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.
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.
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 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 (Turdusmigratorius) 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.
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:
Still more to come, some migrating birds have not yet arrived.
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:
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.
I have a hard time differentiating a male House Finch (Carpodacusmexicanus) 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.
I’m surprised to see this female Northern Cardinal (Cardinaliscardinalis) on the suet feeder. Most Cardinals prefer a tray feeder or a feeder with a horizontal bar that they can hop on.
It’s always fun to watch a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sittacarolinensis) walking up and down a tree trunk or a post or eating upside down.
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.
This time of year is the only time we, the birds and us, compete for fruits in our garden. We have wild cherry, ornamental cherry, white mulberry, wild raspberry, Golden raspberry, strawberry and blueberry on the property. We gave up on the wild cherry since it’s too tall for us to harvest; the birds always get the fruit first. Our neighbor used to put a bed sheet under one of the trees but what she got was the left over from the birds. We can only get the sweet, white mulberry from the lower branches but that’s enough. This year there are so many fruits that the birds and squirrels have taken longer to clean them up. So we are still picking mulberry.
Wild raspberry has not yet ripened. There will not be much fruit this year. I removed many of them early in spring because they were getting too invasive. Since there is no distraction now from the wild raspberry, I am more concerned with the Golden raspberry and am considering putting a net over them. I will have to cover the blueberries before the fruit ripens as well. The Gray Catbirds are pretty good at keeping their eye on the fruit.
We have been sharing strawberries this year since I have no time to cover them. What ever the birds missed is our feast.
Competing for ripe fruits in the garden doesn’t make us enemies. The birds still work the other part of the garden; picking off insects and grubs which are much more destructive to our garden. Losing some fruit to them is a small price to pay for their service.
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.
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.
Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus), American Goldfinch, Eastern Bluebird and Black-capped chickadee sharing a feeder.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I spent most of New Year’s Day watching birds in our garden. It was cold outside so I mostly just watched them through the glass of the patio door. I took the camera out for only half an hour at a time, until I felt numbness creeping into my fingers and toes. Since there wasn’t any snow on the ground, though it was very cold, birds were still able to find food naturally. So there were no new critters on the feeders. But what was interesting to me was their behavior at the birdbath.
We provide water for the birds year round but cut it down to two or three heated birdbaths during winter. It’s a bit difficult to draw an electric cord far from the house and monitor the bath too. Water dissipates much faster in heated birdbaths because of evaporation and the frequent use by birds. Letting it dry up while the heater is running is not an option.
Providing fresh water for birds in winter, when an unfrozen surface is hard for them to find, does not just benefit the birds. I enjoy watching them gathering around the rim either to drink the water or just for warmth. When there is a lot of snow on the ground or when it’s really cold, I would see birds that do not usually come to the birdbaths as well… woodpeckers, crows. Even the squirrels love it.
This birdbath is a little too deep for small birds so I put a stone in there to provide a shallow area so that they can bathe. They do seem to like it. Most of the smaller birds often land on the stone instead of the rim. In summer the bees also like to land on it when they drink water.
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:
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:
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.
A snow storm hit us again today, starting about 5:00 AM. It was very peaceful because no one was out, the town plows didn’t bother to come around early and not a snow blower in sight. It was the type with big fluffy flakes falling down early on then became very light rain before stopping in late afternoon. It dumped close to a foot of snow today, adding to the foot still here from the previous Wednesday. We now have a three foot snow bank along our driveway and higher mounds here and there. And, there’s more to come tonight. The weather forecast is predicting the second round of this Nor-Easter tonight may add another 8″ to 10″ more.
As soon as the snow stopped the neighborhood came out in force cleaning their driveways and getting them ready for the next onslaught tonight. We had to rake some of the snow off our roof as it is thick and heavy and makes it difficult to open the sliding door. During all these chores, we were accompanied by plenty of birds doing their best to pack as much food in as they could to brace for the storm. The Chickadees and Carolina Wrens didn’t even care that we were raking the roof; they just flew in and out picking on seeds at the feeders by the patio.
Our beehives have only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board and the bottom entrance. We were lucky that we decided to put the hives on 3 foot risers off the ground, otherwise half of the hives would have been buried under the snow by now. I know the bees would be fine if that had happened because they still have the upper entrance that keeps air flowing. They will be able to come out through the snow for their cleansing flights anyway, even if snow covered both entrances. The hot air they create in the hive melts little holes in the snow where the entrances are.
Only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board. Both lower and upper entrances are covered with snow. When I inspected them after the last snow fall, they had small tunnels behind the snow that opened up to the left and right of these little mounds. Once I saw them I left the snow alone so it can block the cold and wind from getting in the hives.
A few more weeks to go before spring reaches us, but more snow to be expected. On the bright side, we need all the extra water. And, if the bees pull through this harsher than usual winter, we will have a very strong generation of honey bees for our garden. Bees that can weather temperatures below 0ºF in a very erratic winter.
There has been one snow storm after another and the official spring date is still more than a month away. Our garden is covered a foot deep in snow crusted with ice. The cold frame we put up last fall has become an igloo at this point. I have no idea what has happened in there since I can’t have access without digging my way in through snow. I’ve left the honey bees alone. The only sign that there are live bees in the hives is the fresh dead bees I found on top of the snow around the garden.
It was very sunny and no wind today so I braved a low 30º F, in my knee-high boots, to stomp around inspecting the garden. As much snow as there is on the ground, there are many signs that spring is not too far away. I always see the arrival of American Robins (Turdusmigratorius) as an indication that spring will be here soon enough. Today was the second time I’ve seen a large flock of Robins come around.
Aside from Robins, the male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) no longer keep to their truce. They seem to keep close to their female companions now and chase other full grown males around the yard. The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are also looking for nesting spots now and no longer just coming to the garden for food.
The American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are starting to shed their winter coats. There are little bits of yellow tipped grey down here and there on the snow, and the birds are beginning to show spring colors in bright yellow blotches.
With a lineage that stretches all the way back to the dinosaurs, I figure the birds know better than I.