Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The hawthorn

From the kitchen window, I could barely see it.
A cardinal’s nest tucked high in the tangled branches of a small hawthorn.
It was the activity there, that caught my eye—Mama and Papa repeatedly arriving with fat, juicy green caterpillars for a family in a nest of sticks and stems.
But I never saw their faces, until Sunday.
When they caught someone else’s eye, too.

Even from an upstairs window, it was hidden well. Dense leafy branches and an occasional long thorn discouraged me from searching further.
A single broad reaching mouth, the only visible sign of life.

Papa was easy to recognize in the yard. A bad case of feather mites had eliminated every last remnant of his glorious red crest--his entire head, where he could not preen, bald and black. With a cheerful, “chip,” he tirelessly arrived with food.

By Sunday afternoon, I’d resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably never see the growing chick attached to the gaping mouth.
One day, she’d just be gone.
The messy sticks and stems would fall loose with autumn leaves.
And Papa would again be brilliantly feathered at the feeder.

But just then, from across the yard, an alarm sounded.
From the back, I came running to the base of their tree, while Mama and Papa looked on, frantically crying out.
Wrapped around the trunk, in a mass of vines—a large black rat snake slowly climbed through the branches.
The nest, just feet away.

In the time that it took me to release him back by the pond, all had grown quiet in the hawthorn.
An unsettling quiet that hinted of loss, and made me wonder if I had arrived on the scene moments too late.
I ran upstairs to peek down.
Yes, the nest was empty.

But at the very edge of the highest thorny branch, a fuzzy brown lump.
And a mouth that looked very familiar.

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Lynne said...

Nina I'm so glad you were there, watching and listening and sensed their alarm.
In the last photo the little fledgling looks so small and vulnerable.

She sure is strange! said...

Oh my heart was in my throat!!!! Isn't nature glorious though?


Ruth said...

What a story! I wasn't cheering for the snake. You solved a mystery for me. I have a picture of a Yellow Warbler with a similar black, bald head. I had no idea what could have caused it. The warbler was singing anyway...

Susan Gets Native said...

Oh, good bird! Smart, brilliant little bird!
(My heart was up in my throat, too!)

NCmountainwoman said...

What a moving story, Nina. There are just some times when we HAVE to intercede and not just observe the nature around us. This day you saved a little Cardinal and that's the important thing.

KGMom said...

Nina--you'd think all the thorns on the hawthorn would discourage the black snake.
We just planted a hawthorn in our front yard--to one side--and I am amazed at the size of the thorns.
No cardinal nests (yet)--I can only hope. As for black snakes, I have never seen any snakes around our very suburban location.
Good save!
Kittens, hummingbirds, cardinals--what's next?

barefoot gardener said...

What a hero!

Old Wom Tigley said...

Wow Nina this heldme spellbound... I was on the edge of my seat again reading one of your post.. I've not been visiting much ths week but what pleasure it is to catch up on your posts.. love the wee nest of the hummers.

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

Awwwwh! And, Whew! I'm glad the baby is safe. You're a braver person than I to relocate the black snake.

You're a masterful storyteller, too!

Bird Feeder Scott said...

Whew! Quite a save! That is an incredible tale. The chick on the branch is so lucky you were there.

Mary said...

Oh, Nina. Why do we continue to expose ourselves to this? My heart was in my throat. Wonderful ending...

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a happy ending. We too had a Cardinal nest in the Hawthorn tree. The babies are out now. The Cardinals seemed to do well in our garden this year. Yipee...

Cathy said...

Nina. I knew when I rounded the bend anticipating the delight - that I would not be disappointed; that you would soon have me peering between leaves and along the roadside, alternately laughing and fighting the sob in my throat.


And this line:

' . . .Snug and warm as a fine woolen cap.'

Smiles and smiles. Thank you.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Oh. Lump in the throat. He's just right for fledging; cardinals go so very young. I'm sure the snake was a hint he couldn't afford to ignore! Go baby! Go Nina!!