Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Our Own Weather Vane

Our Own Weather Vane

This has been a very strange year, weather-wise. April showers happened more in May.   We hear about intense thunderstorms and severe drought conditions in California. Snow fell in the Great Lakes and the Northeast while Alaska is experiencing record warm temperatures. Now the northeast is expecting intense summer heat in the middle of spring.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) National Weather Service map said predictability was low. Weather predictors on the news are often wrong. Each day seems to be a guess as to what we’ll find; we need to be flexible enough to deal with it.

Weather change is probably an apt metaphor for life in general. Sometimes the sun shines brightly for us, sometimes it rains on our parade. We can prepare for what life brings us by caring for ourselves. When we feel frenetic, it’s a good time to stop and take a few deep breaths before continuing on. We can plan for what we see coming but allow ourselves to understand that things may change. We might take time out of our busy days to take a walk or to exercise or listen to our favorite music, to dance, to smile. Let’s set our inner weather vane to predict a good life whatever it brings our way.

What’s going on with the weather?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Wanted - Squirrels

Wanted – Squirrels

Squirrels are smart. They are inventive. They are pesky. Especially when it comes to planting time. They jump on flowerpots, skitter between newly transplanted bushes, and worse, they eat everything we put in the ground. We have never have peaches mature on the tree before those little creatures get to them. I find semi-ripened fruit lying on the ground with one bite taken from the still-hard flesh. I tried placing a covering around the tree but when I saw the holes bitten through the material, I gave up.

We had to put screening around our vegetables in our handmade greenhouse to keep the squirrels away, not that they don’t try to get in. Occasionally we’ll find a tomato just outside the enclosure with the usual single bite taken out of it. Then we tighten all the edges that might have allowed the invasion and hope for the best.

I have no problem co-existing with the local animals – chipmunks, rabbits, groundhogs - but squirrels seem to have trouble coexisting with us. They want it all. I am not the only one who complains about them. One of my friends who had the most beautiful vegetable garden gave up planting because of the work it took to keep the squirrels at bay. Someone else offered peanuts in the shell to the local critter but when she was late with the offering, the squirrel actually knocked on her back door!

They are brazen garden thieves who need rehabbing. But considering that most housing developments exist on land that was originally theirs, perhaps it is people who need to learn to live with them. They are kind of cute, don’t you think?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nest Time

Nest Time

This is the time of year when birds get busy. One friend told me about a robin building a nest on her front porch. Another friend described mourning doves at her house. And I’ve seen finches flitting in and out of our forsythia bush with branches in their beaks.

Spring is the ideal time for birds to breed. It provides accommodating weather, seeds from sprouting plants, worms. The trees leaf out to offer hidden nesting places.  

The Swallow here was seen at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. There was a flurry of birds, mating couples flitting back and forth from man-made birdhouses in the water. It seemed frenetic at times but there was no doubt that all that activity had a purpose. Soon there will be eggs and then nestlings and the chain of life will continue.

People make nests, too, at least symbolically, where we can feel comfortable and raise our children. Like the birds, we try to keep our little ones safe and well fed until they are ready to be independent and find their own way in life.

Unfortunately, in today’s difficult world, that isn’t always a given. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could count on our nests to be the places they are meant to be?

An overview of nest info and be sure to click on the nesting birds link:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Best Nest

The Best Nest

There are lots of signs of Spring; crocuses and daffodils pop up everywhere, bare tree limbs hint at the color of the leaves to come, robins scuttle around lawns looking for the choicest worms. Geese make a U-turn and head back north.

Three years ago I noticed a couple of geese outside of a shopping center. I wondered if they were lost. They seemed to be scouting around looking for something, which I thought might be the rest of their flock. After a few days they had settled onto a garden display and it looked as if they were making a nest. The landscapers delayed planting until the geese left.

Last year they came back and there was no doubt about what they were doing – they were building a nest in the same garden display. A young boy on his way to the Little Gym next door looked as if he wanted to give chase but the nesting female was being guarded by a mate who didn’t look intimidated at all. The boy’s mother hustled him away.

This year there was an official sign to welcome the geese and to keep shoppers away. The geese definitely appeared to be at home.

