Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nature Notes: Bluebird Babies

We have bluebirds again this year, just one pair, but they have three babies! They stop by every day for a swim, and it's such a joy to see them splashing around.

They have zero interest in the seed feeder, and I am not inclined to pay actual money for meal worms. I don't mind keeping the bathwater clean and fresh, though.

I've found a shallow plastic plant saucer works better than the deep clay birdbath for attracting them. Raccoons like to munch on the edges, but the birds don't seem to mind the raggedy accommodations.

Bathing the Kids


All Clean

I considered putting putting up bluebird houses on the fence posts around the pasture, but after doing some research I concluded it might do more harm than good.

There's a lot more to it than just putting up a nest box. They have to be monitored at least once a day for parasites and sparrow attacks, and we have predators that would quickly notice the boxes.

It's a lot of responsibility, and it often ends in tragedy. Call me cowardly, but I try to avoid heartbreak wherever possible these days. Besides, wherever they're nesting, they seem to be doing just fine on their own.

Here are two great resources, though, if you want to take up "bluebirding" as a hobby:
** North American Bluebird Society
** Sialis

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nature Notes: Feed Me!

Barn Swallow Babies

I had never gotten a really good look at swallows, much less gotten a photo, before this past week. They dart through so fast. So it was a treat when a whole family of them lined up on my gutter for the day.

Most baby birds flutter their wings when begging, looking all helpless and cute. These guys stand up tall and proud, wings spread like little eagles, competing to look biggest and strongest.

If I were a swallow mom, I think I'd be a little intimidated.

Feed Me

Ordering Room Service

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

*P.S. Thanks, Tina, for the invitation to enter these into PicStory! I hope I did my entry correctly. Here's the link to that meme, everyone: PicStory.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nature Notes: One Wondrous Weed

Strange and Beautiful

Well, it's been awhile. Hasn't it.

Here's the thing: I turned 60 last week, and it hit me harder than I expected. Suffice it to say that my thoughts turned inward and melancholy for a few weeks, until I realized how ungrateful it is to lament getting old when so many never get the chance to do so; how silly it is to regret the things left undone when I could still do most of them if I really wanted to.

So. I'm over it. And I'm back. Now about this weed ...

Over the past couple of years, I have allowed the milkweeds to spread in hopes that monarch butterflies would find them. We have three handsome stands of it now, and it makes me smile to think how my old neighbors from the development would react to see them ... I'd have villagers at my door with torches and pitchforks. Literally.

Milkweed is generally described in agricultural literature as nasty, noxious, invasive, toxic, and pernicious. I beg to differ. It's a handsome, sturdy, healthy-looking plant with gorgeous, fragrant flowers in summer and perfectly magical seed pods in the fall. Parts of it are edible if boiled first, though I have no intention of testing that.

Its genus, Asclepias, is named for Asklepios, the Greek god of healing. It has been used in Native American and folk medicine to treat everything from warts to kidney stones to asthma and as a contraceptive, though I haven't figured out yet how that last one would have worked.

The fiber in the stems was used to make cloth, and the floss of the seeds was used to make fine thread as glossy and strong as silk. In World War II children collected the pods and turned them in to the government. The lightweight floss was used as stuffing in life vests and flight suits.

In Hindu mythology, the creator was under the influence of milkweed juice when he created the universe (which would explain a lot), and so milkweed is considered to be the king of plants.

In your back yard garden or wild patches it smells like lilac and attracts butterflies and bees like nobody's business. In our patches, tiny tree frogs like to sun themselves on the broad, flat leaves.

AND, It is the only food monarch caterpillars can eat. The sap has a cardiac toxin in it. Monarchs hold that toxin in their bodies and wings, which makes them un-tasty and toxic to most birds and other predators.

No more milkweed, no more monarchs. Butterfly conservation groups are encouraging people to plant milkweed along the migration paths of monarchs to offset the stands lost to development.

OK. Done. Here I am, surrounded by common milkweed. So where are the monarchs?

* If you'd like to plant milkweed, I'll have a lot of seeds come fall. Drop me an email and an address and I'll be happy to send you some.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.