Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Friday, July 20, 2018

Green Herons

While this post has absolutely nothing to do with my writing, it is something that means a lot to me. I've been watching the nesting efforts of Green Herons at a pond next to our house for almost two months now, and although I have no scientific credentials whatsoever and am by no means an authority or even a pretender to any kind of knowledge of any kind, I have wanted to document some of my observations.

Second Brood - One Unhatched Egg
I repeat, I know absolutely nothing. (In fact, as I grow older, I've realized that I really do know absolutely nothing about anything.) I wanted to make that clear. The following observations and my comments are just that: my own observations and conclusions.

So, enough with that.

I noticed the first clutch or brood of Green Herons, Butorides virescens, on June 17, 2018. I saw a juvenile bird that still had down on its head, hanging around the pond. By June 19, I'd seen five juveniles, crowding around an adult and begging to be fed.

Before that, I'd seen adult Green Herons hanging around the dock and pond, and had watched a male adult calling from one of the pilings of the dock.

Unfortunately, by the time I observed the five juveniles, they were already out of the nest and exploring the tangle of vines and trees around the pond.

To my surprise, on July 3, 2018, I saw a new nest in a sweet bay bush overhanging the pond. There were 3 downy juveniles in the nest. I don't know if this was the same pair of adults re-nesting or if it was a second pair of adults. I suspect it was a second pair of adults since there would have had to be too much overlap between the feeding of the first set of juveniles and the activity involved in sitting on the nest for the 2nd brood, given the dates.

The second set of juveniles have allowed me to gather photographs and record the early life-cycle and activities of Green Herons. So the following is the information I've collected between the two sets of juveniles. I did, unfortunately, miss a 7 day period with the second set of juveniles, but it was unavoidable.

Although I didn't witness the actual mating behavior, I noted that by April 20, 2018, a male adult
Male Heron - Preparing to call
Green Heron was routinely visiting the pond area. He often sat on the dock piling nearest to the pond and softly called, mostly in the morning. I also saw him moving in and out of the shrubs, trees, and vines around the pond. He must have found a mate and built a nest sometime during the next couple of weeks, because this pair managed to hatch out FIVE chicks! What is more astounding is that all five fledged and dispersed to salt marshes and other feeding grounds around the nest site.

Since I first noticed juvenile Green Herons (the first clutch of five chicks) with down on their heads exploring the area around the pond on June 17, 2018, I concluded that the first nest must have been built around May 10, give or take a few days. This date was calculated based upon an incubation period of 19-21 days, and the beginnings of exploratory behavior in chicks about 15 - 21 days old. Note that all these dates are approximate. I figured that the first batch of Green Herons hatched around June 1, 2018, give or take a few days.

Second Nest - Unhatched Egg Lower Right
The first nest was too well hidden to see, but based upon the behavior of the juveniles, I believe it was built in a cedar tree well covered with Virginia Creeper and Trumpet Vines. It had limbs overhanging the pond, and the juveniles seemed to go in and out of that area. There were five chicks that survived out of the first nest. I do not know if there were any eggs that didn't hatch.

Chicks on July 3, 2018 When First Observed
I was only able to observe the second nest, since it was the only one close enough to an opening in the vegetation to be visible. The nest (the second clutch) was built out of small twigs in a sweet bay bush which was overhanging the pond. I was able to see the nest itself through a small opening under a swag of vines. A cascade of Virginia Creeper curved over the branches above the nest, helping to conceal it. The second clutch produced three chicks, but there was one blue-green egg that remained unhatched in the nest. Two weeks after first observation of chicks, one juvenile was no longer begging from the parents when they arrived. I assume that juvenile died at some point, about a week ago (sometime between July 9 to July 18).

Chick Development
Since I was only able to observe fairly recently hatched chicks in the second clutch (the first being too well concealed to observe), I'll start with them.

July 3, 2018 - 2nd clutch
Three Chicks in Second Brood
I first noticed downy Green Heron chicks, sitting in a nest with one unhatched blue-green egg, on July 3, 2018. There were three chicks, all with orangey-pink bills and covered with down. The adults were coming and going frequently, and regurgitated small silvery fish for the chicks to consume.

Based upon the available literature, the chicks were most likely somewhere around 6-8 days old at this point, so they may have hatched sometime around June 26 or so. They were all covered with grayish-white down.

Over the next couple of days, the chicks mostly stayed in or very close to the nest, but they were already interested in exploring. One chick nibbled at a nearby twig in exploratory behavior.

