Sunday, July 30, 2023

            The screech owls did not nest in the owl box this year.  The male showed up, as we hoped, in October and guarded the box faithfully, only leaving for a day or two.  When the female arrived in February, she stayed only than a week.  And then they were gone.  A second year without a successful nesting.  But the owls have returned.  

            May was comfortably cool, or at least not too warm, and there was plenty of rain.  Then June arrived and it was as if someone had turned the thermostat way up, heat rising to high 90s, even 100, and no rain; a heat wave that has continued.  Now at the middle of summer our backyard has become an oasis for birds – goldfinches, hummingbirds, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, wrens; even a blue jay, flock to the bird baths and feeders.  They are drawn to the gentle rhythm of water pouring into the pond.  One night in early July as darkness was just beginning to settle over the neighborhood a family of screech owls gathered at the bird bath; five owls, most likely the parents and three juveniles.  They flew from the bird bath to the shepherd’s hooks holding sunflower seed and Nyjer seed.  They hopped around on the ground.  They perched on oak branches.  They sat at the entrance to the owl box and peeked in.  Our backyard became their playground. 

            In the heat and hot weather of the summer, the owls were not the only surprise visitor.  A broad-winged hawk often visited the bird bath in the middle of the afternoon, somewhere after 3 p.m.  Unsuspecting his presence, we would open the back door only to see him fly away.  Today, I scared him from his drink, but he perched in the oak trees and kept watch for a long while.  I retreated to the house, watching from a window.  He is a large, handsome fellow with a spotted breast.  He surveys the yard, watching for prey, waiting. 

            The young screech owls must be exploring and learning to hunt because only one or two appear now at the bird bath.  Each night, around 8:50, 8:55 p.m. an owl suddenly appears, perched on a shepherd’s hook or at the bird bath.  We watch through the blinds on the window until it gets too dark to see. 

            Deer visit the yard, too.  Each night around 10 p.m. they bed down near the front yard bird bath and water we have set out for them.  Fawns are traveling more with their mothers and herds.  This year there is another black fawn in the neighborhood.  He travels with his mother and twin, who is not melanistic.  We have been lucky to see him (or her) a few times. 

            The heat goes on and we long for rain.  I pulled up tomato plants because it’s too hot for fruit to set, not wanting to waste precious water.  We may try again toward the end of summer.  In the meantime, we take care of our trees and the wildflowers we enjoy so much. 

Christine Baleshta