Tag Archive | birds

Birding from the Car

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What on earth is this mess? Actually it’s a bunch of weeds almost obscuring a garden near the restrooms in Elizabeth Park.

The Park clearly needs more volunteers. But actually, perhaps not. While I was sitting in y car waiting to meet a friend, I was watching this weedy patch and the goldfinch were just loving it! They didn’t even seem to care that I was snapping photographs, or that folks were driving in the parking lot.

In fact the only thing that seemed to drive them away was when folks–some with excitable children–started to queue up for the bathrooms.

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The “fluff” from these flowers is what they were after. As you may know, goldfinch are late nesters. I suspect they may have been lining their nests with these seed puffs. The fact that there was a seed at the end of the “fluff” almost seemed to be an inconvenience. The finches seemed to be wiping the seeds in the study stems of these weeds in an attempt to knock it off. Apparently, it is not tasty–at least not to the goldfinch.

So next time you a have few minutes to wait, sit quietly in your car. It makes a great “birding blind.” You never know what you’ll see!

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Boids

It’s getting to be “beetle ” time in the garden.  I am not really seeing too many beetles on the plants–I never really do–but occasionally I see the beetles on the screens at night, or hear them thwack into a window while I am reading at night.

Do you remember the Japanese beetle traps? They were popular in the 90s.  They were plastic bags with a scent lure designed to attract the beetles. They did attract beetles because of the scent lure–but then the issue became whether they attracted more beetles than they caught?

In any event,  after a few years, everyone stopped using them. I don’t think I have seen the traps in years and I can count on two hands each year the number of beetles I see.

So what is the magic in my yard? Boids–as the the Spoiler calls them, otherwise known as birds.

I have written about this topic before.  This isn’t news. Birds feed insects to their young. And what are grubs but insects!

Grubs–the larva of beetles–are some pretty protein packed food for young birds. And if the birds get them, you don’t have skunks or moles or voles digging up the lawn either.

It’s all pretty simple.  It’s the ecosystem working as it should.  But it can only work if you do not use pesticides.  Just a thought.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

As gardeners, we are always focused on the visual: we watch for new flowers opening or new vegetables ripening; we watch for insects or diseases; we try to determine if a branch dying back is just a natural occurrence or something more sinister.

But how often do we pay attention to what we hear in the garden? Sure, occasionally we may notice a particular bird singing if it’s loud enough or close by (or if it’s the dawn chorus in early spring which causes such a commotion it’s loud enough to wake most people).

If we’re working nearby an ornamental grass clump in a breeze we might notice that the fronds of grass are rustling in the breeze.

Or if we’re working in a shady garden, as I often do, we might have the same experience when there’s a breeze, of listening to the leaves of different trees moving in the wind.

But how often are we truly able to sit and just listen to what’s happening in nature? For me it’s almost never!

I took a little time to do just that on July 4th–an unexpected middle of the week holiday. And the explosion of bird calls was astonishing even to me, who, I thought, was generally attuned to this sort of thing!

I first noticed two robins having a “cheer-io” calling contest back and forth across  my yard. Then I noticed a third, more angry robin doing a sort of indignant “cheep” from somewhere else–I am guessing it was from the roof of the porch right above where I was sitting.

There was a male cardinal singing its heart out.

And two juvenile red tail hawks. They don’t quite caw. They sort of screech. It almost sounds like sea gulls.

I heard blue jays, a cat bird, a nuthatch and a house wren as well–and those were just the bird sounds!

Next time you’re in the garden, take time to listen as well as look. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

So What Is A Gardener To Do In Winter?

I spoke to a newly retired friend recently and she was lamenting the lack of structure in her life–and the fact that her retirement fell at the end of the gardening season so that now she had to get through the entire winter before she could garden again.

I am quite sympathetic to this plight since most of my periods of unemployment have also fallen in the winter (and to be honest, the one that did come in the summer wasn’t truly enjoyable enough that I could just sit back and enjoy it–who enjoys unemployment if it is not of one’s own making?)

So for all of us gardeners who find ourselves with extra hours in the cold and the dark this winter (or any winter) I thought I might offer some suggestions. I offer many of these same suggestions at the end of my “Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter” lecture because I suspect that garden club folks might need a little help getting through winter–as do I!

One of my suggestions is to count birds for Project FeederWatch–but that doesn’t work if you’re not into birds of course. If you are, it’s a great “citizen science project” and a great way to give back to the online science community. More information about that project can be found here. And it’s not too late to sign up for this winter.

There are many online volunteer science conservation and observation projects that you can participate in over the winter. I had my backyard certified as a habitat one winter through the National Wildlife Federation.  Not only is that fun (and you’ll probably come out feeling better about your “yard,” however it’s defined. It can even be a balcony) but you’ll learn a lot too. And you can find out what you need to do to make your yard better as well. More information is here.

If online isn’t your thing, late winter and early spring are the time when lots of plant societies are putting on symposia and flower shows. Any group that I have ever belonged to was always looking for help in that area with their various shows and symposiums and day long series of talks. A little “Googling” around ought to help you find out plenty of places to volunteer in person depending on where you live–or stop in at a local garden center. They might be able to direct you. And if not, you can still soak up some warmth and maybe come home with a new plant or two to tide you over.