I wonder why the geese chose such an unlikely place to start their family. Cars are constantly driving close by. People are walking back and forth all day right next to the nest. What am I missing about the appeal of the place?

I discovered that birds often nest in the strangest places. A friend once told me that she had sparrows nesting in a basket at her front entrance. Who’s to say that an unusual spot isn’t the best. Don’t we all live in our own individual spaces? The bird parents take care of their young like any good parents, regardless of the neighborhood. We can be good neighbors to them as we are to the people we live near. 

Facts about geese nesting:

Birds nest in the strangest places:

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Grackles Out for Dinner

Grackles Out for Dinner

A couple of grackles (or is that a grackle couple?) came for dinner the other night. They usually come in groups and stay on the ground, eating the seeds tossed down by the smaller birds at the feeders. But maybe tonight was special.

When the whole group lands, they can inundate the area, taking turns splashing in the birdbath, covering the lawn like a feathery blanket, flitting back and forth from ground to tree. I like to observe their activities. But as much as I observe them, they are quite the observers themselves. When something, whether a person or the neighborhood stray cat or a visiting grandchild comes too near, they will take off and wait until the supposed danger has passed, then return to whatever they were doing. If someone, mostly me, becomes too annoying, the birds will tell me off, squawking loudly from the trees as if they are yelling at me to go away.

They are often confused with crows but there are differences in size and feathers: crows are larger but grackles have the most beautiful iridescent feathers. Crows are corvids while grackles are icterids, relatives but from different sides of the blackbird family.

Whatever their differences, however, they are both smart birds. They have exceptional memories for faces and places. They can make and use tools. They can actually think like humans, according to tests being done in determining their brain capacity.

I remember how the old term “bird brain” was used to criticize someone who didn’t understand something but perhaps it wasn’t an epithet at all. The more we learn about these birds, the more impressive they seem. And that may go for most assumptions that we make. When we look at others in a negative way, are we really only showing our own lack of understanding? Grackles or crows, us or others, life in any form is an intriguing mystery.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society helps us distinguish grackles from crows:

John Marzluff's findings about crow smarts:


Monday, February 29, 2016

A Flock is a Family

A Flock is a Family

I apologize to my all backyard friends for my not having posted for a while. Sometimes life demands our attention in one direction or another, as happened with me. My sister was battling a rare illness that took too many years to diagnose and it finally took its toll. These past several months she was in and out of the hospital, then in a Hospice facility and she recently passed away. As you can imagine, my thoughts were not focused on my blog.

Then I saw this tree. There were so many birds on it. The birds were grackles, a species that travels in flocks, sort of like traveling with a large family. It made me think about the concept of family. There are many individuals connected to each other. Sometimes the connection works, sometimes not but when it does, it is a joy.  Family members can provide support and caring, a sense of belonging and sharing.

Grackles can be aggressive with each other at times, like siblings, but they can also join with other birds like red-winged blackbirds and starlings to increase their family connection. We can choose friends to be part of our family, too. It is as much a concept as a definition. I was lucky to have a great sister as both a relative and a friend.

Info about grackles:

A discussion about what “family” means:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Pumpkin Question

A Pumpkin Question

I put out a pumpkin for Thanksgiving decoration. It remained on our doorstep through Christmas and the beginning of the New Year, a bright entry to our winter home. Today it called to me to cut it open. I usually like to make pumpkin soup. Sometimes I bake pumpkin cookies. I bake the seeds or share them with the birds outside.

But I had lots going on recently and didn’t get to making my favorite pumpkin recipes. I wondered about the lifespan of the pumpkin, if it was still usable. So I checked around. It seems pumpkins last about 8-12 weeks if uncarved, which was within the parameters. They fare best in temperatures about 50-56 degrees; our weather has been unusually warm this year so most of the time it has been in the 40s to mid 50s. The last couple of days, however, it has been hovering around freezing. Was my pumpkin still good to cook with? I wondered.

I cut it open and saw that it must have frozen last night and thawed when the morning warmed up, not the best way to preserve it. I would hate to see it go to waste. Perhaps I’ll boil it up and see if it is still good to use.

Any ideas?

Pumpkin lifespan: