Sunday, June 28, 2009

Barn Swallows Versus Michael Jackson

     The Barn Swallow is the national emblem of Estonia. Their currency bears an image of a swallow. The Estonians were ahead of the curve on that, in my opinion. I wish our money had that kind of image, rather than those rusty old presidents whose hair makes them all look like madmen. When I’m commissioned to redo our currency, I’ll put these hungry mouths of Barn Swallow chicks in an egg-like oval in the middle of each bill. Swallows would also be good representatives on our currency as the most widespread swallow in the world, much like our influence, good or bad. For that matter, Michael Jackson should be on our money. Toss up: Barn Swallows or Michael Jackson. If a pool of school children was chosen from around the world, then asked to identify a Barn Swallow or Michael Jackson, which do you suppose they’d be most likely to recognize?
    Perhaps I could consolidate the two: a Barn Swallow in flight, harnessed and trailing Michael Jackson through the sky. Throw in a little Shakespeare, “True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings,” and you’ve got yourself a world class devolving dollar bill.
     All Barn Swallows migrate, some far as Argentina and South Africa. Swallow tattoos are a tradition amongst sailors symbolizing long journeys and safe returns. A sailor gets his first tattoo after traveling 5,000 nautical miles. These Barn Swallows occupy a friend’s barn here in Phippsburg. There are ten nests, each one with 4-5 chicks. They usually lay twice in a summer, so that’s about 100 baby swallows from that barn each year. The success rate of the broods is about 75%. That’s a lot of swallows! Sitting in the barn, watching them zoom in and out feeding their chicks practically requires an umbrella. The barn owner has every square inch draped with plastic and paper, a sort of canvas for the splatter, like a Jackson Pollock painting without the talent.
   Their mud pellet nests are repaired and reused for 10-15 years, but have been documented to have been used for 48 years! That’s a dilemma for a barn owner. The nests could be destroyed, forcing the swallows to rebuild. After all, what did Barn swallows do before barns? They nested in more precarious places, such as overhangs on cliffs. In the Northeast, they nest under Osprey nests. It’s a reciprocal arrangement where the birds of prey drive away other predatory birds while the swallows gobble up the flies accumulating in the rotten fish scraps in the Osprey nest. Barn swallows have thrived in our company and our safe structures for their nests. We also tolerate these flying guano machines for their fine dining on flying insects. Swallows have always been one of my favorite birds. Their zooming flight is like my mind - an elegant, dark thing tearing through a dim barn, resulting in a lot of crap.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Eye Candy = Soul Feast

Just a little break from the denizens of the damp, those that lurk, slither, writhe and snap. This is a White Admiral butterfly. On the peony, its wings are open. After it moved to a leaf of Raspberry Wine bee balm, it closed its wings. I took these shots late in the day as the sun was near to setting. The cool evening light brings out the blues in the rhododendron blossoms. These photographs were taken in my garden.

Moving Chelydra

I was asked how I moved the Snapper I had photographed and if I had just happened to have a snow shovel in my car. Because I'm a gardener, my car is a traveling tool box, so shovel? Yes. After all, I was able at a moment's notice to de-bone a full sized Wild turkey on the side of the road. Now, that's preparedness! The turkey was, however, dead. It did not fight back nor was I expecting it to do so. Other than some necrotizing flesh eating bacterial disease that I might have contracted, there was little risk to my well being. That Snapper, on the other hand, could have done me real damage. I did not move it. I left her to her own devices including crossing a major road and wished her well. In this video, a woman who obviously has experience, intervenes and moves them. If you have any doubt what so ever about how fast this turtle can be, watch this video. I jumped when I watched it. You might want to have a good, stiff Scotch before you watch this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mallard X Mold

