Hello Spring

With Snow On The Ground

We had around two feet of snow last Tuesday and most of it is still on the ground.  The daytime temperatures are hovering between 30 and 40°F which isn’t helping to melt it.  Today is the official first day of spring but outside, you would never know it.  It’s more like ‘Hello spring, where are you?’ to me.  Crocuses, Hellebores and Snowdrops were completely buried under.  My little cold frame looks more like a little igloo in the garden.

It’s not only me that was fooled by nature, the Robins have already made an appearance despite the snow.  The American Goldfinches have started to drop their winter coats.  We try to help them by providing food and water when there isn’t much out there for them besides endless snow.

A male American Goldfinch, amidst snow fall, starting to show their bright yellow plumage, their summer color.
Cold frame is covered with snow. I’ll try to dig my way there to see how it looks inside.

I had sown some lettuce seeds inside the cold frame a couple of weeks ago because I wasn’t expecting to get this much snow around now.  I’ll dig my way in there tomorrow to see how they are doing.

Though it doesn’t look like spring outside, a new cycle of life, a new season, has already begun inside the house.  This is the time I usually start tomato, pepper, eggplant, Swiss chard and kale seedlings.  The first three need to be done around 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost so they can have enough time to grow, bear fruits and ripen.  As for the Swiss chard and kale, they like cold weather anyway so I can put them out in the garden early.

Variety of tomato and pepper seedlings for the new season
Variety of Swiss chard and Kale seedlings

Next, is prepping tropical plants in the basement for their summer outdoors.  Spring should come around the corner and stay within a few weeks.  But who knows? We had snow in April.

 

 

 

House Bound

And Enjoying Bird Watching

Snow is still on the ground, a residue of the snowfall a few days ago.  It’s very peaceful watching snow falling and the quietness afterward as the snow absorbs sound pretty well.  Though it was too cold to go outside, a joyful moment was still there.

We hang bird feeders along the patio roof during winter which makes it  much easier for us to refill them and we can bird watch when circumstance stops us from doing anything else.  It’s also easier for us to patrol and protect the feeders from European Starlings and House Sparrows.  The down side is we have to sweep bird droppings and whatever else they’ve dropped off the ground underneath.  In spring, after we move the feeders back to the garden, we use soap and water to clean the remaining effluent off the fence.  But it’s worth the effort.  We can observe our avian friends closely and they can also take shelter in the woodpile under the roof from predators too large to squeeze in.

These are some of what we enjoyed a few days ago.

A pair of Cardinal and a House finch waiting their turn in snow
A pair of Northern Cardinals and a House Finch await their turn for the feeders in snow
Female Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal puffs her feathers up against the cold
Bright red male Cardinal
Bright red male Northern Cardinal looks like an ornament in the snow.  We have plenty of them in the garden as many of them were born right here.
American Tree Sparrow
A little puff ball- American Tree Sparrow-also came for the seeds
Female Bluebird
A female Eastern Bluebird enjoying warmth from the heated birdbath.  We have a flock of five bluebirds that stayed with us this winter.
Downey Woodpecker
Plenty of Downey Woodpeckers year round and they no longer seem to care when we are close by.
House Finch
House Finch also flocking around throughout the year
Dark-eyed Junco
Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco visit us only in winter and leave for their boreal home by early spring
Junco
Female and young Dark-eyed Junco have more brown color on them
American Goldfinch stay with us throughout the year. The male only change his summer bright yellow coat to a much duller brown in winter. We take a hint that spring is coming when they start to drop the brown feathers.
American Goldfinch stay with us throughout the year. The male only changes his summer bright yellow coat for a much duller brown in winter. We take it as a hint that spring is coming when they start to drop the brown feathers.
Chickadee
Here is our most friendly resident- Black-capped Chickadee
Song Sparrow
Member of the Avian Chorus- Song Sparrow-as the name suggested, sing one of the sweetest songs during spring and summer
White-throated Sparrow
We have a variety of sparrows, this White-throated Sparrow is also a good singer
Titmouse
This Tufted Titmouse has been checking the weaved birdhouse our friend gave us a few times during the day.  I wonder if he roosts in there at night.
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker is twice the size of the Downey Woodpecker and seldom come to the feeders.  This winter we have a pair that frequents one of the suets daily.
Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch tend to eat upside down most of the time
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch– a smaller cousin of the White-breasted Nuthatch seldom comes to the feeder.  They usually make a fast dash to the feeder, but won’t stay on it like its cousin.

There are others that are more elusive like the Carolina wren, the Pileated Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker.  Clearly not wanting the publicity with being caught on camera.

And the Orchestra Resumes

The Loudest Performance Of The Year

It’s still a little cold out, not freezing though close enough.   But it’s warm enough for birds to migrate back to this area.  The ones that take residence year round and group together for winter survival start to de-group now.  They all sing to make their territory known, and to attract females.  This time of year they usually sing at their loudest.

