Garden Notes: Peregrine Falcons, Hummingbirds, and Dizzy Gillespie…

Today was a bright and sunny day, a day for the garden.
There haven’t been too many days like that recently –it’s been rain, rain, and more rain here in New York, for almost a month. Days of persistent all-day drizzle; days of persistent steady rain; days of unrelieved downpour; days of fierce thunder-storm…
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Respite! Not normally a word in common usage, but that was the word that seemed to be leaping to everybody’s lips: “respite”. Respite from rain. Everything felt so…sodden. A pair of jeans I hung out to dry, and later took indoors, was still damp five days later!
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Everybody complained –except my garden. It took the deluges, the aqueous (sp?) onslaughts completely in its stride.
There were relatively few signs of overwatering –mostly on my tomato plants, with those yellow and the dark-centre spots on the lower leaves of the plants. (Which I twist off and discard, of course: what is it about that tomato-stem smell? It seems to have…something…in it that appeals to me….maybe its the sheer promise, the anticipation, of having tomatoes fresh from the garden ready for eating before too long.
Oo-oo –I can’t wait.)
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Last year I ate my first tomato on June 6th –according to my Garden Notes diary. This year the tomatoes will be more than a month late….
A significant delay, but they will simply be…all-the-sweeter.
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All my doubts and questions about the vigor of this year’s plants that I had earlier on, have now been assuaged –more or less. The bounty of nature is a wonder to behold; to stand in the middle of and be surrounded by. It is a feeling of …being good for the soul; of being grateful simply to be able to participate….. A feeling of being blessed….
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Lest I get –or appear to get–too carried away, I will tell you that the wet weather did seem to bring on something of a plague of gastropods. Slugs to you –and me before I wiki’d them. A shell-less snail…
Walking in the garden one night a couple of weeks ago I noticed one and two, and three, and then a whole host of white slugs, some quite big and many more quite small, ALL OVER some Serrano pepper plants, or some Basil plants, or Tomato plants, or beans or peas, or mint, or Mustard Leaf….
My God! An invasion. And large holes in the leaves on which each slug was sitting. Chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp. (“Chomp” seems to be the favored term to use in describing this slug-activity. It somehow suggests an over-eating…no, an unremitting devouring that is unending…greedy…mindless…careless –utterly compulsive, utterly unaware of the devastation they are leaving in their…slimy slug-wake, and the “unfairness” of it all to us planters of gardens who have worked so hard….
And now look…all those leaves with holes in them…
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I did make a serious effort to …stamp the slugs out. You may want to skip down a few paragraphs while I furnish the anti-slug details. Actually, let me not go into the gory (–for “gory” read “slimy”) details.
Suffice it to say that –after a couple of weeks I seemed to have emerged from the…slug-fest…victorious. (I hesitate to celebrate, and I still go out at night, on slug-patrol….)
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Enough of slugs. Not really a subject to dwell on
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On one of the first sunny days, I just had to stop everything and simply sit outside for a while in my accustomed place.
I still haven’t solved my birdseed problem: my local Home Depot has suddenly stopped stocking any birdseed –I used to buy their 20lb bag of Eastern Mix…which lasted quite a while.
Now I have just a very few seeds left, and have been rationing them out, much to avian distemper, until I find another store that sells birdseed.
[By the way, anybody know a good (and cheap) source. An online store? I used to pay $9 to $14 for a 20 lb bag at Home Depot; my local Western Beef Supermarket has a 1 lb. container for %5.99!!!.]
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On this glorious sunny day, I picked up my kalimba, my “Birdseed” signal to my friends, and plinked a “Birdseed” riff, code for “Seeds Up”
to my friends.
Very quickly, five Mourning Doves materialized. One comes right onto the table in front of me –ready for birdseed! I feed her, a tiny amount.
Some Sparrows show up, a Cardinal, a Blue Jay… Eleven more Mourning Doves arrive from distant trees, distant parts. The word is out.
