Category Archives: Nature

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.

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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.

Interesting Plants of Kauai

While we were visiting Kauai, in addition to all the gorgeous Hibiscus there were lots of other interesting plants to see and learn about.  I wish I had more time to go plant exploring, but there was so much to do in so little time.  Here’s a little of what we saw.

Uluhe fern (Dicranopteris linearis)

This old world fern is widespread across Kauai and other islands.  It is a quick growing, thick and woody fern found on the sloping mountainsides.  It serves an important function to prevent erosion and keep weaker rooted weeds and invasive species to a minimum.  It is also one of the most dangerous plants a hiker can encounter.  It’s not at all poisonous, but aside from the the woody stems that will scratch the heck out of anyone trying to bushwhack through it, it’s growth habits can give a hiker a false sense of where a cliff side may be.  One step onto what looks like a soft mat of plant growth, can turn out to be a nasty fall down a cliff side.  It’s new growth continues to grow on top of any plant, including itself.

Uluhe fern

Uluhe fern

In areas where it’s been sheared, it’s easy to see all the dead growth underneath.

Uluhe fern

Strawberry Guava (Psidium cattleyanum)

Strawberry Guava

Strawberry guava is native to Brazil and considered a very dangerous invasive species in Hawaii.  Like many invasive species, it interferes with the native ecosystem and is exceedingly hard to eradicate.  On the positive side, the deep, red ripe fruits are edible and can be used for juice, jams, or just a tasty treat on a hike.  I did try a few, but maybe mine weren’t quite ripe since I thought they were little tart.

Iliau (Wilkesia gymnoxiphium)

Iliau is an ancient plant only found on Kauai.  We came across it on the Iliau Nature Loop trail, a pretty hiking trail on the scenic drive through the Waimea Canyon.  Even if you only have a few minutes on your drive, this 0.3 mi scenic loop is well worth doing.  Placards along the path describe many of the native plants you’ll find in this unique ecosystem.  On the plaque at the beginning of the trail, the trails namesake plant the Iliau, is described as an ancient member of the sunflower family.  It is a monocarpic plant, meaning it will only flower and bear fruit once, then it dies.  It lives an average of 2-10 years, and the spectacular flowers can be seen from May to July.

Since we were there in August, we didn’t see any flowers, but the leaf stalks were nonetheless interesting.

Iliau (Wilkesia gymnoxiphium)

There were also plenty of seed stalks rising up across the horizon.

iIlau (Wilkesia gymnoxiphium)

In addition to the plants along the way, the views of the canyon were just breathtaking.  We were lucky to have a relatively clear day.

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At least depending on the direction you are facing 🙂

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There were also plenty of “tree orchids” to add color just about everywhere.

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At dinner one night we had enjoyed this window box growing pineapples and crotons.

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When in Hawaii is there anything better than a real flower lei?   We got to make our own and learn about some of the customs associated with the tradition one afternoon while hanging out at the pool.  Mine was made from the very fragrant plumeria, but unfortunately it didn’t stay fresh very long.   Still smelled wonderful anyway.

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There was plenty more to see and enjoy, but these were some of my favorites and most interesting!

 

Hummingbird Nectar

Perky Pet hummingbird feeder

 

Once you’ve filled your yard with pollinator friendly plants and a hummingbird feeder, you need to make some nectar to put in the feeder.  It couldn’t be easier!

 

 

 

 

Recipe:
hummingbird nectar
1 part granulated sugar
4 parts water

Bring to a boil and boil for 2 min (longer can make it too concentrated).
Cool before filling feeder.

 

I've had this spoon forever, seems appropriate when making hummingbird nectar :)

I’ve had this spoon forever, seems appropriate when making hummingbird nectar 🙂

So for example, you want to make just enough to fill the feeder, use 1/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water.

To make enough to store for a week or so, use 1 cup sugar and 4 cups of water. Store leftover in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

Things to remember:

Change the food every 2-3 days, sooner if it appears cloudy.

