Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wrens and Apples

The backyard is now lushly green. The flowers are gone from the shrubs and trees, and the grass is not too short or too long at the moment. There is very little other color except for the pink flowers of the coral bells and fringed bleeding hearts, the red hummingbird feeder and my bright blue bucket for collecting apples for the house.

Apple tree, July 1, 2017. Wren box is to right of the trunk.  (Margo D. Beller)
On the morning of July 1, I walked outside with my bucket and realized something was different. The constant chatter and begging of the house wren young was not coming from the nest box, as it had been the day before. No, one bird was calling from higher in the apple tree and two others were on the ground in the one area where not much sun shines during the day, behind me just off the porch.

I went over and found, barely, two very dark brown young wrens in the dirt calling for food while one of their parents scolded me from a nearby bush.

I went back to picking apples. Later in the morning, when the sun had dissolved the summer haze, I went out to find no wrens in the tree or on the ground, but they were calling from the thick hedges at the edge of the back yard. Later still I went out to pick up partially eaten apples dropped by the squirrels and heard absolutely nothing. I kicked myself for not having my camera on me the day before when I saw two of the young jostle for the best position at the box opening.

These birds had flown.

Empty nest (Margo D. Beller)
According to last year's calendar, the wrens in the box fledged on June 23. These wrens were about 10 days late, which makes sense considering the adults didn't take over the box until a week after the chickadee pair that had gotten there first suddenly abandoned it. So while the wren parents were shuttling back and forth to feed their young at the box at my neighbor's, the ones in my yard were not quite as frenzied, and the young made the occasional peep.

In years past, such as in July 2011 when I wrote my post "This brood has flown" (which I'll have to republish someday after messing up the link), I have come out one day to hear wrens and the next day come out to hear nothing. This is the first time I have witnessed an intermediate step. I don't know if they have left my property entirely but today I still heard nothing.

What drove them out?

It could've been the high humidity and heat. That box, with three growing young in a confined space including a twig nest, must've gotten very crowded and hot. It could've been instinct. It could've been my taking my long stick to drop more apples, carefully doing my hitting of tree branches away from the area where the box hangs. It could've been the four or so squirrels going back and forth into the tree after sweet liquid from the apples on a hot day.

Whatever caused it, the wrens are gone. I will leave up the box in case a wren wants to start a second brood in it before it is time for it to migrate south in autumn.

Meanwhile, I am done collecting apples. If the wrens had been "on time," they would've been gone before the apples ripened enough for me to use that stick on the tree. Well, having collected over 200 apples (a rough estimate) in a bushel basket I had in the cellar, the squirrels can have the rest. All I do now is pick up the mess and dump it in the non-lawn corner, where evidence shows me the deer have been devouring them along with squirrels or chipmunks.

What do I do with all those apples, you might ask.

2017's bumper crop (Margo D. Beller)
Well, I have amassed many recipes. So far this year I have made 5 pints of apple sauce and one apple bundt cake. The apples I have not used are in another blue bucket in the basement, which I can carry more easily than the bushel basket.

The hardest part is the chopping. I used to peel apples but nicked myself too many times. So now I wash and cut. Long experience has taught me whether there will be a lot of usable apple or whether to just toss it after the first chop. I admit, after cutting up about 100 apples in two shifts (applesauce, then an apple cake, then more applesauce) with more I can use, I can afford to get picky.

These apples from my tree are smaller than the ones you get in the store, in part because I have to work fast before the squirrels get all of them. A farmer told me the apples look like a form of macintosh. In the picture above you see there is not a lot of red in them. I went for size - easier to cut a larger apple - over redness, and cutting into one bears this out. The redder ones are riper, and usually has evidence of rot or insects in them. The not-quite-ripe ones were firmer and I could use more of them, once I cut out the core and stem (as seen below).

My grandmother used to make apple sauce. I never learned her recipe but the sauce was delicious. She bought her yellow apples from the store. I can't say my sauce is any better but if I have any reason for making it - aside from having too many apples - she is it.

Making apple sauce, 2017 (Margo D. Beller)
But preparing the apples is not a task I enjoy, even though the finished product tastes fine to me and MH and to those lucky enough to receive a pint. So far most of the pints are in the freezer. Each year I have a good number of apples (last year was an exception - the apples were done the same day as the wren nest and I had so few I just cut them up and used them in pancakes), I collect a lot of them and then pick a day to do all the hard work. It requires a lot of time as well as standing and careful chopping, making sure I don't take off a finger or two.

The bundt cake was a first for me, and a really messy process because I don't do a lot of baking. I am more impressed by my baking friends than before, especially those with the right tools. I had to use my grandmother's very manual egg beater on the thick batter and was glad I had done some exercising recently because it gave my arms a workout. Did she use it to make her sauce? I don't know. As a small child at the time I had no interest in how the sauce was made, just that I wanted some. Nowadays people have more of an interest in what they eat and in making food themselves. This is a good thing.

As for the rest of those apples, I have bought an electric hand mixer, so I expect I'll be making another cake and yet more sauce.

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