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Despite seven cats in the neighborhood, this squirrely squirrel seemed extremely relaxed while enjoying a sunflower snack. Maybe he could even be labeled as show-offy. He must have known all the cats were in the house and sound asleep. Or, like many Michiganders, maybe he is only celebrating and enjoying a sunny, fairly warm spring day.

Unfortunately, the DNR has suggested everyone empty their bird feeders. The 3,000 or so bears in Northern Michigan are coming out of hibernation. They will be hungry and find sunflower seeds delectable.  Several years ago in the middle of the night I watched one laying on his back in the snow with two feeders he had torn down, pouring the seeds into his gaping jaws. The back porch lights illuminated his misdeed. Sorry birds, sorry squirrels. I don’t want Smokey on my back porch.

photo pileated woodpeckerWe had a special visitor today– a Pileated Woodpecker. These are just great birds to view. I have to say I see bald eagles more often than I see this particular woodpecker.  This maybe my fourth or fifth viewing, and the others were not this up close and most were when we lived in Missouri nearly twenty years ago where the holes being pecked out of wood were from my house.

He (this is a male; the female has a grey forehead that turns to red further back) landed on the bird feeder on my back porch and pecked at the suet on this side of the feeder once but was more interested in the the suet block on the far side of the feeder. I took twenty photos, but the bird moved so fast I mostly got blurred images or only tail feathers as he bent over the far side of the feeder to eat suet.  That bill looks dangerous, doesn’t it? Good for chopping wood.

The bird sites say these woodpeckers are about the size of crows, but the crows in this area are not this large or impressive. They live year round in much of the eastern United States, but also inhabit areas in lower Canada. Obviously they can face our cold winters. If your want to know more, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site gives more about information about Pileated Woodpeckers.

I hope he comes to visit again. Six more packages of suet sit in a cabinet and we will buy more if he keeps visiting.

2nd photo pileated woodpecker

Flock Together coverBy B. J. Hollars
University of Nebraska Press
ISBN 10: 0-803-29642-8
ISBN 13: 978-0-803-29642-8)
January 2017
FLOCK TOGETHER is a narrative journey of the author, B. J. Hollars, to become a birder, but also to present a warning to humanity. It starts with the presumed extinction of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, last seen in 1972, but then claimed to have been seen in 2005. (I have to insert here that I believe I saw two at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri in 1982? 83? – They were huge, had the red top knot and I distinctly remember the white on the wings since I was looking the strange looking woodpecker up in a bird book. Our local DNR said I was mistaken. Maybe, only remember what I thought I saw.) Hollars also went to a Passenger Pigeon Symposium, which led him to a monument for the bird with the following wording on its base: “The species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.” Who knew mankind could kill billions of pigeons in 40 years? The monument is right, what an ignoble exploit. He talks about many other birders who spend time recording bird sightings and their viewpoints, and spends much effort in searching out museums about birds and their legacies. He claims the dwindling numbers of North American birds are due to loss of habitat, cats (Oh, God, I’m guilty), and windows. I am glad to say I could list more names of birds than he claimed the average American could list, but then you have to consider my name, Robin. I do agree, also, with his statement that the in the Bible, God gave man dominion over animals for care giving rather than consumption. So true, after all, He gave no guarantee of a second world if we screw this one up. Bird watching is not quite what most people think it is. Yes it is searching for different birds and keeping a bragging list, but it is also about caring for the environment and all the creatures living on Earth. Throughout his narrative, Hollars gives us warning to be aware of the many warnings we’ve already had, and to become the concerned caregivers we should have been all along.

110 Plants to Feed the BeesI discovered this book on Net Galley and opened it out of curiosity. Bees and their populations are a huge environmental issue right now. I think I’ve mentioned in my last post and in other posts, the volume of honeybees in my area has declined drastically in the last few years. Hopefully this book will help gardeners become aware of plants to draw bees and maybe as gardeners we can provide a welcoming and safe environment for these extremely important insects.

100 Plants to FEED THE BEES: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive – The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Publication date: December 2016
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 1612-12701-0
ISBN-13: 978-1612-12701-9

While this book is a handbook of plants insects need, it is an important book for every gardener. The book begins with a very interesting short version of the multi-million year history of how plants and insects evolved into essential partnerships. For those who have ignored environmental problems, bees have been disappearing, and bees and humans also have an essential partnership. The DNR claims bees pollinate approximately roughly 75% of the vegetables, fruits, and nuts we eat. Personally, I love those plant products and want to keep bees around to do what they do best. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed a distinct decline in the number of honeybees visiting my plants.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES offers an extensive list of plants whose flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, and not only honey bees but native bees and other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Each plant section contains a photo of the plant, the plant’s botanical name, and some basic information on the plant, plus a map of where it grows. Interesting information and sometimes warnings about the plant are also included. An example of a warning is mustard, which is considered a noxious weed in some locations, and illegal to grow.

