Archive for the 'Birds' Category

A Sunflower Brightens the Day

June 25th, 2010

The birds really love sunflower seeds… especially fresh sunflowers.  This goldfinch was testing out the buffet, although I hope to get a few mature seeds for planting next year before they’re all gone.  This one grew as a lucky volunteer from scattered winter seed… there’s three in the same area.  I’m amazed at how large they can grow, and it’s just a fresh, sunny feeling when you walk by and see them.

The size of these leaves is amazing.   I placed my reading glasses on the top for comparison.   Those are just enormous photosynthesis machines in action.  I remember driving through Illinois last year and seeing vast stretches of sunflowers growing in the fields.  It looked beautiful…

Five Little Swallows Went Flying One Day

June 12th, 2010

How many little barn swallows can you fit in the same nest?  In previous years I’ve only seen three or four, and thought this year was the same until another one popped up this week.  This picture was taken the day before they left the nest.   What a crew!

One of them flew off early in the morning when I didn’t see it, but I was able to watch the other birds make their first flights while painting the garage door.  The adult birds would land just off the nest with some type of insect treat, tempting them to come farther, and then make repeated short flights past the nest.   Finally a young barn swallow would leap off and begin flapping its wings, not nearly as gracefully as the adults.

It would usually make it to a nearby tree to rest for a few minutes and then fly again- this time much better.   I was amazed that within a couple of hours all but one of the birds had left the nest and were zooming around with incredible speed and vigor.  Finally that last one disappeared as well.

Not all of them returned by the next day however.  For the first week or so, the young birds and adults return to roost at the nest site.  Only four have come back…

Virga at Dawn

April 13th, 2010

The weather has been so nice the past week that it’s hard to keep up with all the changes. Everyday there’s something new around the property, or in the garden. I love walking around outside before the sun comes up, in that peaceful, subdued light of dawn.

Yesterday the air was perfectly calm, and as I walked outside I looked up to see the most beautiful clouds!  I believe these are Virga cloud formations, denoting the fall of moisture or ice crystals from the clouds, drifting downward slowly but evaporating before reaching the ground. I’ve seen it a few times before, but not at dawn as the sun rose.

I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first, but then realized that the precipitation was very slowly falling in the calm morning air.  It was neat to see… here’s a closer look:

As I turned around to look behind me, the same weather phenomenon was taking place from all around the area.   This cloud line was marked by small lines of moisture in a vertical fashion.    You just never know what you might see when you really take a good look.

Later in the day I saw a bird flash past the eave of the house and realized that the barn swallows have returned!  What a journey they make across two continents. They’re three days earlier than last year, and about a week later than the years previous. 

I went out to say hello :) and it was a solitary bird zooming all around the house.   Later in the day two more swallows had joined the first, chasing each other around as they decide who gets which of three nest sites on the house.    I enjoy watching them fly and really appreciate that they eat insects.

And this morning the little chickies moved to a bigger home.  The little cardboard box was getting too crowded for them, and they were hopping out while trying to explore a little more.   I was going to put together a bigger cardboard box, but then realized that the wire kennel I use for the labrador retriever would make a perfect brooder for these guys for a few more weeks.   I just taped a little carboard around the bottom half to keep their scratchings in.   

They’ve grown about twice their size of a week ago, and run around flapping wings and dive-bomging each other.   Even though they bash each other out of the way for food or water, they seem to get along pretty well so far.  I think there’s two roosters in the mix, but I won’t know for sure for a while yet. 

I keep them on a little glassed in porch area that is naturally heated by the sun during the day.  At night I’ve been using a 250 watt lamp a couple feet away.  Now they’re old enough where it’s not as critical to keep really warm all day and night, but I keep them out of drafts and the temperature from 75-85 degrees.   The new brooder cage has a rock for the birds and the waterer to sit on, and a little log for a mini-roost.  They still like to sleep snuggled up on the floor, and when it gets really warm they sprawl out in every direction.     I’ve got 2-4 weeks to get a coop built before they get really big!

