Thursday, December 29, 2011
A huge flock of Rosy-Finches in my yard: just before Christmas 2011. They first came on December 1st...the earliest recorded visit (by me). They were here about 5 days and left when the weather turned warm. They returned the 19th and have just left for higher country, where they prefer to live.
This photo, taken through the netting on my window (Rosy-Finches never hit the windows, but Evening Grosbeaks seem to do it with some regularity; the netting helps them see the glass). There are two waves feeding in this shot; one closer and the other is along the trees and shrubs in the back. They often 'stage' on top of my house, just above the bay window through which I view them, or along the wires that cross my property or in the huge trees that surround it. So far, I've had at least 600 Rosy-Finches visiting at a single time. The breakdown is generally: 50% Brown-capped, 40% Gray-crowned and 10% Black.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Then I walked outside and told him about the 'mashed-potato clouds' just on the other side of the mountains. I told him (not having heard the weather report in days) that with the wind howling high in the trees and those clouds, we were in for a weather change; probably snow tomorrow. My yard is protected by the river-trees and a hill; I hardly feel a breeze, but you sure could hear it roar. I woke up to snow this morning! Smug; yup.
Not only THAT...but I washed every window outside my house and deep-watered every young tree and shrub in my yard. I even coiled the hose back where it belonged. And it's snowing like a banshee today; perfect timing!!
Yes, I feel smug...it's the first day of December: it's snowing and the Rosy Finches are here right on schedule! I love da Rosies...
I get all three species of Rosy Finch: Brown-capped, Black and Gray-crowned, including the Gray-crowned Hepburn's. I'm not sure other than I've never had them visit in November, but this might be the earliest date they've arrived.
You can read more about the Rosy-finches by clicking a Label below. You can also read more about the rosies at Sandia, in New Mexico by clicking this link. Be sure to explore that site, there are lots of beautiful pictures, too.
Oddly, I was rather surprised just now, when I observed at least a dozen big, black Crows (!!!) feeding on sun-flower seeds that I'd scattered around a feeder. A murder of crows, that's called; but don't ask me why. Perhaps it has something to do with E.A. Poe. I do see lots of crows around, but never on the ground together, under a feeder.
Photos from Nick Athanas, copyrighted: see more on his site here.
Other from Wikipedia
Monday, October 10, 2011
So, when one of the two River Birch I bought in Pueblo West from a family owned nursery died (I noticed when planting that they were horribly root bound with thick, winding roots and little soil), I looked to see what Target had to offer. I found River Birch! I looked through the whole pallet, pulling plants from containers and choosing the most likely plant to make it in my yard. The unfortunate thing was, I apparently picked up a Pussy Willow! [sigh]
I had no intention of planting a Pussy Willow. Other than knowing they like wet roots as much as a River Birch, I knew little about them. I've never heard they have real flowers and I had no idea if anything ate the little furry buds I know are called catkins. Past that...a rambunctious shrub that suckers, but offers little in the way of food, was the last thing I was interested in...pretty pussy willow branches in early spring or no.
Then my big dog, Zeus died. He was only about ten or eleven; young for an Akbash, I think. I was crushed and he was so big; I asked a friend to help me bury him in the spot he chose to die. Jerry hit water before he was two feet deep; not a good spot. He filled the hole back in and we came up with another plan, but I remembered how high the water table was in that spot.
I checked; this willow will take some shade. The spot is shaded a bit by huge cottonwoods and other willow trees, so I knew it'd be okay there. But it can be huge; and will grow to a thicket if not severely trimmed. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this today:
The Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project of Prince Edward Island, Canada notes the importance of pussy willows for feeding wild birds and other wildlife:
Willow buds are second only to the buds of poplars as preferred food of ruffed grouse. Beaver ... muskrat, red squirrel, and snowshoe hare all include willow in their diet. The leaves are rich in Vitamin C and zinc. Pussy willows are an important nesting site for American goldfinch, while other songbirds use them to a lesser degree. The cover and protection thickets of willow provide are probably of equal importance to wildlife as its food value.Oh good I thought, this won't be so bad after all. At least it'll feed the birds. I seldom purposely purchase any kind of plant unless it feeds birds or at least offers 4-season good looks. Not only will this feed birds, young branches will look cool in a tall, glass vase.
