Showing posts with label birds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label birds. Show all posts

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bluebird Blog #2

The babies are growing by leaps and bounds. It has been 3 weeks since the eggs were laid and the babies are now approximately two weeks old. They've grown from very scrawny and sort of ugly little naked chicks into bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, pin-feathered and very hungry little chirpers. Their instincts are really quite amazing, and they certainly see me as a very large and scary threat. I was lucky to get a photo with one holding its head up. Usually, as soon as anyone comes around, they bury their heads in the bottom of the nest, lie perfectly motionless and don't make a peep!

Mother and father bluebird are extremely busy with four little mouths to feed and it has provided endless hours of entertainment watching them fly back and forth across the yard catching insects, returning to the nest periodically to (I'm sure) regurgitate a fabulous high-protein, gourmet bug meal for the young 'uns.

My guess is that the little guys and gals will fledge the nest late this coming week--certainly by very early the following one. I'm hoping that since this brood came along fairly early in the season that mother and father might nest again. We'll see. I'm hoping I'll be lucky enough to be at home when the babies leave and, if so, will try to capture some photos of the big event.

Coming next... a plant that has gone from the "I'm-not-so-sure-I-like-it" list to being one of my faves! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bluebird Blog #1

I have put off posting for a brief period because I've been having photo software problems with the computer and didn't want to do the first bluebird post until I had some pictures to share. However, the issue is still not resolved and if I don't get busy blogging, the baby birds will have grown up, fledged and flown the nest before I get Bluebird Blog #1 posted. So... here goes.

It was my lucky, lucky day about three weeks ago when we were sitting on the screened porch one Sunday afternoon and I noticed one of the three pairs of Eastern bluebirds flying in and out under the awning of the garden shed. Sitting atop a great old potting bench are several birdhouses, two of which are open-fronted A-frames with baskets in the bottom of them. I could have sworn that those bluebirds were checking out one of those nesting boxes, but surely not. The box wasn't the right dimensions, the hole (there is no hole) wasn't the right size, it wasn't facing the proper direction.....all the things I'd always heard that bluebirds demanded of their nesting spot were wrong. As fortune would have it, this pair of bluebirds apparently had not read the nesting manual and the rules governing where they will and will not nest. So I watched.

Yes! Sure enough, the female bluebird was definitely checking out the open-fronted A-frame on the left--the one that was slightly obscured by some pots sitting in front of it. After a couple of hours of watching her rather intently, she took off to fetch an insect or two for supper and I took the opportunity to very quietly sneak over and check out the nesting location. The nest was there--perfectly built, but as yet unoccupied. I would wait.

Monday morning dawned sunny and beautiful and again I snuck out to very quietly and unobtrusively take a peek. Gold! One gorgeous little egg. By late that afternoon a second egg had appeared and by Wednesday morning, two more for a total of four. And so the waiting began.

I'm happy to tell you that, two weeks later, we have four absolutely perfect baby bluebirds and they are growing by leaps and bounds. Right now, they're all beak and skin. They're actually sort of ugly--but ugly in the most beautiful way! I noticed today that they are beginning to get a good layer of down on them now, which is good, given that we've had some cooler temperatures the past few days! Their eyes are still shut, but their hearing is incredibly acute. With even the slightest noise, four gaping beaks appear at the top of the nest and it is an absolute joy to see. I am taking pictures when I can, as long as I feel that I am not disturbing either the babies or the parents--so far, so good. As soon as I get this camera software running properly again, I'll post some pics so that you can see the precious young 'uns.

Until then, I'll just keep sneaking out from time to time to see what's going on. And I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Feeding Frenzy

It's a busy time of year at the birdfeeders! I have an abundance of finches at my new country home--gold finches, purple finches and pine siskins. There are probably some others that I'm not familiar with, yet, but those are the primary three. I haven't seen any house finches, to date, but I'm sure they're around. I was overrun with them in the city. I also have mama and papa nuthatches, tufted titmice, chickadees, a pair of house wrens and the obligatory flock of mourning doves, whom I adore not only because they're pretty, but because they waddle around and clean up all the seed the other birds spill on the ground. Wasteful little things birds can be, sometimes. The papa nuthatch will actually THROW things OUT of the feeder that he's not interested in, but the doves take care of it, so I'm not complaining. He is a little territorial, however, and I'm not so fond of his running off my other birds should they DARE land on whichever feeder he's possessing at the moment.

