Hummingbird Love On A Ten-Foot Ladder

When we moved to this ten acres nearly eight years ago, I made sure to move all my flowering perennials from our previous home. Many of these plants were native to Oklahoma and I knew they would flourish in the sandy soil and survive the hot summers and occasional brutal winter temperatures. Mostly though, I wanted these plants for a nice splash of color on the property and to attract hummingbirds and butterflies throughout the summer months. And, along with the plants I relocated from our former home, our hummingbird-loving friends, Dick and Kathy Ledbetter, brought us several Coral Honeysuckle, Yellow Honeysuckle, Turks Cap plants, and two Perky-Pet nectar feeders as a house warming gift to help us get started in our endeavor to create a hummingbird paradise.

After the transplants and new plantings that went in after we moved here, we did see a few hummingbirds each spring but, mostly, I battled wasps and bees that insisted on swarming the feeders. Then, there was the year our feeders were found mysteriously unhooked from the shepherds hooks and lying on the ground each morning. With this mystery going on, I was determined to discover what varmint was sabotaging my efforts to attract hummingbirds. One morning just before sunrise, I caught the culprit red-handed, licking the feeder and sloshing sugar water everywhere in the process! The vandal with the sweet tooth was none other than Daisy deer! So we took the shepherd’s hooks down and opted to hang the feeders off the front and back porches where we knew Daisy could not reach them.

A little rain is not stopping this hummingbird from staking claim to the Perky-Pet nectar feeder!

A little rain is not stopping this hummingbird from staking claim to the Perky-Pet nectar feeder!

This year, I was very close to deciding not to put the feeders out. After having such bad luck attracting wasps and bees and even ants, I was tempted to forego the feeders. But as spring storms inundated Oklahoma with record rainfall, the flowering plants flourished and soon we had a record number of hummingbirds hitting the blossoms. Upon seeing this, I quickly retrieved my nectar feeders. All summer I kept busy refilling them.  I had never seen so many hungry hummingbirds in my life! Along with the daily territorial confrontations over who had dibs on the feeders, I was also fortunate to witness the male hummingbird courtship dive several times this year.  They were truly a joy to observe!

With so much hummingbird activity on the property, Dick kept telling me I needed to look for hummingbird nests in the woodlands. Many times as I worked in the canyon, I could hear hummingbird chirps and calls, but they were too fast to follow back into the lush woods where they likely had their nests established. I often saw them in the trees around the house but, even in the less-dense growth near our home, I could not locate a nest. Besides, I had never seen a hummingbird nest except in photographs, so I did not really even know what to look for.

In early June, Dick announced he had spotted a nest in a hackberry tree in front of his home and he hoped I could bring my camera and zoom lens to photograph the fledglings. He explained the pair were just a few days from leaving the nest, and there would only be a small window of opportunity to manage getting some photographs of them. With my busy schedule on our little ranch, I decided it would be best to drive over early the next morning, so that I could be back home before the real heat set in. I figured I would be there an hour, maybe two. To deal with the humidity and heat forecast for the day, I donned a t-shirt and shorts, along with athletic shoes and a sun visor and headed out to Dick and Kathy’s home. I purposefully did not put on any insect repellent as, long ago, Daisy deer taught me that wildlife does not appreciate scents that humans tend to apply – like insect sprays, perfumes or colognes, scented deodorant, hair spray, or even nail polish.

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This series of photos is from my first attempt to shoot from the ten-foot ladder. The female was suspicious of me, making a couple of attempts to watch me closely before proceeding to feed her babies.

This series of photos is from my first attempt to shoot from the ten-foot ladder. The female was suspicious of me, making a couple of attempts to watch me closely before proceeding to feed her babies. Click on photos for a more detailed view.

