Posts Tagged ‘birds’

Spring 2012

March 10, 2012

“Winter” is over and spring has arrived. This was the 4th warmest US winter on record. I didn’t go skiing a single time this year which was a disappointment after the recent heavy snowfalls of the past few years.

In the last week Cranes, robins, red-winged blackbirds and eastern meadowlarks have returned. Lake Monona and Lake Mendota are still frozen but the little pond outside my window at work thawed this week and mallards began taking advantage of the open water immediately.

I rode the lemond to work on thursday and it felt great. Cool and clear, first of the year. I definitely need to get the brakes tuned, though. Way too much travel.

Out Like a Lamb

April 5, 2010

It’s the end of March / beginning of April and the weather has been mostly warm and dry with a few showers today.  The crocuses have peaked and the daffodils are in full bloom.  The chorus frogs are singing away and I just saw 2 bats fly over my head this last week one evening when I was out front talking to my neighbor Lenny.  The ice on the lake went out 2-3 weeks ago and last two weekends I saw several loons out there, resting on their way north.  Last week also saw the arrival of blue jays, goldfinches and tree swallows.

I planted peas back on March 14 and then, assuming the seeds weren’t viable or that the squirrels dig them up, planted one more at each stake.  Now it looks like the ground simply wasn’t warm enough as they all seem to be coming up.  I haven’t grown peas before and am excited to see how this turns out.  I sowed a variety that only grows 2 feet high but still requires support.  I purchased 3 foot ong pieces of bamboo and then sunk those into the ground in pairs bound at the top so they form upside-down V’s.  Since I am doing this in a 4’x4′ box, I only had room to erect 4  pairs of stakes.  Initially I sowed a pea on either side of each stake and then added a third just underneath.  I’ll probably have to thin these out so that only one or two plants is growing up each stake.  And there might not be an advantage to having two pea plants compete for the same stake if they just interfere with each other.

Yesterday I was out in the garage pulling nails when I noticed a few pale, pathetic looking plants trying to grow in some clay pots I have.  It turns out that these were sorrel plants that I started from seed in the pots last year.  I was completely negligent of these things and they dried out and wilted a number of times over the summer.  When winter arrived, I moved the frozen pots with the scrawny leaves into the garage.  There they sat dormant until recently when the warmth and the faintest amount of light triggered another hopeful attempt at a better life.  And their persistence has paid off as I transplanted them into the bed with the peas.

Of course, to make room, I had to pull out the tiny columbine seedlings that must have drifted over from the bed to the west of the pea bed.  These were moved to the north side of the garage which is a five foot strip of bark chips between my garage and a chain-link fenced-in dog-run/weed patch in Lenny’s backyard.  As nature hates a vacuum, I figured I should start planting things I like as a defensive move.  That’s how some hostas ended up there and why I will be seeding the dog-run with lavender hyssop, Agastache foeniculum.  Native to the eastern U.S., I’m actually only familiar with it in planted settings rather than in the wild.  A nearby coffee shop has a dense stand of it in the backyard.  It has a long bloom period and is very attractive to bees and hummingbirds.  I just found out my other neighbor’s backyard beehive didn’t survive the winter and he had to replace the bees.  Hopefully this will create a strong nectar source for the bees.  and then maybe I can get some honey!

Lavender hyssop from Prairie Nursery.

As I was planting little bits of columbine along the dog-run fence, I couldn’t help but notice that the weeds in the dog-run were already getting thick.  A co-worker had confirmed to me that vinegar is an effective herbicide, especially early in the season.  He explained that the vinegar doesn’t poison the plant as most herbicides do.  Rather, it burns the leaves, leaving them wilted and unable to perform photosynthesis.  So I sprayed away this morning.  Dandelions, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard.  By the time I checked back this afternoon, the dandelions were already looking wilted.  I’ll keep this up every couple days until the seeds arrive in the mail.  with any luck, the hyssop will establish and bloom like mad.

Mud Season

March 12, 2010

This morning there were robins outside for the first time this year. Lots and lots of robins.  And at work I saw a great blue heron over the pond across the street and then heard a meadowlark outside the back door.  Both were firsts of the year.  Also saw five sandhill cranes from my office window.  It was warm and rainy.  The snow is mostly melted.  Everything is dirty and trashy.  Its hard to imagine how nice it will be soon.  Maybe we’ll have a long spring.  That would be pretty nice.

