Monday, March 31, 2014


Pond Gets Busy
Tiny Ducks, Big Heads
Female Has a White Cheek
"Hey, Baby..."
Hooded Merganser and Bufflehead (Both Males)
Smallest Ducks on the Pond
Buffleheads bob on Elmira Pond.

The ice is gone and the ducks have returned. Blue Heron came back and I swooned, even writing him a poem. I never write poems. Call me unstable at the moment--I have bird fever. I'm pondering where to put up ladders to improve my view of the ducks and tromping all over the horse pastures with camera, binoculars, bird books and coffee.

I'm giddy and may need a straight-jacket by the end of the week if I keep this up.

Texting duck updates to my daughter, auto-correct changes "buffleheads" to "knuckleheads." At the moment, the latter might be appropriate. The buffleheads are acting foolish, like grown cowboys in a bar when a lone female sashays into the joint. Three male buffleheads and one little female just bellied up the pond.

It's like the ducks are grunting the universal phrase for, "Hey, Baby..."

Buffleheads are so named because they are a little duck with a great head like a buffalo. The males are the whitest duck you'll see on water, but they have a blackish-purple head with a large white patch extending from eyes to crown. The female is a blotchy dark gray duck with a white cheek patch.

She may not be hot by glamor standards, but she has these males acting like smitten knuckleheads.

In courtship, the males bob those big heads. They all swim near the female, head-bobbing like duck rappers. Their music is a loud chattering. They're divers, and one male keeps diving beneath the female like he's trying to see up her skirt. The males rear up on water, skittering half in flight, half running. They charge at her, at each other and even at the lone hooded merganser who's like, "Hey, I'm waiting for my own chick to show up. Back off."

What's even more outrageous than what's happening on the pond is my mania to watch it. I cross the horse pasture and prop my camera on the corner fence post. Standing next to a pile of deer poop, I shoot pictures like a paparazzi having discovered Madonna and three boyfriends on a secluded beach. I giggle (I do this a lot during bird season) and click pictures of the knuckleheads on Elmira Pond.

Enjoy the peep show:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Warrior, My Hero

Pond soldier on duty, 
Neck like a coiled spear,
Long legs like a Welsh bowman, 
Gladiator's chest,
Yellow knife for a beak,
Blue cloak of slender feathers,
Black khol mating mask,
Stealth-stalker of bull-frogs,
Martial artist still among reeds,
My warrior,
My hero,
My Blue Heron.

And So Our Hero Returns
Blue as the Pond
Patrolling the Perimeter
A Happy Sight to See
Stealth Stalking
Great Blue Heron March 29, 2014
Blue Heron romanced me into bird-watching on Elmira Pond. Never had I seen such massive elegance so close over coffee. With wings spanning six feet, it's hard to miss the Great Blue Heron who resides at Elmira Pond.

Every morning from May through September, I'd call for my bird-love from the south porch. I'd sing "Blue Heron," to the tune of Andy William's "Moon River." Sometimes, feeling overly-caffeinated and bluesy, I'd sing "Blu-blu-blu heron," like a jazz singer or mountain beatnik. He'd flap his wings in response.

My warrior, my hero. Blue Heron saves me from sonorous bull-frogs that trumpet loudly on summer nights. The sound would overwhelm Elmira if it weren't for his appetite. I've seen him gulp down full-grown frogs for breakfast and dinner like a soldier chowing down in a mess hall after three days in the field.

He's tall enough to keep the eagles seeking easy meals elsewhere, thus protecting the pond's brood of ducks and mergansers. Yet, he welcomes osprey and kingfishers, sharing the hunt. Every summer day, over coffee or evening cider, I'd see Blue Heron and feel romanced. I'm a bird-watcher in love.

And then he left.

No croaking good-bye, no final flap of feathers. Blue Heron was gone and I felt the emptiness of my pond. So I waited for snow, turned inward for my thoughts, inside for my coffee. Staring at flames replaced staring at feathers.Then just this week, late March, the ice melted upon the pond. Ducks returned and I thought of my gallant Blue Heron once more.

