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Archive for the ‘birds’ Category

We are getting some badly needed rain.  It has been threatening all morning, flashing and muttering under its breath, teasing us with brief sprinkles.

The radar shows that all of this activity is moving along to the south, which is odd because most of the lightning and clouds I am looking at are to the north of me.  At any rate, I am glad it is raining.   We need for the ground to be nicely wet and more rain promised in order to distribute the beneficial nematodes that are reputed to dine on Japanese beetle grubs.  With a good rain under our belt, and more promised, we can order the supplier to ship them.  With any luck, the weather will cooperate and keep the ground nice and wet after they are applied.

I am happy that there is a storm, Impy is NOT.   I don’t know what horrible trauma happened to him in his kittenhood, but he is terrified of thunder and slinks off full speed ahead for the nearest closet as soon as the first distant rumble occurs.  This morning has been just terrible for him.  With the sporadic nature of this storm, there have been periods of calm in between the heavenly percussion performance long enough for him to stick his whiskers out.   Inevitably, as soon as he is bold enough to exit his sanctuary, a random clap of thunder will send him scurrying back under cover.

We have hypothesized that Impy can understand the weatherman and has listened to all the instructions regarding what to do to be safe in a stormy situation.   If you don’t have a shelter to move into, you should stay in an interior room (preferably with no windows) and put a pillow over your head.  When you hear thunder, you should keep yourself as close to the ground as possible while you move to shelter to minimize the danger of being struck by lightning.   And for God’s sake, don’t go stand under a tree.

Our local YMCA is so careful about lightning danger that they clear the pool if there is any within a few miles of us.   Consequently, this morning our water aerobics class was only 15 minutes long.

I have been surfing the interwebs excessively, so I finally decided I ought to get something worthwhile done instead of endlessly posting on facebook.  I made the bed, and cleaned the catboxes.   I did the dishes, and I am contemplating the idea of vacuuming.   I am pretty sure I can spend enough time on my blog that I simply won’t have time to do that chore before I have to leave for my mammogram.

While I was washing the dishes the storm finally blew into our area and produced a measurable amount of rain.   I was musing as I scrubbed my pots about how one would depict the skies opening up as a response to a prompt of “Open” on an the Art Journal Adventure.   The view out my window captivated me as I worked and pondered.  The finches are busy at  the feeder, they don’t care it is raining and neither do the squirrels, who use their tails as easily as an umbrella as they do a sunshade or blanket.

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The rain will be good for the garden too.  The peas are about an inch tall, and the lettuce that we tended all winter is going gangbusters.   I heartily endorse the use of cold frames in this climate.   We ate beautiful lettuce all winter.

So as I allowed this train of thought to pass through the station of my mind, a huge ground strike flashed down just to the northeast.

I was standing at the window, scrubbing a metal pot with my hands in running water, and I recalled the wisdom that says you can get a pretty bad shock if lightning strikes near your water line when you have your hands in running water.   Suddenly I thought “If that bolt had struck the house and electrocuted me where I stood, I suppose my last thought would have been ‘Impy was right’.”

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I’m sure that is not the longest title ever put on an ariticle, but I’m sure it is right up there.  We have been working very hard getting the yard in shape.   It won’t be long now before we will have to mow the lawns.  The peas are up and looking very nice.

There is a LOT of work to do around here.   Yesterday I worked on the East Prairie; cleaned out the last of the branches of last year’s tiny white asters.   Do not be fooled by that name, the flowers are tiny but the plants can be absolutely rampant.   They got about 5 feet tall last summer, since they had no competition except for the poke weed and some wild lettuce named fireweed (for some arcane reason).

Let me just say that in my head, fireweed is that amazing magenta flower that grows all over the Alaska Interior, not this 6 foot tall Ozarks giant that has insignificant flowers that the pollinators adore.

Anyway, I got that cleaned up and then we went out to dinner, which was scrumptious.   After we got home it was a dead calm so we burned the little brush pile out in the savanna.  That has been there about a year and a half, ever since I beat a path through the forsythia thicket so I could work on removing elm sprouts.

Today I cleaned up the garden area around the sauna.  Now that has turned into quite the place.  My job, now that all the forbs have gotten established, is to keep the honeysuckle and the elm trees from moving in.  It blooms all summer with plants I collected seeds from while walking the dog.   When I first planted this garden, I put some beautiful day lilies in there, but now that it has turned into a micro prairie, the day lilies have a lot of competition.  They bloom, but it is a struggle.  The little birds love this garden.

