Saturday, June 28, 2008

Grass B Gon

So, in a moment of weakness, I bought some (okay two), spray-bottles of Ortho’s GrassBGon…but I just cannot bring myself to use it. I don’t yet have the money to cover my garden with material to keep down weeds and they’re overrunning the new shrubs and perennials that I’m planting. I have a large yard and little money; I’m trying to turn it into a wild-life oasis of sorts; for me and the birds & bees. Sometimes I feel it’s a loosing battle. I had thought I’d ONLY spray deep in the center of existing plants that are thick with grass where I cannot reach…but upon reading the label I just can’t bring myself to spray the stuff.

I’m sensitive to the idea of using chemicals…and the more I garden for the birds, the more I realize I cannot go spraying chemicals onto plants that a label plainly says to use with “Plants that will not bear edible fruit for one year”. So…I might remember not to eat strawberries and raspberries or cherries that develop before a year is up…but what about slugs that eat berries or birds that eat both? What happens if flowers show up and to the insects that show up on the flowers?

When is a ‘little risk’ acceptable? Just this morning I watched a robin wrestle with a long strand of bindweed; obviously a desirable material for nest-building. What would have happened had I just sprayed the weeds…even if the stuff had dried before I left the area in some blind attempt to protect wildlife? Eggs breath…so what happens to eggs laid upon a soft nest of poisoned grass?

The product states on the container:

For liquid products, it is generally safe for wildlife to return once the products have dried. Avoid applying pesticides to non-target areas, and refrain from using insecticides on plants where honeybees are active, or where birds are visibly feeding.
Okay, I don’t eat the buds and flowers or necter or pollen produced by most of the plants in my yard…but bees and butterflies and birds do. So, what to do; what to do?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Summertime in the Southern Rockies

We’re just a few days into summer, but it’s already warm enough for me! Temperatures are hovering in the 80s already…and most of the birds have come and gone. My perennials are coming up gangbusters...it will be good to see all the new bird-friendly shubbery take off.

‘Course the Hummingbirds are here. The Rufus Hummers just arrived, which I find way-cool as I’d never seen a rich, reddish, milk-chocolate-brown hummingbird before. Sweet! And yet another 'New' bird for me. I hear they are quite territorial, perhaps they'll give the Broad-tails a run for their money.

And the Black-chinned Hummingbirds are here, as well; I thought I could tell by their very dark heads and the lack of ‘trill’ when they fly, but it was the tail-bobbing or -pumping that confirmed it. Very pretty birds though I am less sure at discerning females.

The Broad-tail Hummingbirds were likely the first here…though there was that possible Calliope in May! LOL That link is to a little video clip where you can hear the 'trill' of these birds in flight. The Bt’s are pugnacious little things and try very hard to drive all others away. Still, I occasionally look up to see as many as four or five birds at a single nectar feeder…and I have five out there, so the yard sometimes seems filled with the dive-bombing little wonders of color.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen the pairs of Bullock's Orioles less and less, and the Evening Grosbeaks have been gone for a couple weeks now. I do see the occasional Black-headed Gb from time to time and for some odd reason the American Goldfinches are back again…perhaps with newly fledged young? They all look so yellow! When they left, I began seeing more of the Lesser Goldfinches; and they’re still around, too. I find the black-backed Lesser Gf especially stunning.

I observed an adult White-breasted Nuthatch feeding begging chicks, which I found wonderfully exciting. I knew I had at least one pair of them in my yard with a nest nearby! Yippieeeeeee

An occasional Northern Flicker stops by, too, to poke around at the dry patch in my yard where ants live. And both the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers continue to drop in daily, though perhaps less often. I wonder if diet changes as babies grow…or perhaps they take them out to wilder territory to learn how to fend for themselves. Even while the orioles continue to visit; they don’t seem interested in oranges anymore and have slowed way down on the grape jelly and even the sugar water. I should do some research to determine if the same nectar for hummers is okay for orioles; maybe there is a reason the hummingbird feeders are too small for the bigger guys!

