Category Archives: Nature

Who Knew? Porcupines Climb Trees!

Porcupines are truly odd creatures, and one definitely best watched from afar.  Recently at dusk at our place in Wisconsin, one came to visit that provided an evening of entertainment!

When he realized we were watching, he headed off towards the woods.

They are not the speediest of animals, but in his own lumbering way he was hurrying.

First he tried to become invisible behind a tree. When we got a little closer he began to climb the tree.

I never really thought about where they lived, but I guess I assumed they lived on the ground.  Maybe a burrowing animal?

But, they are actually quite adept at climbing trees. They have long claws and hairless palms and soles to help them climb. Their strong gripping ability also allows porcupines to stay in trees looking a bit like a koala or sloth, using their forelimbs to reach for tender shoots.

He just kept going…

I don’t know how he didn’t fall!

Interesting porcupine facts:

  • The North American porcupine is a New World Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum).
  • Porcupines are the second largest rodent in North America.  The largest is the beaver.
  • Porcupines don’t shoot their barbed quills, but the 30,000 quills are very loosely attached making them come off easily into the skin of an attacker.
  • Porcupine habitat varies geographically The live in open tundra, deciduous forest, and desert chaparral. Depending on their specific environment, they can vary from spending most of their time on the ground, to areas where they are found mostly in trees.
  • Porcupines are general herbivores. Their diet varies throughout the year depending on their needs and what is considered edible. They’ve also been known to kill a tree by feeding too heavily on a single tree in winter.
  • Porcupines have an antibiotic in its skin protecting itself from infection when it falls out of a tree and gets stuck with its own quills.  Apparently this is a frequent occurrence, since they often go too far out on a limb trying to get those tender spring buds.
  • A baby porcupine is called a porcupette.

This was actually our second porcupine interaction at our place in Wisconsin. I had gotten up early one morning with Daisy, only to have her run off out of sight. I quickly found her face to face with a porcupine, with a second one a couple of feet away. They did a little dance, nose to nose, nose to tail, but by some miracle no one was quilled. Always an adventure in WI

PS Thanks to my son Alex for some of the pictures!

 

Chickadees Are Back in the Nestbox

While I was hoping for bluebirds this year in the nest boxes, this little chickadee popped her head out and seems to be making it her home for the spring. Luckily Steve had his camera handy and could get some pictures of this cute little bird.

She was just so entertaining to watch. It was like she couldn’t believe her good fortune in finding this amazing nesting spot.

When we came back a couple of weeks later I was happy to see that they were actually moving in.

This is a very typical chickadee nest. A base of moss and then softer material like rabbit fur for the top layer. Check out my blog post from last year that followed nesting chickadees in Who’s in my Nestboxes and Checking on the Bird’s Nests.

The Eastern Phoebe couple is also back nesting on the front porch!

Woodlink Wooden Bluebird House – Model BB1


New From: $18.82 USD In Stock

Orioles? Fingers Crossed!

I saw on my local Wild Bird Unlimited Facebook page today that Baltimore Orioles have been spotted in the area. I tried to attract them on their spring migration last year but no luck. They are in the area only 4-6 weeks unless they nest nearby.

But, last year I was a couple of weeks later putting the oriole feeder out with grape jelly and oranges. Also, I hung it on the feeder pole with all my other feeders and I later learned that they can be intimidated by other birds.

This year I hung it by itself and more out in the open by the hummingbird feeder. Orioles are attracted to orange and this time of year they love nectar, grape jelly and oranges. Later in the summer, they need more protein and you can switch to mealworms.

Hopefully they find my little haven and stop by.  Maybe even build a nest?

The only time I’ve seen Orioles in the area was a few years ago on a nearby golf course.  They were nesting high up in the trees and it was fun to see them each week.

Want to see if they are in your area? Check out eBird by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Audubon Society. Journey North is another citizen science site that monitors both seasonal change and migration of a wildlife species including some birds. Or, drop by your local Wild Bird Unlimited to find out what they are seeing.