Boiled and cooled nectar can be stored 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator.  If it begins to appear cloudy, or develops brown spots on the container, toss it.  It’s either fermenting or growing mold and will be harmful to the hummingbirds.

No need to add red dye.  Red on the feeder is enough to attract them and the dye may be harmful.

Never use honey, brown sugar or artificial sweeteners. Honey and brown sugar are not able to be digested properly and honey can be toxic. Hummingbirds are never on a diet, so they need the energy provided by real sugar.

Keep the feeder clean. Buy a bottle bush and scrub it out each time you refill the feeder.

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It may take a little while for these fun little friends to find your feeder, but when they do, they will be back as long as you provide them fresh food.  Seeing that they feed every 10-15 minutes to keep up with their calorie needs, they’ll be back a lot!

Hummingbirds and Monarchs

While I’ve planted a lot of flowers and plants that attract pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies at home, my WI garden is much more natural, but equally full of attractive plants.

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This wild columbine at the woods’ edge is a natural attractant, while other native and cultivated flowering plants can be found in the garden.

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Continue reading

Welcoming Pollinators to the Garden

Every year I wonder if any pollinator friends will visit my gardens.  I usually can count on the bees arriving early, but how about butterflies, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths?

sphynx moth

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe)

I’ve tried to plant mostly pollinator friendly flowers and over the years I’ve seen a steady improvement in the number of pollinators in my yard.  Bee Balm, Phlox, Petunias, Snapdragons, Hosta among others.

Bee Balm Continue reading

Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)

This past spring while wandering my Door County, Wisconsin woods, the ground was covered with beautiful, light green leaves.

Wild Leeks

I knew it wasn’t trout lilies, since the leaves weren’t mottled, but I also knew it looked familiar.  Without a flower, I wasn’t sure what this plentiful plant was.  I sent a photo to my expert and she instantly answered “Leeks”!   My mom went on to remind me when I was a kid, we had people who would pull off the road near our cabin in Western NY and scramble around in the woods harvesting them.  I knew I had seen them before.

Wild Leeks

I did a little more research and realized I had a little foodie gold mine back there in the woods.  Wild Leeks, or Ramps,  (Allium tricoccum) have a sharp flavor, similar to an onion or garlic and come into season in the early spring.  You can recognize them by their smooth green leaves that emerge from the ground, with a hint of purple on the lower stem.

Wild Leeks

You know for sure you have ramps, when you break a leaf and you can distinctively smell onion/garlic.  No smell, no eating!!

I had never used them before, so I harvested just a little to try out in a couple of recipes.  Wild leeks are actually endangered or rare in many areas because of over-harvesting and they are hard to cultivate.  Rule of thumb to maintain a healthy patch is to only pick 5-10% of a patch, or harvest only the leaves.  To harvest, it’s easiest to use a trowel and loosen the dirt to make it easier to pop out the bulb and greens as a one.  Or, just have a clean shears to trim off the leaves and leave the bulbs behind.

Wild Leeks

Once I picked what I thought was enough to try in a couple of recipes, I left the rest alone to grow and be healthy for many years to come.  I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat them right away so I chose to freeze them for later use.

To freeze, first clean off the dirt, peel off any slimy outer skins and cut off the root end.

Wild Leeks

Oh, they look so delicious and the house smells so tasty. I then cut off the white bulbs and and put them directly into a freezer bag.  The greens I blanched for 1 minute in boiling water, plunged into ice water and then placed in a separate freezer bag.

blanching wild leeks

Wild Leeks

Once things had settled down a bit, I finally was able to get them out of the freezer to try.  I decided a Wild Leek Risotto was a good place to start.

Wild Leek Risotto

Using a tasty recipe for Wild Ramp Lemon Risotto from DOC  from The Kitchn, I made my first recipe.  Yum, is all I can say.  What a perfect low sodium side dish for some grilled Copper River Salmon.

Wild Leek Risotto

I still have enough for another meal and I have a bunch more risotto options to try. Check out my Pinterest site for some wild leek/ramp ideas.

