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December Nature Study Wrap-Up

Our December was filled with birdwatching. We had some exciting new birds and lots of old favorites.

Here is my list and then a few photos:
December 2013

  1. Anna’s hummingbird
  2. White-breasted nuthatch
  3. Western scrub jay
  4. Oak titmouse
  5. House finch
  6. House sparrow
  7. White-crowned sparrow
  8. California towhee
  9. Spotted towhee
  10. Junco
  11. Bewick’s wren
  12. American goldfinch
  13. Lesser goldfinch
  14. Mockingbird
  15. Northern flicker
  16. House wren
  17. Nuttall’s woodpecker
  18. Mourning dove
  19. European starlings
  20. Hermit thrush
  21. California quail – heard but didn’t see
Spotted towhee
Junco
House finch
Thinking this is a Hermit thrush-first time we have seen this and only in the snow.
Bewick’s wren
Anna’s hummingbird – at least three still at our feeders in December

Now a little something to inspire you…

I also finished my December nature journal entry for the extraordinary in the ordinary and December Grid Study. I cut some of the squares from the grid and then used them on my journal page. This is a quick and easy way to create a record of a variety of nature observations in a month.

We are definitely building a snowman birdfeeder again…it was so much fun for us and for the birds!

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Snowman Birdfeeder-Huge Success!

Happy birds! We had large numbers of birds visit our yard during our snow days earlier this week. We had feeders filled with seeds and suet for them to enjoy. This time we had a special treat for them….a snowman birdfeeder!

We created a small snowman on our deck and made eyes out of sunflower seeds and then filled the top of his head with a handful of sunflower seeds. I saw this idea on Pinterest and have been itching to try it. It took a little while for the birds to find the seeds but once they did it didn’t last for long.

They ate the eyes and all!

The second day I refilled the spot on the snowman’s head and they came back again.

It was a simple and fun way to observe birds from our window. The birds didn’t care if our snowman wasn’t all that pretty.

I highly recommend trying this if you have snow in your yard. Snap a few photos and send one to me!

Join us for our Winter Wednesday series of posts coming in January 2014.
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December Extraordinary Things

We had a snowstorm that brought inches of glorious sparkling snow! I used the opportunity to see the extraordinary in the ordinary as part of last week’s Outdoor Hour Challenge.

Extraordinary Observations

I love the silence that comes from the snow. I was up several times in the night to watch the snow fall…there is something about the first snow of the year that makes it magical. This was the first time in a very long time that I didn’t have boys at home to go out early to enjoy the fresh snow. Times have changed.

The birds flock to our feeders just after a snowfall. They shelter in the shrubs and in the tree branches just beyond the feeders. They seem to come alive with the snow and every feeder is busy all day long. Finches, sparrows, juncos, jays, and even the hummingbirds come in numbers that I don’t see at other times.

I put out extra seed this morning and they still ate most of it up. I had to refill the hummingbird feeder the next morning…it had frozen overnight.


Cold air is invigorating. It is a smack in the face at first but then it stimulates many senses..the numbness of the nose and hands or the stinging tears that come from freezing air. The trees hold the snow until later in the afternoon and then as it melts it makes avalanches of snow underneath. One time I was bombed with snow on the head and it was cold!


The snow crunches and gives way under my boots as I tour the yard with the Kona dog and my camera. Kona thinks snow is fun and spends time chasing snowballs, eating snow, and generally racing around the yard in circles.


Colors are more vibrant and pop out from the white background. Reds, yellows, oranges, greens…all seem more brilliant in a snowy landscape. We gathered a few colorful items for a project that I will share later in the week…look for it.

December shared its snowy extraordinary side this week…just in time to share for this challenge. I look forward to hearing about your extraordinary in the ordinary observations. So much to be thankful for.

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Project Feederwatch and Autumn Birds

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Time for Project Feederwatch to begin for the season! I am ready to go this year and have me days planned for observing our feeders. It only takes a few minutes on two consecutive days each week to participate. If you miss a week, that is okay too…just pick up when you can.

Watch a video on how to get started.

I love weaving a citizen science project like this into our lives. We have several feeders we can see from our windows and keeping them filled with seed is easy. Those feeders become the focal point of our bird observations because for Project Feederwatch you only count birds that come to eat.

