Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Swallows of Aberdeen Manor

(Apologies if the photos are a little dark and grainy, I had to take them through the front windows of the shop or the little guys would shoot off and wait for me to leave!)

For the last five or six years we have had these fabulous little birds nesting under the canopy at the front of the Manor. They are fast as lightning, and really difficult to actually see up close in order to identify them. I've had folks tell me they were Chimney Swifts, Barn Swallows, and the like. I made it my mission this year to find out exactly what these little guys were.
So, the definitive answer is (drum roll please!) they are---tan-ta-da----Cliff Swallows!
Now you say, "Huh? There are no cliffs at Aberdeen Manor!" which is true, but the overhangs over the drive up area, to them, are "man made cliffs". These are apparently very adaptable little birds that have decided to embrace man made structures such as bridges, buildings with overhangs(bingo!) and other structures that offer them the protection they need.
So this morning, while I was sitting in our screen porch, watching the goldfinches and cardinals at our feeders just outside (I feel like such an old lady to say that, but I absolutely LOVE watching the birds in my backyard! I have been trying to attract some hummingbirds, but just haven't found the right spot for the feeder yet, but that's another post!)
Here are a few facts about our little feathered friends at Aberdeen--

They only eat flying insects, so they have to migrate in order to have food throughout the year. These little 5 inch birds fly all the way to Venezuela for the winter! (Hasn't anyone told them that Florida is closer? And heaven knows they have lots of bugs there!) The swallows can't return to our area until there is an adequate food supply, so they won't come back here if there is still a danger of a frost. Consequently, once you see the swallows you know it's safe to plant those petunias! A friend of mine said that in 25 years, he has never seen a frost after the swallows have returned.

These are the same birds as the famous "Swallows of San Juan de Capistrano" in California! How cool is that!

They return to the same area every year, once they have become established, and sometimes they reuse their nest from the previous season, and will repair a broken or worn nest (the basic "handyman's special/fixerupper nest!) and then reoccupy it.

Their nest is kind of like an upside down igloo. It's made of daubs of mud, each daub carried by the birds (both the male and female of a nesting pair build the nest, aaawwww) in their mouth from a river, lake, or even a mud puddle back to the building site. Each nest can contain over a thousand daubs of mud! It only takes them a week or two to build a nest though; that's a lot of flying, and a lot of mosquitoes for energy!

They lay 2 to 6 little brown speckled eggs in their nest that take about 15 days to hatch, and then they are kept VERY busy providing food for the babies. We frequently see the swallows swooping and divebombing over the parking lot, catching bugs for themselves and their babies. Gotta love those guys!!!

This spring the swallows got back a little later, and some English Sparrows moved into their nests and took over. We could tell because they dragged a bunch of grass and the like into them. So instead of going back to the front canopy where their nests were up 14 feet in the air, now they are building a nest under the canopy to the shop, which is only about 8 feet up.

The poor little guys get scared every time someone walks in or out of the shop, and they take off and leave. Many times, I'm not sure who is more startled, the bird or the customer! They are harmless though, and they won't hurt anyone.

We have also had many people over the years come in from the big canopy in the front, in a panic, and tell us we had "hornet's nests" up under the canopy (this is usually after a couple of Carol's Cosmos, but that's another story!)

Needless to say, we are going to do all we can to encourage these little guys to stay. They keep the mosquito population down in the garden which is something we REALLY appreciate!

Next time you are at the Manor, look up! And check out these amazing little birds!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our New Pergola Initiated

Sunday evening was our first wedding in the newly rebuilt Pergola in our garden. Most people that were there probably didn't even realize that anything had changed since it looks exactly like the old one.
This last winter was very hard on our old Pergola, and toward spring we noticed that the columns all had long vertical splits in the wood. Not good! Going on its eleventh year, the top had also seen better days and was beginning to show some rot and peeling. Jim has painted it just about every year, but there's only so much you can do.
So we decided to bite the bullet and replace the entire structure. Unfortunately, you don't just walk into Menards and buy columns that big, so they had to be ordered and the delivery date was set for May 12th. The new columns are made of fiberglass, and won't split or crack. But they did have to be sanded, primed and painted. The bases and tops also had to be primed and painted.
Jim knew that there was no way to complete the new pergola before the garden wedding we had scheduled for the 15th, so he went out the Sunday of the weekend before, and filled all the cracks with putty, sanded and painted the rough spots, and madt e the Pergola presentable for one last performance.
Of course, it poured down rain on Friday the 15th, and the wedding was moved to the chapel--isn't that just Murphy's Law!! Our Saturday evening wedding was planned for the chapel all along, so, of course, all the plentiful sunshine was on Saturday!
They did take a lot of their pictures in the garden on Saturday, so it wasn't totally for naught.
We knew though that there was another wedding scheduled in the garden for Sunday the 24th, so Jim and his crew were hard at it, all week, getting the old Pergola torn out, and the new one constructed in its place, before the Sunday wedding. When they came for their rehearsal on Saturday morning, the 23rd, they had the workmen there to stand in as their audience, because they were still working on it! They finished up about 4 p.m. on Saturday. Phew!!
It looks absolutely beautiful now; perfect, and freshly painted with a new coat of white paint. No one would ever know that it wasn't the original. And the garden is looking absolutely amazing! Dorothy and her crew have been weeding, watering and planting for several weeks now, and their love and attention is evident. There are a zillion chirping, singing birds out there, nesting in the trees and enjoying their beautiful home.
I remember when we chose all the plants and bushes for the garden 11 years ago, and they all looked so small. Well, no more. They have matured and grown, and it has become the "secret garden" tucked away from the road and the honking cars. It's so private and secluded.
So Sunday evening, in nearly perfect weather, 70 degrees or so, sunny with a light breeze, Scott and Michelle said their vows under the new pergola. And all of us breathed a sigh of relief that it was finished!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oh the Times They Are A-Changin'!

I did it. I finally did it. Yesterday I joined the ranks of the Crack um uh, Blackberry users. Well "users" is a term I have to use loosely, because I'm not sure I could even make a phone call on it yet without reading the instruction book.
My children gave me a hard time for years because I stubbornly held on to my brick of a cell phone, just because I KNEW HOW TO WORK IT! That's the thing, I have so much technology I have to keep up with in my life and in my work, one more thing was more than I could handle!
I still don't know how to work the remotes for the television, but that's because other than a couple select programs, I don't watch television, so I don't need to really know it. And besides, that's why I have Jim! HE knows how to work the remotes for the TV.
For me though, being in touch with our couples and being accessible and reachable is really important. I want to be able to give them immediate feedback when they email me. So now I have a Blackberry.
So if you email me in the next couple days, and you get back something unintelligible that says it was "sent from a Blackberry" now you'll know that it was me, just trying to figure the darn thing out!
The salesman at AT&T said that I would hate it for the first few days--he was definitely right about that! But he says after a week I will feel better about it and after a couple months, I will love it. I am waiting patiently for the love. Argh!