Saturday, October 12, 2019

New house, new birds...

It's been a long time since I long I almost forgot how to do it, but it all came back quickly, thank goodness! Where the heck was I? The same place as always, but I was so busy I didn't have time for birds (I can't believe I just said that, but it's true!). I was spending a lot of time getting our house ready to sell, fighting neck pain that prevented me from carrying my camera or binoculars, and riding and taking care of my horse, but now I have my priorities straight and birds once again are front and center -- where they should be for heaven's sake.

At the end of May Rick and I moved to a new (old) home with woods and fields around it. The new habitat meant new yard birds...eastern bluebirds, turkeys, phoebes, barn swallows, eastern wood peewees, and oven birds...all birds I never saw or heard in our yard at our old house! We spent the summer getting used to the house, making friends with our new neighbors, eating outside, and listening and looking for new birds to add to our yard list.  I think the bluebirds and turkeys are our favorites. It's really exciting to look out and see a flock (or "rafter") of turkeys weaving their way through the tall grass in the yard...

A turkey in dew-soaked grass foraging in our backyard in the morning light.

...and such a cute little rafter you three are! 

Prairie-dogging turkeys...gotta love them! 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mealworms and Stink Bugs...tasty winter treats for Carolina Wrens!

There's no denying the Carolina Wrens in our backyard love mealworms (beetle larva), so to keep them happy I hide a stash of the larva in a tiny ceramic birdhouse in a pot on our deck. The entry hole in the birdhouse is small enough for a wren but not a starling, so the mealworms don't disappear in a hurry when the starlings (who also love them) descend in a mad feeding frenzy. Funny thing is, when the little birdhouse runs dry, the happy Carolina Wrens let me know they are unhappy by perching above the tiny house and sending me accusatory glares...

If that's not an accusatory glare I don't know what one is. 
"Where are my mealworms, woman?" seems to radiate from his adorable puffed-up self.  

Waiting...waiting...waiting for a refill...
(Is he tapping his little bird toenail in annoyance?)

...emerging from the tiny house fueled up on mealworm protein and ready for dessert...stink bugs!

Marmorated Stink Bugs 
This winter the Carolina Wrens have been especially spritely and chippy on our deck, and Rick and I have loved watching them. They've also developed a new habit...scouring the curtains fastened at the corners of our "Big Tent." It's not really a big tent, I just call it that. It's one of those canvas gazebo things we've anchored to our deck. It works really well in the summer keeping the sun off us, and, apparently, it works really well in the winter as a super secret hiding place for stink bugs trying to overwinter in peace. Unfortunately for the stink bugs, our Carolina Wrens have found them out. One day I noticed the folds in the curtains moving when suddenly a Carolina Wren popped out. He had a clearly identifiable Marmorated Stink Bug in his bill. He threw the bug down and proceeded to peck at it and then eat it. "Whoa, that's cool," went through my mind, so I watched for more. He immediately flew back up to the curtain, dove in and came back out with another Marmorated Stink Bug. Over the next few weeks, our Carolina Wrens spent a lot of time searching for and finding stink bugs in the curtains. The activity has lessened, so I think all the tasty treats have been found.

Our "Big Tent" 

The folds in the fastened curtains have become a hiding place for stink bugs.
The folds have also become a treasure trove of a winter protein source for our backyard Carolina Wrens. 

I wondered if Carolina Wrens eating overwintering stink bugs was a thing, or if ours just stumbled on the pests and were "making do" in winter, so I looked it up, and it's a thing! Carolina Wrens love stink bugs, and stink bugs like to overwinter in groups, so when they find one stink bug, they look for more in the same location. Stink bugs release an "aggregation pheromone" to attract other buddies to their super secret winter hiding places or to good feeding sources, which is why so many were hidden the folds of the curtains. Carolina wrens are cavity nesters, and they regularly search crevices and cavities for insects. Since they also take well to man-made nest boxes, it was inevitable that the wrens would search in the man-made crevices of the curtains and end up finding their winter prey.  (When insects "overwinter" they enter a hibernation-like state called "diapause.")

We never use the curtains on the Big Tent, so early this summer I thought I might take them down, but then I forgot to do it! I'm glad I forgot...and I'm also glad I didn't know the stink bugs were slowly gathering for the big winter sleep (or I would have taken them down). winter our Carolina Wrens will again  have easy hidden treats to find.

Reference links to find out more about Marmorated Stink Bugs and the aggregation pheromone:

  United States Department of Agriculture (July 16, 2014): "ASDA Researchers Identify Stink Bug Attractant"

  EntomologyToday (July 16, 2014): "Scientists Decipher Stink Bug Aggregation Pheromone"

  Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station: FAQ "Monitoring for the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug"

  The Journal of Natural Products, 2014, 77 (7), pp 1708-1717: "Discovery of the Aggregation Pheromone 
  of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halysthrough the Creation of Stereoisomeric 
  Libraries of 1-Bisabolen-3-ols"

Monday, January 15, 2018

Red in the Hornbeam

It doesn't matter how cold or gray it gets outside, Northern Cardinals burn bright...

A Northern Cardinal in the American Hornbeam in our backyard. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Fast food isn't good for you anyway, Mr. Red-shouldered Hawk!

Our resident Red-shouldered Hawk decided he was tired of sitting in the tree waiting for an unsuspecting meal to fly by, so he went directly to the source for a little fast-food takeout. Apparently word got out that the local "McTitmouse" was under surveillance, so our backyard birds went somewhere else for dinner...