Mallards are our largest dabbling ducks. They are found everywhere from urban ponds and drainage ditches to large lakes. Up the road from us in Bath, there is an outdoor hockey rink. Every spring when the ice finally thaws, there is a pair of Mallards that hang around in the melt water. I look forward to them as a sign of spring. These ducks were photographed in the wild in their 'natural' habitat. The female below is clearly a Mallard and has the classic orange and black bill and dark eye line, elegant! We'll call her Maybelline. The male appears to be crossed with some other kind of duck. I'm guessing by his mottled cheeks that his parents were a mix of Mallard and domestic duck (Mallard X domestic) which is common. Or, perhaps since we've had heavy rain here for almost two weeks straight, it could be mold. Even ducks have their limits of how much water they can take! I vote for mold. I will confess that I didn't get out of my car for the shots. I had gone to a garden center and purchased plants for a customer. My car was as loaded as it could be with greenery. My car usually looks like it is operated by a headless driver because I'm so short. This day, my car looked as if it were being operated by shrubs. So, when I saw the ducks in the marsh as I was whizzing along, I was able to pull right up to them. They didn't take any notice of the moving bushes. I was able to put down my window and shoot through the four foot tall Japanese irises in the passenger's seat. Leon Leonwood of L.L. Bean fame couldn't have come up with better camo. than that!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


A friend told me that Snapping Turtles can be hypnotized. I wish I had known that little factoid when I wrote the last blog! So, I went online to find out about this perhaps invaluable skill. You never know when you might need this kind of information. I found this in the Evansville Courier Press, It's just simply too freakin' funny to not include in tandem to my Ohgrabme post. I wish I had been there! And I thought the gene pool in Maine is a little dilute!

Calvin "Clicker" Embry talks a little funny these days. You would, too if a 15-pound snapping turtle ever latched onto your tongue and wouldn't let go.

This bizarre story started to unfold just before dusk this past Fourth of July. Embry, 41, a laborer from Wayne City, Ill., was at a local fireworks display when one of his buddies asked if he'd show everybody how he can hypnotize a snapping turtle and kiss him right on the snout.

"I started doing this trick years ago, and it's a great crowd pleaser," the legendary turtle hunter said. "I guess I've kissed about a hundred snappin' turtles and never been bit — until this last time."

Embry just happened to have a 15-pound "snapper" with him at the fireworks show, and he proceeded to demonstrate his bizarre animal hypnotism routine.

"I got him out of the truck, tilted him down at just the right angle and started rubbin' his belly," Embry said. "If you do it just right, they get all relaxed and everything and you can kiss 'em right on the snout."

Well, Embry did everything the same way he had the previous hundred times, but something went wrong.

"I must have tilted him the wrong way, 'cause he woke up," Embry said. "I can usually kiss him on the snout, then lick their eyeballs before they wake up, but something went really wrong."

What went wrong was the 15-pound turtle woke up and latched onto Embry's tongue as he was preparing to lick the creature's eyeballs.

"When it happened, everybody started running around like crazy and were yelling," Embry said. "Do you know how hard it is to talk with a 15-pound snappin' turtle hanging off the end of your tongue?"

Embry finally was able to communicate to a friend to get a knife and stick it into the turtle's mouth and work it back and forth. "They'll let go every time," Embry said.

Once his friend had pried the turtle off his tongue, "Clicker" decided it was time to go to the emergency room to see what was left of his tongue.

"That doctor hadn't ever seen anything like this, so he took some pictures for the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine," Embry said. "I got a tetanus shot and he sent me home."

Embry later saw his family physician and got some antibiotics. The chunk of tongue that's missing makes "Clicker" talk a little funny, but it's not serious enough to stop him from kissing snapping turtles on the snout or licking their eyeballs.

"I kept that old turtle and will probably have him mounted by a taxidermist one of these days," Embry said. "For now, though, I'm keeping his water changed every day and don't have any plans to dress him out."

If anyone's keeping score, that's "Clicker" Embry 100, snappin' turtles 1.

n Contact Len Wells at (618) 842-2159 or

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Ograbme, SNAPP'AH!"

