Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Walk Around the Backyard

I mowed the lawn Sunday afternoon and that gave me a opportunity to have a good look at some of the things going on in the backyard. While Mr. Johnson was cleaning up the mower, I grabbed my camera so I could show you some of the neat things around the backyard.

In case you didn't already know, my backyard is a little larger than average--5 acres to be exact. It's also a National Wildlife Federation Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat (that's a story for another post--hopefully I can get it organized this summer sometime). Because I am the groundskeeper and in an effort to become more bird and wildlife friendly (and also to cut down on mowing cost and time), last year I decided to stop mowing 1 acre of yard. Since I couldn't afford to put the entire area into wildflowers, I just let it grow with the grass and whatever other plants come up. Here's how it looked yesterday blowing in breeze.I should get one of those big buffalo silhouettes to put out here in the grass--wouldn't that look neat?

This area is on a fairly steep hill and V-shaped, so I only mow 3 paths--2 on each edge and 1 down the middle. Here's the middle path (and you can just see a bit of the outside path at the top right of this picture).

On one side of my yard is the highway right-of-way--which is too steep for the highway department to mow (good stuff growing in the road ditch too and lot of nesting places for birds) and on the other side is my junkyard neighbor who never mows his lawn, so there are actually several acres of habitat here (if we count the neighbor's yard). It took Mr. Johnson a long time to get used to this unmowed area, but I think he likes it a little better this year when he saves on not having to buy so much gas for the lawn mower.

The wild roses are blooming down at the bottom of the hill. I wish you could smell them. I love their beautiful pink color too.

I snuck up on a 13-lined ground squirrel (we call them streaked gophers). We have bunches of these little critters in our yard. Sometimes I'll see them running into their holes with a huge mouthful of dried grass. I wonder if they store it to eat later or use it to line their dens? They like to clean up under the bird feeders too.

One thing I've not seen an abundance of this year while mowing is honeybees. I did spot one on some yellow sweet clover that's blooming out here. My neighbor Scott keeps some beehives and one of these days I'll have to go over and find out if his bees survived the winter.

Look at these cute little flowers on my winterberry holly. By fall all of these flowers will have turned into beautiful, bright red berries.
The mulberry trees are covered with fruit and some of it's starting to ripen. There are quite a few Cedar Waxwings hanging around the yard this year and I often see them perched in a mulberry tree. I hope this abundance of fruit will encourage them to nest somewhere on my property this summer.

Some of the common milkweed is starting to bloom also. I've seen a few monarch butterflies flitting through the yard, so I'll have to start looking under milkweed leaves for monarch eggs and get the monarch ranch started up soon.....over the July 4th holiday weekend might be a good time for that project.

A wren built this nest in one of my bluebird houses. It's wedged in there so tightly I can't even budge it. How long do you suppose it took those wrens to stuff this birdhouse completely full of sticks?

My garden is doing well, but I was surpised to see that one of my broccoli plants has been chomped down to the stalk (good broccoli on the left and broccoli stalk on the right). I'm thinking Mrs. White-Tail Doe is the culprit. The 2-foot high fence is more than adequate for keeping bunnies out, but just the right height for a long-nosed deer to reach her head right down inside the fence and munch all the leaves and broccoli florets off. I've since put some fencing in a dome over these plants and I think I'll also try the "Irish Spring/human hair deterrent" placed in little mesh bags on the fence also. I know one gardener who swears this works wonders to keep deer out of her garden.

Thanks for coming along on my backyard tour. Hope you enjoyed it.

P.S. I had a little video of a disapproving wren that I tried to download with this post, but Blogger wasn't cooperating. I literally left the computer on all night and at 3:15 this morning, it still showed "Processing Video," so I just deleted the video, saved this draft and shut everything down. Has anyone else had problems downloading videos to Blogger lately?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rainy Saturday

It rained for most of today and we picked up just about an inch of much needed moisture. It will be good to roll up the garden hose and put the sprinkler away for a few days. Since my overtime was not approved for the weekend, I got to stay home all by myself while Mr. Johnson enjoyed a fun day at work. I spent most of my day knitting and watching birds (with a few loads of laundry thrown in so Mr. Johnson didn't think I totally wasted my time today).

The rain wasn't continuous, so there was plenty of bird activity all day long. I do have some bad news to report though.....when I went out to check on the baby bluebirds last night the nest box was empty! The nest itself was undisturbed, but there were no babies in it. Raccoon? Snake? I'll never know and this has never happened before in my yard. I'm so sad and I'm sure Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird are too. The only good thing about this is that Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird have stuck around the yard and are looking at another nest box in the front yard. And I'm thrilled that they are hanging around and even coming up to the deck to pick some mealworms out of the feeder I have there.
Did you know that the male bluebird will feed the female? I was happy to be able to capture this image, and even though the male is a little blurry, look how wide that female has her beak open to accept the mealworm from him.
Other birds share mealworms from this feeder, including Baltimore Orioles, Chickadees, and Downy Woodpeckers.
The Bluejays have finally started coming back. They've been gone for several weeks -- busy with nesting and raising a family, I guess. Since they're coming around again, I've started putting some peanuts in the shell back out on the deck. And it's not just the bluejays who are enjoying these peanuts......I have a couple of chipmunks stopping by too.

