birds

Garden Notes: Blooms and Birds

It’s hard to get excited about the garden in January, but February is really the start of spring here on southern Vancouver Island. Even in a mild winter such as this one, though, cold and snow aren’t out of the question until the end of March. I see a 30% chance of snow flurries predicted for us later this week.

For the past few weeks, I’ve done some pruning projects — apple tree, magnolia and hollies. The most challenging was the hollies, since it involved both ladder-climbing and prickles. Even the clumsy and ill-designed pole pruner was useful for holly branches near the tops of the 20-foot-tall bushes. Then came the painful process of gathering up the prunings and lugging them to the growing brush pile.

March 19th is “compost day” this year — the one day per year the municipality picks up twigs, branches, roots, and other garden by-products. Otherwise, we have to lug that stuff to the municipal yard ourselves. It’s always an adventure because the “yard” is a rather confined space at the top of a steep little hill. It can be a challenge to jockey around all the other vehicles and people who just want to dispose of stuff and get out as quickly as possible. In terms of disposal, right now is the best time for major pruning projects, although plants such as lilacs, Oregon grape, and ceanothus have to wait until blooming is finished in June or so. No doubt I’ll then post a complaint about the Oregon grapes (which are almost as bad as hollies to prune).

Iris unguicularis in bloom
Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis)

There really is a lot blooming now, even in the middle of winter: snowdrops (some are already finished, in fact), yellow crocuses, Algerian iris (a mass of startling lavender-coloured flowers near the front steps), the small purple Iris reticulata, rosemary, hellebores (Corsican and Oriental), winter jasmine, winter honeysuckle, Japanese quince, spurge laurel (its Latin name, Daphne laureola, is much more elegant), and dark purple sweet violets. Indoors, a scarlet amaryllis is at its dramatic best, especially gratifying as it’s a repeat performance.

scarlet amaryllis
Amaryllis

I’ve seen some posts recently about counting birds. Here some folks do a Christmas bird count, for which there are guidelines and procedures. I’ve never managed to participate, but since I put up feeders in the back garden a few years ago, I now have a good idea of who visits them. The “regulars” in winter are dark-eyed juncos, house finches, chestnut-backed chickadees, bushtits, several different kinds of sparrows (white-crowned, golden-crowned, fox, and house), rufous-sided towhees, starlings, and northern flickers. Occasionally a red-breasted nuthatch shows up, and I’ve seen both a male and a female downy woodpecker. We haven’t had any Steller’s jays this winter; last year there were a lot of them around here, screeching and going after suet. Their beautiful blue colour makes up for their unmelodious voices.

Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents and several visit the hummingbird feeder many times a day. So do chickadees and bushtits at times, much to the dismay of the hummingbirds. American robins don’t care for either seed or suet, but they pretty much cleaned all the berries off the cotoneaster a few weeks ago (and then pooped orange pulp all over the car in the driveway).

Anna’s hummingbird

I’ve heard Bewick’s wrens making their buzzing and bubbling sounds in shrubs, and occasionally I hear one or another practicing his spring song. The male hummingbirds are doing their parabolic dives that produce a sharp whistle through the tail feathers, and chasing each other around while making sizzling sounds. Crows sometimes knock chunks out of the suet (much to the delight of juncos and sparrows on the ground below). Gulls, bald eagles, and ravens cruise by far above. Altogether, there’s a lot of bird activity around here.

And I admit all the photos for this post are from former years. The plants and birds look the same, so why not reuse them?
One of these days I should learn how to take decent photos of birds.

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Free Lunch!

Since December, this usually balmy part of the world has been experiencing spasms of cold weather — cold and windy, cold and frosty, even a bit snowy. Being at home during the day now, I’ve been observing bird activity on the premises. I’m not a “birder,” but I can’t help but notice the birds that hang around the place, and what they’re up to. Given the weather, I decided to provide some sustenance for the little dudes.

After a bit of internet research, I supplied the following: black oil sunflower seeds in a hanging tube-shaped feeder with little perches, a block of suet with embedded seeds of some sort, white millet seeds scattered on the ground and a hummingbird feeder with a correctly prepared sugar solution. (Before anyone objects to this as out of season, I’ll just point out that Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents here). The hummingbird feeder is close to a kitchen window.

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Anna’s hummingbird

 

Observations so far: even though black-oil sunflower seeds are recommended as suitable  for a large variety of birds, the only ones I’ve seen partaking of them here have been chestnut-backed chickadees, who show up now and then. I figure I have enough sunflower seeds for the next 20 years.

The suet is preferred by gangs of bushtits and a couple of Bewick’s wrens, as well as some sort of tiny, yellowish green bird I haven’t managed to identify. I’m especially fond of Bewick’s wrens, because of the pair that nested in a shoe on the back porch a couple of summers ago.

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Towhee and junco

 

Seeds on the ground, which may include spills from the hanging feeder, and suet crumbs, are popular with juncos (winter residents here) and what may be golden-crowned sparrows, as well as a solitary towhee. Strangely, the resident house sparrows don’t bother with any of this largesse. I have no idea where they get their food.

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Male hummingbird?

Hummingbirds have started visiting their feeder. I’ve noticed one hanging out in the apple tree and coming over to sip the sugar solution at intervals. I’ve also seen him chasing another bird away, which I gather is typical of hummingbirds. Later, what appears to be a different bird turned up — possibly a female?

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Female hummingbird?

All this is rewarding for everyone concerned, a win-win, but there is some responsibility involved on my part: replenishment of feed when needed, and cleaning of feeders to prevent fungi and other nasties. At night I haul the clothesline from which the seed tube and suet are suspended close to the house, to keep everything out of any rain or snow. Then there’s fretting about the temperature at which the sugar solution might freeze… Always something to figure out and “manage.”