Most days I spend alone in my gardens and fields. The people I know think it would be kind of lonely all by myself day after day. But in reality, I have quite a few companions that keep me entertained throughout the season.
Each time I mow, the barn swallow family comes and joins me. They fly circles around the mower, performing dizzying feats of aerial acrobatics, breaking away from time to time to skim the surface of the pond for a drink. I know the mower kicks up lots of insects, and they surround me for the free meal. But I’m happy to help. And the other day, there were four fledglings that weren’t quite ready to get their own dinner on the wing. So, they perched on a wire, and all the adults took turns bringing them freshly caught treats.
There is one corner of the yard that is a bit more treacherous, though. It is by the tree swallow nest box. He also flits around me when I mow into his territory. But his acrobatics are in the form of kamikaze divebombs with my head as the target. And he can be vicious. Then he sits and gloats as I move on. He thinks he drove me out. Unfortunately, I have to come back on the next strip, and he takes up the attack again. It is a relief for both of us when I finish that section.
In front of my building, I have five very large pots of annuals, and on each lives a praying mantis. They have been there since spring, when I planted the pots, and I have watched them grow from quarter-inch hatchlings to 3-inch adults. They come out each time I water and watch me carefully. They are not sure if I’m a danger to them or not.
One of these pots is set in a flower bed, and there my toad comes out to visit as I water that pot. It has lived there for at least four summers now. There is a small D-shaped burrow where it sits during the daytime heat. But once the vines in the pot grow long enough, it will hang out under the large leaves. It’s eating bugs and garden pests, so I make sure to leave it undisturbed other than to say hi.
There are two stormwater runoff ponds that are lined with an abundance of frogs and turtles. Like biblical plague abundance. A stroll along the dam is punctuated with a flurry of soft plops and splashes as they all try to jump and hide underwater. Except most years, they don’t all fit.
And then, about this time of year, the herons arrive. Great blues and egrets stake out their territories around the circumference of the water and spend their days staring and stabbing. But if one shifts positions, everyone’s feathers pouf up, and they all rotate a few feet until all are equally spaced again. Meanwhile, the small green heron stalks in and out of the reeds scarfing up frogs wherever he goes. The others don’t seem to notice he’s getting all the food while they are showing how tough they are.
Many days we catch turtles trudging across the lawns to dig egg nests in the soft soil of the nursery beds. We dodge them as best we can, and I stick flags to mark the egg nests to avoid damaging them.
Several pairs of killdeers also make their nests on the bare ground of the nursery fields. These make piercing cries and then perform elaborate displays of broken wings and crippled legs to draw you away anytime you come too close to a nest. These we also mark with flags. Some days our field just flutters with flags, and mowing is a bit of an obstacle course. But it’s worth the hassle to know you are helping the next generation. And what fun to catch a glimpse of those baby killdeer. They are black cotton balls on stilts, running and darting.
Some might consider it boring to spend most of the day outside by myself. But I am surrounded by friends that keep me company and provide endless fascination as I go about my chores. Pay close attention, and you will find you have many creatures that call your garden home as well.