Friday, August 31, 2007

Another New Tool

Last week after my blog post about my new grass clipping tool, Maud posted a comment telling me that she had the same grass clipping tool and really liked it and also that Fiskars has a long-handled dandelion digging tool that she was very pleased with. I checked on the website and sure enough, there it was!

I haven't bought any new lawn or garden tools for quite a few years and because I liked the grass clippers so well (because I don't have to kneel down to use it), I decided I should try and find one of those dandelion diggers also.

I remembered seeing quite a few of the Fiskars tools at Menards last week, so we made a stop there again today on the way home from work. I had to ask someone where to find this tool and fortunately, there was one left which I promptly grabbed before someone else saw it.

It's about 36 inches long and quite simple to use.

Put the pointy teeth over your weed and push it into the ground (you can use your foot on the black tab sticking out to get it all the way pushed in).

Then slowly pull the handle sideways -- towards the black tab (which closes the teeth around the weed), until the weed pulls out of the ground.

Here's how it worked on cool is that? Got the big long tap root and everything!
OK, let's see how it handles English Plantain (I hate that stuff!)

Wow, great job!
And now for the true test: thistles. Since our dry spell this summer, I have several huge thistle outbreaks in the lawn.

Thistles were a little bit tougher.

I tried on several plants and only managed to get the weed and the complete root on one of the tries.

Perhaps I'm not getting the whole plant centered in the teeth, or maybe I'm pulling it over too fast. Oh well, I must persevere and continue to hone my weed digging skills with this clever new tool.

Oh yeah, did I mention it was only $24.88? A heckuva deal!

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In the continuing "fun with hummingbirds" saga, I found a small red cap this afternoon that works to hold a few ounces of nectar. I sat out there with this cap in my hand for about half an hour, but the hummingbirds were reluctant to check it out and just went to the flowers nearby.

Finally the "idea light" went on over my head and I plucked a couple of verbena blossoms and floated them in the nectar.

Then the hummers were sipping nectar from that cap in less than 5 minutes (and sitting on my fingers to do it!) I'm fine tuning this idea a bit further and using one of those yellow plastic flowers from an old Perky Pet hummingbird feeder and hopefully my next post will contain photos of hummingbirds eating out of my hand! Stay tuned.....

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fun With Hummingbirds

Even though the days have grown much shorter and many of the summer birds have already begun their migration, I really don't consider summer officially over till the hummingbirds have left and boy, do I have hummingbirds right now!

It was time to clean and refill the nectar feeders tonight and I decided to have a little fun with the hummingbirds before hanging all the feeders back out again.

In my opinion, the most fun you can have with hummingbirds is getting them to come close and maybe even perch on your finger or eat out of your hand. It's easiest to do this when you're changing the nectar and have taken the feeder down for a few minutes. When you get back outside, they usually are waiting impatiently for you to hang it again.

I like to just hold the feeder myself and see how long it takes them to come while it's in my hand. I'm always amazed at how bold and fearless they are for their size.

When my arm got tired, I decided to see what would happen if I put the feeder on my lap.


I like this particular nectar feeder because the bottom is flat and it's easy to hold in your hand or sit on a flat surface (like your lap!)

I had the camera stuck to my face, but I could hear their little buzzes and chirps all around me while they were flying in. I was sitting perfectly still and didn't take the camera away for fear the movement would scare them away, but before I saw them in the viewfinder, I knew they were close because I could feel the breeze generated by those rapidly beating wings....they really make a lot of breeze.

One came.....

Then there was a little challenge when the second one arrived.....

(if you look close in the top center--just right of the red salvia--you can see the hummer across from the one in the lower left corner)

But after a couple seconds, they both settled down to eat.

Then a third one tried to come to the feeder and was met with strong resistance. Can you see all three hummers in this picture? (I should have used the action mode, but forgot in all my excitement.)

I remember a few months ago, someone sent me an e-mail of a woman holding a little red dish (filled with nectar) in her hand and feeding hummingbirds. I'm going to try and find a little red dish and attempt to do this myself. This late summer time of peak hummingbird activity is the perfect time for fun with hummingbirds....and unlike the warnings on TV, "please do try this at home!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cooper Strikes Again

When I got home from work and grabbed the dog leashes from the downstairs patio door I spotted the Cooper's Hawk flying away from this ground feeder tray right out in the backyard.
"Oh-oh," I thought to myself. I walked the dogs around to the backyard and sure enough.... there was fresh blood on the edge of the tray and lots of feathers scattered all over. (I deleted the blood picture and here's the less gross scattered feathers).

