Author Archives: Jim R

About Jim R

Teacher of Science, Astronomy, Nature, among other things

PhoebeCam | Three PhoebeBabies

PhoebeCam – a long stick, small digital camera, macro mode, 10 sec timer, and flash.

It was a success. But, I was scolded harshly by the parents. They did not like my intrusion on the nest territory. Back inside the house, I watched through a nearby window. One of the parents scouted the space under the deck very carefully. It looked over the long stick. It was very vigilant. I will leave them alone now.

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Eastern Phoebe | Time-Lapse Exposure

We have enjoyed watching our new neighbors, a pair of Eastern Phoebes who took up residence under our deck. Previous posts about the nest location, tail wags, and 3 eggs are here and here.

We are happy to say the eggs have hatched. Mom and Dad are busy gathering insects to feed the babies. They fly to a perch not far above ground. There they scan the grass and bushes nearby for movement of insects. They must have excellent vision.

Upon spotting something, they quickly fly to it,  grab it with their beak, and fly back to the perch. After a few quick tail wags, they thrash the insect left and right on the perch a few times and fly to the nest to put it into a wide mouth.

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Spider Web | Cast a Net

The sun was low in the east as I returned from a morning walk. Dried weed stalks from last year stood 3-4 ft tall between me and the sun. Near the top of many of them were small spider webs about 3-5 inches across. Each was covered with dew drops reflecting the sunlight. They deserved a closer look.

As I peered down for a better look, I wondered if the spider architect was sitting anywhere nearby? I couldn’t see any spider on this one.

Moving to another plant, I got down on one knee and noticed the lower angle of the sunlight caused it to reflect better showing the structure more clearly. It was a tangle of strands. Still no spider was visible.

I bent farther down to look under the web and found the spider hanging upside-down. Very clever of you.

Eggs in the Phoebe Nest

Update: Under the blue divider is the original post about our new Phoebe neighbors. They built a nest under our deck as pictured at the end of the original post. I noticed one of the birds sitting on the nest a few days ago and wondered if there was a way to see the eggs. Seen from above on the deck, the nest is under the X. I quietly bent down and was able to barely see through the 1/4″ crack to the nest.

I placed my phone over the crack and turned on the camera. The lens is tiny and was able to peer through to the nest. What a pleasant surprise.

Original: We enjoy the usual avian visitors to the woods behind our house. There are cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, flickers, etc. who are year-round residents. Others are passing through during migration in fall and spring. This year, we have the nest of an Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe under our deck for the first time. We hope it proves to be a good location for them so we can monitor the progress of their young.

See the thread or cobweb across the side of the head.

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Iris | Rainbow of Color

Two examples of Iris stopped me while out for a walk. The hundreds of hybrids provide color to the gardens of spring. Perhaps named after the Goddess Iris. Whatever the origin, the sun was high and dark bushes set a proper background of contrast. It invited photographs.

My route brought me by a small retention pond in the neighborhood. At water’s edge were patches of these yellow Iris pseudacorus. They are native to Europe, northern Africa, and temperate Asia.

Eastern Phoebe

We enjoy the usual avian visitors to the woods behind our house. There are cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, flickers, etc. who are year-round residents. Others are passing through during migration in fall and spring. This year, we have the nest of an Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe under our deck for the first time. We hope it proves to be a good location for them so we can monitor the progress of their young.

See the thread or cobweb across the side of the head.

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Prairie Burn | 12 April 2018

Seventeen years ago, friends of ours moved from their in-town home to a 5 acre property several miles out of town. They built a beautiful prairie-style house and converted 4 acres of their alfalfa field front yard into a mixed prairie like it was 200 years ago. Native grasses, wildflowers, and trees were planted and a small pond was formed. The plantings grew well in the rich Iowa soil. Wildlife returned. Bird species grew in number. Kestrels nested in the box above the open space. Waterfowl visited the pond. They kept paths mowed to allow easy access to parts of the prairie visible in this satellite view.

Recent year Google Maps view. Pond lower left. House upper right.

Only one thing was missing from their prairie. They needed a fire. Much dry vegetation was on the ground built up from years of growth. Certain desirable native species were crowded out by less welcome grasses or weeds. They hired a crew to burn off the dead vegetation. The burn must be a carefully controlled prescribed fire carried out by an experienced team. Fire was a natural and essential event on the prairies in the past. A thorough discussion of prairie burns can be found at The Prairie Ecologist. The author, Chris Helzer, is The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska.

Before the burn was started, I stood next to the house in the image above and recorded video of the scene toward the south, then panned around to the west and northwest. It was a calm day with gentle breeze in the direction of the pond.

The fire team of four arrived in the late afternoon and walked around the property to assess their strategy. You don’t just toss a match and hope for the best. That is how prairie burns get out of control. There is a procedure used to keep the fire under control.

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Hand-in-Hand

After Mom’s stroke, she was unable to care for herself or Dad. She was a strong and capable woman, raised nine children, and lived a farm life. They were married over 66 yrs when her stroke happened. It removed her from Dad’s life one dark winter night. He prayed for her return. He wasn’t ready to let her go. He held tight to the dream of getting her back.

22 Sept 2000

Many of us lived near enough to give Dad daily rides to the nursing home to be with her. She didn’t get better. The efforts to bring him each day became more difficult for him and for us. It seemed best for him to stay in the nursing home with her. The staff gave them much gentle care and attention.

Dad died on 28 March 2002. Mom on 16 May 2005. Maybe they are hand-in-hand again.

Hands

On New Year’s Eve 31 December 1999, Mom suffered a stroke. It affected her ability to process things going on in the present. Much of her long term memory was still intact. She was near her 88th birthday. Dad missed her terribly.

As I browsed through photos recently, I found one of her hand resting on the arm of a chair. It was taken in September 2000 when we visited her in the nursing home. She had arthritis. Swollen knuckles and wrinkles were obvious. If they could talk, they would have many stories to tell about life and the hard work it demanded. I gathered my pencils, charcoal, and paper.