This morning, I'm a complete bird-nerd. It's barely 48 degrees outside but I'm juggling a cup of coffee, binoculars and my camera as I settle into a white plastic chair on the south porch. My phone is pocketed in a denim shirt I'm wearing over an orange tee and cream turtleneck so I can text duck updates to my daughters. My hair is pinned haphazardly to my head; fashion is not the goal.

Just like in the romance stories, the hero walks in looking steely and gorgeous while the protagonist is half-dressed with mussy tresses, Blue Heron returns in all his colorful glory and I look like a frump. Not that it matters to him, I'm sure, but I'm stunned.

Blue heron is back!

Spilling coffee and kicking over the binoculars, I stumble off the wooden steps in heavy leather boots and trot to the fence. He flaps his wings and glides over the pond. Would cars on the highway understand if I whooped and hollered as if Hugh Jackman just pulled into my driveway all wolverine-like?

Maybe not. But my hero is home.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Nests & Breakfast

Greetings feathered friends! I'm your inn-keeper on Elmira Pond. From this day forward all dogs will stay leashed. Sad for them, but I respect your nests. Feel free to frolic, dabble and dive. There's plenty of rushes and mud for nests. Eat what you'd like; our specialty is bull-frog. 

Everything is organic; I pull noxious weeds by hand so you might have a healthy stay while at Elmira Pond. Watch out for bald eagles and the local murder of crows. Crows like eggs and eagles eat ducks. I'll yell at the eagles if I see them bullying my guests. 

Don't mind me with my camera, binos and books; I'm only watching and writing. You might end up in my novel.

                                ~ From my imaginary guest pamphlet, 
                                  Nests & Breakfast on Elmira Pond

A Pool of Their Own, March 23

Blue Membrane of Ice, March 24
First Guests, March 24
Open Water Attracts First Bufflehead, March 25
Bufflehead in Flight (Note Full White Patch Under Wing)
Mallards, March 25
Male Hooded Merganser, March 26
American Wigeons, March 26
Floating Bufflehead, March 27
Geese and Wigeons Dabbling, March 27
Indeed, I do feel like an inn-keeper at the beginning of tourist season. Guests return, and there's such life in this place that it feels electrified; lights blazing. Trucks, tourists and trains trundle past my house on Hwy. 95, probably never seeing the bog pond that lies cupped in a slight bowl beyond the horse pasture. It seems unimpressive, yet it runs deep beyond smooth banks of rushes and grass. In summer, the grass grows so tall, it looks hidden. Yet divers plunder this pond's depths for fresh fish and frogs. Dabblers nibble aquatic plants and insects. Horses, deer, elk and moose draw drinking water from its pools.

It's a migratory duck haven. My inn-keeping duties are light--after all, I don't have to prepare breakfasts or make nests. I simply keep dogs away and commit to organic practices. In return, I observe and record. Often I'm wrong in what I think I see, but it's not about being right. It's about being present in the moment; experiencing the birds; witnessing miracles of beauty flashing bright as any star.

In one week, the pond has shed its ice, and the moments have begun. I welcome back my feathered guests to Elmira Pond.

March 23, 2014: Ilya falls through ice thin as egg-shells. Later in the day two Canada geese paddle in a pool of their own in the only open water on the pond.

March 24, 2014: Ma and Pa Goose return to their pool, bending beneath the water to nibble at plants. They honk at everything that flies overhead, having claimed this spot of water. Today the ice is so thin you can see it ripple beneath the membrane of ice. Wind will hasten the melt.

March 25, 2014: It's early morning and Todd takes out the dogs to pee. I'm yawning at the upstairs window, blurry-eyed from sleep, thinking about returning to the warmth of my bed. Like a compulsive, I check the ice status every morning, and I'm thrilled to see most of it gone. Then I see white floating on the pond. So soon? Open water is like displaying a neon sign. Already we have a new guest. My heart pounds as I grab the binoculars. It's a's a bufflehead! I grab my camera and get the first few duck shots of the new pond season.