I picked up a few feathers to try and ID and I'm thinking (hoping) it was a house sparrow. What do you think?

On days that I'm home, I may see that Cooper's Hawk a couple times a day swooping through the yard. She particularly likes sitting in the apple trees (at the right side of this photo) and I've scared her out of there on more than one occasion when walking out in the yard. These trees are pretty dense and it's a short quick flight out of there to the birdfeeders nearby.

I don't mind if she gets a few birds in my yard.....I have an overabundance of house finches and sparrows and even quite a few mourning doves that would make a good meal for a hungry Cooper's Hawk. I remember when I worked at Wild Birds Unlimited there were always a few customers who would come in and be absolutely irate about a Cooper's or Sharp-Shinned taking songbirds from their feeders or yard. I read a great article in The Backyard Bird Newsletter one time that reminded us how few hawks there are in relation to songbirds and how truly difficult it is for them to catch enough food every day in order to survive. I always tried to share this information with people and also remind them of what a privilege it is to see a bird of prey going about its business in their own backyard. (It's still hard to remember that though when you find a pile of cardinal feathers under your backyard feeder.....)

On my way back into the house, I used a fern leaf to rescue this little beetle who was trying to right itself in a half inch of water in a plastic bucket. According to my new Kaufman insect field guide, it's an "Earth Boring Scarab" Bolbocerasoma species. The book says adults are attracted to dung....plenty of that in my yard with 2 dogs and all those bird feeders.

On an entirely unrelated subject, I'm pleased to report that we have completely discontinued the use of plastic beverage bottles in our household. There's been so much in the news lately about all the plastic bottles (water, pop, juice, etc.) being thrown away and lots of them not being recycled. My Spousal Unit loves the flavored waters in plastic bottles and would go through at least 12 of them a week. I've been refilling glass tea bottles with water and a little packet of Lipton "Green Tea to Go" for my lunch beverage and asked him if he would give up his flavored water in plastic bottles to experiment with something new.

At the grocery store, I found these "Water Sensations," a Clear Liquid Flavor Enhancer for Water (cost is about $2.50 for a box of 12 packets). I bought a 6-pack of plain Lipton tea in glass bottles (which I drank myself) and then filled his bottles with water from the tap and the "Water Sensations" (BTW, it comes in yummy flavors: peach, mixed berry, and strawberry/kiwi and it's sweetened with Sucralose). Turns out to be very delicious and he really likes it....doesn't miss his plastic bottles at all and 6 bottles guarantees that there will always be a bottle of cold, flavored water in the refigerator for his lunch and to quench his thirst after his afternoon walk. And boy, have we noticed a reduction of stuff in the recycling bin every week!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not Much Going On

I'm going to post early today because there's another round of severe thunderstorms rolling in late this afternoon. I can see the dark sky and hear thunder rumbling outside my window. The storms we've been having lately have so much lightning in them that I've started unplugging my surge protector.....just in case!

I wanted to show you a picture of this swell new tool I picked up on sale (for only $19.99!) at Menards last Sunday.

Fiskars makes this neat grass clippers that you can use standing up. No more crawling around the flowerbeds for this old gal anymore! I tried it out Sunday afternoon and it works really great. I like these manual clippers better than the weed whacker because it's quiet and the grass clippings don't fly all over the place (plus it's environmentally friendly--no stinky two-cycle engine).

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When we get home from work, my first duty is to let the dogs out of their kennels and walk them around the yard so they can "do their business." As we were walking past the wildflower garden, I spotted one of my "monarch children" still hanging around. I was so excited and hoped he would still be there after I ran in the house to get my camera.

All the butterflies and other insects are loving this Canada Goldenrod blooming profusely right now. Can you see the 3 Monarch butterflies in this picture?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Autumn is Near

Warning: This is going to be a post about hunting, so if any of you have objections to hunters or hunting, you will want to skip today's blog from the Nature Knitter.