I also saw a whole string of fat, little, begging Pine Siskins on a phone-wire the other day…that was the cutest thing. Parents were very close…and still feeding, of course. And I also notice House Finches are around again. They look a lot healthier these days. The House Sparrow seems to have moved on now that I no longer put out the mixed Wild Birdseed they seemed to enjoy. I’m winding the feeders down till the weather changes and there is less natural food that is easy to find.

American Robins abound; it’s fun to watch them wrestle, long, fat worms from the ground. And Grackles still come, as well as the occasional Red-winged Blackbird; though far fewer numbers than ganged the yard a couple of months ago. I’m pleased to say I’ve not seen a Brown-headed Cowbird in some time. Ugg The Eurasian Doves are still here though, but again…far fewer numbers; thankfully; same with the Starlings.

I do have a pair of Black-billed Magpies coming to eat suet regularly…which I think is a little odd. They must have a nest nearby, as the huge birds hang cowardly from the feeders, flapping for balance and pecking wildly at the suet cake. They then drop down and pick up pieces they’d knocked away and generally eat as they go, but almost always find one, large morsel to take back home. Nice birdies.

Every morning I still watch the Turkey Vultures slowly warming themselves in the sun and then catching the drafts up, as they head off to do what Vultures do during the day.

I rather like this winding-down business. It’s the same with gardening, by the time the cold weather hits; I’m ready for a break anyway. I used to mourn the more temperate weather I grew up with in California, until I remembered how I’d work till I could hardly stand up. These changing seasons are a blessing!

Edited to add: I published this piece and looked out the window to see what appears to be a Mountain Chickadee, of which I had pairs in my yard regularly. It comes and goes quickly, always taking a single seed; I don't know if it is a young bird or a female or just a not-very-black at all Chickadee. It is slender and has the white 'eyebrow' of the Mountain variety; but where the black should be is not very dark...and somewhat broken. Perhaps they are like the White-crowned Sparrow and become darker and more defined with age. Immediately followed a large, female Grosbeak (really a very pretty bird) and then a male Black-headed Grosbeak, too. Pairs of birds abound in this beautiful habitat of many tall trees right by the river. I love it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Plastic and bags...

I agree with Cindy...this is too important not to pass on.

I would like to see the US join the ban against plastic bags...and plastic bottles, for that matter; the things are poison, even to humans! Ever wonder why there is a 'date stamp' on water? It's because the plastic bottles off-gas poison into the beverage! Nasty stuff!!!

It cannot be stressed too many times;
Shocking information there and some of it is good.
Save oil; use paper bags!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

AVAS-La Veta Bird Walk

Yesterday I went on a Bird Walk with the good folks from AVAS and many folks from in and around La Veta. I’d say 16 or so of us, from Pueblo, CO to Angle Fire, NM turned out for the walk. We got a rather late start, but in spite of the heat and time of day we saw a respectable list of birds: (*Updated on cross-checking lists!)

American Coot, American Crow, American Goldfinch, American Robin, Barn Swallow, Black-billed Magpie, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Black-headed Grosbeak (who knew these guys eat Monarch Butterflies despite the toxic residue they hold from feeding on milkweed), Brewer's Black-bird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Bullock's Oriole (now called the Northern Oriole? ...I'll have to check that out) , Chipping Sparrow, Cinnamon Teal, Cliff Swallow, Clark's Nutcracker, Common Grackle, Common Nighthawk, Common Raven, Common Yellow-throat, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Dark-eyed Junco (the Gray-headed or 'red-backed' variety), Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird , Eurasian Collared-dove, European Starling, Evening Grosbeak, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Green-tailed Towhee, Hairy Wood-pecker, Hermit Thrush, House Sparrow, House Wren, Lesser Goldfinch (both Green- and Black-backed), Lewis's Wood-pecker (namesake account), Mountain Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee, Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker (both red-shafted and yellow-shafted), Pied-billed Grebe, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill (pair), Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Rock Dove, Say's Phoebe, Spotted Towhee, Turkey Vulture, Violet-green Swallow, Warbling Vireo, Western Kingbird, Western Meadowlark, Western Scrub-Jay, Western Tanager, White-breasted Nuthatch, Wilson's Snipe, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler.