Have you tried any foraging foods this spring?

BTW, the two things that are easily confused wild leeks are Trout Lily and Lily of the Valley.  Trout Lily have mottled leaves and white or yellow flowers that will appear at the same time and do not smell like onions.  Lily of the Valley are toxic and have two or three leaves on one stem, come up later in the season, and DO NOT SMELL LIKE ONION. As one who is not keen on foraging, I can attest to the fact that wild leeks smell like onions/garlic and lily of the valley do not.  Use that as your guide and all with be fine and delicious.

Now I’m ready to try out my garlic scapes.

Checking On the Bird’s Nests

I was able to get back up to our cabin in Door County sooner than I thought and checked on the Black-capped Chickadees nest in our nest boxes.   In my previous post, Who’s In My Nest Boxes, I discovered that chickadees had laid their eggs in the boxes intended for bluebirds.  In the first box there were 6 eggs and the second 11!  I was a little nervous that the older 6 eggs might be too close to becoming fledglings, but I was pretty confident they were still young enough not to make a too early dash from the nest.  So I took a quick peak.

This was just the epitome of cuteness!  Six little immature chickadees.  Mom and Dad were none too happy, so I quickly let them be and didn’t disturb them again.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

The other nest was not as far along.  They are clearly newly hatched and instinctively looking for food.  There were still some eggs in the nest and I’m not sure those will hatch or not.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

Black-capped Chickadee nest

To give you an idea of just how tiny these hatchlings are, I took a picture from the front of the box to give you some scale.

Black-capped Chickadee nest

I also have two other birds nesting on the house.  Not near the house, but actually on the house.  On the front porch is an Eastern Phoebe nest.  It’s not uncommon for them to nest in this kind of location.  They often nest on eaves or ledges on structures.  I remember when I was a kid, we came to our cabin one weekend and a Phoebe had made her nest right on the door frame and we couldn’t open the door.  We were able to create a shelf for the nest and the mom didn’t seem to mind at all.

Eastern Phoebe nest

Eastern Phoebe nest

To keep off the nuisance birds, the previous owner had put a nail board up. Apparently, the Phoebe didn’t seem to mind.

Eastern Phoebe nest

The parents can always be found nearby.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Then just recently a Robin has set up house under the elevated back deck.  I discovered it first by walking out on the deck and scaring her off the nest right below my feet.  Scared me too!

Robin nest

Robin nest

Certainly a lot of excitement from the birds!  Do you have any nests you’re watching?

 

Who’s in My Nestboxes?

A few weeks ago I wrote about putting up two bluebird nestboxes at our Wisconsin cabin in “Putting Up Eastern Bluebird Nestboxes“.  I couldn’t wait to come back and see who might have moved in!

We came back up two weeks later and checked out the boxes. The first one clearly had a new resident, but it wasn’t a bluebird.  After a little investigation on the sialis.org website, I figured out it was a black-capped chickadee nest.  Not a bluebird but definitely a keeper!

chickadee nest

5/7/16 Base layer of chickadee nest in Box #1

Black-Capped Chickadee nests can take up to 2 weeks to build.  The base layer is coarse material like moss, pine needles or bark.

chickadee nest

5/7/16 Nothing yet in Box #2

Then it’s lined with softer materials like animal fur, downy plant fibers or feathers.  The nest cup is about 1 inch deep and found towards the back.  Sometimes they can even cover the cup to hide the eggs as they are being laid.

The next day some of the softer material was being added to house #1

5/8/16 The next day some of the softer material was being added to  Box #1

chickadee nest

5/8/16 and maybe someone is starting a nest in Box #2!

We left for a couple of weeks, so very curious what we’d come back to…

Chickadee eggs

5/27/16 Six eggs were laid in Box #1

Six little tiny eggs were in nest box #1!  These little eggs are only about 2/3 in x 1/2 inch in size and typically 6-8 are laid.  They are laid 1 per day, and then the female lays on them starting the day before the last one so they all hatch within 24 hours.  Incubation lasts 12-13 days.

chickadee nest

5/27/16  Looks like a finished nest but no eggs yet in Box #2.