The opening if our archery deer hunting season is fast approaching--September 15th this year. Except for turkey hunting in the spring, I think this is the time of year my Spousal Unit looks forward to more than anything. He started putting up the portable tree stands last week. I am a bow hunter, but definitely not as hardcore as he is. It's a heckuva lot of work putting up all those stands and trimming trees and underbrush for shooting lanes. He spent lots of hours last fall after each day of hunting documenting what we had seen and at what time, what the weather conditions were, what phase of the moon, etc. This year we will find out how all of his hard work benefits our hunts.

We have some private landowners who let us bowhunt on their property in the fall. Yesterday afternoon the Spousal Unit promised me he would take me to the new McDonalds for an ice cream cone and then out to scout for deer. Now what woman could possibly turn down an offer like this? He knows I love ice cream cones and also being given the chance to sit out in the woods and watch birds (with an occasional deer, if they're cooperative).

The first thing I noticed when walking from the car was that several of the maple trees had already started changing color.

We saw a doe and fawn shortly after getting out in the field. The lay of the land necessitated that I had to put my little stool on the top of a rise right out in the middle of the hayfield. It was so beautiful and quiet (something I never get to experience here at home right next to the highway). I saw and heard lots of birds: flicker, eastern wood peewee, chickadees, cardinals, crows, common nighthawks, great blue heron, and robins.

We use walkie-talkies to communicate and finally about 8:15 I was calling him to see if he was ready to leave when all of a sudden about 30 yards away from me, out of nowhere appeared the biggest buck I have ever seen alive. Holy crap--my heart started pounding just like when it's hunting season. He didn't know I was there because the wind was blowing towards me and I wasn't moving. I took a few pictures but it was getting so dark and I couldn't hold the camera still enough for the delayed shutter. Here is the only crappy picture in which he's somewhat identifiable (and I had to adjust the contrast).
These big bucks are so cautious and it's such a privilege to be out in their habitat and able to see one. Around here, most of the bucks don't get very old or big because so many people hunt (mostly shotgun). I like bowhunting because it's early in the fall and the weather is usually not too cold. I love sitting in my treestand in the woods and watching all the birds....because you're dressed totally in camouflage the birds and other wildlife aren't usually aware of your presence.

Last year I finally got a deer with my bow (after bowhunting for 4 years). It was on my birthday and a pretty nice 8-point buck. (Here's me and my antlers--which the Spousal Unit picked up from the taxidermist just today).
Our taxidermist, Larry (and his wife, Sue) are also big bowhunters. While listening to Larry's stories about the bear hunts he's been on, apparently the Spousal Unit mentioned enough times that he's never had bear meat and so Larry and Sue gave him a package of bear brats which we grilled for our supper.
They were pretty good, but I couldn't really notice a difference in flavor from the deer brats we've been grilling all summer. Anyway, now we can finally say we've eaten bear meat, even if we didn't shoot it ourselves. Some day....

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Nice Saturday

It was a beautiful, late summer Saturday and a welcome change from the rainy week we just finished. I mowed the's amazing how quickly the grass has recovered from drought conditions of a few weeks ago.

The grass was really long in some spots....looks like I'll be spending some quality time with a rake tomorrow.

I still haven't gotten out to deal with this giant ragweed. Some of the stalks are still upright, but a lot of them fell down in the heavy rains of last weekend.

Look at all these grapes. This is a grapevine the birds planted and it's covered with grapes this summer. I'd like to pick these (before the cedar waxwings discover them) and see if I can get some jelly made.

My apples are getting bigger on the trees. Some of the branches are hanging almost to the ground with the weight of all these apples.

Here are some of the white berries of the red osier dogwood. I was surprised to find these....the birds usually pick them off as soon as they're ripe.

The crabapple trees are covered with little apples too. Aren't these pretty? The cedar waxwings and robins should be pretty happy with all these little treats come winter (if the starlings don't get them first!)

I wasn't able to spend much time in the garden last week either. Looks like I'd better get these tomatoes picked tomorrow! I haven't found any bugs on these tomatoes. The chipping sparrows spend a lot of time in the garden and I think they've been eating many of the insects.

My highbush cranberry bushes are loaded with fruit! I found a couple of recipes for jelly and sauce on the internet, but it says the fruits are better if they get frosted once before picking. I think there's enough here for me and the birds this year.

My goldfish seem to be happy with the cooler weather also. At least they seem to be a little more active, not hiding under the plants all the time.