But then I read on: Deer also like to eat the branches of pussy willows. All this attention from wildlife has its good side, of course, especially for bird watching. But the downside is that, if you don't want your pussy willows damaged, you'll have to protect them. Ugh
Since Zeus is gone, my yard has experienced even more squirrels, skunks, raccoons and deer; not to mention bears, I'm sure they'll be back, too. The damn skunks are turning my lawn (such as it is; I don't water it) into what looks like a mini-mine field and the raccoons are pushing down feeder-poles and tearing apart bird feeders!
The deer seem to enjoy my new puppies as much as I do. What on earth is afraid of a 10" fluffy-butt; even if there are two of 'em? [sigh] Even their growls are cute: Grrrrrrr is more like a Purrrrrr...
So, today I planted the Pussy Willow. It should do fine; presuming the deer don't chew it to the ground. I also planted two Trumpet Vines that I got from Perennial Favorites last month. Funny, a neighbor was walking buy and stopped to say hello. Turns out she was friends with the folks from whom I bought this house. She loves the spot, so I invited her in to take a look around.
Ahnee (sp?) works at the Ryus Street Bakery, so while I recognized her...we'd not officially met. What a nice lady! Anyway, she also has Trumpet Vines and says the little hummingbirds practically disappear into the flowers; so deep must they dive. I've looked some time for this plant; too bad I didn't meet her earlier. I hear this is yet another rampant, rambling vine that is easy to transplant! I'll share as soon as its established.
Everything was planted out front, if you'd like to see how things turn out; the Trumpet Vines will grow out front, next to my driveway (near the Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle), and the Pussy Willow will be on the opposite corner of the front yard. Wish me luck...
Photos of plants from Wiki
Photos of puppies are mine
Saturday, October 1, 2011
"... that I should stop feeding hummingbirds in the fall so that they can begin their southern migration. Is this correct?
A. That's a myth (from Cornell's All About Birds). A number of factors trigger the urge for birds to migrate, but the most significant one is day length. As days grow shorter in late summer, hummingbirds get restless and start to head south, taking advantage of abundant natural food, and feeders where available, to fuel their flight. A few individuals, especially Rufous Hummingbirds and a few other Western species, wander east rather than south; causes for this have not been entirely teased out, but it's not feeders that cause them to wander, and if a feeding station is closed down, chances are that a vagrant hummingbird will wander toward worse rather than better conditions.
We encourage people to keep hummingbird feeders full for several weeks after the last hummer leaves just in case a straggler shows up in need of additional energy before completing the long journey south. One of our own staff discovered an adult female Rufous Hummingbird at her feeder in northern Minnesota on November 16, 2004; that bird remained for over two weeks, surviving a blizzard and temperatures that dropped to just 6 degrees Fahrenheit, before leaving at mid-morning on December 3. That day temperatures climbed to a relatively warm 25 degrees; the bird's chances of survival without the feeder she stopped at were significantly lower."
I thought I'd re-print this Cornell Q&A, as I know folks who either don't feed past September or who quit when they don't see a hummingbird for a day or two. Personally, I think that's a sad mistake. I have spent many a winter-like day, changing out cold, slushy hummingbird feeders for ones I've warmed. Just think how much energy a tiny bird needs to stay warm enough on a snowy day; or how much energy it uses to warm up cold nectar.
Sometimes I won't see a hummingbird for two or three days, then suddenly I'll find several at the feeders. Please keep feeders up till you've not seen a hummer in two weeks. That outta keep even the stragglers safe.
See, if these were my feeders, I'd be alternating; one outside, one inside warming...switch and repeat. I'd keep the snow off the feeders, too, they can hardly find the ports in this clip. Perhaps hang them under an eve or put a baffle above. It's a good idea to keep 'em close to a door, too; you don't want to freeze either. PS: it's a long clip and the end is just like the beginning.
Recipe for nectar: One cup sugar to four cups boiling water. Bring to a boil, cool, refrigerate. During exceptionally cold weather, I use one and a half cups sugar to the four cups water. Stronger than that (say 2/4) some folks say is okay, others say it can hurt their kidneys.