Nature Walk on Earth Day

It was a beautiful day for a walk, so I headed out to the Morton Arboretum to walk and celebrate Earth Day.  Spring flowers were in abundance!

Here’s what I saw:

White Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum)
Immature plants produce a single leaf and no flower, while mature plants produce a pair of leaves and a single flower. Colonies often have far more leaves than flowers.

Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum)

This poisonous plant never really “opens” like other trilliums. The drooping sepals and stalked leaves are clues that you have this trillium and not the very similar Toad Shade.

Virginia Springbeauty (Claytonia virginica)

This small flower is a sure sign that spring has arrived! You’ll find them open on warm sunny days and closed during cloudy weather and at night. These are stunning as a sweeping sea of pink in the forest.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Wild geraniums are easily identified by their large palmately lobed leaves and their beak-like seed capsules that point upwards.

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

This fragrant flower is easy to spot and identify by its toothed leaf pattern. By the end of spring, both the flowers and foliage will disappear until next year.

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

While I often find these as weeds in my yard, their deep purple flowers are a cheerful find amidst all the decaying fall leaves.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

This escaped ornamental plant, which can be mistaken for Wild Leeks (Spring Leeks (aka Ramps), will soon show it’s distinct white flowers.  Unlike leeks, all parts of this plant are highly toxic.  If it doesn’t smell like onions or garlic, don’t eat it!

After my hike in the spring woods, I stopped by my local Wild Birds Unlimited store to stock up on sunflower seeds and suet for the birds and to buy a bat house to encourage bats to our place in Wisconsin. The staff at WBU is a great source of info for what’s going on in your local bird world, and I find the best birding supplies there. Today, I heard the hummingbirds are back already so time to get the feeders out (Hummingbird Nectar)!

Then as a last fun nature day stop, I went by a local nursery to buy some Summer Beauty Allium (Allium tanguticum).  I have a hot, dry sunny spot where oddly nothing seems too happy to grow.  I’ve been seeing these in similar locations in public gardens so I’ll give them a try. They produce a pretty pom-pom flower display mid-summer, are sterile so aren’t invasive, are pollinator favorites, and rabbits stay away from them.  All around sounds pretty good to me.

Did you get out and enjoy this spring day!

 

 

Who Won The Squirrels vs Feeder Contest?

I’ve had an ongoing issue with squirrels ravaging my bird feeders. I bought a great Squirrel Stopper pole, but because I wanted to see the birds from my kitchen window, and despite clear instructions not too, I placed it too close to a nearby tree and arborvitaes. So, those very acrobatic squirrels have had fun feasting at my feeders!

In a post earlier this winter, I wrote about finally investing in some well reviewed squirrel proof feeders to try and attract more birds than squirrels to my yard (Happy New Year’s To My Backyard Birds!).  So did they work?

I am so excited to say YES! Continue reading

Up Close With A Pileated Woodpecker

We were out winter hiking in Peninsula State Park, when we thought it’d be fun to take a short cut through the interior on the little used Trail Trampers Delight trail.  Someone had fun naming that trail!  Just beautiful and so quiet after a fresh overnight snowfall. Yes, there’s a trail there 🙂

Lots of animal trails snaking through the fresh snow…like this coyote catching up to friends.

and this Canadian Goose apparently taking a trip to the outhouse 🙂

But the most exciting part of the trip was the Pileated Woodpecker that didn’t show any fear of us and just went about his business. We had seen one earlier on the walk, but he was a little too far and high to really get a good look.

But this one flew in front of us and landed about about 30 feet away at eye level.  He went hungrily to work. You can see all the large chunks of wood that he’s been pecking out suggesting a lot of very recent activity.

Steve headed in for a closer look. Wish he had bought his good camera but in this case the handy iphone will have to do.

Getting ready. There’s a lot of power behind that hit.

They also carve out the distinctive rectangular hole quite purposefully. We watched him at times pecking from the side to wedge out a loose shaving.

