Nature Walk: Home again, home again, jiggety jig

Skeletal remains of ninebark flower. (photo by Anita Barbour)

Skeletal remains of ninebark flower. (photos by Anita Barbour)

For the last month and a half of my stay at Northeast Center for Rehabilitation and Brain Injury in Lake Katrine, I watched spring gain ground day by day. The setting is urban but with habitats that accommodate common wild birds, mammals and insects. These I observed through windows in my room, and more closely on therapeutic walks around the grounds. I also examined plants, wild and cultivated, familiar and unfamiliar to me.

Birds that frequented the peripheries of the buildings were mostly common urban species — starlings and house sparrows especially — but also tufted titmice and robins as the weeks passed. Surprises included crows foraging in a mowed field, a purple finch that dropped by one day, and hawks, ducks and vultures flying north overhead.

A surprising encounter occurred between two kinds of bird — tufted titmouse, a native species, and a starling, an invasive bird introduced from Europe in the early twentieth century. By late morning, after the breakfast hour and after Anita had arrived for a visit, the bird bustle had settled down. Suddenly and without apparent provocation, a titmouse in the honey locust outside my window attacked a starling on a nearby branch. Startled and intimidated, the larger bird flew off. The titmouse continued its aggression, following the starling out of sight.


With the brief incident in the tree over, our attention turned to the slightly larger and scrappier crows as they took over the mowed field, snatching and swallowing big earthworms from wet spots covered by tamped-down mower clippings. Could it be that the crows were sneaking in to nab the robins’ traditional cuisine while the redbreasts were preoccupied elsewhere?

As in city parks, squirrels and chipmunks found fair pickings (occasional snack scraps, tree flowers), and a resident woodchuck munched its wild salad along the border where mowed field and scruffy woods intermingled. My first day in the fifth room I occupied, the one with the view of the eastern lawns, the unit manager, Francine, said I should keep an eye out for red foxes and deer coming out of the woods, but I never saw any.

Spring butterflies that appeared to be resident in the mowed field were cabbage white, introduced from Europe, and common sulfur, a native legume-feeder that has adopted clovers as its caterpillars’ host plants. The largest butterfly I observed was a spicebush swallowtail nectaring on dame’s rocket, an introduced plant of the mustard family that resembles phlox but has four petals rather than five. In large concrete pots were money plant (Lunaria), another mustard, whose flat seedpods (known as siliques) were green and unripe, and bleeding heart, one of our favorite garden plants. In the lawn were birdsfoot trefoil and some common weedy legumes (e.g., least hop clover and white clover).

A wetland along an asphalt walking path was dominated by common reed (Phragmites). Unusual planted shrubs included Hydrangea cultivars and bush honeysuckles. Planted trees included crabapples, native white pines (Pinus strobus), shadbush (Amelanchier) and honey locusts (Gleditsia tricanthos and cultivars).

Spider with binoculars, looking for birds.

Spider with binoculars, looking for birds.

Home again after months of rehabilitation and exercise of brain and body, it feels good to get back to nature — my own, and all that surrounds me. I’m grateful for all the support and kindness extended to me. But it’s especially good to get back to Nature Walk again.


Editor’s note: And it is especially good to have you back again, too, Spider.