It’s Hard to See a Squirrel when You’re Listening for a Bird

March 1, 2010

After spending the last two weeks walking Bandit along the railroad tracks behind Kenny’s house twice a day, I’ve to the conclusion that I did not hear a catbird during the Great Backyard Bird Count; rather, it a was squirrel.  Squirrels make all kinds of noises including some that sound weird and mewling.  Given that Kenny’s dad puts out about 50 pounds of bird seed every other day in the back yard, this seems like a more plausible explanation than identifying the only cat bird in the entire state.  So, the catbird is scratched off the list and I submitted the rest of the species to the GBBC today, the last day of entry.

As spring approaches, it is easy to get excited about the arrival dates of different birds.  I know that I feel a weight lift off my shoulders every spring the first time I hear a red-wing blackbird in the marsh across the railroad tracks or the croaking of sandhill cranes hundreds of feet overhead.  Their arrival signals winter’s departure. 

What usually goes unnoticed with the arrival of spring, though, is the departure of the dark-eyed juncoes.  As robins and red-wing blackbirds noisily announce their presence, the juncoes silently head north to Canada until they return with winter.

This year, however, I’m keeping track of not just when the red-wing blackbirds, robins, cranes, and herons arrive, but of when the juncoes leave.  Let the record show that they were here the last weekend in February.  I can all but guarantee they will be gone by the end of March and I can guarantee that red-wing blackbirds will have arrived by then.  But I don’t know if the juncoes leave before the blackbirds arrive or if the blackbirds show up and then, later, the juncoes leave.  In other words, does spring arrive before winter leaves or does winter leave in advance of spring’s arrival.

Maybe I’ll start an office pool.  mmmmm. Maybe not.

Mushrooms and Catbirds: Everything a Man Could Want for Valentine’s Day

February 15, 2010

I nailed it. Fancy chocolates for wife and mom. Went and saw Fantastic Mr. Fox at the cheapie last night. Classy brunch with wife today. Flowers. Cards. Simple but spot on. Everybody was very happy.

So happy that they hardly noticed when I slipped out with Bandit the Border Beagle and a bow saw to go cut a log from a pile of slash leftover from the recent clearing of the railroad ROW. I needed a 40” long 4” wide log for the oyster mushroom plugs I ordered from a business up in Northern Wisconsin (www.fieldforest.net). I’ll drill some little holes into the log and jam these little wooden dowel plugs into the holes. The plugs have been inoculated with mushroom spores so if all goes well I’ll have huge oyster mushrooms hanging off this piece of box elder by fall. Who knew box elder was good for anything!?

Not surprisingly, I went a little overboard (especially considering my wife hates mushrooms) and ordered two other products – one to grow morels which has an incredibly low chance of working and one to grow wine cap Stropharia, whatever that is. I’ll try and grow morels along the north side of my house. It’s shady, covered in woodchips, and is planted with a nice variety of plants native to the upper Midwest. If I had a dead elm, I think I’d be set. Maybe I can trick the morels and partially bury a bucked up elm branch. I don’t know if I can trick morels. I can definitely trick my Border Beagle. If I can’t trick the morels does it mean that the world’s greatest dog isn’t as smart as a mushroom? (No, leave him out of this). Or does it mean his owner is a complete jackass for even considering the notion of “tricking morels”? (Yes). (Jackass).

As for the Stropharia, I’ve never heard of them, never seen them, and will probably get confused and end up poisoning myself when something other than a Stropharia pops up in the garden. Apparently as I deepen my plunge into my 30’s I’m becoming a very different and dorkier type of thrill-seeker than I was 10 years ago. Goodbye epic mountains and vast tundra, hello odd mushrooms and heirloom vegetables. Sigh. At least the beer is better.

This weekend also happens to be the Great Backyard Bird Count so I was making mental notes of all the little brown birds Bandit the Border Beagle was flushing out of the shrubs just outside of the railroad ROW as we approached the slash pile. A handful of crows, house sparrows, juncos, cardinals, a red-tail hawk and what I thought was a catbird. I didn’t see the catbird which is fairly typical. I thought I heard a catbird. I didn’t even think twice about it. I just thought, ”oh, there’s a catbird in the Kenny’s bushes behind me.”

However, as I was entering the data into Cornell’s GBBC website, it called me out, reminding me that a catbird here in February is not likely. I checked the records and in 10 years, no one around here has seen one in February. I cancelled my entry and now I have until March 1st (when data entry closes) to try and confirm if I have the state’s earliest catbird hanging around my neighborhood. I wonder if my neighbor Kenny is going to get freaked out by me hanging around his bushes.