Fighting Bluebirds and Digging ‘Peckers

March 9th, 2010

We saw the funniest thing over the weekend. The boy and I were about to have breakfast and I noticed a commotion outside the window. As we looked more closely it was three male bluebirds fighting for the rights to a nest box near the house. I’ve seen them playing like this in the spring, but this was no playful antics by young birds! We have several bluebird boxes around, but that one is a favorite for some reason.

They flew at each other and grabbed claws while pinning each other down on the ground and wrestling furiously.   While these two were thrashing about, the third flew up to the box as if to say, “Ha! Ha! I’ve got the box!”  

They were oblivious to anything around them, including me! I walked outside to get some better photos, and they just ignored me even when I came within a couple feet. They were so intent that while still locked together, they flew at each other and locked claws again, falling into a big spirea bush… deep in the middle.   They just stayed there grasping each other like mad!

Finally I said, “Okay guys, now that’s enough! Come out of there!”   Eventually they became aware of me and popped out, flying off a little way to separate perches in an oak tree.  As I went inside, they were flying all around the box again.  

Now there’s a school mascot for you… the “Fighting Bluebirds!”  Just doesn’t sound right does it?   These guys are supposed to be happy, gentle creatures!  I laughed, thinking of our human labels and stereotypes…   they’re just birds, as intent upon their life cycle as the lowly starling or house sparrow… which they also do battle with.  But they’re nice to have around :)  The rites of spring have surely begun.


We have enjoyed a wonderful stretch of warm days and have begun our “spring cleaning.”  I noticed that the frogs have really emerged, and we hear them calling at night.   Everything is more active (including me!) and it’s time to really get ready for the growing season.

Even the woodpeckers are more active!  (That title above got your attention didn’t it!?)   I’m not sure having really active woodpeckers around is always a good thing.  I know they serve a purpose and signal a healthy environment, but the pileated woodpeckers can do enormous damage to a tree in short order. To all outward appearances, this oak tree looks healthy. But it may have insects attacking it inside that we just don’t see and the woodpecker does.

In any event, this hole wasn’t in the tree a few weeks ago, but now it’s huge.  There is a small cavity inside, and that’s probably what the bird is after.   Hopefully the tree will continue to thrive, but when I’ve seen this in the past, the tree has usually died within a couple of years.   We have a few dead trees still standing that I thought would serve to help the woodpeckers with their needs.

I suspect we would lose many of these trees anyway, but I really love our old oak trees.    The cycle of life continues…  Have a great day!

Update: Orin provided a comment about haven taken a video of nesting pileated woodpeckers in 2009. This is great to watch- I had never seen a nesting site for this bird, or how the adults feed their young.

A Little Junco

January 27th, 2010

Helped a little Junco yesterday… he flew into the porch window and was laying on the ground stunned, nearly a little frozen meal for the cats.  Brought it in and warmed it up overnight.  In the morning it was flitting about… caught it in a butterfly net and carried it outside. Brrrr! The bird decided to stay in my hand.  I set it on a feeder and he/she just sat there looking around.  After a while I picked it up and set it on the ground for a bit, and it just sat there.  

So finally I picked it up again and said, “Look little guy, you’ve got to get going or something. I can’t feed you inside very well, and the cats will be around soon… so what’s it going to be?”


I laid it gently back on the ground and it flew up to my shoulder.  Sheesh!  So I waited for about five minutes with the wind blowing at 25 degrees… then it jumped on my finger. Once more I laid it on the ground, and this time it flew off about twenty yards. I walked toward it and it flew off again for a bit. Then once more and it flew off to some bushes… hooray! At least I hope so :)


By the way, Jessica Watson just went through a huge storm a few days ago with waves heavy enough to dump her sailboat over a few times. Sounds like it even went upside down with the mast under water for a bit. Can you imagine? A little damage, but otherwise she’s fine and on her way again. I need some of that spirit…

Breakfast for Birds

January 24th, 2010

It’s been a long, wet, soggy, foggy week.  A short stay with the flu (always seems longer than it is) and I missed most of it, but learned once again the value of soup and a light diet!   Haven’t been sick in at least a year, and this one snuck up quick one night and stayed for a few days.   Of course now my appetite is making up for it…  

Lots of rain though, and the ground is really saturated.  Hopefully we won’t see the wind storms we do at times, because that’s when trees tend to blow over.  The birds don’t seem to mind the water though.   Instead of our typical wild birds at the feeders, a host of Mourning Doves showed up early one day to enjoy a breakfast banquet with friends.