A Red-shouldered Hawk perches on our platform feeder. The Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Chickadees, Titmice, Carolina Wrens, woodpeckers, and Northern Cardinals that usually dine there were not amused. They fled for safer ground.

...the shutter clicked in time to catch his nictitating membrane covering his eye.  
If you want to see a nictitating membrane in action, click here to go to a video that shows it covering the eye in slow motion. It's cool to watch because the membrane closes horizontally from the medial corner to the lateral corner, not vertically like our eye lid.

Uh ohhh....he hears my camera click, and now he's not amused.

Our Red-shouldered Hawk sat on the feeder for a while, to no avail. He eventually flew off to find his dinner elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The mulberries are ripening... here come the Cedar Waxwings!

Cedar Waxwings perch in the big mulberry tree in our backyard.
Every year late in May and early in June, flocks of Cedar Waxwings swoop into our backyard to raid the mulberry trees, gobbling up the juiciest berries as they ripen on the branches. This Saturday as we sat down to dinner on the deck, a large flock arrived in a flurry of excitement and anticipation. Singing their beautiful high-pitched tseeee tsee tseeeee song while on the wing, we heard them coming before we saw them, and then what a free-for-all! The sleek, elegant birds abandoned their usual aplomb and immediately tucked into the berries, devouring anything plump and juicy in sight, but it didn't stop there, they created a commotion by singing to each other, cuddling up along branches, hopping from here to there, then hopping back. It wasn't a complete feeding frenzy, but more like a social gathering where they were all saying things like, "Over here, these are the ripest berries," "'t listen to him, over here, sample these."  It went on and on until all the sweet, dark berries were gone, and only the underripe, hard berries remained. Then off to the next tree they flew!

Short and sweet 
The mulberry season is short and sweet, so the waxwings don't stick around in our backyard, but later in the summer and in the early fall, pokeweed berries lure the Cedar Waxwings back. Click here for an earlier post on pokeweed berries and Cedar Waxwings in our backyard.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Barred Owl along the Little Miami River

It's been so long since I've been able to get out in the woods and look for sweet, sweet, little birdies, so when the sun came out and the temp climbed up, I grabbed my camera and headed for the river. I saw Black-throated Blues, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Wood Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Scarlett Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, Chestnut-sided Warblers, woodpeckers, and all the other usual suspects...and then I saw this fellow perched high in the branches staring at me......sweet!

A Barred Owl perched in a tree along the Little Miami River.
What a surprise to look up and see this fine face looking back at me!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to make a ceramic pottery "lily pad" bird bath...and a frog to sit on it!

If you're starting to feel a little antsy for spring while a certain Mr. Winter continues to drag his feet (the groundhog saw his shadow...six more week of winter...ugh), why not hurry spring along by making a cute "lily pad" birdbath for the birds...

Learn how to make this cute lily pad birdbath for the birds this spring.
Visions of birds splashing around in a little birdbath you make can help tide you over
until your garden starts waking up and the birds start singing this spring!! 

How to make the bird bath
1. Roll out a slab of clay.
Make the slab at least 1/4" thick. Since this piece will be outside, you want it to be strong.

2. Cut out the shape of the "lily."
The beauty of this project is any shape works. You can make an actual lily shape or just a wavy circle. It doesn't matter!

3. Stuff plastic under the edges and push the center down to form the bowl.
The clay has to harden, and the best way to help it keep its shape is to stuff plastic around the edges. Newspaper doesn't really work, because it absorbs water and loses its shape. The plastic (dry cleaner bags work really well) maintains it shape.

...and that's it! This has to be the easiest ceramic pottery birdbath project ever!

How to make a frog for the lily pad
1. Form a small ball of clay into a wedge shape.
This wedge will be the body of the frog. The pointed end will be its nose.

2. Roll out a clay "noodle," and attach it to the hind end of the body.
This "noodle" will become the frog's leg.

3. Press the noodle to the frog's side. About halfway up, bend the noodle back.
Making a frog's leg is that simple. In the photo below you can see how easy it is to create the look of a frog's leg.

4. Add the webbing on the back feet.
Simply press a few lines into his feet using a wooden carving details are needed!

5. Roll out two smaller noodles for the front legs and attach them.
In the photo below, you can see the front legs are even easier to create. Attach them just in front of the back legs, and curve them in. Add the webbing lines as well.

6. Roll out tiny balls and press them onto the head to form the eyes; then use an Exacto knife to cut a simple mouth. have a frog to laze on your lily pad bird bath!



6. "Score" the clay to attach the frog to the lily pad.
To attach one piece of clay to another, you must "score" the surfaces first, which means you rough up the surfaces a little, dab water onto the score marks, and stick the two pieces together. I usually use a pencil, a clay needle or a craft knife.

7. You're finished with the construction of the birdbath...
...but you have a few more steps to go: let the piece dry (can take up to a week), fire it, glaze it, and fire again. Find a pottery teacher to help you if you don't have your own kiln or access to clay or glazes. There are lots of studios around town.

You can dig out a small depression in the ground to hold the bird bath (as in the example at the beginning of the post), or place it in a stand like in the photo below. Have fun!!!

I usually scoop out a depression in the ground to hold my lily pad bird baths, but they look great in a stand too.
Another option: attach a chain at three equidistant spots and hang it from a branch.