American Robin Fall Flocks

This morning I looked out the window and saw a multitude of mature male and juvenile Robins scattered over the yard and in the shrubs. There may have been some females mixed in, but they were all moving and flying from one low shrub to another, and I only got good looks at the dark-headed mature males and the spotty-breasted juveniles that stood out. Flocking provides some level of safety, since there are more eyes and ears alert for potential danger, as I witnessed this morning. One bird saw me while I was in the kitchen, and he took off, immediately causing all the others to move across the yard. The females may still be raising their last brood of the summer, and when those young fledge, they and the females will be joining these flocks, too.

American Robin sketches

These birds are most likely ones that nested in our yard or neighboring yards and woods this year and last year or were just hatched this summer, as Robins typically return to the same nesting area year after year. They’re preparing for winter and for their fall migration now, eating worms as they can find them (somewhat scarce due to the dry conditions right now), insects, and berries. We have some magnificent pokeweed plants that are the size of shrubs, and the berries are just now ripening– a bountiful feast for birds.

When food supplies diminish in the fall, most of these birds will be flying to points south, not necessarily the same places as they’ve gone before. Some stay in the north, so though we often look upon our first Robin sighting as a harbinger of spring, we may just be seeing an overwintering bird. Birds that stay north will mostly eat fruit (berries and other fruits they can find), but there isn’t enough for the whole population, so many fly south where food will be more readily available.

Fingerprints of God in Springtime– Prayer Guide

Last year’s Robin’s nest

This time of year is exciting for birders, as spring bird migration is in full swing, and there are also numerous birds courting, gathering nesting material, and sitting on eggs. I’ve been watching a pair of Robins in my yard in the past week; each day for four days the female laid an egg, then sat on them keeping them warm. Now there are two little nestlings and two eggs, which I expect will be hatching over the next couple of days. As I see new life unfolding with the leafing out of shrubs and trees, the blooming of all sorts of flowers, and the exuberant life of birds, I am reminded of God’s creative work that is constantly happening in this world. This week let’s look at some passages that tell of God’s work in the natural world and how creation can speak to us about God.

The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
    they sing among the branches.
 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
    the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work…
The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests…
Psalm 104: 12-13, 16-17

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made… Romans 1:20

Monday: Ask God to open your eyes and heart to see his invisible qualities in the ways he makes them apparent through his creation.

Tuesday: Think about ways in which God’s eternal power has been made evident in creation recently. Let your mind dwell on God’s power. Worship him in awe!

Wednesday: Look around at springtime unfolding. Meditate on what you see and ask yourself what it tells you of God’s divine nature. Praise God for the ways he reveals his nature in nature.

Thursday: Ask God to renew a sense of wonder in you, so that as you observe his creation, you will be seeing reminders of God and be drawn closer to him.

Friday: Look for opportunities to share about God’s nurturing and creative nature with others as you share your appreciation of and joy in springtime.

Saturday:  Praise God that he leaves his fingerprints in the world as a means of revealing himself to those who have eyes to see. Take time today with God, enjoying some aspect of his creation with him.

This year’s Robin’s nest



Castor canadensis
Beaver Field Sketches

On Saturday Stephen and I went for our usual evening birding walk down the rail trail. We usually walk in along the north side of the lake, where we can get a good look at Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, and sometimes a variety of duck species, as well as warblers in the shrubs and woods. This time, though, we walked down the rail trail and cut in beside the south side of the lake and then around behind it, where I hadn’t been before.

We heard a call that was familiar but couldn’t place it at first, then saw our first Osprey of the season flying over the lake- such a beautiful bird. Then we saw a ripple in the water moving in our direction. A beaver! We do occasionally see beavers swimming across the lake, but usually from a greater distance, and not swimming in our general direction. We stopped and stood still, Stephen with camera in hand, me with pencil poised over the sketchbook in which I had just been sketching the view and jotting down bird species as we saw or heard them.

The beaver swam along the shore, pausing several times to look in our direction. I don’t know if he saw us, since their eyesight isn’t great, but perhaps he smelled us. To our astonishment, he swam to a muddy spot on the shore about six yards from where we were standing and climbed out onto land. He came a few feet closer, till he was about 10-12 feet from us, then stopped and looked at us briefly, before turning and going back into the water to resume his swim along the shore.