Included in the 100 plants are native wildflowers and non-native or introduced wildflowers (weeds), garden plants, herbs, trees and shrubs, and even pasture plants. I was glad to see many of the plants I’ve recognized growing in my area, and my garden holds many other recommended selections. I was surprised to see Tilia Americana or the common basswood tree, until I remembered standing under my trees when in bloom and hearing myriad bees busy in the tree’s unseen upper stories. I appreciated the list of insects each plant attracts far beyond bees, too. I looked over an online version of the book, and then pre-order a volume. I recommend all gardeners purchase a copy of 100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES, and a big thanks to Xerces Society authors Eric Lee-Mäder, Jarrod Fowler, Jillian Vento, and Jennifer Hopwood for this work.

Last year in May (2015) Dr. John P. Holdren, who advises President Obama on science and technology, announced new steps to increase the population of insects that help pollinate our food crops. According to Holdren in his release “Announcing New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health,” these insects have helped  add “more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops.” The article announced three goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

So while our chemical companies have been developing poisons to kill predatory insects, there is a possibility they have also decimated insects important to our well being, and now with a population topping 7 billion people on Earth, we need all the help we can get to feed them all. There are other contributing causes to pollinator decline, and one is we have changed the landscape so it doesn’t provide what they need to survive. These, of course, our suppositions on my part since I haven’t followed all of the research.

However, when my package came from Burpee with my seed purchases, included was a free packet of Pollinators  Seed Mix. It included cornflowers, flax, cosmos, poppy, larkspur, zinnias, and sunflowers. Because I have been concerned about the decline in honeybees—I have witnessed it in my garden—I decided to plant them, giving a 4×4′ vegetable bed over to the seeds. Of all the disasters in my vegetable garden this year, the pollinators shined in success. Yes; I saw many insects on the flowers, including honeybees. But a Monarch also visited. To help these butterflies I also let the wild milkweed grow, although I’ve noticed they really like my butterflyweed (another species of milkweed) better.

pollinators

Why bring this up? To let you know these seed packets are available for sale now in various plant combinations, including herbal. I took this photo last Thursday, so you can see the plants are still blooming. I’ve used some for bouquets for indoors, too (not a lot, I left most for the insects!) Please grow some. Lets keep the honeybees and Monarch butterflies around.

Oops! Posted and then added more. Here are Holdren’s sites for more information on the new policy copied from the site:

  • Read the National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health HERE
  • Read the Pollinator Research Action Plan HERE
  • Read Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands HERE
  • Access Appendices to the National Strategy HERE

Gardening is always an adventure and an investigation into the plant world and nature. This year’s vegetable garden has been very different and not very successful. In a word, the cause is DEER, and my garden is not the only one attacked this year. I’ve spoken with several other gardeners whose crops have been decimated by deer. It could be the increase in corn fields around us, which provide also provide food.

Last week we repaired some fencing and put up more fence posts. Yet, this year the grapes have been very successful and weighed down sections of the fence. No matter what Bill and I did, the deer jumped the fence at some point in the perimeter and dined at leisure in the garden beds. The results are the tomatoes have well-cropped tops, and are developing tomatoes on the bottom branches.

Pumpkin blossomYesterday, the deer again jumped the fence and this time ate all the ripening grapes. ALL the grapes of an abundant crop off three vines. So much for making homemade wine. Deer also like Jerusalem artichokes,  horseradish, Swiss chard, beans, and sunflowers. All gone. However, the yellow crookneck squash are huge and abundant as are the pumpkins. On the back deck Bill finally put the lettuce containers on the small table and the raccoons he insists on feeding haven’t been able to get into them.

My flower gardens have done well except for the fact I haven’t kept them as well weeded as they needed to be. Four years after planting the seeds, the white Liatris Florestan White, or Blazing Star, finally bloomed, including one hidden one that I thought had died. I love raising plants from seed and I thought this one a lost cause, and here the plants finally deliver flowers! Deer did eat many of the daylily blooms, but I had daylilies blooming from the end of June to the end of August.  With my vegetable seeds from both Burpee’s and Park’s, I received free packets of ‘pollinators.’ They are blooming in the vegetable garden now and are beautiful.

I also read about using banana peels on plants for fertilizer and implemented the trial. It worked on the tomatoes (although this effort was largely a lost cause) and on the few roses I have. Just wrap the banana peel around the base of the stem. Recycling and fertilizing in one step–how convenient!

While the vegetable garden has been disappointing, it has been an interesting season of gardening. Since I’ve been very busy indoors working on creating an  online course for my classes, painting the walls, woodwork, floors (I truly have a painted house), and writing, most of my gardening has been a few sessions of weeding and much looking. Now I look forward to a fruitful fall hunting season for some hunter, and next spring, new fencing, and another table for the back deck, it should be a good gardening season.

Parry the parrot

Parry liked to look at the world from upside down, or maybe it was the awful jerry-rigged cage.

I called the parrot we caught Parry. I know, not very original. Parry loved people! He must have had a dedicated and loving previous owner. He liked talking to women and would crawl around his cage to stay right in front of them. No one called about having lost a parrot however.

