Thursday, July 30, 2015

Punk birds

Why is it that there are some bird babies that you never see?  Pigeons, for example.  Have you ever seen a baby pigeon?  Or a baby blue jay?  I haven't.

But some baby birds are ubiquitous here in West Hartford at the end of July, and I get to see them close up on my deck.  My favorite is the juvenile cardinal.  Skinny, slight, and not fully colored, the juvenile cardinal, with its outsize crest, looks like an adolescent going through a punk phase.

Punk cardinal

What are YOU lookin' at?

The punk image is totally destroyed, though, when one of the cardinal parent appears.  Then the baby sheds the punk insouciance and starts with the "feed me!" behavior, flapping its wings, peeping, and hopping along hopefully behind the parent.

Who's tough now?

Take a look at the wing-flapping behavior in the baby
The other day I saw a juvenile robin splashing around in the fountain in our yard.  I could tell it was a baby because it was chubby and fluffy and because of its spotted breast.

That spotted breast shows that the bird is a member of the thrush family.  In robins, the spotted breast appears only in juveniles.  By adulthood, it has become a tiny checkered patch at the base of the neck. Other thrushes, like the wood thrush and the hermit thrush, keep their spotted breasts all their lives.

Robin mystery:  why is the bird's scientific name turdus migratorius?  "Turdus" is the Latin word for ugly.  Not a fair appellation for this bird, whose chimes woke me every summer morning of my childhood.

And how about the veery?  That's one of my favorite thrushes, one that keeps the checkered breast.  I diverge here because this post is about fledgling birds in  my yard, and the truth is, there currently is no veery in my West Hartford yard.

But there used to be one whose ethereal call drifted down from the tall tree canopy when I lived on Whitney Street in Hartford.  I divert for a moment because I want you to listen to that call, dropping airily in a crystal spiral: 

Back to my backyard birds: A couple of weeks ago I saw what must have been a juvenile mourning dove.  It must have been, because it looked in every way like an adult, but it was smaller and skinnier.  At first I thought,"Why is that mourning dove so skinny?"  Then I realized:  it must be a baby.  But a baby without the juvenile awkwardness of the cardinal.  This baby was all organized and arranged, every feather in place.

Nothing like the  adolescent awkwardness of the fledgling cardinal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Globe Thistle: Global Disappointment

Have you ever tried to grow globe thistle (echinops)?

It's a stunning plant, with spherical blue flowers 2 inches in diameter. 

I love the frosted, ghostly quality of those flowers.  Look at them.

That's why I try to include globe thistle in my silver garden.

My history of trying to grow them is long and sad, a saga of breathlessly anticipated results followed by extreme mediocrity.. and, ultimately, banishment.

I vowed never to buy this plant again.

Nevertheless, each year it cluelessly reappears as an unwanted volunteer.

This year's volunteer, though, looked like it might be an exception to my ban on globe thistle.   Look at its stately vigor as it towers over the rest of the garden:

Those lower leaves are over 12 inches long, and the plant as a whole is angular, dignified, structural, striking.

But meanwhile, look at the extreme paucity of its flowers:

This little...uh, globe is just under an inch in diameter, smaller than a ping pong ball.  Yet it towers on a stately, swan-like neck:

Pathetic flowers, especially compared to the statuesque vigor of the rest of the plant.

Globe thistle is supposed to look like this:

The flowers are supposed to be 2 inches in diameter, for heaven's sake.

But all I get are these tiny sputniks.  They're not globes, they're globs.  And they're not sapphire blue, but more of a faded, washed out, grayish color

Once again, globe thistle underperforms. My only theory for this near-failure is that globe thistle likes its soil lean and well-drained.  Is the soil in my silver garden too rich for it?  I believe that happens when a plant is growing in soil that is too rich for its actual needs.

Globe thistle:  Global disappointment. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015


 I'm not one for giving names to non-sentient objects, but my sister Jeanne used to love to name things. Everything.  She named her cars.  Once she named a recliner Bobby.

Bobby the Barcalounger, or something like him

 I don't engage in that wacky habit, except for one situation.  When a blooming bush buzzes with...well, buzzing things, I call it "buzzilicious."

I have a plant called an eryngium, also known as sea holly, in my silver garden.

 This plant, whose weid spiky blooms I cherish,  is this year's buzzilicious.

It's buzzing not only with furry honey bees:

But also with smooth-bodied wasps like this one:

And even a tiny, half size version of a wasp, a creepy little thing about half an inch long.

 I've never seen these things before.  They creep me out, partly because there are dozens of them out there, and partly because they remind me of flying ants, which to me are not only ugly but always up to no good. 

I turned to the Internet, using the search term, "bees the size of flying ants."  I found that these tiny buzzers are vespid wasps.  I give them wide berth.  I suppose they're doing me a favor by pollinating my eryngium.  But they still creep me out.

And I'm not gonna name any of them Bobby.