Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Another Helping Paw...meet Bella

One of the most beneficial and valuable gifts
 we can give to ourselves in this life,
 is allowing ourselves to be surprised.

A few weeks ago we were graced with a visitor on our back deck. Thirsty, skinny and desperate for companionship this puppy stood by our back door for an entire afternoon and well into the evening. Our dogs smudged noses with the puppy between the glass door and the puppy scratched to be let in. I was really hoping she would go back to her home but late that night she was still here.

Hi! Can I come in please?
I made her a comfortable bed in the garage and vowed to search for her owner in the morning. We took her to the vet to see if she had a micro chip and have her looked at. No micro chip to be found and other than being skinny (you could count her ribs with your fingers) she was fine. I proceeded to contact all the area vets, the Humane Societies in all the surrounding counties, Facebook, Craigslist, local grocery stores and post offices and left her photo and information. Do you know what kind of response we got?...


NONE. How disheartening! This sweet puppy was not wanted. My thought was that if I had a dog missing I would be searching high and low for him/her. So, after a week and a half, and no one claimed her we decided to keep her in our home. 

What...you mean I can stay?!
After all, she gets along great with Sasha and Biscuit. She is still learning her place in the pack but that is normal stuff. 

Bella and Sasha

Bella and Biscuit

She plays beautifully with the kids too. And, is incredibly affectionate and oh so sweet!





We had her fully vetted and addressed some tummy trouble which the vet has sorted out now with special (read: expensive) dog food and some antibiotics. The vet estimates she is about 6 months old and boy does she have some big paws on her! 

She has fast become a member of our family.

Yippee! Kickin' my paws up to find new friends!
I never thought we would be owners of three [big] dogs but life is full of surprises and sometimes we just need to embrace the gifts that are put before us! Now, I just need to teach her not to eat the plants, dig in my pots or make holes in the ground...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Counting Birds

In the spirit of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen-science project sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I thought I would take you on a birds' tour of our garden.

Our resident red-shouldered hawk can usually be seen perched in one of the many trees around the garden. He blends into the winter landscape really well.

red-shouldered hawk

Somehow the song birds instinctively know that he much prefers a rodent over them because when he is hanging about the garden the birds are still very active at the nearby feeders.

red-shouldered hawk


I find woodpeckers much easier to spot in the winter when the trees are bare. There are several we see regularly including the red-bellied, red-headed, downy, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and Pileated.


red-bellied woodpecker

red bellied woodpecker

Of course that doesn't mean they are easier to photograph. Woodpeckers are constantly moving up and down or around tree trunks, tapping for insects or sap.

The Pileated woodpecker makes a very distinct tapping sound but is notoriously difficult to get in photos. The bird (or the photographer) is always on the wrong side of the tree.

Pileated woodpecker


The yellow-bellied sapsuckers are another migratory bird that are very active during the winter months in our garden. We usually see them perched on the side of trees drilling their signature rows of holes around the trunk to lap up sap with their brush tipped tongue.


yellow-bellied sapsucker (male)

yellow-bellied sapsucker (male)

They will also visit suet feeders and have a cache in trees like this male who was retrieving some black sunflowers seeds.

yellow-bellied sapsucker with seed

Another of our winter visitors is the hermit thrush. Typically we see them hopping around in the leaf litter searching for insects but they have visited the feeders often during our chilling temperatures. The snow, ice and sleet we got this week made it extra challenging for these birds to get food. Ground foragers can't scratch through the ice layer so I was sure to scatter seeds.

hermit thrush in snow

hermit thrush

White-throated sparrows are also temporary residents, winter through spring, when they migrate northward for breeding.

white-throated sparrow

white-throated sparrow in snow

The pine warblers are bright patches of bright yellow in an otherwise pretty monochromatic landscape. They look a little out of place in all the snow. But these little birds have been a ray of sunshine on our gloomy winter days.

pine warbler in winter

pine warbler

This weekend (February  14-17) is the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is super EASY to participate. All you have to do is...
1) Register at Great Backyard Bird Count website.
2) Count the birds you see for 15 minutes (or longer) on one or more days. Make your best estimate on the number of each species.
3) Enter your list(s) online at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/ Enter a new checklist for each day, location, or same day/location but different time.

Make your best estimate on the number of each species you see. Here is a grouping of cardinals at the edge of our woodland garden which I shot yesterday during our snow storm. How many do you see?

Cardinals in winter landscape

The GBBC website has bird lists by zip code or National Park/Forest, an online bird guide and tricky bird ID helps. There is even a photo contest for those who are interested in submitting their images.

Why is it important to participate? Well, this project collects data on our dynamic bird populations. The data helps scientists get a big picture look at the distribution and movements of bird populations around the world. It looks at how weather can change or influence these populations, changes in population numbers, changes in migration patterns, bird diseases affecting populations in certain areas, and differences in diversity in rural, natural and suburban areas.

But, most of importantly it is FUN!