Birds of Wisdom: A bit of Goofing Off

DSC_0017I’ve been working extra hours these past few weeks, so when my client called to cancel this morning, I was (mostly) relieved.  I decided to treat myself to a much-needed thirty minutes of goofing off.  I sat in a chair facing the garden, played a game on my phone and within minutes had a sleeping cat on my lap.

It wasn’t long before my eyes drifted out to the usual wildlife antics.  Foraging squirrels raced around the garden, so round and full I’m amazed they can still move.   It looked as though they were working as a team.  You don’t see that every day! It’s usually ‘every squirrel for themselves.’  The light grey squirrel moved across the lawn, into the shrubs and then used the camellia trellis like a ladder.  I should have jumped up for the camera then, but I was busy goofing off.  Right behind him was a dark, brown squirrel, following his every move. It looked like a game of follow the leader.

Just  outside the window, a small bird flew from branch to branch in the maple tree.  Then he turned and appeared to be looking in the window.  How could I ignore an invitation like that!?

Camera in hand, it was still incredibly challenging getting his picture.  He darted from branch to branch, up, down, back up.  Then he flew to the neighboring yard, and within minutes was back again.  Perhaps he could see his own reflection, though he never went for the window.*

I’ve decided he was keeping an eye on me, making sure I stuck to my goofing-off schedule before getting back to work.  Meanwhile, he was keeping plenty busy for both of us.

Are you taking some time to goof-off during this hectic season?

*It’s disheartening to hear a bird fly into a closed window. One theory is that the sky reflects in the glass, and to the bird thinks it can fly through. These clever decals Window Alert: Protect Your Songbirds act as a ‘stoplight’ for the birds.

 

Hummingbird Migration: Garden Traffic in Decline

I’m going to make an extra effort this year to track the hummingbirds at our feeders.  Just one day after musing about their migration habits last week, I read Joan Morris’ column in the San Jose Mercury News.  One of her readers sent in the following:

Dear Joan: I’ve been feeding the hummingbirds from my patio in the same Palo Alto location for more than 10 years now.

Ms. McClellan of Saratoga, who wrote regarding how often her feeders need refilling presently, is probably experiencing what it is like to feed the migratory hummers that pass through our area each fall and spring.

Her Saratoga neighbors probably need to refill their feeders as often during these several weeks while the birds fatten up before moving south.

It will quiet down any day or week now as winter shows more and the migrating birds finish their trips south. Just a few hummingbirds stay over winter locally, and nectar needs will drop.

Then in the spring there will be another, shorter surge of feeding needed on the hummingbirds’ migration north.

Gavin Tanner

I have noticed the increased consumption of nectar at the feeders (we have three).  It’s really cooled down in the last few days, finally feeling like fall. My California Girl uniform of a thin t-shirt and cotton sweater are no longer enough to keep me warm.

I found an informative website called World of Hummingbirds. They have a form on their site for reporting migration habits in your area.  They ask you to wait two full weeks till the last sighting, before submitting details.  I’m looking forward to taking part in this one small way. They use the collected data to: “help researchers around the world better understand and protect hummingbirds.”  I’m all for that.

magnolia feeder

Magnolia feeder: All business

hummingbird green bottle feeder

Beautiful red throat

back garden feeder

Back garden feeder

multiple hummingbirds at the feeder

A rare event at our feeders. They’re usually too territorial to share all at once.

Kitchen window feeder

Kitchen window feeder

Halloween Countdown:

lindy with pumpkin

Lindy Lu loves pumpkins

 

Hummingbird Songs

Hummer in the orange tree

Hummer in the orange tree

It’s hard to beat this fall weather. Cool mornings warm up to the low 80s F ( C). Autumn leaves drop slowly around here, but drop they do. The neighborhood maples have a dusting of gold along the top.  I’ve seen a few of their leaves carried down by the breeze.

Hummingbirds migrate south this time of year, though it’s never clear to me if the hummers in our neighborhood stay put, or if our birds move even further south, while their northern counterparts fly here. It’s a mystery, but a pleasant one. I don’t feel compelled to solve it.