July 6, 2018
Feathers Starting to Push Out Down
The three chicks/juveniles were bold enough to venture out on a limb near the nest and flutter/stretch their wings.

July 9, 2018
July 9 - Feathers Developing
The juveniles are starting to show feathers (as opposed to down). The adults come regularly with food, and I noted that several juveniles from the first brood were still occasionally coming to visit "the old homeplace." When they came, if the adults were present, the adults would perform an aggressive display. Unfortunately, the fledged juveniles just ignored the adults (typical teenagers). But this first brood didn't seem interested in the second brood--they pretty much just ignored them, too.

July 18, 2018
Juvenile from 2nd Brood - Just a little down on head (30+ days old)
The juveniles from the second brood were almost completely feathered by July 18, with just a few wisps of down on their heads. They looked like they were approximately the same age as the first juveniles (from the first brood) when I originally noticed them at our pond on June 17, 2018.

We now pick up development from my observations of the first brood, since this development is still in the future for the 2nd brood...

21 Days Old
By the time the juveniles were 21 days old, they were making short flights and leaping around the shrubbery around our pond. I noticed one juvenile dipping twigs into the pond to lure small fish into striking distance (Green Herons are one of the few tool-using birds).

1st Brood Juvenile Returning to Nest Area (Age 60+ days old)
They still had down on their heads, but it was almost gone. The only way to distinguish them from the adults was that they were browner overall and their beaks were more orangey-pink than black, although the beaks were gaining more blackish color. I noted that at least one of the juveniles had a much glossier blue-green back and a richer, dark cap, versus the browner birds with more streaked caps. According to Bent's literature, I tentatively decided this was a possible male juvenile as opposed to the browner, lighter-colored females.

32 Days Old+
By the time the juveniles were around 32 days old (by June 23, 2018 for the first clutch), they were really exploring the entire area. They flew to the dock and the yard, as well as down to the small beaches nearby. While the adults continued to visit, I didn't see them feed any of the juveniles, although the juveniles still mobbed them when they arrived.

35 Days Old+
Juvenile Preening - (Age 35+ days)
The adults seemed to be "luring" the juveniles away to other feeding areas. I noticed the adult female arrive, and when she departed a few minutes later, two of the juveniles followed her down to a nearby salt marsh.

Over the next few days, the juveniles continued to fly to nearby salt marshes to forage during the day, but they usually returned in the evening.

By the time they were around 40 days old, they were pretty well dispersed. Some of the juveniles from the first clutch still returned to the pond, however. One day, three returned and took up positions on a perch they favored while "growing up."

3 Juveniles from 1st Brood Before They Dispersed
Between the two nest efforts, seven juveniles fledged. All five birds from the first brood lived to the point where they dispersed to forage on their own. I have seen as many as 3 return to the pond at one time.

The second brood was not as successful. Out of four eggs, one did not hatch, and one chick appears to have died at around two weeks. The other two juveniles are still thriving, however they have not fully fledged yet. They still have down on their heads and are making short flights/leaps around the trees surrounding the pond. The adults are still feeding them, as well.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Finished Love Lost

Ta-da! Love Lost, the third story in the Stainton Sisters trilogy is done. Well, not exactly done, but the major writing effort is completed. It just needs to go through my three editors now, and then Grace Stainton will have her story. Phew. It's a little late, especially since I still need to get it edited, but at least I am making progress.

These three stories will be launched by Scarsdale Publishers, and the trilogy follows the trials, tribulations, and mysteries the Stainton sisters stumble into after their father passes away. Three very lonely young ladies must find their own way as the 19th century pushes forward from the Regency into the Victorian era.

Only Friends - Martha Stainton
Martha, the bespectacled middle sister, is thrust right into the middle of a mystery by her old friend, Lord Ashbourne, much to Martha's annoyance. While Martha is trying to prepare herself for a life as an unwanted spinster in her aunt's London household, Lord Ashbourne seems more than happy to waste her time and talents as a chemist to uncover the real cause of Mr. Alford's dramatic death during a supper party given by the local magistrate, Sir Horace. Martha is convinced that Lord Ashbourne and she are only friends, unaware that he has other ideas, altogether, and his plans don't include her traveling to London any time soon.

A Debt Paid - Dorothy Stainton
As the eldest daughter, Dorothy takes it upon herself to ensure the happiness of the youngest Stainton sister, Grace, when they arrive at their aunt's home in London. Unfortunately, her aunt has plans for Dorothy, that rest upon Dorothy's marriage to Lord Arundell. Rumors abound that Arundell murdered his older brother and his brother's family in order to obtain the title, and Dorothy isn't shy about refusing until she realizes that if she doesn't marry Lord Arundell, her younger sister might be thrust into the fray in her place. So Dorothy reluctantly agrees to the arrangement to protect her sister and is soon involved in the strange mystery surrounding the handsome Earl of Arundell.

