Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cute Birdorables

Here are some more pictures of the baby birds in my yard. The little chickadee chicks are growing so fast. This picture is from last night. I'm a little concerned about the chick on the left--it appears to be a day or two behind the other ones. Even though this is a pretty poor picture, you can see that its wing and tail feathers are not as fully developed as the other 3 chicks. It's still alive but I don't think it will be strong enough to leave the nest box when the other 3 do. I wonder if the parents will still feed it in the nest box if the other 3 chicks leave earlier?

Chickadees are the sweetest little baby birds. This one sat so quietly in my hand--no loud chirping like baby robins. This little one didn't even poop on me when I picked it up.

I got these pictures of the tree swallow babies the other day when I was mowing lawn. This is the nest box that had 6 babies in it. I can't even imagine how crowded it is now that they're all about ready to fledge. The parents are coming non-stop with food for all these hungry beaks. This little one was almost up to the entrance, waiting for another food delivery.

A little bit higher now. I wonder how many of its siblings it was standing on top of to get into the entrance like this.

And here comes mom......just in time with another insect to fill that patiently waiting little beak!

Here are the 5 little baby bluebirds. Sorry about the blurriness of this picture too......I was trying to take the picture as fast as possible because I was being buzzed by two angry bluebird parents! (It was a good thing I was wearing a hat--I could actually feel the wind from their wings because they were flying that close to me!)
Isn't it amazing how bright the inside of their mouth is? Shows up really good--even inside the darkness of the nest box, so the parent birds know exactly where to stick the food! Nature is sure an amazing thing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Master Naturalist Capstone Project Completed

Today's post is going to be the story and pictures of the completion of my Master Naturalist Capstone Project, which if you remember was adding flower and fruiting plants to the Bird and Bee Study Area as a memorial tribute to a gentleman who passed away last year. Some friends and members of his family were going to help with the planting which took place last Saturday (Father's Day weekend).

So I started digging some woodland wildflowers at the residence of another Master Naturalist alumni who volunteered some of his native plants. On June 4th, we dug up wild ginger, wild columbine, white violets, and some Canada mayflowers. (They also gave me a small hackberry seedling that I still need to find a spot for in my backyard.) Because it was still weeks till the planting day, I had to keep these plants somewhere at my place that was cool, reasonably shady and close by (so I wouldn't forget to water them!) The perfect staging area turned out on the sidewalk right outside our front door.
As you can see, it got a little bit crowded once the entire collection of dug-up and purchased plants was complete!

I also was able to dig up and divide two huge hostas from my gardens. This is Hosta "Krossa Regal." It has lovely pale lavender-colored flowers on an almost 5 foot stalk.
That sucker weighed a ton! I was wishing I had a bigger wheelbarrow.

Here's the other hosta that went: Hosta "Royal Standard." This one has the most fragrant and beautiful white flowers -- again on a really tall stem.

The planting party was set to take place from 9:00-11:00 on Saturday morning, so I got up early and started loading everything into Mr. Johnson's Tahoe. Holy Cow! It didn't look like that much stuff outside! And there's no more room for the hostas!

Well, hopefully the hosta tubs will fit in the second seat.......
......and they did. It's a good thing we have this enclosed truck for transporting plants; I think they would have gotten pretty beat-up in the back of a pick-up.

I wrote the names of the plants on orange flag markers so I could stick them in the ground and people would know which plants went where. These are the main viewing windows from the nature center out towards the little pond and bird feeders. The hostas were going here. It's my hope that once they start producing those tall flowers, the flowers should come right up to the bottom of the windows and visitors will be able to get some really close looks at the hummingbirds and butterflies that come to those flowers.

This is another area that was going to get a couple of hostas, plus the jack-in-the-pulpits that I had dug up from under my deck. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you will see a little green square on the center frame of the window down towards the bottom. This is the entrance/exit for an indoor beehive (look at the left side of the window and those big dark squares you see inside are the actual beehive--encased in clear plexiglass so people can watch the bee activity).
Fortunately, the morning was still pretty cool so I went ahead and planted these flowers early so as not to disturb the bees too much.

Under this sign, there were a couple of wild asters to be planted (this area gets a little bit of afternoon sun). There's also a yew in the background to provide cover for the birds and a bit of color in the wintertime.

Along the backside of this little pond, we planted the wild columbines. They will grow pretty tall but won't interfere with any views of the pond. In the background is another yew to be planted and in the foreground are a couple more jack-in-the-pulpits that didn't fit in the other spot.

In the front of the pond, there was a box full of wild ginger to be planted. Wild ginger is nice and low-growing and this was a perfect spot for it because it wouldn't obscure any views of the pond from the inside viewing area.

Underneath this tree, the white violets would find a new home.

Under this window and receiving a bit of afternoon sun, were two lobelia plants: one red (cardinal flower) and one blue (Great Blue Lobelia). I hope these make it as their tall flower stems will be quite attractive to the hummingbirds, bees and butterflies here.

This is the main sign at the front of the garden. I purchased a bee balm ("Petite Delight") and two Violet Dusk Bearded Tongue (penstemon) to be planted by the sign.

