New Digs: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2020

Another trip around the sun is completed, the calendar page has turned, and 2020 is here.   In this darkest season, my garden still enjoys some blooming, hosts a few insects flitting, and cheers with plenty of native and wintering birds feeding, calling, and singing.  I’ve begun winter pruning, though with a only few light freezes under the garden’s belt, many plants aren’t yet dormant.

My garden is a full-on wildlife habitat.  Most of the garden provides something for someone:  seeds and fruits, nectar and pollen, cover and protection, and plenty of nesting material. In my garden, water is provided and chemicals are avoided. Other than maintenance and occasional revamping of a garden space due to loss of light or some other environmental shift, my garden flutters and hums (thanks for the phrase, Anna!) with busy wildlife and minimal effort.

I live in a fairly typical American urban neighborhood.  For most of my years here, especially after I transformed the standard issue, turf-centered landscape into the vibrant, native plant-focused wildlife habitat that it is now, my garden served as the lone example of a urban habitat planted with something other than grass, a tree or two, and a couple of evergreen foundation plants.  Though most house dwellers stick with their sterile, water-hogging grass and turf remains the dominate landscape feature, more gardens have appeared, utilizing pollinator plants and native grasses, along with pathways to enjoy the beauty that the gardens provide.  Our neighborhood also now boasts a gorgeous and well-planted community garden; kudos to the many volunteers and neighborhood leaders who made that happen.  These steps toward more diverse gardens and landscapes is a solid and positive trend, even if it’s been at a slower pace than I would prefer.

Baby garden steps.

Since we moved into our home in 1985, we’ve enjoyed a nice relationship with a kind neighbor.  She’s been retired most of the years we’ve lived in our house.  She saw us bring home our babies, as we saw her with visiting grandchildren.  She would chat with me in my garden, complimenting its beauty and peace, though I believe she thought me a garden nut.

She’s not wrong there.

When I’d offer to plant for her or change something in her landscape, she would decline, declaring her yard was exactly as she wanted it.  The neighbor aged, but preferred to stay in her well-loved home for as long as possible.  But suddenly in early November, she told me she was moving to a town in the Texas Hill Country where her daughter lives.

Prior to this unsurprising news, she and I had discussed the inevitability of her moving “some day” and I asked her to let me know when she decided that it was time to move.  My sister-in-law (going forward, SIL), The Hub’s big sister, might be interested in purchasing a one-level home, rather than remaining in her lovely, two-story condominium with its dangerously steep stairs.  Many phone calls later, with a minimum of wrangling and negotiating, legal papers duly signed and the check for purchase delivered, my SIL is the three-week long proud owner of this charming home.

Isn’t it cute?  And guess who will garden it?!

Just look at all that grass and visualize instead something more diverse: color and texture varied, interesting in form and beckoning to wildlife.   In my gardener’s mind, I  already see pollinator plants blooming in shrubs and perennials of many colors and graceful native grasses sparkling in spring green and swaying in autumn breezes.  This garden transformation will be a long-term project; afterall, it took me years to “complete” my garden–and no garden is ever really complete.  Plus, this is a much larger lot than my own slice of the Earth and I’m no kid these days, as my achy knees will confirm!

I hope I’m up to this gardening task.

I’ve already planted the small bed that borders the front porch (first photo), though mulching is on the to-do list.  We’ve agreed to lay mulch between our homes, as there’s plenty shrub action on either side of the border.

 

Stepping through her iron gate and into the back yard–someday garden–reveals a huge space, opening the imagination to all sorts of possibilities, no doubt accompanied by sore muscles and a stiff back.

 

This fence between our properties is about three years old and some of “my” plants have already migrated over and under the wall, settling in for the flower show.

Trust me, I’ll add plenty more.

As is typical in most American landscapes, the layout of this property relegates the actual gardens to narrow, small areas–for shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and ground-covers–with the starring role given to the expansive swaths of turf. As a general rule, a well-designed garden places larger plants toward the back, with shorter plants in front.  The narrow beds allotted on this property will be the signature challenge to its wildlife habitat transformation :  transplanting the smaller, original specimens with newer, larger specimens of wildlife-friendly shrubs, native grasses, and understory trees,  then re-planting the smaller plants toward the front of the beds.

 

In the center of the back yard towers an aging Arizona ash tree.  Someday, it will be gone, but for now, it provides glorious shade in summer and plenty of perching opportunities for birds, including the many Screech Owls that have nested in our owl nesting box, which sits in our Shumard red oak tree, about 60 to the left of the photo.

Here’s a view from the back of the property toward the rear of the house.

 

Another view, this one is toward the opposite neighbors’ house, and you see that  between SIL’s property and those neighbors, stands a chain link fence.

Maybe vines (blackberries, pretty please!) will grow there one day as the fence is in full sun, all year-round.  There’s talk about planting some fruit trees in that section of the lot, taking advantage of life-giving full sun.

Weee!   Meyer lemons!  Peaches!  Plums!

Oh dear.  Perhaps it’s best I don’t get carried away…

Fallen leaves drift to the grass from a stunning native Bur oak tree in the southeast corner of SIL’s lot.  During the growing season, this corner is quite shady because of that Bur oak;  ferns are lush and happy there and in time, other shade-loving perennials will feel right at home, too. In autumn, the leaves cover the grass; they’re huge!  SIL is planning to hire an eco-friendly lawn company who uses electric equipment rather than gas-powered and who mulches leaves, rather than bagging for pick-up.

