Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Longer I Garden...

Every year Marsha and I plan our gardens.  This annum’s strategy – after careful consideration, extensive research and meticulously executed mathematical calculations is to just wait and see what comes up – and then fill in the gaps.

We came to this decision not out of any hippy-dippy, new age belief that, when it comes to what should or shouldn’t decorate our landscape, Mother Nature knows best.  She doesn’t.  She plants way too many weeds in all the wrong places.

The reasoning behind our laissez-faire landscaping modus operandi is threefold: (1) we don’t remember what and where the old perennials are;  (2) we don’t know yet what new plants are going to show up now that, due to extensive tree removal, one-half of our growing area has been involuntarily converted from Connecticut shade-grown to blisteringly solar irradiated; and (3) plants move.

 We actually have gone through the amnesiac phase before. In fairness to us, one reason we are not sure of the identities of many of our perennial repeaters is that we in fact did not know what they were when we took them in.  Some came from friends – who being friends – we never really question when they offer us something horticultural.  They probably told us what they were and how they grow – at least we hope so.

So we have the nameless, over-reaching ground cover from Ed; the anonymous tiny white flowers from Judy (the ones that are not Feverfew [also from Judy] which we do recall, although not exactly where they are – and definitely not the Tansy [Judy again], the location of which I am constantly aware because I spend most of my waking hours from early April through late October trying to keep it from spreading out of there); the two patches of slightly different tall, small sunflowers and/or daisies one of which we was given by our daughter-in-law Monica in New Mexico and the other by Richard formerly of Wethersfield – we just aren’t sure who gave us what; and many others that we are sure were gifted to Marsha and me, but not by whom.

We also have quite a few bushes and shrubs that we have literally rescued from death’s door at such places as the now defunct Heritage Garden at the Town Hall and an overgrown house garden that the new owner just “wanted out of here.”  No knowledgeable person was around during these guerilla gardening activities, so in general I had no idea what I was taking when I took them.  Even less idea when I planted them a week later.  And absolutely not a clue when they reappeared the next year – presumably in the same spot I had originally placed them.

I actually figured out the identity of one of the adopted plants after it reached full bloom. It was Decorative Fennel that had been removed and replanted before any of its distinctive yellow umbels or licorice aroma were up and running.  But most of the time if the plant arrives under a cloak of secrecy we don’t ask any questions.

Last year Rose of Sharon, Flowering Crab, Thistle and Pokeweed spontaneously appeared in the new sunny part of our yard.  All but the Pokeweed are back so far – plus honeysuckle is already muscling out some of the shade lovers that apparently kept it under wraps all these years.  We have it in another part of the yard, but never, ever in this particular location – so I am not sure if it has migrated or just, having lain dormant for lo these many years, been given new life by the rays of sunshine now pouring down on it.

The aforementioned Fennel is on the move – migrating outward after spending several years confining itself to the garage wall at the back of one of our gardens.  Now it seems to be striving to fill any available piece of soil within its seed-throwing range.

A while back we rescued a small plant with red tipped leaves and short white feathery flowers.  After two years of good behavior, it is now aggressively marching eastward at the other end of the garden from the Fennel – as well as forming a second small commune in what is now the most sun-ravaged of our perennial beds, across the lawn and about thirty yards to the south of the parental pod.

All this – plus myriads of unrecognizable small green potentially perennial looking shoots popping up among and between. 

 The longer I garden, the taller I let the unknowns grow – just to be certain.  And the longer I garden, the more unknowns there are.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

State of Nature - The Hawk Sage Continues

It turns out that hawks do hunt in their nesting area.  