I’ve always loved rodents and have been fascinated with beavers, since they are the second largest rodents in the world (after the capybara of South America). North American beavers are typically 40-60 pounds but can occasionally reach 100 pounds. The beaver we saw seemed on the large size to me. I am not experienced with estimating beaver weight, having never before seen one up close on land, but I am pretty good at estimating dog weight, and I’d estimate this fellow’s weight at over 50 pounds, possibly even over 60.

We left the beaver swimming in peace and, as it was rapidly getting darker, we headed back. Once on the rail trail, I looked back and saw our beaver friend silhouetted in the dim light as he crouched on a fallen tree in the lake, eating his dinner. A wonder-filled walk by Lake Walton.

A few facts about beavers:

  • mate for life and give birth to 1-6 kits in May or June
  • young stay with their parents until they are 1.5 or 2 years old
  • one of the few species (including humans) that modifies their environment
  • eat leaves, bark, twigs, and aquatic plants
  • can remain underwater for 15 minutes
  • have special transparent eyelids to cover their eyes underwater
  • can close flaps behind their long incisors to keep water out when carrying sticks or gnawing wood underwater
  • can live 20-30 years
Beaver swimming
Beaver on land

More Sketches from Acadia National Park

Back home now (I got home a week ago), I am still putting finishing touches on some paintings, as well as getting back into the routine of life at home. Actually, I should say that I am working on developing a new routine for life at home. During my time away I had lots of time to think and evaluate how I do things on a daily basis, and I realized that, much as I have valued quiet time and solitude, I haven’t done a great job of consistently living with a peaceful rhythm to my days. Somehow the demands of life in an overly connected world, along with the alluring draw of the internet have resulted in a feeling of being scattered and constantly available and pulled in several directions at once. While at Acadia National Park, I had no cell signal (what a blessing!) and, as a result, I found that I was more focused in a relaxed way that caused me to be much more “present” with myself and my environment. So now I am working on incorporating some of the lessons I learned, so that I can live with a peaceful rhythm even as I am connected and involved with the world and people around me. I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but I am hoping to make progress.

Here are some of my sketches from my time away. I have still more that I will post sketches in another few days. I’ve also posted some of my finished watercolors on my website (Melissa Fischer’s Art ). If you click on the images, you’ll be able to see them large enough to read my notes.)

Gannets diving
Maine coast rocks

Otter sketches

Red-headed Woodpecker

A couple of weeks ago Stephen and I had the tremendous privilege of a brief morning visit by a Red-headed Woodpecker! I was looking out the kitchen window and I saw a woodpecker on the far side of one of our hanging feeders. All I could see was the lower part of the bird’s belly, a bit of tail where it was pressed against the bottom of the feeder, and a very faint glimpse of red, before he (or she) moved his head behind the feeder. But something about the amount of white I saw and something about the shade of red, even in the very dim morning light, caught my attention. I grabbed my binoculars and hoped the bird would show more of himself before flying away… And he did… A Red-headed Woodpecker! A first for both Stephen’s and my life lists and a first for our yard.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker


Snowy Owl

Watercolor 7.5×5

I was out cross-country skiing on a golf course today and kept hoping to see a Snowy Owl, but if there were any in the area, they stayed well camouflaged. This has been one of those winters when there are many sightings in our general area, but most seemed to have been when I was in Florida, so I missed them.

Snowy Owls are the heaviest owls found in North America. They spend summers north of the Arctic Circle, where they hunt lemmings, small rodents, and other prey. Often hunting during the day, unlike most other owls, when they migrate to the northern United States during some winters, they can frequently be spotted on open fields and airport runways. Young have dark bars, with males becoming whiter as they mature, while females keep some dark bars throughout their life.

Thank you to my friend Carol Hickey for the use of her beautiful photo for a reference for this painting.

PJ– July 2001 to May 28, 2013

PJ was my friend Sarah’s dog, and I got to know her well while I was pet-sitting when Sarah would travel. Later on PJ spent a fair amount of time with me and always fit in as a sweet, happy member of our family.

It was a kind of grace to be
PJ’s friend. She came to Sarah as an unsocialized, semi-feral puppy, and Sarah slowly, patiently taught her to trust. Over time PJ became more and more social and ended up loving people, but when I first met her as a two-year-old, she was still quite
reserved. I immediately felt an affinity for this shy, camouflaged
sprite, who so loved being quietly outside by herself, and I always felt
it was a gift and a privilege to have her trust. Sarah often said that PJ had the same personality as I, but in a dog’s body. Maybe that is why PJ and I connected right away; I felt as though we understood each other without words.