I know a lot of people hate chipmunks, but I just have so much fun watching them up on the deck and so do Penny and Sophie from behind the patio door.

This little one has lost about half of its tail, so it's easy to distinguish from the other 'munk also coming for peanuts.
For whatever reason, this little 'munk decided to spend some time in the flowerpot with my snapdragons. I've got some compost mixed in with the soil in these pots, so I don't know if he's eating something from the compost or burying a peanut.
Pretty cute, don't you think? (I probably won't think so when I get home from work some day and the snapdragons are all dug out of the pot.....)
I cleaned out and refilled all my hummingbird nectar feeders this afternoon and it didn't take the hummingbirds long to come back for more refreshment. I was surprised to see a second female fly up to this feeder with one female already there feeding.
A few tense moments ensued and I waited for one to chase the other one away.....
.....but amazingly enough, they were both able to sit and eat without fighting.
I hung this feeder under a weather dome, so I think they were both just happy to be able to drink some nectar and stay out of the rain.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Deer & A Bulldog for Mary

Got some more pictures of a long-nosed doe eating corn in the backyard again early this morning.
Last winter and into the spring we would sometimes see as many as 6 deer near the feeders at night. I suppose some of them are busy with little ones right now, or they have moved on to other habitats, so we only have one for now.

I thought this deer looked an awful lot like pictures of another deer we had gotten a couple years ago. I found the file and compared them for Mr. Johnson, but he told me it probably wasn't the same deer--maybe one of her offspring.

But they sure look alot alike, don't you think??

This was my favorite shot from last night......the last picture right before she left the yard. Obviously there was something over across the road that had gotten all of her attention (those ears don't miss much)!

Do you ever have people say to you, "I thought of you today when I saw ________ (fill in the blank)." Well I thought of Mary (because of her grand-dog) today when I saw this giant bulldog on our way home from work.
Near our house is the Mack truck dealership. They were hosting their annual open house and this gigantic "Mack" bulldog was right out in front by the highway.

Since Mr. Johnson takes his daily walk past here, Sophie and I decided to accompany him for the photo opportunity.
Nice Doggie!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Mr. Johnson purchased a new "toy" for me last Saturday.
Of course, it's really his toy, but I'm the "geek" who gets to figure out how to use it and make this camera take the right kind of pictures once we put it out in the woods for deer scouting (near the new treestand!)

Once I got the programming figured out, the camera went out on one of our trees in the backyard by the ground feeding tray where we know the deer are nighttime visitors.

Our other trail camera is motion activated, but this camera has a Passive Infrared Detector. That means the camera will take a picture when any large, warm object moves within its range. It didn't take any pictures of the birds that sat at this feeder, but Sophie is a large enough object that the camera took a few pictures of her.
Even though I know bunnies also sit in this tray feeder and eat corn, there were no pictures of bunnies, so they must not be large enough either to trigger the infrared sensor.

I decided to test it myself once it got dark to make sure I had the flash setting correctly programmed. (I got lots of pictures the previous night, but didn't have the flash turned on so couldn't see anything.)
This is why I hate having my picture taken......the body view I see in the mirror is way different from what the camera sees! UGH!! Looks like I've got some work to do!

But finally, here are just some of the pictures we were hoping to see on this camera.

I'm really happy with the pictures this camera takes. They seem much brighter and clearer than our older trail camera (this camera gives you 4 choices on the resolution of your pictures and even has a video feature). It's nice that the time/date stamp shows under the picture and not down in the corner of the photo like our other camera. I'm amazed at the advances in technology of these camera over just a few years. This camera also has the viewing screen built right in (like our digital cameras) so you can instantly see what images you've captured without having to go home and download to the computer. I think this camera is going to work well for us and I'm looking forward to what kind of images of deer and other wild creatures we'll be able see once this camera is out in our deer hunting area.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

First Weekend of Summer

Thanks for all your kind words and comments on my last post. It's nice to know I have such faithful readers and more importantly so many dear blogging friends.

Well, it's early Sunday morning and no one's up around the Johnson household except Kitty who's sitting behind me here and monitoring bird activity outside the window. I decided to take advantage of a few minutes to get quick blog post done before the day's activities begin.

Our first "official" weekend of summer has been perfect (weather-wise)......not too hot and no rain so far (although we could use a little shower, the lawn is starting to get dry in spots).

Mr. Johnson has gotten permission from the land owner where we deer hunt to put up a couple of permanent tree stands. We went out last weekend to get measurements and yesterday we put up the first stand.
I can already tell we will fight over who gets this stand in the fall. It's a beautiful location on the bluff overlooking the river and pasture below. It's about the height of where the eagles fly by over the river. It's going to be an awesome spot for watching birds (or deer).

There are some new arrivals in my yard! The baby bluebirds have hatched. I know now this is the same pair I had nesting last year. She always lays 5 eggs, but only 4 babies hatch. Aren't they cute?

And the wildflowers are starting to bloom in my backyard garden.

Purple Coneflower


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Time for a Break

I know you've all had this problem: too much stuff to do and not enough hours in the day to get it done. I'm thankful that I have a job, but that 9 hours spent away from home Monday through Friday really cuts into the time I have to spend doing my "fun stuff" at home. So it's time for me to take a break from blogging. With the lovely weather we've been having lately, most of my time after work is spent outside until it's dark (which isn't until after 9 PM). Then when I come in the house, it's a frantic struggle to stay awake long enough to catch up on all my computer stuff (including my blog posts and checking everyone else's posts). As you have seen from my lack of comments lately, I'm just not making any headway. End-of-quarter activities at work are ramping up, so there's hardly any free time there either. It's been tough for me to make this decision, but of all the things I could give up right now, my computer time at home seemed to be the least difficult (sigh). So I'll be taking a little break until probably July. I'll miss you and will try to check in when I can find a few extra minutes in the next couple weeks.

Before my break, I want to share a few pictures with you.

Here's Garden #1. Everything's growing good! I've even been able to pick some lettuce for my sandwich each day this week.
While I was in there weeding this afternoon with my Garden Claw, I came across this little skull. I might need to call on the Science Chimp for help with ID......I'm thinking maybe it's some sort of vole? The really interesting thing is that the tips of its front teeth are a dark red. If anyone knows what critter this skull belongs too, I'd sure appreciate hearing from you in the "Comments" section.
Here's Garden #2 (of my previous "Can This Garden Be Saved?" post). This garden is also doing great. Our recent rains have really helped to soften and break down the icky, clay/black dirt blend I had in here and it worked up really nice with my little tiller this afternoon.
We haven't had any rain for several days now, so I've have to start watering both these gardens. I've found that raised beds dry out a lot faster!

My "garbage can" potatoes are looking pretty good too.
Here are Mr. & Mrs. Bluebird. I took their photo this afternoon while they were scolding me as I put mealworms in the little dish attached to their house. I'm guessing maybe by this weekend those little ones might start hatching from the 5 eggs in the nestbox.
I never get tired of watching Penny enjoy the sun. This is her favorite place to lay in the afternoon.
See you in a couple weeks. If something happens in the blogosphere that you think I need to know about, please send me an e-mail, OK?
Take care.
Love, Ruthie

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day 2008

Happy Father's Day to my dad and all the other dads out there! This Father's Day was a perfect, almost-summer day for us here in SE Minnesota. Most of my day was spent outside and in the backyard, the baby robins are fledging. Here's a little one that made it as far as Mr. Johnson's trailer. I love its little downy feather "halo."
As has become our family tradition, Father's Day was celebrated at Forestville State Park near where my parents live in Fillmore County. We didn't know whether we'd be able to have our celebration here this year as there was lots of flooding in the park during this past week. However, the floodwaters have receded and things were looking pretty good. Here's a picture of my brother Dave walking over to look at the river (just past him you can see the far riverbank and a little bit of the river).You can see how the vegetation has been pushed almost flat by the force of the water. As near as we could tell, the water was probably at least 8-10 feet above the normal water level and we could see that there had been probably 2 feet of water in the picnic shelter (which is about 50 yards away from the river).

However, there were still lots of beautiful sights to enjoy and I was able to take plenty of pictures to share with you.

Last year at this picnic shelter, we found a phoebe nest right near the entrance. It was the first thing I looked for again this year and sure enough, she had a nest in almost the same location.It was pretty high, but thanks to my sissy's sturdy cooler, I was able to reach inside and count 5 little eggs.

Here's Mrs. Phoebe perched on the light near her nest.
And Mrs. Phoebe on the nest incubating her eggs. She was very quiet and didn't seem at all alarmed by our presence. I hope she's able to raise her little family without incident.

On the outside of the picnic shelter (right up under the eaves), I found this little brown bat taking a nap. I know a lot of people don't like bats, but isn't this just the cutest little face?

There were so many butterflies out today. I got to see my first Red Spotted Purple! What a gorgeous butterfly! Its colors were so brilliant, I wondered if it was newly hatched from the cocoon.
There were also some Giant Swallowtails flying around. Brother Dave had to tell me what this butterfly was and I managed to "almost" get a decent picture. I can see I still have lots of work to do on my butterfly ID skills.
The Solomon's Seal were blooming all over along one of the trails we explored.
We spotted this sweet little female American Redstart on the old bridge leading to the historic buildings at this park.She wasn't fearful of humans at all and appeared to be concentrating on trying to collect spider webs and little bits of flood debris still hanging on the bridge. Does anyone know if Redstarts use spiderwebs as part of their nests?

Along one of the trails near the river, we also spotted this Ebony Jewelwing (watching me watch her). The white spots in the wing indicate she's a female.
Here's a beautiful little beetle we saw on the sidewalk to the picnic shelter.It looks like the Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle in my Kaufman insect field guide, but I can't see any spots. I think Brother Dave told me the name of this beetle, but as usual, I forgot.

So those are the highlights of my day and once again, I've run out of day before I got everything done. It's going to be a long and busy week at work and I've got to get this post finished up soon and get to bed. Hope you all have a great week and get a chance to enjoy some nature in your backyard and beyond.