The male Pileated has an entirely red crest, and the female a dark forehead. The male also has a red stripe on his face that is missing on the female. So this one is we’ve been watching is a male. There was another nearby, probably his mate. Pileated Woodpeckers stay together as a pair all year round, and rarely tolerate others in its territory.

I decided I wanted a closer look and the Pileated and I began a little game of hide and seek. I wasn’t quite as stealthy so he moved around back and kept poking his head out to see if I was there.

Movie time!

Watching this makes my head hurt and would certainly give me a concussion, or kill me, if I tried to strike a tree with that kind of force. Scientists estimate that a woodpecker may strike the tree with forces greater than 1000 G’s, far more than a human can withstand. We can certainly learn some things from a woodpecker.

To begin with, their strong neck muscles diffuse the blow and a third eyelid protect their eyes.  A woodpeckers brain and skull and also specially designed to withstand the G forces. The brain is surrounded by trabeculae, tiny beamlike projections of bone that form a spongy bone mesh that protects the brain, and the brain fills the skull so there is no “sloshing around” on impact. There’s also a hyoid bone, which in humans it is found in the middle of the neck. In a woodpecker, this bone wraps around the skull to act as a seatbelt to keep it in place and further minimize the impact on the bird’s brain.  Even the beak itself helps in minimizing brain injury. While the outer beak appears longer than the lower, the actual bone structure of the lower is longer and stronger, sending much of the impact to the lower parts of the skull, away from the brain.  Scientists are continuing to study these amazing birds and hopefully learn from them to protect human brains who sustain repeated impacts, like football players.

Of course, I have to show one of my mom Peggy’s backyard photos.  This female (note the gray on the cap and no red cheek bar) was visiting her suet feeder. How lucky she is to have these spectacular visitors to her backyard.

Photos by Peggy

Photo credits:  most photos by Steve; last picture is a Photo by Peggy

A Hawk at My Feeders

As I was reading comfortably on the couch one afternoon, out of the corner of my eye something BIG went by the window. Now there’s always a gaggle of birds out there because of the feeder I have hung in that area, but they don’t usually make me think, “What was that!” Of course I have to investigate, hoping whatever it was remained nearby. It did!

A beautiful Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) had landed on the top of my feeder pole and sat there surveying the area. Presumably looking for food, but smartly everyone had scattered. He posed for a while so I could see his beautiful blue gray back and get a good look at his tail. The rounded tail is a pretty strong marker that it’s a Cooper’s Hawk and not the very similar Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) which has a straight, squared off tail.

Then it turned around so I could see it’s breast which was mottled rust and white.

It’s actually can be pretty difficult to tell the difference between the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Cooper’s Hawks tend to be larger, more the size of a crow, Sharp-shinned, more the size of a Blue Jay.  Cooper’s Hawks have a much bigger, distinct head in proportion to their body and look as though they are wearing a dark cap because of the light coloring of their nape. They are typically woodland birds, but are increasingly likely to be found in suburban areas.  Sharp-shinned Hawks nest almost exclusively in conifers and heavily wooded forests and are less frequent visitors to the suburbs.

A Cooper’s Hawks main diet is primarily small to medium birds and occasionally mammals like chipmunks, rabbits, mice, squirrels, and bats. They can be an unwelcome visitor to in a yard if they seem to have taken up residence because of the abundance of birds attracted to feeders. Removing the feeders for a few days should be enough to have them move on. But, honestly if having a hawk around  helped reduced the squirrel population, I may not mind having it visit occasionally.

Fortunately this one didn’t stick around long, although I know it lives somewhere in the area since it’s been to my yard a few times this winter.  Luckily, I saw it in the neighborhood over the weekend and could report it as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

After flying off the pole, it rested on a patio table, then moved on.

It was fun to see, but I hope I’m not providing dinner by attracting songbirds to my yard with feeders.

Wondering what I’m reading? See the latest list of books I’ve read (and liked) on the right.

Any Hawks in your yard?  Or a favorite book you’ve read lately?

 

This Was The Summer of Wasps!