Can anyone tell me what's eating these little round holes in the oak leaves? I looked close at a couple of leaves while I was mowing today, but couldn't see any small insects or caterpillars that might be responsible.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Chipmunk Incident

We had an unforgettable day at work today because we had a totally unexpected visit from a chipmunk!

These chipmunk photos were taken in my backyard.

Around 6:15 my office mate went to wash out the coffeepot. Sometimes the hallway lights aren't turned on that early and she said she had seen something out of the corner of her eye in the semi-darkness, so she walked over toward the vending machine area and there was a little chipmunk....trapped in our building....and running to hide under the snack machine. How he got in I don't know, but as the morning progressed, we heard from other people that a chipmunk had been spotted in different buildings in the complex for about 2 weeks. I don't know if this was the same little guy or not, but if it was this has been a harrowing 2 weeks for him.

(Just for the record, I happen to like chipmunks....a lot!)

Anyway, we kind of forgot about that chipmunk until around 9:15 when there were some godawful shrieks right outside our office door. We got up to look out and sure enough, there was the little chipper scampering down the hall and looking for an office to escape into. I grabbed a couple of wastebaskets and Mike M. came down from the other hallway with a box and we tried to catch him. Caught him in the basket once, but he leaped out before Mike could get it covered with the box.

The poor terrified little feller finally raced into Barb's office right across the hall from ours. Barb is a lovely, gracious lady and very calm. I went in there with my basket and we closed the door, so just her and I were in there and the other shrieking, terrified women were left in the hallway.

After a little trial and error, I devised a "trap" from a copy paper box by cutting a small hole in the side and putting it up against the edge of Barb's desk along the wall where the little chipmunk was trying to escape. Again, we just weren't quick enough to get him isolated in the box. He was quite frantic by then and running all around Barb's office, leaping onto her desk and computer. The entire time I was thinking "What Would Mary Do?" and so wishing that I had a camera.

I was reluctant to just grab the little guy because I worry about getting bitten and he really was quite terrified. Besides, do you know how fast a chipmunk can move? I can't believe how slow a human's reflexes are compared to a chipmunk (at least my reflexes are pretty slow).

Barb finally got a hold of a maintenance person who said they would get the "pest control" people to come in a little later in the day. And sure enough they showed up around 12:30. Barb came out of her office and the pest control guys went in and within about 6 minutes they had caught the little guy using the "trap box" I had devised earlier in the morning (so at least I was on the right track). They assured us that this chipmunk would be released unharmed somewhere out in the country where he would not be able to come back to IBM again. (I was thinking they could release him right outside and he would head for the hills on his own after the morning he'd just endured.)

I'm thankful that Barb wasn't terrified and spent the entire morning in her office with the door closed and this little chipmunk hiding out behind her desk. (Truthfully, Barb probably enjoyed the peace and quiet herself.) I was e-mailing Mary back and forth this morning, so she's already heard this whole story. She reminded me of her post on August 5th about rescuing the baby mockingbird from the drain outside her office. (Only after his rescue, I didn't have anyone to do a "victory dance" with.)

Needless to say, I didn't get very much work done this morning, but it will still be there tomorrow I'm sure. It gave me a good feeling to know that this little chipmunk was rescued and returned to the wild where he belonged.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Birds & Butterflies

I didn't get a chance to post yesterday (working on a new knitting project), so I'll combine Tuesday and Wednesday tonight.

I had 2 monarch butterflies emerge yesterday. It was strange how this worked. I think somehow or other they must have been able to sense that the weather was bad over the weekend and delayed their emergence till yesterday, because these two were really overdue. I tagged a female and a male and put them out on the flowers on my deck. Yesterday was the first day we had any sun since last Friday and it wasn't windy, so they were able to sit on the flowers quite a while....long enough for me to take some pictures anyway.

Top (right) and bottom (left) you can the tags on their wings.

Left and right -- just building up their strength a little more before taking off (look close, they're kind of hard to see).

I have a lot of birdfeeders right on the deck. This drives my Spousal Unit crazy because there's always bird seed and bird poop all over the place. He would like to have our deck cleaned and re-stained, but I refuse to take the feeders down, so there!

We've been experiencing hummingbird and goldfinch frenzy for about the last week. Even in all the rain over the weekend, they were flying around and eating all day long.