A pair of Northern Cardinals waiting their turn, with an American Goldfinch, at the feeder
A pair of Northern Cardinals waiting their turn, with an American Goldfinch, at the feeder

A few of them have already settled, built nests and some of them have laid eggs.  Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) have taken one of the nest boxes and produced four eggs a couple of weeks ago.  American Robins (Turdus migratorius) settled in the rhododendron in the front, also with four eggs.  A pair of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) is in the middle of building their nest.  The Chickadees (Parus atricapillus) are still choosing.  Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) should come back soon since the cherry trees have started to blossom.

Eastern Towhee foraging for food by a brush pile
Eastern Towhee foraging for food by a brush pile
A male House Finch shares a bath with honeybees
A male House Finch shares a bath with honeybees
Cooper's Hawk, our population control officer, also came to visit
Cooper’s Hawk, our population control officer, also came to visit

All in all we have a very loud garden and it seems a non-stop chorus, except when the hawks come by.  And, these are some of the louder singers:

A flock of American Goldfinches can be really loud. This male is in his full summer garb.
A flock of American Goldfinches can be really loud. This male is in his full summer garb.
Song Sparrow has quite lovely song
Song Sparrow has quite lovely song
Early morning and evening singer award goes to American Robins
Early morning and evening singer award goes to American Robins
White-throated sparrow is not a bad singer either
White-throated sparrow is not a bad singer either

Still more to come, some migrating birds have not yet arrived.

 

Birds of Winter

Enjoying The Hospitality

Winter temperature has finally matched the season and there is not much of anything out there.  Snow has not yet paid a visit.  The birds have picked most of the seeds off the buds I left in intact for them: Echinacea, Black-eyed Susan, Goldenrod… So now they enjoy the additional food we put out for them.  On  cold days they can enjoy a heated birdbath too.

We remove the feeders every night to prevent unwanted guests like raccoons and skunks.  A raccoon can empty a feeder in one sitting.  Once we had suet feeder removed and carried over to a neighbor’s yard.  We suspected a raccoon.  The only animal around here that is big enough to carry a suet feeder off and has ‘thumbs’ to open the cage.  Any morning that we can’t put out the feeders (when we have to go to work) or when we put them out a little late, there will be birds lined up on the pool fence outside the patio… waiting.

It’s as though they are saying ‘What’s wrong with these humans?  Don’t they know what time it is.’  As soon as we put the feeders out and turn our backs, they land on them, at the head of the line, the Chickadees and Downey Woodpeckers.  We try to keep them healthy and well-fed during winter so they will stay and patrol our garden in spring and summer.

These are the locals that stay with us year round:

American goldfinch in winter coat
American goldfinch in winter coat

As much as the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) like Nyger seeds, we’d rather feed them with sunflower seeds in winter.  The feeder is hung under the patio roof and the Nyger seeds make a big  mess under the feeder.

A pair of Chickadees at the feeder
A pair of Chickadees at the feeder
Male House Finch
Male House Finch

I have a hard time differentiating a male House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) from a male Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus).  But House Finches are more common in my area and this one has less of a red plume on the breast to be a Purple Finch.

Female Northern Cardinal shares a suet feeder with a male Downey Woodpecker
Female Northern Cardinal shares a suet feeder with a male Downey Woodpecker

I’m surprised to see this female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) on the suet feeder.  Most Cardinals prefer a tray feeder or a feeder with a horizontal bar that they can hop on.

Male Northern Cardinal sharing a heated birdbath with a Chickadee
Male Northern Cardinal sharing a heated birdbath with a Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch waiting his turn
White-breasted Nuthatch waiting his turn

It’s always fun to watch a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) walking up and down a tree trunk or a post or eating upside down.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker ready to take off with a beak full of suet
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker ready to take off with a beak full of suet
Another friendly Titmouse on a feeder
Another friendly Titmouse on a feeder

There are more locals than these shown above but they are either camera shy like the Eastern Bluebird or know they are not welcome like the Blue Jay, House Sparrow and European Starling.   I don’t know if the migrating birds from further North like the Common Redpoll and Pine siskin will be here this year since it has been so warm.  But for them too, the welcome mat is always out.

Sound of Spring

Birdsong

Most migrating birds are back and that provides a dawn to dusk symphony  in the garden.  Spring seems to be the season the birds sing the loudest; need to declare territory and for the males to show the ladies that he can sing.  After observing them for years, I can tell now when they will be back.  The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) will be back when the cherry trees start to bud.  The Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) will be passing through at the same time.  They summer further north.  Hummingbirds will come when the columbine starts to bloom.  Tree Swallows are here as soon as the insects are flying about.

Nature’s impeccable timing.

I was sick last week so gardening in the sun was off limits.  Setting up a blind to take bird photos was too much work when my head felt like it would explode any minute.  But sitting around doing nothing would have made me even sicker, that’s when the light bulb came on.

iPhone, little tripod for phone, remote control…..should work…..and it did.  I just sat there 30 feet away clicking the remote control, capturing the birds activity up close without interrupting them.

Phone tripod wrapped around the pole and the video turned on and off by remote control
Phone tripod wrapped around the pole and the video turned on and off by remote control

Here are a couple of videos: Baltimore Oriole enjoyed his oranges and Some backyard birds at the feeder.  I will post some other birds when I have time to edit some of my experimental videos.

