Thursday, April 12, 2012

Welcome To My Garden, Atticus Finch

    Atticus Finch, in the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird said, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Well, Atticus Finch has not walked through my garden during nesting season. Those melodious warbles turn to raucous squawks and graceful glides turn to perilous dive-bombs.

My son has a cat named, Trout (don’t ask). This cat was a semi-feral kitten when we got her and after seven years of attention and regular meals, she is still irritatingly skittish. One day, in the garden, she surprised me by doing loving, figure eights around my ankles. My joy at this unexpected show of affection quickly evaporated when I noticed the pair of mocking birds swooping nearby….the cat was using me as a human-shield.
 There is a lovely Crape Myrtle outside our bedroom window, which is a favorite place for a pair of mockingbirds to build their nest every spring. It is also near the porch where we feed the cats. At six o’clock, every morning, Trout and our other cat, Millie, sit on the porch, waiting to be fed. They do not have too long of a wait during the week, but on weekends, well, they just have to wait. These patient cats drive the territorial mocking birds into a frenzy, thus, waking me up and since I am up, I feed the cats; I’m angry because I wanted to sleep in and the mocking birds are still squawking, but the cats are happy. Short of cutting down the tree, I see no end to this cycle.

I’m keeping the tree and will live with the mockingbirds. I’ll just hope they earn their keep by eating all the insects this mild winter did not kill.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Peepers and Marshmallow Peeps mean Spring

To many, spring means the arrival of the first daffodils or the sight of the first robin, but to me, spring is here when I hear the spring peepers. These well camouflaged amphibians are rarely seen, but step outside on a cool spring evening and enjoy the chorus of these tiny frogs as they fill the air with what sounds like tiny bells. The peepers are only 1 inch to one and 1.5 inches long, so while they are heard, they are not often seen. But, if you decide to venture out for a look, they are tan or brown in color with a tell-tale X on their back. Large pads on their toes allow them the ability to climb trees, but prefer the dense, damp woodland floor. Their favorite snacks are ants, flies and spiders and they are favorite snacks for snakes, skunks and larger frogs. During the winter, peepers have been spending that time hibernating deep under fallen leaves or under logs in the forest. As the weather warms and the ground heats up, the peepers come out, starting their spring chorus in March and early April.

It is the male which is making all this noise, trying to attract a female by inflating a sac on its throat, which inflates and deflates like a balloon, to create the distinct sound. Once mating season is over, the spring peeper becomes silent, leaving the evening airwaves to crickets and whip-o-wills. With these warm March days we have been having, the peepers should be out very soon, so come outside, the concert is free.