We’re a bit behind in our yardwork this year. The combination of heat, humidity, quarantine, and physical frailty from ills major and minor has made all outdoor household chores hard to deal with. Loving our porch fan, we sit there after lunch even on hot afternoons to read and reflect (“meditate” being too ambitious a term for what we do). The back yard spreads out in its semi-maintained glory.
And the landscaping shrubs around the porch continue to grow, obscuring our view of the yard somewhat, making it harder to see the local birds, cats, chipmunks, squirrels, and foxes that keep the place moving all day, every day. This spring, however, we got a good view of birds active within this shrubbery, particularly in a pair of juniper bushes in the corner. There were song sparrows and house sparrows, as well as some wrens, who seemed particularly busy. The song sparrow couple definitely nested in the juniper right on the corner, near the top of the bush. We watched them bring in the strands of grass, and then alternate sitting on the nest, and finally bring food, presumably for young ones. Then one day, definitively and permanently, they were gone. We had never heard the nestlings, not had we noticed anything like predation. Perhaps they had grown and fledged and left unseen, despite the fact that we (and our cat Nick in our absence) were keeping a careful eye on things.
At that point, a couple of weeks ago, I trimmed the bushes so that they would grow thicker, fuller, and healthier, as well as improve our view. The junipers are thick and prickly, requiring gloves to remove the trimmings. As I clipped the longer branches to lower the height of the whole bush, tossing them in the trash can, there was the nest! It was a somewhat deep, round cup mostly constructed of fine twigs and lined with finer grass. And in it was a perfect, unbroken, song sparrow egg.
Even more surprising was what my wife found in the adjacent bush when she inspected my work. I had overlooked a thicker, coarser small nest with a much shallower indentation for the eggs. It was wedged firmly into forked branch, and was empty.
Given how close the nests were to the top of the bushes, they both had to have been made this season when the new growth was there to conceal them. But why was the song sparrow nest abandoned with an unhatched egg? Were the parents scared off? Was the egg sterile? Were there other nestlings, or did the sparrows have multiple nests? And what kind of bird made the other nest? House sparrow nests seem to vary a lot, but I found one photo online that resembled the nest we found.
Even when nature is right in front of you, your eyes, brain, and imagination may not be enough to comprehend its variety and complexity.