We keep our feeders going year round and I’ve heard that they help the migratory birds passing through. Our Salvia remains in full bloom and should flower for another month. The hummers are big fans. We like to do our part to help our tiny visitors on their way.

This gorgeous fellow rested in our orange tree this afternoon. He seemed happy with the dappled sun on his back. I wonder if hummingbirds can actually drink from an orange or if the skin is too thick?

Sure, I can Google all these answers but for now I’m just writing from the heart. These little hummers make my heart sing.

looking up

Looking up

Halloween Countdown:

ceramic pumpkin

Birthday pumpkin from a dear friend

Birdhouse Gourd: Open for Nesting

After all the worry and fuss about drilling holes in my precious gourds, the first of two is open for nesting.  My resident handyman drilled a bird-sized hole on the front of the gourd, two small ones at the top for hanging, and drainage holes below.

dried birdhouse gourd

Birdhouse gourd: open for nesting

birdhouse gourd opening

Closeup: The opening should be the size of the bird you want to attract. We want to attract all the cute birds. That made it easy.

holes drilled in bottom of gourd

Tiny holes in the bottom allow for air circulation and drainage. Nesting is a messy business.

It’s amazing  how soft it is inside, almost like downy wool. I wasn’t expecting that. The walls of the gourd are thick and sturdy. It’s no wonder a bird might call this home.

I threaded a piece of florist wire through the top and I’m having fun hanging it from various trees. We’re months away from nesting season, but I’m glad to have one ready to go.

Several of our trees are deciduous, so they won’t provide adequate protection for a nest, but I do have a couple of ideas.  Our orange tree is fairly dense and in fact, houses a large nest from a few years back. The Star Jasmin vine in our side yard is another possibility. It’s so dense you can’t see to the center.

Mama birds know best, so all I can do is provide the medium and hope she likes it. Maybe I’ll write her a little note that says ‘pick me! pick me!’ and leave it on a branch nearby.

dried birdhouse gourd

Mama Bird Wanted: Inquire Within

In the meantime, I’ll hang the beautiful gourd in plain view. As nesting season draws near, I’ll tuck it away in a  tall, densely foliaged tree with hope in my heart while listening for the song of baby birds.

Do you have nests in the trees nearby?  Do you offer nesting material for your feathered neighbors?  Photos also welcome in the comment section below.

cat and seeds

Hmmmm…they do look a bit like cat treats.

birdhouse gourd seeds and gourd wall

This shows the thickness of the dried gourd. Bonus: look at all those dried seeds from inside.

Theories on Thursday

What’s your theory?

I never sit still for long in the garden, as there is always something to do.  When I do, however, I’m often rewarded.  Such was the case with this bird.

bird on a branch

‘Chillin on a branch

I heard ‘her’ singing from a tree nearby, before she flew into our yard where she sat preening on the low branch of a tree.

bird preening

Preening

A second bird sat on the telephone wires, and chirped what seemed like a response. Chirp-chirp.  Sing-song.

bird on a wire

Secret code?

I took several pics of the bird resting in the Pittosporum, before she flew away.  She soon returned, this time perched in the branches of a fruit tree.

bird in a fruit tree

Trying out the fruit tree

My husband was making repairs to the irrigation system (he doesn’t sit still for long either) so we gave up our perch on the garden swing and got to work.

The bird tracked my movements, then hopped along the fence toward the orange tree, and finally on to the neighboring fence. She continued the chatter with an ever-watchful eye.

bird on the fence

It seems late in the year for nesting, so I’m not sure what the charade was about.  She definitely wanted to keep her eye on us, and with all the cats in the garden, I wanted to keep my eye safely on her as well.

cat under a tree

Mighty Mouse lounging under the orange tree

What do you think?  Was she protecting a nest nearby? Was she warning the cats to keep their distance?  Was there some diabolical ruse going on with the bird on the wire and our friend on the fence?  You know…’you distract them while I raid the worm bin.’ or ‘I dropped a seed and now I want to retrieve it.’

What’s your theory? I would love to hear what you think.

Loving *All* Creatures, Great and Small

Do you know what dogs, birds and mice have in common?  My unconditional love of all creatures, great and small.

