Spring is here, in all its glory. It is our most extravagant season. Each day spring flaunts something new to dazzle your eye, titillate your nose, send your spirits soaring and boggle your mind with splendor.
The pussywillows on the aspen trees are dangling in the spring breeze. Their soft, gray fur coats protect the flowers from cold nights. The alder catkins are even more resplendent, having elongated into pure golden yellow earrings rich with pollen that floats on the wind to fertilize the female cones. Both of these small trees are usually full of bees, but they are strangely silent this spring. Has the strange malady decimating honeybee hives also affected our wild bees?
Usually the sweet scent of the striped squills in my garden also attracts the bees in such numbers that I must take care not to disturb them while working, but they too are silent this spring. Perhaps it was just too cool and windy today, but I fear for the bees. Hopefully the next warm, sunny day will bring out a few more.
A pair of little voles have taken up residence beneath the woodpile near our feeder. They scurry out to grab a sunflower seed or two, then dash back to the safety of the stone wall and woodpile to eat their bounty. I know I should get rid of them now, for they will soon have young who will be eating my garden, and come fall they will all be trying to find a way into my house — but they are fascinating.
I am enjoying watching them scurry to and fro among the chipmunks, birds and squirrels. I am not positive what species they are, but I believe they may be red-backed voles. They are supposed to occur here, according to “A Field Guide to the Mammals of America and Northern Mexico” by William H. Burt and Richard P. Grossenheider. As their name implies, they have a definite reddish cast to the fur on their back as compared to their soft silver-gray sides. They also have a bit longer tail than a meadow vole but a much shorter tail than a deer mouse. Their small ears barely protrude out of their fur. They are quite handsome little creatures.
Last of all, this week brought the first house wrens to the area. Trisha Tofte reported the first one from her yard in Kittredge a few days early, but it was one of those nice spring days with a warm southwest wind. We usually expect our house wren to show up on or about May 1, but they can arrive two weeks earlier down on the flatlands as near as Chatfield Reservoir. It is Jimmy Wren who shows up first. He is usually bubbling over with song, claiming territory and preparing to out-sing all comers. He will also busy himself looking over every crack, cranny, nest box, hole, flowerpot or clothespin bag to see if it will serve as a nesting cavity. They are not fussy about where they put their nest as long as it will hold plenty of sticks. Jimmy will work at a frantic pace for about a week before Jenny arrives. By then, he has selected several possible sites and half-filled them with sticks. When Jenny Wren arrives, he takes her on a grand tour of his territory, showing her all of his proposed nest sites. She looks them all over and then chooses the one she likes best, or more often than not she doesn’t approve of any of his sites and chooses one of her own.
Their nest is usually built of large quantities of small sticks, but they will use whatever is readily available. Art Morse told me of one he found in a bluebird nest box in Genesee, which was built almost entirely of sharply pointed roofing nails. All of these nails were taken from a box that had apparently slid off a contractor’s truck onto the road nearby.
Once the cavity is largely filled with sticks, nails or other bulk items, Jenny builds a small cup of fine grasses, horsehair and soft plant fibers, which is always placed at the back of the nest with a long narrow tunnel leading to it. Thus, they are fairly well protected from raccoons, snakes and other predators. Young house wrens are striped brown miniature editions of the adults. There may be six or seven in an average brood, and they fly with a short buzzy flight when first out of the nest. The adults gather them all together and with help and encouragement get them all back into the nest for the first few nights after they have fledged. A remarkable feat!