Loss and Community

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My garden has experienced some losses in these past weeks.  About two weeks ago, as I was awaiting the landing of my Oregon Duck who was to visit for a couple of days before flying further afield and across The Pond to study abroad in the UK, I was strolling in my back garden and watching an oddly acting squirrel.  He was sitting on a branch, just under the Screech Owl brood house, in a nose-down position.  He was quite a handsome fuzzy-tailed rodent and he sat there for a long period of time.  I attempted communication, to which he didn’t respond, but suddenly, he crawled up the trunk of the tree and into the brood house.  I was gobsmacked.  Never would I guess that a healthy squirrel would risk a confrontation with an owl like that. I heard Mamma Owl clicking her beak at him in protest and warning, saw flashes of her feathers through the hole, and then witnessed her fly out of the house and land on the nearby Retama tree.

Poor Mamma Owl.

She was clearly confused and agitated in the Retama, but she didn’t fly back to her brood house.  I quickly retrieved our ladder, climbed aboard, and stuck a stick into the hole, thinking that if the squirrel was there he’d chatter at the stick and/or run out. Neither  happened. I don’t know if he ran out of the hole as I was fetching the ladder or was in hunkered down in the house, keeping quiet. I fear it was the second. Unfortunately, I didn’t see Mamma Owl for the rest of the evening.

The next morning, that squirrel was on the ground and I noticed that he couldn’t move properly–his back legs were partially paralyzed  when he crawled.  Though he didn’t move well or quickly, I  followed him hoping to get a better look and to check for any obvious injuries, which I didn’t see.  Meanwhile, Mamma and Dad Owl were in the Mountain Laurel, awake and alert.  The Mountain Laurel is the tree that Dad rests in during the days that Mamma is in the brood house with the offspring. As I was squirrel-watching, Mamma flew to the brood house, stuck her head into the house, tail feathers sticking out unceremoniously,  for about five minutes, before she settled in for the day.  I lost track of the squirrel when he crawled under some ground cover–and didn’t see him again.

I thought that all was well since Mamma was in the house every time I looked that day, but, in fact, that day was the last time I saw Mamma in the house, which means that the eggs or hatchlings ceased being cared for. What I now believe is that the squirrel stayed in the house overnight and the owls couldn’t tend to their offspring.  After checking the brood the next day, the parents abandoned their brood.

I fretted about it and hoped that I’d see or hear the owls–but didn’t for well over a week. A return call from an Audubon Society owl expert confirmed my suspicion:  the owls abandoned their brood.  I’d read that Screech couples will sometimes breed again if their brood is lost and the Audubon person suggested that we clean out the brood house.  There is a possibility, though not a probability, that the couple could breed again and re-nest before it’s too late in the year.  So Husband climbed up, cleaned out, and added fresh sawdust and leaves in the brood house.

These are the four little eggs that we recovered from the abandoned nest. IMGP7562.new

Sob.  More than likely, there will be no little owlets this spring in my garden.  I’m sure the toads and other prey are breathing a sigh of relief, but I’m disappointed.  I have heard Dad Owl and seen the bereft couple once or twice in a neighbor’s tree, but I’m realistic and believe that their chance to raise a family is finished for this year.

Additionally, in my fervor to keep my bee hives healthy (which they’ve been) and check for swarming signs (which there were), I think I may have rolled both queens in both hives.

This is just not my spring for fostering critters.

I’ve checked the entire set of boxes (three for each hive) regularly these past weeks and with Warre hives, rolling bees between the comb (squishing is another way to describe this), is a thing that can happen and in fact, did happen last year.  You think I would learn from prior mistakes.  Ahem.  I have an emergency order for two queens and am hopeful that I can introduce them successfully within the few days and save the hives.  Well, it’s really the new queens who will save the hives with their prodigious egg laying and reproduction for the next generation.  I’m only the facilitator of the event.

Fingers crossed.

For personal reasons, I’ve pulled my participation in the 2015 NxNA Garden and Artisan Tour this coming Saturday, May 2nd.  If you live in Austin, please consider buying a ticket ($10) for this fun community event.  All proceeds go to support Walnut Creek Metro Park and McBee Elementary School–good causes both. The $10 allows entry into private and community gardens.  What a deal!!   The private gardens are practical and doable home gardens designed, planted, and loved by their owners. The gardens on tour and their attendant and enthusiastic gardeners should inspire visitors to create, grow, connect :  for wildlife, for water conservation, and for preservation of green space.

Go out, tour the gardens, support community, and have fun!

 

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26 thoughts on “Loss and Community

  1. So sorry to here about your owls. The squirrel didn’t seem to come off very well either. You know, this living with wildlife, sharing their trials and tribulations, can be difficult on us humans. Do we intervene? Do we let nature take its course? So hard when we are an interventionist species by nature, in good and bad ways. Good luck with the requeening. Any room for seeing if they might magic up a queen themselves?