Bed, as tempting as it was 20 seconds ago, no longer calls. I'm scoping the pond and see tawny little ducks floating in a cluster. Two pairs of mallards coast past, looming large. I never realized how big mallards are. I adjust the binos and look at the little ducks with white crown stripes that dip all the way to gray beaks. American wigeons. They wheeze, "peep, peep," like a cute child's toy. All day, I'm running from window to window and getting as close to the pond as I dare without frightening the guests. In one day the ice is gone and the ducks are back. One day.

March 26, 2014: How quickly my morning routine evolves to include the window with its overhead view of the pond. I'm already wondering when Blue Heron will return. I can't stop going to the window. There's the geese, the mallrads, the wigeons. The bufflehead returned. Yes, no? I see the white head. He dives. Buffleheads dive. The wigeons dabble. He surfaces; white head, white chest. Wait, that's wrong. I look harder...then I see the long black beak. Merganser! It's a hooded merganser! Funny how the big head of the bufflehead looks like the big hood of the merganser. I'm happy-dancing in the window.

By evening the pond gives off its first hatch; fish rise. Life is so fast, so miraculous. Had I blinked I would have missed the moments between ice-melt and re-birth. But I'm not missing the ducks. I gaze often and giggle out loud.

March 27, 2014: Bufflehead, hooded merganser, wigeons, mallards and geese all grace the pond.  I'm watching for Blue Heron. Daily. I'm watching.

I'm the inn-keeper of Elmira Pond.

Monday, March 24, 2014


A Waxing Moon on Promotion
Partying Until the Sun Comes Home
Gazing Back
Like Lancelot in Blue Jeans
Glory of a Full Moon at Dawn
A New Kind of Moonshine Over Sandpoint
When the sky unmasks its armor of cloud cover, moonshine lights up Elmira like big-city lights. March was an exceptional month given the the cooperation of an unguarded night sky.

As if the moon were on a promotional campaign, it followed me around like an Internet ad. Todd, the dogs and me all piled into the car to drive to Sandpoint around sunset. We turned east toward the Bonner Mall and there it hung brightly above the colors clung to the Cabinet Mountains in a reflection of the setting sun. It was a spectacular joust between moonrise and sunset.

The next morning it hung above Elmira Pond as if it had been partying while the sun slept. The white orb glowed in a pink sky that reminded the moon to go home and sleep it off for a while. It just hovered, not willing to go and seemed focused on my garage. But eventually, the moon left.

Clouds hid the next moonrise. Yet sometime during the night, I awoke. Stepping out of the shaded dark of my bedroom I was surprised to find my office area lit up. Blinking my eyes, I staggered to the south window to see the moon peeking through clouds like a brilliant eye. Unsure if I was gazing or was the object of gaze, I settled the moment by snapping a shot of the moon.

Perhaps tucked away in a crater of the moon is a photo of me.

Two mornings later, March 16 the sky dawned like Lancelot in blue jeans. In the periwinkle twilight prior to casts of pinks and orange, the full moon blazed over Elmira Pond in all its lunar glory. I felt like Queen Guenevere, gasping at the beauty of the exposed knight, still shining without his armor. Like paparazzi unable to hold back the camera, I snapped photos.

And then it was gone. Clouds and moonless nights have returned, but something new is on the horizon. My favorite place to eat in Sandpoint, the place we always go to for burgers but end up eating smoked ribs and jambalaya, Sweet Lou's, now serves a new shot...