In addition, and perhaps my most prized residents for the moment, are two mated pair of bluebirds whose babies will assuredly adorn the garden this spring and, I noticed yesterday for the first time, the rose-breasted grosbeaks (up until now I had seen them only rarely!) are NESTING atop the downspout just outside my office window! What a treat that will be a little later in the season!

I am beginning to get the gardening itch. When I moved to the new place in the country back in August, the garden had been somewhat let go (understandably so) through the summer due to my landlord being in the throes of trying to finish her new house so that she AND I could both move. To that end, there was alot of cleaning up that had to be done. Some of it I tackled--most of it I left. Now it's time to get out there and finish the task! I have taken some "before" pictures and will post those in the near future. 2009 is going to be a year of gardening, which I haven't had the pleasure of being able to do for the past few years because of my prior living situation. This year, all of those little (and some not-so-little) plants that I have been tending to in their pots for the past four years are finally going to find a home! The blog will follow along with the progress, the success, the trials and the tribulations. I hope you will, too, and I wish the very best in 2009! Thank goodness it's FINAllY here. I feel better already!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Frost

Well, it finally happened. The first frost. We had skated by a couple of nights when the temperatures looked as though they were going to sink, but then stalled out in the upper thirties. Not last night, though! It was a brisk 26 degrees when I woke up this morning and there was an absolutely gorgeous frost on everything. If I hadn't had an early appointment I would have taken the time to get the camera out and get some photos.

The restored grassland just outside of the confines of the fence was particularly beautiful, the frosty plumes frozen in place and glistening as though encrusted in diamonds as the sun began to peek through the trees. The birds were all atwitter, too, flitting and fluttering in and out of the shadows, looking for the last good seeds that the grasses have to offer up. There must be a bounty of natural food right now, as the traffic at the birdfeeders is almost non-existent--a few doves, a titmouse, the 4 bluebirds (usually at the birdbath) and a very chatty nuthatch.

I love to watch him scale headfirst down the trunk of the white oak in the back yard and he IS a chatty little thing. Cheep. Cheep. Cheep-cheep. Territorial, too. He'll flit over to the seed tray, rustle around a minute, pick out a few tasty morsels and then flit back to his tree trunk. Let someone else fly into the seed tray, though, and look out. Nuthatch on the loose! Maybe that's why I don't have many other birds. One little general is running them all off!

It's getting colder, though. It won't be long before their natural resources are depleted somewhat and then the birds will be back in droves. It will be my first winter in the new house, so I can't wait to see what different kinds of birds will begin to converge on the feeders once winter really sets in. For now, it's just the few frequent visitors and I'm patiently waiting for them to tell their friends about all the treats awaiting them atop the oak-covered knoll they (and now I) call home.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Of Sun and Sunflowers

Being a Kansas boy by birth, it seems only natural that I would have a strong affinity for sunflowers. Kansas is, after all, the sunflower state. The wild form of Helianthus annuus grows up and down the roadsides and throughout natural areas across the state. This is not the giant garden form of sunflower that we often see, but a shrubby, multi-stemmed, small-flowered version--the wild form--that sometimes covers acres of land in a sea of yellow blossoms in late summer.

Today, some of my favorite garden flowers are the perennial sunflowers that put on such a spectacular garden show in the summer and fall of each year. These are true perennials that come back from the same rootstock year after year to touch the sky with their golden yellow flowers. They're not all towering giants, of course, but some of my favorites are. For example, the plant in the photograph is Helianthus 'Marc's Apollo' and it's a skyscraper! Not for the faint of heart and not for the small garden, this graceful giant may reach upwards of 12 feet by the time it's in full bloom in mid- to late September. I've made room for it, even though it's a little tall, because the show that it puts on is truly stunning--HUNDREDS of butter yellow flowers for nearly 6 weeks from September all the way 'til frost.

Helianthus salicifolius, the willowleaf sunflower, is another favorite. It's also a giant, but if you pinch the tips out of each stem about mid-June, it will flower at 6 feet or so instead of the nearly 10 feet it can reach otherwise. It has, in my opinion, the most beautiful foliage of all of the sunflowers--almost threadlike in its appearance it is so slender. It's a fantastic texture to add to the perennial garden even when it isn't in bloom.

A little-known species, but another that I simply wouldn't be without is Helianthus microcephala, the little-headed sunflower. Very bushy, almost shrubby in habit, it has a broader leaf like those you would see on Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' or Echinacea. It flowers a little earlier in the season, usually beginning in July, but the show goes on for months. It is not uncommon for it to still be flowering at the beginning of October when, as luck would have it, it's foliage turns burgundy red! Yellow flowers and burgundy-red foliage! Wow! It's still not a small plant, but it's worth the space.

