Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Welcome Jonah

On April 28th my niece Hannah had a baby boy. His name is Jonah Silver Ard.  My sister Lucia, the proud grandmother, described him as " cute as a button, bright as a shiny penny, sweet as a bonbon"

Madonna and Child

He lives in New York City, or I would be holding him right now. Still, he looks pretty happy with his Mama Hannah.

Adorable snapshots arrive every day. Here he is asleep under the new blanket Lucia knit for him. And below, he is caught in another blissful pose.


Jonah at three weeks

Each picture is cuter than the last, so I'll publish this now and save the rest for later...

Sunday, May 12, 2013


In mid-April, two chestnut-backed chickadees came to call.

One of our visitors

 Instead of demanding the master bedroom, they settled for the birdhouse—a recycled dwelling made from reclaimed barn wood, with a rusty tin roof and pink flowers painted on the front. I found it years ago at a booth devoted to hand-crafted bird houses in the Marin Farmers Market. It now hangs from a beam above our deck.

Our rustic birdhouse
The birdies set about building a nest inside the small house. They busily flew in and out, lining the floor with fine, soft animal fur, hair, decomposing redwood bark and needles from nearby pines. Then stillness descended while the female laid and hatched her eggs. The dutiful male flew back and forth bringing takeout treats (seeds, insects and larvae) while the female brooded.

Male chickadee peeks out briefly before exiting

In a few weeks we heard peeping sounds and noticed new activity in the swaying birdhouse. Both adults reverted to their active, acrobatic selves, flying back and forth, to and fro in a whirlwind of activity, bringing seeds and other morsels to the new chick(s).

Camouflaged chestnut-backed chickadee keeping watch on a branch near her chicks

 One bird stood guard on a nearby branch, noisily calling, while the other tirelessly flew in and out, bringing food to their new chick(s). Then they would switch roles.  

One parent nervously keeps watch on deck wire

When I filmed the family from the deck, the parents sang out their warning calls, hopping from  railing to  roof and back again in nervous agitation. It takes time and patience to catch these birds in a still moment. As William Leon Dawson, a leading ornithologist of he early 20th century wrote, "the chickadee refuses to look at any one thing from any one direction for more than two consecutive twelfths of a it a pine cone, an alder catkin, a bug-bearing branchlet, top side, bottom side, inside, outside, all is right side to the nimble chickadee." Mr. Dawson wrote the respected four volume set The Birds of California, published in 1923. The sets are now rare and go for thousands of dollars, if you can find one.

Baby chickadee visible inside the cozy birdhouse
We enjoyed watching the parents tirelessly care for their young, and after many attempts I finally caught a glimpse of a new chickadee peeking out the opening. I wanted to get a photo before the chicks left the nest and early Sunday morning I succeeded.
Empty Birdhouse taken down for cleaning
                     Empty Nest Syndrome

Good thing I photographed the chick on Sunday; by Monday the fledgling and parents had flown away without warning. The birdhouse was silent and empty.

We miss our little guests, and speculate about how many young they produced. We had seen only one offspring for sure, but chickadees are supposed to lay five to six eggs. This discrepancy is puzzling.

Chickadees do not reuse their nests, and they clean out the old debris when they're ready to start a new family. So I felt safe raiding the deserted birdhouse, to investigate. When I pointed a flashlight inside, I saw one unhatched egg and furry, matted material lining the floor. I carefully extracted the egg and then dug out the soft fur and small strips of redwood bark and moss.  It resembled the dusty contents of my vacuum cleaner.
Nesting material with one unhatched white, speckled egg

So ends the saga of our  chickadees. I tucked away the nest and egg, rather than throw them in my green bin, and I returned the birdhouse to its customary hook where it once again sways in the breeze, cleaned and ready for a new set of visitors.

*To hear the distinctive calls of the chestnut-backed chickadee and to read more about them, go to this amazing website: All About Birds