When I arrived, I realized I had not really put much thought into how I would photograph the fledgling birds. Silly me, I guess I thought I would just stand there in the yard and shoot up at the nest with my zoom lens. Fortunately, Dick was a pro at photographing hummingbirds, and had a ten-foot ladder set up a distance from the tree which put me at equal height of the nest in a low limb. But, I soon realized, that would be with me standing towards the top of the ladder – and I am terribly afraid of heights. With Dick’s urging, I cautiously climbed about six-feet up, and froze. I was panicked! I was too low for the shot and not at all in a place where it was easy to maneuver my camera between the ladder’s rungs. And of course, before I could really get comfortable, the female showed up earlier than we expected! Seeing a goofy stranger clumsily perched on a metal tree near her nest, she gave me the evil eye, and flew off. Still, Dick encouraged me to stay still and wait her out. Sure enough, she returned a few minutes later and, after finally deciding I was not a threat, fed her babies quickly, and flew off again. Dick said it would be twenty to thirty minutes before she would return to feed again so, while we waited, we moved the ladder just a little closer to the nest, hoping for more detailed photographs upon her return.

About this time, Kathy brought refreshments out for us. The heat was already intense and there was only a small puff of breeze. Normally I do not partake in alcohol before lunch – or even dinner for that matter – but this day I opted for a whiskey sour, hoping it would serve as my cup of courage to get up a little higher on that ladder. As I enjoyed my drink and conversation with Dick and Kathy while taking in all sorts of information about hummingbirds, the female showed up ten minutes early and I missed my opportunity to photograph that next feeding. So, another twenty minutes went by before I took to the ladder again. I was not about to miss her arrival this time and, with a little whiskey-sour-courage flowing through my veins, I ambled right up to the top of the ladder – no problem!

But, unfortunately, we were foiled again. This time, the mother hummingbird took fifteen minutes longer to return to the nest than we predicted. Dick quietly watched for the female’s arrival with his binoculars, while I perched as motionless as I could on the ladder. With the heat of the day building, sweat was pouring off of me in no time. Pesky gnats were now hovering in a small cloud near my head. A fly kept landing on the back of my knee joint. I had this kind of experience many times in our own woodlands while walking with Daisy and photographing wildlife. At times like this, I have learned to put my focus into the mission and not think about my discomfort or frustration. So, in my mind, I telepathically focused on connecting with the fledglings. If the mother could “read me” I wanted to be sure I was calm and my energy was peaceful.

Female approaches the nest.

I am getting the "evil eye" again. I remain very still so that she has no reason to abandon an opportunity to feed her babies.

I am getting the “evil eye” again. I remain very still so that she has no reason to abandon an opportunity to feed her babies.

This proves to be an awkward position for the female to feed her little ones.

This proves to be an awkward position for the female to feed her little ones.

The mother re-approaches the nest for a better feeding position.

The mother re-approaches the nest for a better feeding position.

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I get the feeling I am being watched again!

I get the feeling I am being watched again!

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Twice more that morning, we moved the ladder closer to the nest and worked at finding the best angle to photograph the feeding process. And each time the mother approached the nest, I was given the once-over before she proceeded in nourishing her babies. Because of her always-cautious approach, I was skeptical of the quality of photos I had achieved but, as we looked over the photos later that morning, I appreciated the experience even more. The photographs had turned out much better than I expected! The detail of the perfectly camouflaged nest on a slender limb beneath tree leaves, the beautiful colors of the mother’s feathers and the tiny little nest housing two fledglings, was simply amazing! And, on top of all the wonderful photos I had managed, I was totally fascinated with the information I learned about the process of raising hatchlings to the point of fledging the nest. I had lost track of time and spent more of my day away from my chores than I intended, but the morning produced a phenomenal experience I would not soon forget.

By the third photography session, Dick no longer had to cue me on the mother's arrival. The babies became very alert with beaks up and ready for nourishment!

By the third photography session, Dick no longer had to cue me on the mother’s arrival. The babies became very alert with beaks up and ready for nourishment!

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Reflecting on the experience as I drove home, I knew that, from that moment on, I would strive to understand more about these tiny creatures, and I would definitely be making a greater effort to look for their nests in our very own woodlands. And, if I do locate a nest, I believe I will leave the ladder hanging on its rack and attempt my photos from atop the canopy of our electric buggy in order to get those up-close-and-personal shots. If anything, a platform atop the buggy might provide a safer place to perch, just in case I decide to tote a flask of refreshment along…

© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

Posted in Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Farewell Old Fox

It is not uncommon for us to see a fox trotting along in our woodlands. In this region of Oklahoma we see both the small gray fox and the larger red fox. Most of the time they are just traveling through the area while looking for a food source, then move on when they have depleted what is readily available. I am usually unhappy when I see a fox hanging around because, in no time, our bunny population has vanished. Birds and squirrels are common prey for the foxes as well, but they also eat berries, insects, and small rodents.