Tonight I refilled the hummingbird feeders with fresh nectar. Then I sat down in the chair to watch these little guys. I never get tired of seeing them flying around and hearing their little chirps and buzzes. They are so territorial now. I have seen up to 6 at one time fighting over the feeder on the deck. I have a couple feeders on the other side of the house too, but don't get to watch those as much, however, I'd be willing to bet there's at least that many out there too.

Look at this picture....did I catch the hummingbird blinking?

I like this Wild Birds Unlimited feeder because the nice perches encourage the hummers to sit still long enough for a photograph.

I have a dead tree branch attached to the deck railing to encourage birds to perch when coming to the feeders or birdbaths. The hummingbirds will perch on these branches quite readily.

They also like to perch on these Wild Birds Unlimited branch arms (an Advanced Pole System add-on). When I worked at the store I always told people the little leaf was the perfect size for a hummingbird's feet to perch on (also good for hanging a nectar feeder on).

While I was sitting on the deck, I could hear a very agitated chipping sparrow in the crabapple tree right next to me. Oh no, something doesn't look right part of your head missing? Hmmmm, I guess it's either moulting time or a little mite problem. Poor thing, I guess I'd be a little agitated too.

Shortly after this I saw a bluejay with a similar "bad hair day" condition, but he was too embarassed to allow a photograph.

The goldfinches are really going through the seed in this nyjer feeder.
I'm having a difficult time keeping everything dry and haven't done a good cleaning of the feeders yet because they're still predicting rain all the way till Friday. At least with this one, they're eating the seed fast enough it really doesn't have a chance to get wet. A couple times I have seen every perch on this feeder filled with finches--that's a pretty neat sight, but the camera isn't handy when that happens.

I noticed over the weekend that there was an awful lot of chirping going on and when I looked out I saw these three little ones sitting on the top arm and flapping their wings rapidly for their dad to give them some food. Dad was pretty much ignoring them and one finally attempted to fly down to the feeder and get its own lunch.

Don't forget, it's the Songbird Lyrics Game over at Larry's blog. I've only solved 3 so far....

Monday, August 20, 2007

Adventures in Appliance Repair

So, yesterday afternoon the belt broke on my clothes dryer and that totally ruined my day. I kept telling myself, "get a grip, Ruthie and look at the big picture, all's you have is a broken belt that can be fixed in a basement that's dry, while other people have just watched their house (and all appliances) wash away in a flood."

Yes, sometimes I have trouble keeping things in perspective. This dryer has served us well for over 25 years with no problems, and I think that's pretty good. The next question was: "can I fix this myself?"

I went to the bookshelf to retrieve my trusty Reader's Digest "Fix It Yourself Manual." Yeah, I think I can do this....based on these two pages of pictures and instructional text. First, unplug the dryer. It's really pretty easy to get everything taken apart. But oh geez, what's all this stuff?? The entire bottom of the dryer was covered with a solid 1/2 inch of dryer lint and pet hair....and this is a gas dryer. Holy S*#%! It's a miracle there hasn't been a fire in this dryer (I was also thankful that an appliance repair technician didn't see this embarassing mess)

Note to self: remember to take that bottom panel off and vacuum at least every 6 months.

Fortunately when I called the repair store this morning they had the belt in stock, so we stopped after work and the Spousal Unit shelled out his $19.99 (plus tax) for my new part.

After supper, it was time to tackle getting the belt on and putting everything back together.

Here's the "bolt tightening grimace."

Hello Daisy, do you think you'd like to help with this project?

And now the hardest part--attaching the belt to the motor and idler pulley. This was the part that required "magic" words especially once my glasses started steaming up. First I tried it the hard way and then logic kicked in and all the pieces clicked right into place.

The final test--plug it in and turn it on. Hooray! It's fixed! Now I'm back in the laundry business. I would be interested to know how much money was saved by doing this repair myself. Has anyone had an appliance repair done lately and would you mind sharing how much it cost you?

Things went relatively well and I had everything back together in less than an hour. Only one small cut on my finger and a minimal amount of swearing. I'm fortunate to have inherited the "handy gene" from my parents.

How about you? Do you want to share a story about something you've fixed or assembled and are proud to say that you "did it all by yourself?"