If you would like to have a sunflower in your garden, but simply don't have the elbow room for one of the larger fellows, look for Helianthus angustifolius 'Low Down'. It's a true genentic dwarf and when in full bloom will only be about 18" tall with a 2-foot spread. I'm usually not a big fan of dwarf forms of plants that should be tall and willowy, but this one's a winner! I promise!

Plant some of these later flowering sunflowers with other spectacular late summer and fall beauties such as Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies' and Callicarpa americana and you'll have a combination that will have the traffic stopping in the street to admire your garden's beauty.

Please note that there really is no need to deadhead your sunflowers. It will do very little to extend their flowering season and besides, the birds (especially the goldfinches) will go absolutely crazy over the seed as it ripens on the plant and this brings an entirely new dimension of beauty to the garden.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Feathered Friends

(Originally posted December 4, 2007)

Good morning, everyone. I’ve been thinking for the past several days that I needed to get a new blog posted, but have had a bit of writer’s block. The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy and with Christmas now nearly upon us that probably isn’t going to change anytime soon. Sitting here early this morning, though, the morning feeding outside my window suddenly started and it gave me an idea–write about the birds!

A couple of years ago at the garden center, we had these really neat little clear acrylic birdfeeders that attach to directly to your window with suction cups. I have two of them on the double window over my kitchen sink and they have provided me with hours of entertainment. I keep one filled with sunflower chips and the other filled with safflower seed. Supposedly, the squirrels don’t care for safflower, but my squirrels apparently didn’t get that memo! I stand at the sink early in the morning doing up any dishes that may have accumulated and watching the birds as they fly in to feed. I’ve learned that as long as I keep the lights off they can’t see in, and even though I may be moving around a little it doesn’t bother the birds in the least. They come and go as if I wasn’t there at all and many times they’ll sit and peck for food for several seconds before the next one flies in and takes his or her turn.

I’ve been amazed at the great diversity of birds that have come to my feeders. I’m fortunate that even though I live in town I have a 5-acre lot with plenty of nice shade trees and a good bit of “scrub” and undergrowth around the edges that makes for fantastic bird habitat. I’ve cleaned the majority of it up, but have left Mother Nature alone in several places so that the birds and other little critters have plenty of places to roost, nest and hide. Just this year I have already seen many of the common species, such as the cute little black-capped chickadees, titmice, a few juncos one really cold morning, a huge number of cardinals, bluejays, a wren and others. But I also have some more interesting visitors from time to time, like the adorable little downy woodpecker who absolutely LOVES the sunflower chips that I put in one of the window feeders. Sometimes he’ll hang around for 2-3 minutes at a time, perched right there on the window, without blinking an eye. It’s so fascinating to watch him up close. And then there’s the flicker, who’s so big that you can see the feeder shake when he lands with a distinct “thud”. He has to hang off of the side of the feeder and stick his head up over the side, but I could watch him for hours. He has a tongue that “flickers” in and out with amazing speed, scooping up sunflower chips with every little motion.

I’ve also already spotted the rufus-sided towhee that comes around each winter, the indigo bunting that follows me around on the lawnmower in the summer scooping up insects behind me as I mow and the big pileated woodpecker who has pulled the little window feeders right off of the window on more than one occasion because of his massive size. He still comes to the window and feeds, though! Now that’s a sight! A huge, foot-and-a-half long woodpecker hanging from a tiny little feeder attached to my kitchen window by three suction cups! Who needs to pay nine bucks for a movie when you can just stay home and watch the birds?

I also scatter some mixed birdseed on the ground and in an old, cracked terra cotta saucer that won’t hold water anymore for the ground feeders (including a sizable coon who comes ’round about 10 o’clock each night). The cardinals and bluejays both like to peck around on the ground, as do the sparrows and the house finches. But I think my favorite of the ground feeders has to be the enormous number of mourning doves who have discovered my generosity. There have been mornings where I’ve had close to 30 mourning doves at one time, mingling with all the rest of the birds. It’s not unusual, once winter really sets in, for me to have 50-60 birds or more all flying in and out or pecking around on the ground at the same time. It has become one of my favorite pasttimes to stand at the window and watch them as they go about their pecking and scratching. It reminds me of my childhood when we used to sit in my grandmother’s kitchen in front of the fireplace and watch the birds feed outside of her kitchen window. And now my own little feathered friends take me back to those fond memories each and every day.