It was a wonderful day, if warm, that started with a meet at the town park and short caravan up to Old La Veta Pass where Stirling’s family has about 400 acres at 9000’. In addition to the beautiful property (and heavenly smells; I love Ponderosa Pine), we were treated to some local history of the area and the narrow-gauge railroad that went through it. It was ‘Up Top’ where several of us got ‘life birds’ including Polly, who managed to later identify a difficult sighting from photographs and confirmed us we’d seen a pair of Crossbills. It was also Polly who assisted me in seeing mine; the Green-tailed Towhee…a beautiful bird! And, why my little camera could not shoot the distance, I also saw my first Mountain Bluebirds; which obviously had babies nearby they wanted to feed but refused to show us where they had their nest.

We also saw a lot of scat on the trail…but it wasn’t till we were giggling like school kids for our interest in scatology that I began taking pictures of it. The idea being; it’s educational. You can tell by the size of the Elk-scat that it had been eating quite a bit of grass; the leavings were more like cow-plops. Several had no idea coyote-scat would be so full of hair. I’ve noticed watching The Discovery Channel that many animals, especially big cats, often pluck the hair from kill before they eat it. Apparently not so with coyotes; they’re sort of like Owls in that regard; it just goes through ‘em.

Up Top we enjoyed the big trees, quiet meadows and wild flowers. I miss-identified the yellow pea-like plant, at first calling it Lupin. Turns out several similar plants are called False Lupin...so go figure. I've read some pea plants are called milk-pea, regardless of the color. Apparently the yellow might be Thermopsis rhombifolia or Thermopsis divaricarpa and the white; Lathyrus leucanthus. You can see the pea-pods in my photo.

We also saw some Creeping Mahonia, a holly-like plant, with tiny yellow flowers, also called Oregon Grape. Officially called Mahonia aquifolium, this is an evergreen plant I've purchased in Colorado and throughly enjoy its fall colors and ease of care. Just know: some Mahonia is creeping, some is dwarf and some is quite large. It's xeric and I've heard birds eat the berries, but never witnessed that. I think I'm going to have to learn more about wildflowers. And butterflies, too. I've included a little picture of one of the many little, blue butterflies we saw...I always called them Blue Skippers; they could be any common little blue butterfly. I don't like not knowing; check out these photos...how does one know?

By the way, while looking for some information on that yellow pea, I found another Coloradoian's blog. It's quite good! Check it out.

From there we returned to town for a picnic lunch at the park, where some folks had to leave us, and then to a couple local feeders (including moi) were we added more birds to our growing list. Jerry, who couldn’t make the walk, invited us to his yard anyway, where we enjoyed a shady spot by the river. He showed us a new woodpecker’s hole he’d discovered; great fun even if we didn’t see the occupant.

We left Jerry’s and headed to the Town Lakes where we saw the water birds and Polly managed to see a Hermit Thrush. Several heard the Yellow-rumped Warblers that frequent the shrubbery there. Then we followed along part of the Colorado Birding Trail to Wahatoya Valley piece, where we saw quite a few Black-billed Magpies, a Lewis’s Woodpecker and a couple Great Blue Heron.

A short visit to our local Raptor Center was lots of fun. Bob had had unexpected oral surgery and was pretty under-the-weather; but insisted on showing us the birds he keeps and is rehabilitating. He showed us a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), which he explained is a member of the buzzard family; who knew? He is certainly a wealth of information and his birds are beautiful. What a cool guy! Thanks again Bob!

Patrick, a new friend on the walk, was kind enough to send a couple photos of Bob's long-time partner in falconry, his Harris Hawk. Bob has been a falconer, which requires special licensing, since the age of eight. While the Harris Hawk is not the first bird Bob has trained to hunt, these two have been together a long time; she’s his baby! Thanks Pat, great shots!

