Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Outwitting Squirrels - Part 1

Here are a couple "long ago" photos of what my backyard wildlife habitat looked like in its early days. The planning had been done, the trees and shrubs were planted and there was nothing left to do but water the trees and wait for time to pass.......
All those years ago, this backyard was a much better bluebird habitat and squirrels were rare and exciting visitors.......

Fast forward to November 2010 (about 21 years after I planted the first tree in the backyard). In just the past year or so, my backyard has become very attractive squirrel habitat with plenty of large deciduous and evergreen trees and, best of all, lots of birdfeeders!

I'm sure most of you already know what cunning and intelligent critters these cute little bushytails are. While I enjoy watching them scamper and chase each other around the yard, I don't believe in giving them unlimited access to the delicious and expensive birdseed I buy for my "special" birds. (This seed contains shelled peanuts and sunflower hearts -- also a delicious favorite of squirrels!) After working at Wild Birds Unlimited for years and giving customers advice on how to outwit squirrels, I now find myself in the position of putting this advice to work in my own backyard.

The most effective deterrent at keeping squirrels out of the expensive seed in my tube feeders has been the cage that goes over the feeder. A weather dome on top also works to keep the chipmunks and red squirrels from getting in. I removed the seed catcher tray from the tube feeder too, so even if the smaller critters get through the cage, they have nowhere to sit and clean out the tube.

Last week I spotted this persistent (or maybe really dumb) squirrel trying its darndest to get to that tasty birdseed. I hope you enjoy this series of photos as much as I enjoyed outwitting this squirrel! (Be sure to click on any of the photos to enlarge them.)

In this photo the squirrel's head is at the left -- this squirrel has really distinctive, almost white, colored ears.

Their acrobatic skills never cease to amaze me.

Look at the concentration on bushytail's face as it desperately tries to figure out a way to that feeder!

Now it's trying to chew through the cage! Fortunately the mesh is very thick (although most of the green plastic has been chewed off the wire)

Now trying to figure out a way to get to the feeder tube from the bottom.

Look at how fat this squirrel is! I think it's already had plenty of birdseed.

Checking back the other way, bushytail finds out there's still no access to the feeder.

"Guess I'll just have to clean up underneath the feeder!"

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "Outwitting Squirrels" coming up in my next blog post.....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who needs TV when you've got Bluejays!

Last Saturday morning, I decided to whip up a batch of pancakes for breakfast. Before we sat down to eat, I filled the peanut wreath and hung it from a tree branch a few yards outside the dining room window. I think the bluejays actually watch for me to refill and hang that peanut wreath in the tree because they're flying in already before I even get back in the house. Once our pancakes are buttered and syruped, we're ready to sit back and enjoy the show right outside the big dining room window. Hope you enjoy this series of photos too!

The bluejays are greedy and hungry, but only 1 bluejay at a time is allowed to pick a peanut from the wreath. The rest of them must wait their turn.

It's not always an easy task to get just the right peanut out of that coiled wreath.

Selecting a peanut becomes even more difficult when there's only 1 left and it's securely lodged at the bottom of the wreath! This bluejay eyes the peanut and plans his strategy for securing that final peanut.

Now he's perched on top of the wreath, but obviously there's no way he can reach the peanut from there.......

well, maybe he can if he just streeeeeetches over the edge a little bit........

hmmmmm, no luck with that. So he decides to try it the way he's seen the nuthatches get a peanut........

Crap! that's not going to work either! Having a bluejay audience laughing behind you makes this especially difficult!

Bluejays are just not well-suited for clinging upside down to feeders! But they are persistent when it comes to peanuts......

Oops! So close....... Wonder what that other bluejay is thinking?

