month of October as we have done in the past. 
In previous years the shelf life of a pumpkin in our front yard in years past was pretty short – sometimes days, even hours, instead of weeks.  Within minutes of Mars and me placing them in their traditional settings – 3 on the front steps, 3 around the lamp post, 1 on either side of the garage door, and 1 each in the 2 front perennial beds – at least two of them would be under siege from tiny tree-rodent teeth gnawing their way into the base of the fruit, from which orthodontia’s owner would extract pumpkin entrails and seeds for future (and present) use. The gourd would then be left to collapse under its own weight and thereafter be immediately consigned to the compost bin.
This year the lonely duo of tree squirrels that frequent our property have laid not a single tooth on any of our nine pumpkins.  Thus, after at least one month of neglect, the hard-skinned fruits have taken it upon themselves to soften up and crumple under their own weight – the first time the entire entourage of all-natural fall decorations has survived in tact (albeit limply) through both Halloween and Thanksgiving. 
Hence the continuous parade of me perp-walking the unfortunate gourds to the compost bin and striking them repeatedly with my sharp ended bulb-digger – instead of, as in prior times, dropping them from the full extent of my six-foot five height and letting gravity and the pumpkins total lack of infrastructure splatter them into the organic mix.
The raking was considerably less savage.  This past week was the second go-around of our town’s curbside pickup of raked leaves, as a byproduct of which they create free compost for all its citizens.  Mars and I had previously donated 13,245,865 leaves (give or take), of which the municipality sucked up all but 115.  I ground up those outliers along with several others that our oaks had added with my mulching mower rationalizing that the benefit to the lawn from its all-natural feeding would just barely offset the small environmental footprint that I was creating.
This Monday my mower and I went out to chop up the additional ones that had found their way into our premises since my first Toro-go-round and discovered that the quantity was greater than I anticipated and easier to rake than I expected. 
Henry David Thoreau once said, “What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
So, I avoided polluting the atmosphere and rounded them up by hand for the town’s larger internal combustion engines to return them to nature – corralling a few reminders of where we really are in the process.

Desiccated leaves
Conceal Taco Bell wrappers.
Hey! It’s the suburbs.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Eco-Machismo Mulching

         A lot of men are reluctant to try organic gardening – thinking that it’s too touchy-feely, earthy-crunchy.  Real men just want to “grow ‘um and mow ‘um.”
         In Chinese Taoist philosophy, the concept of "yin and yang” is used to describe how seemingly diametrical opposites can be thought of as complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts.
         Likewise, the nurturing and destructive aspects of horticulture can be successfully synergized.         

Gardening for Guys Presents “Eco-Machismo Mulching”

Flakes of lifeless leaves
flung from slashing Toro blades –
return to their roots.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Putting In, Pulling Out, Cutting Down, and Raking Up

This time of year it is hard not to feel like one of those rapidly crisping oak leaves clinging tenaciously to their sixth-story penthouses along the border of my front yard.  Especially if you are a gardener.

Autumn and spring are actually my favorite horticultural seasons.   

Summer, aka the growing season, not quite so much – toiling in the hot sun just isn’t fun.  Winter is something that we New Englanders say we enjoy because – like not wearing white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day - it is one of the rules for living here. 

Autumn and spring however are the times when I get to do the things that I believe allows me to call my self a plantsman – putting in, pulling out, cutting down, and raking up.               

There is not much “putting in” this time of year except for bulbs, which I don’t do much of – preferring to give food directly to the squirrels rather than burying it underground and forcing them to dig it out.  (This is my same approach to Casino gambling.  Instead of wasting all that time at some noisy gaming table with a bunch of blurry-eyed strangers, I would rather march directly to the cashier’s window, just hand over my money, and go do something more meaningful with my time – such as putting, pulling, cutting and raking.) 

Like many of those who have gardened for lots of years, pretty much of all my available growing space is dedicated to perennials – many of them, in spite of my previous writings, not invasive.  This can present a problem to someone who considers the major role of a gardener to be putting new plants in the ground.   

So every spring, as soon as the first sprig of green-anything appears in any of my plots, I go on my annual deathwatch walk – looking for (and secretly hoping for) shrubs that might not have made it through the cold weather and (joy of joy) need to be replaced.  Fortunately for the lives of all the later bloomers Marsha has the final vote – thus preventing me from uprooting everything and putting in another round of what would be correctly labeled “annual perennials”. 

