Mabel and Gus (maybe it’s a duck)

For several years two mallard ducks have come to my bird feeders each Spring for early morning or pre-dusk meals.  It took a while to learn their names, but this year – finally – Mabel and Gus!  When I see them under the feeders, I feel ridiculously happy.  Gus will usually keep watch while Mabel enthusiastically scoops up mixed feed the sparrows and squirrels have scattered.  Eventually Gus will eat but he and Mabel are cautious and likely to lift off for no reason apparent to me. After they eat, they head over to the street to see if there is any water in the gutters – the past few days there has been plenty.

Last year I noticed that Mabel tends to determine how long the visits last – at some point she would walk away from the feeders and shake her head vigorously.  Gus would quickly move toward her and shake his head in the same fashion.  Next, both would shake their heads in unison and suddenly take flight (I observed this many times last Spring).  I looked for information about duck communication on the Internet, but came up empty on the subject.  Whatever it means, it is sure nice to have them back!

(The pink flamingo is an extra that my neighbor included at the feeder.  Mabel seemed puzzled by but interested in it).  Please excuse the poor photo quality – it’s hard to get pics of skittish ducks using a phone camera from inside a house through a window screen.


Indiana Spring

loving cows

Northwest Indiana is mainly pancake-flat with some gently rolling hills tucked around corners waiting to surprise. Driving a twisting road recently admiring the freshly-turned, neatly manicured fields which will transform into seas of corn stalks in just a few months, I was swept away by the beauty of Spring in the Great Lakes region.

Decorative grasses and a windbreak alongside a white frame farmhouse bent sensuously to gusty winds; forsythia bushes, untouched by pruning shears, were dancing flames. My car window was open and a pasture filled with black-speckled bovine exuded the earthy aroma of manure and sweet hay.  Red-winged blackbirds dotted fence posts and mallards tilted with a wind wall to reach a blue pond sparkling in a farmyard. First blooms on trees and shrubs along the road, shades of red, purple, delicate pink and white, provided a sudden splash of color relieving Winter’s grays and browns.

The spring-soft air tousled my hair and reminded me once again why people fall in love this time of year.

(originally published on on 4/16/2011 – edited for this publication)

Into the wild – sort of

A couple months ago, in late Autumn, I spent a very agreeable morning hiking through a state park with my favorite companion. I was mystified (and secretly pleased) at the small number of other people we saw at the park that day – to be fair, it was a Wednesday. Frequently, however, on visits to the park, I am left with the impression that we must be people of some consequence to have all this land, wildlife and simple beauty at our disposal – a private wonderland.

Efforts to move silently down the leaf-strewn trails were futile.  Crunching and scraping along, I glimpsed a doe furtively crossing the pathway far ahead of us.  No camera at the ready, of course, similar to a park visit several years ago that included an unnerving semi-close encounter with a GIANT turkey with several regular-sized turkey minions in tow…but that’s a story for another time.  Standing still in the middle of the park we could hear varied birdsong and see the occasional squirrel, chipmunk or groundhog scuttling through the foliage seeking food. Based on the number of walnuts I had already turned my ankles on, they would probably eat well once we vacated the area. A company of black-capped chickadees swoop into a tree nearby and sing their two-note song intermixed with the zippy “chick-a-dee-dee-dees”. As swiftly as they arrived, they were off again, their bouncy flight taking them out of visual range.

Our walk took us past a lake where, with binoculars, we saw a Great Blue Heron gracefully preening itself on a small rise in the lake. Such an angular creature, it was at first invisible amidst the slim trees jutting up from the little island on which it stood. Searching the water further with the binocs, we saw that logs, usually teeming with turtles, had only a few torpid inhabitants soaking in the late morning autumn sunshine – sunshine with a distinct golden hue rather than the lemony glow of a spring sun.

At some point I remembered my cell phone secured in my jacket pocket. Though it gets no cell service in the park, the camera works and I was able to capture a few images. My photography skills and the limitations of a somewhat dated phone do not do justice to the glory of a late autumn day in northern Indiana. I hope you enjoy the somewhat fuzzy photos.