PJ was an observer. She spent much of her days watching and waiting in eager expectation. Hour by hour contentedly watching a tree in which she knew a squirrel sometimes foraged. Waiting patiently for a woodchuck to come out of its hole. Watching and waiting while a squirrel walked within a few yards of her on the deck. Weather rarely deterred PJ, and she would frequently ask to stay outside when the other dogs came in.
Watching the Horse Chestnut tree on a rainy day

Watching the world with her, whether slowly
meandering through the woods on leash, investigating every interesting
scent, or roaming fields searching for something moving subtly under the
grass, or sitting on the deck with her watching her watch a tree for hours, opened my eyes to much
that I may otherwise have missed. During times when I might otherwise have been stressed, PJ often helped cultivate a peaceful spirit in me, attentive to easily-overlooked but fascinating aspects of the natural world around my home.
My shadow and PJ, enjoying a winter woods walk

 I miss the gentle tap on my elbow or soft poke behind my knee that were
her quiet ways of saying, “Hi, I’m here with you.” I would turn to see
those bright eyes, that sweet expression or happy grin, and her wagging tail. I miss the
thump, thump, thump of her tail on the floor whenever I’d look in her
direction. I miss her uniquely beautiful ears that would twitch slightly in my direction to greet me, when she was “watching.”

PJ, beloved scruffy girl, I miss
your gentle spirit and quiet zest for life. I will watch and wait and remember all you taught me.

A young PJ, in pencil
watercolor sketch done in the field
How to Appreciate a Tree, by PJ

My Lawn is Not a Proper lawn

No chemical carpet here, but a tousled medley of grasses, wildflowers, and color. My sister echoed my thoughts, when she said it looks like a fairytale. Wandering through the grass and flowers barefoot inspired me to write this:

My lawn is not a proper lawn
It has more other plants than grass.
Some people call them weeds, I know
But here I welcome them as friends.

Dandelions, Buttercups, Speedwell, Violets
dot the earth and add bright color.
Clover grows rich and dark,
 feels cool and soft beneath my toes.

Ground Ivy spreads her purple robe
under trees, throughout the shade;
Blackseed Plantain and other “weeds”
Are lush and green through summer’s heat.

My lawn has life and shape and color
Always changing, ever bright.
I like it just the way it is
And never want a proper lawn.

Sugarloaf Hike and Black Rat Snake

Yesterday Stephen and I hiked up Sugarloaf, a steeper hike than we remembered, but well worth it for the view. At the top I sketched the fascinating, signature stump that has been there for as long as we’ve been hiking there, Steve read, and we both enjoyed the sunshine, the Turkey Vultures swooping by, and the river views. (Click photos to view larger)

On our way back down, we saw a 3-4 foot long Black Rat Snake that had clearly just eaten a large and rather pointy meal. As we watched he (or maybe she) calmly slithered to a nearby tree, climbed the tree and disappeared down a hole in the tree.

You can see the bump where there was something pointy on whatever he ate
Mottled pattern of the Black Rat Snake
Heading up the tree
Almost at the hole in the trunk
You can see how high up the hole is

May Her Burrow Be Long and Warm and Dry…

It turns out the woodchuck is probably a female, so I guess she isn’t “Charlie Brown” after all.

My little friend went home to what may be her forever home with a rehabber
last night. The rehabber and I both think she has something neurological going
on, plus she’s way too habituated to people to be releasable, so Robin (the rehabber) will
most likely be keeping her. Robin LOVES woodchucks and was so
excited to get her from me. She already has seven woodchucks, two of which are
long-term members of her family, because they are not releasable for
various reasons. One of those is litterbox trained and roams around freely in her house! I can hardly wait to go visit and see them

Anyway, Robin took my little woodchuck last night, so hopefully she is settling in now and making herself at home. I really enjoyed having her here for a few days, but am not set up for long-term woodchuck hospitality, so am glad I now know someone whose door is always open to another woodchuck.

Here are some of my sketches from the woodchuck’s time here (click on images for larger view).

 I wish my little friend well, and, whether her life includes chucking wood, or forecasting weather, or simply eating to her heart’s content (no gardens, please), may her burrow always be long and warm and dry.