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Archive for the ‘bird watching’ Category

A number of years ago, I bought this fun wrought iron plant stand at a yard sale. I was in love with it and intended to use it for a bird bath. The downside to the purchase was the ugly vintage pot that came with it (I couldn’t buy the plant stand without the pot). The upside was that I stopped at another yard sale where I purchased my little secretary desk, and the woman who helped me load the desk into the back of my car fell in love with the pot. I donated the pot to her for helping me load the desk, and we both gopt what we wanted.

Later, I purchased a deep bowl at a thrift store, and – ta da! – had a bird bath. A bird bath that attracted bees and wasps to their deaths. Ugh. I tried a wire across the bath (photo with the dragon fly), but the birds and the dogs managed to knock it off all the time, and I still ended up with drowned bees, flies, and wasps. Last year, I made a little safety raft out of matchsticks, in the hopes the insects would crawl up onto it and thus save themselves. . Insects don’t understand the concept, and I continued to have dead ones in the bowl.

The problem is the slick sides of the bowl. The porcelain that makes it so desirable for human use is deadly for insects.

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I don’t have that problem in this birdbath, poured of rough concrete. If insects land in it, they can get back out of it because they can grip the concrete. (Don’t ask about the crows that dump questionable food items into it, in an effort to soften up the Kentucky Fried Chicken leg bones so they can eat the bone marrow. Or worse. Crows are like raccoons, with a desperate need to “wash” their food first, and to the detriment of any other bird needing a bath or drink).

I digress.

This year, I saw a very neat idea for creating a bee watering station, and it occurred to me that instead of a second bird bath, what I really needed was a bee watering station where the bees, wasps, and flies wouldn’t drown. Now, bees and wasps play a very important role in our eco-system, and most wasps are not akin to the common (and hot-headed) yellow jacket or bald-faced hornet. In fact, most hornets are calmer than most yellow-jackets, and only become agitated if they feel attacked (like when you step on their nest in the woods). I will go out of my way to deal with a yellow-jacket nest, but I tend to leave all other wasps, hornets, and bees alone.

We are in a bee crisis. Non-native honeybees are dying off, the native bees are threatened, and the rusty-patched bumblebee was just added to the Endangered Species Act. My yard is a veritable haven for native bees, from iridescent green sweat bees to tiny black bees to Mason bees to dozens of bumblebees, all the way to honeybees, mud-dauber wasps, and how-many-other wasps and bees I-don’t-know. Protecting them is as important to me as providing habitat for the birds that frequent our yard.

Have I ever mentioned how dead this yard was when we moved in here, the summer of 2002? Not an insect buzzed and not a bird flitted through. We began organic (for the most part) gardening, feeding the birds, and added my first birdbaths. Now, the yard is a haven for buzzing and singing.

The pictures on the Web that I found showed shallow bowls filled with clear marbles. I searched high and low at the thrift store until I found a shallow bowl that I liked (not plain white!). I already had a vase full of glass rounds and polished agates, so filling the bowl was a cinch. The frog was a bonus. When I switched out he deeper bowl, I found at least half a dozen drowned mason bees in it (already!!). My hope is to never find a drowned bee again. And I like the addition of color to my garden.

Speaking of which…

I found this funky bowl-thing-fountain at the thrift store. Somebody actually paid that $49.99 price for it. It’s freaking UGLY. I paid $6.99 to save it. I mean, a little acrylic paint, a sealer, and a couple of my assorted ceramic frogs…

And, yes, water. It’s not exactly utilitarian as a bird bath, but the bugs and birds can get a drink, and I get to enjoy the funkiness of it.

I included slugs in the title of this post, and I really intended to have more photos for that portion of the blog, but it didn’t happen. Here’s the deal: we have a slug problem. I live in the Pacific Northwest, in the rain-forest side of the state. When I was a girl, my family would come from Nevada to visit here, and my sister and I took perverse pleasure in pouring salt on slugs to watch them die. It’s awful, and really not humane. I’m older now, and I like to just cut to the chase.

I hate slugs. I loathe slugs. Non-native snails are right behind slugs on the loathe list, and neither one is loathed because of what it is, but because of the damage it does to my plants. Slugs are a special kind of pestilence in the garden, devouring irises almost as soon as they provide fresh greenery. I have tried everything. Beer in shallow dishes just provides you with a dish full of drowned slugs that you have to dispose of. Disgusting. And inefficient, because you have to 1) change the beer daily, 2) buy beer you won’t drink (which would be any IPA in my case), and 3) expensive because beer isn’t cheap.