The small band of birders left at the end of the day concluded the day on the deck and in the wooded yard of Polly and Paul’s home. That’s where one couple, experienced birders from Rocky Ford, saw the Black-chinned Hummer. Perfect way to end the day; on the way out I noticed a deer enjoying a special shady area. Funny.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bears for Breakfast?

Another early morning visitor.

This little thing is quite small; most likely a yearling.

She seemed a bit apprehensive and climbed higher.

Such a pretty girl!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Couple of Firsts: A Flycatcher and a Toad.

Wait...that would be TWO Flycatchers, wouldn't it? LOL

Such a lovely day, I worked in the yard most of the day…planted a tree and a large bush yesterday, today pulled weeds and watered some; got some stuff to plant some new own-root roses. And I found my first toad! I wonder if I uncovered the little bugger; he could have been underground…I’m just happy I didn’t stab him with the garden fork! He was so cute, smaller than an egg.

At first I just moved him to a place I was finished working on…and then realized I should take pictures of him. I caught him again…he promptly peed in my hand…and took him with me while I went off for my camera. I put him in a deep bowl (I finally ran out of mealworms and had tossed the oats and cornmeal for the critters outside and had the container empty in the sink) while I washed my hands and then picked up the camera and my now, hopefully, empty toad and headed back into the yard for a photo shoot.

I suppose I should have looked more at the little guy…I have no idea what kind of a toad he is! Still, I put him back where I found him, took a couple pictures while he decided which way to go and then found a shallow, plastic saucer and sunk it in the ground nestled under the same Peony bush where the adventure started. When I got it filled with water, I added a nice rock. I’ve finally figured out the big ol’ red-butt bumblebees in my yard need a way to climb out of water dishes! Then I finished and cleaned up the garden bed and watered. First time I’ve watered a lawn in some years…hey, this is Colorado high desert; I try to go xeric. Besides, I live by the river where the water table is less than three feet down. Still, with a birding group coming next week I figured I’d try to keep the birds interested another week.

I’d been thinking how discouraging it was to have had so many birds in my yard for the past couple of months and lately things are slowing down. Just in time for the Bird Walk! Bah… So while I sat mulling over what I could do to keep the birds happy I noticed a different looking thing on the clothesline across the yard. It was smaller than a Sparrow but larger than a Siskin and with a pale belly; sans any streaking. I grabbed the binoculars and watched it for several minutes. It was a fly-catcher of some kind…definitely had the tail-flicking going and that straight, little beak. This guy was nearly all-over grey with the palest of wing-bars and a darker grey cap-look to the top of his head almost like if he raised it he’d have a crest. While I watched him, trying to note every possible field mark before I lost him, he flitted to the grass, caught a bug and went right back to the same place. I couldn’t stand it and went for the camera; he flew off. I saw him again about an hour later, same spot. Still no camera handy, so I just watched as he’d fly down and nearly hover over the grass for a second or two, most likely catching flies, huh…and then go right back to the same spot. I’m thinking he could have been a Western Wood-Pewee but that bird seems to have wings that are darker; a Gray Flycatcher but that bird seems to have more pronounced wing-bars or perhaps an Eastern Phoebe, though that bird’s face seems darker so that the ‘cap’ doesn’t stand out as much. So, a First…I just don’t know its name!

There has been a Black-billed Magpie who visits regularly and goes straight for the suet. Today he brought another; they looked like a couple of professional basketball players at a grade school. Talk about big and beautiful…

One Black-headed Grosbeak also visited while I watched; that was good to see. On fast glance I used to get confused between those and the Bullock’s Orioles who continue to come for jelly; but the spotted backs are a give-away. I wonder if an Orchard Oriole has been in my yard and I just didn’t realize it.