This was our first summer in Door County, WI, so when the hornets and wasps appeared we thought it was normal.  Then more came, and everyone in line at the hardware store was buying wasp spray.  We had the normal small nests that appeared in the eaves and under the deck rail, and we seemed to be able to keep them in check.

But the mother ship was in the kindling box.

wasp nest

Early in the summer we saw a few wasps coming in and out of the box, but by midsummer it became apparent that we really shouldn’t open it any more until it got cold.  Fall came and it seemed like it was finally time to inspect what was going on.  What a treasure we found!

wasp nest

Because of how it had been built inside the box, we were able to pull the whole nest out intact and see some of the interior architecture.

This was the front.  Such beautiful scalloping and shades of color.  To the touch it was soft, papery and deceivingly strong.

wasp nest

wasp nest

The wasps entered from the canal at the top that spiraled down into the interior layers.

wasp nest

When the nest was pulled away from the box, it exposed some of the interior scaffolding where the young are hatched and food is stored.

wasp nest

wasp nest

Since this seemed so interesting, we dropped it off at a local nature center so all can enjoy.

wasp nest

I’m not entirely sure if this was a yellow jacket or bald-faced hornet nest, both of the wasp family Vespidae.  They are closely related social wasps and build similar nests.  There were just so many flying stinging insects around, I didn’t pay close enough attention to what was actually going in and out of the wood box.  We also had plenty of paper wasps, but they build very different types of nests.

After finishing our little nature exploration, we’ve had enough of raising wasps so the box was partially dismantled and used as frame to corral my expanding composting pile.

Want to learn more?  Here’s some useful links from local midwestern university extensions:

 

Happy New Year’s To My Backyard Birds!

Happy New Year! I hope this day finds you all well and looking forward to this new year. I’ve been away a bit from blogging, but one of my goals for this year is to keep up much better. So much has happened this summer and fall with great gardening and travel, so I’ll spend the winter catching up!

On to the birds

Like most people, I have a heck of a time finding balance between feeding the birds and feeding the pesky squirrels. I really love my squirrel-proof pole, but it’s only as good as your placement.

Stephi Gardens

In my case, for me to have it in a perfect viewing spot from the kitchen window, it is just too close to the tree. Since squirrels are quite the acrobats, the pole really needs to be at least 10 feet from any object than can jump from. BTW, I have never seen a squirrel successfully climb up the pole! Since I’m not willing to move it, I either need to put up with feeding the squirrels or try some other feeders or shields.

I tried the clear dome feeder covers and decided those were really only good to keep the finch socks dry. I tried tying shiny ribbons around the tree to distract the squirrels and that only made it look like trash had become trapped on the tree somehow. I also tried the Squirrelaway Baffle, which also got great reviews.  But, alas, my squirrels finally outwitted it 🙁  It did work pretty well with the suet feeder tucked up there, but regular feeders it was able to s-t-r-e-t-c-h and reach around to grab it.

My last attempt was to try some of the squirrel proof feeders. Since it was recently Christmas, I added a couple to my Christmas wish list. I also had a couple around that I dusted off.

Here’s what I’m trying:

Peanut Feeder– I’ve had this one a couple of years and the nuthatches and downy’s just love it. I’m not sure the brand, but I got it at a Tractor Supply Store.  No squirrels can get into it. But, the other day I must not have screwed on the top as tight as I should have since it was missing one morning. I found it quite a ways away from the pole, so someone had quite a feast!

squirrel proof peanut feeder

Sunflower Seed Feeder–I just put out this Perky-Pet Squirrel-Be-Gone®Wild Bird Feeder and hope it lives up to it’s name. If a squirrel gets onto it, the outer wire cage lowers and closes the feeder slots.

Perky-Pet® Squirrel-Be-Gone® Wild Bird Feeder

My only concern is the plastic tube. Hope my squirrels aren’t chewers.

Perky-Pet® Squirrel-Be-Gone® Wild Bird Feeder

The top seems really good and tight to keep them out.