Friday, September 23, 2011
The name ‘roadrunner’ comes from the bird's habit of racing down roads and then darting to safety off road, if approached. The omnivorous roadrunner forages around the roadside for large insects, roadkill and reptiles. It is also known as the chaparral cock, ground cuckoo, and snake killer. Its call is a downward slurring "co-coo-coo-coo-cooooo." Also a clattering "whirrrr" call, like other cuckoos. You can hear these calls in the video; it does not go “beep-beep”.
The Greater Roadrunner is the epitome of the desert Southwest…and it lives on my street; or one has. The Neldner photo to the right was taken on the Christmas Bird Count in La Veta just a couple years ago.
The chicken-like bird is a ground-dwelling cuckoo and the larger of the two roadrunners; there is a Lesser Roadrunner in Southwestern Mexico and Northern Central America. The Greater Roadrunner feeds on snakes, scorpions, and any other small animal it can catch and subdue; including other birds. Two roadrunners may cooperate to kill larger snakes, even rattlesnakes. They eat many venomous prey items including said snakes, scorpions and poisonous spiders, as well as fruit and some seeds.
The ‘racing stripe’ on the side of the roadrunners head is not feathers, it is naked skin. As a male matures the skin behind its eye becomes a beautiful, vivid stripe of red/orange, white and blue. The skin on its back, however, is black. After a cold desert night, a cold roadrunner will turn its back to the sun, fluff its back feathers to expose this dark skin along its back and absorb the warm solar energy. The Greater Roadrunner adult sports a bushy, black crest and a long, thick, dark bill. It has a dark head and is blue-ish on the throat and belly. Like all cuckoos, the roadrunner has zygodactyl feet; four toes on each--two face forward and two face back.
This is a good sized bird; 20 to nearly 22 inches in length with a wingspan of some 19+ inches, though it flies weakly. Even if startled, it usually runs. It weighs about ten ounces. The roadrunner is a ground forager who hunts in open arid and semiarid country with scattered brush. When chasing lizards, it holds its head and tail flat and parallel to the ground while running at top speed…as fast as 25 mph. It is the fastest running flying bird, beat only by the Ostrich (which doesn’t fly, of course), but it measures only about two feet in length, half of which is tail. That tail acts as a rudder when it runs.
While this is an opportunistic hunter frequently capturing small birds and eggs at bird feeders and nest boxes, they have also been observed skulking in tall, dry grass to leap up suddenly and pluck a small bird from the air. I have come across videos of them doing just this, but couldn't find one for this post. It held it's body vertically and jumped straight up to catch the bird. If you find it, please post in comments and acknowledge the author.
This accomplished hunter kills with a blow from its beak to the base of a small animals neck, or by holding it in its beak and bashing it on the ground or against a rock. I wish it also showed the actual 'catch' and swallow. I wonder if it tears up the prey to bite-sized pieces. Probably.
Polly said: "Roadrunner copulation, where else but in the middle of the road! This went on for over 2 minutes. Our Guide, Forrest Davis, said in all his years in he had never witnessed this. In the end their "act of love" was interrupted by an oncoming vehicle ...but not before he passed the "bauble" he is holding to her!" Seems roadrunners are gracious lovers! Food is an important component of the mating ritual, but I hope she didn't consume the 'bauble'. The male tempts the female with a twig or bit of grass or food, such as a lizard or snake which it dangling from its bill while chasing her. His "prance display," "tail-wag display," and vocalizations in front of the female while bowing and making the whirring or cooing sound will get her interested; then he jumps into the air and onto his mate. If the female accepts the offered food, the pair will probably mate. While nesting, they are quite territorial and it's possible Greater Roadrunners mate for life.
Dr. Dean Ransom roadrunner study brings us an interesting and informative video:
This vide was taken in the Texas chaparral. I understand that in a dryer, more desert-like environment the bird nests on cactus. While both care for the young, oddly, it is the male who incubates eggs; his body-temp stays constant, while the female's drops at night.
