Pastoral Peep Show

THE REAL DIRT

July 10, 1994|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

I am sitting on the back porch, enjoying our new home entertainment center: a hanging basket filled with cascading pink geraniums and a nest of chattering baby birds.

No cable television for me. I have my own Nature Channel, thanks to a family of finches that has moved into the neighborhood.

Where did they settle? Not in the trees or any of the birdhouses that surround our place. No, these birds passed up ordinary lodgings, landing instead on our porch, where Ms. Finch built her nest in the center of a 12-inch basket brimming with geraniums and hanging from the rafters.

Somehow she managed to nestle in there without disturbing the flowers. Then she laid her eggs. Then the eggs hatched.

Now the hanging basket, which we bought at a nursery, has become a nursery itself. Not to mention a pleasant diversion for people sitting on the porch.

Though they are hidden from view, the baby birds, we know, are rustling around amid the dark, leafy foliage and large, pink blossoms. The basket shimmies and squeaks. The flowers quiver and quake.

Whenever we water the plants, they chirp.

We don't share this story with passer-bys. Instead, we play up our plants' "hidden" talents.

"Our flowers are more than just a pretty face," we say proudly. "They also sing and dance."

It's true. Stop by at feeding time and watch the geraniums. They put on a darn good floor show.

Who knows why these birds chose to raise their brood amid out potted plants? I'm just glad they did. Of course, they might have mentioned they were coming instead of sneaking in one day and scaring the heck out of us.

Imagine sitting on the porch on a warm summer evening, listening to the sounds of silence, when suddenly a hanging basket begins screeching and swinging wildly overhead.

Now that I know who's there, I could watch the birds' antics for hours. Once, when Ms. Finch was out foraging, I stood on a stepladder and peeked into the basket, brushing aside the flora to catch a glimpse of the fauna. The babies heard me coming and broke into a chorus of peeps. I followed the sound and peered inside.

Snuggled there among the plants, their hungry mouths agape, the finches looked like six Venus' fly-traps waiting for breakfast to fly by.

The birdies have bewitched everyone in the household, including Patrick the cat, who has found the hanging basket to be several feet beyond his grasp. Not that Patrick hasn't tried to drop in for a visit. He climbs to the porch railing, leaps high in the air . . . and always falls short of his mark. Usually he tumbles to the ground in a soft bed of pachysandra.

Ms. Finch chose her nesting spot well.

I hope her offspring will also make this their home. There are plenty of bugs here for birds to eat. Insects abound in our yard, and beleaguered gardeners like myself can always use the help.

Last week, under cover of night, a band of marauding cutworms raced through my vegetable patch and destroyed two rows of cucumber seedlings, leaving only the stumps. The young plants, who'd been born that same day, never had a chance.

We've also been terrorized by an army of earwigs, those lTC horrid-looking insects with pinchers on their backs. Earwigs devour everything, including marigolds, which are said to repel such invasions.

I've seen fewer earwigs of late, thanks to Ms. Finch. But there are other signs that nature's cavalry has come to the rescue. I found a piece of snakeskin beside the compost pile, four birds' nests in a dead birch tree we spared for just that purpose, and a half-dozen toads hopping around the yard.

The largest toad hopped out of a bed of perennials, not far from the finches. Patrick found him quite by accident after one of the cat's ill-fated leaps toward the birds.

When Patrick hit the ground, the startled toad jumped into the air. When the toad landed, the cat flew up in surprise. Then it was the toad's turn again. For awhile, it appeared the two of them were playing on a see-saw.

Finally the toad scurried off across the patio. It was then that I noticed he was missing a limb. The toad seemed to have been born with one front leg. Not that it mattered. He still escaped from Patrick, not to mention Ms. Finch, who buzzed them both for disturbing her nest.

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