I haven’t seen this many before- there were nearly twenty-five at one point and they’re pretty skittish. The least movement or sound and they fly off in complete abandon, nearly in all directions and some thumping on the windows of the house.    Most the year I hardly see them at all, and they hide and roost in the forest pretty effectively. 

Doves are “in season” from about the first of September through early November here in Missouri.  They’re hunted pretty hard in the farm areas, and are not easy targets.   They fly incredibly fast, and are not easy to find.  Usually a dove hunter sets up near a field where they’ll feed early in the morning or late in the afternoon.   It’s not too far off for an average hunter to go through a box of shells and only take a few doves home.   Yes- they’re pretty little as far as birds go, but they sure do make for a fine meal when prepared right.   They’re not like chicken, but more like a lean dark-meat bird like duck, and more tender.     I sure enjoy seeing them come to the feeders in winter though, and glad they can find what they need.

I didn’t get out much this year to help stock the freezer with wild game.  I hope to do better next year because we are really blessed in Missouri with plentiful wildlife to help with food stores and costs.   Not to mention the fishing!  If one wanted to stock a freezer full of panfish it wouldn’t be very difficult.  Instead most of us purchase expensive salmon or roughy or tilapia…     Just our culture these days, and the pace of life. 

One of my boyhood friends loves to fish, but doesn’t have much time anymore.  When he’s asked now if he enjoys fishing, he says “You bet!” and then describes in glorious detail how he “goes fishing” and finds the diversity of the seafood section at his favorite grocery store.  

I take for granted the fish we have right in our own pond.  Always like the thought that they’re there if we need them, but we don’t eat them very often.  Maybe this year it’ll be different… we’ll see.    

The ice on the pond is almost gone now.   I wonder if we’ll see really cold weather again this winter?  I don’t know about you, but a little sun would be nice… :)

Warm November Days

November 9th, 2009

I’ve been engrossed in digging, pouring, setting and arranging blocks for a retaining wall the past week.  Looks like it will take most of this week too, and thankfully the weather has been amazing for working outside. We have a little rain in the forecast, but nothing that will hold back progress!  Along the way there’s still time for other chores and a little fun. And keeping your eye out for the little changes the season brings.

Took me a while to build the forms and hand mix 1600 pounds of concrete the other day.  Doesn’t look like much, but the footer at the back is nearly two feet wide and half as tall.   I’m trying to decide if that’s enough, or if I need to lengthen the footer on the sides or not.  The ends of the retaining wall towards the front will only be two blocks high, so I may be able to simply set them on a firm base.    The footer has rebar throughout, and more will be in the wall.   Because of the slope and water runoff, I’m also embedding small pipes in the wall for drainage.

Kind of hard to pour concrete with a basset hound in the way…



I did a double take when I saw this woodpecker the other day- it’s a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!  A funny name for a bird, and we don’t see them very often here.  One of the key identification features is that large vertical white stripe.  Lucky that I had my camera with me- I thought it interesting that the bird went to the only tree that has green leaves on it still- a very old flowering pear tree- it’s the last to lose it’s leaves in fall. This woodpecker has a beautiful red crest also, but the picture doesn’t show it.


I’ve only seen this species once or twice briefly before, but they migrate through around this time of year, sometimes hanging around a bit into winter. There are lots of telltale signs of the sapsucker on certain trees- many horizontal rows of small holes that were used to gather sap. It’s fun to see something you don’t have around very often.

A couple of days ago I wandered into the bedroom and all of a sudden a big bird went “crash!!!” into a large window. I ran over thinking it must have killed itself and wondered what it was. I stared in disbelief but it was a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on concrete below the window- it looked up and saw me and leapt off the ground flying off through the trees. We have them around the forest nearby, but they’re normally fairly secretive. It must have been engrossed in chasing another bird for dinner.

