Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Three Life Birds - maybe

Since the weekend, I have seen three new birds. One has been positively identified and confirmed by those with more expertise than I possess. The other two I have identified and hope for confirmation from the experts. Otherwise, they won't go on my list.

The positive ID: Swamp Sparrow

Here are the other two that I am almost sure of, but not quite: Northern Parula & Blue-headed Vireo. The pictures are terrible, but it's the best I could do. YES, I am taking a photography class. But I'm still learning. Actually, I think a bigger lens is in order for these little birds :)

What do you think? Are my IDs correct?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Garden Path Update

Gosh, I can't believe it has been over a week. The weather last week was wonderful. I took half a day off from my income-producing job last Tuesday to work on the path. First, I had to level the Minus base since the rains had made a bit of a mess of it. Minus hardens up when it dries so after all my complaints of rain, this required watering it down to loosen it. After that, I worked until there was no more light, but I finished putting the stones in place!

Friday night and Saturday morning I leveled the stones, and purchased yet 15 more bags of Minus. I figured I would need 10, but better safe than sorry since the place is closed on Sunday.

Saturday afternoon I start filling in around the stones with the Minus. I am so carefully "spooning" the Minus around the stones and tamping it down little by little. If anyone out there plans on building one of these, talk to me first. Another lesson learned .......... just dump it onto the path and brush it into the cracks and crevices. That's what I did Sunday and did it ever go so much faster. Five feet left to fill, and of course I run out of Minus. Knew that was coming, didn't you.

But I finished it Monday night after work and moved all the excess stones out of the way. Other than moving the piles of dirt and/or smoothing them out, I AM DONE!!!! I now leave it up to nature to weather it and make it look more natural.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Driveway Reclaimed & Photography Discards

Finally, all the Tacoma pavers have been moved back to the site in the backyard. It has been very slow going with all the rain we've had. Just have to be thankful that we are not dealing with the Nor'easter that has hit the folks along the Atlantic and other points northeast of here.

Sunday was a field trip for my photography class. We spent four hours at the Missouri Botanical Gardens photographing whatever we desired. Although none of my shots were any good, I did learn a lot about my system, its capabilities and limitations. Oh yeah, and MY complete lack of composition skills. I think I'm on the right track and learning, but it will take time. And another thing, I want a new tripod, and I want new glass, and I want lens extenders, and I want .... want .... want...............

Ed should have never encouraged me to take photography a step further. We have to score big bucks on the lottery.

Here are some of my muffed shots:

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Are some birds more "valuable" than others?

A bird term unique to this area of the Midwest (MO, KS, OK) is Zootie -- those rare and unexpected birds that show up to excite the entire birding community. On the Missouri Bird List-Serv, the question came up as to what the opposite of this would be. Of course in due time, "Trash" birds came up as a term used to describe the common bird. Do a google search of "Trash Birds" or "Junk Birds" and you will find that it is commonly used by birders across the country.

My birder friends from outside of Missouri and I believe it to be a horrible term implying that certain birds, those that we see every day, have no merit. More than 99% of the birds I watch fit the category of being common, but I certainly do not consider them to be trash.

I wrote back to the gentleman posting the term and politely asked why such a negative term could be used for any bird. This fellow is a very experienced and respected birder in Missouri. He is just 1 or 2 birds shy of a life list of 700. He provided a good response by putting it into the context of birding competition, specifically a Big Day. A Big Day is a competition where teams spend an entire day trying to see as many different bird species as possible. A good showing would be to see 200 birds in a single day. WOW -- that's a lot of birds. My entire LIFE list is only 70 in 2-1/2 years.

As the Big Day participants strategize, they place birds into different categories. There are the "target" birds that they have to get to guarantee a high number of birds for the day, and they have to know where to look for them. The "bonus" birds could show up anywhere, they are not expected to find them, but if they do, they fill in the gap when target birds are not found. Then there are the birds so common that they know they will found almonst any place they go. They do not have to have a plan to find them. These are the "trash" birds.

Granted, it's an ugly term but in this context, it's not intended to be derogatory. I'm sure there are a lot of birders that do use it in a negative fashion, but I have to believe that the best birders are only using it as a convenient label in the competitive spirit.

The gentleman posted his response to me on the Bird List-Serv and explained that a certain subscriber (me!) took umbrage at the term. Interesting responses from the group included the suggestion that another term might be coined to replace "trash" birds. And here's a reply that made me glad that I spoke up and might be making a small difference:

I would like to recommend that we all make it a point to remove "trash bird" from the lexicon of birding. For sure it does not portray us, the birder, as somone who appreciates the beauty of the common birds; moreover the term, trash, shows a complete lack of appreciation and respect for something that we spend untold hours watching, studying, admiring, and protecting.