And then a neighbor’s cat came and snagged yet another bird. I only saw it leave with the prize and saw the flat-bed feeder swinging wildly. I feel conflicted about wanting to be so green and full of conservation and yet still wanting to shoot cats. [sigh]. The cat got an Evening Grosbeak. They are still here by the dozens; I can only assume they’re nesting. It galls me no end. Could this be karma for my cat years ago who loved to attack my neighbor’s tulip-heads just as they opened? I swear I’ll never have an out-door cat again. And I've done something about that feeder, too.

While watching the flashy, yellow and black Lesser Goldfinches I realized I had two to three Hummingbirds sitting at every feeder I could see. And I thought there were fewer birds lately…

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

fowl play

The article's photo caption reads: "This talon helped convict Rayvon Hall of Rialto, California, of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. He claimed to have cut if off a Copper's hawk he'd trapped in October 2006 and then killed with a mixture of bleach and ammonia."

From Audubonmagazine.org, May-June 2008:

"Federal wildlife officers are cracking down on hobbyists who kill raptors that prey on the pigeons they raise. But criminals rarely get more than a slap on the wrist because the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, an effective and versatile tool for 90 years, has lost its edge and needs sharpening." ...By Ted Williams

"Raptors are being slaughtered by the thousands all across our nation by people who, for one reason or another, don’t like them. This is, of course, criminal activity—specifically a Class B misdemeanor under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA)."
and:

"If we conservatively say that 50% of the 250 roller members in L.A. are killing 10 hawks a year, you're talking 1,250 hawks in L.A. alone.")."
and:

"These criminals killed peregrines, redtails, Cooper's hawks, even kestrels. Kestrels don't eat pigeons, buth they didn't know what."
One guy bragged he'd killed 30 hawks in 45 days...and they are gruesome in their methods: shooting, suffocating, spraying with bleach, spreading Draino on their bodies! It's just sick!

WHAT YOU CAN DO
Urge your legislators to support and cosponsor DeFazio’s Migratory Bird Treaty Act Penalty and Enforcement Act—H.R. 4093. And tell them to insist that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receive funds to fully staff its law-enforcement division. For more information on Operation High Roller, visit Audubon Portland and the Fish and Wildlife Service. To receive e-mail updates from Audubon’s policy office on this and other issues, go to Audubon.org, and click on “Issues & Action” and then “Take Action Now.”

Read the entire article here: "fowl play" by Ted Williams. Audubon Magazine May-June 2008

A newscast on the subject:

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

I’ve read that it is an urban myth (thanks again, Kevin) that running out of food at your feeders is going to cause wild birds undo stress. Apparently that is not the case, and actually feeders only provide about 25% of a bird’s daily intake; they forage for a reason. Anytime any particular food-source dries up, they have many, many other places to feed; your neighbor’s feeders not-withstanding. That I offer clean water daily and many types of food and in several different places, spread out well enough to keep most of them easy to feed from for most birds at any time…is why I think I have so many birds in my yard. Well, that and I am blessed to live by the river and am surrounded by many big trees.

Notes on feeding: Keep it fun, keep it simple...don't feel shackled by it. Do offer healthy food and not bread...which is about as harmful to the birds as it is to humans. Even wheat bread with some seeds doesn't offer much in the way of sustenance...and with regard to feeding bread to ducks; it goes right through them and just greens up the water (not to mention the walkways!) It is better to feed grated cheese, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, leftover potatoes (and skins), cooked rice, breakfast cereals and even bits of healthy pastry (bran muffins, corn-bread are examples) and cereal. Birds often love over-ripe food, including peeled bananas and chopped apples. A cheap, dry dog-food is infinitely better than cheap bread. Some receipies if you want to make food for birds are here. One wild-life program says this about feeding wild birds.

