Our yard brims with a chaotic beauty of blooming bright yellow sunflowers and the slurred sweet notes of lesser goldfinches. At dawn, I open the window (despite the wildfire smoke) to listen to the clickety-clicks and wing hum of rufous hummingbirds–their hunger for nectar palpable and their quick, feisty chases of each other bewildering. Aren’t they using up fuel they will need for their long migration to Mexico?
A neighbor’s rooster crows. I tune my ears to decipher our many bird friends joining the goldfinches–pine siskins, pygmy nuthatches, mountain chickadees, house finches, and juncos.
California quail will be arriving on foot after their night sheltering in a spruce tree. They fluster down to hide under our native manzanitas. Once sentinels are in place, the flock ventures into the open to peck at the seeds fallen from our feeders, and drink from our bird baths–so vital in this drought. Their quick motions are all topknot forward, their bodies chunky, and feather patterns ornate.
I’m grateful for the wild tangles of bird and bee-inviting sunflowers–some ascending 15 feet high to send their rays up to the sky–as if to beam light into the smoky morning sky tinged in the palest of pink. Within our forest are other blooms of late summer–purple asters, goldenrod, cone flowers, hollyhocks, rose, rocky mountain bee plants, blanketflowers, black-eyed Susans, and a few poppies, too. In a shadier corner by the kitchen window, mountain hollyhock and columbine wink lavenders and reds among the jumbled mock orange, spirea, Jacob’s ladder, currant, and an understory of wild strawberry, with a few ferns tucked in.
Our pollinator front yard is a profusion of native and domestic plants shifting in flowering by the season, and extending about a half-acre from our front door almost to the road. We re-wilded in 2017, a journey I recorded in a 2019 blog,“Our Garden for Wildlife.”
This year, things did get a bit out of hand. You have to duck to make your way out from our front door to the gate. The tunnel of sunflowers, asters, and hollyhocks buzzes with bees in the full sun. If lucky, a hummingbird might eye you from a perch a hand’s grasp away. Wes suggests in his gentle way that maybe next year, a little more clearance?
“Did you plant all those sunflowers?,” my niece Becca asked during her brief overnight stay on a cross-country trek with her best girlfriend. I took them on a tangly tour–a chance to feel like a very small Alice in Wonderland within the layered flower forest, where such a density of plant life also retains moisture in these dry times.
“Hmmm…originally yes, but not this many. They are multiplying. I think the birds are helping…”
This time of year, all we do is water (minimally), shore up fallen sunflowers with stakes, keep bird baths full of fresh water, and supplement with hummingbird feeders, suet (for woodpeckers), and bird seed. Earlier, I did take regular patrols to ferret out sneaky invaders–from thistle to lawn grass, and ponder at plants I was not sure about–weed or not? Often, I turn to that mostly helpful App called Seek (linking to INaturalist). Mostly, I honor the plants growing into thickets harboring birds, insects, and chipmunks and lizards, too. I admit to leaving one monumental mullein plant and just now learned of the medicinal qualities of our roadside “weed.”
One of my favorite activities is to either stand or sit under the bird feeders surrounded by the jungle. You never know who might come in close, like a chickadee on my Iphone earlier this summer. The other day, a hairy woodpecker gripped a tree trunk —motionless. I slowly backed up to give her more space.
Whenever lesser goldfinches land on a flower, or leaf, they bounce and sway like children in a playground. All around are flutters, peeeers, suwees, chimes, chippy-de-dees, and hummingbird wings burrring by like practicing an Irish brogue.
I’m also lulled by Wes’s creative water feature–pairing his love of collecting rocks with a practical metal oil pan (never used for changing oil) and a well placed hose like a fountain. Later on this same day (continuing the post) a Wilson’s warbler flew in to sip and bathe from the overflow below as Wes and I ate our dinner close by and birds came close in the evening light. The little bright yellow bird with a snazzy black cap signals a turn of seasons from summer to fall, restlessness, and the astonishing ritual of migration. Our haven is giving him a boost of water, cover, and plentiful insects on a journey as far south as Panama.
…Dawn of a new day as I ready to share our singing sunflowers to a wider audience. Again, I open the window to the campfire smell of smoke from fires in the Cascades and whistling, humming, and chanting life all flourishing within our self-willed garden of hope.