We have participated for the last two years and it is interesting to compare our numbers from year to year.

We are already seeing some of our winter residents arriving from their summer migration areas.

What are you seeing at your feeders this month? Are you anticipating the return of any birds to your feeders?

Here is what we had at our feeders this week:
Dark eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
House Finches
Anna’s Hummingbirds
Spotted Towhee
Western Scrub Jays
Titmouse
Starlings (in the trees, not the feeder though)
Goldfinches
White-breasted nuthatches

Plus a NEW BIRD!!!

This is the first time ever I spotted a Bewick’s Wren in my backyard! I was out trying to capture my Spotted towhee when this little guy caught my eye. He was flitting around in the shrubs and he ended up on the lilac branches in my butterfly garden. I wasn’t sure if I could get him because he was fast! But, there he is and the image is clear enough that I was able to go in and identify him using WhatBird? and AllAboutBirds.com. He is new on my life list and he will be going into my nature journal soon.

I will be sharing my bird lists each month and if you do the same you can drop me a comment and I will come and take a look.

http://feederwatch.org/

You may be interested in following my Nature Study-Birds Pinterest board!

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Garden Update – August Bonanza

Early morning in the garden is my favorite time to stroll the boxes looking for what treasures are to be found…you are welcome to view some images from the last week.  Above hangs my new birdfeeder, a gift from my husband and my gift to my backyard birds. They love this new feeder and I love that it is larger than  my last one so that means less times filling it each week.

Sunflowers and morning glories are the in the main box this year and they seem to like living together. The vines creep up the poles as well as the sunflower stalks and each morning I have a new blue flower waiting for me to enjoy.

This is the Mailbox Mix from Renee’s Garden and her heirloom collection. This is a winner in my yard!

The zucchini box is full of gorgeous plants and squash this year. We planted Renee’s Garden Tricolor Mix so we have dark green, light green, and yellow squash to enjoy just about every day.

Our tomatoes are starting to produce lovely red fruit and just a few at a time so we can enjoy them in our sandwiches and salads. Tonight…bruschetta!

Our fig tree has another crop of figs to pick. I am not a fig lover but I share with my friends and family that are…they love me for sharing.

Our pear tree has just a handful of pears this year but they are beautiful to look at and hopefully tasty to eat. Our apple tree dropped its apples last month which was weird. My sister said hers did the same thing.

I love the bright orange squash flowers and apparently so do the bees in my yard.

More squash to come!

My dad and I have both found that our green beans are not producing even though we have blossoms. My dad called Renee’s Garden customer service to see if they had some tips on getting our plants to set fruit. They suggested we add some fish fertilizer which I had on the shelf. I mixed up a couple batches and fertilized all my veggies in the garden so we shall see if it helps.

Someone had emailed me asked what I use in my garden for fertilizer so here is a photo of the bottle.

This is my dad’s flower garden which I am envious of. His lantana and dahlias are amazing! Up above he has his fenced in veggie garden which is producing lots of okra, corn, zucchini, eggplant, strawberries, and peppers. I have been helping him a bit in the garden since he had a fall last week and was not moving around too well. What a joy to help him in his garden.

These are just a few of his sunflowers which are Chocolate Cherry variety from Renee’s Garden.

I better stop there…so many garden delights this time of year to share with you. Until next week and the Tuesday Garden Party.

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Garden Flowers Close to Home – And More

This month our Outdoor Hour Challenge focus is on garden flowers and crop plants. There will be no lack of subjects to study this month right outside our front and back doors. As the spring weather warms up and we have abundant sunshine, I am eager to get out and start digging in the dirt. It was easy to check off a few of the Garden Grid Study ideas as went worked in the yard this weekend.

So I will give you a tour of some of the interesting garden flowers, crops, grasses, and bushes we have in our yard right now. Enjoy!

Heart shaped leaves…

My latest garden acquisition is this lovely, lovely lilac bush. If only you could smell the delicate fragrance of the flowers! I am hoping this is a winner in my sunny backyard. We planted it where it will have plenty of sunshine and room to grow.

