Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Edge Of Flight

I haven't gotten as much writing done lately as I'd like, because I had to watch my soaps. And a lot of the plot lines were interwoven and I didn't want to miss anything. And things seemed to be coming to a climax. And they did, a couple Sundays ago. Holy shit, what a tight drama! I didn't get nothin' written that Sunday.

They set you up to think everything's going along smoothly in order to build the tension later. Mr. and Mrs. Nuthatch moved in and got the house in order and dribbled pine resin all over the front (is that a red herring, or does that figure in later?), and in short order they had eggs going and Mr. Nuthatch is bringing in flies and such for the Missus, which is why I call him Dave, even though I suspect that's not his real name.

After a few weeks, there were definite beebly-beebly sounds coming out of the box, and both Dave and the Missus were going in and out with fine selections from the Arthropod menu.

Then, one day, a little face poked out of the nest box hole! [Music swells.] And I WILL BE GO TO HELL IF IT ISN'T A LITTLE FUZZY NUTHATCH even though nothing ever came out of that thing but chickadees before. They're so SMART! Then the pace picks up. Dave and the Missus are hauling in bugs at what looks to be an unsustainable rate [sound of freight train picking up speed], pausing only to rout interlopers, most significantly a scrub jay that has been observed to repeatedly land right on the nest box [shark music], although he always slides off. Still: tension builds. The scrub jay is so big the nuthatches don't even try to chase it off, but sit nearby and beep at it furiously.

Then comes Sunday. A baby nuthatch is sticking its head further and further out the hole and even gets a foothold on it, but I'm onto this. I already know it's fake. Last year the chickadee babies had me holding my finger over the camera shutter all day long while I waited to see the first flight, but they kept doing that for, like, a week, and eventually I gave up and missed the whole thing.


Meanwhile, Dave and the Missus are in the tree, honking alternately, and because they're on slightly different pitches, it sounds like a little kid's tricycle horn. Aanh-eee, aanh-ee. And the nuthatchlet is honking too. He's beeping like a big boy; no beebly-beebly for him. I put my camera down to admire all this and ALL OF A SUDDEN HE JUST TAKES OFF IN A STRAIGHT LINE AND SNAPS ONTO A BRANCH! Holy SHIT! What a CHAMP! And then he turns around and flies to a nearby branch, which he lands on upside down, and he hangs there like a tree ornament for a few seconds, all confused, and then lets go and flies off into the crape myrtle, with his mama in close pursuit. YES! My first confirmed first-flight sighting! But wait! There's more!


Another fuzzball is peering out of the nest hole and honking away, but it comes out squawkier. I think this one might be just a day behind or something, and his voice hasn't changed all the way. But then ALL OF A SUDDEN HE TAKES OFF TOO! But he doesn't get quite horizontal. He lands a little low. And then he takes off again and fetches up on an even lower branch. He's not as strong. Mr. and Mrs. Nuthatch are standing by doing the tricycle horn big time. And then he takes off yet again and lands somewhere below my window, and I can't see where, but there are soft bushes to land on, and he wasn't exactly plummeting. I watch for a while--parents are going apeshit, honking--and I wonder if there's a cat down there, and just as I decide to go outside and make sure there isn't, a SCRUB JAY EXPLODES OUT OF THE BUSH AND FLIES WAY UP TO THE TOP OF A CEDAR TREE and Mrs. Nuthatch is right on his tail. AAAAAAAAGGGHH! CALL 9-1-1! CALL 9-1-1!

[Urgent violin score fades out.]

Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion.

31 comments:

  1. Oh, my! No wonder you couldn't get anything done! I'd be a nervous wreck myself. That's why I had to cut way down on EagleCams. There has been so much tragedy this year at various nests, and I've spent much of the spring in a depression. I think of these birds as family, and when I can't do anything for them, I feel frustrated and helpless. I figured that I have enough drama going on with just the wildlife in my own yard. (Current drama: a spate of Sparrow decapitations by a psychotic Grackle. He takes the head and leaves the bodies. I figure that he's feeding his young the brains, as they are high in protein and fat.)

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    1. And this is all happening about five feet away. We don't have grackles. (I should look that up. Just because I haven't seen a grackle doesn't mean they're not here.)

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    2. Ah!I can help you out on this point.Grackles live elsewhere, sometimes, temporarily, on my blog https://moreidlethoughts.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/in-which-i-cross-both-the-equator-and-the-dateline/

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  2. Cliff-hanger!! You are evil making us wait like this.

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    1. Well I wrote the whole story and it was long, and I don't like to make people read more than about 700 words because then they'd do that whole scrolly-thing just to see how much they were in for...so I busted it up.

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  3. Replies
    1. It's really more excitement than I want.

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  4. Love the videos! The only bird I've ever seen fledge was a BALD EAGLE!!! At the PVAS property in Shepherdstown, WVA. Very exciting, and purely by chance. We were observing the nest when suddenly the eaglet flew off. My nuthatch box had chickadees in it this year. Rude of them to take it over, but they are cute too.

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    1. Dang! Did it shoot straight out or drop like a plumb-bob?

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  5. Flew straight out and off to a distance where we couldn't see it any longer. Successful fledge!

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  6. Never mind writing. I wouldn't be doing anything more productive than watching and waiting. And squarking for my Dave equivalent to bring me sustenance...

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    1. I squarked for him to come upstairs and look. So he figures in a heroic way in my next post.

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  7. I love baby birds because that time in a bird's life is the ONLY time one gets to see bird lips. I have a mother raven sitting on a nest but it's early in Alaska for baby bird flights

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    1. Ain't bird lips grand? What are they called, gape flanges? Good name for a rock band.

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  8. Sounds like a cliff hanger!

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  9. Another episode of "As the Birdhouse Turns" please!!

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    1. Yeah, I was thinking of "The Fledge Of Night" and kind of bogged down after that.

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  10. Only problem is that "Dave" and "Missus" are most definitely NOT soap opera names. You need to work along the lines of Skyler and Trevor and Bethany and Jax.

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  11. I will often see the first flight or two from one of the barn swallow nests in our barn. There are at least a dozen active nests with about 4 babies each so I have a fair chance of watching some early attempts at flight. There always seems to be one or two that don't survive the attempt.

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    1. It's a rough world out there. Swallows are a little easier to observe, aren't they?

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  12. What great videos, Murr! I love the parents feeding the babies - awesome :) Looking forward to part 2.

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  13. Or am I? I just went back and read your replies ...

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  14. OMG that hover-feeding the adult does! These things are way too cute. Like Steiff toys. Pray tell, do you know how old they were at fledging day? How long they'd been in the box? I have reasons for needing to know. Great work, Murre!!

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    1. Oh I am trying SO hard to remember when we heard the first beebling. I am totally guessing that it was 15 days. If I'd started reading your book when they started the nest, I would definitely have taken notes. We can't undo the box without a screwdriver, so there's no looking inside. And speaking of your book...tune in next Wednesday!

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  15. You had me at beebly-beebly noises. Now I'm on the edge of my seat, about to read the next installment....

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