Box #2 looks ready for eggs, but nothing yet. But boy was I fooled!  I went back to check on them the next day and this is what I found…

5/28/16 This little momma has been busy!

5/28/16 This little momma Chickadee has been busy!  I count 11 eggs in Box #2.

There must have been a little nest plug over them when I peeked in the day before.  She’s going to have her work cut out for her with all those eggs.

Depending when I get back, I may or may not check on them again.  The hatchlings will spend almost 2 weeks in the nest being fed mostly by the male at first, and then equally by the male and female as they get older.  They typically fledge on day 16, but they are very prone to early fledging if disturbed after day 11.  I definitely don’t want to do that!

On one visit I had a little fun sneaking up on the #1 nestbox.  It’s always a good idea to tap on the house when checking, otherwise you might get a bird right in the face 🙂

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

Then off she went to a nearby tree to tsk me.

Mother’s Day Flowers (A Little Late)

Hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day last weekend!  I meant to get this post out earlier, but my week got interrupted picking up one of my boys from college. A trip that included a flat tire and some nasty storms.  But I have my boys home from school so all is good!

I spent last weekend in Door County, WI enjoying the great weather by taking a wonderful spring hike at the Ridges Sanctuary and bike riding on the Sunset Trail in Peninsula State Park.  As if Mother Nature knew it was Mother’s Day weekend, the spring flowers were all abloom.  It’s been years since I’ve been out in the woods in the spring and after this spring, I don’t think I’ll miss another.

The two places we visited were only a few miles apart, but they are quite unique habitats.  The Ridges is a unique boreal forest, more like a Canadian forest, and made up of ridges and swales created by the rising and receding Lake Michigan shoreline. Peninsula Sate Park is a combination of second growth hardwoods, mostly maple and beech, and northern white cedar along the bluffs.  These two areas lend themselves to quite different types of flowers.

At The Ridges, because of the cold Lake Michigan breezes, things are a little slower in blooming.  But the early bloomers were out like the Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) in pink and white.

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

I was so surprised to see a Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). Even without the blooms, this carnivorous plant is easy to identify.

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This tiny iris, Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris), is unique in that it is only found in the Great Lake Region, and almost only in Michigan except for a few colonies elsewhere including the Door Peninsula.  It’s preferred habitat is sand or thin soil over limestone rich gravel or bedrock and, as in the case here at The Ridges, commonly found on old beach ridges of former shoreline of the Great Lakes.  The Dwarf Lake Iris is listed as a threatened species by the federal government and the state of Wisconsin.

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Some of my favorite plants are club-mosses, and plenty could be seen now that the snow and ice was gone.

Spinulum annotinum (Stiff Club-moss)

Spinulum annotinum (Stiff Club-moss)

Dendrolycopodium obscurum (Tree Club-Moss)

Dendrolycopodium obscurum (Tree Club-Moss)

Lycopodium clavatum (Running Ground Pine)

Lycopodium clavatum (Running Ground Pine)

After exploring The Ridges, we took a bike ride on the Sunset Trail in Peninsula State Park.  A very different kind of forest and so the flowers were also different.  The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) was out in full glorious bloom!

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The Large-flower Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) always look like they are droopy and in need of some water.

Large-flower Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)

Even though the Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica) is a non-native species, but one that is almost universally enjoyed.  Such a pretty spray of blue covering the woodland floor in the spring.

Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica)

Lastly, the Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), part of the Buttercup family, could be seen in some of the more open spaces of the forest.

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Have you been out enjoying the spring flowers?

On a personal note, sometimes life throws you curve balls and a very dear friend of mine has been thrown the worst kind.  She has been one of my blog’s biggest supporters, and I so appreciate her encouragement and support, and her friendship all these years.  I just wanted to say thank you, and tell how much she’s loved by all her family and friends.