Many of you have expressed the word or phrase you use to define common everyday birds, and they all sound great, but in my humble opinion the word trash should never be used to define any bird.

Bird on my friends, bird on.

Maybe here in Missouri, the use of that ugly term will be put to rest. Enjoy my photographs of non-zootie, yet valuable birds.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Rain Rain Go Away

It started raining tonight and it's forecasted to rain through tomorrow. In a way I guess it's good to have the rain before I lay the stone so I can see what happens to my "flood-prone" areas. I hope the base absorbs it and doesn't go floating away. We'll see what it looks like in the morning.

I used Microsoft's Digital Image Pro to mock up my plan on top of our property survey. It is very rudimentary, but you can see the general idea of my Birdscapes plan. If you click on the picture, you can get a larger version that is easier to read. The bottom of the picture is the front of the house with driveway to the left. I've been carting the materials from this location all the way around to the path area. Never buy a house that has no convenient access to the backyard. Another lesson learned!

The path is the brownish thingy that I've been photographing the past couple of weeks. It extends from the deck to the back of the yard. At the end of the extension to the right is where I want to have a garden bench. Despite having seven neighbors abutting the property, and three more in clear view, this is a very private spot in summer time because of all the trees.

The green circles are most of the existing trees and shrubs. Yes, there are two trees growing through the deck. Between these and the two just off of the deck, you can see why it is so easy to photograph the birds up close and personal. All I have to do is sit quietly on the deck. Not that the birds are truly comfortable with my presence, but over time I think they have become accustomed to it.

The Cedar Waxwings were still here today. They didn't come over for water very often while I was around, but I saw them eating the flowers from the crabapple tree. I never saw the Tufted Titmouse. Once again, a single Dark-eyed Junco made an appearance this evening. Since the wintering flock is no longer around, I wonder if I'm seeing migrating Juncos who just happen to stop-over for the night. I'll enjoy them while they are here.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Dilemma: Jigsaw Puzzle or Watch Birds

I got home from work and changed into my other work clothes. Time to start laying the path. But, gee, the cute little Tufted Titmouse is at the feeder. I'll watch for a while and then start work.

Hmmm, what's that in the fountain? Cedar Waxwing!!! Woot!!!!!

These have to be the slickest looking birds I have ever seen. Crested, brownish with bright yellow highlights, tails dipped in yellow, dark mask, red spots on the wings of the adults (just like wax, hence their name), and more red the older they are, no red on the juvies. And they are so quiet, you don't know they are around unless you see them. They generally travel in large flocks, so when you do see them, it really takes you by surprise.

Before this year, I have seen the cedar waxwings twice. Then this Spring -- late February, about two dozen showed up around the yard and hung out for a little over a week. Then, gone they were. I was shocked to see four of them this evening. They were feeding on the flowers of my neighbor's crabapple tree that abuts our property. Every once in a while, they came over to the bird bath for a sip of water and gave me great photo opportunities.

Jigsaw puzzle will always be there. I never know when these beautiful birds will show up.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Stoned out of my mind

Finally, the base is in and I begin moving the stone to the backyard. One pallet down, one to go. This was a lot easier moving job than the landscape base. Several of the stones were huge and too much to handle, so I broke them down into manageable pieces. Plus I rigged up a ramp so that I didn't have to carry the stones through the garage before putting them into the wheelbarrow. That saved a lot of time and physical labor.

Next up ........... jigsaw puzzle. How to fit all of these odd shaped stones into the path.

Birds of note today:
  • Brown Thrasher, first of the season ... brief glimpse.
  • Tufted Titmouse made another appearance.
  • Song Sparrow back.
  • Red-winged Blackbird that I hear singing every day finally came out of hiding.

Winter Birds:
  • Every day I think the Dark-eyed Junco is finally gone, but one or two still shows up late in the day. Based on previous records, they should be completely gone this week.
  • The White-throated Sparrow is still hanging around, and probably will be for another few weeks.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Bird News

Project Feeder Watch ended a week ago so, go figure, interesting birds are showing up. The Tufted Titmouse was all but absent for the entire count, yet he has shown up daily over the past few days. I saw the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker occasionally late last year, so I was surprised to see him show up today.

I'm just thrilled that the number of starlings is significantly down -- 100's of them a month ago, now just two to four. Of course, it appears that they are nesting in the roof eaves of my next door neighbor's house, like they did last year. Wish I could exterminate that nest.

The Mockingbird used to hang out in my yard, but it appears he has moved up the street. I was happy to see and hear him in my neck of the woods. I first heard his singing. Once I spotted him on the neighbor's roof I was thrilled to see him displaying.

