Two out of three isn’t bad

>> Saturday, December 29, 2007

Birds and I have a pretty good working relationship. I feed them and they come around and eat.

There are also two bird baths available for their drinking and bathing pleasure. I try keep them cleaned and filled regularly.

The one missing element, in this otherwise garden of eden, is shelter. Shelter from the weather and predators and shelter for nesting.

There are two trees in my front yard, this large Catalpa tree, left photo, and a fairly full Dogwood tree, photo on the right, but there are many larger trees in the neighborhood that bear leaves all winter and therefore are far better suited for sheltering the birds that grace our humble part of this planet. And I have no intention to compete with these beautiful trees just to get birds nests built in my yard.

Here is a small example of these sheltering trees within my immediate vicinity.

There are several fruit trees in my back yard but they don’t provide the suitable shelter these evergreen trees do. As you can see from this photo taken last Spring, the apple tree, pictured here to the right, gets pretty full but I have never seen a birds nest in it.
The cherry tree doesn’t seem to be attractive to nesting birds either.

I don’t really have to have nesting birds in my yard. I suppose it’s just one of those ‘nice things to have’.

I feel fortunate enough to be able to provide these birds with at least two of their requirements for survival. And they seem to ‘appreciate’ it because they come back every day, rain or shine, or snow, mainly finches, chick-a-dees and doves. Other birds come in once in awhile, but my guess is they only come around when they can’t find what they want anywhere else. A family of Northern Flickers show up every winter for the suet. Dark-eyed Juncos also show up in winter for whatever falls from the feeders because they won’t sit on the feeders’ perches. Maybe the finches are too aggressive for them.

Nowadays I only put out sunflower seeds, because the birds throw every thing else onto the ground and it doesn’t get eaten.

Many people think there has to be a variety of plants to keep birds coming around, but I have found, as long as you have feeders, they will come.

So, as long as someone else is taking care of the shelter and nesting requirements for these birds, I am satisfied with two out of three.


Shifting climates provide good and bad news

>> Friday, December 21, 2007

Found this on ecoscraps blog

Climate Change Reflected in Hardiness Zone Maps

Woodrow Wilson of the Arbor Day Foundation: What the hardiness zone map clearly shows is that the climate has warmed, certainly since 1990 when the last USDA map was updated.

Kim Kaplan, spokesperson for the USDA, on the climate change reflected on the maps: It’s not the purpose of the map. It’s not good evidence. It’s not a matter of [whether] there is or isn’t climate change; it’s just that this isn’t a good argument.

Good argument or not there have been many instances where gardens in different areas of the U.S. are able to now grow plants that they once were not able to due to warmer climates. And this has been the case since as early as 2003.

Tropical plants like mangoes and orchids are growing in zone 7! This may be a boon to those gardeners but for natural ecosystems, significant warming could have far-reaching, perhaps disastrous, effects. According to recent research, many wild plants and animals are currently showing significant responses to rapid climate change.

A January 2003 paper in the journal Nature analyzed 143 separate studies on how global warming might be affecting the physiology, behavior, and evolution of wild species. Coauthored by scientists from NASA and Stanford University, among others, the paper concludes that consistent temperature-related shifts have already taken place in organisms ranging from mollusks to mammals and from grasses to trees.

These shifts include flowering and leafing out are taking place earlier in the season. Also, animal migration and egg laying is taking place earlier than normal. As more plants extend their growth range poleward and upward in elevation they bring with them their associated insects and diseases. However, don’t count on both beneficial insect and pest insect populations to increase equally. The history of our planet teaches us that during rapid climatic changes in the past, species showed differential movement. In other words, they reacted independently, rather than in unison, to the environmental stress.

Therefore, just because a particular habitat grew harmoniously two zones warmer than where you are doesn’t mean that it will in its new environ. For example, the pollinators needed for those mangoes or kiwis or orchids may not follow them to your area.

Another worry is that a new species introduced outside of its normal growing zone may become invasive where it wasn’t in its home growing zone.

On the flip side, there may be plants that can no longer grow in your hardiness zone. In a study published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, researchers show, using mathematical modeling, that the ideal climate for Cyclamen will become increasingly rare and might have totally disappeared by the 2050's. Some species of Cyclamen are adaptable enough and could survive climate change, but many would probably disappear.

The type of plants that have the greatest chance of extinction are those that require hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.

A common Great Plains prairie plant, the partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), could face severe reduction in numbers if climate conditions in the Midwest change to the extremes predicted for the next 25 to 35 years, according to a study to be published in the Oct. 5 issue of the journal Science.


On seed catalogs and weather

>> Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weather seems to be the big news item these days so I’ll start off about ours here in Utah. During the past week we have ranged from 16F overnight to highs in the upper 20’s. Clouds have been regular guests here with no signs of going away anytime soon. The humidity is pretty steady at 28-29%.

We got 3” of snow last Saturday and another 1” on Sunday. There is more snow predicted this week with possible rain on Friday. But we here in Utah have learned that predictions usually turn out to be wrong, or at least put off a few days.

With nothing much to do outside due to the cold, I am happy that I started receiving garden catalogs and it seems next years garden layout will soon need to be worked out. This year has flown by pretty quickly.

I feel fortunate that the garden beds and tools have been cleaned up last month and now the only thing hanging over me is planning for next year and seed starting.

I have a very small seed-starting operation which consists of a small folding card table under two four foot long shop lights. I can fit four seed trays on it, with a little overhang. The ambient room temperature in this little store room is around 60F and it was warm enough for most of the seeds I started last winter to germinate. I still feel the need to go over my notes and quiz the experts to determine what I can do to improve the germination rate. The heat mat was placed under the warm-season seeds, like tomatoes and peppers, and almost all of them came up. I still have some sterilized seed starting soil left from last year and a bunch of peat pots and trays so the supply situation seems to be okay.

I am happy with the overall size of my gardening landscape and plan on adding to it slowly and I keep having to remind myself that the gardens I see in my fellow gardeners’ blogs are more mature than mine as they have been at this a little longer than I have. This is the first winter for my perennial beds and as such I am anxious about how they will fair. It is both a test of the plants ability to survive temperature swings from teens to middle thirties that Utah is known for and it is a test of how well I have both interpreted what to do for their survival as well as what I have actually done.

In deciding what I want to plant this year I am a bit intimidated by what everyone else has accomplished. So many garden blogs I read show garden spaces that are much larger than mine. I have to restrain myself from going overboard and remember not to start more plants than what I have space for. But then I think, if I grow the plants then I will have to expand the beds for them. This could be a dangerous way to go and doesn’t fit in at all with my overall garden master plan. I have containers I could put them in until the bed is ready. Holding back and doing a little each year is the most difficult part of garden planning. So I will have to keep my seed order small.

As far as that planning thing goes, I had written down ideas over the past nine months of blog reading and recorded my ‘wish list’ on my computer. The problem is that I recently suffered a computer crash when my motherboard crapped out on me and I had not saved the latest version of my wish list. So, I have to rely on my memory, a scary prospect at best. All is not lost however, because in going through the garden catalogs I am sure I will be able to find something I want to plant, whether it fits in with my plan or not. I really do try to be disciplined, but I am making no promises.

Patience is a virtue, so they say, but spring is still way too far away.


My bird family

>> Sunday, December 2, 2007

I have been feeding birds that visit my yard since about one week after moving here in May of 2004. Everyday, rain or shine or snow, with the exception of the occasional vacation and mini-vacations we take, I have trekked out to all four sunflower feeders, one thistle feeder and two suet feeders and filled them all as needed. I have recently decided that I would like to place some native plants in my yard that will help feed these birds.

I feel an acute responsibility to these birds. In part because I attract them for selfish reasons. One is so they will help keep the population of insects down, another is because hearing their songs add so much to my general sense of well-being. It is very difficult to be depressed when birds are singing. I am not given to bouts of depression anyway, but you gotta love hearing birds singing all around you.

