Boarded Up

After our disappointing winter/spring with no resident Eastern Screech Owls living in the nest box–wooing, mating, and tending offspring–we moved on to other concerns and projects. Personally, I missed the show, though I suspect the owls didn’t miss my oooing and aahing at their antics. And I know that an owl pair raised a family nearby, so that’s a consolation. Mama stopped by for a visit one day to show off the owlets, and occasionally I hear and see one or two at sundown.

Once owl nesting season is done and the family has moved on, I typically don’t pay much attention to the nest box as it sits unoccupied and unadorned in the Red Oak tree. But in late June, and just out of curiosity, I plugged in the owl cam cable into the computer.  Expecting nothing more than a placid scene of lonely leaves and discarded grass, I was surprised to see this: two snoozing Virginia OpossumsDidelphis virginiana.  

Two?  The second is underneath the top–opossum bunk-bed style–but there are definitely two hairless tails, so unless there was an alien invasion of two-tailed opossums, there were two owl house interlopers on that particular day.

Over the next couple of weeks, I checked the cam daily.  Sometimes a sleeping marsupial filled the box, sometimes the box was sans opossum.  I assume the cuddling two are juvenile siblings, but I only saw them together that one (first) time.  All other nest box peeks have delivered just the one opossum, but I’ll bet it’s one of the pair. Usually, he/she has been asleep, breathing peacefully; once, I viewed a very cat-like grooming session.

Because we built the nest box for the owls and the last thing we need is a repeat of a nesting mama possum settled in the box like last winter’s squatter (which you can read about here), we’ve boarded up the place for the season.

Closed for summer.  Will reopen in December, 2017.

If I could convince the opossums that this is only a summer home for them and I knew they’d vacate prior to the owls looking for their winter/spring nesting place, I wouldn’t object too much to hosting a nest box time-share. However, opossums are notoriously difficult to engage rationally and I suspect that my protestations at their presence and ultimate threats of expulsion would go unheeded. Therefore, the nest box will remain boarded up and none but a few ants and the like will be allowed!

I see a juvenile opossum once or twice each week in the back garden, usually when flip on the outdoor lights to let my girl cat inside for the night.  Kitty Astrud watches the marsupial movements, unimpressed and uninterested, showing no desire to follow.  The individual(s) scurry through the garden to avoid detection; no doubt the opossum is pleased when the light goes off and once again he/she has unfettered access to insects from the garden and partially composted goodies in the compost bin.

Wildlife Wednesday, March 2016: Birds are Boss

It’s the first Wednesday of the month and time for gardeners and garden bloggers to celebrate the wild critters that we share our world with.   I’m still quite besotted with “my” backyard birds and have concentrated efforts on observing them this past month.  But on a chilly morning, this winter-colors clad  Carolina Anole, Anolis carolinensis, was hanging out, too cold to scramble away from my camera.

His coloration isn’t winter-only, but instead, camouflaged to match the limestone wall and rust-colored mail box.  I’ve seen a few of these guys-n-gals this past month and plenty more will emerge as we move into our warm season.  Green will be their primary color in most of their photos to come.

In experimenting with the Cornell Merlin app on my phone, I inadvertently discovered that when I play the song of certain birds–looking at YOU, Carolina Chickadee,  Poecile carolinensis,

…the bird responds.   Honestly, it was an accident the first time or two that I played the Carolina Chickadee vocalization on the phone and then noticed the real one was answering and flitting ever-closer to where I was sitting.  Another time, I was showing a neighbor this cool trick and the same thing happened–the Chickadee answered and moved closer to where we were standing.

Poor guy. I’ve been messing with his little bird-brain and he can’t figure out where his rival Chickadee is located.  Rest assured, other than the 3 or 4 times to confirm that the bird was actually responding the the phone’s Chickadee call, I haven’t played the Chickadee song since.  I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised a bird would react to the vocalization issuing from the phone.  Knowledgeable and passionate  birders, the ones who started birding as kids, learned and excel at bird vocalizations and it’s the method they employ to attract birds for observation and photography. I have zero ability whatsoever to vocalize bird calls, but, going forward, I’ll keep my trusty phone handy if I ever need to call a bird.