Finally, there are lots of books, blogs, podcasts and the like that are always putting out the latest and greatest ways to grow things. All of the early issues of the “horticultural” magazines will have the latest and greatest new plants that are coming onto the market. The plant societies have already introduced their new varieties for 2017–some old and some new. Maybe this is the year you decide to re-vamp a garden (or several) with some new–or tried and true varieties. Winter is for dreaming–spring is for planting.

And before we all know it, it will be time to get back out into the garden!

 

 

Defeat Winter–Count the Birds!

Happy Veterans’ Day. Thank you to all the brave men and women who have served our country.

Tomorrow starts the count period for Project FeederWatch, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Now the name is slightly misleading because you don’t really have to have a bird feeder to participate (although you will have a more reliable source of birds if you do).

But if, for whatever reason, you choose not to have a feeder but you still have birds–or, say, for example you regularly go to the same spot every day–a public park, or even your local coffee house but you do see birds from their window–you can still participate.

Here’s how it works. First you sign up. It costs $18 to participate for the season, and the season runs from November 12 until April. You can choose to participate solely through an “online kit” or I believe you can still participate via “paper.” I have only done the “online” version.

You will get all sorts of nifty guides even if you are participating online, and there is a ton of support including online bird guides.

Once you have decided to participate, you agree to count birds, at least once a week during the count season, on two consecutive days, for a period of 15 minutes per day. That’s it. It’s pretty simple. If you see no birds during your count period, you report “no birds” (but I can tell you that that never happened to me in over 10 years of counting!)

A lot of people wonder how do you “count” birds? It’s not as hard as you think. Let’s say you see a flock of goldfinch on a Saturday morning. There are 15 of them. So you mark your count sheet “15 goldfinch.”

At my house, before a storm, the goldfinch always came in in huge numbers before a snow. So I might go back in the evening and look.  I might see 22 goldfinch. I wouldn’t add those to the 15. I would just “report” (on the paper sheet I am using to tally my 2 day total) the higher 22 number.

The next day, Sunday, I look out and see 8 goldfinch. I don’t change my count at all because that number isn’t higher than 22. But if I go back later and see 33 goldfinch, I will then change my count, because that number is higher than the 22 from Saturday. That would be the number I would report as my “2 day total.”

Obviously over the 2 days I would be seeing other birds as well: chickadees, juncos, assorted woodpeckers, cardinals and a few other species. As you can see, this kind of thing, really keeps it interesting and really gets you thinking!

The web site to sign up, find bird guides and to get perhaps a better explanation of everything I have just said is right here! Give Project FeederWatch a try this winter. I don’t think you’ll be sorry!

Wordless Wednesday–Misplaced Wildlife

Confused Geese

This photo was taken in a Target parking lot. There were quite a few Canada geese wandering around there, despite the obvious lack of their primary food source, grass.

More geese

This wider shot shows how many of them there actually were–and there were still more than aren’t in the shot. I particularly like the one under the maple tree in the distance, trying to climb the hill.  I hope it never made it to the top. That’s an on-ramp to a major highway. It really could have gotten ugly.

Look! Up In That Tree….

As the red-tailed hawk photo from Wednesday showed, I’m fairly good at spotting birds. I’m even fairly good at spotting them while driving, much to the concern of my sister, who was always alarmed when I would suddenly duck my head to peer up and out the windshield instead of looking straight ahead at the road.

Mind you, this was a momentary thing–but I suppose it’s as bad as texting behind the wheel, which I would never dream of doing. I’ve tried to break myself of the habit in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

Squirrels Nests

I still do notice, on a regular basis, nests. And I don’t just notice these because I’m looking for squirrels’ nests to try to figure out what the long term winter weather is going to be (and I must say that so far I’m a little disappointed in my squirrels. It’s been a bit colder than they led me to believe. I hope they haven’t misled me this year!). Those are squirrels nests in the photo above.

Of course it’s not as if I really do anything differently based on these squirrels’ nests weather predictions–other than perhaps gasp in horror and write a blog post about what I think the squirrels are predicting. But it’s fun to notice and observe.

But winter is a fabulous time to notice the variety of birds nests in the trees and the different types of ways birds build their nests.

Squirrels’ nests are all, for the most part, at the intersection of a group of tree branches or the crotch of a tree.

Falling bird's nest

Birds nests, to the extent they remain once the leaves have come off trees and shrubs, might be in all sorts of different places. This one is in a maple. It’s slipping off a bit after the first heavy snow of the season.

Nest in Japanese maple

This nest in a Japanese maple is just fine, however, after the same snowfall.

Magnolia nest

And this nest, in a magnolia, will surely last through the winter, because of the way its secured by the branches.

It always amazes me the way the birds have sort of “mortared” them on, when these nests are near the middle or end of a branch. Quite often they will stay there through most or all of the winter, through numerous snowfalls. That’s some staying power!

So they next time you’re out, on a sunny winter day, in a place with some trees and shrubs, take a look for those remaining birds and squirrels’ nests. You’ll be amazed at what you find!