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    • Yeah, me too. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor loss and the natural world is tricky, at best. Your question is a good one: do we intervene? I lost track of the squirrel when I spent a few minutes on the phone with Austin Wildlife Rescue about bringing the squirrel in to them, though they weren’t much help with the owl situation. On a positive note and I’m very excited by this bit of news–Dad Owl was in the Mountain Laurel this morning, so…maybe? I’ll keep you posted.

      As for the bees. They were trying to re-queen–I don’t know if the original queens died because of something beside my ineptitude or if they were weak, but I’ve been snipping off queen cells for a couple of weeks. Duh. When we checked on Sunday, no queen cells and no fresh brood. The Husband is working on some Langstroth hives for next spring, but hasn’t had time to finish them. We really would like to keep Scar and Mufasa a-buzzin’ for this next year and then install two new hives, next spring. So much trial and tribulation. 🙂

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      • Talking about human intervention, is it appropriate or not, my husband tried to protect a blackbird on her nest from a jay in a supermarket parking lot yesterday. At some point he had to go in for some actually shopping. When he came out the nest was empty.

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  2. Nature in action can be tough to watch. Maybe there’s a chance the cool weather will convince the owls to try again. The NxNW tour sounds like a good way to get lots of gardening ideas with 24 gardens for just $10 it’s also a good deal to help out worthy projects. Hope the queens can save the hive.

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    • I agree. It can be quite painful to observe the drama involved in the world around us. I’m philosophical and (attempt) some emotional distance, but there are certain critters I’m besotted with and grieve when their lives end. I’ve witnessed owlets fall out of the house and die and last summer a neighbor tasked me to rescue a Screech owlet from their porch–poor little guy didn’t survive. So, it’s tough.

      I’m confident in the queens, but as to the beekeeper, well, the jury is out on that one.

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  3. Oh what a sad story. I was so hoping for a happy ending as I read. I wonder what made the squirrel do that in the face of the owls’ angry reaction. I do hope they will start a new family. Good luck with the bees.

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    • It is sad, Chloris. Sniff. I think that squirrel was off-I really don’t think a healthy squirrel would go into an established brood site and I think it didn’t leave which freaked-out poor mamma. The look on her face as she perched in the Retama was one of utter confusion and despair–my heart ached for her and Dad. But I am more hopeful this morning with Dad in the Mt. Laurel and I’ll keep you posted if I think there’s a new set of owlets.

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  4. It’s so sad about your owls. Hopefully, since it’s early yet, they’ll raise a new brood. It sounds from your description as if the squirrel was having some type of health issue to begin with, and to enter the owl’s house in such a manner is extremely strange! It’s really difficult when a person gets involved with nature and with the animals in their yards and gardens. I keep an eye on a number of bird nests and houses and root for the little ones, from afar for the most part, never really knowing who survives those first weeks and who doesn’t. I always see fledglings and the young ones who I just know should be out on their own already, but are still depending on mom and dad for food while learning how to hunt for themselves! Nature is amazing and funny and graceful and dangerous and at times evil. But there’s not much we can or really should do about it. That’s just the way it is, however much we’re saddened by it. Or gladdened by it! I hope these last few weeks have just been an odd blip on your radar and that things get better.

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    • I struggle with the ‘should I intervene, should I not’ conundrum, all the time, since my gardens are geared for and a attract wildlife. I think my role is to support the wildlife happenings–good, bad, indifferent–as best I can, without interfering too much. However, there are so many obstacles now for wildlife, it’s a wonder that there is as much diversity of life as there is. Onward.

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  5. I want to thank you for posting so frankly about what happened with your little owl family and your bees. So often garden posts (mine included) are so much about blossom or butterfly close-ups in a “Look! Isn’t this pretty!” mode. Beauty is a significant motivation for gardening, true enough, but such posts present a narrow view of the overall process.

    It is quite sad about the little owl family lost, though as you note, their potential prey, equally alive and living in families, will now perhaps be spared. Gardens are honest spaces, even if we gardeners (and garden bloggers) often choose to behave otherwise.

    I cannot make the tour this weekend, but went to the website and took the opportunity to donate directly to support the worthy causes the tour will benefit.

    Here’s to you, your honesty, your garden, and all its inhabitants, large and small.

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    • Firstly, thank you so much for the donation to the tour. It really is a great community effort–done by and for “real” people without pretensions of promoting the “perfect” garden–whatever that is. I must say that Mary Rudig, who is the mover and shaker of this community effort, has been terrific. Wow–what an effort to undertake and promote and all for the promotion of community.

