Breakfast Buddies?

With rain in the forecast, yesterday morning was a good time to get down and dirty in the garden–both mine and my sister-in-law’s.  Living in a somewhat arid climate, I take advantage of the wet stuff from the sky to dig and plant.  For my garden, it was about clearing out some Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra, which colonizes with verve, and for my sister-in-law’s garden, it was transplanting those rogue bits of shrub-with-root to a new home:  to grow, be beautiful, and provide cover and fruit for birds, and nectar and pollen for pollinators.

I was out early, not too long after sunup, mulling the day ahead, when I spotted our neighborhood Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis, high up in a winter-bared tree.

The tree sits on a property belonging to the street adjacent to mine;  I don’t know whether it’s a front or back garden tree, but it’s at some distance from my front garden.  For this once, I wish my camera owned just a little more scope moxie.

Still, it’s not a bad shot.

As I aimed my lens at the hawk, a gaggle of Great-tailed Grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus, fluttered onto another set of branches.  Grackles are chatty and gregarious; perhaps they wanted to keep the hawk company on this grey morning?  Or maybe they  wanted to share tips on the best places for breakfast?

My guess?  They wanted to watch her–like a hawk!

I soon got to work:  back and forth from my garden to my SIL’s, I excised the mini-shrubs, checking the roots’ viability, then chucking those which passed the test into the bin.  I dragged that bin to SIL’s garden, where I proceeded to dig and plant, allowing new starts to this valuable native plant.  As I moved from her garden to my own, I noticed that the hawk kept sentry in the tree, sometimes with company, sometimes alone.  She moved a couple of times, but mostly preened and observed, feathers ruffling in the morning breeze, intelligent eyes watchful.

Eventually, a Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, settled in, just below the hawk.  The hawk and the jay hung out.  What do two birds talk about?  Did you sleep okay last night? What did you have for breakfast?  Do you have any friends or relatives I can eat?

After about two hours of my work and the hawk’s perch, she was gone from the tree when I finished.

As far as I am aware, no bird ate breakfast and no bird was breakfast.

Please check out Anna’s at Flutter and Hum for garden–and other–musings.

To Watch a Feeder

I’m a backyard birder.  I like that my wildlife habitat, also known as the garden, attracts a multitude of native and migrating birds and that I am able to observe them from the comfort of my back patio or from inside my house.  I have little desire to wake up a 3am and drive somewhere to watch birds, though that would certainly allow me to see a wider variety of birds and there are clearly rewards collaborating with other bird enthusiasts to observe and learn about birds.   In reality though, seeing many different kinds of birds is not my goal, though I understand why it’s important to others.   At least at this point in my life, I’m not a birder in that sense–and that’s just fine.

I also appreciate that there are several kinds of citizen scientist activities that I can easily participate in which allow me to watch, to learn, and also contribute to on-going and vital research concerning how birds in North America are faring.  Climate change, urbanization, various kinds of pollution (chemical, light, noise) all have had serious deleterious impacts on North American birds.   The National Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are engaged in long-time research and are great resources for learning all about the birds of North America.  Both organizations support myriad volunteer and educational enterprises related to birds, bird watching, and installing bird-friendly habitats.

My primary and on-going participation in science-based bird watching involves volunteering for Project FeederWatch, sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The FeederWatch season occurs from mid-November to early April:  the ‘watch’ period is after the main autumn migration and before spring migration is fully underway.  I’m now about 8 weeks into my 2019-20 FeederWatch season and am thrilled to have listed two Ruby-crowned KingletsRegulus calendula, though I admit both little songbirds showed up on only one of the watch days.  For most of my recorded FeederWatch days, I’ve only seen this tiny cutey, a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

During the November to April FeederWatch time, I’m mostly counting and categorizing the native birds and those birds who are migratory, but have decided my part of Central Texas is a good place to stay for winter–like the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

I’m especially excited about seeing the Ruby-crowned Kinglets this season, because it’s been about 3 years since any have over-wintered in or near my garden.  I’ve learned much as part of my FeederWatch participation.  Not only do I watch birds for a regular and close connection to nature, but I’m also assisting–in a small way–the research related to the health of birds, their numbers in various areas, and their changes and movements in population over periods of time.

Before I became involved in FeederWatch, I’d planted for birds (and other critters) and most warblers and other songbirds visit the garden and trees to glean insects and nosh on plants’ seeds.  But I’ve also widened both the type of feeders I place in the garden and feed that I provide for birds to better target those same songbirds and that’s thanks to my greater knowledge about birds–what they like and what’s good for them to eat.

Another typical overwintering bird species (and this season there are at least 2 and possibly 3 in my garden, it’s hard to tell for sure), are the Orange-crowned Warblers, Leiothlypis celata.  I think the Orange-crowns are my favorite of the warbler species: there’s a sweet cheekiness about them and they have darling faces.

The Orange-crowns favor the peanut feeder.

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Do you see the bit of green among the peanuts in the feeder? It’s a rogue bit of plastic–yuck! I didn’t see it until I downloaded the photos. I dumped the peanuts out and disgarded the plastic.

