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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Today's joys and sorrows

A sorrow this morning: outside the glass doors near our library, a dead downy woodpecker, evidently one that had flown into the sheets of glass. The dead bird was only a few feet from the fenced area where the children from the Early Learning Center were playing, and I hoped as I dashed to class that Maintenance would removed the bird before we had a group of traumatized toddlers on the playground.

Joys this afternoon: the squirrels were out in abundance in the neighborhoods in which I walked on a sunny afternoon. Birds were calling, though I don't have a good ear for winter birdsong and couldn't tell what kinds there were. Then, arriving home, I heard a chickadee and got to watch it as it took one seed at a time from the sunflower feeder and hammered it on the feeder pole. Anyone who isn't cheered up by a chickadee must be REALLY depressed.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A murder of crows

It's too bad that groups of crows got stuck with this unfortunate name. Crows are no more violent than most other birds and probably less so than squabbling house sparrows, though I will admit that they do prey on the nestlings of other birds (who prey on the larvae of insects, so they've no real right to complain). I suspect the term came from crows' scavenging habits, a human corpse on a medieval battlefield being just so much roadkill to a hungry corvid.

Today I was privileged to see entire fields of crows as I drove along Route 36 in eastern Ohio. All the corn stalks have finally been cut down, and every field had its complement of black birds, eagerly checking for missed kernels and late insects. I was hoping to see them rise in a great dark cloud and go swooping off into the sky, but no such luck. Crows are practical creatures. A cache of food and the company of a hundred or so of one's closest friends are blessings not to be ignored.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A favorite visitor

I don't know when I first became aware of tufted titmice, but they've been one of my favorite birds at least since I began bird gardening in the Nineties.What's not to like? They're readily identifiable, they're cute, and they have no bad habits that I know of. They're even easy birds to attract to ordinary yards.

Titmice are related to chickadees, and like their hyperactive cousins, they come readily to feeders, drawn to some of the same seeds favored by chickadees and cardinals, including the safflower seeds that deer, starlings, and English sparrows don't eat. Reducing seed expenses and the mess left by hordes of English imports is generally a good thing. (Of course, the unfussy titmice will also eat the seeds that everybody likes, as witnessed by this specimen about to make off with half a shelled peanut.)  
What is particularly amusing is their habit of selecting the largest seed they can find, flying to the nearest perch, and shelling it; no wonder they have to eat all day, with the energy they require.

 In the summer, titmice help to keep down the insect population, also a good thing. I learned recently that they prefer to nest in holes in tree snags, so the drill will come out next summer to create a few starter holes in the tall stumps left when we had to thin our yard's white pine population. As far as I'm concerned, the more tufteds, the better.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year

I'm guessing that most of the bloggers on the planet have engaged in some sort of New Year musings today, so here's my contribution. Our last few social gatherings have featured people's thoughts about what we want more of in 2012, and a constant theme is making more time for the things important to us. In terms of our mini-wildlife refuge here in 1950's suburbia, this means giving myself time each day to pay attention to what's going on outside. Today, for instance, we were busy getting ready for a social gathering (and then of course enjoying the gathering), so I didn't spend any appreciable time outdoors, though I did manage to notice a squirrel cleaning up the tray feeder on the ground and two blue jays calling back and forth.

While I'm not one for New Year's Resolutions (being too undisciplined to remember them for more than a few days, let alone keep them), I do have a few goals for Little Ranch on the Prairie (or what passes for prairie in West Virginia).
  • Actually start the seeds I collected from our plants. We have seeds for three species of native grass, butterfly milkweed, rudbeckia, silphium, echinacea, physostegia, and various asters sealed in envelopes, just waiting to be planted. Yesterday I actually ordered the Bio-Domes I've coveted for years, so these little seeds will have a place to start before moving to their eventual homes in a few months.
  • Put up the bluebird house a friend made for us for Christmas.
  • Find ways to get the pileated woodpecker to visit us again. I saw the gorgeous creature one afternoon in late 2009 and keep hoping it will return.
  • Get rid of more turfgrass in the front yard. We have a sandy, sunny area between the house and the street that right now is covered in bermuda grass, possibly my least favorite of all plants. This would be a nice place for a wildflower garden as the guest room window looks right out onto it. Surely the neighbors wouldn't mind a little bluestem and daisy meadow in place of bermuda grass that turns brown in the winter and whenever there's a drought?