I had read the opposite point of view during my research on what to expect from the pair of raptors that have taken up residence in one of our oak trees.  And I was beginning to believe that we might be in for a perpetual state of peace in our little neck of the woods based on the fact that, to date, no acts of hawk-versus-anything violence had occurred on or near our property.
Then the weekend came, and Mars was eyewitness to two events that indicated our area was changing from a pre-reptile Garden of Eden into British Philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ “State of Nature”, wherein life is “nasty, brutish and short”.
Saturday morning I went to work on our community rose garden with some members of my men’s garden club.  Mars lingered at home, and then took the two-mile walk to the site of my labors from which we rode home together.
She didn’t mention anything in the Jeep but after we de-embarked in our driveway she walked quickly over to our other vehicle, a red PT Cruiser, and told me to look at the roof and tell her what I saw.   
This being the pollen season, a coat of fine, yellow powdery stuff covered the surface, and I was expecting to see the outlines of cat’s paws – but instead I was greeted by what looked to be the aftermath of frenetic attempts to randomly brush away microscopic grains of male procreationary desire.
I said nothing and must have looked perplexed because Mars quickly said, “The hawk!”
 “The hawk?”
“The hawk!  I was reading the paper and noticed him sitting on top of the bird feeder stand, looking down at the flowers in the flowerbed below.  As I got up and moved closer to the door I saw a squirrel scurry out from the Rudbeckia patch and dart under the car.
 “The hawk quickly followed after him and tried to land on the roof – but he kept sliding and flapping and slipping until he gave up and flew back up to the nest.”
“Wow!” was the best I could come up with as I looked around at our – at the moment – totally squirrel-free landscape.  The tree rodents did however return later in the day.
On Sunday morning Mars went downstairs and opened the front door for our early morning hawk-check.  She stepped out to get a glimpse of the aerie, but nothing was happening.  Then, as she was turning away and closing the outer storm door, she sensed movement in her periphery vision and looked up to see the hawk gliding across the lawn at about her eye level, again in full pursuit of one of our gray bushy-tailed yard pets.
 Still unsuccessful the hunter peeled back like a fighter jet and returned once again empty-taloned to his home.
 A family friend “K”, who is an eagle observer for a local wildlife organization, had forewarned us “Squirrels might be safe until the chick or chicks are hatched, then all bets are off.  Food is food, what ever is the easiest to catch or prey upon.  Nature is always a lot closer than you or I think it is.”
Even though we haven’t glimpsed them, I guess the wee hawklets have seen the light – and they are hungry
It’s not bad enough that their parents appropriated the squirrel’s main residence for their home in the suburbs – now the hawks are trying to serve these former tenants as the main course on what once was the tree rat's dinner table.
Nasty, brutish and short indeed – but also, to my chagrin, pretty, darn entertaining.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What Is Going On?

I haven’t been providing updates on the latest hawk happenings because there weren’t any – until yesterday.  I think.

I came downstairs as I do every morning; turned out our front light as I do every morning; opened the front and storm doors to feel the weather as I do every morning; and looked up at the hawk nest as I’ve done every morning for the past month and a half – expecting nothing and instead saw the slow, deliberate movement of a large, hook-beaked head.

Mars was following me.  “Come out here and look at the nest!”  She did, and not surprisingly saw the same thing. 

Because of the viewing angles, etc., we have never had a good vantage point into the aerie.  Now leaves have appeared on the trees so even that minimal window is rapidly shrinking.  I wondered, “What is going on?”

Ninety minutes after as we headed out to the health club, with the aforementioned skull still in sight, the second raptor glided onto the perch next to the aerie.  We hung around for a few minutes.  So did he.  (I’m assuming that the peripatetic predator is a he – it is smaller (as “he” would be) and not tied to the nest (as most write-ups I’ve seen say “she” would be.))

Later, after we had returned from working out and were on our way to some volunteering at our historical society, he landed again, – this time with something small (and presumably edible) dangling from its bill.  Soon he left without it.

What is going on?

Just the day before we were commenting to our across the street neighbor D – who until the trees began leafing had a perfect line of sight through her binoculars into the aerie – that we hadn’t any hawk action for several days.  Neither had she.  We all were beginning to give up hope.  Now it was clear to Mars and me that some thing was happening – we just don’t know what.

Remembering that frequently the answers you get depend upon the questions you ask I queried of the all-wise Google “how long before hawks leave the nest?”

The online Wisconsin State Journal had a May 2012 news column titled with basically the same question.  "About 45 days is all it takes for them to fledge — to leave the nest for good," 

At the time the newspaper was reporting the goings-on of a hawk couple in Madison WI that they were following via hawk-cam.  They said that those chicks broke out of their eggs April 19, and thus had a projected June 3 departure date.

“But watch for plenty of action before that.

"’They grow very rapidly, which is why you see the parents spending so much time off-nest even now, just a couple weeks after they hatched,’ Berres said. ‘It's like feeding a gang of growing teenagers, and it's all the parents can do to keep up with the hunting required to meet the chicks' physiological needs.’"

Unfortunately that camera was taken down in June of last year and the website says that the hawks did not return in 2013.

Now I am even more curious as to what is going on in our own hatchery.

I searched further into the world of intrusive wildlife webcasts and found a New York Times live coverage of a red-tailed hawk nest in Washington Square Park.  The last posting on the site, dated 3/20/13, said, “The stars of the reality raptor drama, believed to be last year’s couple, Rosie and Bobby, are currently warming three eggs on a nest situated on the 12th-floor window ledge of New York University’s president, John Sexton.”

During my brief viewing time I saw three gangly balls of brown feathers toddling cautiously around the pile of twigs – and a full-sized hawk (Rosie?) basically trying to stay out of their way.  Presumably, if I had watched long enough, Bobby would also appear in the frame bearing nourishment for the home-bound brood.

Mars has named our duo after the actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.  And probably life in Uma and Ethan's aerie is mimicking that of Rosie, Bobby, and family. 

So that’s what’s going on at the moment – though invisible to us.

However, now there is a larger and much more troubling question.

I just learned that real-life Uma and Ethan’s seven-year marriage ended amid rumors of his affair with the couple's nanny whom he later married.

Some guy left Uma Thurman!!  What is going on?



