Slowing down to appreciate the changes

  • Our bird feeder attracts a bluebird. Cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and a red-bellied woodpecker have all made recent appearances. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    Our bird feeder attracts a bluebird. Cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and a red-bellied woodpecker have all made recent appearances. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER

Aside from necessary and fully masked trips to the grocery store and occasional visits to our favorite restaurant hangout, Bucko and I have been pretty much weathering this stage of the pandemic from a safe vantage point – through the windows of our car or at our home. We are fortunate indeed to have a yard and all that comes with it.

This year, finally, I have been home when my elevated garden beds reached their spring fruition. We’ve been eating wax beans by the bowl-full most evenings and there are enough raw beans for me to munch on during the day. I can usually add a handful of fresh blackberries to my snacking, too. It sure beats snacking on chips! And, for decoration, nearly every day I have a few more zinnia and sweet pea flowers to fill up fresh bouquets scattered around the house.

The monarch butterfly caterpillars have finished up the milkweed and gone off to become butterflies. The milkweed is putting out more leaves in readiness for the next round. In the meantime, it’s the parsley plants I’m watching. I’ve seen swallowtail butterflies flitting around.

Soon enough, I know I will be finding their caterpillars consuming these plants. It doesn’t bother me at all. How much parsley can one eat? I’d rather feed the cats.

The bigger critters are also appearing in our backyard now. With the raised beds safely out of a rabbit’s reach, I have tolerated the backyard bunnies better this year and have even begun to enjoy their presence. Sure, they nibble on the lawn and some of my butterfly plants, but mostly they are benign. Now when they show up, we have stopped trying to trap and relocate them. We are even giving them treats, however inadvertently. It turns out it’s not only squirrels that like discarded sunflowers.

When my five good sunflowers in the house started drooping and raining yellow pollen, it was time to dispense of them. The first one I put out by the bird feeders disappeared entirely one afternoon. Some animal or another dragged it off into the woods. The next day, I put the last four wilted sunflowers at the feeders. These sunflowers had not yet developed seeds, but that didn’t matter much; the petals, it seems, are good eating too. The squirrels lost interest when there were no seeds but, over the past few days, I’ve watched bunnies and the resident pair of ducks consuming the yellow petals. Good for them!

Now that the evenings are cool and still relatively bug-free, I’ve been spending a lot of time on our backyard deck with my iPad, phone, and camera with a telephoto lens nearby. I entertain myself with reading or Netflix while keeping an eye on the wildlife around me.

One evening, a big flurry of activity ensued as a flock of 30 or so ibises flew to the pond for a drink; then sated, flew off again. Fun! Another evening, I watched our resident anhinga diving underwater to catch a fish. Often enough, a blue heron or great egret shows up to entertain me with their stealthy grace. The turtles are always popping up one place or another if I watch the pond long enough. The resident anoles are always on the deck with me, displaying their throat patches to each other in aggressive or amorous intent. Unless I witness the outcome, I have no idea which.

The bird feeders are always fun to watch from my quiet perch on the deck. In the early evening, a shift of birds will fly in to eat the sunflower and millet seeds. The cardinal pair now has two offspring and sometimes all four visit the area while I am watching. The chickadees and titmice are stealthier – popping in to snag a seed then flying off into the trees. Sometimes a red-bellied woodpecker joins in, hanging from the side of the feeder and eating its own snack. Recently, I watched a bluebird fly in to settle on the feeder pole before dropping down to take a drink from the birdbath nearby. There’s always something.

I feel so grateful that my current stay-at-home life provides so much nature to watch right in my yard. I feel sorry for those cooped up in New York and other big cities with barely a chance to even get outdoors. But, after all, that’s why we moved here in the first place – to escape these urban centers. A good choice as it now turns out!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.