Folklore & Nature: Sielulintu

A graveyard may not be the most common of places to visit when traveling in a foreign city, but a couple of years ago I found myself walking through one in Helsinki because it was next to the apartment we were staying in. Almost immediately, the thing I noticed about many of the tombstones, were the presence of birds. Many had metal birds in flight on the front, small metal birds sitting on top. As I walked through the tombstones, live birds flitted around the edge of the graveyard in the surrounding wild forested area. Occasionally one would fly in and perch on a tombstone as though it were another of the adornments decorating the memorials.

Although Finns are strongly connected to nature, birds hold an even more symbolic meaning, which I didn’t know at the time. In Finnish folklore there is something known…

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Field Journal: Viikki Nature Reserve

One of the most memorable places I visited the last time I was in Helsinki was the Viikki Nature Reserve and I wanted to return again this trip. Although we spent time exploring the Kivinokka area this summer, it isn’t technically part of the nature reserve. There are many different habitats in the nature reserve and last trip I walked through the north part of Viikki which is fields and some woods. I thought I remembered walking on a boardwalk through reed wetlands, but couldn’t remember where that was. I made my best guess and we decided to walk from Klädesfabriksparken towards Kuusiluoto which was shown on the map as a boardwalk. 

Before entering the reserve, we walked through a park where we saw a group of barnacle geese with goslings and then crossed over a bridge. From the bridge I noticed a small group of hooded crows…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Spring Nesting

This spring our wildlife garden has seen a lot of activity. Last year, during my 365 Nature Project, we watched a Bewick’s Wren pair make a nest in our backyard nest box, while a pair of American Robins built a nest in our front yard. This year the wrens returned, but opted for a different nest box. In our backyard I have put up a red box, which the wrens chose last year. I also have a blue box hanging from the garage which has never been used. Then there’s the wood box built by my husband, also never used. Last year I found another wood box at a thrift store and stashed it in the garage. It’s meant to be mounted on a post and this spring I just wedged it into our forsythia for a lack of anywhere better to put it.

To my surprise,…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Spotted Towhee Nest

A week or so ago I realized we may have a Spotted Towhee nest in our backyard, in addition to the Black-capped Chickadee and Bewick’s Wren nests. I was pulling weeds in the area which used to be a large deck and will one day be a wildlife pond, when a towhee flew up from almost under my feet. Realizing what it meant I quickly retreated and left the area to its own devices for the time being. Instead I started to watch, and indeed, a pair of towhees were constantly on the fence and in the neighbor’s tree. A couple of times I crept back to the corner of the garden trying to find the nest, but after some scolding from the towhees I quickly abandoned the search.

They were very sneaky, flying in and out from different places and I couldn’t discover where the nest was. Once I’d think…

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Field Journal: First Dragonfly of the Year

It was one of the first truly warm days of the year so far and I wanted to find dragonflies. After dropping my daughter off at her forest preschool I walked down to the pond which I’d spent so much time at during my 365 Nature Project. Although it was fairly early in the day I had hopes of finding some odes. When I first arrived there wasn’t much flying over the pond so I had my lunch and waited for the sun to warm the air. I then surveyed the pond and discovered a few Pacific Forktail damselflies on the water’s edge. Then a large dragonfly zoomed by and it was easy to see it was a Common Green Darner, my first dragon of the year. It was the only one I saw but satisfying. 

As I watched for odes I noticed a trio of crows having a…

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Field Journal: Arboretum Bird Visitors

Over the last two weeks I’ve encountered a couple of unusual birds visiting Washington Park Arboretum. Last week as the kids from my daughter’s outdoor forest preschool played in the meadow after school, we noticed some colorful birds flying around in the ash trees. They were Western Tanagers, bright red and yellow birds which are hard to miss. I rarely see them in Seattle and it was lucky they were flying around on a sunny day and I had my camera to take some photos. They never sat perched long, constantly flying away from the tree they were in to catch flying insects, before returning to a branch. I caught several photos of the tanagers with insects in their beaks.

This week an even more exciting bird visited the arboretum. After I dropped my daughter off at her school I heard Steller’s Jays making alarm calls right outside her forest…

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