 

My former neighbor installed a small pond about 25 years ago under the shade of the ash tree.  My SIL is an avid backyard birder (Yay!  Another bird nut!) and she’s already set up her feeding stations in this spot.  In fact, since moving in, she’s already bested me in bird watching: she observed two Ruby-crowned KingletsRegulus calendula, at her pond to my one. 

SIL will clean out her pond in late winter, adding more rocks so that the birds have an easier time accessing the water for bathing.  It should be an excellent spot for the birds to congregate–and be watched.

 

I miss our former neighbor and still half-expect to see her amble out her front door toward me with that wry grin on her face, both of us understanding that a quirky conversation will ensue.  I wish her well in her final years; she’s in her mid-80’s, but still active and I hope that continues.  That said, I’m happy to have my SIL next door; we’ve always gotten along well–she’s a sweety–and I know she’ll be a great neighbor.  As well, she has an appreciation of gardens and gardening and understands the importance of biodiversity in the urban environment.  With her new digs comes exciting opportunities to dig:  to develop a welcoming environment for birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects and to create set of unique gardens full of plants providing color, form, interest–for all.

While there was no actual wildlife in this post, I’m interested in reading about the wildlife you enjoyed in your garden.  If you wish, please leave a link to your wildlife gardening post when you comment here about your wildlife garden happenings–and happy wildlife gardening.

 

Will He or Won’t He?: Wildlife Wednesday, December 2019

Tis the season to owl watch and at least one owl is providing a bit of show.  I’ve heard occasional territorial trilling and have seen an Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, in our nest box on and off for a few weeks now.  At this writing, it’s been about 6 days since Mr. Screech snoozed during the day in Tina’s Owl Chateau, but owls are like that: they show up, hang out, disappear and don’t say where they’re going, and then, maybe, show up again.

Who knows what an owl thinks or how he makes plans?

This is the Screech, resting comfortably in the nest box one afternoon.   What you see is his back and tail feathers.

As well as seeing him peek out at the hole of the nest box (sorry, no photo of that as I didn’t want to spook him!) and observing his daily rests through the lens of the owl camera, I spied him in my neighbor’s tree last week.

Isn’t he cute as he glares menacingly at me?  On second glance, maybe it’s more of an annoyed stare.

Tree holes are the traditional, preferred spot for owl nesting, though in all my years, I’ve never seen an owl in this particular hole (just feet from my front garden) and wouldn’t have observed him, except for the alarm calls of Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadees, and Lesser Goldfinches.  Our nest box, which resides in a tree in our back garden, has attracted Eastern Screech Owls for most of the past decade, with varying degrees of familial owl production.  The nest box is a human affectation for attracting the darling predators and it’s mostly proved a snugly spot for chick rearing.

I don’t know with certainty that this tree owl is the same as my nest box owl, but it’s probably the same little dude. Am I sure it’s a male?  More than likely, because it’s typically the male who checks out suitable digs as he works to attract a mate for the upcoming breeding season.

Our owl luck has lacked in the past three years, so while I’m tickled that there is at least one Eastern Screech Owl experimenting with the local real estate market, it’s no guarantee of a settling down, a mating pair, or the creating and caring for chicks.  Time will tell and wildlife gardener patience is a must.

Appreciative of the quirks of wildlife, I’m marking Wildlife Wednesday and also joining in with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

Eat or be Eaten

I watched the Downy WoodpeckerDryobates pubescens, for several minutes.   She was rock-still:  nothing moved, not a feather, despite the gentle sway of the feeder and the clasped piece of peanut in her beak.  Because she was motionless–abnormal for a bird–I realized that there must be a predator nearby.

I Downy-watched from my kitchen window, my favorite bird blind.  Even with my movements at the window–slow and careful, as not to startle the little bird–she didn’t move: no head turn, no shuffle of claws, no gulp of the prized peanut, nor snatch of another.  From my standing position, no predator was obvious, so I squatted at the window, looking up into the oak tree just beyond and around at the outdoors as best I could see.

I finally spotted that which froze, in fear, the heart of the would-be feeding woodpecker. The culprit perched far across my property, high in the neighbors’ elm tree.

The photo is poor, taken through the window and at some distance, with plenty of foliage and limbs as distractions.  The hawk is a big one, probably a Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, as they’re common here, especially in autumn, winter, and early spring.

The Downy was still for a good five minutes, maybe longer.  Finally the hawk took flight toward my house, but high above.  A split second afterwards the Downy pushed off from the feeder, heading in the same direction as the hawk, though much farther below and toward the protection of a large evergreen shrub.

I don’t know if the hawk swooped in for the woodpecker, though I doubt that’s what happened; there’s too much cover which would serve as safety for the woodpecker and too much interference for the hawk’s dive.  I imagine the hawk winged to another part of the neighborhood in search of an easier catch, less aware of the hawk’s existence.

It was an eat or be eaten life-cycle moment.  I’m certain the woodpecker finally ate her peanut, because I’ve seen her since.  And I’m equally certain the hawk found something to eat; I’m just not sure what, when, or where.

Appreciative for the life lessons a garden bestows, I’m joining today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.