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The young red fox was the first to arrive this winter. Red foxes generally mate for life. However in the winter months, after their kits are on their own, the male and female take a holiday from each other until the next mating season.

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This past winter, I noticed a pair of red foxes frequenting our woodlands. One fox appeared to be old with lighter coloring and the other seemed young with a beautiful red coat and black legs. Often, one or both could be seen eating deer feed from the trough below our back porch. In the early morning as I walked in the dark to open our front gate, I often heard the raspy bark of the foxes. I knew they mated in late winter and early spring, and I hoped this barking was not a mating call. I did not mind the foxes presence over a week or two, but I sure did not want them setting up housekeeping here for the long term. I had just released our orphaned squirrels, Punkin and Mr. Gambini, and did not need the worry of foxes preying on my inexperienced kids!

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In March, the young fox (which I believe to be the female) is seen hunting all hours of the day and night. I believe her den was somewhere north of  our property in the deep woods.

In March, the young fox (which I believe to be the female) is seen hunting all hours of the day and night. I believe her den was somewhere north of our property in the deep woods.

Much to my dismay, about the same time Daisy deer was setting up her nursery on the top part of our neighbors property to the north, I soon realized the foxes had the same thing in mind for the thicker woods down below. All hours of the day and night, the pair could be seen on the hunt for food. I guessed they had kits somewhere nearby but, with all of the rain we had in the month of May, I had found it impossible to walk the woodlands to try to locate the den site as I had other years in the spring. With all the moisture, the mosquito population was unbearable, so there was just no way I was going to track the foxes without finding misery in the woodlands.

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The old red fox is not seen as frequently. Perhaps it hunts in other areas of the woodlands while the young fox keeps closer to the kits.

The old red fox is not seen as frequently. Perhaps it hunts in other areas of the woodlands while the young fox keeps closer to the kits.

Over late spring and early summer, we observed the pair of red foxes hunting both on our property and our neighbor Steve’s property. We even heard reports from neighbors quite a distance to the west, that they had spotted them on their property as well. I wondered how many kits they were feeding, and why Daisy did not seem to mind them being around. She did send them packing if they happened into the area where Daisy had her fawns but, for the most part, she did not seem to consider them much of a threat to her young. I wondered if this was because both foxes were fairly small and rail thin, hardly any larger than Daisy’s fawns.

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As difficult as it is to witness, this is life in the woodlands. Most of the time, squirrels escape or maybe get very lucky and just lose their tail.

As difficult as it is to witness, this is life and death in the woodlands. Most of the time, squirrels escape or maybe get very lucky and just lose their tail. Once the prey is caught by the neck, the fox shakes its head vigorously, until the victim goes limp. When I took these photos, I was photographing the fox only… I had no idea what was about to unfold in front of me. It was a few days before I could determine that the two squirrels in these photos were not any that we raised.

Finally, in mid July, we began seeing two kits. Just before dark each night, we observed the cubs ducking from under my mother-in-law’s sleeping cabin. The one-room cabin, sitting on blocks, had been problematic over the years as the space underneath was easily accessed by varmints of all sorts. Skunks had taken up residency there last autumn, which rendered the cabin unsuitable for guests to stay in. But apparently, the foxes found it just fine for their new digs.

Most evenings, FD and I watched the little ones play from our front porch. They raced and played around the barns and fenced gardens. But, after a couple of weeks, we noticed the pair beginning to work on their hunting skills. The young, mother fox watched them from our neighbor’s back yard as they pounced at their prey, leaping and chasing bugs in the twilight. I knew that Punkin and Mr. Gambini were well-seasoned at the business of being cautious squirrels, but by now we had just released a new pair of orphaned squirrels, Buddy and Francesca, who were still very small and inexperienced. I hoped it would be a long time before the two fox kits honed their hunting skills…

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One day I was actually photographing a Pileated Woodpecker in the pecan orchard and the young red fox came along and never did see me... but she knew I was there! She kept putting her nose to the air "catching scent". She eventually changed direction and moved away from me.