And lastly, there was this sunny, south-facing part of the garden where all of the flowering/fruiting shrubs were to be planted. For this area, I purchased: 2 each of Cardinal Red Osier Dogwood, an Autumn Magic Black Chokeberry, and 2 viburnums--Blue Muffin and Emerald Triumph.

So once everything was marked, I was ready for the family to arrive and get to work. Fortunately, my teacher Kirk was the liaison with the family and he did a great job of remembering everyone's names and making sure all the equipment they needed for digging, watering, etc. was available. I was more worried about getting everything done in the allotted time and usually am more comfortable staying in the background being a "worker bee" anyway.

Once everything was planted, it was time to start watering. Here are a couple of the grandkids with their water buckets watering one of the yews.

The kids did a lot of planting of the smaller plants in the pots, but the novelty of that chore wore off as they discovered the wonders inside the nature center and also the chance to play in the pond. Here, one of the dads takes over to finish planting the wild ginger.

This little girl was so cute! She and her mom got these plants by the sign into the ground. There was a lot of fascination with the worms discovered while planting; I think that's what the little girl standing up has in her hand.

I sent the big guys up to the front to dig the big holes for the shrubs. As you can see, there were plenty of 'supervisors' out there to help them!

And here are a couple of looks at where my hostas will be enjoying their new home. I think these spots will be perfect for them!

This was a fun project for me. I created a little hand-out for the family that thanked them for allowing me the opportunity to work on this project on their behalf and for giving me the chance to improve some habitat for the birds, wildlife and insects. I included a listing of the flowers and shrubs we planted that day and also invited them to come back in the future and visit this garden planted in memory of their loved one.

The grandchildren had created stepping stones and we added them to this garden.
I had a great time planning and choosing plants for this garden and was really happy with how well the project went. I can't wait to see how beautiful it will be next spring when all of the flowers are blooming. I will be keeping an eye on this garden and will be sure to get some pictures to share with you as everything continues to grow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

Some people stop feeding their backyard birds in the summertime, thinking there's more than enough "natural" food sources around for the birds to take advantage of. Not me! I get lots of birds at my feeders during the summer with the added benefit of watching the adult birds teaching their babies where the best places to eat are.

Baby Downy gets a suet treat from his mom.

There's grape jelly in this dish for the orioles. However, I found out this summer that some robins also love grape jelly. This little robin doesn't quite know for sure what to do yet though.

Mourning dove parent teaches "Junior" the best place to find safflower seeds.

All of these photos were taken from the dining room window. Having bird feeders close to the house definitely maximizes your viewing and photo opportunities, plus it's fun to be able to hear them chirping too. I wouldn't have known that baby woodpecker was on the deck except for his loud, insistent chirping for mom to "hurry up with that suet!"

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Weekend 2009

I hope you all had a nice Father's Day weekend. We had a little rain today, but that didn't ruin our traditional Father's Day picnic at Forestville State Park. It was a good celebration for Dad/Grampy and a fun day for all of us.

Here are some pictures from the backyard. The bluebird babies just hatched and as near as I could tell, all 5 of the eggs hatched. As you can see from this picture, one of the babies is still a little damp from being newly hatched.

The wrens have completed their nest and Mrs. Wren has laid 2 eggs so far. I really like this house that allows me to view the birds via the hinged roof.

Here's a look at the baby chickadees. They're starting to get pinfeathers on their wings and tails. I couldn't find information close at hand to learn how many days until they fledge, but I guess I'd better find out so I know when to watch for these little guys making their way into the real world!

The weather has finally warmed up and according to weather forecasts we're looking at 80's and 90's all next week. The garden is really starting to grow. I'm even starting to see blossoms on many of the plants. Here's one of the tomatoes.

The peas are flowering too.

I'm also starting to see some blossoms in the wildflower garden. This is a Daisy Fleabane.

And the first Purple Coneflower is blooming.

I have one giant Common Mullein plant in my backyard. I read that this plant is a biennial and takes two years to reach maturity. Last year was this plant's first year in my backyard and it got pretty big then, but it's twice as big this year.

I've been waiting and hoping that it will produce a tall flower stalk (birds and insects love them!). On closer inspection when taking this picture, I noticed the beginning of the flower stalk. I can't wait to see how big it gets and look forward to watching birds taking advantage of it this winter.

I'm starting to see a few more butterflies in the backyard and more perennials are starting to bloom too. Here's one of the daylilies.

And this new poppy plant I just planted this spring has lots of flowers on it.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and I hope you all have a good week.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Loggerhead Shrike!

For some of you--especially in the southern half of the U.S.--the Loggerhead Shrike may be a bird you see regularly, but for me it was definitely a first on my Minnesota List! (not a lifer though, I actually saw my lifer Loggerhead Shrike in California just a few short months ago).

Here's a bit of information from the Minnesota DNR's Nongame Wildlife website regarding the Loggerhead Shrike:

"They were once found in grasslands around the state, except in the Arrowhead region. Recent surveys have found fewer than 30 nests in southern and western Minnesota, with a small concentration in Dakota, Rice, and Goodhue counties. Population loss is likely due to many factors--loss of grassland habitats to cropland and housing, forest encroachment into grasslands, increased use of pesticides, and changes in farming practices with larger fields and fewer trees, shrubs, and fences."

