DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE
By Jane Brown
I love the long unfolding of our Southern springs. My daughter, Lilli Brown, and I recite all the multisyllable Greek goddess-like names of the flowers as they emerge — camellia, hellebore, forsythia, daffodil, narcissus and wisteria. We call the dogwoods’ blooms “suspended snow.”
I moved to Chapel Hill from the cold, dreary winters of Ann Arbor, Mich. I remember walking across the UNC campus for my job interview, marveling at the blazing azaleas around the Old Well. In the Midwest, spring lasts about two days between the interminable winter and a short, hot summer.
I was happy to get the job here. And that first spring, living in the aptly named Spring Garden Apartments off Purefoy Road, I learned about the less magical side of all this floral activity.
Pollen. Great clouds of it, turning everything a dusty yellow. At first, I thought I had a spring cold, but then realized that everyone was sneezing, blowing their noses and rubbing their eyes. Maybe all our face masks this spring are helpful on the pollen front.
I also was thrilled by the birds’ morning chorus as they called for mates and established their nesting territories. This spring, at our home on Lakeshore Lane, we have discovered at least six nests around our yard. The chorus is a full-blown orchestra.
Lilli, a graduate of the wildlife rehabilitation program at Lees McCrae College in Banner Elk, N.C., has helped us identify our musical neighbors. The red-shouldered hawks’ screeches are the high-pitched oboe as they fly to their big nest in the crook of our tallest loblolly pine. The male bluebird’s burble to his mate in their box by the lake is a sweet clarinet. The house finches who returned to their last-year’s nest in the chocolate vine sound like the string section tuning up.
I still get The New York Times delivered every morning, because I like reading the paper version and because our long-haired dachshund, Zeke, is our official newspaper delivery boy. Every morning, Zeke proudly picks up the paper in its blue plastic wrapper and runs down the drive into the kitchen still gripping the paper.
I keep a bag on the back porch for the used newspaper sleeves, which I use as doggie pickup bags. This morning, when I tried to stuff in another bag, a wren flew out. I spied her stack of sticks among all the bags. We’ll have to find another plastic bag receptacle!
For the first time, a pair of mallards decided that our overgrown mondo grass is the perfect place for their well-camouflaged nest of five eggs. Mr. Mallard patiently sits with Mr. Canada Goose on the lake bank as if they are expectant fathers in a maternity ward. The males squawk and quack and fly to their respective mates when they emerge once or twice a day for a bath and a bite to eat before returning to their maternal duties.
We know from past springs that all the incubating eggs in our yard face daunting odds. Not all will hatch. Those that do must compete with their siblings for scarce food. What if one of the parents is hit by a car or maimed by the neighbor’s cat? The ducklings and goslings will face the hawks as well as the turtles, snakes and largemouth bass in the lake.
Lilli counsels us about how we might help if we see fledglings or their parents in trouble. She says, “If you see a bird fall out of its nest, try your best to put it back in. It’s not true that touching it will cause the parents to abandon it.” If you can’t find the chick’s nest, you can call CLAWS Inc. (919-619-0776) or Our Wild Neighbors (919-428-0896), our local wildlife rehabilitation centers. They may be able to take it or help you figure out what to do.
What can we do to prevent injuring birds and other wildlife? Lilli says, “Don’t litter. Even organic trash, like apple cores within 100 feet of the road, attract wildlife.
“Keep your cat indoors. At all times.” Lilli acknowledges this can be a difficult choice. She recommends something called a Catio — a screened porch for cats that will allow them to be outside and see but not attack wildlife. She calls this “birdie TV.”
Put up birdhouses. “If you find a nest, let it be, even if it’s on your front door. Use another door!” Lilli says. It’ll be for only a few weeks, and you’ll get to watch the hatchlings’ development and their parents working hard to keep them fed.
Soon it will be summer again, and we’ll be lamenting the heat and humidity. In the meantime, I’m going to try not to complain about the pollen, keep an eye out for how we might help more of our flying friends live long lives, and enjoy our backyard entertainment in this magnificent seasonal moment.
Jane D. Brown, who writes a monthly column for The Local Reporter, was a professor in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for 35 years. She and her family and pets live in Lake Forest.