One day I was photographing a Pileated Woodpecker in the pecan orchard and the young red fox came along but never did see me… but she knew I was there! She kept putting her nose to the air “catching scent”. She eventually changed direction and moved away from me.

Foxes are well known for leaving their scat in obvious places, especially on a path or other prominent location, as a territorial marker. So in no time at all, we had fox scat everywhere. My mother-in-law got the worst of it – the ropy segments with tapered ends, made up of hair, teeth and sometimes insects and berries, showed up on her back porch steps, walkways and, most alarmingly, right in front of the entrance to the chicken barn! We found the fox scat in various places on our driveway and sidewalks and, of course, dotted all along the buggy trail through the woods.

And then odd items began showing up in the yard and pasture. I found odd bits of trash and plastic under trees. A couple of times, I ran across leg bones from mammals too large for a fox kill, left out in the open pasture. I could not help but wonder if they were the remains of Daisy’s fawns. Perhaps the foxes found the bones and brought them back to gnaw on them closer to home. Then one morning, one of my brand new flip-flops went missing from our front porch. I suspected the fox kits. I had read somewhere that, like dogs, foxes like chewing on things that bear a human scent. I looked all over for my flipper that week… but to no avail. Likely, one of the kits drug it under Mom’s sleeping cabin.

Early in the spring the foxes avoided us and quickly disappeared into the woods. By mid-summer, the foxes no longer feared us.  Shooing them away from the water tub (so that they couldn't nab the birds who came for water) meant chasing after them to run them off!

Early in the spring the foxes avoided us and quickly disappeared into the woods. By mid-summer, the foxes no longer feared us. Shooing them away from the water tub (so that they couldn’t nab the birds who came for water) meant chasing after them to run them off!

This past couple of weeks, the fox activity came to a screeching halt.  I had seen the older fox only a very few times in the last weeks, but now I was not seeing the young mother or her kits. In a way, I was thankful they were gone. It had been a constant worry all summer that the squirrels we raised would be snatched up by these foxes. And frankly, I was tired of all of the scat laying around. And, I was still a bit hacked at the loss of my brand new flip-flop.

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Then today, FD came in from mowing the pasture and asked me to come out and bring the camera. Just in front of the tractor, I saw what was left of the old fox. It had been two weeks since FD had last mowed the pasture grass, and what FD found today was not there then. Apparently it had not taken long for the carcass to decompose in the summer heat. All that was left were bones, a little hair, the paws, and a scraggly but definite, fluffy tail. The old fox remains looked small, a bit larger than a cat. It lay in the soft grass, not far from the area of the pasture where I had watched it run in the purple henbit blossoms in the spring. It was positioned as if it had just fallen over and died, out in the open underneath the summer sun. Life had come full circle for the old fox, and looking down at what was left of him, I could not help but wonder if, perhaps in another lifetime, he would be running wild and free again sometime soon…

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© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

Posted in Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

A Girl Of Summer

I graduated from high school when I was still seventeen years of age, and worked part-time at a book bindery in our small town during my senior year. After graduation, it just made sense to continue full-time at the bindery, while keeping my eyes open for a better job in a larger town or even a big city. I had been hankering to get out on my own for several years and had even given some thought to attending college, but the idea of going into debt never appealed to me. On top of this, I was so introverted that the social aspects of school were very difficult for me.  In many ways, I was so uncomfortable around people that being in any large crowd or having to meet new people terrified me to the point where I suffered physically. So the summer after I graduated, I remained, comfortably, at the small book bindery, saving my money and dreaming of how my life would be.

This is me getting ready for school my senior year, 1979. The Farrah Fawcett look was all the rage back then!

This is me getting ready for school my senior year, 1979. The Farrah Fawcett look was all the rage back then!