Maybe I’ll use the phone to call humans, too.

This little cutey has been a constant, though shy, visitor all winter.

I’m reasonably confident that he’s an  Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, and he’s one of several birds that I don’t think I would have noticed if I wasn’t…well, trying to notice birds.  Counting birds for Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which I wrote about here, has been good discipline for me.  In keeping binoculars handy (I now have a greater appreciation of birders’ reliance upon those things) and actually using them when I’m observing birds, I’ve discovered that a remarkable variety of birds pass through and regularly visit my garden.

House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus, couples are residents, year-round.

This House Finch male munches contentedly, though I guess his parents didn’t teach him to chew with his mouth closed.

And this,

…is the monthly obligatory shot of the always stunning male Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis,  a pair of which are daily visitors.

American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis, have been new and  constant visitors to the garden.  Such attractive and tiny birds, they brighten the late winter landscape. Sometimes I have as many as 15-20, though usually there are only 5-10 at any time at the feeder, birdbaths, or foraging on the ground.

I realized as I was perusing photos that I have no clear shots of the bright yellow and black mature males.  I’ll have to fix that little glitch before they fly north for their summer breeding and nesting activities.

American Goldfinches and  House Finches share the bounty well.


My red headed Red Bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, is a big fan of suet.

I still haven’t successfully caught that blush of red on his belly for which he is named, but he’s a pretty boy and always fun to watch and hear. His mate has also appeared a time or two, though she is shyer and doesn’t pose for pics as readily as he does–or maybe it’s that she doesn’t eat as much.

I’ve had to put away my suet, or at least have it out only when I’m at home and can supervise, because of an influx of these bad actors.

Yes, the European Starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, bane to native North American birds and bridges alike, have arrived–and in droves sometimes.  Starlings are actually lovely birds with beautiful plumage,

…and I’m fond of their vocalizations.  But they’re so aggressive and greedy, and sometimes, downright mean to the other birds.  My little warblers and finches don’t stand a chance against their bully behavior, though I must say, the Blue Jays hold their own.  I know that Europeans (the people, not the birds) lament the decline of the Starlings in Europe, but they (the birds, not the people) have become truly problematic here in North America.

No, I’m not in favor of building a wall, but maybe we could arrange a swap??  How about some good European wine, beer, or cheese in exchange for some Starlings?  Deal?

A happier and more welcome invasion is of this gorgeous bird, the Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum.

Oh, that strip of yellow on the tail feathers and that dash of bright red on the wing, not to mention the stylish face mask!  I absolutely adore these beautiful, gregarious birds. They’re fun to watch, though they’re usually waaayyy up high in the trees, so I get to see a lot of Cedar Waxwing creamy lemon-yellow tummies. Cedar Waxwings swoop up in flocks landing near the top of trees, then swoop down again into the next tree, keening all the while. They’re such cheerful birds.

Their courting behaviors are charming.

Cuddling up...

Cuddling up…

Leaning in close...

Leaning in close…

Kiss, kiss, smooch, smooch, flirty, flirty.

Kiss, kiss, smooch, smooch, flirty, flirty.

Oh, that went well!

Oh, that went well!

Be still, my beating heart!

Be still, my beating heart!

Shy again...

Shy again…

Sharing berries is love, or perhaps more accurately, a prelude to breeding.


Look who stopped by the pond early one morning!  A lone male American RobinTurdus migratorius, popped in for a quick sip and a pose.

Sadly, I haven’t seen a Robin visit my garden in years.  It was always a hit-or-miss with Robin sighting during late winter/spring migration, but in the past there were usually a few to observe.  In recent years though, not a one has stopped by for a nosh and a drink. So, welcome Mr. Robin and please, bring your brethren for a visit.