After I got that done, I decided to have a beer and see if I could see any birds at the pond.  I was rewarded by a gold finch, who came down to the waterfall for a drink.

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He didn’t stay very long.   I waited for a while, and Jim came to join me.   We sat for a while, and all of a sudden a junco dropped by.   This little bird knew darn well we were there, and did not come down to drink.  It took a while for me to capture him looking in our direction.  It is not safe for little birds, you know, and he was trying to look in all directions at once.

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Then I went off for mosquito dunks, and on my way back to the pond I sort of wandered around looking at the yard.

There are about five million violet seedlings in my path, something for future reference.  They are invisible in this shot, which is all about the grape hyacinths and the dragon’s teeth.

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Other than that, I think it is looking pretty special.   I wandered past the Green Man on my way to the pond.   I can actually see him this time of year.  The bittersweet vine really fills in.  Right now it is barely sprouting.

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Right behind him is the pond.   While I was getting this shot, there were a grackle and a robin in the pond taking a bath.  By the time I got around the corner, the grackle was done and had vacated the area.

The robin was very wet.

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He sat there for several minutes as I stood frozen on the opposite side of the pond from him.  After a while, he decided that he was not sufficiently bathed, and so he hopped back into the pool.

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Well.  That’s better.

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He is even more wet.

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But , apparently, not wet enough.   Back in he went for another splash.

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We have a pretty good sized pile of prunings from the yard, so if the wind calms down at sunset we shall have an Equinoctical bonfire.  That will be nice.

Happy Spring!

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Well, I have been way from the blog for far too long.  It is amazing what a profound effect having people make unkind comments has, it is like being burned by a hot stove and never wanting to approach it again.  I have decided that cruel and unstable people do not get to control me.

A few days ago we noticed that the number of small birds in our yards seems to have increased radically, not quite exponentially.   We hang two big feeders, each will hold 3 quarts of black oil sunflower seeds.  All winter, we had to fill them about every three days.   All of a sudden, they are being emptied in one 24 hour period.

Also, I noticed that the number of birds hopping around on the ground and in the trees and shrubs seems to have increased from lots to dozens and dozens.   The elm trees are blooming, and there are finches all over them, eating the elm seeds.  (My hope is that they eat ALL of them, as every year I have to weed hundreds of volunteer elm trees out of my gardens.

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What is going on?

Well, the fact is we have a housing crisis for small birds in the neighborhood.   There is a place about 400 or 500 feet from here where there are new owners.   Now granted, the property they bought was very overgrown, and they have every right to clear the elms and massive quantities of grape vines, virginia creeper and other stuff that has slowly inched its way towards their house.   They probably are going to replant once the area is cleaned up, sort of like what we have done on our east property line.

But at the moment, there are hundreds of little finches, sparrows, wrens, juncos and other birds that like dense woodsy shrubs who have summarily been evicted from their homes without warning.  They have found their way here and have found the proprietors to be willing to provide their needs.

And so, The Havens earns its name once again.  A population in crisis has found a place with shelther and food to get them by.

 

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Somehow, to me the title of this post sounds like a fine title for a children’s book.   It would be a sort of “Goodnight Moon,” only about birds.

A few days ago I was gazing out my bathroom window at the Hosta Dell, as I am wont to do.   It is a view that particularly pleases me.  These shots were taken several years ago, but it looks much like this now, although the hostas have really filled in.

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Note the bird house on the left post of the pergola.   That is a wren house, and there is a pair of wrens that has “owned” it for several years.

Part of the reason I like to look out the bathroom window is I can watch and listen to the goings on without having my presence disturb the tenants.   It is quite amusing. The redbud on the other side of the fence is the vantage point where the male wren proclaims his territory.   The pergola and shrubs nearby are great hunting grounds for all sorts of bugs, as is the Hosta Dell itself.

A few days ago I heard all sorts of commotion going on out there, so I took a peek and discovered that the rock ridge has attracted a resident, an Eastern Chipmunk.   Although I have no idea what the sex of this rodent is, I shall refer to it as “he” for the purposes of this story.