On last Sunday's birding field trip, John Hockema mentioned that a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes had been seen regularly behind Lowe's. "You mean the Lowe's out by 48th Street?" I asked, because I couldn't believe they were this close to where I live. John confirmed that was the place and told me specifically that the birds had been seen less than 1/2 mile east of Lowe's on County 101. (Of course, I knew exactly where that was because that road is sometimes my shortcut home from Quarry Hill Nature Center.)

So on Monday afternoon, I left home a little bit early to pick up Mr. Johnson from work in the hopes that I might be lucky enough to spot this shrike. I had gone no more than a quarter mile onto County 101 and there it was--up on the utility line. Holy Crap!! A Loggerhead Shrike!! (do you ever do that--talk to yourself while you're driving around and looking at birds? I need one of those "birder" bumper stickers so people who pass me on the road know I'm a birder and not just some kooky old woman driving slow and talking to herself!)
I pulled out my little Canon Power Shot and started snapping away because I was sure the bird would fly as the car rolled closer.

Amazingly enough, the bird just stayed right there on the line and I was able to drive right up in front of it!
"Whatchoo lookin' at?"

Gosh, what a handsome bird!

Finally, as I was turning the car around, the bird flew across the road to some trees. I couldn't resist stopping to take one more picture.

With the rate of development arount Rochester, I'm not sure how much longer this habitat will be available for this bird. This area is prime for residential or commercial development and I think it's only a matter of time before the fences are pulled, the trees are cut down and more prime bird and wildlife habitat is gone forever.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sunday Morning Birding Field Trip

This past Sunday morning I accompanied several other members of The Church of Our Benevolent Mother Nature to a special service that was held at Forestville State Park.
This service was just a portion of a special all-day birding event being held in Fillmore County (in the far southeastern-most corner of Minnesota).

Our little congregation was led by one of Minnesota's premier birding experts: John Hockema. In the photo below (from L. to R.) you will see Troutbirder (yes, I finally got to meet this blogging friend who lives only about 23 miles from me!), Chris Hockema (John's brother) and John.
John had only recently gotten back from leading birding trips at Boreal Birding and Northern Landscapes Festival in Grand Marais, Minnesota. He mentioned that North House Folk School was planning another birding festival coming up Labor Day Weekend that he was going to be leading field trips for also, but I couldn't find the event listed on the North House home page (if I find out more information--I will post it in the 2009 Birding Festivals & Events section on my sidebar).

It was a great experience to have John as a trip leader. I knew this was going to be a great trip when we got out of the car and he came over and asked us if there were any special birds we were particularly interested in seeing this morning. I immediately asked for the Cerulean Warbler and one of the other folks asked for the Louisiana Waterthrush. John said he would do his best to find those birds for us and we headed down the trail.

I've birded many times in Forestville State Park, but we walked a trail I didn't even know existed and it was a fantastically birdy area right along the creek. We never did find the Cerulean Warbler or Louisiana Waterthrush, but we saw and heard lots of other great birds including the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo and Blue-Winged Warbler, plus we got really good looks at a Scarlet Tanager who flew down to find that "other" Scarlet Tanager that had invaded his territory via my birdJam!

Because we were in the "Lowland Hardwood and Floodplain Community" of southern Minnesota's Deciduous Forest biome, there were plenty of other interesting nature sightings along the way. Look at all the insects flocking to the blossoms of this wild Cow Parsnip plant. These huge plants (most around 6 feet tall!) were blooming everywhere in the woods.

We're starting to see more butterflies now that the weather's finally warming up here. This Mourning Cloak was taking advantage of some horse poop left behind on the trail. (The next time I go down to Forestville, I'll have to remember a big baggie to pick up a few "road apples" so I can set up the butterfly feeding station again in my backyard.)

On our way back, Chris happened to notice a male Baltimore Oriole hanging around what appeared to be a nest in a tree right over the trail. I had to check this out and sure enough, there was the nest! I believe this is the only time I've ever spotted an active oriole nest during the nesting season.

I also found my first active Red-Winged Blackird nest in a roadside ditch. I could see Mrs. RW Blackbird sitting on the nest and as I approached she flew away--revealing the eggs in her nest. (I know they're nesting in the lower part of my backyard, but the grass and weeds are just too thick for me to ever locate a nest). I was surprised to find this nest built so low--it wasn't more than 14 inches above the ground--making this nest an easy target for predators and over-zealous highway departments who feel the need to mow every road ditch to the ground.

The field trip for Troutbirder and me ended at 11:30 because we both had previous commitments for Sunday afternoon. The rest of the group was continuing their trip deeper into Fillmore County where spotting Henslow's Sparrows was planned for the afternoon. John told me of a couple of places where Henslow's Sparrows have regularly been seen, so I've got that on my agenda for another birding trip this summer. John also told me about a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes (possibly nesting!) less than 3 miles from my house in Olmsted for pictures of this fabulous sighting in my next post!!