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Summer Surprises

by | Aug 12, 2014

The first surprise was a piece of stainless steel chimney apparatus on the ground. That was followed by tufts of insulation. The crowning clue was a dark moving shadow and the flap of huge wings.

Mother & Child

Three huge vultures. That included the pair that we saw preening and kissing in our neighbor’s back yard. It also included their baby, just as big, but tufted with down and obviously waiting on our rooftop for some regurgitated carrion.

Then suddenly there were four. Apparently these past months the old corn crib back in the ravine—the last vestige of the J.H. Yoder farm unless you count the dairy house blocks in our terrace—had been serving as a black-headed vulture nursery.

So for days now, the two chimneys on our house as well as the nearby pine branches and the flat top of the dead oak have been staging areas for baby vulture flight. We watch them flap and flutter and spread their huge black wings to the sun.

That’s out the front window. Out the back windows we’ve been watching the tiniest hummingbirds guzzling our sugar water. This is the first summer we’ve had to re-fill the feeder every three days; there must be babies. In the last few days, there have also been skirmishes. Either the babies have grown up and become territorial, or there are strangers stopping by and meeting resistance from the more permanent residents.

It should not be a surprise that the largest and the smallest birds are raising babies here. We have seen every other kind this year as well—catbirds, robins, mockingbirds, wrens, house finches, doves, cardinals, brown thrasher, and the list goes on.

One morning we heard sweet noises in the chimney…two young starlings flew out when we opened the damper—into the dining room.Ilse caught them in a tee-shirt and let them go again.

photo photo3

That same week Robby came downstairs early to find Ilse reading to her daughter on the couch. He was sure she had set him up to think there was a brown bat hanging from a corner of the living room wall. But actually, there was!!! It is a complete mystery how that bat came into the house. On the bright side, it tells us that bats are part of our ecosystem here, and maybe part of the reason why there have been fewer mosquitoes! Everyone was too shocked to get a picture of the bat as Ilse ushered him out on a towel and put him on a branch to wait for darkness.

The flowers are surprising us, too. The scent of my first tuberoses ever fills the front yard. Thank you, Lisa, for a start of them last fall.


And who knew azaleas could be so gorgeous this time of year?


Or how artistic a volunteer wild morning glory appears?


I also love how the mystery lilies pop up on cue in August, my mother’s bulbs. They are almost over for the season.


Some people call them naked ladies, but the flowers I call naked ladies are much more in your face than these demure lavender ones. We’re still waiting for these red ones to pop up this summer.


Some people think that August is a tired season, when the garden looks drab and little happens. Au contraire….our August never ceases to surprise and amaze!



Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected].