About Those Christmas Lights

The jokes abound about leaving up the outdoor Christmas lights well into January. It’s always more fun to put them up than to take them down (says the woman who does neither). The outdoor lights are my husband’s thing.

That said, I had a vested interest in their removal this year after noticing a small deposit of bird droppings at the corner of the front steps just before Christmas. I looked up hoping to see a bird’s nest but alas, no nest in sight.

I got a jug of warm soapy water, rinsed the steps and carried on with my day.

A few days later the droppings were back, but still no sign of my feathered neighbor.

As luck would have it, we drove up the driveway around 5 pm one evening and I got out of the car to fetch some packages. In the process I startled a small red-breasted bird who is apparently sleeping on the edge of the extension cord used to hang the Christmas lights.

Bay Area House Finch

Possibly a house finch, common to the area, and probably male with the red breast

House finch under the eaves

House Finch under the eaves, December 28, 2018

My feathered guest leaves during the day, then returns at dusk for the night. He tucks his head toward the edge of the overhang, perched on the cord, and though it looks inhospitable to me, he’s clearly content. We replaced our Christmas lights several years ago with long-lasting, cool-to-the-touch LED’s so it’s not the heat that attracted him. Why he’s chosen this corner we’ll never know, but when the lights came down yesterday, the extension cord remained.

House finch under the eaves

Still visiting, January 2, 2019

It’s a lovely start to the new year and a softening of the inevitable melancholy that follows when both boys head back to university for another term. I’m immeasurably happy to see this little bird perched there each night, and hope he remains year round.

What’s new in your corner of the world?

Bay Area Birds

Puerto Vallarta: An Exquisite Time Away

We’ve just returned from a three-day getaway to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. What an exquisite place! Mike traveled there on business earlier in the week, and I followed Friday and stayed through the long weekend. We flew home late Monday night.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

View from the balcony of the Westin Hotel, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta sunset

Puerto Vallarta sunset the evening I arrived

After our protracted recovery from the flu, this trip was exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered.

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

We walked along the beach, read, took naps, and explored the grounds of the gorgeous resort hotel.

We enjoyed fruity drinks with our tortilla chips and guacamole in the casita facing the sea. San Jose has a heavy Mexican influence, but it was still fun to enjoy a dish that originated in Mexico.

 The name is derived from two Aztec Nahuatl words—ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce).

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

I’m always intrigued by the local wildlife, like this clever black bird, called a Great-tailed Grackle. He seemed to know that he could swoop in for a chip, after they cleared the dishes.  He knew not to approach any of the tables with guests, but as soon as the dishes landed on a clearing tray, he made his move. Once he claimed the chip, he flew into the rafters, hopping and chirping from row to row.

On Saturday night, we ate a spectacular, five-course vegetarian meal at Café Des Artistes by Thierry Blouet. Their website describes it as

” French cuisine with Mexican inspiration. More than 25 years being the gourmet tradition in Puerto Vallarta.”

The Café Des Artistes is carved into the hillside and sits above Old Town, the heart of the city.  The main floor is a bar, with the upper two stories featuring open-air dining under the trees. They seated us on the third floor surrounded by towering bamboo and ancient trees. From there we could look down on the garden terrace.

I could go on and on about this place, but instead I’ll sum it up in one, long sentence: Dining in Puerto Vallarta with the man I love, sitting under a canopy of trees wearing a sleeveless dress with live music playing while enjoying a full-course vegetarian meal, served by a charming and devoted team of wait staff who delivered a story about each wine pairing left me breathless.  What a night!

After our meal, we walked along the strand in Old Town Puerto Vallarta before heading back to the hotel.

Three days passed quickly. We hope to return for a longer stay, to experience whale watching, snorkeling and other local activities when we have more time.

Our hotel was an easy walk to the harbor filled with boats and lovely vistas, and of course we couldn’t help but price the local real estate.  It never hurts to look, eh?

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of our trip highlights.