To substitute for my frustrated “pulling out” and “putting in” yearnings Marsha now has me cut down all the perennials in the spring rather than the fall when I used to do it.  Nonetheless every November I approach her with Golden Retriever eagerness fondling my pruning shears and seeking permission to ravage the low-growing foliage.   

And every year she patiently explains to me that fall shearing (a) removes hiding and resting places for the birds that provide so much cold weather entertainment to us, (b) makes our property look less inviting than the Russian Tundra by removing all the “winter interest” and attendant shadows from the land and (c) really confuses the plants who, after being pinched back, get hit by one of those freakishly hot October/November days that seem to be becoming more common nowadays, and decide to start blooming – only to have their growth spurt crushed by three months of really inhospitable cold.

So I go get my big red oversized plastic rake and gather up the fallen high-altitude foliage instead.   And, like one of the aphorisms on my daily Dove dark chocolate candy wrapper counsels me “Take time to notice the leaves changing.” 

And it’s not just the ones I am herding to the curb.  I also see such works of art as the jarringly red Burning Bush cross the street, the maroon fronds of my backyard blueberry bushes, the orange Chinese lanterns amidst the soft, auburn Coreopsis feathers, and most of all this year,

Prostrate gold hostas

bowing obsequiously -

autumn supplicants.


All that plus the warm sun on my back.  It’s definitely something worth hanging on to – at least in our memories.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Zen and the Art of Meta-Mulchin

My earlier posting - "Staying Together by Being Apart" - prompted conversation from two members of my Mens Garden Club ("S" and "J") and in turn my response below.

On a similar note, considering that in my backyard I have a 60 year old Maple, 7 fruit trees, along needle pine that is 40' tall, and my neighbor has a 50 year old Oak not to mention about 25 of my deciduous shrubs, I had someone asked why Idon't have a large pile of leaves at the curb.

The truth of the matter is that I can take a full yard of ankle deep leaves and mulch them right into the lawn.  If it builds up too much, I can blow the fragments into the beds as mulch.  I  have not added any chemicals to the lawn for over 8years now and it remains the greenest on the block.  I now realize the return of crickets,  Katydids, frogs, and things that go click in the night.

True, my front lawn Dogwood leaves do get swept along the street and down the hill somewhere.  Ihave often wondered who is the recipient.  They probably get all the leaves from up here..


Quite coincidentally, this last month, based on a fortuitous misunderstanding of a neighbor's stray comment, I too have been mulching my leaves right back into the lawn. The mulched leaf debris basically disappears in a day or so. I don't know that I'll have the guts to mulch ankle-deep, but I'll certainly consider it. Also, a quick check on-line shows mulching leaves is not only OK, but is in fact recommended. Among many other references, here's one describing a pretty exhaustive study done 1991 to 1996 by Michigan State University:

The Michigan study's bottom line is that yearly mulching ankle deep (100 lbs of leaves per 1000 square feet) oak and maple leaves is not only very beneficial (as to lawn health, soil nutrients, and pH). Mulched maple leaves in particular seem to have an fantastic weed anti-germination capability. The one caveat is you have to put down a pound or so of nitrogen per 1000 feet each fall to help feed the microbials that devour the leaves.

Coincidentally (yet again...), on a lark yesterday afternoon, in my 'green belt' out back I spent a half-hour driving my lawn tractor over the still two-foot deep pile of dried leaves from last year to see if I could mulch them down in anticipation of this year's coming pile (I was also thinking I'd maybe speed up the decomposition process for spring compost). The dang pile just disappeared into utter dust!! True, the tractor had a tendency to plow the leaves into a pile deeper than the tractor could ascend, so I had to manually rake the pile(s) back down to drivable height. Put out a lot of dust also I'll allow. But when all was said and done what had been a two-foot deep pile of leaves was just naked dirt at the end with a fine powder of former leaf biomass.

Food for thought here!


For many years I too mulched all of my fallen leaves – using a variety of powered push mowers, each with its own version of a mulching device.  At the height of the leaf-dropping season I was chopping up the foliage at least once a week – anything less frequent than that resulted in a layer of leaves too thick to be diced at all. 

Unfortunately the rate of decomposition frequently was slower than the pace of production – with the net result being that by week number three I was placing a third tier of newly chopped fronds atop two other oh-so slowly-rotting layers – aka mulching mulch or meta-mulching.  Then winter set in and decomp would go into a state of suspended animation.  When the spring thaw finally arrived my lawn was still covered with a coating of freeze-dried compost.