As to the desert environ, roadrunner is equipped with salt glands in front of its eyes to excrete excess salt from its blood. This is also common in ocean-going birds that can drink seawater. The roadrunner is able to do without water if it eats juicy enough food, but it will drink when water
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
P.Nelder where acknowledged
Wickipedia for still-shots
YouTube for video clips
Monday, September 12, 2011
I'd first discovered the nursery while on one of the first birding-trips I ever experienced. A lovely man, Dave Silverman, has been a birder for probably longer than I've been in Colorado (some 35 years) and has headed up the Spanish Peaks Christmas Bird Count for the last 20+ years. Needles to say, he's an expert birder...heck, he often birds by ear! This day we were bird-watching around his home turf in Rye and Colorado City, and as is his custom, he took the group to this outstanding nursery where we saw a many birds happily flitting about. I go back at least once a year, ever since.
To make a long story short, before I drove up to Perennial Favorites yesterday, I checked out their Facebook page and website. There I discovered Diana is the one who intends to write a piece about growing your own birdseed...on their blog. Well, here are some photos that perhaps will spur her on...as I told her I'd be watching for the article. As it turns out, I had planned a similar article for my blog! I have created several posts on the topic, found when clicking the Label: Native Plants (or this link)
So, here we go. The following are pictures I've taken of some plants in my yard that I've seen birds enjoying. Of course, they like more than just seed; the flowers are important, too. As are the insects that they attract.
Grasses might be the some of the most important foods for birds and other critters. Birds not only eat the seeds, but also hide in the tall tangles. I almost always plant some annual (here) purple fountain grass in pots around the yard. Along a lot of my fences are many grasses, wild I assume, that I let grow tall.
Some flowers offer nectar, like this columbine and pink penstemon, while some offer both pollen and seed, like the yellow tickseed. Each of these plants is drought resistant, very easy to grow and propagate freely.
Yes, birds love Sumac seed and so do humans! It is often used as a spice, for it's citrus-like flavors. In my neighborhood phoebes, northern mockingbird, gray catbird, wood thrush, hermit thrush and even common crows love this plant. I've planted it in the far back of my yard where it can grow and spread into a small thicket...in spite of my allergy to it's 'itchy' leaves. There is another sumac called Low-grow Sumac that also provides berries and does not itch. I've planted that under my New Mexican Privet in a place I might develop for additional plants and wouldn't appreciate an allergic reaction! The unknown yellow plant grows rather like a vining black-eyed susan and appeared out of nowhere. It sure makes good seed.
I use a Miscanthus gracillimus-Morning Light or three in every garden, too. As an ornimental statement, they are a stunning 'fountain grass' that reach over five feet when in 'bloom'. And the plants shape and seed heads last nearly all winter. When they get too big, dig 'um up, saw into quarters and re-plant in at least three new locations!
I grew up in California where we had pyracantha bushes. I thought they were beautiful, especially when laden with bunches of bright-red fruit. The birds loved the fruit which are like little, soft apples and would eat until they became drunk. However, this is another plant with huge spikes or thorns nearly four-inches long...if memory serves. And they are poisonous and hurt like the dickens if one manages to get pricked; which is pretty easy to do...they're covered with the daggers. Another name for them is Firethorn; go figure. However, I have found an almost identical plant sans thorns; the cotoneasters! That's pronounced "co-toney-aster" and there are several varieties. I have several, some will be small, others like small trees. And the birds love the berries, too. Beautiful plants all year long; without thorns.
Hummingbird nectar not withstanding, it seems to me birds are not going through the food I provide, like they do in some months. Perhaps there are fewer of them just now (I remember things slowed down to the point I wondered if there were any birds left last September, but I also think the reason is that there is an abundance of natural/native food that is available to them. Because I have great variety and try to use native plants, none of the bugs or diseases become too much for any plant. I never spray or toss out poisons. The galls on the chokecherries this year provided good eating for warblers; spider mites are eaten, too. It's all good.
Photos by me, except privet and Miscanthus...from Wikipedia
Friday, May 13, 2011
A couple weeks ago, I got my first Spotted Towhee
[Addendum] May Yard-Birds included:
Sunday, February 20, 2011
However, their work takes them back and forth along the same road where we saw the tiny owl; and of course both keep their eyes peeled. While at first wondering what a pine-cone was doing in a deciduous tree (you know how the mind works); it turns out they found a Northern Pygmy-Owl! Some say 're-located', some say found...neither of us care except to say that maybe Polly Wren has lost her nemesis and finally saw a tiny owl close to home.