Perky-Pet® Squirrel-Be-Gone® Wild Bird Feeder

My new suet feeder– I’ve really tried to used shields with my suet feeders and they worked for a while. Then this happened. Maybe I just didn’t figure out how to get the feeder hidden in their well enough, or I just have super smart squirrels. Either way a new approach was needed.

squirellbuster baffel

I’m now going to try the Stokes Select Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder. Seems to be well reviewed, so we’ll see. Looks pretty solid.

Stokes squirrel proof suet feeder

Stokes squirrel proof suet feeder

Black Oil Sunflower Feeder– And lastly, my new favorite! A Brome 1057 Squirrel Buster Standard Wild Bird Feeder. This seems to be everyone’s favorite brand, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it seems to be made. Comes with really good instructions in case you want to adjust the closure weight.

Brome 1057 Squirrel Buster Standard Wild Bird Feeder

Brome 1057 Squirrel Buster Standard Wild Bird Feeder

Brome 1057 Squirrel Buster Standard Wild Bird Feeder

I chose this one because it has perches that Cardinals seems to like. They were the trickiest to find a squirrel proof feeder for since they like to perch instead of cling. Worst case scenario, they seem to be happy with the spills.

So here we have it. All ready for the birds and hopefully will have outsmarted the squirrels.

img_1520

I’ll keep you posted!  How do you outsmart the squirrels?

P.S. To help keep the sparrows and house finches away from my more expensive seeds, I usually place a couple of other feeders farther away in the yard filled with a cheaper wild bird seed mixtures. That seems to keep them happy!

Chickens of Kauai: Good or Bad???

Chickens and Kauai. Not really two things I would have ever thought go together.

Kauai chickens

Hibiscus, beautiful ferns and gorgeous views, but not chickens. But they were everywhere.  I should have known something was amiss when there were chickens and roosters in the rental car parking lot at the airport.  We thought it cute and other than thinking it was odd, didn’t give it much thought.  Then they were in the garden outside our hotel room, and again thought they were a novelty.  That is until the rooster started crowing at the full moon around 3 am.  We were already a bit delirious from the jet lag and that just added to the fog we were feeling.

But off we went to explore the island.  We found this guy at the Iliau Nature Loop hike.

Kauai chickens

We were greeted when we left the car and actually escorted us down the trail a good ways.

Kauai chickens

We had another trail mascot hiking on the Cliff trail in the Waimea Canyon.

Kauai chickens

There were whole families on Poipu Beach.

Kauai chickens

The strong winds at Lydgate Beach didn’t blow them away.

Kauai chickens

At the Wailua River State Park overlook, the parking turnout was overrun and we were actually in danger of running them over…

Kauai chickens

…or having them try to jump in the car.

Kauai chickens

At Pu’u Poa Beach in Princeville, I think we were in this guys territory.  He seemed ok with us there, but when another rooster wandered too close he was none too happy.

Kauai chickens

Hey, this isn’t a chicken!  Finally got to see some Nene, the Hawaiian state bird.

Nene

So why so many chickens?  The story goes that “mua” or red junglefowl were originally brought to Kauai by the Polynesians when they arrived in Hawaii.  All seemed pretty much ok and in some kind of natural balance.  That was, until hurricanes Iwa in 1982 and Iniki in 1992 wiped out pretty much everything and released domesticated chickens into the jungles to mate with the junglefowl.  This resulted in the feral chickens we see everywhere today.  The problem is certainly compounded by the lack of any natural predators like the mongoose found on all other Hawaiian Islands.

They can be quite a nuisance.  Crowing at all hours of the night and day, scratching and damaging gardens and trees, leaving droppings everywhere and these feral birds are no good for eating unlike their ancestors. But on the flip side, they eat a lot of bugs, are important in keeping the nasty Hawaiian centipede in check and do provide entertainment, great photos and business opportunities for the locals and tourists.  Plus researchers at Michigan State are studying them to find ways to develop hardier breeds of domesticated chickens.

For more information Nature.com has a great visual and article.