I’ve carried a bucket of bleach water around with me and tossed slugs into that. It’s as disgusting as slugs drowned in beer. I have (and still do) practice slug tossing (ala the book “Slug Tossing” by Meg Descamp, which I read many years after I decided the only real solution to slugs is poison. But Meg is hysterical, and I love her book). But, yes, poison. Corey’s Slug and Snail Death.

You don’t want your pets or the birds to get into this stuff. So here is how I conquered that problem creatively. Use decorative ceramic planters.

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See that pot underneath the frog fairy planter? There’s a supply of Corey’s under there with plenty of access for the pestilence to get to it. I set up these “feeding stations” around my garden, even where the dogs frequent, and always close to the plants the slugs like best. Dogs can’t smell it, birds can’t get to it, and slugs crawl in and die. They die, dehydrate, and compost and I never have to deal with their slimy carcasses, and nobody innocent gets poisoned. It’s one of the very few instances where I bow to the use of poisons. It’s not 100% effective (or, rather, slugs are more prolific than worms or bunnies, so it only catches the ones I want caught, and the rest go on procreating under the deck or whereever they hide in the daytime).

I wonder how I came to have so many ceramic frogs??

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This is my dad. He promised me that he would come back as this ceramic frog. I brought him home and, suddenly, I had a plethora of little ceramic frogs to put in my garden. Coincidence? Maybe. But I wouldn’t put it past Dad.

Now – a total digression. I was going to take a photo of the chickadee watering station (aka ant moat) over the hummingbird feeder. EXCEPT that the female Anna’s was NOT moving out of the feeder. These are taken with the 50mm lens, from about four feet. Yes, she let me get that close.

That ant moat above the hummer feeder is where the chickadees, juncos, and Townsend’s warbler get water. They disdain the bigger birdbath for the ant moat.

(And, if you are wondering – yes, the ant moat works to keep ants out of the hummer feeder – so long as you keep the moat filled with water.)

I should write a book on gardening in the Pacific Northwest. Hmmmm.

 

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I spent New Year’s Eve on a crowded airplane (or two), flying from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast.Then, again, I spent Christmas Eve flying from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic, and trying to espy Santa and his reindeer in the sky.

Nix on Santa on the 24th, but I did catch some fireworks (out the airplane window) somewhere in Idaho last night. And a whole lot of fireworks in my neighborhood, as my friend dropped me off at the house at ten to midnight.

I added two states to my list of “states I have visited”: Georgia and Florida. It will be a couple of days before I process all of the photos. I brought home one of those colds that settles in the lungs, 215 photos and videos (on my camera, alone) to process, and a little bit of jet lag.

I will post my annual resolutions sometime this week, too, and tell you how I did with last year’s. But that can wait.

I sort of wish I had traveled when birds are nesting, but I didn’t. I only saw winter birds on my travels, and with the exception of one: I’ve seen them all before. The one I had never seen before is this one.

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I am pretty certain he is a boat-tailed grackle. He’s magpie-sized, say 16-18″ long.

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Here’s his lady.

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And his “crew”. This was the only time I saw them, at some gas station in Florida. I think we were in Florida.

More on that, later.

I had a wonderful visit with my son & his wife and all of their children. I met the grand-dogs. I held the newest grandson. My life was full and my heart remains full. I already miss them.

I wish for anyone reading this: prosperity, hope, peace, and the sort of joy that settles into your inner being so that even when you have a moment of self-doubt or anxiety or depression comes crashing in, you will have the strength to reach out and find someone to anchor you. I wish healing and health on all of my friends. I pray that those who lost loved ones in 2016 will be comforted.

Shalom, my friends.

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I sometimes wonder what my neighbors think when they drive or walk by and I have either the binoculars to my eyes or a camera with a telescopic lens poking out between the slats of the Venetian Blinds. I did warn the people who live directly across the street from me that, no, I am not spying on anyone. I’m bird-watching.

The frigid weather we’ve been having has made for good bird-watching: I provide sustenance in the form of black oil sunflower seeds, Niger thistle, suet laced with nuts and insect parts, and home-made hummingbird nectar. The birds pay me back by coming in flocks.

Yesterday, I was quite concerned about the hummingbirds as both feeders had iced up. One was frozen solid and I brought that one into the house to thaw, replacing it with the third hummingbird feeder that was sitting on the kitchen counter. When it thawed, I put it out and brought in the last feeder to thaw. I keep rotating them to keep thawed nectar out there.