And here's a photograph of a Carolina Chickadee -- love these little ones.

Back to Work!!

Wow, that was a painful week. I've been itching to start moving earth, filling in holes, laying stone. But the rains of the last week made such a mucky muck of it all. Then the freezing temps. This morning, there was still a remnant of the pond, but I only have so many non-(paying) work days. Time to get back at it!

This morning, the temperature was 22 degrees. Spring in St Louis -- I may as well be in Buffalo, NY. It never got above 35. So I dressed in layers: tank top, t-shirt, sweat shirt, jacket. Three pairs of socks. Jeans, shorts, other stuff. I thought about two pair of gloves, but that became too restrictive. Hat --- of course. By the end of the day, layers were removed, replaced, removed. You get the drill. In the end, hard work is the best for keeping warm.

The rains had made a mess of my excavation job ........... all the edges were starting to collapse a bit. So the first job was to redefine the borders. After that I fired up my trusty tiller and loosened up the path bed. Raked to level, stomped down, removed earth where necessary. Looking good!

One step forward, two steps back. The two steps back were the past week and I corrected those this morning. The afternoon work was definitely a step forward. The base material (Semco 3/8" Minus - landscaping rock) has been put in place. It's looking pretty good (104 bags of the 142). But it was 8:00 and getting dark when I finished. I'm thinking another 10 bags in the morning will get it to where it needs to be. Then I can start laying the stone. RATS! I have to get the stone to the backyard first.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

April Sadness in Kentucky

Gee, Billy Donovan stays in Florida. Boo Hoo for the Kentucky fans who were so sure that he would just fall all over himself to take the coaching position at this has-been program. The ghost of Rupp is probably laughing in his grave knowing that he will never be surpassed.

Back to the basics - Birds!

Since I have no progress reports on the garden path, I may as well talk about birds in my yard. This is my main interest and the reason for the landscaping in the first place.

Winter is a great time to see birds in the backyard. Stock a few bird feeders and they will generally flock to your yard to eat the seed and other goodies you set out for them. Right now, it's spring time and a lot of their natural food sources are becoming available to them. The birds disperse and start thinking about other **natural** instincts. It's time to start pairing up and producing a new generation of birdies.

The last two seasons, I've seen quite a few nestlings and fledglings -- robins, song sparrows, northern flickers, cardinals, chickadees, mockingbirds, blue jays, ............. I'm sure I'll see quite an array this mating season as well. I'm watching all the birds pair up and go through their mating rituals. Wish I was talented enough (PATIENT enough) to capture it all with my camera, but that too will come in time.

My second photography class was last night. A couple of essential concepts fell into place. Of course, this only led to a few more questions, but that is a good thing.

Ahhh ..... the Joys of Spring

Winter is lingering in the midwest. Tuesday morning the standing water had receded and I was looking forward to continuing the work on the path that evening. Silly me! I have to remind myself to check the weather forecast once in a while. Late morning a steady rain started. I went home at lunch time and the wetlands had returned! Maybe it was a good idea to place the landscape base along the path. If the banks overflow, the sandbags are in place to protect the rest of the yard and house. Geez ... what a mess. I figure it will be at least another 2 and a half days before the water recedes (Friday night?).

And to top it all off, the front brought in lots of cold weather. Since Tuesday, there have been three straight nights of below freezing temps. I had to plug in the heater to the bird bath so my little friends would have water in the morning.

Forecast through the weekend: no higher than the upper 40's and mid 20's every night.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

April Fools Day

Am I the fool! Naw, I'm just learning that this dog is not too old to learn new tricks. I'm just a little slower at them than if I was a young 'un. The "pond" garden path is not receding too quickly. At least the birds are enjoying it. Lots of them drinking from it and my resident Robin decided to take a bath before he came up for his morning raisins.

Despite the continued presence of wetlands in the path, there is still lots of work that can be done. As I said before, layout of house vs. lot prohibits delivery of the materials to the worksite so I have to hand cart it from the front of the house to the backyard. After errands in the morning and mowing the yard early afternoon, I didn't get started until almost 4:00. I don't know for sure how much each bag of base (landscaping rock) weighs but there were 142 of them to be moved. Compared to the 20 lb. bags of birdseed I regularly carry, I figure that at a minimum, each weighed 30 lbs. So, probably 4,500 lbs to be transported?

It took a little over three hours and probably 30 trips, but I got it done!!! A bit of driveway space has been reclaimed and I'm not feeling much wear on the old body despite the efforts (ask me in the morning). It's hard to see in this picture, but those whitish things represent 4,500 lbs of effort.