The Muse Of Herpetology is certainly working for me lately! On my way to Baxter State Park (more on that gruesome saga later), I spotted this Snapping turtle. Back in the old days, when Christ was still in nickers, Chelydra serpentina was known as Ograbme. As you know, I can find beauty in most anything, even writhing, fornicating snakes. But Chelydra here is just a beast. They smell; they pee and poop if you try to pick them up (DON'T!), emit musk, skulk around in the mud and are covered in algae, which you can see on this one's tail. On the end of its tongue is a growth that looks like a worm. Nnnnnnice! They open their mouths and wiggle it to bait fish. And, more good news: they gulp baby ducks from the water's surface. They look like a slimy miniature dinosaur with malice in their eyes. In the water, they are quite docile, but on land they can be a as viscous as legend has it. Everything looks like food to them. They eat anything, even carrion and can bite off a toe or finger easily. They have long, sharp claws, too. Seriously, do not try to pick one up unless you have a snow shovel with which you can scoop it up. I won't even go into the mating, because even I have my limits. Like the snakes, though, a female can hold sperm for years to fertilize her eggs before she lays them. They can mate any old time and can lay eggs every year without mating. They lay eggs in sandy soil, digging a hole into which they lay 40-80 eggs, then bury them and leave. She's a warm and fuzzy mom, indeed. The eggs hatch in 9-18 weeks. If the eggs are laid late enough in the year, the baby turtles may overwinter there. People keep them as pets. WHY?????? Because they can, I suppose. As my mother used to say, "There is no accounting for taste." Speaking of taste, people do eat them. It's legal, but the just desert is that they taste like mud which even heavy seasoning can not disguise. As the largest freshwater turtle, they must live in an aquarium, which would have to be huge. In captivity they can reach 75 pounds and live for fifty years. Just say commitment. If you decide to hook up with Chelydra, Ohgrabme and love me forever! Now if only she would wear plaid.

Oh ya! Isn't she pretty?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Matters Herpetological

"Back off, Lady! The chick is mine!"

Back to the snakes: A friend who happens to be a very refined woman from Maryland has told me that my snakes from the previous post are males. She said that they were all trying to mate with a female. She actually used the term 'gang-bang.' My friend is the sort of woman who might wear white gloves on occasion, does not raise her voice, drink nor swear. So it's incongruous that she also happens to be a talented wildlife photographer. She was speaking simply factually about the behaviors of snakes as it has been her business to know these things. This prompted me to do some research. I learned that Garter snake males erupt from a communal den when the weather warms to ready themselves for females. Usually, one female appears and they all jump her at once often in a mating ball of sometimes a hundred or so snakes. I was lucky I suppose, that I only saw six. That also explains the hostile nature of the snakes like this one that persisted in staring me in the face! Garter snakes which are usually timid are apt to show complete disregard for potential danger (that would have been little old me) when they are about to mate. There was one snake pictured here that was much larger and darker than the others. That would have been the female, according to my genteel friend from Maryland. The bigger a girl snake, the better the boy snakes like 'em, because a bigger snake lady can produce more baby snakes. So, during mating, females will puff themselves up by hyperventilating to appear so. Males looking for females that are ready to do the deed, recognize her willingness and location by the release of pheromones or chemical changes which occur in her skin secretions. The male picks up this perfume by flickering his tongue up and down the female's body. The courting male rubs his chin faster and faster along the back and side of his girl then aligns his body with hers. Calm down now, all of you! The female will retain the sperm until all the eggs she holds are fertilized. This can take as long as five years so she can give birth whenever and wherever is right. The lady snake will give birth to from 6 to 40 live snakes between July and October depending on when she mated. So, I guess I'd better be looking out! The stone wall below ran the length of the perennial border. That is where the snake colony was over the winter. The molted snake skin was a give away to that under the circumstances. I should have known! In their second year, the young snakes will be ready to repeat the reproductive cycle. In the future, I'll be checking the cracks of that wall very carefully!

Anyone want to make a nice pair of boots or a purse?

Lady Godiva - to a snake, a really hot chick!

"The chicks really dig this move."

