Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Tenants Wanted: Bluebirds and Foxes Preferred

As winter softens its grip, many of the birds return for a preliminary look at nesting sites.  Bluebirds first appearance here is always exciting for us.  They take a look at nest boxes then disappear south as winter takes another smack at us.  In response to their early appearance, we clean out their rooms. We cleaned out the houses in the front the other day.  The sight of an actual pair of Bluebirds peering into a nest box today resulted in our completion of this spring ritual.   Last year's nests are usually buried with milk weed seed fluff as field mice convert these spaces to their foul weather homes.  Sometimes these insulated homes are huge.  Just how many trips were needed to carry in all of these pieces of seed pods from the field into the nest box?  For this year the record number of field mice in one nest box was three.  My challenge is to  clear them out without having them hide inside of my clothes.  With any luck the mice will fall into the plastic pail.  None were seen today.

Different varieties of birds build different kinds of nests.  The highly regarded Bluebirds primarily make nests from pieces of dried grass.  Sometimes after their first brood are grown a second grass nest is placed over the first.  Everything has to go right for that to happen.  Some years dry days drive the birds away before the first eggs even appear.

Wrens build their nests using small sticks.  It is a puzzle as to just how they modify the length of the tiny stick to fit inside of the nest box.  Today these nests were found so tightly packed that it was difficult for me to remove them.  This is hard to understand since I have hands and fingers while the bird uses only its beak.

We now have eleven nest boxes cleaned and ready.  Our plan is to put a pair of them somewhat close together so that the Bluebirds can share the area with Tree Swallows, Wrens or a second pair of Bluebirds.  When a damaged box is repaired and set out all will be ready.

This den with two visible entrances remains a bit of a puzzle.  Woodchucks do not usually dig such an elongated entrance opening.  The second visible hole near the bushes close to the right edge of the photo is more typical.   The visible pile of dug soil is also uncommon just outside of the entrance.  We had hoped that the pair of foxes seen earlier may have explored this den site but now see the possibility that a dog may have also found this spot.  We have made several recent visits here but have seen no signs of  new activity.  We will continue to watch and hope.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

March Heat Wave

It was wonderful to work outside in the summerlike temperatures today.  This cluster of Jacob's Ladder has been in the shade garden near the house for many years.  If we soon find a new spot for some of the younger plants, a move would be in order.  This has proven to be a hardy and beautiful native plant.

This Winter Aconite is not native here but its early bright yellow flowers lift our spirits.  This plant has self seeded in the lawn and its open flower is ahead of others previously planted in the gardens.

Snow Drops are another nonnative plant that simply had to be set out in our shade garden near the road.  Placed just inside of the path defining stones we have a pure white line of open flowers when little else has even made an appearance at this time.

 This is our small patch of native Arbutus that were growing here when we bought the land more than a quarter of a century ago.  Some years we could find sweet flowers while the plant seemed to have disappeared many other years.  This patch taught us that wild animals feed on this evergreen plant and protection is in order.  Chewed to the ground several times somehow these plants regrew.  Now a wire cage keeps them safe.

Three days ago we discovered the remains of a deer quite close to the house.  Coyotes have harvested our deer in the past but never before this close to the house.  We did make a close inspection of the various body parts scattered about.  White hair under the chin suggested that this was an old deer.  We expected that we would have to clean up the less desirable body parts scattered about but left the site just as we found it.  That night Becky heard unusual noises outside of the bedroom window.  She carefully opened a window just a crack and listened to what sounded like conversation between the coyotes.  The following morning we went out with tools and buckets expecting to clean up the less appealing body parts.  The only objects remaining were the tufts of hair pictured above.  A well chewed nearly clean section including backbone and the rib cage had been dragged away from the house.  We expect a return visit tonight with another meal taken.  It is likely that we will not be able to find any body parts tomorrow.  We have found fresh kills before and always have quickly left the area.  One amazing event that we did witness this time was two of the dead deer's companions feeding quite close to the remains.  It would appear that wild animals see death as a normal component of life. 

It is not uncommon for our first Deer Tick encounter to occur in March.  Our recent experience was uncommon in that the tick was not found on our body.  It was seen leisurely swimming across the toilet bowl water.  Go figure. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Look Who's Back

Yesterday, it took almost all morning for the chilly fog to burn off.  Fun outdoor time seemed far off, but  after lunch Ed and I just had to go outside.  He used most his time to play in the mud, snow and water in the driveway and to inspect his Trailing arbutus.  I wanted to see if any of my plants were coming up. Wintergreen and  Partridgeberry are showing in this photo.  It is too soon to remove those oak leaves but     I 'm curious to see under there. 