It is a good thing, too: when I hauled all the groceries into the house (several trips in and out), I was greeted by some very snippy Anna’s Hummingbirds. Four of them, to be exact. Three hid in the rhododendron and one buzzed in the air over my head. The male could be heard chittering at me. I was disturbing their feeding frenzy and they were letting me know.

And today when I switched out a frozen feeder with a thawed one, a female Anna’s buzzed thoughtfully in the air beside me, unsure whether she should wait until I actually hung the feeder or if she could land on it while I was carrying it. She opted to wait.

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Here she is, thinking about life. Or maybe about where she’ll build her 2013 nest.

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The Anna’s male looks like he has a black head and chin, but those feathers really are red and iridescent.

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Really, they are. I promise.

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Ah! Just a little bit of movement and light and you can see a hint of color!

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“Hey! Are you taking my photograph? Paparazzi!

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Can Hummingbirds look angry?

A lot of birds visited the other feeders: Varied Thrush, Downy Woodpecker, the different chickadees, 28 Bushtits (I took a photograph and counted them – it was too blurry to be kept and I deleted it, but I got an accurate count), a flock of dark-eyed Juncos…

Speaking of Juncos, I was visited by a most unusual one today. Most of ours are actually the sub-species, Oregon Junco, but they flock together: Slate colored, Oregon and Dark-eyed. The field guides lump them together.

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What all of them have in common is this: they have no white feathers on their upper parts or their crown. Except for this guy, who apparently has some sort of Albinism gene in his make-up. Her make-up? Very unusual.

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I am not a fan of the European Starling, but with the frigid temps and the freezing fog that has kept us below freezing even in the day time, I can’t begrudge the clever birds a little bit of food. This particular one is already showing his summer colors: iridescent black/blue/green plumage.

He was also a bit of a show-off.

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Steller’s Jay rarely comes into my feeding area, but it must be cold enough to make them humble. Four of them landed in the yard together and made a great show of looking for something besides black-oil sunflower seed. One even uncovered an acorn a squirrel must have dropped in my yard.

I think of Steller’s Jays as the Royalty of the Corvid Family. They are in the same family as crows, which explains why they are so clever. Crows are the Family geniuses, Ravens are the Family tricksters, and Jays are the various royalty.

Now I have to pick a favorite of today’s photos to add to my 2013 Photo 365 project. That’s a difficult choice!

 

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This is mostly about wildlife in the backyard, but there might be some mechanical devices involved as well.

Today was a good day, mostly pain-free and very lazy. I am considering the comments made on my last post very seriously, but I have other things to do before I go asking a doctor for a dx of fibromyalgia. I do take it seriously: three friends in one week said the same thing after I whined to them about how I was feeling. I just hadn’t seriously considered it before because… well, I never thought my symptoms matched up properly.

But that isn’t what I wanted to write about tonight. We have a backyard full of wild creatures and I would love to share them with you, my small following of friends and family.

Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of everything.

For instance, a couple weeks ago my husband called me at 6:30AM. “Is the opossum still there?”

Um. What opossum would that be?

My husband lets his dog out very early in the morning, like about 4:30AM. And on this particular morning, Murphy proudly carried a dead opossum to the back door. Don chased him down in the yard and made him leave the poor body out in front of the shed. And now, at 6:30AM when it was light out, he wanted me to go out and see if the opossum was truly dead.

I assured him there was no body in the back yard.

Dumb dog! The opossum went into a stupor and “played” dead, and Murphy thought he had a prize. I’m sure it was very relieved to wake up from it’s self-induced coma to find it was still alive, and it made it out of the yard post-haste.

Last Monday, Don let his dog out at 4:30AM. And there was a terrible ruckus in the back corner of the yard, with barking and growling and scuffling. I woke up and held my breath, waiting to hear a cat scream. No cat. Whatever it was, it fought back and held Murphy at bay before it jumped onto the compost bin and over the 6′ bamboo screen, onto the neighbor’s little tin shed.

I moved all the hazelnut mulch bags into the backyard and stacked them onto the back stoop until I can find time to spread the nuts. I did this because something moved the bags around in the driveway and attempted to chew through thee plastic fiber.

Last week, I stepped out the back door in the early morning to discover the bags that were still unopened had been rearranged on the back stoop.

The critter left his mark.

Pretty certain that is the same critter that Murphy tangled with a few mornings earlier. I’d just spread hazelnuts over the flower beds in the back corner. Apparently we have a neighboring raccoon who is fond of filberts.