One month after graduation I turned 18 and settled into my first apartment, above an electronics store in downtown York, Nebraska. My friend Sharilyn lived in the apartment across the hall. Terry cloth fabric was popular that year.

One month after graduation I turned 18 and settled into my first apartment above an electronics store in downtown York, Nebraska. My friend Sharilyn lived in the apartment across the hall. Terry cloth clothing was popular that year, as was wood paneling.

Recently, when FD and I set out on a trip to West Texas to fetch a great-niece who had just turned seventeen, I remembered those days of long ago. During a Christmas get-together at FD’s sister’s home last year, the topic came up of Haley possibly spending some time with us this summer. So, a couple of months prior to finishing her junior year in high school, Haley contacted us to confirm our offer and ask if she could spend the month of July with us. It had been a rough year for her personally, and she was really looking forward to having a place of refuge to come to, and a place of comfort. I thought about how many times I wished I had had a place to escape to at that age so, of course, we said she was welcome to come visit.

I knew I would have to slow down my busy pace and make time for Haley while she was here. We had talked about things she wanted to experience. Maybe if the game warden brought an orphaned wild critter she could help raise it. She hoped to try her hand at some cooking and baking. She had never gardened or harvested and put up fruits and vegetables for winter. We talked about FD and I taking her senior pictures and purchasing some special clothing for her to wear for the photo shoot. On top of everything, I knew she would flourish with some rest and quiet time. Haley has a younger brother and sister back home, and I knew all too well, having had a brother and four sisters younger than I, that being the eldest carried a lot of responsibility, which was often overwhelming. Oh how I had yearned for some quiet space when I was Haley’s age – some ME space, in which to regenerate and rest my mind.

Haley enjoys feeding Francesca a pecan. Nearly every morning Buddy, Francesca and Punkin come for a snack.

Haley enjoys feeding Francesca a pecan. Nearly every morning, Buddy, Francesca and Punkin still come for a snack.

The game warden brought me two orphaned raccoons which delighted Haley. After a long discussion about lack of appropriate caging and the temptation of the chickens just a short distance away, we decided the responsible thing to do would be to deliver these two cuties to WildCare for proper rearing. Haley was expert at handling them, despite some hissing and a slight scratch to her nose!

The game warden brought me two orphaned raccoons which delighted Haley. After a long discussion about lack of appropriate caging and the temptation of the chickens just a short distance away, we decided the responsible thing to do would be to deliver these two cuties to WildCare for proper rearing. Haley was expert at handling them, despite some hissing and a slight scratch to her nose from this innocent looking masked bandit!

Daisy accepted a few cherry tomatoes from Haley, but ears back means Daisy is being cautious!

Daisy accepted a few cherry tomatoes from Haley, but ears back means Daisy is being cautious!

Once she arrived, Haley seemed to settle in with us, and with life at the ranch, quite easily. For the most part, I found her to be self-entertaining, so I was able to go about my usual tasks and not worry about her. But she was also quick to help when I needed a hand in the kitchen or assistance with a little housekeeping.

On the weekends, we spent quite a bit of time in the pool, talking about life and Haley’s plans for her future. Late afternoons found us preparing meals in the kitchen and having lots of fun tormenting Uncle FD when he got home from work. Many evenings, I finished up dishes while Haley and FD went to battle each other in the pool shooting hoops. Haley never has been able to out shoot her Uncle, but she has learned to block his long shots with some impressive jumping skill. Yeah… girl power – that is what farm girls are all about!

Getting the best of Uncle FD!

Getting the best of Uncle FD!

Taking a break from shooting hoops!

Taking a break from shooting hoops!

FD encourages and gives a little instruction.

FD encourages and gives a little instruction.

We still have another month with our girl of summer, and Haley is still revealing her personality to us. It takes time to get fully comfortable with people you are just beginning to figure out, but she has found her niche in the day. We all have our daily rituals that give us comfort and security – and Haley’s has been about learning all sorts of new kitchen skills. We are still working on getting her to participate in the gardening, harvest, and putting up winter stock, but not everyone enjoys those aspects of country life. And I cannot blame her for not being too keen on the idea of getting out and working in the heat and humidity that Oklahoma summers are famous for! Overall, I think it has been a good and therapeutic time for Haley, and she looks quite healthy and bright.