Notes on feeding nectar: in a few days sugar-water will grow fungus; fungus that is poisonous. It is a good idea to dump, wash and sterilize feeders (10% bleach solution or use a very strong vinegar undiluted) every 4-5 days. If the nectar is cloudy, that is your clue to toss it; but don’t let it go that far; change it at least once per week. Most feeders come apart, a good thing to do so that you can rinse out all the darn ants. NEVER use honey, even diluted or artificial sweetener; that’s death to birds. Red-food coloring isn’t any better for birds than for you…don’t use it, either. Use feeders with lots of red on them; that will attract the birds. Yellow bits will just bring hornets, by the way; stick with plain red. When I make up a batch of the nectar, I make enough to make the chore worthwhile, but only fill the feeders partway for the first few weeks. It takes awhile for birds to find feeders, or to get used to them…or just to get here from wherever they come! It galls me to toss food out, but I know better than to just leave it out; so I start off only partially filling the feeders. Please do realize the importance of boiling the water. Soon enough I’ll be going through sugar like no tomorrow!

I have several other kinds of feeders and clean them about once a month. I rotate the cleaning so that I don’t have half-a-day’s worth any time I’m scrubbing. I let the food run down in that rotation, too; so I’m not tossing feed but also keeping birds interested with at least half the feeders full. Never put ‘old’ feed into a clean feeder. I add uncooked rice in the bottom of seed-tubes; that brings up the seed to where the birds can get it…less waste that way and it keeps it dry.

I’ve decided winter and spring are the most important times to feed; it’s during that time that back-yard feeders can actually make a difference in the life of a bird. Flowers and seed are difficult to find when the ground is covered by snow or wind and rain has ripped seed-stock from autumn’s bounty and pounded it into mud…or it is so early things haven’t yet bloomed. The rest of the time, it’s just plain fun to watch the birds. While I love birding, I don’t need to have my life shackled by bird-feeding…so I may give it a break or slow down a bit at high-summer and fall, when the natural foods are most plentiful. Seems the birds themselves are slowing down, anyway. Or perhaps the next wave just hasn’t arrived yet!

The pictures here are of this month's 'new' bird (for me):
a Lesser Goldfinch. Who knew some came all dressed for a black-tie event? I enjoy Colorado Birder for many reasons, one is that I can post pictures and get answers as to what bird I have! Great people there...and because of them I discovered there is a 'black-backed' version of the species.

Here is my May list; all the birds I’ve seen in my yard this past month with the maximum number seen at a single time (N=new for month, F=flyover):

White-breasted Nuthatch, 2-3
Black-capped Chickadee, 2-3
Mountain Chickadee, 1-2
Pine Siskin, 12+
Cassin’s Finch, 2-3
House Finch, 3-4
House Sparrow, 1-2
White-crowned Sparrow, 1-2
Dark-eyed, Red-backed Junco, 1 (down from 25+)
American Redstart, 1-N
American Goldfinch, 5-6
Lesser Goldfinch, 1-2-N
Yellow Warbler, 3-4-N
Broad-tailed and/or Black-chinned Hummingbird 4-5-N
Calliope Hummingbird, 1 (possibly…awaiting judgment)-N
Evening Grosbeaks, 24+
Black-headed Grosbeaks, 12+
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, 2-3
American Robin, 3-4
Lazuli Bunting, 3-4-N
Western Tanager, 4-5-N
Bullock’s Oriole, 4-5-N
Mourning Doves, 2-3
Eurasian Collared Doves, 36+ (down from 50+)
Downy Woodpecker, 2-3
Hairy Woodpeckers, 2-3
Northern Flicker, 1-2
Red-winged Blackbird, 50 (down from 100+)
Yellow-headed Blackbird, 1-2 (down from 6-8)
Brown-headed Cowbird, 3-4 (down from 12+)
Common Grackle, 4-5
Great-tailed Grackle, 1-2
European Starling, 6-8-N
Black-billed Magpie, 1-2
American Crow, 6-8
Common Raven, 3-4
Turkey Vulture, 15-20
Canada Goose, 6-8-F
Great Blue Heron, 2-F
Black-crowned Night-heron, 1-F
one bedraggled raptor of some sort, so soggy in the rain it missed it’s strike. I’m sure it didn’t feel up to snuff and certainly didn’t want to pose for the camera!