Darn thing also dug up my freshly planted mums and killed them. Guess it was also hunting grubs??

Today, I lazed around. I pulled out the lawn chair, set my camera on the bench beside me with a glass of ice water for refreshment, and opened the last book in the Cornelia Funke series I have been reading (Inkheart, Inkspell & Inkdeath). I kept one eye on the new birdbath.

I purchased the salad bowl at Goodwill and filled it with water. The stand is one I bought at a yard sale not too long ago. I also added a “bubbler” to make the water move and I have since moved the entire set-up to a different location. It has taken the small birds about a month to discover it, but now that they have – they love it.

But before I spotted any birds in the birdbath, there was a chattering and commotion in the hazelnut tree that my husband has allowed to grow wild along the back fence. It’s in a part of the yard where we have done no landscaping. Neglected, wild, and overgrown. And now there was a squirrel chattering back there, presumably at Harvey as he wandered the perimeter of the yard.

Harvey is hunting cats and doesn’t care about squirrels.

Harvey is not especially bright and he’s on a mission to get out of our yard to hunt cats.

I grabbed my camera and headed to the wild side of the yard.

The squirrel was upset with this large blue bird, not Harvey. The Steller’s Jay was working the hazelnut tree over.

Steller’s Jays are harder to capture than scrubjays. They aren’t as gregarious. But they are one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen. I think they are prettier than the Eastern Bluejay.

The squirrel is a young Eastern Fox squirrel that only recently started coming over to our bird feeder. It seems he (or she) has also discovered the wild hazelnut in back.

The birdbath didn’t disappoint me. You can see the bubbler in the middle of the bowl there: it’s powered by two “D” batteries and just spins, making the water move. I was worried that it would put off the little birds, but this red-breasted nuthatch doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.

The Black-capped Chickadee was more worried about me and I was sitting 20 feet away.

We live along the Pacific Flyway, the major north-south migration route for thousands of birds annually. Our back yard is also on the flight path for airliners coming from the south, headed for PDX. We are also relatively close to several small airports and since we sit on the bluff over the Willamette River, we have some great thermals overhead. Small aircraft often buzz the house in the summer months.

Today, we were buzzed by three Vintage WWII airplanes. They’re noisy, but they don’t leave large bird droppings like the occasional Turkey Vultures that gets lost on the thermals overhead do.

The chickadee started to warm up to my presence. Or maybe this is a different bird.

The sun was dropping low and the shadows were getting long when I decided it was time to come in and fix dinner for my husband. But I couldn’t resist the squash bug. Pestilence.

 

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Although I once had a mitred conure I called “Samson” that could talk. He knew about 20 words when I had to give him up. My family made me give him up.

No, not really: the orange Manx-cross barn cat we adopted made me give the bird up. That kitten was not afraid of that bird’s beak. I gave Sam away to save his life.

The kitten belonged to my son. I kept the kitten because my son desperately wanted that cat.

Rabbit trail: my son wanted to name the cat “Orangey”. My husband and I, wise parents that we are, said, “Why don’t we all put in two names into a bowl and the name we draw will be the cat’s name?” Everyone was enthusiastic and the names were written. I don’t remember all the names now, but Orangey and Benjamin Franklin were two of them. Ziggy was on four slips of paper: my husband’s two and my two. We named the cat “Ziggy”.

Not sure if my kids ever forgave us for that.

Birds.

I spied a house finch in the bird feeder the other day and decided to try for some good photos. I put the 300mm zoom on my camera and snapped a number of photos, about half of which I trashed. The ones I kept were startling.

I loved how bright red he was.

This photo made me pause. There’s really something odd about the bird’s head.

Um… That right eye does not look good.

Here you can see the left eye, which is normal, and the bulge where the right eye should be. The finch has Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis. I am so sad!

When I snapped those photos, I thought I was looking at a healthy bird. It was only when I uploaded them to my computer that I realized what the camera saw that I did not see.

Saturday, after we came home from hunting mushrooms, I decided to sit in the garden a while with Harvey.

That was when *she* came into my life.

She buzzed around the garden before settling on the little white wire fence just three feet from my nose. She stuck her tongue out at me. Literally, not figuratively. Well, maybe she was smacking her lips.

Do birds have lips?

No, she was definitely sticking her tongue out at me: “You don’t have a camera and by the time you get one, I will be gone. Neener neener neener!”

Ah, but Sunday came.

And I was armed with a hoe, an edger, knee pads, gloves, and a funky straw hat to ward off the sun. I brought along a bottle of water. And I kept my camera on a chair cushion within easy grasp.