      As for the post, I must admit that I do feel a sense of failure at these attempts to nurture and support wildlife in the gardens. Mistakes and loss are part of life and indeed, how we best learn.

      Thank you for reading and for your always thought-provoking comments.

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      • Failure. I hope you won’t continue to feel that way for long. Your garden is magnificent and supports so much life. Who can tell how the squirrel was injured or sickened? Their lives tend to be short and fraught with peril. But. Thanks to you it had a space where it could try to find refuge. Thanks to you the owls had a place to nest. It didn’t work out this year but the box will be there next year. The queens are dead but the hives remain. Loss is one of those things that never gets any easier for me but I hope failure is not the lesson or take away here. I like what Deb said about honesty very much. I prefer a world where everything isn’t sugar coated and I prefer reading blogs like yours where there is meaning and substance. ((hugs)) That said: I am so sorry for your losses and hope you can be good to yourself as you work through this.

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      • I’m just a little down about the losses. My garden is teeming with life and I’m proud of that–glad that I’ve chosen plants that are not only beautiful to me and other humanoids (:)), but important and nurturing to the endemic and other wildlife.

        As for my blog being an honest one, I’m glad you and TexasDeb think so! I don’t want a “pretty plant person” profile where all is well in the world (or garden) all the time. That’s not real. Onward into the next season.

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  6. Oh, that is sad. Sometimes nature is so cruel. The other day I witnessed a hawk swooping through my garden and picking off a very vocal finch on the side of a shrub. Its friend at the bird feeder froze in motion, which I understand is a survival instinct. Then, another day we found a headless baby rabbit, and were wondering what type of predator would do that (could have been the neighbors’ roaming cat? An owl? A fox?). Yesterday, I saw a squirrel eating the puffy buds off my Shagbark Hickory! I’ve never seen that before, and it makes me worry about the health of the squirrel and the tree. Sorry about your owls, your squirrel, and your queen bees. 😦

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    • For those of us connected to the goings-on of the natural world, we’re more aware of the daily calamities suffered. The loss of the owl family, or injury/illness of the squirrel pale in comparison to the deaths and forced homelessness of the hundreds of thousands in Nepal, Syria, and the many other trouble places of the world. But loss is loss, grief is grief. Our jobs as humans is to repair the world, as best we can, even if it’s only in our little back yards. You and I and all the others who garden, will continue our work, healing our little plots of the Earth.

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  7. This is nature in the raw but up close. Its a sad story Tina, I would of been anxious to climb up and look into the Owl box. As I followed your story I thought maybe the squirrel was going to predate the eggs. Its so much harder with wildlife than with domestic pets, we had a duck fly in with a damaged beak but we could not catch her so could not intervene or help. I hope she managed to feed. Good luck with your new Queen bees.

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    • Thanks, Julie. I’m optimistic about the bees, it’s just a matter of waiting until the queens arrive. You’re right and “raw” is a good word. Time will tell whether the owls can breed again this year or if they’ll wait until next. I hope your little duck made it!

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  8. The joy and heartbreak of nature. I feel awful for you and the wildlife. Our wood duck box is on a pole with a metal cone below it to keep squirrels and raccoons out. But the noise here keeps wood ducks from using it too. Sigh… Michelle

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  9. The reality of nature can be so frustrating. But it sounds like the owls took their revenge on the squirrel. What did you do with the eggs? I’ve never kept bees and don’t think I’ll start. I’d probably roll everybody or end up getting stung. Maybe your owls will come back next year.

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    • If the owls can’t breed again this spring, there will be plenty for them to hunt in the coming year and they’ll go for it next spring. I’m sad, but realistic. As for the bees, they’re fascinating. Aside from the incredible honey that we’ve harvested (really, it’s nothing like you’ve ever tasted), they’re just so interesting. Part of our angst with bees is that our hive method is a bit difficult. By next spring, we’ll re-hive with Langstroth, which will make our regular maintenance easier. Or so I tell myself.

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  10. What a shame for the owl couple, and for you, since watching these beautiful creatures is becoming a rite of spring here in Austin. I hope they’ll do a quick recovery and set up house again.

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    • I hope they do too, but it’s getting late for bringing up baby owls. The couple are still around and about in my gardens–I hear and see one or the other daily, but as to settling back into the brood house, that hasn’t happened yet.

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  11. So sorry to hear about your owl loss. Since I didn’t get any nesting owls this year, I must admit, I was looking forward to living vicariously through you. But, I’m sure they will be back next year and hopefully the pesky tree-rats (aka squirrels) will leave them alone.

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    • The loss of the brood was sad, really sad. The parents are still around though–I see them when I’m out at dusk. I hope they have enough to hunt for the year and that they stay away from cars and great horned owls, and they can have a family next spring.

      I like that name: tree-rats. That’s exactly what squirrels are.

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