Ophidiophobia & Weeding For Dollars

I love gardening. I love it so much, I do my own and I do other people's. My gardening work for others I call Weeding For Dollars. And I earn every nickle. Every season, somebody says to me "Oh, you're so lucky! I would love to work with the flowers all day!" It's not that I'm complaining (well, yes, I am), but they have no idea what they are talking about. First of all, when you do it for other people, you can't just decide after a couple of hours to knock off when your back is killing you and go have lemonade. You have to continue until the work is done. No matter how hot it may be, how many Black Fly bites you have, rashes, Poison Ivy, leaking hoses: you must continue. Today, it was snakes. Mind you, I'm not afraid of snakes. I've caught many of them by hand. I get a certain satisfaction when I get one behind the head so it can't bite me and feel its sinewy body wrap around my wrist, tongue flicking, staring me in the face. But that's on my terms. I do not like being sneaked up on, or 'snaked' up on, as it were. In the garden where I worked today, there was a nest of Garter snakes. I saw six of them. Though they were all Garter snakes, each one was distinct enough that I gave them names: Mo, Curly, Larry, Groucho, Harpo and Zeppo. I don't know what gender they were, but that seemed to cover all their behavioral bases. They dodged, slithered, writhed, curled and slipped around the peonies and astilbes while I worked. Repeatedly startling me, they kicked my anxiety disorder into high gear. Gardening is very hard work, but it's never been as nerve wracking as it was today! I may have advanced my position from a run of the mill herpetophobe to a full blown ophidiophobe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Queen of the night skies, this Cecropia Moth is nocturnal. Though not rare, for this reason, not often seen. Of the family Saturniidae, she is the largest silk moth. She is the largest moth in North America with a wingspan of 5-6 inches. This one is 5 1/2 across and a female that was laying eggs while being photographed. Have you no shame, woman?! She will live about two weeks, never eating only laying eggs and seeking a mate. She emits a pheromone to attract a male which they can detect in the air from as far as a mile away. Who needs Chanel?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BIRDS Of Maine

This is a video I made a year ago of various photographs of birds. You know the drill, give it a minute to buffer or it will get cranky. At the bottom of the video box is a little button for full screen viewing which you might like better than this itty bitty doll house movie. It's a soothing movie, but in deference to Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill One and Kill Bill Two), I've given you part two first. Go figure.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sick Of The Rain

Even the birds are sick of all the rain we've had. They sit around sulking. Ever seen a bird pout? Well I have. These crows appear to be a mated pair. The female is on the right, I think. She was grooming the boyfriend repeatedly. "Awe, come on, fella! You can make it! This will end soon, I promise. It always does. Don't let yourself go to pot over it."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Destroyers And Rabbits

Lathyrus japonicus-Beach Peas

Vietnam War and the Sexual Revolution flavored the background for my teenage development. I entered the sixties as an innocent five year old and came out a jaded fifteen year old. By the time the decade closed, I had done drugs and had sex. So, as 1970 dawned, I was sure that war was wrong and that everybody should have sex whenever they wanted. Now, forty years later, I’m not so sure. Theoretically, the more years a person lives the wiser they should be, but for me, the opposite is true. With every breath taken I’m less certain because the older I’ve become, the more times my core values have been tested. When I walked in on my son, then later, my daughter having sex the test was huge! Each of them was older than I was the first time I had sex, but still - I was appalled. How dare they! Not my children! They may disagree, but I think I was cool about it. There weren’t any dramatic scenes and they were each suitably mortified. I was ultimately, more taken aback by my own gut reaction than about what they were doing. First, I was sure that my generation had invented sex. Certainly, this was true because my parents never had sex. Ugh! Oh shudder and wince; what a revolting thought! And my dear sweet little children would never have sex because now we know: I would kill them! So what was my horror about? Wasn’t it perfectly natural and to be expected? It was very okay for me when I was a teenager, why wasn’t it okay for them? Many nights I wrestled with that crocodile; hypocrisy floundered in a swamp of dreams. I concluded that natural as it is, teenage sex is not sanctionable (easy enough since I’d already had my teenage sex!). When children have sex, they are not prepared to be responsible for the consequences of their actions. I know I wasn’t, even though I thought I was. After all, I knew everything there was to know. The life altering fallout of disease and unwanted pregnancy seemed even manageable to my na├»ve mind.
Now that I wrapped that up with a nice bow for my psyche, that brings me to war. I wish that was as clear. Ideally, I would like to say that I’m opposed to war. I’m opposed to the death penalty so it should be clear, right? But, what if somebody intends to do harm to those precious children having sex like rabbits in your living room? Do you stand back or do you fight back? My response to hurting the ones I love would be damned primal; I’d hurt the other guy if it came right down to it. I’d mangle the beast that messed with my kids. I know this because I’m the mother of the rabbits. That’s taught me that I’m capable of things my intellectual mind thinks repugnant or just impossible. I’d like to think of myself as more evolved than the aghast mother who stood slack jawed while her daughter and the pimple faced boyfriend scrambled for clothes. But, I’m not. I’d like to think that I’m sophisticated enough to rise above my fear for my own losses to not wage war. But, I know I’m not. After all, I did have sex in my parent’s house while wearing a training bra. The drives are basic.
Fort Popham, built of granite in the 1840s, sits where the Kennebec River meets the Atlantic Ocean. At the end of the school year, teachers take students there for a last dose of history, a romp on the beach and at the old fort. These kids were throwing sea weed, screaming and daring each other to go into the cold water when this destroyer appeared. It’s a Bath Iron Works Littoral Combat Ship, the U.S. Navy’s first Trimaran war ship. Designed for speed and maneuverability, at 419 feet long, it was awe-inspiring. I wish that we could design a better way to settle our differences on the globe and defend our rabbits. I wish that teachers could tell kids about old forts and destroyers as truly things of our human past. I hope I never am a shocked, bewildered mother screaming “Not my child!” if one is lost to war.