Hummingbirds are my next target.

A Brutally Cold Winter

And A Busy Yard

Winter hit us very hard this year.  We already have more than two feet of snow on the ground and, as I’m writing this blog, it’s snowing outside.  The temperature has also dropped down below zero for a couple of nights and hanging below 20ºF most days.  As much as it is harsh for us, it’s much more difficult for our winged friends.  We depend on them to handle garden pest control and they have been doing a great job.  It’s only fair for us to provide some comfort for them when food and fresh water is hard to find.

Since we provide food, water and roosting places, when the winter gets really bad our yard gets very busy.  This year is even busier since the Pine Siskin are here.  They would come around once every few years when their food is hard to find in the sub-arctic boreal area.  There are so many of them that we have to fill the main feeders in the garden three times a week in order to keep up with their appetite.

We leave the feeders in the garden but remove the ones on the patio every evening so as not to draw in skunks and raccoons.   Every morning I see the birds line up on the fence waiting for us to put the feeders back.  It’s a wonderful sight.

A male American Goldfinch
A male American Goldfinch

I wonder if this male American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) knows something that I don’t.  He’s starting to molt and getting his black patch on the head back.  The male Finch shed their winter down when spring comes and turn bright canary yellow in summer.  Several of the finches have developed some bright color and black head patches now.  Either they are fooled by the temperature swing or spring is just around the corner.

Shared feeder
Shared feeder

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus), American Goldfinch, Eastern Bluebird and Black-capped chickadee sharing a feeder.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Male Downy woodpecker
Male Downy woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker

We have plenty of Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubesceus) and they are not as wary of us as the other woodpeckers.  The Red-bellied and Northern flicker woodpecker are very camera shy.  The Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) have never come to the feeder.  The one above was pecking on the maple tree in the front yard.

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird

These five Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were waiting for their turn at the feeder.  We see them more and more in winter.  We assume that either we have plenty of food and shelter to offer or they were born here and feel comfortable being in the yard instead of migrating south.  By religiously monitoring the nest boxes, we managed to raise one to two broods every year.

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Female Northern cardinal
Female Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal

Nothing wrong with this male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  It was so cold that he alternately tucked one foot in while feeding.  Many of the birds either do this or just sit on both legs to keep them warm like the Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) below.

Song sparrow
Song sparrow
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee

House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) waiting his turn while a Pine siskin defends his space from a landing Chickadee.

Some photos are not much in focus since they were taken through two panes of glass.  Sitting in the blind wasn’t an option when the temperature was below 20ºF.

 

 

 

 

First Day Of Winter

And Snow, Right On Schedule

Today is the official first day of winter and it has been snowing lightly on and off all day.  It’s very peaceful and quiet outside, the only sound the birds singing.  The birds are the only bright colors in the garden at this time and without them it’s a plain brown and gray everywhere we look.  We couldn’t fill the feeders fast enough but we’re not complaining.  Here’s my first day of winter outside:

Light snow on and off all day
Light snow on and off all day
Milkweed seeds still hanging on to the seedpod, topped with light snow
Milkweed seeds still hanging on to the seedpod, topped with light snow
Spent Goldenrod flowers
Spent Goldenrod flowers

There’s nothing to do in the garden at this time aside from filling the feeders, cleaning and filling birdbaths, and stalking birds with the camera.  So, I spend time in the house trimming tropical plants, reading and listening to the music.  This time of year the radio stations seem to put Beethoven’s Symphony #9 and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on almost everyday, so far, twice today on our local station.  I don’t mind at all especially the Symphony#9 which I always turn up really loud.  For some reason this symphony always sounds so much better loud.  A friend once told me that Beethoven composed this piece when he was nearly deaf so he needed to feel the music.  I don’t know if that’s really true but when I listened to it at Carnegie Hall I could feel the vibration.  The same goes for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. When not listening to the radio, our outside chorale is equally good to me.  Herewith some of the Avian Chorus’s members:

Male Northern Cardinal in the rose bush
Male Northern Cardinal in the rose bush
Chickadee enjoying a heated birdbath
Chickadee enjoying a heated birdbath
American Goldfinch in show
American Goldfinch in show
House Finch waiting his turn at the feeder
House Finch waiting his turn at the feeder
Nuthatch shares a feeder with an American Goldfinch
Nuthatch shares a feeder with an American Goldfinch

Though nothing is flowering in the garden, flowering continues in the basement and on the windowsill.  Nothing soothes my mood like the scent of jasmine and they are still blooming.

Almond verbena will continue flowering, even under artificial light, if I keep cutting and feeding them
Almond verbena will continue flowering, even under artificial light, if I keep cutting and feeding them
Azores jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) has very subtle scent
Azores jasmine (Jasminum azoricum) has very subtle scent
Winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) with delicate vine and flowers but very strong scent
Winter jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) with delicate vine and flowers but very strong scent
Winter jasmine close up
Winter jasmine close up
Moth orchid at the bay window
Moth orchid at the bay window