Then there was the moral issue.  In my Al Gore moments, I wondered whether the ecological benefit I was providing to my lawn was outweighed by the ecological damage I was doing to the atmosphere with my CO2-belching mulch-master.

Plus raking is so much more of a Zen activity.

So I compromised. 

We will probably give the lawn one more good raking just before the first round of leaf pickup during the week of November 11.  Then, with luck, I’ll make one or maybe two passes over the lawn with my Toro and chop up the final set of fallen leaves.

Unless of course the stubborn oak leaves hang on until the town leaf collections have ceased and my mower has gone into winter storage.  Then maybe I’ll just go retro and bring out the torches.

Full disclosure: In early April Mario the landscaper comes and does the spring cleanup of all the leaves that I miss in the fall.  He wields an industrial strength leaf blower with one hand, a cell phone with the other while smoking a cigarette.  Now that’s real Zen.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

After the Frost

Prostrate gold hostas
bowing obsequiously -
autumn supplicants.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Staying Together by Being Apart

Mars and I had spent an hour and a half before lunch de-leafing most of our lawn. Now, after re-energizing my body with a bowl of homemade lentil soup and two apple fritters from the orchard where we had picked apples that morning, I was finishing off the final third. 

 It was sixty-degrees and sunny and I had just decided that any activity that works up a mild sweat on such a day counts as exercise. Now I was mulling over the phrase “crisp Magnolia leaves”, and wondering whether the southern relatives of our Connecticut-based tree experienced the same early autumn fate – while at the same time briskly raking a gaggle of the large tan fronds onto my snow shelf. I suddenly became aware of a shiny black Mercedes Benz in my peripheral vision and looked towards it as its passenger-side power window descended. 

 “Excuse me. This may seem like a stupid question but….” 

A well-dressed fortyish woman was speaking to me. An equally stylish man was in the drive’s seat. I thought for a moment that I was in a Grey Poupon mustard commercial. 

“…but we are from Florida. And I was wondering, does the town pick up all these leaves?” 

By now I was standing next to my two-foot high, thirty-yard wide pile of dead foliage leaning on my rake in my most gardenerly manner. Had Mars been available we could have enacted a northeast suburban LL Bean version of Grant Woods’ “American Gothic” painting. 

“Wethersfield does. Some towns require you to bag them. Others do nothing.” 

“I noticed that the wind blows some of them into other peoples yards,” she said in a tone that sounded like a born-again horticultural missionary preaching to a less-than-sharp, third world subsistence farmer. 

 “Sometimes it does.” I replied. 

 “That seems like an awful lot of work.” – same voice, more disbelief. 

“It is. That’s why we love Connecticut.” 

 I expected her to ask if she could photograph this quaint New England custom and its odd practitioner. But instead they both smiled, her window closed, and they drove away. 

 Further proof of a theory I developed while Mars and I were on vacation in coastal North Carolina - the reason the United States remains as united as it does, is because our geographic size allows people who totally do not belong together to be far enough apart that neither one knows or cares that the other exists.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Picky, Picky, Picky

First there was just one spontaneously generated bush.  Now Marsha and I seem to have a Rose of Sharon forest forming in the area of our new sun garden.  (This growing area was previously our modestly successful shade garden until the vagaries of Mother Nature necessitated the removal of the tall trees that were keeping the plot in perpetual daytime darkness.)

We don’t know how it got started, but we are thrilled – however apparently not all gardeners would agree with us.  This is a fair sampling of what folks on the Inter-web have to say: “the shrub has a bad habit of covering the yard with seeds. The seeds quickly sprout into dozens of Rose of Sharon seedlings, and if left undisturbed, they soon crowd out other desirable plants in your garden” – “invasive” – “extremely invasive” – “if you let it, it will take over everything!”

To which I say, “Picky, picky, picky.”

Not to brag, but our property is already home to several plants that we knew by repute would strive to aggressively take over their surroundings and several others whose pedigree contraindicates such bellicosity but whose behavior belies their polite reputation.

And a large part of my gardening activities involves riding herd on these trespassers in order to (a) keep them confined to the area within which we have decided they should live and (b) preventing them from killing off their neighbors in that plot.

