Good Year For Bluebirds

Starting Their Second Brood

I think the Bluebirds are getting more comfortable with our garden now.  They no longer leave us during winter.  We provide roosting boxes, food and water in heated birdbaths when nothing much is around in winter and we help with guarding their nesting box during their breeding season.  Since they have become our resident birds, they have started their nesting early.  Last year they had two broods and this year they have already started a second brood while still feeding their chicks from the first brood.

They started the first brood in April. Once the female lays eggs, we start to monitor the nest box weekly to make sure they are fine.  Four out of five eggs hatched with the 1st brood.

May 7th – not much feathering and eyes still closed
May 14th – They are much bigger and have feathers. This was our last photo because we don’t want them to fledge too early

We stopped checking their nest box when the chicks have full feathers.  If they fledge too early, out of concern for their own safety, they could become other birds food.  So we don’t want to stress them with visits.

May 30th – The female tends to one of the chicks in between building a new nest
A couple taking a break from feeding the chicks and building a new nest
June 4th – The first egg in a new nest-second brood
Two of the babies from the first brood perching on top of new nest box
Male keeps his eyes on his chicks and the new nest too

The second nest is right by our vegetable garden and the green pole is only a couple of feet from the front of the nest box.  Hopefully there will be another three or more chicks from the second brood.

Eastern Bluebird

The First Family To Settle

Spring is a very active season for birds.  I can tell that spring is really coming when the male American Goldfinches shed their winter coats and the male Cardinals are no longer willing to eat together.  The same thing goes for the Eastern Bluebirds which no longer flock together like they do in winter.  There is also their singing.

The first pair of birds that took up residence in our garden this year is the Eastern Bluebird.  After picking and choosing among several nest boxes in the yard, they ended up at the same one the bluebirds nested in last year.  I’m not sure that it’s the same pair though, since a flock of them stayed with us this winter.

Male Eastern Bluebird staying on top of the house they picked
The female keeps her eyes on it from the tree above
Their new home

Once the female has started to lay eggs, the male become very territorial.  A Tree Swallow who just migrated back, checked the nest box for availability and was immediately chased away.  As aggressive as the male bluebird is, he’s no match to the House sparrow.  We have to diligently monitor all the nest boxes in the garden for signs of the House Sparrows.  So far we have been successfully hosted Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, House Wrens, Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse in our nest boxes by monitoring the House Sparrows attempts.

April 16: three beautiful blue eggs
April 22: five eggs
She rarely leaves the nest now

Hopefully most of the eggs she’s caring for now will make it to adulthood.  We’re happy to see more and more of them each year and to know that they are comfortable enough to stay with us year round.

These are the one’s that use the nest boxes.  The one’s that prefer to build their own nests like the American Robins, Chipping Sparrows and Song Sparrows have already picked their spots in the foliage.  I’ll have to check on the Robins next time I have a chance.  Last I checked, they had just finished building their nest.

We are still waiting for the Grey Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to come back.  The wait won’t be much longer because the Cherry trees have started to blossom and the Columbine is starting to bud.

 

 

Spring Has Sprung

…With A Cold Shoulder

I took the day off from work yesterday and the weather was on my side.  Still plenty of snow on the ground but the temperature had soared to nearly 60°F.  The honeybees should have been out and about now with a temperature this high, but alas, none to be seen.  So I decided to inspect one hive.  Intrinsically I knew I had to face my fear somehow.  It’s better to know early than not know at all.  I suspected they may have died of starvation since the weather has been inconsistent.  That forces the bees to consume their stored food faster leaving them with nothing inside and nothing for them to forage outside.  But I wasn’t expecting what I saw.  There were no bees in the hive.  None at all.

I ended up opening all the hives.  My worst fear had come true.  There were only a few dead bees in each hive which was otherwise empty.  There were plenty of capped and uncapped honey frames in each hive but no live occupants.

First sadness hit, then depression, then self-doubt….what did I do wrong?  I’ve been taking a mite count throughout the season and it’s been very low.  We provided clean water.  We provided food, with the supporting evidence of plenty left over in each hive. The only thing I did not do was treat them with chemicals.  But I have never treated them from the start.  They were fine and happy for many years, from one generation to the next, living their lives naturally.

I’m still sad and depressed but giving up is not in my nature.  I will clean up the empty hives on my next day off and have them readied for new occupants.  New honeybee packages are coming in next month and I hope we will work well together like their long gone relatives.

But there was a bright part of the day…I finally dug my way to the igloo, my cold frame.  What was left in there were carrots, Mustard greens, a few Pac choi too.  The lettuce I had sown in January had come up, barely reaching half an inch.

The path I had to dig to get to the cold frame
Pulled some fresh carrots from inside the cold frame. Small but tasty.

I pulled weeds out, watered the soil a little and sowed a few more seeds: Mizuna, Mustard greens, Radish, Arugula, Chinese broccoli, and more lettuce.  They should start to sprout in a week and within a couple more weeks I can have my first salad of the season.

Sowed some seeds after pulling carrots and clearing some dead vegetables

Our resident Eastern Bluebirds are also looking for a nest box in our yard and haven’t given up despite harassment from the House sparrow.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds enjoy their meal and keep their eyes on their prospect home

As the Buddhists say, ‘all is impermanence.’  There will be more honeybees.  The garden is still there and this year’s seedlings are all sprouting high in the house and itching to get their feet in the ground outside.  I really can’t complain.