These bulbs have been nibbled on and some bulbs have been pulled out of the ground.   I 'm pretty sure they are snow drops.  I am thrilled to see them again but not so delighted to see them uprooted.  When this bed softens I will replant  them.  Considering the voles we have had this year any bulbs that survive are a plus!

The tiny, fragile, pale green leaves in this picture are baby red columbine plants.  I love these as do the hummingbirds. 

This plant is a native.  It has small yellow flowers and blooms at a time when a little yellow color in a native plant garden is welcome.  I wish I could tell you its name, but right now it has slipped my tongue and my brain.  I am still thrilled that it is back!  This afternoon when Ed and I were on a bluebird house mouse eviction mission, more snow had melted.  I found the tag for this plant.  It is Golden Ragwort, Pakera aurea.  I bought it from the Fernery.

These are my fragrant lady's tresses.  This plant comes up early and blooms late.  It is wonderful to see this plant again.  Today perhaps the most exciting return of all to the garden is the bluebirds.  I watched them this morning checking out the bluebird houses and sitting on fence posts in the garden.  Watching bluebirds always makes me happy!


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Beautiful March Day

More than one decade ago, we flew in the face of conventual wisdom and attempted to transplant Trailing Arbutus.  Writings spanning the previous century described this native wonder as impossible to transplant.  We discovered the hard way that these plants could be moved but their evergreen sweet foliage would likely be eaten by starved rabbits or woodchucks early in the year.  A beneath the surface dry stone wall extending up along the wire cage edge has to date solved that problem.  The appearance of this native plant's apparently wild placement  is destroyed by the wire cage.  In the past we would carefully remove fallen pine needles and oak leaves.  Our treasured babies were given extensive care with the hope that they would survive.  Not only have they survived, plants now extend past the limits of the cage.  That exposed growth may be eaten but these plants are otherwise mostly on their own.


Many of the early flowering plants form their flower buds ahead of winter's arrival.  A cursor click on the image will enlarge it and if you look just to the right of center near the lower edge of the photo you will see a cluster of buds.  We find this promise of early flowers both exciting and reassuring.  Why the squirrels or chipmunks did not carry off the acorn remains an unanswered question while the Arbutus looks great.


Cardinal Flower is another incredible native plant that is not commonly found in our area.  The loss of snow cover has revealed a sizeable group of plants.  The dead stems mark the location of last year's flowering plants and their need to increase the number of new plants now holding their spot.  When the ground thaws these clusters can be unearthed.  Gently pulling apart the plants, individuals can be transplanted into pots.  When the snow cover first disappeared  great looking plants are on display.  The bitter cold that will surely visit here will likely turn these plants into dead mush.  More to the north, snow cover exists for a longer period of time and the warm Georgia winds do not blow there.  Here southern warmth followed by bitter cold often ends these native treasures.

We considered working among the plants but the ground is still frozen.  This section of the driveway has taken a real beating.  Where we can direct the running water to flow in the higher ditch, the situation improves.  Flowing water softens the frozen soil and a deeper channel can  then be established.  We need to continue widening and deepening the ditch ahead of serious rainfall.  With persistence and luck we may be able to at least reduce the amount of water roaring down the driveway.  Last year we were able to use a shovel and lawn cart to move enough gravel to raise the road surface above the level of the ditch.  We plan to do the same thing on this side after new gravel becomes available.  For now it is dig, dig, dig. Happiness is being outside, working, getting the spring runoff to run downhill my way. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

March Huh?

 Here is a problem that has been with us for as long as we have lived here.  This edge of the driveway includes a shallow ditch to drain rain or melt water intending to avoid washing away the road surface.  Given the lay of the land, no plow can keep the snow out of the ditch.  Our earlier ice storm covered bare ground with freezing rain and that mixture made a solid bond with the freezing ground.  Never before have we seen ice that could not be chopped and removed.  Despite warmer temperatures this ice absolutely cannot be broken free from the frozen ground.  Melt water has worked its way under the edge but the frozen mass soon sends that water back onto the driveway.  I was able to shovel three loads of thawed gravel and worked with the snowplow driving backwards dragging this mess from the ditch and placing it back in the lane.  The issue that remains is the soggy trap with thawed gravel over deep mud.  We may get three inches of snow tonight and I fear that a professional plow will move huge amounts of gravel from the driveway leaving it totally filling the ditch area.

An afternoon of above freezing air temperature and contact with sunlight have created this mess.  To the left of the remains of the newly carved gully, the driveway remains running water free and rather solid.  To the right of the gully, melt water and eroded gravel have created deep mud.   All of the thawed gravel from the supply pile has been placed here and packed down using my Toyota Tacoma as a steam roller.  Nothing more can be done today to smooth out the ruts ahead of forecast snowfall.  We will see just what tomorrow brings.