[Addendum: Can you imagine how hard it is to spot a tiny bird, much smaller than a robin, while driving down the highway?]
But, speaking of luck, they were some nine miles from home and without cameras. They raced home and back and could not believe their continued luck as the gorgeous little owl was still there 20 minutes later... and stayed for another 20 minutes while they photographed it. It was a new Huerfano County bird for both of them... and they've shared their pictures with us.
If you want to look for the owl, please exercise caution. It was perched directly over Hwy 12 close to mile marker 13. This can be a very busy road that some enjoy driving quite fast. It was on a "blind corner" so they parked a little further beyond in a wide spot near a drive-way and walked back to shoot the bird. Of course, they only hunt with cameras!
As an aside, I thought I'd post this lovely, intimate shot of one of the local deer and her growing youngster... a sweet moment. These two images are from Jeannie Mitchell.
I can't believe I'm posting this...I've gotten so blasted fat and next to slim-trim Polly Wren, I look huge. I don't suppose I can blame it on being closer to the camera, huh? Jeannie took the shot as we were leaving Polly's house; we'd been tromping through knee-deep snow drifts, Polly had been at home snug as a bug in a rug...in sandals.
Photos: Northern Pygmy-Owl by P. Neldner, deer and Polly & me by Jeannie Mitchell
Sunday, February 13, 2011
The Dipper can almost be guaranteed on Hwy 12 not far outside of of La Veta..under the only bridge outside of town with year-round running water.
A beautiful Song Sparrow.
He had been singing his heart out earlier when Mark Peterson noted how rufus this little guy was; Jeannie's shot captured the reddish-coloring in this shot.
Spotted Towhee! I've tried for over a year to entice this bird to my yard! It took Mark visit earlier in the day to spot him near the Blue Spruce. Jeannie got these beautiful shots, including the one where he shows off his lovely white spots & streaks.
While Jeannie got several shots of the Rosy-Finches, I particularly liked this Black...posed up off the seed-strewn snow. She also got a shot that perfectly shows off the Hepburn's sub-species of Rosy-Finch; showing just how much gray is in this Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. In that it has been days since the last snow, only a few of the 600+ Rosies that usually come in bad weather and most were gone by nine o'clock. Especially after the Sharp-shinned Hawk zoomed in and quickly took a Junco. Crows have been thick and would have stolen his prize, given a chance!
Above seven photos by Jeannie Mitchell
More stunning pics, this time by Leslie Holzmann, another friend who's been down a time or two...and a blogger to boot. Check her out here: Mountain Plover Not only does Leslie take beautiful photos; she's a Master Gardner; her blog is awesome.
Here are a couple of pink-butts she got in my yard Saturday: a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch...the only one with no grey on da head. Colorado is one of the very few places to see this finch; they're endemic here and breed above tree-line, like all the Rosy-Finches do.
The other is a stunning shot of one getting ready to land on the phone wire. Those lovely wings are pure silver underneath...contributing to the 'school of fishes' look when flying in perfect synchronization overhead.
Leslie got another shot of the pretty little Song Sparrow that's been visiting my yard. He sang his heart out all morning...
...and one of the dozen or so Cassin's Finches that have exploded into my yard. Those bright red top-knots look like the glowing embers of a hard-drawn cigarette...hopping all over the snow. Even the females have that feisty, spiky, top-knot...but without that incredible red color. Once you 'have' them, you'll see their patterned faces, with the white cresent shapes curling against their cheeks, are easy to tell from a House Finch.
There were probably 50-60 Evening Grosbeaks adorning the yard; I like to leave my windows cracked just to hear their cheery peeps mixed in with the constant calls of the Dark-eyed Juncos. Sweet sounds...
Over at Paul and Polly Wren Neldner's place...we were treated to 60 or more of these beautiful (blue) jays. One can stand on their porch and hear even more, calling loudly in their maniacal laugh... making themselves known to all around: Da Pin-yon are he-ah!
Seven photos just above are by Leslie Holzmann