But I don’t think they always favor the watcher.

 

Participating in Project FeederWatch is ridiculously easy.   Pick what days are most convenient with your schedule; watching and documenting isn’t time-consuming–watch as much or as little as you please–though you need to commit to two consecutive days.  As well, the process for entering your online data is a snap.  I’ve had the occasional question about my data and the Cornell folks are friendly and great about promptly responding.

Counting birds is usually not a problem, even with their flighty natures, but sometimes…

From a post last spring: Mob

…it can be a challenge.  Oh, those silly, pond-loving, gregarious Cedar WaxwingsBombycilla cedrorum, they’re such charactersI haven’t seen any so far this year; no doubt they’ll be in my FeederWatch counts sometime in February.

It’s not too late to join in for this year, just click here and you’ll find easy-to-follow directions to help you jump on the birdie bandwagon.   Cornell Lab requests an $18 fee to get the initial information, but that’s all–unless you want to donate more to either Cornell Lab or Audubon–and they’re both worthy organizations.

Birds rock.  They’re beautiful, fascinating and you can help birds by helping the humans who study them so that your descendants will have birds in their lives, too.

From Fog to Sun

On this gloppy, drippy, foggy morning, the late-blooming Forsythia sage, Salvia madrensis, appears hesitant in its commitment to yellow.  I took several shots, frustrated that the camera lens wasn’t capturing the proper hue of this plant, even if it rocked a yellow vibe in the garden.  Was the lens as fogged as the air?  Was the photographer as fogged as the lens?  Was more coffee needed, or perhaps, another day’s rest from a bout of flu? (Yes, I did get a flu shot in October.  Alas!)

I neglected to prune the branches of the sage in mid-to-late summer, so the branches are floppy. Notice the rebar which follows the line of the tree? My lame attempt to keep the sage in some form of upright.

A ramble down the pathway and a halt at the plant delivers the answer: at close up view, the plant loses the veiled dullness that the distant shot suggested.  Instead, the foliage is defined and fresh, the masses of late-season, post light-freeze blooms their normal rich butter-yellow.  As long as no fog impedes, either in the atmosphere or in the flu-addled brain of the gardener, the S. madrensis retains its happy demeanor, providing a welcome counterpoint to the dark of winter.

The lush salvia flowers, situated in whirls along the terminal ends of long branches, shout look at us!  In mid-January, with only a few bare frosts under the garden’s belt, there are scattered blooms in my garden; nothing dramatic, just a few pops of red, yellow, and white, but enough to give the honeybees something to snack on during bee-friendly weather.  S. madrensis is bloom royalty this January, granting a sunny focal point in my back garden, and appreciated for its beauty, no matter what the weather conditions.

S. madrensis hits its flowering stride starting in late October, blooming until there is a mid-20s freeze.  Who knows when–or if–that will happen this year.

This cluster of blooms flops toward the pathway, almost–but not quite–impeding a walker.

My cluster of this native to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico is a passalong from a friend and I’ve grown it for about 5 years.  Its common name, Forsythia sage, is so applied because the clusters of yellow are reminiscent of spring blooming forsythia, a common plant grown in much of North America (and elsewhere), though as far as I’m aware, it’s only in the northern third of Texas where forsythia thrives.  Until I traveled to Oregon to visit my son when he was in college, I’d never seen forsythia in real time–only in photos.

Foliage of S. madrensis is attractive in summer. Where mine is planted, its slightly blue-grey foliage stands unique among its truer green neighbors. I’ve noticed that this sage requires extra water during our hottest time of year (more than most of my plants), but that’s easily remedied because it’s planted along a pathway and situated between several bird baths, so I employ the hose in that area on a weekly basis and extra drinks of water are delivered.

In August, along with some other autumn bloomers, I prune the S. madrensis branches by one-third to one-half, but for whatever reason, this year I didn’t get around to that chore.  As a result, once the blooms burst forward, the branches drooped downward.  I chastised myself with the garden adage that if you have to stake, it’s too late to stake.  But stake I did (which you can see in the first photo) and that’s allowed most, though not all, of the branches to remain at attention (rather than flopping along the ground, annoying other plants) and proudly displaying their sunshine blooms, thus brightening the garden.

The main pollinator of S. madrensis are now dormant for winter: the Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa tabaniformis.  Interestingly, I don’t recall ever seeing honeybees at these blooms, but I have seen butterflies–just not recently.

Even with our (so far) mild winter, the grey gloom and short days remind me that appreciation of good health and garden beauty are paramount–and the joyful blooms of S. madrensis go along way to make that happen.

In celebration of my Central Texas, zone 8b blooms–and all others–I’m joining in today with Carol of May Dreams Garden and her Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day–I really need to do this more often!   As well, Wednesday is always a good day for garden ditties, so I’m also joining with Anna of Flutter and Hum and her Wednesday Vignette.  Check out both these beautiful blogs for gardening insights.