Monday, May 25, 2020

In Charge of the Flood

bull shoals lake level high

This morning I checked the Bull Shoals Lake level on the computer, then headed down the hill toward the lake on a trail through the woods. Lately, I’ve been making a note of where the water level is on the government land below us. The lake now replaces the broad valley where I love to walk, and the water is up in the trees. As I rounded the last turn toward the water, a Blue Heron made an ungainly takeoff, squawking its displeasure at being rousted from its hunting grounds. Fat frogs did belly flops into the water. They seem to love this rearrangement of land and lake.

green trillium in bloom

Nearby was a Green Trillium I’ve been watching lately. It’s not as showy as its white and red cousins, but rising 15 inches on a single stem, it makes a statement of beauty in the woods. Today the water is lapping at its feet, and its rhizome may already be underwater.

Back up the hill, I stumbled across a newly dug den, with moist, red clay strewn over the ground in front of the 7-inch opening. A wild flood victim most likely moved its family out of the danger zone. This is probably one of many such relocations.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers built Bull Shoals Lake in 1952 on the Missouri/Arkansas line as a flood control reservoir. It is vast and beautiful, rugged, and remote. At this writing, the lake is at 693.94 feet above sea level, and the top of the flood pool is 695. That means if we get only 1.06 more feet of water, the lake will go over the dam at Bull Shoals, Arkansas, and the White River below will probably flood. This has been a soggy spring. We’ve had about 34 inches of rain so far this year, nearly 81% of our yearly average of 42 inches in just under five months, with more predicted for this week. In addition to every drizzle or deluge of rain that falls directly into the lake every time it rains, the feeder streams over a considerable distance open their faucets wide and contribute to the flood pool.

Years ago, heavy spring rains resulted in another high lake level. A Little Rock, Arkansas NBC TV station sent a reporter to interview people about the impact of the high water. Positioned on the courthouse steps in our county seat of Gainesville, Missouri, the reporter was poised when an official from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the door of the courthouse and walked outside. “A lot of people are criticizing you Corps of Engineers managers who are in charge of the lake and its level for your handling of this situation,” he said. “How do you respond to them?”

The engineer paused, then replied respectfully, “Well, their problem is they think that we are in charge. We used to think we were in charge. This year, I think we all learned WHO really IS in charge.”

The interviewer was silent, and the engineer walked away.

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; 
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The LORD gives strength to his people; 
the LORD blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29:10, 11

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Watchful Eye

Carolina Wren fledglings

What would spring be without baby birds?

Carolina Wrens fledged a month ago from the basket on our front porch. For a couple of weeks, they used porch as a landing pad and mess hall and, unfortunately, a latrine. They were just adorable enough to put up with the mess.

Their tail feathers, at first barely discernible, grew until, at a glance, it was hard to distinguish the little ones from their parents. But when they flew, it was obvious who the flight instructors were.

Carolina Wren fledgling

After a fortnight, the parents were still doing the feeding. 
While the fledglings waited for their parents, they rested in the shade of the flowerbed... 

Carolina Wren fledgling

examined new garden plants... 

Carolina Wren fledgling exercising wings

and did their wing exercises.

Carolina Wren fledgling chirping

  • If it seemed that their parents had forgotten them, they emitted heartbreaking chirps.

Carolina Wren feeding fledgling

When a bug breakfast was finally served a la carte, they devoured it like Eggs Benedict by a shipwreck survivor.

In past years the birds vacated the porch immediately after they fledged. It may have something to do with the fact that I used to sit on the porch as the baby birds surfaced from their basket. The first year, the fledglings surfaced from the basket and landed on my lap, much to the consternation of their parents. I was probably about as welcome as a fox at a frog's picnic. This year we tried to allow them space, coming in and out of the house from the back door, and we saw them frequently for about two weeks.

Eastern Phoebe with insect

The porch is also home to Eastern Phoebes, who have attached their nest high on the wall near the front door. The birds were making frequent visits, but for a long time, we didn't see any evidence of new life. After the Carolina Wrens left, I was curious enough to get out the ladder and climb up to check out the nest. It contained three grasshopper-sized bits of fluff and one egg. The next morning there was an empty egg on the bricks under the nest. 

Eastern Phoebe nestlings

Now, two of the nestlings perch in the nest, observing the world outside their porch. Their heads are already more significant than the egg from which they emerged.

None of these birds is aware of the crisis in the world around them. While fears abound, five little Carolina Wrens pecked their way out of their shells, grew, and learned to fly, and the Phoebes are burgeoning in their nest, all under the watchful eye of their Heavenly Father. We can rest assured that He sees us, too.

Linking with Wild Bird Wednesday

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Of Wasps and Wrens

A paper wasp's nest on our front porch serves two purposes. Last summer, when we learned that a nest might deter mud daubers from building in the same area, I remembered that we had one somewhere. A search in the shop located it, high on a shelf, under a coating of dust. Blowing it off, I found a beautiful nest, constructed from layers of fragile insect-made paper, designed with wavy lines of browns and grays. It was attached to a branch, which made it feasible to string it up and tie it to the porch. It kept the mud daubers at bay for months. When they started coming back, I moved it a few feet, and it worked again.

After the nest had been in place for a few weeks, I noticed a hole near the top. Over the next few days, the hole grew until it was perfectly round and about the size of a small bird.

I was at the kitchen sink, looking out the window when I discovered the second purpose for the wasp's nest. A Carolina Wren flew to the nest and ducked inside the newly carved entrance hole. When he reappeared moments later and perched in the doorway, he seemed quite pleased with himself. After he flew away, I got a ladder and flashlight and peered inside. There I found a nest within a nest, built to Carolina Wren specifications with a tunnel just inside the front opening.

