Archive for June 2009

Looking Out for Mom

June 30, 2009

I hung my first bird feeder from the eve outside the kitchen window because it was an easy spot to reach. The fact that I can check out who visits it from the kitchen is an added benefit.

But I wasn’t watching the feeder this morning. I was watching the deck railing. Spread out along the eastern length of rail, closest to the feeder, were the remains of half a dozen egg shells. I had baked them lightly in the over to kill any bacteria and then put them out first thing in the morning.

The idea is that female birds with young need the extra calcium in the shells to replenish after laying their own eggs. I’ve been told that most of the birds that visit the feeders are males because the shyer females hang back.

I didn’t have to wait long. Two little brown finches landed on the corner of the railing. One stayed there while the other flew over and landed next to the piece of shell furthest out on the railing. Daintily she picked up a bit and ate. She ate a few more pieces while the waiting one chirped at her.

Finally she took off in the direction of the feeder. She flitted around it a few times until a space opened up then landed just long enough to grab a seed. She flew back to her waiting fledgling and pushing the seed into its gaping beak.

Then they flew off and I had to get ready for work. By the time I left the house, all the shell pieces were gone. So which came first? The chicken, the egg or the finch?

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Easy Weeding

June 26, 2009

Why learn a lesson once when you can learn it twice? That thought came to me as I was out in the front yard, kneeling the dirt, weeding. I’m not obsessive about getting every weed but salal really looks prettier with stonecrop or fern arching gracefully over it that it does with grass sprouting in it.

Salal taken by Ric Brewer Woodland Park Zoo

Salal taken by Ric Brewer Woodland Park Zoo

There are five things that are especially prone to showing up unwanted. One is stink weed, all furred leaves and red, smelly stems with a knotty root in the middle. Then there’s a spindly little weed with pink flowers that breaks off at the ground if you try and pull it. It must be dug out. Next is a dark maroon, small leafed clover with tenacious spreading roots. Fourth is a tall long, leaved plant with tiny yellow flowers that pulls out pretty easily taking a lot of dirt with it.

Last, but be no means the least annoying, is grass. Since the yard is all landscaped, the grass is coming in as seed. It has a knack for coming in right in the existing plants rather than the spaces in between.

So there I was, gently shoveling up plants and pulling the long white grass roots out of the root ball trailing the actually grass stalk and then replanting. And I thought back to the one month last summer when the front yard had been without grass and spindly pink things.

I had experimented with spreading corn gluten. It is one of those things that sounds too good to be true. It prevents seeds from sprouting, which means no invasive plants carried in by the wind and birds. It is harmless to wildlife of all kinds. And it nitrogenates the soil so it is a fertilizer. Even better it only takes a few minutes with a spreader to lay out.

I had spread some in August and the beds had remained blessedly free of grass and other weeds for the rest of the summer. Then it got cold and none of the unwanted species come in during the cold.

So why was I out there for hours liberating plants? Because I didn’t reapply the stuff this spring and the weeds and grass were back with the warmer weather.

I think I’ve learned the lesson. If I have just ten minutes, put down corn gluten. Prevention beats hours of digging and separating!

Crow baby

June 23, 2009

I should have known what was up right away. Sure it was barely six in the morning but I had already walked around the lake. I came up my street and as I crossed to my yard they hit. There were three of them and they didn’t make a sound, not at first anyway. One, then the second and finally the third flew over my head, each successively closer until the last brushed my hair with its claws.

I ducked and ran around the side and in the back. The crows, staying behind on the wires and branches crisscrossing the air space of my front yard let out their usual morning cacophony raised a power of two.

Adult Crow by Ric Brewer Woodland Park Zoo

Adult Crow by Ric Brewer Woodland Park Zoo


I didn’t think about it again until I got home. There was a note from a landscaper who was putting in my new walk saying, “There’s a baby crow on the ground in the front. I put it up in the cherry tree.”

Well that explained the aerial bombardment. I looked out the front and there is was, sitting in the crook of the cherry tree. It seemed a little listless. I decided that it must have fallen from the big Douglas fir on the parking strip during the unseasonable wind storm the night before.