In talking about the parrot we found Nancy whose parrot had recently died. It was a different type from Parry who was a Pilgrim Parrot or Monk Parakeet. Her parrot had been with her for decades and I think she still mourned it. She still had it’s cage and reluctantly came to see Parry when we offered him to her. I think he charmed her because she did take him home. I’m sure Nancy will provide a much better home than I could although I’d already begun to love the little guy. She knows what to do with a parrot, how to take care of Parry, and didn’t own eight cats. I think it was meant to be.

I’ve not been doing much gardening because of a bout of bronchitis and a bum hip. So I decided to just pull a few obvious weeds. Yes, I’ve unintentionally pulled out plants I wanted to keep, so I have to know a weed is a weed (thus the obvious) in the spring before I pull it. Anyway, I plan to plant vegetables this week, bought Dairy-Doo and ready to go, but I didn’t get any new perennials. I need to divide and transplant what I have.

Then, true to this most unusual place we live where we receive visits from bear, deer, turkey, racoon, possums, pigs, and cows, something unexpected happened. We never expected a parrot, and to capture it? Not possible.

Bill was emptying the car’s trunk when a bird swooped into the wild cherry tree planted in the drive’s circle garden. I had just returned from the garden, so from where I stood on the sidewalk, I saw sun flick on its feathers just before it reached the tree. Long pointy green tail feathers? No native green birds that size live in Michigan. “Oh my God! It’s a parrot!” I yelled. Bill looked into the tree. Sure enough a parrot. It suddenly swooped down and flew over Bill, made a circle and came back to the tree. George had walked up next to Bill. He picked up the cat and put it in the house, the parrot flying over him again as he walked.

“How do we capture it?” I asked. “It can’t survive a Michigan winter, and if we don’t get it now, its in a lot of danger.”

The parrot had returned to the tree. It swooped again, another cat nearby; Bill picked up the cat to take into the house and the parrot followed, flying about a foot or so over his head. This time it flew under the porch roof and landed on my baker’s stand. I was standing just outside the porch in front of the bird. Bill went looking for a net to capture it.

I talked to the parrot and he (my presumption on the sex of the bird) just sat and looked at me. It took Bill several minutes but he finally came and carefully walked on to the porch behind the bird. Another minute passed with me talking to the bird. Bill started talking to it. I told him not to if he planned to use that net unseen.

I put a hand up near the parrot to regain its attention. It didn’t move or act afraid. I thought it wouldn’t be safe for me to pick it up as a frightened parrot would bite my fingers. Then without more thought, I reached out and put my hand around the bird. His beak opened and I was sure I was going to bleed soon, but the bird never bit down, just mouthed me. Now I have a handful of bird. “We need a cage.”

It took Bill five minutes to jerry-rig a cage with a large wire basket and some chicken wire. In the meantime, I’m stroking the parrot’s head very gently with one finger. He speaks parrotese back to me and soon closes his eyes, perfectly content. Someone has lost their bird, a bird they spent a lot of time with. We have posters up around various busy stores and restaurants, waiting for someone to call. I’d put up a photo, but we’re waiting for the owner to describe the bird. More later.

Have you watched the Decorah eagles live cam? I have for three of the last four years, and didn’t last year only because the eagle pair abandoned one nest to build a new one in a nearby tree.

The three eaglets in the nest hatched the first week of April and pin feathers are starting to stick out of their fuzzy coats. Mom and dad are very attentive parents, although they now leave their eaglets alone in the next for long periods. I’ve seen the parents both snow covered and rain drenched while sitting and keeping their eggs and hatchlings warm and dry, pulling apart fish and animals to feed their babies, and crunching up corn stalks to make bedding. I believe these are the 18, 19, and 20 babies this pair has produced.

I watch the little eaglets copying their parents’ behaviors, stretching their featherless wings backward and up, sleeping like piles of dead carrion, and poking at each other with their beaks.

It makes me wonder if after leaving the nest they recognize their siblings. Does nesting together leave residual feelings like human siblings share?

Other eagle cams have sprung up, one in the Pittsburgh area and in Atlanta area. They seem to have drawn viewers away from the Decorah pair. In previous years when I’ve logged on I’d often find over 20 thousand other viewers logged on, now it is about half that number. They also litter the cam view with advertisements. Don’t you love it? Still a fascinating look into the lives of eagles.

While my front and side yards have more formal gardens, the back was left basically wild, looking out on the surrounding woods. At this time of year we often have turkey visit to eat the sunflower seeds. Deer also come, but this year I think the surrounding fields are filled with corn from the harvesting early in November. I’ve seen them around, just not out back. Normally a pack of seven very large males visit, followed by blue jays and morning doves. One day last week over thirty turkey came to eat. It’s fun and peaceful to look out the windows and watch them. They must have very good sight and hearing because any sudden movement or too loud comment sends them trotting up the hill.
turkey

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