Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Great Crested Flycatcher, A Bird of the Treetops

One day in late May, I stepped out onto our back deck and noticed a Robin-sized, olive colored bird flying in and out of a nesting box that the Carolina Chickadees had vacated a few weeks earlier. Upon closer observation I saw splashes of bright yellow. Who was this striking bird?  I desperately tried to take photos but it was shy and not ready for a photo op.  So I just sat and quietly observed through binoculars.

Over the coming days I identified this unmistakable bird as a Great Crested Flycatcher. Like several of our native birds, the Great Crested Flycatcher often builds its nest in an abandoned woodpecker hole; however, they are also the only Eastern flycatcher known to make use of nesting boxes. So here is where our story begins.

I watched this assertive flycatcher hunt high in the tree canopy. Sitting tight on a perch, waiting for insects to fly by within easy reach. A few beats of its wing, a graceful loop in the air, a snap of the beak and it would return to its post to wait for the next bite to come along. Although common(*) in Eastern woodlands it is rather inconspicuous, usually identified by its distinctive call rather than by sight. Fortunately for us it was nesting right out our back door so we delightfully watched this bird raise its young.

Both parents worked indefatigably bringing the babies insects. As the babies got bigger they got bolder. Sticking their heads out of the opening to investigate the world around them.This is when we really got our first good look at these young birds since our nesting box doesn't have a roof that opens.

There were four babies who survived and they would often fight for first rights to peer out the entrance.

Soon they were prepared to fledge the nest. Although we were not ready to say goodbye, in an instant they were gone. They will spend the rest of the summer high in the treetops so we may not seen them often but we've learned their loud wheeeep and I'm sure we will hear them frequently before they depart in the dead of night for the tropics where they will spend the winter. 

If you would like to attract the Great Crested Flycatcher to your garden mount a nesting box early in spring roughly 12 to 20 feet above the ground in an open woodland with clear flight paths to the box opening. Use organic methods in your garden so there are plenty of insects available to them. Create an edible landscape, for you and the birds, by planting fruit bearing trees and bushes such as mulberries, serviceberries, blueberries, grapes, and strawberries.

(*) according to the Audubon Society these birds could become vulnerable due to loss of forest habitat, but current populations are stable.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Taking Toronto by Storm

Toronto skyline from Music Garden
Toronto skyline from Music Garden

Toronto. Described as a world within a city. It is vibrant, diverse, friendly and interconnected with its various neighborhoods and culture. It has been more than thirty years since I've been to Toronto and it is a very different place from my memories. Last time I visited I was a college student coming over from Michigan to explore the restaurant and music scene. It was a hop, skip and a jump away and you could pass through the border simply with a photo id and a few answered questions. No passport required. It hardly felt like traveling to another country. Fast forward thirty years and it is a much different world. Passport, homeland security and customs are mandatory.

street scene along Toronto waterfront
street scene along Toronto waterfront

Walking through the streets of Toronto you can feel, smell and taste the diversity of this cosmopolitan city. Multiple languages being spoken at every turn. Bakeries and flower shops on street corners reminiscent of a European town. Lots of bicyclists commuting on the city streets and riding for pleasure along the shoreline. Neighborhoods with their Victorian and Edwardian style homes add loads of character to the city where ravines and parks are a very distinctive feature of the cityscape.

Dog waiting area at Brick Works, Toronto
The variety of dogs reflects the variety of Toronto dwellers

Tall glass buildings shape the skyline with 44 structures measuring over 150 meters high and the CN Tower, known as the largest free standing structure on land until 2007, towering over them all. Cranes are intermingled amongst the buildings, an indication that North America's fourth largest city continues to expand.

Toronto skyline from Wards Island
view of Toronto skyline from Wards Island

I had the privilege of touring this incredible city with fellow garden bloggers last week. And, let me tell you there is nothing better than discovering the life of a city than with like minded gardeners who are as passionate about plants as you are.

official Garden Blogger fling photo 2015
Garden Bloggers descend upon Toronto

Thanks to an outstanding team of local Toronto bloggers who arranged for us to explore the city from high on the rooftops to the bustling streets below. The four days were packed with garden tours from quaint, private gardens to large estates, botanical gardens, rooftop gardens, educational gardens, nature preserves, wildlife gardens and parks. You get the picture, we saw lots of gardens. But there is more. We also had buzztinis at the Farimont Royal York, an evening blog discussion with Gayla Trail from You Grow Girl, a container garden demonstration with the energetic Paul Zammit at the Toronto Botanical Garden followed by hors d'oeuvres, live music and dinner. It was fabulous. And did I tell you I tasted poutine? It is delicious and went right to my hips.

view of Toronto from Hugh Garner Co-op rooftop garden
view of Toronto from Hugh Garner Coop rooftop garden

This was the groups first international fling. Seventy Bloggers from the United States, Canada and England descended upon the city to learn what the Toronto area has to offer when it comes to gardening. But, the fling is as much about the people as it is about the gardens. I meet fellow bloggers in person, who I have known virtually for years. Others I got to know for the first time. This is an eclectic group of passionate gardeners, from professional landscapers and designers to garden hobbyists, horticultural experts, authors and tree connoisseurs. It was such a treat to look at the gardens through the eyes of other enthusiasts.

Garden photographers go to great lengths to get the perfect shot

While Toronto may have a much shorter growing season than I do in Georgia, it is very apparent that Toronto gardeners are enthusiastic about plants, landscape design, color, garden art, container gardening and supporting their local ecosystems. They have some of the most lush gardens I've seen in a long while packed with a fantastical selection of plants with bloom combinations I would never see here in the South.

Allium flowers were the signature plant of the fling

The non-stop touring of more than thirty gardens in four days as well as the fellowship of these bloggers/gardeners left me feeling inspired, rejuvenated, tired (but in a good way), schooled, and enthusiastic. Thanks to the remarkable team for putting on such a fabulous event. A shout out to the bus drivers and entertaining bus captains and very generous sponsors. A big hug to my fellow garden bloggers for such a welcoming experience. And  a very special thanks to all those who shared their stunning gardens with us.

One of our special garden tour guides
Over the coming weeks and months I will be sharing the gardens we explored and my first fling experience. I will intermingle posting about our garden here in Georgia as we move into the peak summer growing season. Our garden is teaming with wildlife, summer blooms lots of fruit and veg and there is much to share.

To read more about the fling you can visit the official fling blog here