I am certain these birds could probably find food elsewhere, after all they survived here long before I ever showed up, but I also feel that if I did not attract them to my yard then I would probably have a big problem with insects. Of course, I don’t know how valid that fear is because I feed them everyday and I am not going stop feeding them just so I can find out.

The flock of birds I feed has grown tremendously over the time they have been visiting here, from maybe twenty or thirty to well over one hundred. Also, the diversity of birds has grown from those first few Finches to include juncos, doves, chick-a-dees, starlings, flickers, robins, hummingbirds, ducks, an occasional magpie, downy woodpecker, coopers hawk and blue-jay. The Blue-jay was a real surprise, because I haven’t found one map that shows they even exist in Utah. I have also seen some birds that I am unable to identify, but not very often. I figure they are probably just passing through.

When I first began feeding birds I would give them the standard wild bird mixture found at any discount store. It consisted of millet, sunflower seed, safflower, thistle, etc. It didn’t take long to figure out what these guys did and did not want. What they didn’t want was anything that wasn’t a black-oil sunflower seed. So, that is what I have been feeding them ever since.

That Fall I hung a second feeder as well as a thistle feeder for the goldfinches. It was weird how the other Finches never ate from the thistle feeder, but the goldfinches love it. During the second year I was visited by five or six Mourning Doves and each year their number has grown. Just this morning I counted 18.

There is a family of Northern Flickers that feed on the suet, usually only in the morning and only in Winter. I don’t know where they go the remainder of the year or in the afternoon, for that matter.

The Chick-a-dees, juncos and Coopers Hawk only come around in Winter too. The first year I saw only one Chick-a-dee and I have read that their numbers are decreasing due to humans taking over their habitat. But yesterday and today I counted five. It is fun to watch these little guys, they go to the sunflower tube feeder, grab one seed then fly back up to a high branch, hold the seed in their foot and peck at it to crack the hull open to get to the seed. Sometimes they go to the suet feeder and peck away to their hearts content, all the while looking around for any sign of danger. Also, they really like peanut butter. I place a big lump on a piece of stale bread and they will devour all of it in no time.

I counted six juncos and never more than one Coopers Hawk. The juncos will only eat off of the ground or from a large flat container of seed. I have never seen one at the tube feeders, maybe their feet won’t grasp the small-diameter perches.

Today I was able to catch this Coopers Hawk just as he flew into the Dogwood tree outside my office window. I heard all of the birds suddenly take off with a loud flurry of flapping wings and there the hawk was sitting, looking around, without the meal that he came in for. He sat there for about three minutes, allowing me to finally get a picture of him from the front. Previously I have only been able to get his back and from no closer than about 100 feet. This time he was sitting six feet away.

Starlings, well, they flock, boy do they flock! Yesterday I took this video of a very small number of them sitting in six trees. I have seen, literally, close a thousand of them almost blacken the sky as they fly in crazy patterns seemingly as one unit. When they all sit on telephone lines they remind me of a football stadium full of spectators. They will eat anything. And generally do. I have seen them hanging onto the tube feeder perches that are made for the small feet of Finches digging sunflower seeds out of the small holes.

What I can tell from the numbers of birds coming to my yard is that this must be the only place around where they can find food. Logic tells me that this cannot be the case, but I am blown away by their numbers.

I was reading Wild Flora’s Wild Gardening post of Nov 20 and she says that research into the habits of birds that visit bird feeders indicates that they use the seed we supply primarily as a supplement to other food sources. If this is the case then they must be eating quite a lot from somewhere else! I go through 40 pounds of black-oil sunflower seed every 12 days! In Winter I fill the feeders twice every day trying to keep their energy up so they survive the cold, and the feeders are empty when I go to them at night. At other times of the year I fill them only once and they are usually emptied by about 2 PM. I fear of making them too dependant on me for their food even though research again shows that they never really become dependant on backyard feeders. I don’t know if I can be convinced of this because they sure do eat at lot here.

After reading her blog I am even more driven to provide more of a variety of native plants in order to help feed these birds.

Now I need to learn more about Utah native plants.


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