We had this spot already prepared from last summer when it was part of my experimental veggie garden expansion…we weren’t all that successful so I decided that my beloved lilac would find a home here.

More heart-shaped leaves…

Here is my latest experiment….hydrangeas on the shady side of my house. I decided to leave them in pots to see if they survive and if they look like they are liking it here then I will plant them in the ground. The birdfeeder has now been moved to the other part of the garden where the squirrels might not find it for a bit.

Watched the bees in the flowers…

The backyard lavender is blooming now and the bees are busy already. You can never have too much lavender….or at least I think so.

Disneyland Rose

This is definitely the year of the rose in our area. All my roses are blooming and this one is my favorite…the Disneyland Rose. It has a spicy perfume fragrance and the blooms are peachy-pink. I cut this all the way to the ground last fall because it was an odd shape. I wasn’t sure if it would bloom well this spring but I have to say that I may just cut it all the way down every fall if this is the results. Awesome!

Look at those leaves!

This is another new arrival in the back garden. We have a super sunny hot spot up next to my backyard retreat. Nothing has been very successful here except the Jerusalem Sage. I am taking a chance with the Moonshine Yarrow and it has probably doubled in size since we planted it. I am hopeful that it will do well here.

These leaves are fuzzy and soft.

This is our Jerusalem Sage…I looked it up and it grows to be about 48″ wide. It needs very little water and it blooms long into the autumn season. I watered it three times a week last summer (the first summer) but now I am going to be only watering it twice a week and see how it goes. It looks like it is pretty well established. Where I live in Northern California, we get very little rain from June to November. Our first significant rain last fall was November 27th. Now you know why I use lots of drought tolerant plants in my yard.

So here is my surprise squash plant that is growing in the cutting flower garden box. I am not sure where it came from but I am going to let it grow since it seems so happy where it is. I did not have squash growing anywhere near this box last year so we will be surprised when it matures to see what it is exactly.

I had to include an image of my clover since we are focusing on Garden Flowers and Crop Plants this month for the Outdoor Hour Challenge. Clover is included in the Handbook of Nature Study so if you have some in your yard…take advantage of the nature study opportunity.

Our Smoke bush is so very pretty right now with its airy little blossoms that make it look like it has smoke. This has doubled in size since we planted it two years ago and I love the way it looks right now.

See the tiny little flowers? This is what makes it look like “smoke”. Later in the autumn the leaves turn a deep purple…love it!

One last image of our sage that is growing like crazy with our warmer temperatures and sunshine. This will be covered in delicate purple flowers during the summer…loads of bees visit these bushes in our front yard during the summer.

There you go… a visit to my garden, a few new things, and some close observation as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge. My boys helped me finish preparing the garden boxes and we planted seeds this weekend too so there will be lots more to come as the seasons flow by.

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Winter Garden for Wildlife – Part 2 Shelter

Winter gardening for wildlife allows our family to help sustain our local animal community during the long cold winter months when they are looking for their basic needs of food, water, and shelter. In my last Winter Garden For Wildlife post, I shared how we have structured our garden to help encourage wildlife to visit all year long. One of the vital components of a winter garden for wildlife is to create sheltering spots.This often means leaving a little “messiness” in your winter garden. With just a little effort and planning, you can be rewarded with daily visits from the birds and other animals who enjoy your winter garden.

Here are some ideas for you to use in your own winter garden oasis for sheltering spots —–
bushes, rocks, trees, arbor, leaf piles.

Spreading fallen leaves over your flower beds makes a place for birds to forage and other creatures to over-winter. I have observed the towhees and the juncos picking through the leaves looking for something to eat. We even add in a few of the smaller fallen branches to the pile which give additional spots for birds to perch and land under the feeder. If you have access to a few logs, making a log pile would be another option for a variety of creatures to use as shelter.

Rock Shelter for insects and invertebrates @HBNatureStudy

Our rock patches are the perfect place for overwintering creatures to hide in and under.I know there are insects of some kind living in these rocks….I have seen beetles. I also have observed that the Western scrub jays and robins poke around in these rocks which leads me to believe there are some tasty morsels in the rocks for them to enjoy.

large rock shelter mammals invertebrates @HBNatureStudy

Larger rocks allow for creatures to shelter from the winter temperatures and conditions. They seem to find all the nooks and crannies to squeeze into and to use as protection. I have even seen a few lizards out here on the big rocks…not my favorite creatures but still very awesome to see.