One of the bluejays eventually snatched that last peanut out of the wreath and the show was over. I especially like to fill the peanut wreath on weekends when I have time to sit back and enjoy the show. Early mornings seem to be the best time to attract the bluejays in large numbers. Once they spread the word that peanuts are being served, they all flock in to enjoy this special treat. This entertaining bluejay display is definitely worth the the price I have to pay for peanuts in the shell.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Surprise Backyard Visitor

As I was watching and counting birds for Project FeederWatch last this afternoon, I was really surprised to see this American Robin perched on the edge of the birdbath. Fortunately my camera was close by and I was able to capture this series of photos, because we just don't see too many robins here in Minnesota on November 22nd.

"You know Robin, it's only 30 degrees outside. Even though you're standing on the birdbath heater, I don't think that water is much warmer than 40 degrees!"

A test of the water with wings and tail is the first step toward scooting off that birdbath heater.

Into the bath -- with one foot on the heater for security -- never can be too sure how deep the water is.

Wow, that must feel so good! I love watching robins take a bath -- they're such vigorous splashers. Just look at all that water spraying around!

Now for a few more flutters with wings and tail......

Back up on the heater and the bath is all done. I looked away for just a moment and when I turned to the window again, the robin was gone -- hopefully moving on to warmer regions.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Backyard Buck

A couple days ago, Mr. Johnson happened to notice that a few small trees in our backyard have been rubbed rather vigorously by a whitetail buck. He seemed to favor my staghorn sumac thicket. This one was on the outside edge of the thicket.

Here's my hand to use as a guide for the size of the tree being rubbed.

This one was farther inside and towards the back edge of the thicket.

Pretty much the same size tree again. Check out those gouges in the wood below my hand! Those antler tips are really sharp!

On the other side of the yard in the aspen thicket, we found another tree that had been worked.

Same size again, so we were pretty positive this was the same buck. This tree was deeply gouged. They're really strong and so aggressive this time of year! Can you imagine how dangerous it is for them when 2 bucks have locked antlers and are fighting? I sure wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of those antlers.

Since it was obvious there's a buck in the backyard, Mr. Johnson turned the trail camera on again......and we weren't disappointed. We're fairly certain this is the buck that's been rubbing on our trees. This guy doesn't have very big antlers, and the general rule is that the larger the antlers on the deer, the larger the tree they'll work. This buck has a nice big body, but due to point restrictions in place this deer hunting season, it's not legal to shoot this buck, so maybe we'll see him around again this year.

I got these pictures in reverse order, but he showed up twice in one night for corn. I'm guessing he also stayed around to visit with some of the does that frequent our backyard overnight too. There was lots of deer activity and photos on the camera on this night of 6th and early morning on the 7th.

The little fawns are still hanging around in the backyard, but I think they're on their own now. Once the does come into their breeding season, they chase their babies away to be on their own. At least the little fawns that have visited regularly over the summer know where there's a safe place to eat and rest in our backyard. Now if we could just figure out a way to keep them from trying to cross the road!

The possum is still visiting the backyard at night too. Looks like this possum is getting in pretty good shape for the long winter!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Summer Birds & Winter Birds

The weather has been unusually moderate for the past couple weeks -- especially for the beginning of November. It's been cold (in the 20's) at night, but the days warm up nicely (todays highs were in the mid-60s!) The thing I've noticed while I'm outside on these nice days is that there are still several of the "summer" birds hanging around here......like this robin, enjoying the birdbath.

And this common grackle, also enjoying the birdbath!

There's even a few Red-Winged Blackbirds still hanging around. It's nice to hear their song this late in the season because once they're gone, I won't hear it again until next April.

And even though this nice weather enables me to not think about the dark, cold, snowy days to come, the little feathered friends showing up at my birdfeeders confirm that winter is not far off. Purple finches are really early (at least for my backyard) this year. Here's a female.

Pine Siskins are also starting to show up in larger numbers. I wonder if this is going to be another big Pine Siskin year? Last year I only saw them during spring migration. They're such fun, scrappy little birds and not the least bit intimidated by house finches.

Today the handsome male Purple Finch visited my feeder. I almost never have the males at my feeders, so this was a special treat. I hope he stays around for the entire winter (or at least long enough for me to document on my list when Project FeederWatch starts next weekend!)