If you visit Sweet Lou's, try the cherry moonshine and wink at the bartender like the moon or a shining knight in armor.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Soggy Socks

Guests at Elmira
Ilya Digging Gophers
Jasper Pond Gazing
Playing Dog Detectives
Stuck on an Island
Pawing Eggshell Ice
Soggy Socks
Coaxing Ilya
Braving the Wade
Wet-Dog Shake
Ilya Drying by the Fire
A skiff of spring snow coats the pastures and two cars in our driveway. Elmira Pond has guests. My daughter Allison is visiting from Missoula, seeking the ranch solitude as she revises her graduate work--an hour-long radio script about remediation in the Treasure State (MT).

It's Sunday morning and my daughter knocks on my bedroom door. Peering in she asks, "Mom, do you want to go for a walk?" Her two huskies wrestle like wolf-pups in anticipation of walking the pastures and pond. Not wanting to miss a minute with my grown daughter, I get out of bed and into boots and heavy jacket.

Ilya doesn't waste a minute. As soon as we pass the horse gate into the south pasture he lopes to a gopher mound and digs. Allison sips tea and I snap photos. Jasper gazes longingly at Elmira Pond. We can hear pileated woodpeckers pounding tamarack bark that direction. "Let's walk around the pond," I say.

Allison calls Ilya, and we walk through another pasture to get to the pond. A red-winged blackbird and seed-seeking robins chortle. Two crows pass overhead cawing to the murder that awaits them across the train-tracks. Migrating birds are returning, but still the pond is a slab of ice with some pooling at the edge.

Huskies race ahead, edging around the pond like furry thoroughbreds. We slog behind, stepping from one frozen mound of grass to another with water gushing from beneath the ground like a living sponge.

In essence, Elmira Pond is a spring-fed sponge with a deep pool. How deep, I really don't know, but deep enough to contain fish and interest osprey and mergansers. The spongy, grassy banks attract frogs that in turn attract Blue Heron.

It's a thriving pond.

The huskies spread out, noses to the snow-covered grass, trailing mice and other alluring scents. Jasper seems content to play dog-detective, but Ilya is hunkering in that odd way that animals do before a leap. He's at the lip of a creek that flows out of the pond, south into the abandoned pastures of Bluebird Ranch.

He jumps, landing on the edge of the ice and breaking through. We both hold breath as the 85-pound dog flounders in deep water. How deep is Elmira Pond if its overflow is beyond the lanky legs of a husky? Ilya claws his way up to what we know realize is an island of grass.

It's that moment from "A Christmas Story" when the schoolboy, Flick, is dared to touch his tongue to the playground flag pole--he cries with increasing panic, "Stuck? Stuck...stuck!" That's the expression on Ilya's face. He's stuck on an island, surrounded by deep water and eggshell ice. And he's panicked.

Allison is relieved and tries to coax him back. But Ilya has slunk from confident hound to terrified kid. He paws at the water, trying to obey but afraid to step. Allison now walks around the creek, treading carefully across a narrower spill of ice-covered water and is walking to the other side of the island.

But an island, is an island; surrounded by water. Ilya is good and stuck. I'm left to guard over Jasper lest he tries to get to Ilya, and together we stand in a sinking bog. If my socks are getting wet, it's worse for Allison. She steps off a hummock of grass into water that pours over the tops of her boots. Her yelp let's me know that it's really cold.

Ilya continues to paw at water and whine. I'm thinking if my daughter goes into the water, I'm next. This soggy-socked rescue is not going well. Finally, Ilya musters the courage and plunges into the creek on the other side of the island. It's belly-deep and he treads across.

Once on the other side, he's so happy he runs to Allison. I'm so relieved. When Ilya reaches her, he gives a full-body wet-dog shake. Now Allison has more than wet socks. The huskies reunite and romp back toward the pastures. And again, Allison and I slog behind.

Back at the house, I start us a fire and brew strong coffee while Allison towels off Ilya on the porch. He then stretches out before the fire, smelling of wet dog. The order mingles oddly with woodsmoke and java.

My daughter and I laugh at the sprawled dogs and go change our socks.

This is our soggy, silly story for Sunday. Join host blogger, Everything Susan, for more Silly on Sundays stories.