Our apple trees picked a mostly bad week to bloom. It has been rainy and cold, weather not conducive to our little pollinating friends. Yesterday, the temp peaked at 45 while we watched the northeast wind blow sheets of rain across the fields. Lovely. Bees don’t fly much below 55 degrees, nor do they venture out in rain. Earlier in the week the sun battled through the murk, and I saw and heard bees in the flowers, but ultimately the sun lost the fight. There may still be time for the golden delicious tree–its petals are hanging on for the moment. So now I wait to learn whether the bees made their appointed rounds, or whether the hummingbirds provided backup.
If we have no apples this year, it will be the second consecutive year. Last year we had frost in April/May when the trees were blooming. Our golden delicious was having its off year, so we weren’t expecting any fruit from that tree, but the nasty, scabby normally-reliable macs got zapped. For some strange reason I seem to have “rain rain go away” stuck in my head.
The phoebes came back at the end of March, which I always think is crazy considering they are flycatchers. Not a lot of flies buzzing about at the end of March. Unless you look closely. Up against the house, especially where the sun bakes, flies emerge, moths flutter and a phoebe, you find, probably can make a living.
Phoebes are not shy. The morning after a good southerly flow they announce their presense emphatically: fee-bee! Little gray birds who flick their tails (which helps distinguish them from other flycatchers), they build mud and moss nests lined with grass where they lay four to six white eggs.
Our phoebes were a little late this year, but back they came, just as they did for John James Audubon, who helped prove that birds migrate. He tied a silver thread to a phoebe’s leg (one of the few subjects he didn’t shoot. Did he paint the phoebes?) and the following spring a bird with a silver thread returned to the same spot.
Our phoebes tried first one spot under the shed rafters, then another, and another, before finally settling on their old nest on top of mudroom door light. Not convenient for us–we don’t dare to turn on the light–but also not inconvenient if one wants to spy on the little birds. I drag out a stool and hold a mirror over the nest to monitor their progress.
The female is starting to sit on her eggs now, which will take about two weeks. After another two weeks the babies will fledge. I think we can give up some use of our door for a month. I’m all in favor of fewer bugs in the yard.
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Forgive the appalling cinematography, but I wanted to share what it sounds like at my house in the morning. The birds are bobolinks, a blackbird decorated with yellow and white, which winters in Argentina and returns to Sidney, Maine in early May (May 10 this year, a little late). They are a grassland bird, which means they are in precipitous decline. Possibly not as much as eastern meadowlarks, but definitely heading in the wrong direction. Some of it’s due to what happens in South America in the winter, but most of it’s because of haying schedules in modern agriculture. That first cut of hay usually occurs before the baby bobolinks can fledge.
Maine’s bobolinks aren’t really supposed to be here. They moved in when settlers created the fields they need to nest. But now that they’re here, I wouldn’t trade their song–the sound of pure joy–for anything. Unfortunately, the field around my house is not ours and is hayed for dairy cows. That means some years the bobolinks make it and some they don’t. I start to hold my breath towards the end of June. If we can get past July 4, most of the bobolinks succeed. If not, well, that’s a bit of heartbreak.
The alewives–anadromous members of the herring family–are running in many Maine rivers much to the delight of gulls, osprey, and people up and down the coast. That was certainly true this morning for herring gulls at Damariscotta Mills who enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet. Alewives in the thousands were teed up waiting for the tide to rise so they could run up the new fish ladder. They need to make sure they turn right into the new fishladder stream rather than go straight. Those who fail to make the turn probably end up in the harvest bin destined either for lobstermen or the smokehouse. It looked like there were plenty to go around today.
One observer said osprey bypass this area when the gull count gets high. Gulls will completely mob an osprey to steal its meal. Not that the gulls needed help today to catch their brunch: snatch from the teeming water, take two gulps, go back for more.
Intrigued? There’s an alewife festival at this site over Memorial Day weekend. There’s usually one in Benton, Maine too. Those alewives travel all the way up the Kennebec before they make a turn into the Sebasticook River. For more information about alewives and the Damariscotta Mills fish ladder visit their website. http://damariscottamills.org/