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Posts Tagged ‘backyard wildlife habitat’

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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We had our roof replaced and the house sided last month.  Looks pretty good now, like a brand new house outside.   Too bad the inside does not match…  I definitely need new floor treatments.

However, during the course of the work, the siding guys simply had to walk next to the house, which involved walking in the garden on the north side.  This garden mostly consists of hostas, with a few hellebores and bleeding hearts thrown in.   It started out as a real shade garden with several varieties of shade lovers in it, but over the years the less hardy plants died out.

Truth to tell, some of the original plantings, which I established with great forethought, turned out to be unwise choices.   One of those, notably, was the lily of the valley, which was summarily evicted after I discovered it busily strangling the hostas nearest to it.   The violets that I was so sure would look very nice along the house turned out to be a noxious weed and empire builders.   I have been trying to eradicate them for some time, and if I live long enough I may eventually succeed.

But I digress.   I decided that the north border needed to be revamped.  To that end, I removed all the rocks I had placed next to the house, leveled out the area and edged it with some pound-in edging.   The rocks got thrown into a pile over near the pergola.   After the edging was in place, I lined the rock border right next to the house with black plastic.   The idea is to have a strip of decorative rock between the house and the garden so that I do not have plants right up against the house, in the interest of proper air circulation.

It has taken me about a week to get ready to put my rocks back.   These are mostly very cool rocks that I have brought home from various gravel bars.   While I was doing the prep work, though, behind my back the rock pile became habitat.  I was not particularly surprised to find pill bugs and centipedes living there when I started moving the pile.   The big wolf spider also did not seem very out of place.

But this fellow surprised me!

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He (or she — I’m not good at sexing amphibians), had taken up residence under the pile of rocks and wished sincerely that I had not moved them.

I did pick the little fellow up, because I certainly did not wish to hurt him during my job.

As you can see with the scale of my glove added, this is a very small being indeed.  I think this may be the eft stage of the red spotted newt.  This is very interesting, because for a long time I have been aware of having what I referred to as salamanders living in the pond.  It turns out that the red spotted newt has an aquatic stage, and the guys in the pond are more than likely the red spotted newt in that aquatic stage.  This little fellow has found its way out of the pond to transform to its terrestrial stage.

I took it over to the rain garden, which seemed like a good place to relocate it out of harms way.

Indeed, it found the location satisfactory, and crawled back in and under the rocks there.

I am happy to find yet another individual creature that appreciates the habitat we have created here at the Havens.  It is really very exciting!

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A long held dream of mine has finally come to fruition.

Of course, Jim and I have always had compost piles.  The first one was a very informal affair out at the back corner of the garden I created in San Francisco.   When Jim got transferred and we moved to Bremerton, Washington, we loaded that compost pile into a 33 gallon garbage can and transported it with us.   I could not bear to leave it behind, because it contained the remains of all the bouquets that Jim had sent me during his year long deployment to the Middle East.

This may be the only compost pile on record that was moved across state lines due to sentimental reasons.

When we moved to the Havens location, almost the first thing Jim built was a series of bins in which to make compost.   The compost area was always a busy spot, and quite often it was unlovely.

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There are six bins for compost, and then the bench area at the end which was where we  store tools, and all sorts of things too numerous to mention.  As you can see in this picture, there is a large pile of stuff that needs to dry enough to be run through the compost grinder, which is the tool underneath the black rubber cover.   To the left you see two compost tumblers which are useful if you don’t have a lot of compost to make.   With two acres, we generate a lot of material; much more than those sweet little tumblers can manage.

Here is a shot of the bins in action.

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The six bins were just lovely for about a year and a half.   Then the row of elm trees behind them in the picture discovered them.   It became a trial to turn the compost  as it was making due to the invasion of elm roots.   Jim poured shallow concrete floors in a fruitless attempt to discourage the elms.   This worked for about five minutes, after which the elms discovered they could just come up over the edge of the concrete and still invade the compost.

We moved operations off to the back of the property for a while, building the compost piles out on sheets of left over pond liner and/or black plastic.   The tree roots more or less stayed out, but the bermuda grass  would creep over the edge of what ever barrier we put down.   And I can tell you that neither of those substances stood up to pitch fork tines worth a damn, and so it wasn’t long before the tree roots would find a way into the compost piles through the convenient rents in the base.

I longed for a compost area like they have at the Missouri Botanical Garden, with concrete floors, walls to push against and a front end loader to turn the piles.

Finally, after a certain amount of negotiation as to size and location, we decided to have a concrete pad poured upon which we could pile compost.   We desired it to be done by professionals so that it would have a little slant and water would drain off, but not too fast.   Also, hopefully, if a contractor and his men did it, the surface would be smooth enough to easily turn the piles.

This would have been so much more easily accomplished if it had not started raining a couple of weeks ago, making the idea of bringing a redimix truck into the backyard a potential nightmare of ruts and stuck trucks.  So we had to wait for the weather, and the contractor got the flu, so we had to wait for him to get well.

A couple of days ago, all the stars came into alignment and the waiting forms and wire reinforcement received concrete.   It was polished and smoothed, and now, voila!

