Next, you must trust your senses:
they will show you nothing false
if your intelligence keeps you awake.

Keep your eyes fresh and open and joyful,
and move with sure steps, yet flexibly,
through the fields of a world so richly endowed.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Italian Journey"
Edge of the Earth Rd. Journal
Watering the Wren
July 30, 2001
    I recently watered the Wren.  I did not intend to do so, but like most things we human being do that turn out all wrong, intent is not the issue.  My wife had seen the Carolina Wrens up in the tree beside our house for a couple of weeks.  The male always had a mouthful of nest-stuffing in its beak.  Try as I might, I could not find where it was building a nest.  I checked all the trees nearest to where we had seen them as well as in the woods just to the south and all the little compartments around the house.  You just never know with a Wren.

     As I have mentioned before in these articles, we have hanging plants around our porch.  We used to have potted plants on the porch, but our two pups have shown way too much fondness for biting off blooms, then extricating the whole plant from the planter, to go to the expense or effort of doing so this year.  No, we had a great idea:  hanging plants.  This would certainly foil their evil proclivity.

     Because the weather has been so unbearably hot, I have started watering the hanging plants everyday.  It is part of the morning ritual.  First, put out the dogs and let the cats in.
Second, feed the cats and make a pot of coffee.
Third, turn on computer and step outside to smoke the first cigar of the day.
Fourth, come back in, see if the cats are finished, toss out the coffee grounds, and pour my first cup of coffee.
Fifth, if the cats have finished, I shoo them outside and let the dogs in.  While the pups are finishing the remains of the cat food (the gravy is all gone from it), I fix their dose of "wet" food.
Sixth, I lure them outside and put their bowls on the lawn in front of them, Truffles to the right, Sadie to the left.
Seventh, I put my computer in "dial up" mode for my server and take my first sip of coffee.
Eighth, when the message comes up that a failure has occurred to connect my server, I try again and take another sip of coffee.  This step is usually repeated three-four more times before I finally get on-line.
Twelfth, I connect to Oklahoma Data and record in my journal the high temperature, low temperature, time each occurred, the record of the current rainfall (we are over five inches behind right now), wind speed, sunlight, and average relative humidity.
Thirteenth, I click on the New York Times website.
Fourteenth, while the New York Times is loading, I go outside to fill all the bird feeders and to water all the plants and domesticated animals (I include the two cats in this but they do not see themselves as such).

     My usual practice on this last step is to turn on the water, take the hose, and put it into the hanging planter until water starts to roll out of its sides and through the "drip" hole.  One by one, I went down the line of plants until I came to the Begonia at the south end of the porch.  When I put the hose over the edge of the planter, the female Carolina Wren flew out (very wet, by the way) and landed in the oak tree nearest the porch.  The scolding that ensued was quite vociferous.  Within a few seconds, the male Wren joined her.  I do not speak "Carolina Wren," but I did pick up on a few slurs that sounded distinctly like aspersions on my parentage.

     I felt horrible.  I should have known.  Carolina Wrens are notorious for building nests in the most unusual but humanly connected social places.  I cautiously peeked over the edge of the planter and saw the nest with four eggs in it.  I finished watering the other plants and filled the birdbath.  The episode with the Carolina Wren still weighed heavily on me.

     The Carolina Wren is a small bird.  I have thought about how to describe it and could certainly use the bird guides to do so, but to really get the image I would rather offer, picture Danny Devito in feathers.  Small, portly, and operating on way too much sugar content.  Often you will find this bird taking the moths off your porch or garage eaves early in the morning.  It does not seem to mind the presence of people.  It just goes about its activities as if humans were not present.  I can sit on the porch during the morning and watch the pale brown bird with long curved beak and gregarious personality "work" the contours of insect havens.

     I watered her.  I do not kid myself into believing that she forgave me and just went on about her business of tending the nest.  She knew I was still there.  The occasional scolding told me so.  I surreptitiously checked the nest every morning.  In it sat the female, a permanent scowl on her yellow-beaked face.

     I watched the next few days as the male brought her food.  He did not stay long.  If I were around within viewing distance, he would always use the subterfuge of landing in three or four spots before entering the plant from the rear.  Almost as soon as he was in, he was out again and on his way to search for food to satiate the female appetite.

