Friday, October 31, 2014

Snowbirds are on the scene again...

Rick won the who-sees-the-first-junco-of-autumn contest this year. Dog! Every autumn we watch for the first Dark-eyed Junco to show up in our yard. I've won the past 5 years, but Rick toppled my reign this year. Our little junkie flew in on Tuesday, October 25, 2014, which is the earliest arrival we've had. Is our snowbird predicting a colder and snowier winter than last year?

Our Dark-eyed Juncos have arrived! Let the snow fly...

This is the earliest date we've seen snowbirds in our yard. It's always exciting when they arrive, because we know the next season is underway. We've missed our little Dark-eyed Juncos!

…such a cute little junkie!

Our White-throated Sparrows flew in two weeks ago--the earliest by far! Does Mama Nature have something big planned for us this winter?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Smooth Sumac in Kentucky

...but first a quick update! A lot of you have written me to ask where I've been because I haven't posted since August! I'm here and well, but I was knee deep in a house remodel. We've redone our first floor...all the wood floors were stripped, sanded, stained, etc., walls were knocked down, a staircase pulled out and a new one put in, and finally painting. During it all my library/home office has been packed up, and my computer hauled to work. There was so much to do that poor little Red suffered. Yesterday we were able to put part of my office together, so I thought I'd try to write a quick post. (My cousin, Curg, wrote me earlier today that he is sick of seeing the hummingbird in the previous post. He needs new nature material, and he needs it now, so this one is for you, Curg!)

Autumn color for us, and winter food for the birds...
Last week Matty was on a short fall break, so we headed down to Blue Licks State Park in Kentucky with my parents. The trees were gorgeous, the weather was perfect, and it was incredibly relaxing to be out in the woods. I didn't bring my camera with me because everything was packed up, and I just wanted to spend time with my family, but I was able to get a few nice shots with my cell phone. Nothing beats the reds of autumn...

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) berries glow red in the field. 
A colony of Smooth Sumac was growing in an open field along the Savannah trail, and the bright red leaves and the deep red berries (drupes) were eye catching, so we stopped to take a closer look. I posted on Staghorn Sumac last November, which looks very similar to Smooth Sumac. A clue to telling them apart is in their name. The branches on Smooth Sumac are smooth, while the branches on Staghorn Sumac are furry like the antlers on a stag when "in velvet." Smooth Sumac is a little smaller as well, and its range extends further south. In Ohio, we have both. I love seeing any type of sumac in the wild, because I know winter birds will have emergency food waiting for them this winter. (Click here for the post "Staghorn Sumac is for the birds..." to learn how these plants help birds survive the coldest days of winter and early spring when other food is scarce.)

Both Smooth and Staghorn Sumac are native to Ohio, and both offer stores of food for the birds in the dead of winter when the "tastier" berries have all been consumed.

Smooth Sumac brightens any field, especially in fall when its leaves turn a brilliant red.

Smooth Sumac, like Staghorn Sumac is not Poison Sumac. It is a wetland species and has white berries and smooth leaves. Click here and here for more info on Poison Sumac.