We picked the coolest day in the forecast to shoot Haley's senior pictures. A hot and humid 84 degrees rose to the low 90's by afternoon. Still, we managed some great shots. This photo was taken in Daisy's clover patch in our yard.

We picked the coolest day in the forecast to shoot Haley’s senior pictures. A hot and humid 84 degrees rose to the low 90’s by afternoon. Still, we managed some great shots. This photo was taken in Daisy’s clover patch in our yard.

This photograph would later torment Haley and I. We ventured into the pecan orchard in the electric buggy as the weeds were four feet tall. Little did we know we would be attacked by chiggers! We are STILL itching like mad!

Getting this photograph would later become a torment for Haley and me. We ventured into the pecan orchard in the electric buggy as the weeds were four feet tall. Little did we know we would be attacked by chiggers! We are STILL itching like mad a week later!

Still in the pecan orchard unknowingly being attacked by chiggers, Haley discovers a great prop for the next photo series!

Still in the pecan orchard, unknowingly being attacked by chiggers, Haley discovers a great prop for the next photo series! A rusty old horse trailer is perfect for a farm girl photograph.

An evening trip to the wildlife refuge of the Wichita Mountains, finished off the last of the photo shoot. Haley and I were worn smooth out (as they say in the south) and FD rewarded us with a nice dinner at a nice restaurant in Medicine Park - a tourist town near Lawton, Oklahoma.

An evening trip to the wildlife refuge of the Wichita Mountains, finished off the last of the photo shoot. Haley and I were worn smooth out (as they say in the south) and FD rewarded us with a nice dinner at a restaurant in Medicine Park – a tourist town near Lawton, Oklahoma.

And for me? I certainly did not expect Haley to come as a teacher in my life. But, once again, I find I have been presented with a visitor who has arrived to help me understand that maybe there was room in my world to see life from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old girl again. A view revealing that I might do better to slow down and enjoy the good times, rather than tear through the day trying to complete my “to do” list come hell or high water. Haley has helped me see that my rigid ways and my tunnel vision about finances, and time, and waste, might be just a little extreme. And she has caused me to realize it is a lot of fun to occasionally fall off the Paleo meal wagon and eat something sweet, something totally not cavegirl appropriate! Most of all, Haley has managed to break through my tough exterior with five little words that she sometimes yells across the room, or sneaks up and whispers in my ear – “I LOVE you Aunt Lori!”

Haley discusses the sight, sound and scent of rain from her perspective - this particular shower reminded her of "movie" rain!

Haley discusses the sight, sound, and scent of rain from her perspective – this particular shower reminded her of “movie” rain!

One word: Adoration.

One word: Adoration.

No, I never imagined this summer would be about revisiting the age of seventeen, or about learning to loosen the apron strings of my busy, 50-something life. But I am very glad that it has been…

© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

Posted in Family | Tagged , , , , , , | 61 Comments

An Empty Nest

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Daisy finds comfort in her old deer pen. For three years she has hidden her fawns in the tall grasses and plants we originally set up as a food plot for Daisy.

Daisy finds comfort in her old deer pen. For three years she has hidden her fawns in the tall grasses and plants we originally set up as a food plot for Daisy.

Each spring I wonder about the logic behind cardinal birds building nests in the low shrubs and dwarf trees growing in and around our yard. Many times, the nests are robbed of eggs by snakes or squirrels, and sometimes even the hatchlings are preyed upon before their eyes open or feathers emerge. And far too often, I have witnessed neighborhood cats running off with a young fledgling in its mouth, the parents diving at the cat, but to no avail. Unfortunately, there is no saving the helpless baby in these circumstances. Though the Cardinal parents are resilient and I often see them taking up residence in another nest just a week or two later, I have to wonder how they feel about the loss of the previous clutch. Would it be horrifying for them to observe a predator taking their young? Could it even be considered easier to accept if the eggs or babies were just missing when they returned to the nest?

