Monday, October 10, 2011

Pussy Willows

Okay, I admit it...I nearly always walk through the Garden Section at the big Target Stores. While I avoid Walmart and Sam's Club like the plague (that they are), I rather like Target. In spite of being a 'big box' store, I like their commercials and the way (I see) that they conduct business.

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

Q. I have been told

"... 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.

Photos are mine...such as they are.
Clip from Youtube
Q&A from Cornell's
Question of the Week