This weekend both John and I had near misses with our respective lawn mowers. He’s actually got the riding lawn tractor to mow the three acres, the easement (driveway) and a bit into the woods to keep the path clear for us to check on the timber. I have the push-mower that I use to keep the grass in the vegetable garden trimmed. This was the first weekend in many weeks that the temperatures and humidity were reasonable, and the heavy rains earlier this week finally encouraged some growth among the grass. So….off we went on Saturday morning with our mowers, edgers and assorted gardening tools.
I was moving mulch down into the front garden to replace what washed away in the heavy rains last week when I realized that John had stopped the riding mower and hopped off. He’d begun mowing the path into the woods, which is a steep slope, and I always worry that he’ll hit a rock or a hidden tree stump and tip the darn thing over onto himself. But he was bending low to the ground and I could tell he’d found something interesting. He’s always stopping to move turtles on the lawn when he’s out mowing or Shadow’s tennis balls which she leaves everywhere. I was hopeful he’d found another box turtle. I put down my rake and walked over to see what was going on.
Huddled along the pathway just inches from the lawn mower blade was a baby bird. A few feet away, we found a second, bedraggled looking baby. The first youngster had his eyes open and hopped up and down vigorously flapping his wings, but he couldn’t fly. The second one had big chunks of feathers missing from his back; his eyes were still closed.
Judging by the frantic mockingbird that swooped and dive bombed us, we figured they were the mockingbird babies we’d suspected near that area this summer. We’d see the parents in the garden foraging for insects and always returning to a stand of pine trees near the forsythia at the end of the driveway. Sure enough, that’s where we found the babies.
Did their nest get blown down in the big thunderstorm last week? We looked high and low but couldn’t find the nest. The Cornell University Ornithology Laboratory website indicates that mockingbirds make nests anywhere from 3 feet above the ground in shrubs to 60 feet up in pine trees, so your guess is as good as mine where these babies came from.
We moved both babies off the path and after a careful search to make sure no other babies were in the path of the lawn mower, continued our chores. It’s three days later and both babies are, I’m glad to say, still alive. The parents continue to feed them and we sit on the porch and watch the adults bring them insects. They certainly move around a lot for little ones who can’t fly! Shadow found one yesterday at least 10 feet from where we’d last spotted him. She was so gentle with it…..she alerted us that it was in the grass on the edge of the driveway and just hovered over it so protectively until we could move him safely back into the shrubs. Our big German Shepherd is so gentle with tiny living creatures. It reminded us of the way she cared for Pierre when he was a 6 week old kitten!
And my near miss? I was pushing the lawn mower through the thick grass in the vegetable garden when a large toad – yes, another toad – hopped about frantically to get out of the way. Fortunately I was able to scoop him up and into the raised bed among the safety of the peppers.
So this week we saved three lives. Four, if you include the mouse Pierre stunned in the basement that I managed to scoop into a plastic container and carry out into the woods, still living, where he gratefully scampered under the leaves.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.