It made the bird equivalent of mumbling noises and bobbed its head. It didn’t seem that small for a crow but something was off. It took me a few minutes to figure it out. The tail was too short. It turned sideways and then I could see the white band along the end of it. Also, its beak is light gray, not black at all.

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The baby is back on the ground. It is hiding out in between the Ribes and the Epimedium. The adults protecting it seem to have decided that I am safe. I have been able to go out and return, even with the dog in tow, without molestation. I am the only one. The neighbors on both sides are still getting attacked. Adina brought the cat in for the duration after finding him cowering on the sidewalk beneath an onslaught of at least five angry crows. Puck is a wimp it seems.

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I saw one of the adults feed the baby today. I was on the porch leaning against the post and watching the baby as it hung out near the Japanese maple. It was squawking and I could see the cherry-red inside of its mouth whenever it turned my way. The adult landed on the wire and looked around. Then it flew down and shoved its beak into the baby’s open mouth. It poked at the young one some and then took off.

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The baby is trying to figure out how its wings work. It was standing on a piece of cobble edging in the bed maybe three inches off the dirt. It would spread its wing and rock back and forth. Before falling on its face, it would pull the wings back in tight. The tail is lengthening but is still short, too short to balance the chest and head yet I guess. The white is almost covered in black.

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The baby is back in the crook of the cherry tree again today. It must be flying at least short distances. I was sad to have missed it.

A little later I heard it screeching so I looked out the window. It was out further on the branch. It spread and then pulled back its wings a few times like it was getting up the nerve. Then with a loud caw it launched across the branch, flapped a few time making it into the pine tree. It’s belly brushed the cherry tree branches some as it went and the cry ended in a strangled gurgle as it landed hidden in the pine.

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That was fast. The baby was up on the wire this morning. It is unsteady in its landings. There are always two adults with it. They tag team between trees and rooftops. One adult flies ahead and caws until the fledgling follows.

I have a whole new respect for crows. At least five adults protected the baby for over two weeks. Tough enough in the next, it must have been really daunting on the ground. Cats, cars and other threats are so much closer. Or maybe I am just feeling benevolent because they decided I wasn’t a threat and let me in and out of my house!

A Special Visitor

June 19, 2009

The birth of an obsession? Such a little thing. I was sitting out back reading when I heard the oddest whirring sound coming from near the maple. I almost didn’t see it, sitting near the top of the tree almost hidden between sun dappled leaves. It was a little shimmery green bird. It’s head flicked from side to side searching. Then, a little jewel hurled from a sling shot, it was down below in the salvia. It stayed for quite a while seeming to sip from every blue bloom on every arching stem before taking off over the fence.

Female Anna's Hummingbird by Dale Unruh of the Woodland Park Zoo.

Female Anna's Hummingbird by Dale Unruh of the Woodland Park Zoo.

So there really are hummingbirds in Seattle. I had heard that there was a significant population of them in nearby Woodland Park but had never seen one in my yard.  It seems that I have inadvertently made an attractive spot for them.

I moved the maple last winter. When I moved into the house, the tree was planted in the deep shade out front less than two feet from the side of the house. It was leaning precariously searching for sun. I expect its roots were working their way into my hundred year old foundation.  Now in the sun out back, shaded slightly from the hottest sun of the day by the cedar across the alley, it is thriving.

That left an empty back corner, shielded from the rest of the yard and in hot sun most of the day. I planted the salvia, a large variety that grows to three feet tall and is very drought tolerant there. It has been blooming for weeks now with no sign of letting up and has not required any supplemental water.

I was so excited that I spent several hours online looking up hummingbirds and their habitat. Bell shaped flowers like the salvia are what the little birds feed from. I read somewhere that they never stop flying but obviously that isn’t true. The high spot in the tree gave this one a safe place to rest and scope the surrounding area for flowers.

From now on, as I slowly upgrade the landscaping, I will consider the local wildlife as I make my plans. I am going to document what I do in the yard and who visits in this journal.