The young boy and I rose with the dawn and ventured out on the pond yesterday morning for a little fishing. It was beautiful and warm, and we paddled around while the sun rose above the horizon. He had a great time, and we caught and released a lot of fish. Speaking of things we don’t see very often, we caught one of the largest bass we’ve ever caught before in our pond.


You can definitely see why they’re called Largemouth Bass!  It’s not a big fish by bass standards, but at about two pounds it tells me the bass are growing better this year.  I’m trying to manage the population and size balance between bass and bluegill. We have a lot of large bluegill, and generally smaller bass.  But each year I take out a certain number of smaller bass to allow others to grow larger.  Not an exact science by any means, but they’re growing!

Bird Break

August 5th, 2009

The birds have been very active lately, or maybe I have- but they seem to be more energetic around the trees and forests.  Preparing for winter?  I almost had a perfect shot of an Indigo Bunting the other day- it flew off right before I pushed the shutter on the camera.  And the camera’s been acting up lately too- which is no surprise since I’ve dropped it, left it out in the rain, and often carry it around on the tractor.   Now I’m not sure if it’s the lens or the camera itself, so I’ll be checking that out a bit this month.  Forgive the fuzzy shots now and then while I try out some less expensive camera options too!

I caught this male goldfinch sneaking sunflower seeds by the house. They come by once or twice a day, determined to get all the seeds from our larger sunflowers.


Last night I took a picture of these three barn swallow fledglings. There was a fourth that fell out of the nest and, well… lets just say I found feathers around the house and a “who me?” look on the cat’s face.  But I’ve been waiting for these three to leave for the past week and this morning they were gone!


That makes it the second batch of barn swallows from this one nest- so that makes seven fledged birds from this one, and 3-4 each from two other nests.  About 13-15 young barn swallows just around our house this year.  I like to think they keep the bugs down, and it’s fun to watch them zooming by as I cut the grass.

Flowers, Birds and Clunker Money

June 10th, 2009

My goodness, the rain just keeps on coming.  Someone asked me recently what I was doing financially these days with investing.  I said I’ve been saving for a rainy day, the only problem is that its been raining for over a month and I’m out of money…

We’re due for some warmer, sunnier days and I know they’ll come.  I really do appreciate the cooler weather for getting work accomplished, but the bugs and weeds have gone crazy.  I think the birds thrive on the moisture at this time of year because insects are so abundant.   Its fun to watch flycatchers and bluebirds chase insects around beneath the trees.  And the flowers love the rain too- this hydrangea is showing off.


Nesting birds are really busy everywhere it seems.  I was excited to see my first Baltimore Oriole nest high in an oak tree on the hillside overlooking the pond.  I had seen the female oriole around for a couple of weeks, and one bright morning the nest just stood out in the sunlight, hanging pensile near the top of the oak tree.    I went out early and waited for over a half hour to try and get a photo of an oriole together near the nest.   The nest would move and shake but the oriole would not appear… so I went out a second day and finally the oriole made it’s way back to the nest in a secretive fashion.  I captured a shot with the bird nearby, but it went in and out of that nest so quickly!


The garden has shown  a few surprises this year as well.  We have many dill plants that have grown as volunteers from letting plants go to seed in previous years.  One plant is growing near the base of a Saint Francis statue, with a little friend happily munching on it. 


The caterpillar is the larval stage of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly, fairly common in our region.  We’ve got enough dill around, so I enjoy watching these guys.  But I’m on the lookout for tomato hornworms- they can tear down a tomato plant in a matter of days, and that’s my sauce for the next year.

For some more exciting news I saw a flying fish today!  I was out early checking on the bees, and saw a heron catch a really big bluegill.   I started down the hill to chase it away, and it took off across the pond with the fish flopping in its bill the whole way.  It was kind of funny looking, but I was miffed.  Those bluegill are prized for catching with the boy!  And if they’re too big to swallow, the heron just drops ’em on the bank and goes for more.  Practical bird, huh?  There’s lots of smaller bass and I suppose the heron eats some of those too.  But man that gangly bird has been around every morning lately- I wonder how many pounds of fish it eats in a month!? 

