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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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Column: Nature at arm's length

Published 4:39 pm, Tuesday, April 22, 2014
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They're here!

Really. This time, it's true.

Daytime temperatures rise to mid-60s, goldfinches flit around the bird feeders and the male spring peeper frogs just can't seem to sing loud enough at night! Bleeding heart and Lenten rose are growing fast, and some squirrels have already had their first batch of babies, as of about four weeks ago. I try to remember that when driving the roads. If I am unfortunate enough to hit a mother squirrel with my car, it's not just her that suffers but her babies in the nest, too.

They are dependent upon their mom for nourishment until about 12 weeks of age. So, as they say in Swahili, "Polepole" (pronounced "poleh, poleh"), "Go slowly, go slowly."

I was outside in my backyard the other day sitting at the picnic table underneath an umbrella when I discovered three things.

The first was a call that I didn't know belonged to a tufted titmouse. He was chirping back and forth with another, up in the tree branches, a bird on either side of me so it was in stereo.

I grabbed my binoculars and very quickly peeked from under the umbrella in time to notice who it was making the calls. Most birds have quite a few songs in their repertoire. It takes time to get to know them all.

Then, sitting back in my chair making a few notes, I noticed what I thought was a stick moving on one of the narrow steps leading to the hill on which my tent sits. I figured the stick was caught in a crevice and being held vertically, was being moved slightly by a gentle breeze. Upon closer inspection, I spied a garter snake climbing, in its slithery way, up the moss-laden stairs. He noticed me approaching with my iPhone to take a few photos and stayed perfectly still. As I returned to my chair, he left to find a sunny spot on a rock or tree stump to enjoy the warmth of this bright, spring day.

Finally, as I was looking through my binoculars up into the tree tops, I saw a perfectly round hole drilled into what appeared to be a half-dead maple. The tree was about 25 feet from me and about twice as tall, with ivy vines growing all over and around it.

Moving an inch sideways to the left, I saw another hole, the same size, just below it and then another below that one! They were maybe a foot from each other, perfectly spaced. Were there neighbors living in a condo or was it a multilevel, single family colonial?

Our home sits on half an acre. There are five houses immediately surrounding ours. We are on a busy street that parallels Route 1. It takes me 10 minutes or less to walk to I-95 and 20 minutes to walk to the fourth busiest commuter railroad in the U.S., Metro-North. Darien is 98.5 percent developed, yet these three discoveries were all made in my backyard within half an hour on the afternoon of April 1.

No fooling!

Nina Miller is a Darien resident.