 

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.

Happy New Year

In Anticipation Of A Better Year

Happy New Year 2017

I would like to present you with the image of a warmer day in our garden, the Zephirine Drouhin rose.  A climbing fragrant rose that blooms continuously throughout the season.  One of many things I anticipate again in June.

Zephirine Drouhin is never a disappointment. It blooms heavily at first then continues to bloom here and there until autumn.
Zephirine Drouhin is never a disappointment. It blooms heavily at first then continues to bloom here and there until autumn.

About this ‘anticipation’, I got the idea from a free bookmark I received from the American Horticultural Society of which I am a member.  There is a quote from W.E Johns on the back “One of the most delightful things about gardening is the anticipation it provides.”  It couldn’t be more true for me.

We all hope for better.  We hope our garden will fare better than last year, our beehives thrive, our little friends who stay put survive the winter and our migrating friends come back to visit.  We anticipate for better so we won’t lose hope.

Here are some of the anticipated events:

We anticipate that more Monarch butterflies will be back next year as we have plenty of Milkweed and late summer flowers for them to feed on before they travel back south for their winter hibernation. We hope that children will get to see them in real life, not just on screen, for many more years to come.
We anticipate that more Monarch butterflies will be back next year as we have plenty of Milkweed and late summer flowers for them to feed on before they travel back south for their winter hibernation. We hope that children will get to see them in real life, not just on screen, for many more years to come.
We anticipate the next generation of this Honeybee on Goldenrod will be stronger and more resilient so they can help us humans survive.
We anticipate the next generation of this Honeybee on Goldenrod will be stronger and more resilient so they can help us humans survive.
We anticipate that this summer resident- Baltimore Oriole will bring his children, that were born here, back for a red carpet treatment of fresh oranges and organic jelly.
We anticipate that this summer resident- Baltimore Oriole will bring his children, that were born here, back for a red carpet treatment of fresh oranges and organic jelly.
We anticipate that the Eastern Bluebird which has stayed put with us in the last couple of winters, will bring up more kids, enjoy their communal bath and help rid us of pests. We hope they will continue being our state bird for eons to come since their population has increased in recent years.
We anticipate that the Eastern Bluebird which has stayed put with us in the last couple of winters, will bring up more kids, enjoy their communal bath and help rid us of pests. We hope they will continue being our state bird for eons to come since their population has increased in recent years.

These are just a few of our anticipations for this year.  We have been doing our best to give back to nature since she gives us so much joy.  It’s our sanctuary amidst this divided world.

As for the world outside our garden, we hope that there are  solutions for all conflicts so we stop being so divided and ruining ourselves in the process.  We dream of a magic pill that will wipe out hate, bigotry, and selfishness from so many people’s brains, that the world can be a better place to live and a wonderful place to pass on to the next generation.   Let’s hope that some of these dreams will come true this year.  We cannot lose hope, it’s the only thing that keeps us going.  Even if that hope is just a dim light at the end of the tunnel.

Whatever your anticipations and dreams are, we wish they came true for you.  

 

 

 

Second Family

A Greeter

I’m not sure if they trust us or the remnants of the old Gray Catbird’s nest was too good a spot to pass up.  An American Robin family has built a nest in the Rhododendron to the right of our front door.  There was a Gray Catbird nest there last year and some old nest material still hung from the branches.  We can see the female sitting in the nest about 2 feet from our window.  She also keeps her eyes on us when we’re in the room but stays put.

American Robin, a singer and a garden helper
American Robin, a singer and a garden helper
Keeping her eggs warm
Keeping her eggs warm

I guess we have been working together in the garden often enough that she’s decided we’re not her enemies.  Why not live next to us?  She has four beautiful blue eggs and we hope to see chicks soon.  We decided to tape part of our mesh blind to the window so we can observe the nest and not stress her to much when we turn the living room lights on.

Four Robin eggs, April 26
Four Robin eggs, April 26

And, an update on the first family, Eastern Bluebirds, the eggs have hatched.  The parents are busy bringing food in and taking feces sacks out.

BabyEastern Bluebird, May 1
BabyEastern Bluebird, May 1

Tree Swallows

Back From The South

We were glad to see our old friends who flew back from the South, the Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).  It’s fun to watch them chirping while gliding around at high speed.  This spring one of their usual nest boxes was taken first by an Eastern Bluebird family (previous post) which had already produced four beautiful eggs.  One of the Swallows poked its head in the house to check it out anyway.  He was promptly bombarded by the male Bluebird and ended up in a nasty fight on the ground before the Swallow could get away.  Both Bluebirds now stand guard not just on their nest box but on one other nest box close by.

Swallow checking a prospective nest box
Swallow checking a prospective nest box
The female Bluebird says otherwise
The female Bluebird says otherwise

One pair settled for the box by the vegetable garden.  Watching them communicate with one another is quite funny.  I wish I could  tell if they are the same pair as settled there for the last two years.  The Swallows have been nesting in our garden for the past several years and we hosted two broods last year alone so they could be the younger generation that were born here.

So they settled for the one by the vegetable garden
So they settled for the one by the vegetable garden

It doesn’t really matter which pair they are; they are all welcome.