Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wildlife Loves a Mess

View from front porch, April 10th

Prissy joining me in the garden.

It's true. Wildlife loves a mess. I have been extra slow in clearing the garden this year for various reasons, one of which is that the white-throated sparrows are still here. The Song Sparrows have moved on to their breeding grounds but not the white-throated sparrows. Some species stay very late; I often hear Ruby-Crowned Kinglets and Cedar Waxwings all the way through May. While I was letting Prince munch down some of the huge clouds of clover outside of the lawn I noticed white-throated sparrows perching on the old Bidens stems and leaning down to eat the chickweed seeds in a bed I haven't cleaned up yet. So someone appreciates the chickweed besides pollinating flies and funny little bees. It was funny to see how relaxed the birds were since I was with the horses.

A chickadee pair must be using the nest box at the back of the big perennial bed -- I startled one on the nest box with an insect in its mouth, most likely feeding a female on eggs. He then crossed the driveway to chickadee dee dee for about five straight minutes so I went to work on another part of the garden.

I happened to have the camera with me when I spotted a female bluebird perched in a dead sweetgum just on the other side of the neighbor's fence.

Wave winging and begging to male approaching with food as part of courtship. Birds will often use the same behavior, such as begging, in different circumstances throughout their lives.

There's a dead pine tree opposite the kitchen window that's been a magnet for Brown-Headed Nuthatches. I've mentioned it before. It's too close to the neighbor's fence to remove safely, so we'll just let it come down on its own, which it will probably do piece by piece. The nuthatches have been digging out a cavity for over a month, and I think the female is on eggs now. I don't think this setup will be easy for them though. They dug out a cavity that a number of species can fit into, and other birds have been checking it out. Last week I was clearing next to the driveway and heard the nuthatches alarm calling. They were so persistent I finally thought 'What?!" and went to see what was happening. A male bluebird was perched on top of the dead tree and the nuthatches were in a nearby pine, sounding very much like very distressed squeak toys. A flock of goldfinches were there too, fluttering about and looking at each and at the tree as though to say "What's going on? What are we looking at?" I think they were attracted by the nuthatches' high-pitched calls. Then another bluebird showed up and the two started tussling and everyone left except for the nuthatches. The last couple of days a Red-Bellied Woodpecker has been checking out the tree too. Mostly the woodpecker has been pecking and feeding from the tree but yesterday it looked as though it was about to reach in and something out of the cavity. The nuthatches find the presence of the woodpecker to be very upsetting and when the woodpecker was about to reach into the cavity one of the nuthatches pecked the woodpecker on the head and the woodpecker left. It has returned more than once though.

For the first time in a number of years the Red-Shouldered Hawks are not nesting near the house. This year they may be nesting north of the electric paddock. It may not be the same pair though. Last year I found a bunch of feathers from a Red-Shouldered Hawk at the edge of one of the floodway fields and sadly it was clear the bird did not survive. I have no way of knowing if it was one of the adults or one of the offspring.

Most of our summer residents are here now: Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, White-Eyed and Red-Eyed Vireos, Redstarts... The other night I heard the thrilling ethereal flute-like song of the Wood Thrush in our woods for the first time in 2 years. I haven't heard Blue Grosbeaks singing but DH said that he saw a pair with nesting material this weekend. And the hummingbirds are back! They always come back when the Eastern Columbine is in bloom. I heard two Prothonotary Warblers singing back and forth at the big slough near the creek, and other warblers I am too rusty to identify. I need to listen to the Peterson tapes again, and get a decent inexpensive pair of binoculars. Inexpensive because I have the infuriating habit of dropping binoculars.

I need to be careful when clearing. Last weekend I was cleaning up the bed bear the gate and was kneeling down weeding when I heard a high-pitched wail. It took me a second to realize it was coming from right behind me. Gasp! I whirled around to see a baby rabbit wriggle out from a nest of grass and fur and start to take off, although its eyes were barely open. I grabbed it, put it back with its siblings (at least 3), and started stacking the brush back around them. Because, BABY BUNNIES. The rabbits around here mostly eat grass and clover and are so used to us that occasionally I have to walk around one.

Brush fort with baby bunnies underneath/inside

Piedmont azaleas in background

I do have many pictures of flowers and gardens - so many, I'm not even sure where to start. We were thinking of taking the Chapel Hill Garden Tour this weekend. Has anyone who reads this blog been on the tour?


  1. I recently thought about the mess. I like it tidy, but remember a TV programm that recommended a bit of untidiness in the garden to encourage wild life.

  2. You captured wonderful pictures of the bluebirds! It's kind of you to be so careful to work around the needs of your wildlife neighbors. I've been cutting back and cleaning up a long-neglected area at the bottom of our slope, and worry constantly that I may be messing with someone's living quarters, although I've yet to find any direct evidence of that. Now that I think of it, though, I haven't seen many squirrels breaking into the nearby bird feeders so maybe I've inadvertently sent them packing - or, it could be that I just need to refill the bird feeders.

  3. Oh My, you really know your birds. I'm lucky if I can identify a robin. Actually, that's an exaggeration, but you do know way more than me. Great shots of the bluebirds.

  4. I always love to see your blogposts Sweetbay. Must be wonderful to have so many different birds in the garden and other wildlife. And time enough to cleaning up later in the year. It's great you think about wildlife.
    Have a wonderful day.

  5. These bluebirds look so cute feeding each other on the bare branch. You have bunnies, I have bunnies too and I am afraid they will take over my not so tidy, but also not so messy garden within a while. I have already many shrubs and wild old roses in the garden but also borders with delicious plants for the bunnies. May be I let them go ahead and my garden will change.

  6. I am so sorry fibro has been giving you the dickens this spring.

    What a lot of interesting wildlife you have there in your country paradise. Great photos.

    Enjoy the rest of your week ~ FlowerLady

  7. Lovely photos, especially of the bluebirds and it's also fascinating to hear about the different birds you see.

  8. Great images of the bluebirds. Yes, do take the Chapel Hill Garden Tour. I've been working with the tour committee all year and the gardens, which were lovely last year when we previewed them, are reported to be even more fantastic. I'm interested to see the Pringle Garden, which is one I didn't get to see last year. The Norwood Garden is another of my favorites.


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