Vine Shelter for birds and insects @HBNatureStudy

Although we do prune back the trumpet vines and climbing rose twice a year, we leave it to grow over the winter to allow the birds to perch and shelter. Our main backyard bird feeder is just to the left of the edge of this photo and the birds will use these vines as landing spots on their way to and from the feeder. I have also seen the birds huddled inside the vines when the wind is howling away…they seem all snug tucked up inside. The littler birds escape the larger birds by getting up inside the vines…many layers of shelter going on in this spot of the yard.

Dried plant stem shelter for insects @HBNatureStudy

Leaving dry plant stems in the garden leaves a place for insects and spiders to shelter. I read somewhere that there are insects that will crawl into the hollow stems for shelter through the winter. I have not seen this yet but my eyes are on the alert!

Shrubs shelter for birds mammals and insects @HBNatureStudy

The shrubs and bushes in our yard provide the best protection from the rain and snow. I often will see birds tucked up inside the limbs of the bushes in our yard even in the hardest downpours. There are several spots in the lavender bushes that look like the image above where the birds have created a little hiding spot.

Planning ahead when you are finishing your autumn garden clean-up gives your winter garden a chance to provide the shelter your neighborhood creatures need to survive the cold and wet conditions of the season. Shelter from the wind, rain, snow, ice, and predators is a vital part of any winter garden plan.

 
Do you have any additional ideas for winter garden shelter for wildlife? 

You may be interested in reading this additional backyard habitat entry:
Making Your Backyard a Wildlife Habitat

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Garden Joy! Backyard Birds – Colorful Flowers

Western scrub jay in our walnut tree.
White-breasted nuthatch doing his upside down thing.
Scrub jay taking a bath in the lawn sprinklers.

We have had a busy week around the birdfeeders which always makes me happy. The birds are enjoying our yard, partaking in the plums, the sunflower seeds, the walnuts, the birdbaths, the sprinklers, and the various feeders. I sometimes get very distracted….especially when I pull the camera out and try to capture a few images.

We all love watching them and hearing their songs as we go about our day.

So far today, I have heard quite a few birds: American crow, California quail, Western scrub jay, White-breasted nuthatch, House finches, Anna’s hummingbirds, and our little titmouse.

The sunflowers are still going strong and my very first zinnia from the transplants my dad sent over is blooming! There is a whole row of zinnias just about to burst out in color! Doesn’t it make you happy to have colorful flowers in your garden?

I have to admit the garden is beginning to feel like autumn is coming…I have a bunch of clean up to do around the various boxes but it is still too warm to do it in the afternoon. I like to go out early and get it done while everything is still in the shade. No hurry though. Autumn will be here before we know it (matter of days!).

I managed to squeeze in another Tuesday Garden Party entry this year….

 

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Summer Bird Study – Hummingbirds

Hummingbird Feeder and Potted Plants
This is our busiest hummingbird feeder. They also like the flowers in the pots.

We love hummingbirds. I think we pay more attention to the hummingbirds in our yard than any other bird. They are constantly at our feeders, in our garden flowers, and flying around…front yard and backyard.

There are at least three in our yard at all times, competing for the feeders and flying fast. They sit in the trees and chirp at us when we eat dinner on the back deck. They are not afraid of us when we are out in the backyard and frequently will fly right up by us as we work in the yard.

They are year round residents.

What aspect did we focus on this time in our hummingbird study as part of the More Nature Study Book #4 Hummingbird Challenge? We started off asking questions about their feathers and how in a certain light they are very green and in then in another light they are bright red. What makes them iridescent? But then we got side-tracked asking why the Anna’s hummingbird chases the Black Headed Grosbeaks out of the seed feeders. I mean they are aggressively chasing them far out of the yard. Our field guide says they defend a 1/4 acre territory. We haven’t found the concrete answer to our questions yet but we have some guesses.

