I complain, I whine, I scruff my feet on the weeds, I do back-of-the-envelope math that would indicate that I will finish mulching the Japanese stiltgrass sometime in 2018, and at the end of the day, I decide it’s too hot and muggy to do anything and go back inside to the air conditioning.
It is not the most pleasant time to have a garden in the Southeast.
But despite all that, I have to say, the garden is really kicking butt and taking names in one particular field this year—namely birds.
In past years, my garden has managed four to six fledgelings a year. The species vary wildly—Carolina chickadees, ruby-throated hummingbirds, gnatcatchers, titmice, even, on one occasion, a pileated woodpecker. But the numbers have been pretty consistent–four to six every year, as far as I can tell. (I won’t swear that a few aren’t sneaking around the edges and I’m just not noticing.)
My garden is now five years old, and whether it’s been a heckuva year (I know we had quite an inchworm crop this year) or that the garden is finally doing some serious heavy-lifting on the habitat front, we are knee-deep in fledgelings and it’s not even halfway through June.
The great crested flycatcher fledgling is a first in the garden. He spent two days lurking in the flowerpots, hopping onto the rims and clinging as if the terracotta was going to jump up and run off with him. I hear the adults all the time, but only see them occasionally.
A mourning dove showed up yesterday, looking pretty much like every other mourning dove in the world, except with bits of baby fluff still clinging at odd angles. (I am still astonished that mourning doves manage to reproduce at all, given how careless they are about where they leave their eggs.) While I have assumed for years that the doves are producing at least a dove a year—the small flock goes up to five or six, then drops back down to four pretty regularly—this is the first time I’ve actually spotted one.
Chipping sparrows are pretty common in the garden, but the juvenile was a new one. He wandered around under the birdfeeder, looking vaguely puzzled as to how the whole system worked, and running away whenever a squirrel showed up.
The Carolina wrens raised three babies in a hanging birdhouse on the front porch. Now, I suspect those didn’t actually make it to the fledgling stage—I saw them one day and three days later they were gone, making me suspect that our enormous local blacksnake is a little more enormous this year. This actually bothers me less than you’d think. For one thing, the blacksnake is really really cool, and for another thing, I’d rather have the garden produce enough food to make baby birds which then go on to be food for someone else, than to simply not have enough food to support baby birds in the first place.
The cardinal fledgling took some work—not because cardinals are hard to identify, but because cardinals routinely molt and go completely weirdly bald, so merely seeing a shaggy fluff-covered cardinal is not diagnostic. But the way that the poor bird kept slipping off the feeder and flapping madly, as if it wasn’t quite sure its wings worked, plus some really spectacular crashing through the branches, led me to believe that this was a very young bird indeed.
There’s also a juvenile brown-headed cowbird. I am conflicted about the cowbird. They only showed up in the garden this year, but there’s three or four of them, and some poor sod had to raise a baby cowbird instead of their own chick. However, I trying to take the view that nest parasites only show up if there’s sufficient nests to parasitize, and presumably this is a sign that we’ve got a lot of nest activity going on.
By my math, that’s eight fledglings so far, and we’re barely into summer. The titmice and chickadees usually manage to produce at least one round a year, and I have great confidence in the small, grumpy gnatcatchers and the red-bellied woodpeckers. And this doesn’t even include such delights as the first-year summer tanager who was molting red-over-yellow, who I spotted singing hysterically from the top of a tomato cage.
It’s a good year for birds in the garden. And this makes me glad, because I know in my heart of hearts that I am not going to get out there mulching again until September, and yet the garden—and the birds—carry on.
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