I wandered back into the garden (I just love strolling around the vegetables!)  and I thought of how such a few seeds can become such a grand harvest with a little steady attention.   Then I looked over the fence at my 16 year old diesel farm truck and remembered it needed a little attention too.  Well farm truck is a bit of an exaggeration since we really aren’t farmers.  Unless you count a hundred thousand bees as livestock, which the Department of Agriculture actually does.  But no, we’re just a small family living in the country.  Down the road there’s a real dairy farm and a hog farm, and after talking with the dairyman about his mornings, I’m pretty thankful for mine.

But I digress… I was going to say something about that old 3/4 ton truck, eventually.  Yesterday the Cash for Clunkers plan passed in the House, and now it’s on to the Senate and presumably the President.  On the surface it sounds like a great idea.  But looking a little deeper it’s just another basket of taxpayers dollars in an effort to support the auto industry.  Which I have mixed feelings about.  I’m not a fan of government largesse and program development, especially when it seems like we’re playing Wheel of Fortune with so much money these days.  But I know there are real folks out there whose jobs and livelihoods depend on the auto industry- and I would like to support them.  We’ve given disappearing billions to the financial industry, what’s a few more to help workers that actually create something?


With the Cash for Clunkers plan, that old truck sitting out back might actually be worth something.  It served its purpose enjoyably over many years, and I still had ambitious plans for it.  Somehow I don’t remember what those were.   We don’t really use it much anymore except to hold fuel, and maybe it would be more useful if I traded it in on something that gets better mileage.  It gets all of about 14-15 mpg.  Who can argue with a handsome rebate from Uncle Sam?  Maybe I could think of it as a rebate of taxes paid and feel better.  Gas prices are heading up again too, so that could be just the excuse I need.  Let’s see, more rationalization…  the truck is really hard to start because the glow plugs need replaced and the fuel filter assembly needs fixed too.    Instead of a big ‘ole truck, I might just have $4500 parked on gravel by the garden!

Of course that still means car payments for something else, and that old paid-for truck has a lot of memories going for it.  Still runs and looks pretty good too, at least once you get it started.  There’s something about driving down the road in an older truck, and seeing people look admiringly at it, sharing memories of years past.   Clunker or not, I really like that old truck.

Everything’s Growing

May 17th, 2009

It’s been a busy week, especially with all the rain and thunderstorms but fortunately lots of water and some windblown debris was the only result in our area.  This morning was very cool, waking to temperatures around 42 degrees F.  But the sun is out and the week promises to give us a warming trend.  Grow tomatoes grow!  And everything else too… aside from cutworms chopping off a few beets and pea plants at their base, everything seems to be doing very well.

The sugar peas are already two inches taller than this picture from a few days ago.  They were planted a few weeks late so I’m not sure how long our harvest will be. 


And the potatoes are going crazy- about twice as high as this picture already.  I planted a five pound bag (20+  tubers) of red pontiac seed potatoes… so how much will that make?  With fertilizer and good moisture, I’m hoping we get 40-50 pounds this year.   Do you harvest your potatoes right after the flowers bloom?  Or do you let them grow bigger until the stems wilt in the fall?


The bird life continues to amaze me- this Baltimore Oriole was singing high in the treetops.  They’re usually more bright orange, so I thought the yellowish coloration of this one to be interesting.


And the bluebirds have already fledged their first batch of youngsters- this young bluebird was waiting for mom or pop to come by with a juicy snack. 


Yesterday while cutting down some trees we found two cicadas that had just emerged from the ground.  This one climbed up the outside of a beehive, came out of its pupal shell and sat drying its wings.  If it isn’t eaten by a bird first we may hear it calling high in the treetops next month.  I love how things change and emerge through the seasons.











Other than that, our wayward duck Quackers appears to have left us. He stayed for a couple of weeks and either the thunderstorms ran him off, or maybe my negative duck energy! We’ll see if he shows up…

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