Also, we were fascinated this week by one hummingbird in particular. We call him “Flutter”. He has a unusual sound to his flying. Most of the birds have the familiar “hum” to their wings and the Anna’s Hummingbird make a clicking sound as well. But Flutter sounds like he has a bum wing…like it is not beating like the other birds. It sounds like a fluttering instead of a humming, if that makes sense. We have yet to catch him with the camera because our thought is that if we can take a photo and take a look at his wing shape, maybe he has some sort of injury.

One last thing to relate about our hummingbirds this week. I was out in the yard using the hose to water a few of the bushes since it has been extremely hot and dry. I had the hose in a fine sort of mist and in the shape of an arc. Well, a hummingbird decided that it was the perfect place to fly in and out as he took a bath! It was amazing to watch and I am hoping I get to see it again some day. Our hummingbirds are quite comfortable with us right now and they will fly right up behind you and visit the feeder even if you are inches from them.

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Gardening for Birds – Expect to Be Dazzled By Who Comes to Visit

Finch in the Sunflowers

Our garden and our bird list is very interconnected. The birds are coming and enjoying a variety of things in our garden habitat. I learned from Angie at Petra School that it takes about twenty minutes before the birds forget that you are watching. I have tried to find a spot to sit or stand in the garden and just wait to see who will come back during that twenty minute’s time.

The results?

I can confirm that she is right on! Usually after a few minutes the jays come back and the nuthatch and the grosbeaks come fairly quickly too. But some of the birds take a good long time before they reveal their hiding places in the trees and in the shelter of the bushes we have at the edges of our yard.

It is worth the wait. I decided that this week’s garden/bird entry would be a photo essay with lots of colorful images and very few words. Enjoy!

July 12 Garden and birdbath
Day lilies and our back birdbath

The birdbaths are a frequent stopover for the neighborhood birds.

July 12 Garden and birds (3)
Our little wild patch of blackberries just behind the birdfeeding station.

The blackberry bushes are a perfect shelter for birds to rest and to wait their turn at the feeder.

July 12 Garden and birds (9)
The leaves on our sunflowers are being eating by nibbling finches.

The sunflowers and birch trees are attracting the Lesser Goldfinches…who are eating the leaves and seeds.

The Black-headed Grosbeaks and the Western Scrub Jays are in and out of the feeders all day long.This is the best image I could get this week…they are fast in and out of the feeder. They have a sweet little song as well.The Mourning Doves and California Towhees are pecking around under the feeders.The White-breasted Nuthatches, House Finches, Titmouses, and House Sparrows are always found in the seed feeders.The European Starlings and Robins are busy eating the fruits from the neighbor’s tree that hangs over the fence into our yard.The birds are making a huge mess by taking the fruits all over the yard and eating them. They leave the pits behind and they are covering our driveway. This starling will leave the pit in our neighbor’s grass and next year it may start to grow into a tree. I know this from experience.

Hummingbird in the Butterfly gardenThe Anna’s Hummingbirds are everywhere. They still come to the feeders but they also are in the trumpet vine, the roses, the bee balm, the butterfly bushes, and several of my potted plants.The neighborhood Great Horned Owl is heard once it is dark and still outside. I envision him hunting the rodents that get into my birdfeeders.The mockingbird sings all the time…almost round the clock.

Additional bird notes:
We have heard the Steller’s Jay and their “shook-shook-shook” several times in our neighborhood but we have yet to see one. This would be a new to our neighborhood bird.
We have heard the Nuttall’s Woodpecker lots of time but only once in our back tree. I need to remember to fill the suet feeder.
The Starlings come everyday now which is new for this year as well. Their buzzing sound is now a familiar backyard bird sound.
The Black-headed Grosbeaks are also a new every day bird. Their flash of color at the feeders is beautiful.



Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!You may be interested in reading my entry, If You Build It, They Will Come, entry that shows the butterflies that are frequently found in our yard.What are you doing to make your yard attractive to birds and butterflies?

Sage Lavender Butterfly Bush
Sage, Lavender, and Butterfly Bushes
Fruits for the Birds
Not sure what kind of tree this is but it sure is messy…the birds love it though.
Starling Eating Fruits
Starling in our neighbor’s yard with a fruit from the tree.