Finally, there’s this young lady.

Mama-to-be Eastern Screech Owl,  Megascops asio, has returned this winter and is settling in to the nest box a bit early this year.

The winter has been mild (to say the least), so I suppose that explains the early move-in date.  Dad-to-be was comfy, though wary of me, in the nearby Mountain Laurel tree on Sunday, keeping watch and looking dashing.

The Blue Jays, Cardinals, and the little birds keep me apprised to the owls’ whereabouts and when I hear their complaints, I know where the owls are roosting.  I’m thrilled the owls are back this year and will keep my fingers crossed that all goes well for them and their brood.  We installed a bird cam in December so we have a view inside the nest box this year. There’s not much to see right now, but when Mama is sleeping in the box, this is view:

For reference, you're looking at the top of her head and down her back. Her eye is just above my last name.

For reference, you’re looking at the top of her head and down her back. Her eye is just above my last name.


When Mama is looking out of the box, the view inside is this:

You can see her two wings, resting down, side-by-side.

You can see her two wings, resting down, side-by-side.

If there are no glitches with the wiring or camera, we should be able to see the eggs and then the chicks, in all their fuzzy cuteness. It should be an interesting experience.  As I mentioned to a friend about viewing the goings-on of an owl family:  You know, tearing apart songbirds, mice, and lizards.  Fun stuff.

Mama wasn’t in the box yesterday, so that’s a bit concerning (especially because there is a Great Horned Owl pair also nesting in the neighborhood).  As she’s been settled in for a week, it’s odd that she wasn’t  there.  Plus, I didn’t hear any trilling the previous night.  I’m hoping  she just stayed out late and needed to crash at a friend’s place–but time will tell.

The native bees, honeybees, and butterflies are waking up and beginning to make their presence known in the garden–buzzing, breeding, nesting, flying.  They’ve been a little too fast for this pokey photographer to capture, but with some practice and good luck, there will be a variety of insect goings-on in the coming month to share for the next Wildlife Wednesday.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for March Wildlife Wednesday–share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy wildlife gardening!


Bee Hunters Are Back

Bee hunting season is open!

Grrr.  I’m not happy about my honeybees ending up in this bird’s tummy,

…but she and her offspring(?) or BFF, are fun to watch as they hunt for  buzzy meals and sip from the baths.

Summer Tanagers,  Piranga rubra, have returned to my garden in search of honeybees for their main course and  wasps and native bees à la carte, since those insects are also on the Tanager menu.  I wrote about the visits from  a male, female, and immature male Summer Tanager last May. That crew hung around snatching bees for a couple of weeks.  I didn’t spot any Tanager action during the summer months, though they breed in this area. However, this past weekend I saw two females bee-hunting in my back garden.  I imagine the two golden beauties are fueling up for their migration to Mexico and South America.

I observed as one of them flew to the landing board of my beehive Scar, plucked a bee from its hive, then rested on a branch of the overhanging Shumard Oak.  She proceeded to bang the bee on the branch, quickly dispensing it down her gullet when it was sufficiently dead and stinger-less. Another time, one perched on a different branch of the same tree looking rapidly this way and that, as bees buzzed past her on their foraging way.  So many bees, so little time!  The bees were completely oblivious of the danger posed by the observant, seasoned, and accurate bee hunter. I’m bummed that the Tanagers eat my bee girls and would certainly be glad to offer them a peanut butter and honey sandwich instead, but I don’t think that would go over too well.

This one hopped along a pathway, looking for…I’m not sure what.  Bees crawling on the ground?  Maybe she was eyeballing the big, weird critter in front of her on the pathway, perched on the pink chair–the one with the black eye in front of her face.

Okay, maybe that critter isn’t a concern, after all. On to hunting bees!

Bee killer.

Tank  up, Tanagers.  You have a long flight ahead of you.