Turtles sunning themselves in a pond next to a Japanese restaurant.

The hotel cat name Mitzy

Some of the brilliant colors of Mexico

Con afecto, Alys.

 

 

 

Birds and Blueberries

A few months ago I took a beginning birding class from Let’s Go Birding! Although we learned about hummingbirds in the classroom, the field trip the following Saturday covered the gamut. Ever since I’ve enjoyed identifying the birds visiting our garden.

I have a nifty “Quick Guide” to commonly seen local birds to help me out. The illustrated guide gives a brief description of the bird’s size and coloring, along with the time of year they appear in your area. They’ve even provided a tiny box so you can check off the ones you’ve seen. Who can resist a little check box? Not me!

Ana's Hummingbird

Ana’s Hummingbird

The Ana’s hummingbirds are here year round. We have three feeders to choose from, along with Mexican Sage, Abutilon, Raspberries and a few other flowers they enjoy. During nesting season the females also eat soft spiders and other small insects for protein.

lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

I spotted a Lesser Goldfinch this morning in the triangle garden. This one is enjoying  Bachelor Button seeds. I didn’t know before today that Bachelor Buttons and sunflowers are from the same family. They’re both members of the Asteraceae or Compositae family, a favorite of this tiny yellow bird.

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren


Bewick’s Wrens
eat the eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults of insects and other small invertebrates. They’ll occasionally eat seeds and fruit. I spied this one over the weekend on the back fence.  Dropped fruit means lots of tiny fruit flies, so as soon as I cleared out with my camera, I’m sure a smorgasbord was under way.

So, what do blueberries and birds have in common? Absolutely nothing. I’m just delighted to have my first handful of blueberries flourishing in the garden.

 

blueberries

Blueberries

Laundry Lint: It’s For the Birds!

Laundry Lint

Mesh bag of laundry lint, high in a tree

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is just five weeks away.  Within three months of that, we’ll be enjoying spring.Time is wasting!

I save our laundry lint year round, but if you are just getting started you’ll have a few months to amass your collection. I keep a bag in a cupboard above the dryer.  After each load of laundry, I sweep the lint trap and add it to the bag.  It’s a great way to re-purpose what you might otherwise throw in the trash, and a fun way to attract birds to your garden.

As spring approaches, I fluff up the collection and fill the mesh bags I’ve saved from apples or onions. My boys loved this activity when they were young, but now I’m on my own!

Once you fill the bags with laundry fluff, secure them high in a tree. You can also wedge the bags near the top of the eaves.  One year I tied one to an empty swing frame. You lint bag should be sheltered from the elements and away from predators.  Locating them near feeders or water sources helps too.  Whatever you can do to make it easy for birds to find the laundry lint, the better.

A bright red bag of laundry lint, tied with a bow, also makes a fun and funny gift topper for your nature-loving friends.  They’ll think you’re crazy, then they’ll laugh and come spring they’ll be smiling and thanking you as they hang the lint in a nearby tree.

Laundry lint: it’s for the birds!

Mourning Doves

Nesting Mourning Doves

Additional Resources

WindowAlert: Protect your Songbirds

We invite birds to our garden in a variety of ways using fragrant flowers, flowing fountains and feeders.  To that end, it was disheartening when the occasional feathered friend mistook our window for the sky.  That unmistakable thud left an indelible mark on our soul.

The good news: by applying WindowAlert™ Decals, collisions are largely a thing of the past. According to their site:

WindowAlert is a window decal that may be applied to home and office windows. The decals contain a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight. This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds. Birds have vision that is up to 12 times better than that of humans. WindowAlert decals help birds see windows and avoid striking the glass.

The decals are removable and re-positionable.  The static cling variety can be cleaned by rinsing in warm water as necessary.  I purchased the Decorative Leaf Decal, but they are  available in a variety of shapes.

Support your local garden center or nursery if you can.  I shopped at Los Gatos Birdwatcher in our community.  You can also buy directly from the WindowAlert site.