This last week I encountered all three.

Dark Eyed Junco

Bird's Nest with eggs

Dark-eyed Junco Nest

In late March I wrote about my amazing discovery, a small dark-eyed junco nest.  Mama junco built her little house in a Nandina shrub growing on my client’s patio.  She lined the nest with fur from the resident Lab.

Mama junco ‘posed’ for pictures a week ago Friday from a nearby tree. I left with a bounce in my step, looking forward to seeing her again the following week.  When I returned Tuesday there was no sign of her. She’s either abandoned the nest or met with a darker fate.  It’s been a full week since any of us have seen her. Perhaps the recent commotion around the front door sent her packing.

I’ve wondered if she registered the potential for trouble and simply decided to start again elsewhere.  My client generally enters the house from the garage, so the front door, near a sheltered patio and elevated from the street was probably a good spot.  Now realtors, inspectors, potential buyers and garden bloggers are traipsing past her tiny home. My hope turned to sadness by weeks-end as I passed the lonely collection of tiny speckled eggs.

Field Mouse/Cat Mouse

Mouse Relocation Tools

Mouse Relocation Tools

Thanks to the milder weather, I opened the back door early as I went about the start of my day.  Rounding the corner to our entry way, I heard a tiny squeak in front of the neighbor’s cat.  The cat, named Mighty Mouse, brought in a tiny field mouse, alive but obviously stunned.  I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a small plastic tub. I shooed the cat, covered the mouse and called my son for help.  He isolated all four cats in different rooms while I tried to figure out what to do next.  I could see tiny feet poking out and hoped she wasn’t injured.  I placed a weight on the tub and ran for my crafting mat. Slowly and gradually I slid the mat below the tub until the mouse was completely trapped between the layers. I released the mouse at the edge of the deck, hoping she wasn’t someone’s mother.  She was wet from the grass and stunned, but seemed unharmed. I went inside for the camera, reasoning that if she was gone when I got back, all was well. Much as I wish I had her picture, I’m happy she moved on.

A Lab Named Rosie

Rosie

Rosie the Magnificent

Rosie the Lab

Lining Nests for 13 Year’s and counting

I finished my week in the company of Rosie, a gorgeous sweetheart of a dog.  Her loving ways and sounds of contentment when you give her a scratch are endearing to all. Rosie is perhaps too old to chase mice, but several strands of her lovely fur line the now-abandoned nest of the dark-eyed junco.  She’s still in the game.

How about you? Do creatures play a role in your life?  Do you have a story to share?

D.J. and the Speckles

I love my community!

Yesterday I wrote about a bird’s nest and her speckled eggs, sheltering on a client’s patio.  I didn’t have a photo of Mama Bird, but knew she was ‘brown.’  Not much to go on, was it?  After a futile Google search, I asked for help identifying the eggs.

My friend Sheila forwarded the photos to Larry Jordan of The Birders Report to see if he could help. Larry quickly identified the probable bird as a Dark-eyed Junco.

Dark-eyed Juno

Mama Bird, aka D.J.

Dark-eyed Junco in a maple tree

“You’re still here with that camera, I see. Don’t you have better things to do?”

Dark-eyed Junco nest

Dark-eyed Junco nest

When I passed by the Pittosporum this afternoon, once again Mama Bird flew the nest. She kept her eye on me while I loaded the car, then posed for several photos. (Actually, I’m pretty sure she was just humoring me till I cleared out of there.)  My photos aren’t as sharp as the one on Larry’s site, but all the signs are there:  dark eyes, light brown feathers, orange beak.

I’m filled with joy knowing D.J. is still there and that she hasn’t been scared off from her nest. Mamas of all stripes are pretty fierce when it comes to protecting their young.  I’m happy to report she’s no exception.

One last detail that makes me smile whenever I look at this photo: a sweet, aging Black Labrador Retriever lives in the home.  It looks as though she’s made her own contribution to the lining of this nest.

Resources:

If you’re as fascinated with nests as I am, this site is for you.  Larry has an extensive photo library of bird eggs and nests with guidelines for identifying (without ever disturbing) the mama-bird and her clutch.