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I should have taken a picture of the old bins, too.   They have been cleaned and organized and are now being used as storage for the various bird annoying devices we have created to keep the lovely avian tenants of the place out of the apples and strawberries.   Also, the tools have been organized and it all looks just very nice.   Another day.

The forms are gone now, and in a couple of days the concrete will have cured enough that I can move the waiting piles that are now out by the root cellar onto the pad.   I am very excited!

So, of course, there was some amusement to be had while the concrete was being poured and finished.

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This is a view of the corner of the pad during the time while it was still wet and being finished.   If you look very closely, you will see a little black speck on the edge of the concrete right about the middle of the picture.

This is what it is.

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This is a mud dauber wasp.   They are always looking for wet mud with which to build their nests.   If they can’t find mud, they pick up dirt and take it somewhere there is moisture and create mud.   Apparently, this wet concrete was the Best Mud Ever, because the whole time the pad was curing, as long as it was wet enough to pick up concrete, those little wasps were busy making beautiful little balls of concrete and flying off with it to their building site.

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I really like this shot, because just above the wasp you can see the area where she collected her last ball of “mud”.  That is the mark of her jaws in the concrete.  I tried to follow her to her nest so I could see her impregnable concrete reinforced nest, but I lost sight of her.   I think she was building inside the place where the soffit of the sauna is loose.

The contractor and his workers were fairly amused by the fact that I was taking pictures of the wasps and chasing them around.   But these guys have been here before.  They were the ones who fixed the beams under the house, and when they found the big black snake wrapped around the hot water line, were amazed that the housewife/owner was very concerned that they NOT hurt the snake.   So they already know I am odd.

I compounded my oddness by turning my attention from the busy mud daubers to the goldenrod by the sauna, which was being used by very happy bees.   This one has an impressive collection of pollen on her back legs.

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In other news, the Monarch butterflies are migrating through right now.   I find them on my asters, and they seem to like the sedums too.

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I wish them happy trails and plenty of food plants on their journey to Mexico.

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I have never made any pretence of particularly loving rabbits.   They can be a nuisance, one which we went to quite a bit of trouble to fence out of the vegetable garden.  They serve their place in the world, though.   The fact that we have a healthy population of them at The Havens accounts for the presence of Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls.   I’m sure the black snakes are happy to find a tiny tender tidbit upon occasion.

I was out watering my potted plants this morning during the break I had between a couple of clients.   As is my custom, I was gazing about the place, admiring the view while I was waiting for the right amount of water to flow into the whiskey barrels full of beans and morning glories.  I am very pleased with them.

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The Petite Prairie is looking pretty good right now, despite the dry weather we have been having.

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The silky dogwood was looking a little peaked, so when I was done with the pots I made my way over there to give it a drink.    Of course, the hose had to kink during the trip across the lawn, so when I turned the spray nozzle on, nothing happened.   I laid it down and attended to the kink.    The water began to gush out of the nozzle, and very soon afterwards I heard a vociferous complaint from the bed just below the dogwood.    It was a very loud complaint indeed, and obviously was coming from an infant.

I investigated, and this is what I found to be the source of the racket.

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Honestly, this little baby bunny seems way too small to be able to make such a very loud noise.

After I photographed the Small One, I placed him carefully back in the nest with his siblings.    Of course, I had to document it all.

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My client had arrived, so I carefully put the grassy cover back over the babies, and went in to do her massage.    She admired the baby pictures.   Although we both  agreed about rabbits in general, we also both agreed that when they are so very small they are very cute.  No way could I exterminate them, even if they will probably be chewing through my iris stems when they get older.   I just found a Naked Lady stem that was full of buds that some rabbit decided looked edible.    I guess it wasn’t that edible, because it only chewed through the stem, it didn’t bother to actually eat the buds.   I have to admit I was perturbed.

So anyway, a little while ago, having finished the massage and my lunch, I thought I’d go back out there and see if I couldn’t get a better shot of them in their nest.

I was interested to discover that in the intervening three hours, Mama Rabbit had been around to tend to her youngsters.   The grass and twig cap on the nest had been seriously beefed up.   And if you take a close look at this next picture you will notice that there has been a further change.

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Apparently she had not quite finished furnishing the nest when I took the first picture.   Now there is a beautiful soft layer of rabbit fur encasing the babies.

I covered them up again.

They really are very cute.

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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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Just this morning I posted this:

Out there is where the pipe vine grows. I planted it as a food supply for the pipevine swallowtail, in the fond hope that one would happen upon it and start a colony, but so far they have not shown up. I may be located too far from their usual habitat. But I love the vine anyway. Right now it is covered with little “dutchmen’s pipes”.

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Well, I am happy to be proved wrong.

I was just out on the other side of the fence transplanting a spiderwort that had volunteered in the Stroll Garden.   While I was out there I took it upon myself to remove an oak tree that was volunteering as well as the ten thousandth mulberry, also volunteering.

I was making my way through the jungle toward the burn pile with my trophies when I noticed a caterpillar dining on the pipevine.    Of course, I had to take a picture so I could identify it.

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Yes children!   That is the larva of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.   There are other places on the vine showing evidence of happy diners.   I could not be more excited.

It just proves my point once again:   IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME.

HUZZAH!

 

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