Love Lost - Grace Stainton
For months, Grace had believed she would soon return to her village of Kendle and marry the kind, but poor curate, Mr. Blyth. But then she receives a letter from her sister with the news that Mr. Blyth is planning to marry a rich heiress. Having discovered she is due to inherit a small amount from a distant aunt, Grace hurries to Kendle to see Mr. Blyth, only to arrive too late. Mr. Blyth is dead--newly dead, in fact--and she is found cradling his body by the brother of the heiress Blyth was to marry! She is forthwith accused of murdering Mr. Blyth in a fit of jealous rage, and despite his suspicions and loyalty to his bereaved sister, Lord Glanville seems to be Grace's only ally. But can she trust him to help her prove her innocence, or is he simply working to trap her into an admission of guilt?

No release dates or covers yet, though I will share those as soon as I get them.

Now... As I mentioned on my previous blog, there is a lot going on around here. Our new house is still under construction (it was supposed to be finished in June, but we'd rather things be right than done quickly). We have a fabulous screened in back porch where I expect we shall be spending a lot of our time. They've gotten the floors installed, but there are a lot of little things, like the fact that they installed the wrong oven (I wanted a double oven, not a microwave and oven combo) and small details like a bad electrical outlet in the kitchen. And the doorbell doesn't work. And they haven't installed the commodes yet. Or completed the siding on the gable above the tiny front porch. Sigh.
Lots to do still. I'm just hoping to move in by at least Labor Day. I was hoping to take advantage of any Labor Day sales to buy things like the washer and dryer and any new furniture we'll need. Like a sofa. Our old sofa was completely worn out, so we got rid of it when our old house was demolished.

It is so strange to see the new house where the old one was. It's sort of sad--I know we will miss the old log home--but it's also a huge relief to have a house where hopefully, everything will actually work. And we will have real airconditioning and even heating. Imagine! Airconditioning! In the hot, humid South! Wow. And no rotten walls or crumbling support beams. Or buckling fireplace. Makes it all seem almost worthwhile.

In the meantime, for breaks between frenzies of writing, I'm monitoring the progress of our Green Herons. As I mentioned, we had one brood hatch and disperse, and now we have a second brood.

Here is what the second batch looked like just 7 days ago... It is truly shocking how quickly they grow. Their down is pushed out by "regular feathers" and before you know it, they can fly and disperse to other feeding grounds. Fortunately, there are all kinds of salt marshes around here, so there are plenty of places for them to go when they are ready to go their own way.

This second batch only has 3 babies instead of the 5 of the first bunch, but they are doing very well
and are really growing. The babies--juveniles, now--have very little down left. There are just a few tufts of down on their heads and here-and-there on their bodies, and they are as big (or bigger) than their poor parents (who are working themselves to death feeding the cheeky little dears). Juveniles from the first brood still come by to visit once in a while, but the parents of the current batch don't particularly care for them hanging around and try to scare them off. Unfortunately, the juveniles pretty much just ignore the parents of the new clutch. Typical teenagers.

Here is what the second batch look like, now. I couldn't resist taking the second picture, since the little guy had just awakened from a little siesta after its dad came to feed him (or her).

The brackish pond where all of this activity has been occurring is also attracting all kinds of
other birds, including two Prothonotary Warblers and Orchard Orioles. We even have a Yellow-bellied Slider Turtle bobbing around in the depths--which means the pond must be more "fresh" than brackish or salt-water as it was, originally. Way back in the last century (i.e. 1960 or so) our pond was a boat basin. But over the years, Mother Nature has shifted the beach around and closed up the entrance to the basin, and hurricanes and rain have turned the water from salt-water to brackish to whatever it is now. We even had a bullfrog for a while, though I have seen/heard him for a couple of weeks, so maybe one of the herons got him.

Thought I'd add a picture of one of our pretty little Prothonotary Warblers, too. They are a "ray of sunshine" for sure.

Anyway, it's been a real "hot spot" for birds in the neighborhood. We get all kinds of birds coming to check out the vines and trees around the pond. Barn Swallows and Purple Martins regularly swoop down to get a beak full of water "in flight" and I've seen cardinals, sparrows of all kinds, doves, and other birds hanging around the vegetation. We were going to clean out some of the dead wood and vines, but I've decided to leave it "as is" because it attracts so much wildlife. The herons love perching on the dead snags, as do the warblers and orioles.