All winter, a pair of Carolina Wrens frequented our front porch, eating the dried mealworms we put out for them. In harsh winters, supplemental food can make a difference in their survival. Our motives, however, are not entirely altruistic. We just like to watch them.

What is it that so captivates us with Carolina Wrens? On pogo stick legs, their movements are quick and unpredictable, like chipmunks with wings. With their tails held high over their rounded frames, they nearly always seem happy.

We love it, too, that they are not afraid to build their nest near people's dwellings where we can observe them up close. But what fascinates us most is the male's melodious voice, like a young American Idol star. Whatever the reason, they always make us smile. And that's worth a lot.

A couple of months ago, the male wren brought his mate over to show off his construction. A male wren will build nests at more than one location, and the conventional wisdom is that he takes the female on a tour of his homes and lets her choose which one she likes. I thought he'd been using all his persuasive powers in favor of the wasp's nest. "Look at all these worms," he said, and "where else could you find this kind of craftsmanship?" Maybe he wasn't as persuasive as I thought he was, because they ended up raising 5 little ones in the old fish basket on the front porch, where they've nested the past several years. Now they're using the paper wasp's nest as a second home. Considering how fast the fledglings are growing, it's a good thing they have it. It's tattered by now, and it isn't going to fool the mud daubers much longer, but the birds still like it. The little ones pop in and out of their summer home like the privileged creatures they are.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Fishermen and Flowers

My husband, Don, loves to fish. He tells me that every time he makes a cast he anticipates finding a fish on the end of his line. On the rare occasions when I go with him, I never expect to hook a fish, which may have something to do with why I never catch any. It's possible that we all have some of that fisherman's optimism, just in different arenas. I have friends who, at every mealtime, assume they will whip up something delicious to eat, and every day, gourmet meals appear on their table. Go figure.

When I walk in the woods, I always presume that I'll find something special, and I'm never disappointed. It may be a whiff of verbena or light playing on the trees. Sometimes it's the 4-note song of the Chickadee or the melody of the stream, and I carry the memory of the music back home with me.

This spring has been exceptionally wet and the lake has filled the valley below us. After a rain, seasonal creeks gurgle in every hollow, and waterfalls tumble over rock ledges.

There were treasures in the woods today. A tiny orange mushroom stopped me in my tracks like a crossing guard. Brilliant Fire Pinks are blooming on the rocky slopes, their sticky stems ready to ensnare small insects that venture by.

Down near the lake, a Trillium is just ready to bloom, and I hope to be there when it happens. Trilliums are best enjoyed in the wild. They are fragile flowers and picking them may stunt their growth for years. I've noted the location so I can find it again. Not that I don't trust you all, but I'm not about to divulge my secret spot.

Maybe I have more in common with fishermen than I thought.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Stuck at Home

Carolina Wren Fledgling

When I hear about one hardship people are enduring nowadays, the tedium of staying at home, I'm grateful, once again, that we live out in the country. With miles of vibrant green foliage around us and abundant wildlife, there's rarely an opportunity to be bored here.

The Carolina Wrens fledged out of their creel on the front porch last week. We saw the small creatures first at twilight and wondered how they would fare in the frigid night air, but the next morning they reemerged from the basket, warm and ready to try out their wings. The big world seemed a little overwhelming for two of them, who hid at first behind the woodpile. Before long, their parents enticed them out with fat, juicy worms, and they flew away. They were back tonight just before sunset, three nights after we first saw them. Their flights are more confident, and there are fewer crash landings than there were on day one. Three fledglings tucked into the basket, and the fourth one lingered, loathe to get into her pajamas. Finally, sleepy-eyed, she tucked into the creel with her siblings. We wish them sweet dreams.

We had another visitor the night before, an unexpected one. Just before retiring for the evening, I sleepily walked into the kitchen and flipped on the light. A small furry creature was watching me from his perch on the handle of the oven door. Suddenly I was wide awake. The animal before me was adorable, with big eyes and a fluffy tail. He was too cute to be a rat, but what was I looking at? We stared at each other for a long moment, each of us contemplating what we should do. I didn't want to leave the room and allow him to escape. Don was already in bed, and I thought I could handle this one on my own. I've had better ideas.

My thick oven mitts were within reach, so I put on the gloves and made a quick grab at my new acquaintance. I almost had him when he squirted out of my grasp and headed for the dining room, hiding under the hutch. I nudged him out with my tripod, and he ran across the room, scrambled up the curtains, then spread out his legs and flung himself off, soaring, frisbee style, down to the easy chair. That's when I realized what he was--a flying squirrel. He looked more adept gliding than he did running while making his escape. Either way, I was no match for him. 

The pursuit wasn't going as I had planned. I opened three doors wide and hoped the squirrel would find his way out and that no other intruders would come in. Instead, he ran down the hall and hid under a bedroom dresser. That's when I decided to call a truce. I figured he'd stay there for the night and we could regroup in the morning. Or so I thought.

Don was still awake when I climbed into bed. "Are you ok?" he asked. "Pretty much," I replied. "Ok, what's wrong?" he asked, reading my mind. I told him about the squirrel, and we laughed together before trying to sleep.

A clattering sound from the laundry room jerked me out of my half-sleep. "The mousetrap!" I thought. Sure enough, the squirrel had found the peanut butter-baited trap, succumbed to the temptation, and was limping around with a mousetrap hanging on to the side of a back foot. That was just enough of a handicap to allow Don and me to corral the poor thing, pick him up, take him outside, and free him from the trap. He didn't look much worse for the wear as he ran away. 

We have no idea how he got into the house, but we're hoping that the experience was unpleasant enough that he won't try it again. Just as a precaution, though, I'm ordering a live animal trap.

When Don left for work, he mumbled something about getting new locks for the doors. I think I've talked him out of it.