Said chipmunk was over near the fence where there are rail road ties that keep the gravel of the rock garden from migrating under the fence and into the front yard.   The ties are pretty old and decrepit, and have lots of rot in the center, places where maple seeds and other edibles tend to collect.   So he was investigating the possibilities for breakfast and suffering through a proper dressing down from the Papa wren, who was bouncing along the top of the fence and generally making his displeasure known in no uncertain terms.

This intrigued me, as I could not see what danger a chipmunk could possibly pose to the wren family.   My amazement grew as I observed the wren take a couple of dive bomb runs at the chipmunk’s head.   He took cover in a crack in the railroad tie, and I settled in to watch the proceedings.   The wren was not deceived by the disappearance of the chipmunk, and sat on the fence proclaiming “You’re not fooling anyone, you know!”  Eventually the chipmunk stuck his head out and began looking for maple seeds, an activity I heartily endorse.  The more he eats the less there will be sprouting in my garden.  I wish he would eat cherry pits.

The wren was having none of it, however, and once again flew down intrepidly and pecked the hapless chipmunk on the head.   He gave up on breakfast and dashed across the rock garden to his front door, pursued by the wren.

For the life of me, I could not understand what was the big deal about the chipmunk.  It wasn’t a cat, or anything I perceived as predatory.   Curious, I repaired to Google and looked up chipmunks.   Suddenly it all became clear.   The chipmunk, eater of seeds and other vegetarian sorts of things, is not so innocent.   It turns out they are opportunistic predators and will eat bird eggs and fledglings if they are convenient.   They have been observed to climb trees to get to nests of eggs.

Suddenly the wren’s attitude did not seem quite so odd.   The wren is a very small bird, and the fledglings would make a tasty morsel for  a hungry chipmunk.

Wrens ARE very small, and one year I observed a blue jay attempting to eat a freshly fledged wrenlet.   It was only because I intervened and liberated the chick from the jaws of death (literally) that his nefarious plan was foiled.

I suppose this post could be entitled “Wrens do not like much of anybody” as pretty much everyone is a potential predator when you are that small.  I have been keeping my eye on the wrens for a couple of weeks.  I have been listening to the chicks get louder and more demanding as the days go by, and I was hoping to catch the fledging.

Today was the magic day:  They fledged this afternoon.   No wonder it was so loud in that bird box.   The proud wren parents managed to raise up FIVE little wrens.   I discovered them in the snowball bush at the far end of the stroll garden (far from where the chipmunk lives!).   All five of them were grouped in a nice organized troop on one branch.  Of course I did not have my camera, so I ran to get it.

Mama wren is no dummy.   She saw me looking at her kids and knew the jig was up.   By the time I got back to the location with the camera, she had started marshaling them in a different direction.   There were still three in the snowball bush, but they were moving away fast, urgently directed towards safety by their mama.   However, I did manage to get a great shot of one of them in the snowball bush.

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One of his siblings had ensconced itself in the clematis.

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Another one was in the beach plum bush, but that picture was very blurry due to the fact that the wind was blowing and the little bird was not still enough for a good shot in the shadows.

But another one of the chicks got very excited by the whole thing and flew over the fence into the forsythia by the pond.   Immediately the parents went ballistic, telling it that it was too far away and it should just get it’s little butt back over to the group.   Obediently, he returned from his foray and perched on the fence, where I got a delightful portrait.   “What are you looking at?”  he seems to be saying.  “My mother told me not to associate with strangers, you should go away.”

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The mother wren seconded his sentiments, emphatically.   So I left them to it.

In other news, the second round of robin babies have hit the ground.   I had a new heuchera to plant, and I had sat the pot out under the pergola to await my attentions while I gave a couple of massages.   When I returned to my chore, I reached down to grab the pot and discovered that while I was gone it had been graced with an inhabitant.  Again, I ran off for the camera.   Can you see it?

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How about now?

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That bird child was the noisiest little bugger!   I scooped him up to put him on the spirea bush while I dealt with transplanting the heuchera, and the screeching that the little bird put up was impressive.

“I’m being molested, kidnapped, help! help! help!”  was the burden of his extremely loud complaints.

I expected his parents to come to his aid, but what I did not expect was every male robin in the yard.  They ALL came over and started yelling at me.   There were at least five male robins, a female (probably the baby’s mother).  Even more surprising was that  a gold finch and both wrens gave me what for right along with the robins.  Avian solidarity, I guess.