The Spring Azure butterfly is a little guy, only about the size of a nickle. This one was enjoying the Beach Peas at Popham, but usually they prefer woodlands.

Rock Doves (feral pigeons) have nested in the observation slits in the granite fort.

If you zoom in on this, one of the girls on the left has her hand raised in a peace sign. Figures.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bathrobe Birding Bonanza!

While brushing my teeth and still in my bathrobe, I saw this oddly shaped bird fly by. I threw down the toothbrush and flew for my camera. There on the top rail of the pier was this Black Crowned Night Heron. It's mate was standing off a ways on the rocks. What a beauty! I have not seen one of these since, according to my records, 1991. They are common, but not commonly seen as they are nocturnal. Fish eaters, they shop where other herons do, but grab rather than skewer their meal. On that note, I think I'll try brushing my teeth again.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Creative Is A Restless Dog

Anonymous recently asked me if my brain ever shuts off. “Where do your ideas come from? Do you wake up thinking of this stuff ?” Yes, I wake up thinking of this stuff, I go to sleep thinking of this stuff and sometimes I dream this stuff. My brain never shuts off. A kaleidoscope of thoughts constantly turns inside my head. Everything I see turns the barrel a notch changing the colors. It’s maddening and exhausting. I wake up feeling like I've been at meetings all night long, meetings where no one read Roberts Rules Of Order. I just live with squirrels in the attic. Medication helps, but that’s all: helps. It takes some of the edge off, allows me to sleep some, but not always.


That dog is gone
Run out
across creation,
only he knows what.
Don’t know how
he slips
his rope,chain, noose
Thinks he can
Most dream,
few succeed.
Always comes
To curl in
his patch of dirt
Rest up awhile
before he’s off
Legs twitch,
lips release
A half yelp in sleep
dream sounds
Only dogs hear.
Urge tickles
his ears, jumps up
and he’s off

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I put this 3 minute video together of my gardens and a couple of other shots which I have taken over the past two weeks. To view in full screen, click on the small square at the bottom right hand side of the video box. You know how computers can be: give the little darling a minute to buffer. Norah Jones sings "Come Away With Me." I hope you enjoy it; it's just something pretty.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


