My Little Chickadee

I can’t lay claim to any true relationship with this young Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis.  Though it isn’t my little chickadee, I confess an affection toward the little bird as it satisfied my selfish desire to observe as it perched, relatively still, and fed for a period of time, long enough for this watcher to watch. 

The neophyte chickadee sat at the feeder, nibbling at the small pieces of peanut available.  No adult chickadee would consent to spend that much time at a feeder;  adult chickadees dash and perch, grab and go.   A mature–and wary–Carolina Chickadee would dart to the feeder, and lickety-split, grab a peanut, or part of a peanut, and sprint out of clear sight to a safe place to eat.  The young chickadee’s inexperience at peanut picking allowed me to watch for several minutes, appreciating its birdie beauty, even though I also recognize that it must be more careful:  move fast or become someone’s meal. 

I observed, then realized that maybe, just maybe, I could capture some of this darling since it was spending an un-chickadee-like amount of time at the feeder.

Successful photos of a Carolina Chickadee?  That’s a rare treat for me!

To its credit, when a parent Blue Jay muscled its way onto the feeder, the young bird flit to the tree, then to the cord from which the feeder hangs, then safely to an evergreen shrub.  Once the jay was done, the chickadee settled in for more of the peanut treats. 

Chickadees’ tiny beaks are better suited for gleaning spiders and other small insects from trees and shrubs, the birds protected by cover of foliage.  Their beaks are not as well designed to quickly dismantle a hard-coated seed or good-sized peanut, especially while acting as a sitting duck at a feeder.  A wise and experienced chickadee will snatch, fly, and eat under cover–and live to raise a clutch of his or her own.

A week or so ago, I watched as an adult Carolina Chickadee zoomed in from a neighbor’s property, grabbed a nosh–sometimes a peanut, sometimes a black-oiled sunflower.  It then zoomed back in the same direction, followed immediately by another adult, completing the same set of actions.  I realized that it was a couple, working in tandem, probably feeding hungry and growing chick(s).  I don’t know if this chickadee belonged to that clutch, but I’m confident that it is young, newly experiencing a dangerous world, finding its way to food and cover. 

Fledgling birds must learn many survival skills, including making high–speed trips to feeders and lightening retreats to safety.  As they perfect those skills, my ability to easily observe diminishes–as it should. 

My little chickadee’s life depends on well-learned lessons and well-executed skills. 

Just Like Dear Ole Dad

Fledgling season is here:  newby birds, feathers ready for some facet of flight, are out of the nest and onto branches, and sometimes, also on the ground.  This juvenile Northern CardinalCardinalis cardinalis, is, well, smack in his awkward teenage weeks.  Splotchy and skinny, he’s hanging out with dad, learning where the best feeders and bird baths are located and how to hide in trees and shrubs.  Dad is quite good looking, but his good looks only serve to emphasized junior’s lack thereof.

This isn’t a recent pic of dad;  he posed for this pic in late winter, plumage pulchritude on full display, brightening the dull landscape.  Dad Cardinal is a pretty bird, his cardinal colors pop in any garden spot.  His song, equally as beautiful.

Mom is pretty too, though not quite the head-turner as her mate. Her soft, creamy-like tan and grey feathers, accented with bits of blush at her crest and on her tail, plus her stylish orange-red beak, lend an elegance that appeals to her admirers.

 

Poor junior.  He’ll need to wait, just a bit longer, to tap into his gorgeous genes.

He will be a pretty guy some day, just like dear ole dad, 

…but today is not that day.

I’m joining with Anna at Flutter and Hum and her Wednesday Vignette.  Mosey on over for garden stories and pretty birds…or not.  

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.