I put my head down and planted my plant, and then got the heck out of Dodge while my eyes were still in my head.

Life at The Havens is never dull!

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In the past I have mentioned that The Havens is a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat.  If you search the blog for “Habitat” you will find several posts on the subject.

I made a pretty comprehensive post about the vegetable garden a while back. Things have not changed a lot back there since that post, although we are in the process of removing the perimeter of grass that surrounds the beds. Right now this involves covering the area with carpet in an attempt to smother the grass. This is varyingly successful depending on the quality of the carpet used. But at least it is being discouraged. Eventually we will remove some dirt and put in weed barrier and something to walk on. Bark seems to work pretty well, as does pea gravel.  This is still to be decided.

I am excited to report that we have a screech owl hunting here. I have not figured out where it sleeps yet, but there are lots of trees with holes on the place so I’m sure it has a nice bedroom. However, it likes to sit on top of the frame that holds the swing out by the pond. I found one of its pellets the other day, all full of mouse fur and beautiful green beetle wing covers. The latter surprised me a bit, as I was not aware the screech owls eat beetles. But I did a little research and found out that not only do they eat baby rabbits (Yay!), they also eat other mammals, crayfish, insects, earth worms, small birds, and a whole lot of other stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily think that an owl eats.

In other news, we have been blessed (and I use that term advisedly) with another new addition to the habitat.   Apparently The Havens has been certified habitable by the local groundhogs (Marmota monax).  This species has  colonized the yard more than once.   The last time there was a ground hog living here the garden fence got another layer of security added, so I’m not too upset that we have a new colonist in residence.   So far she has stayed out of the vegetable garden.   Honestly, there is PLENTY for her and her family to eat around here without decimating the garden.  I noticed that she seems to like sweet cicely pretty well.

Anyway, I mentioned the extra level of security for the vegetable garden fence.  The previous ground hog had discovered that it could tunnel under the fence and access all that succulent produce within.   We acquired a live trap, and placed it strategically in front of the hole.

“Fools!” the groundhog muttered, as it dug a new hole a few feet down the fence.

We got another live trap and stationed it by the second hole.    It was just as easy to dig a third access hole…

We cogitated about the situation for a while, did a little on-line research, and then Jim went off to the farm supply emporium and acquired some chicken wire.  Attaching it securely to the outside of the fence about 18 inches up, at ground level he bent it outward and allowed it to extend out along the ground so that there was a strip of chicken wire about 18″ out onto the grass.   He got some landscape “staples” and secured the wire to the ground.

The groundhog thought about the situation for about 30 seconds and found a spot where the wire wasn’t really tight to the ground and wiggled its way under the chicken wire to its favorite hole under the fence.   This is where it made its strategic error.

Apparently beguiled and distracted by the crunching of  my fine lettuce, it did not notice us approaching the garden until the gate opened.

“Yaaaaaah!” is a pretty good approximation of its reaction to our sudden advent, especially since we happened to have Ruby with us.   Ruby chased the groundhog to its hole and then sped around through the gate to behind the fence to continue the pursuit.   The panicked rodent did not leave the same way it entered and found that the chicken wire was a lot more secure than it had seemed at first blush.  Tangled up in the chicken wire, it was having a huge groundhog heart attack since Ruby was bouncing around as it flailed its way out from under the wire.    Off it went to its tunnel, with Ruby in hot pursuit.

Jim addressed the loose wire situation, tightening it up and adding several more anchors.   The groundhog crouched in its burrow, apparently a victim of PTSD.  During the night, it moved away, never to return.  I guess the neighborhood was just too stressful for it.

Anyway, the new groundhog doesn’t care about the garden (so far).   It has lovely accommodations on the root cellar mound, and one of its progeny or its mate is busy digging an extensive burrow inside the barn.   We are not really too happy about the barn situation, as it is tunneling under the slab of concrete that makes Jim’s shop floor, and making a hell of a mess inside the rest of the barn with its dirt pile.   I have visions of the barn falling into the hole it is digging down there.