Sometimes that job is easy.  I’ve had a small Tansy plot for probably about a decade now – the result of a gift from (believe it or not) a Master Gardener who did, in fairness to her, caution Mars and me about the plant’s proclivity to spread.  Fortunately the slight root system of these herbs allows for easy plucking.

Not so true for Physalis alkekengi, aka Chinese lantern or Japanese lantern – the former name provided by a Japanese friend, the latter by a Chinese one.  I never pursued the reason for the cross-cultural nomenclature other than getting the impression that each of them considered the flower to me not much more than a weed with a colorful cover over its fruit and therefore was unwilling to grant the colorfully orange plant membership in their ethnic group.

This crop came from one of the plant sales of the Mens Garden Club o Wethersfield – not as reliable a source as the Master Gardener program, but still!  The Gardener’s Network website says “Once your Chinese Lantern plants are established, they will grow well, with little or no attention, for many years.”  This might be the understatement of the century.  With a root system that seems to extend to, well, China – and a propensity to pop up miles away from their home base – these peripatetic perennials provide at least two person-days of labor every year.

Other traveling plants in our domain include gooseneck loosestrife, goutweed (another Garden Club plant sale purchase), and False Dragonheads (ironically named Obedient plants – another plant sale boondoggle).

The most persistent invasives on our land however are the up growths of long-gone Flowering Crab trees, which were removed from our property as part of our retirement plan to re-landscape our yard.  These bushes had long predated our occupancy and had long ago ceased to be anything other than a tangle of flowerless crisscrossing, barbed branches with juicy little berries that tore and stained my shirt and skin every time I tried to prune it back – to the point where I could not tell the juice from the blood.

At least twice I hacked the two of them down to the ground in hopes that they would, like the Phoenix, arise in beauteous glory from their stumps – only to have them return to their previous condition only with more and sharper barbs.

 Finally we had them removed professionally – roots and all.

Or so I thought.  Familiar looking branches began appearing in random places across our property.  I would cut them back.  More would appear elsewhere. I would lop them down.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. – to this day.

We all want to feel that what we do matters. The best thing about invasive plants is that they really make a gardener feel needed.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

I'll Be There For You

Just cuz you feed them

Pigeons aren’t really your friends –

Kinda like Facebook.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Okay.  So, just like all of us do, you go to the health club every day where you spend at least sixty minutes doing a combination of cardio exercises (sprinting on the treadmill, cranking away on the elliptical, spinning your buns off on the stationary bike), and strength (free weights, chin-ups, pushups, flys, dead lifts) topped off by some power yoga for balance and flexibility.

And you garden.
So, like me, you’ve got to wonder – does the gardening count as a workout?

(Ignore the irony of the question.  The reason that we 21st century people are going to gyms at all is, of course, because we don’t get anywhere near as much physical activity in our every day lives as our ancestors who spent their days horticulturing did.

Anyway – can gardening be the means to a leaner, meaner body?