This photograph was taken with a cell phone then sent winging across the internet to me. It’s my grandmother's telephone. The number on the dial is still hers. Though if you call, she won't answer, because at ninety-nine, she lives in a nursing home. Nor would she remember that was her number. I can almost feel the warmth of my grandparent’s hands radiating from the receiver. They would have had that phone number probably since the late 1940s. It would only have had the last four digits; the prefix and then the area code would have been added later as the population increased. I remember when they had a party line. My grandmother was put out when the phone company told her that she couldn't have a party line anymore and would have to pay more money. I should probably disconnect it. Though my grandfather died sixteen years ago and then my grandmother lost her mind, to disconnect the phone and give up the number feels too final a disconnect from them. This doesn't make too much sense, because I don't visit my grandfather's grave anymore. I used to take my grandmother there and fix the grave site up every year. I would clip the shrubs on each side of the head stone, plant a couple of geraniums and smell the thyme creeping through the grass over my grandfather. Sometimes I'd lie on the grass and say things to him which amused my grandmother. But since she's been 'gone,' I don't bother anymore. I’ve heard that grave sites are rarely visited longer than three years after the burial anyway, but I still don't want to give up the phone number. My daughter, the one who wants to be an astronaut, the great-granddaughter of the phone owner, took the photograph. She regards that telephone as a Flintstonian antique and can’t get over the dial. It's as inconceivable to the budding astronaut that a phone line could be shared as the concept of the cell phone would be to my grandmother. There was a time when she might have found it fascinating that there was such a thing and beyond belief that it could include a camera. I'm not sure she could ever have grasped that additionally, the photograph wasn't on film and was sent through space to my house onto a computer. She has lived through the development of television and its integration into practically every home in the world, space travel and the invention of the computer. However, the telephone evolution would have been too much for her to handle. Communication was never her strong suit.

A Nod To The Mundane

Once given the highfalutin' name Quiscalus quiscula, the Common Grackle was ignored. Maybe that's why they make so much noise. Could their raucous calling be a demand for respect and recognition? "Hey! Listen up! We are the Quiscalus quiscalaea from Mooselookmeguntic!" This ubiquitous bird has adapted well to man's presence on the earth. Not endangered in any way, it's a maurader that eats anything, even garbage. It's a crop raider descending on fields in whorling dark flocks and can strip a homeowner's feeders clean in no time. Pale yellow eyes and gleaming, metalic feathers evoke sinister armour. Lock your doors and hide the children! The Quiscalus quiscalaea are here!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I took these photographs on Friday, all on the same day, all in my gardens, all grown by me.

Goose, Gander And In Between

These goslings aren't downy, bitty babies anymore, so I guess that makes them teenagers. They can't fly nor are they yet trying to do so. Vigilant and protective Mom and Dad ushered them into the water quickly when they realized I was there. I wanted to get closer for better shots (always!), but when I started off the road toward the marsh I was suddenly up to my neck in Poison Ivy! That will teach me to venture from the confines of my car! I picked a tick off myself, too. Fortunately, I was fully clothed for once.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I took these shots a few days ago at the mouth of the Kennebec River by Fort Popham. There, the Ospreys and seals were busy catching Alewives, not the Sand Dabs that they are after at my house. When the Ospreys were right over my head, looking for fish, it looked like they were checking me out for lunch! They have impressively large, sharp talons which could scalp a girl in no time flat. That is, if they didn't become hopelessly tangled in my hair, which would be bad for us both. Who would you call in a situation like that? The fire department to come with the Jaws Of Life or a good hairdresser? It would be a wound that would be hard to explain in a hospital emergency room, especially if I was in my bathrobe.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Selective Adoration

This is a juvenile Red squirrel. It is small enough that it could sit comfortably in the palm of your hand. They are destructive little critters that chew everything in site and will make a huge mess in an attic or eave. They are voracious bird seed eaters. We have platoons of them because we feed the birds, so we feed them, so they make more of themselves. We have altered the balance of nature in the course of promoting and enjoying a different aspect of nature: birds. The Red squirrels are almost at the point of being a problem for us that we will be obliged to do something about. But, then I look at this adorable little mug and think "What could I possibly do to hurt it?" I'll think of something.

The American Goldfinches are quite busy at the feeders. I give them what they want. How could I not when it looks into the window at me like that? There could be a million of them and I think I'd be glad, unlike the Red squirrels. Seems kind of unfair in a way, doesn't it?