Anyway, neither of our tenants is going to be all that happy about their living situations, because we have plans for both areas.  We are planning to improve the barn substantially.   When that happens I sincerely hope that no groundhogs get entombed beneath the new concrete slab floor that is going to be poured.   But if they are, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

Also, we have acquired solar panels, and we are going to install them this summer.   This is a long involved project that begins with the moving of the dirt pile that we have established back near the root cellar.   That root cellar never had enough dirt on it, and because of that it has never been stable in temperature, being too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer.   So we intend to have a dirt worker come along with equipment and move our dirt pile onto the root cellar.   Unfortunately, this is going to seriously discommode the groundhogs living there but they are not an endangered species and I can live with that.

Pretty enterprising mammal, though.   I was investigating the burrow the other day, and I discovered that the ground had found a piece of reflectix insulation that was in the barn and had hauled it all the way out to the root cellar and was attempting to drag the whole sheet down into its burrow.   I guess even groundhogs know the value of insulating their home!

So, there you are.   The Havens wildlife habitat is still a destination.

 

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It is hard to believe that the last time I posted here was before Thanksgiving.  I have been on line, too.  But somehow I have been sucked into Facebook and have found myself putting up little blips here and there rather than making a blog post.   I wonder how many other bloggers have been seduced by social media?

Since I posted, it has snowed and thawed several times.   I did get some pretty nifty snow shots during all those events.

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We had a real cold snap before Thanksgiving, and the little pond froze with beautiful hoarfrost crystals.

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We also had a small ice storm, no big damage although we did have a couple of elm trees that dropped a lot of branches.   The day after the ice covered stuff it was a lovely day and things were already starting to melt.   I took Ruby for a walk and the ice was positively magical.   Everywhere I looked the woods sparkled in rainbow colors.   This phenomenon proved to be shockingly difficult to photograph, but I did get one image that almost conveys how amazing it was out there.

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During all this harsh weather, my neighborhood has been living up to its name.   All kinds of little birds, and big birds too, have been enjoying the shelter, food and water The Havens provides.  Actually, there are plenty of mammals also enjoying The Havens along with the avian population.

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We had a sumptuous Thanksgiving repast.

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At Christmas, Jesse and Lynette were able to get away from their Army duties and bring James to visit us.   They were here for far too short a time, and we loved every minute of it.

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I saved The Quilt for a Christmas presentation, even though the kids knew I had made it and had enjoyed hots of it during all stages of creation.   They did not know about the pillow cases or the matching throw pillow, though.   Honestly, I think it makes a pretty impressive bed.

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James approved, I believe.

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One of my dear friends gave me an amaryllis bulb as a Christmas gift.   This week it started to open.

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Today it looks like this:

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So now you are somewhat up to date.

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This is the perfect example of why we grow more than one variety of grapes in our vineyard.

On Monday we picked the Marechal foch grapes.  We got 112 pounds of fruit of that row, which made 13 gallons of crush.   That is merrily perking away over in the dining room in the middle of the heat of ferment.   Millions of little yeasts are over there making more yeasts and fantasizing about taking over the world.

Today we picked the Baco noir row.   Or I should say, we picked at it.   A different variety, at a different stage of development when the early August rains hit us.   We got over a foot of rain in a week and a half.   The Baco noir grapes were in a growth phase, still putting on juice.   So the fruit split, and then proceeded to rot.   This is what the row looked like almost all the way along.

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We left most of the bunches on the vines.   I imagine that the robins and grackles are going to be having a big party in about half an hour when they figure out what has been left for them.

We wound up with 22.1 pounds of grapes off a row that had set every bit as much fruit as the Marechal foch.   It crushed to 2.5 gallons.  It took longer to clean the equipment after crushing than did to actually run the grapes through the stemmer/crusher.

It is SO depressing.

However, all is not lost.   The Cynthiana grapes, which are colloquially referred to as Nortons and make a wonderful wine, look like this:

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There aren’t a lot of grapes on the Nortons since the vines are only 3 years old.   But we will likely get more fruit and juice than we did from this days harvest.

The Chambourcin row is looking spectacular.  We will be picking them in a week or so.   They are still making sugar.

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These vines are just loaded with grapes and we anticipate getting more fruit and juice than we did from the Marechal foch.

Last year, it was so hot and dry we got a total of 135 pounds of grapes from all four rows.

This year, we got tons of rain at the wrong time.   A truth of the Universe is that you cannot un-fall the rain.   Once the water is on the ground, the plants take it up, and then nature takes its course.

Sigh.

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