Just so this isn't all about birds, here is a picture of our Yellow-bellied Slider, too.

It's a magical spot, and I feel privileged to have it on our property where I can watch the life-cycles of birds like the Green Herons.

Hope you are enjoying your summer and doing a lot of reading!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Long time no post...

Hi all!
Well, it certainly has been a long time since I posted anything, and you may just assume all the normal excuses. It recently occurred to me that I might write more if I just wrote about things I was interested in at the moment. Which is precisely what I probably shouldn't do, since this is supposed to be a blog about my journey as a writer. But as you can see, if I stick solely to that topic, well...

Have I stopped journeying as a writer?
No. In fact, I just finished the rough draft for a novel which is the third in the Stainton Sisters triology, written for Scarsdale Publishing. (It's actually late, but that's my problem.) Like most of my other books, the triology is set during the first half of the 19th century--and I say that, rather than the Regency Period, because I actually stray past the end of the Regency. And again, like my other books, there's a bit of a mystery, or even murder, mixed in with the sweet romance.

Okay, I admit it, I write "sweet" or "clean" romances or whatever term you want to use to describe books where there is a happy ending without all the hot-and-heavy action in the bedroom.

So anyway, I finished all the drafts for the Stainton Sisters, now I just need to get everything edited and sent to the publisher. Phew.

That was a difficult challenge because I'm homeless and have been since around February. Voluntarily homeless, that is. Because we were living in an old log home that we really loved, but it was rotting around us, filled with mold, and we had to do something. It broke my heart, but we finally got it bulldozed and are having a new house built in its place. Sigh. The new house is sort of plain looking--a regular house, in fact--but we're building it "for our old age." It will have modern conveniences such as air conditioning (which will be nice for a change in dealing with Southern summers) and water shut-off valves. I know--?water shut-off valves? Well, just try fixing a plumbing leak without any valves in the entire house. You just have to shut water off to the entire house.

We are hoping to move back in by the end of July, fingers crossed.

OLD HOUSE (boo-hoo) - I'll miss it. It weathered a lot of...well, weather. Including hurricanes and ice storms.


It won't be to everyone's taste, I'm sure, but my husband and I are rather fond of warm, rustic houses, so I've included a view of the den with the big fireplace (it will have gas logs). I was standing in the kitchen when I took this picture of the den.
Then, standing in the den, I took the picture below of the kitchen. It's a big kitchen. I cook a lot. Unfortunately, you can't see my nice quartz counters because they are covered by cardboard to protect them while they work on the rest of the house. The flooring has yet to be installed.

Everything will be as "easy-care" as we can make it, since my husband and I aren't getting any younger. I actually had them install another door in the master bedroom so that I can take the dirty clothes and linens from our bedroom straight into the laundry room. And we have a nice, big walk-in shower with a bench where we can rest our tired bones and let the water cascade over us.
The project was a huge undertaking--a lot more work than either of us anticipated--but in the end we hope it will be worth it. One good thing, I've noticed that my cough has disappeared (allergies) since the old log home was "done away with."

Unfortunately, since my telescope is packed away with most of my other belongings, I've been suffering from a severe case of astronomy withdrawal. I've been using my binoculars, instead, to look at the night sky, but I really miss my close up views of galaxies, nebulae, stars, and our planets.

In the meantime, I've been doing a lot more birding (bird-watching). We have a tiny cottage on a bay where I've been camping out, waiting for our new house, and to my delight, we have a pair of Green Herons nest there! Five juveniles hatched out in May, and I've been taking pictures and watching them do fascinating things like dipping small twigs into the water of our pond to attract the minnows to eat.
I got one photo of three of the juveniles (3 out of the 5) before they left our pond to find their own places to forage. The adults, or at least some adults, were still hanging around the pond.

To my surprise, yesterday I realized we have another active nest! I don't know if it is a second pair of adults and they were just late nesting, or if it's the first pair of adults with a second brood. In any event, I got some pictures of the fuzzy little cuties. Here is one of them. It appears to be about 16 days old, which is when they start moving around more.
When you look at them, you really begin to see the relationship between birds and the dinosaurs.
Anyway, so that's what's been going on with me lately. When my Stainton Sisters triology comes out, I'll be sure to let you know. Although don't be surprised if my blogs are more geared toward nature and astronomy. And even living conditions (laughing wildly).

Happy Reading!