“No way!” says at least one Personal Trainer.
“To better understand just how effective gardening is as a form of exercise, let's consider just who can garden. Or better yet-who can't.
“Not many people can't garden. This says something right off the bat. If just about all populations can perform a particular activity, its challenge to the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems is quite minimal.
“Gardening is popular among people of retirement age. Also, even people with severe mobility issues can garden. Gardening is busy work. It requires attention to detail, focus, knowledge and patience. It produces relaxation, the satisfaction of a job well-done, and chemical-free vegetables or fragrant flora. Gardening exercises the mind more than the cardio and musculoskeletal systems.”
“Peh!” I say.  Obviously this apartment-living city-dweller has absolutely no idea how physically demanding gardening work can be – especially if it is done right, or more accurately if it is done in the most difficult way possible.
Take for example lawn maintenance.  Hop onboard the riding mower, turn the key, and tool around the property.  Zero calories calorie burn, zero raise in heart rate, zero muscle strain.
But do the same job on-foot pushing a self-propelled mower and, according to the super-scientifically accurate calculator I found on the Internet, you burn 386 calories per hour (if you weight 183 pounds – a number I just pulled out of the air).  BTW you can use up roughly the same number of calories/hour by raking up the mess afterwards.
Take away the self-propulsion – like my Toro “Self Pace” model – and the weight loss increases by 104 calories.  (I really like the marketing folks at Toro who came up with a spiffy name for a feature that is essentially the lack of a feature.)
Now try the same job with a forty-year old mower motor that refuses to turn over until somewhere between the thirty-fourth and fifty-ninth pull on the starter rope – on a good day.  You can actually feel your arm getting stronger, and longer, with every tug you take.  Alternate your arms for a more complete workout and to avoid the need for custom made long-sleeve shirts.  To get even more out of this exercise, disconnect the spark plug and/or empty the gas tank.
And how about watering?
In-ground sprinkler = 0 calories.   Above ground sprinkler = 1.  Standing and spraying = 1.5.  But what about watering cans?
There is a famous Zen saying, "Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water." What’s it mean?  Who knows?
Anyway, from another Internet source at least as trustworthy as the above calorie calculator, here is the “Red Can Watering Exercise.”  (My watering pails are orange so I’m probably not getting the full benefit, but nonetheless…)
“First get two red 10 L watering cans. (Red watering cans work best but any other color will work too!) Gently raise them up and walk 150 yards to the water supply. Bend and stretch while slowing allowing your can to fill up. Raise and put can down. Repeat with the other can.
“Once full point both cans in the same direction to balance out, then return the 150 yards to where your veg plot (or flower plot if you prefer). Drop down the can using a side motion. Then walk to the first bed raise the can above the plants. With a slow side-to-side motion cover the plants in water. If you need to you can support the bottom of the can.
“Repeat this with the other can.
“Once the cans are empty gently bend to pick them up. Repeat the whole process another 12 to 14 times each day or every other day for maximum effect.
“In a few weeks you will lose weight and have lots of veggies.
“If you need to warm up first, do so by walking a mile or so to the plot. Always consult your doctor before taking any exercise. They will probably say ‘whatever’ and shrug their shoulders - but do it anyway!”
Next month – aerobic and acrobatic exercises anyone can do with an 8 ?” Japanese pruning saw, and an eighty foot oak tree.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Red Bird, Black Head

We’ve had a really ugly bird at our feeders for the past week – the first one in thirty-six years of doling out sunflower seeds to the avian population of Wethersfield.  This is not what we had been hoping for.

Mars saw it first and immediately called my attention to it.  It was a red-bodied creature, about robin or oriole size – with an amazingly unattractive, flea-bitten looking black head.  I looked it over and grabbed our bird identification book, which sits on a wooden chest in front of the window through which we were gawking at our ghastly, gustatory guest.
Looking up the species of an unknown bird in a bird book is, to me anyway, comparable to trying to find the spelling of an unfamiliar word in a dictionary.  You open the book near the section where you think it might make sense to look for it and then flip through the pages, browsing for something similar and hope that the correct answer literally jumps off the page at you and slaps you in the face.
So I went upstairs to our data room and logged onto Google.com, searching for “red bird black head”.  This time the response literally leaped from the screen – one more harbinger perhaps of the death of books, or at least their shortcomings.
“Red bird, black cap? - Help Me Identify a Bird - Whatbird ...
“I bet this is the same bird as the posts re "Help! Black head, red/pink body,      “Please help ID this strange red bird with black head - Help Me ...
“Wild Birds Unlimited: What is That Red Bird with a Black Head?
“Sep 8, 2010 - I've had a couple calls lately trying to identify a new bird in the yard. The callers describe them as red birds with a black heads. Not black wings ...”
And all these sites gave me pretty much the same answer as this one from wildbirdsunlimited.com “Mystery solved. They are Northern Cardinals going through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers that leaves them bald. After nesting season most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of feathers, which will last until the next breeding season.” – i.e. a really, really chrome-domed cardinal.
Once she knew the answer Mars decided our homely houseguest would be named Kojak – after the mid 1970s television series starring Telly Savalas as the bald New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak.  The name is just too perfect as you can see below.
 I also learned during my research that “kojaking” is “to find an empty parking space directly in front of the building you are visiting, regardless of the time of day, or busy urban location. From the television series "Kojak". The title character would race off to locations in Manhattan and always park right in front of the building.  Sasha totally “kojaked” it, finding a spot right out front.”
We have had cardinal couples residing in our yard every year that we’ve had the feeders.  So I suspect our Kojak did not ”kojak” the food station but rather, being one of this year’s offspring, has probably been a regular patron of the eating establishment since his fledgling days when he perched there and squawked until nourishment was delivered to him by one of his weary parents.
 And now I am sure he especially appreciates our largesse in his current embarrassing condition. 
“Who loves ya baby?”