I thought about this when we took the chainsaw to the old “widow-maker” over at my mom-in-law’s garden area this spring. As my husband FD whittled away at the giant tree limbs, there in a hollowed area of a limb lay two baby squirrels, just inches from a chainsaw cut. These babies were now orphans, thanks to our decision to take down a dangerous tree. Of course we took in Buddy and Francesca and gave them a good raising, and they are now on their own and doing very well. But what of the mother who probably watched the tree come down and wondered what happened to her babies? Did she continue to search for them after we cleaned up the wood? Did she ache for them until her milk dried up? Or did she move on without a thought and begin the cycle of procreation again, just like the birds seemed to do?

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Daisy leads a fawn from her old deer pen to our neighbor Steve's property. The baby will find a place to bed down on its own.

Daisy leads a fawn from her old deer pen to our neighbor Steve’s property. The baby will find a place to bed down on its own.

For the past two years we have witnessed Daisy deer endure these same hardships. She lost her first little buck to a bobcat. She fought a brave battle to save him, but she could not. She searched for a week and a half, continually tracking his scent and mooing softly. Still having his twin sibling, Spirit, to look after, Daisy finally settled into her role as the mother of a single fawn. And last year she managed to raise a set of twin does to the age of six months. Then, during the rut, Heidi and Dancer disappeared only a few weeks apart. We never knew what happened, but suspected coyotes.

And in August of last year, Daisy’s yearling, Spirit, gave birth to a late season fawn we named Willow. Again, during the chaos of the rut, Willow was lost. Likely Spirit was being chased by a buck, and little Willow being only a couple of months old could not keep track of her mamma in the fray. A lost and confused little fawn would be easy prey for a predator. Spirit wandered the woodlands for six days searching and mooing for Willow before her calling stopped.

So this year when Daisy gave birth, if I am to be honest, I felt a bit detached from the entire process of birthing and rearing spring babies. Perhaps I am still feeling the loss of Heidi, Dancer, and Willow from last autumn… and when Spirit disappeared this February, well it has all been just too heavy for me. I have also worried about the four orphaned squirrels we raised and released. Too many times this past month, I have seen the foxes nab birds feeding on the ground or snag up an unsuspecting squirrel bounding along in the woodlands. Though I have respected the foxes and marveled at them since we began seeing them on the property a year ago, I really hope they will just move on. I do not want to think of Punkin or Mr. Gambini, Buddy or Francesca becoming lunch for one of the foxes or their kits.

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Daisy leads her fawn to the area she would like for it to bed down for the afternoon. It may be several hours before Daisy returns to nurse her.

Daisy leads her fawn to the area she would like for it to bed down for the afternoon. It may be several hours before Daisy returns to nurse her.

With all this on my mind as Daisy’s birthing took place this spring, I was proud that she seemed to be extra secretive with her fawns this year. Each passing day I was hopeful, but carefully so. The old Eeyore in me practiced caution in the emotional section of my brain. I felt I could not handle another loss. Instead, I watched from a distance, not wanting to interfere with Daisy’s ways – with nature’s ways. I was happy to see that Daisy chose to keep her little ones in our neighbor, Steve’s, more “wild” backyard. And I could understand why. For one, the back side of his property is a wild tangle of woodland and prairie grasses. Also, tall weeds and shrubs dot the back “yard” and old snags and fallen timber lie in waiting of decomposing and returning to the earth. This gives Steve’s place a more earthy smell – fresh and alive – where our more groomed property does not hold the same appeal for a whitetail mother to hide her babies.

After a couple of weeks observing Daisy with her little charges, I named the smallest fawn Sophie. She was light-colored and tiny compared to her sister. She seemed to be a mama’s girl, staying close to Daisy. Steve asked if one fawn might be named after his little sister, Megan, who died of a rare type of bone cancer at the age of nine. When Steve described his little sister, I knew that the darker colored fawn with bright blue eyes and a delightful sense of independence should be our little Megan. I often saw Megan running in Steve’s backyard, while an anxious Daisy attempted to supervise.