I was ready for her.

Oh, I was ready for her.

Do you see both of them? One is up in the upper right of the photo and the other is hovering in the lower left. Two female Black-chinned Hummingbirds. I think my little Tease finally chased the Intruder off. They certainly went at it for a few minutes, hummingbird-style.

One male came into the garden, too, but he was camera shy. I could not move quickly enough to snap a photo of him.

Isn’t she beautiful?

She spent a lot of time resting like that. I suspect she not only has a nest nearby but she is exhausted from taking care of it.

She certainly is the friendliest hummingbird.

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Well, my female Ruby-crowned Kinglet did not make an appearance this weekend, the little hussy. She could have had the courtesy to make a second appearance at the bird feeder, especially after I dutifully put out thistle seed.

harumph.

However, the American Robins (Turdus migratorius – sounds like something that got it’s Latin name on an episode of The Road Runner) made a huge showing on Saturday morning. In fact, you could say they decided the spa was open.

It started with one bird.

Then a second one flew in.

“Whew! What a flight! You could move over and let me land, Buddy!”

Then there were five.

Three in committee and two out there doing the scouting work.

A pair of naturalized citizens dropped in to share some gossip.

Mrs. English House Sparrow (Weaver Finch) and Ms. European Starling whispered over the bugs in the grass.

The Dark-eyed Junco enjoyed a spot of peanut butter suet.

Mrs. and Mr. House Finch were just shopping at the big warehouse store, stocking up on sunflower seeds.

Ms. Pileated Woodpecker was soon beak-deep in the dried insects stuck inside the suet.

She’s more than twice the size of the robins and considerably shier.

The opposite spectrum of the woodpecker world popped in to check out the amenities at the Spa.

Hello, Master Downy Woodpecker. Fine day to look for a mate?

OK, that was rather dorky commentary, but it has been a long day.

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I am so jazzed tonight: new bird in the bird feeder – and a rare one for a bird feeder, at that.

It was actually a pretty slow day for the bird feeder. It started frosty and cold, but once the sun was up, it warmed wonderfully. The birds tend to forage on their own when it is nice out.

Still, I had a couple Eurasian Starlings come in.

I was raised to hate starlings. They’re an invasive species, introduced from Europe, noisy and rather obnoxious. I have known a birder or two (or three or four) to take drastic measures to keep starlings out of the feeder. In fact, I have been known to quit feeding birds until the starlings move on.

This winter I decided to watch them. I am beginning to see them in a different light (my dad would roll over in his grave if he was in a grave – probably a good thing we cremated him). They’re a rather showy bird with an interesting repertoire of songs. I don’t think I will ever actually like starlings, but I think I can get used to their presence. They are, after all, here and here¬† to stay.

Two Band-tailed Pigeons dropped in. They didn’t stay long: my house is on a corner lot and people sometimes top at the stop sign for long minutes. Today someone got out and readjusted the load in the back of their pick-up and the pigeons decided not to hang out. They’re very shy birds, not at all like the rock doves you see congregating on public statues, under overpasses and on power lines. They are also native birds, unlike rock doves. And cleaner, I might add.

I don’t like rock doves much.

But that was it for birds until around 4:15 this afternoon, just before the sun went down. Then all the chickadees and usual little birds started filtering in. Or is that flitting in? They’re a nervous lot.

My friendly Townsend’s Warbler always takes time to pose for my camera.

But then there was the Stranger. At first I thought I had a lone Bushtit, but that would be unusual and this bird was considerably larger and slightly more yellow. It was too gray for a Goldfinch, but maybe a Lesser Goldfinch?

I snapped a photo and hoped that it would come out.

This was the best photo of the ones I took. The bird would never turn sideways to me and was entirely too nervous out in the open. I didn’t have the tripod set up to stabilize the camera (with the 75-300mm lens on it, the auto stabilization is not guaranteed to work). But the photo¬† is adequate.

I thought it might be a vireo because of the eye, but seeing a vireo in the feeder would be entirely unusual: they eat insects. Still… that is insect suet, full of tiny bug parts for the bug-lovers.

I usually check my birds against a couple different field guides when I am unsure about what I am looking at. Our old Peterson’s Guide that sits in the kitchen is reasonably reliable but I wasn’t satisfied with the choices. So I turned to the computer and the Cornell All About Birds web site.

Ta da! I have a definite ID on this fellow: Cassin’s Vireo (used to be Solitary Vireo, which is what Peterson’s Guide called it).

I’m jazzed.

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