Friday, May 03, 2013

More Hawk Talk

Perhaps the oddest thing to me about having an active hawk’s nest in our front yard is that nothing else has changed.

The other morning as we came downstairs to breakfast I opened the front door to check for any overnight developments up in the aerie.  I spotted some jumpy light gray movements on the oak tree branch adjacent to the raptor’s residence, so I kept staring at that spot expecting to see either the changing of the guard between future-mom and future-dad or, even better, one of the two prospective parents bringing takeout brunch to its partner and their offspring.

Instead, it was a squirrel – dancing on the bark about two feet from the site of its possible predator’s penthouse.  Dumb or daring?  Or maybe just lucky. 

 “R”, a fellow member of my garden club, dropped by the other day to see the hawks.  He said that a few years back he had such a nest on his property and that the small animal population in his yard dropped dramatically and quickly.  Our demographic behavior seems to be just the opposite.  The squirrel count remains around five or six – it appears to have held steady around that number since BCE.   And the number of small birds (cardinals, finches, robins, sparrows, titmice, mockingbirds, and even towhees) is at or above our normal number of guests – at least according to Mars and my unofficial census count.

One of the pluses of all this normality is that the air space around our house is once again filled with our usual springtime wall of sound.  A few discordant notes are struck by the occasional scolding squirrel, and rhythmic woodpeckers provide the backbeat.  But mostly the music is provided by mating calls from the male representatives of the above mentioned bird breeds.   (Apparently the cardinal is one of the few varieties where the distaff side joins in duet.)

As a result, if and when the hawks decide to communicate, their dialogue is blended into the dense, layered, background resonance and loses all of its identity – except every so often when I happen to witness one of the raptors coming to or going from its home.

Nonetheless, not having heard or seen any hawk signs for several days – and particularly after watching what I assumed was a daredevil squirrel proving to its buddies that it wasn’t afraid to run up to the haunted house and ring the doorbell – I began to believe that our penthouse pets had, for whatever reason, flown the coop.

But I’ve just come back from my daily dandelion safari, and I am now certain that the hawks are still with us.  I remove these yellow flowered weeds by hand – uprooting them one by one with my snake-tongued weeding tool.  This old-school organic method provides me with a modicum of exercise and a bit of self-satisfaction for my minimal contribution to a chemical-free environment in which coincidentally hawks (and eagles) can once again live normally.

 It also occasionally places me at the base of the oak tree in which the hawks reside, bent over with my back turned to the raptor’s self-proclaimed incubation nook.  I was positioned thusly, in the bright noonday sun, when I felt a large shadow passing over my body, and looked up in time to see one of the pair gliding onto its alternate perching platform in an oak tree across the street.  The short flight was accompanied by a brief burst of hawk chatter, which in turn prompted a similarly worded response from an unseen source in the assemblage of twigs and branches above me.

Un-scratched and unscathed I finished my weed roundup, reported my sighting to Mars, and sat down at the computer to finish my thoughts.

But sitting at the Mac reminded me of something our son asked us the other night when we were talking via Skype.  He wondered if we spoke hawk-talk – not meaning could we converse with them, but rather did we know the proper terminology to use in describing them to others and the etymology thereof. 

We did not.

So here, thanks to the wonders of the inter-web and, are the basic words of hawk talk.

      1) A group of hawks is called a cast, aerie or kettle – even though the only hawk you are likely to find in groups is the Harris and it is found in Arizona and Texas.  A hawk's nest is also called an aerie. It is the spot in which a hawk lays and incubates its eggs besides raising the young ones. The term could also refer to the nests of other birds of prey such as an eagle or a falcon.

      2) A male hawk is normally just called a male.  But the term tercel or tiercel is sometimes applied.

      3) A female hawk is a hen.

      4) A young hawk is called an eyas.  The term "eyas" specifically refers to a young falcon, and even more specifically to one being raised and trained for falconry, but it can also generally apply to young hawks.  Hawks under a year are described as Passage. 

 “Tercel” apparently comes from the Old French, based on Latin tertius ‘third,’ perhaps from the belief that the third egg of a clutch produced a male.  “Aerie” seems pretty clearly to have derived from medieval Latin aeria (aerea, eyria) – “the nest of a bird of prey”.  And, according to my Mac dictionary, “eyas” is from the French niais, based on Latin nidus ‘nest.’ The initial “n” was lost supposedly by an incorrect division of a nyas; as sometimes happens with words such as  adder, apron, and umpire.   

While I don’t doubt the validity of the theory of the “lost n” in general – some of you will remember the Steve Miller Band hit record ‘Fly Like A Neagle” – I do not believe that it applies to little hawk-lings.

Bow-wow theory linguists suggest that the first human languages developed as onomatopoeia, imitations of natural sounds. “Eyas!” is clearly based on the cry of excited new hen and tercel parents when their long incubation vigil is finally over and the hunting season really begins.

Perhaps that sound will even become a part of Mars and my new normal.