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?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday

I'm late as usual for Wildflower Wednesday hosted by Gail of clay and limestone, but I wanted to join in anyway!

The redbuds have finished blooming and are leafing out. This was the best year so far since several of the small trees have sized up enough to put on a show.

April 9, 2014. Those loopy canes are from a prairie rose (R. setigera) in the foreground.

To say that bees love this tree is an understatement.

Last year I was afraid we were going to lose this tree but it looks fine now. It's leaning away from the stand of tulip poplars just out of sight to the left. Unlike Buttercup in The Hunger Games Tommy does not defend me but flees and leaves me to my own defenses when he perceives danger and hears a car coming down the driveway. lol The white-flowering shrub in the background is a pearlbush. The brown stuff in the foreground is, as always, the old stems of Bidens that I haven't yet cleared away. There are still white-throated sparrows here, lurking among the old Bidens, making their soft lispy calls and singing "Oh Canada" in wavering tones.

This redbud was a little sapling from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Every spring I rhapsodize about the beauty of the wild crabapples here, because their praises need to be sung. I think the tree at the edge of one of the fields in the floodway when it is in flower is the most beautiful tree period. We need to cut down more trees around it

but it is as beautiful as ever.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Apple Tree Blossoms

Like the pawpaw, our apple tree likely won't fruit either, as it is the only apple tree we have left. It's never had this many blossoms before though and was really lovely this year. It just finished flowering.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Serviceberry and Pawpaw Trees

Remember the serviceberry I posted about for Wildflower Wednesday? It opened up all of the way, looking at a distance like a froth of white wedding lace. None of the other serviceberries bloomed as long as this one; the rest opened up when temps were in the mid 80's and the flowers blew quickly.

March 30, 2014

April 9th

I love the fuzzy leaves, bright spring green on top and silver on the bottom. Looks like there could be a lot of fruit this year. I don't know if this is true of our trees, but Michael Dirr writes that "ripe fruits are better than highbush blueberries; I have had serviceberry pie and it ranks in the first order of desserts".

I don't think there will be any pawpaw fruit this year, since only one of our trees is big enough to flower. This one has never had nearly this many flowers before. They look like brushed velvet texture and the colors are a lovely combination of lime green and wine.

This tree is a wild type purchased from the NC Botanical Garden; in March DH planted 2 other pawpaws nearby, a Pennsylvanian Gold and another wild one, both from Stark Brothers. I have never actually tasted a pawpaw, but they sound intriguing, and quite good. Allison Aubrey from NPR describes a pawpaw is "sort of mango-meets-the-banana, with a little hint of melon". Dirr says that the fruit "has a taste similar to a banana with a custard consistency".

I also just like the look of this tree, with its long nodding leaves and golden fall color.

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