In late June, Daisy could be seen taking Megan to the woods, allowing her to run and scamper about. At a month old, it was common for Daisy to begin showing her fawns the layout of the woodlands. They were already familiar with Steve’s back yard and bottom-land, as well as our property up at the top of the canyon. The fawn’s next ventures would be the area below the slope, and in time she would lead them to the pecan orchard, and eventually there would be outings to the river, when the fawns were stronger and could endure running for longer distances.

Then on June 29th everything ended abruptly. A strange summer storm blew in, bringing down tree limbs and branches. Ear-splitting lightning cracked and thunder rolled. Rain hammered down in great sheets. And when it was all over, the silence that followed brought sunshine, warmth, and freshness. Unfortunately, it also brought the familiar mooing and moaning of Daisy searching for a baby. Was it for one fawn or both I wondered? What could have happened?

Daisy and Megan_1757 Megan_1756 Megan_1755

I am fairly sure these photos are of Megan. Daisy tended to keep her closer to our woods either on a knoll to the south, or just north of the slope in Steve's bottom land.

I am fairly sure these photos are of Megan. Daisy tended to keep her closer to our woods either on a knoll to the south, or just north of the slope in Steve’s bottom-land.

 

 

In the days that followed, no answers came. Daisy roamed the same territory day after day, expanding the circular pattern into the pecan orchard and just beyond. After nearly a week, her udder did not seem as large as it had been, and I was not sure if she had been nursing at all. During this time, Daisy was healing from her own wounds and gouges that had appeared the morning after the storm. And, after a full week passed and her wounds were mostly healed, Daisy still seemed to be searching, nose to the ground, but the search was not in earnest, and the calls for her babies had stopped. I still felt hopeful that she had one fawn hidden somewhere, but I knew, deep down, that we should have seen some sign of a fawn by now.

It has been nearly two weeks since the storm and Daisy’s udder has shrunk considerably. She has almost healed completely from the gouges and scrapes she suffered the night of the storm. I cannot say I know what she’s thinking, but her actions are not that of a mother raising fawns. She comes to feed early mornings, and again in the evenings, but she is mysteriously gone all day long. Curiously, another doe who frequents the area, and who delivered her fawn(s) the first week of June, is also without any babies tagging along. Instead, her little yearling buck is with her again – which would not be allowed if she had little ones to care for. Apparently, all of the fawns of our woodlands have disappeared.

Daisy is in good company with her squirrel friends. I'm quite sure Mr. Gambini is one of the group chowing down on dropped corn!

Daisy is in good company with her squirrel friends. I’m quite sure Mr. Gambini is one of the group chowing down on dropped corn!

Daisy seems fine this week and I see her daily. She still walks through the areas where she kept her babies hidden, but she does not linger long. Sometimes, she stops for a few minutes to mutual groom with me, or she might throw her head to the side and do the “crazy head” movement, and then run to the woods. Her appetite is back to normal, her wounds are almost completely healed, and she seems quite content. When I am with her at the feeder in the evenings, I often see the other woodland doe and her yearling buck, waiting in the pecan orchard for Daisy to join them. They all seem to be doing just fine…

But, I am not fine. I grieve for Daisy, and for myself. Why must Daisy experience so much loss in her life? Usually, a clear message comes to my mind of just what I am to learn each time I witness something of nature. I observe an animal or a situation and the message is quickly revealed. But not this time. I do not have a clue what the message is with yet another experience of total loss for Daisy, and for me… this time I am blank. Maybe numb is a better word. I am sad, and I am angry. I feel a bit more hardened about life. Megan and Sophie lived thirty-two days, and all that remains are memories of two frolicking little fawns who danced briefly for their mother. And now the nest is empty. It just is not fair.

But I guess life is not about being “fair”. Life is just life – lived moment to moment. Life and joy come in some moments, death and sadness in others. And in nature, life for one often means death for another. But the circle of life goes on, as spring turns to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter. And another spring comes, and the doe has a new spotted fawn, or two, or three – and the cardinal fills her empty nest with another clutch of eggs…

This is the last photograph I have of Daisy and Megan, heading off to the pecan orchard for a little stroll.

This is the last photograph I have of Daisy and Megan, heading off to the pecan orchard for a little stroll.

© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

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