     Twelve days after the initial watering episode, I checked the Wren's lair to find a small, downy-clad nestling looking out at me.  Three eggs surrounded it like the eight ball on a well-played pool table.  A day later, one egg had transformed itself into a second nestling.

     My wife and I conferred about the situation.  The problem was simple to ask, but complex to answer.  "How do we keep the plant alive with the nest encompassed within it?"  I told her I thought I could sneak the long plastic nozzle of a watering can over the edge and pour in just enough moisture to keep the plant alive but not disturb the nestlings.  Both of us tried it.  The female flew out in nothing less than a fit of fury.  If she had been any bigger, we would have feared for our lives.

     "Just let it go," Sue Ann finally said.  "Maybe they will fly out before the plant dies.  I've never liked Begonias that much anyway."

     We have other fledglings out of the nest and about this week.  A Cardinal, three Painted Buntings, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a White-breasted Nuthatch.  There are telltale signs on each that identify them as young, but the overpowering characteristic is their fearlessness.  They are nearly always larger than their parents since the adults spend so much time searching for insects in the hot weather to satisfy the hunger of the well-nestled fledges in the nest.  By the time they leave the nest, they may not have the colorations of the adults but they do look healthy.

     While the adults are always on the lookout for predators and competitors, the fledglings evidently feel themselves to be invincible.  They arrive at the feeders and instead of furtively relegating themselves to the edges, they land in the middle, scatter the seed, and take on all comers.  The Painted Buntings, which are not feeder attendees, work the lawn.  The Bermuda grass now has long windmill-like grass heads growing from the sun-scorched mat of pale green tendrils.  There are three Painted Buntings and they "ride" the grass heads to the ground until they pick them clean.  The colorful male often sits on the power pole highwire and watches.  To me, he looks worried at their lack of caution.

     Quincy, our male cat, also watches.  Shortly after we got him, he displayed his reprehensible nature of going after the birds.  He was rewarded for doing so by the loss of his front claws, emasculation, and the humiliation of wearing a collar with two bells on it, the sound of which resembles the approach of an ice cream truck.  This has solved the Quincy/kill-the-bird problem.  Until now.

     The fledglings disregard his presence just as they do us, other predators, and other species competitors.  In the last week, Quincy has caught two Painted Bunting and one White-breasted Nuthatch fledglings.  My wife and I successfully saved them each time, but he is definitely "grounded."  During the day, he has to stay inside unless one of us is outside with him.  If he makes any movement toward the "bird smorgasbord" around the feeders, he is immediately taken up in our arms, brought inside, and isolated to the easy chair in the living room.  It may be hard to see this as punishment, but he definitely sees it that way and responds by knocking items off the windowsill and "running" the roll of toilet paper in the bathroom.  It is a small price to pay for offering the possibility of avian adolescence to translate into adulthood.

     This past week was also an occasion of real mystery.  Monday and Tuesday were "heat alerts" which means that the combination of temperature, humidity, and lack of wind make for a situation dangerous for human beings to spend long periods of time outside.  If a person does so, the result could be that he or she ends up looking like a thin hamburger on the grill at a 4th-of-July picnic.

     I ventured outside both of these days to take a gander around.  Both days, I witnessed quite a marvel.  The two Oak trees shading the south side of the house had Katydids lined up and down their trunks.  The first day there were 66 on one tree and 56 on the other.  The second day, there were 65 on one tree and, again, 56 on the other.  They were in the semblance of a line, but bunched up at several junctures.  By the middle of the week, the "heat alert" had been removed and the Katydids made no further appearance on the trunks of the trees.  Reason would suggest they just got too hot up in the tops of the trees and sought the cooler environs of the shaded trunks.  But the real mystery is, "how did they know a 'heat alert' had been issued?"  There has not been one since and they have not assembled on the trunks of the trees again, either.

     During the evening, the Katydids and Cicadas serenade us with the din of insect symphonic.  It is quite a remarkable performance.  I picture Dimitri Shostakovich directing them, except that instead of tuxedo, he is adorned with long antennae and an armored thorax.

     Either way, it is music to our ears and the birds eat well.  At least, that is the way we see it here at Edge of the Earth Rd.

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