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The day is so salubrious, I decide I will bring out my Yamaha keyboard…play a few tunes. This the birds take as a sign that there will be more birdseed. I comply, but first I play a few tunes. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High” –a very fast be-bop piece that Diz first put together in 1944–has been a favorite of mine –and the birds!– for some time now.
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I get into it.
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The very tricky and rapid fingering of “Groovin’ High” I have now pretty much mastered –it has become interesting to me to practice a tune to the point of complete familiarity…the effect has been for the mind to be released from that intense concentration of “getting it right” to a new level of…improvisation?…’exploration’ is probably a better word.
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My birds gather. The friendly but still timid Mourning Doves repond particularly to my keyboard, and repertoire of tunes. Certain tunes bring them in from distant trees. Some that have been perched on my nearby tomato-stakes hop down to get closer….
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I put out the seed and wait. Soon they are all perched on the table pecking away, or are on a nearby bamboo (parking) structure that I have built for them –The Mourning Doves and the Sparrows, that is. The few Cardinals and Blue Jays are shyer, more circumspect –despite the more colorful plumage. (“Counter-intuitive” is a term that’s been emerging –you hear it on NPR quite a bit. No doubt we will be hearing it a lot more.
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It might even replace “iconic”.)
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The Mourning Doves chase each other away, but completely tolerate the multitude of Sparrows. Very occasionally they will toss a quick peck at a not-sufficiently-repectful Sparrow. But mostly their dog-in-the-manger attitude concerning birdseed is restricted to their fellow-doves, if I may term them thus.
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Some doves get so fixated on chasing other doves away that they seem to completely forget about the seed –their whole purpose for being there in the first place. (A behavior SO much like another…familiar species: perhaps that’s their appeal .)
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The net effect is that a few doves (and lots of sparrows) occupy the table top feeder. Other doves strut around the garden, pecking here and there. Or on the flagstone floor, under the table.
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As I play the keyboard I am tapping my left foot. I notice one dove with a bemused look on its face –it is staring fixated at ….what?… at my TAPPING FOOT!
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Why?
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I try to figure it out.
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Is that a “What IS that?” look? or a “How does he do that?” look. Or a “What a guy! Wouldn’t I just love to be able to tap my foot (claw) like humans.”
[None of my speculations have a real feeling of “That’s it!” to them.]
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By the way, a Mourning Dove claw is quite red in color –a sort of ruby-red..
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I rest up after playing several tunes.
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Suddenly a very noisy large flying bug hovers just a few feet away from me. Amazing –it’s a huge noisy bug, just hovering in the air.
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Just…staying right there.
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Except –it’s not a bug, a huge bug. My God, it’s a Humming Bird, as small as my little finger. An irridescent blur.
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It hovers, precisely, for another two seconds. And then flits 6 feet to another hover point …for another two seconds. I think that must be a “where’s the nectar” expression on its face. Then it drops down, out of sight, behind some plants. Excited, I rush over with my
camera.
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But –no sign of it. It’s gone.
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A Hummingbird? Is that possible? This far north? I thought Hummingbirds were creatures of the tropics or sub-tropics. (I think of all those National Geographic pictures. My friend Hanna has shown me her many HB-pix, from her trips to the West Indies and Costa Rica.)
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I go to my birdbook. Sure enough, there is one kind of Hummingbird who does come this far north –indeed the northeast is part of its habitat.
[I wanted to tell you about it, but have temporarily mislaid Bird Book.]
The others are more to the south. And the west.]
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A most momentous Bird Event, right in the garden.
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I look forward to its return.
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Some birds are flying, fast, through the trees. A flock of
pigeons in powerful flight. Other birds flit back and forth, from place to place, as if suddenly changing their minds…
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This display of falcon-anxiety is all-too-clear. All my birds have disappeared. I notice a few of my Mourning Doves well concealed in the Tree of Heaven.
Falcons like their prey in flight.
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I don’t even have to look up –the unmistakeable shadow wheels slowly on the ground in front of me.
Very slow.
Taking its time.
Making its pick…
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Wheeling wide and slow.
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Now its out of sight, behind the trees on the ridge.


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