Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Who Let The Birds Out?

I was out with the dogs this morning and coming back to the house, noticed a large number of birds in the apple trees in my yard.  I quickly put the dogs in the house, apologized for not feeding them breakfast and grabbed my binoculars.  I'm glad I did!  Ten house finches were huddled among the top branches of  an apple tree.  Then I  spotted three juncos flicking through leaf litter by the garden shed.  There were a lot of birds in the privet hedge in my neighbor's yard and on closer inspection I saw half a dozen robins and the same number of cedar waxwings.  They were eating the purple privet berries.  I was able to get a great look at the waxwings and noted their yellow tail tips.  This mixed group then came into my yard and hung out in the apple trees.  Twenty-five starlings swooped into the maple tree in front of the house- I know because I was counting .  It just so happened to be a feeder watch day so I was very excited and noting every bird I saw.  Two hairy woodpeckers, one downy woodpecker, a chickadee, a tufted titmouse, and white breasted nuthatch all visited the feeders or yard.  Wow!  Who let the birds out?  Last week's feeder watch results were four house sparrows.  I'm eager to see what goes on tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes December, 2010

      Trying to work off Thanksgiving pie or making room for holiday cookies? Join me for a stroll around town to check out a few interesting spots and burn off a calorie or two.  Starting on the tennis courts, face north and walk towards the largest tree on the other side of the fence. Look at the main trunk and follow it up and you’ll see a lot of woodpecker holes.  The lower oval ones are made by Pileated Woodpeckers.  The upper round holes are dug by Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  Many days I hear these birds in this area and sometimes see them busy at work.
    Now we’ll walk up Curvy Hill (Covel Avenue).  Right before Covel curves to the right, look to the left and check out the dead tree. It looks like it’s being carved into a dugout canoe.  It’s the impressive work of Pileated Woodpeckers.   Take a couple more steps and on the left side of the road is another tree.  It has no bark and is peppered with holes.  It’s a great condominium for birds that stay the winter.  Continue walking along Prospect Avenue and enjoy the views of the lake.  When passing Schoolhouse Park, note the natural cavities in the large oak and maple trees.  I’ve seen squirrels, chipmunks, bees and wood ducks use these.  I’m hoping to see an owl tucked in one.
    At Andrews Avenue take a right and walk all the way down to Peck Avenue. You can see what birds are visiting the feeders or hiding in the hedges along the way.  Once at the Peck Avenue sign, turn left towards the woods.  Enter the woods, on the path, and step over the first fallen tree.  Keep walking and step over the second fallen tree.  Walk about five steps and stop.  Look to your left and find a white pine with eight holes, a couple of which look freshly dug.  Who might be living there?   You can continue on the trail through this stand of pines.  Notice that there are white pines with dark, vertically ridged bark.  There are also red pines with red paper-like bark.  Before you reach the third downed tree you can veer to the right on a faint trail. This will bring you out on the Zim Smith trail.
    Take a right to go back towards the village.  On either side of the trail there are small white and red pine trees.  You can reach the needles to count bundles of five needles for the white and bundles of two for the red pines.  As you walk along the trail and pass the cut through to Washington Avenue, look for the abundance of wild grapes wrapped around the trees on the left side.  You may see birds snacking on them.  One day two Pileated Woodpeckers were hanging on the vines feasting. 
    Now you’re on your own.  I hope you enjoyed the walk.  Let me know what you saw.  Leave a comment on Roundlakenaturenotes.blogspot.com!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Leaf Raking and Putting My Garden to Bed November 10, 2010

I usually wait for the last leaf to fall off our two large maple trees before I start raking.  Then it seems like an endless job of covering garden plants and shrubs with some of the leaves, composting as much as will fit in the piles,and bagging the rest.  I procrastinate raking them all up.  I enjoy the crunch of leaves underfoot and shuffling through them. I love seeing  kids in our neighborhood toss them up in the air, make leaf forts, and jump into the piles.  Now it's November and the first snow has surprised us.  I look out on a half raked yard, still littered with a good amount of leaves, and a forlorn looking garden.  It's certainly not looking neat and tidy.   However, I know from my readings and direct observations that a messy yard is more attractive to birds and wildlife.  Leaf litter is a good hiding place for insects and larvae and will attract wrens, robins, white-throated sparrows, and juncos.  Additionally, the leaves will act as an insulator and fertilizer for the garden plants and soil.  My huge Miscanthus sinensis grass will flop over and become a frozen table for seed and a perch for squirrels and birds.  Underneath the grass, birds will take cover on frigid days and the neighbor's cat will need to be chatted with when she slips under there too.  I haven't cut down any garden plants because I've noticed in past years seed pods from the purple cone flower, black-eyed susans, and rudbeckia, are enjoyed by the goldfinches and chickadees.  A pile of sticks, twigs and large branches meant for a camp fire is turning into a nice brush pile over by the garden shed. Hopefully, it will give winter shelter for birds and small mammals .  Now I'm looking out on the yard thinking things are looking pretty good-at least from a nature lover's standpoint. I think I'm done with raking!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes November 2010

In mid-September, driving home from Michigan, through Ontario, Canada, I found myself in the midst of a monarch butterfly migration.  One monarch after another fluttered over the highway.  This continued for over two hundred miles!  It amazed me and kept me entertained while driving.  Surprisingly, I don’t think any hit my car, although I found myself occasionally ducking down.  Mixed in with the monarchs were clouded and orange Sulphur butterflies.  Back home, I checked on-line and discovered I had been driving through the Great Lakes monarch migration route.  In my own garden this fall, monarchs fed on butterfly bush and asters.  I planted a second butterfly bush after being so in awe of the monarch’s migration.  I think it’s a marvel that they travel all the way to California and Mexico for the winter.  Monarchwatch.org/waystations will tell you how to attract butterflies to your yard and become a waystation for these long-distance migrants.
    In October, I went to the spot in the woods where I do a spring/summer bird study to see who was around for the fall.  Passing the Peterson yards, I saw a flock of dark-eyed juncos flitting through the shrubs.  I wondered where they had been all summer.  Upon doing a little research, I discovered that they head for the hills in the spring, actually the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains and west into Canada.  They come back east for the winter, earning them the nickname, snowbirds.   Walking down the trail into the woods, I heard chickadees, nuthatches, crows and robins.  After making a lot of noise crunching through fallen leaves I stood still and listened.  A white-throated sparrow sang the first three notes of its song very softly.  After about ten minutes I mainly heard and saw robins. They were busy eating wild grapes off vines twisted around trees or down on the ground flipping over leaves to find insects.  I counted at least a dozen and noted how they flew through the pines with great speed and agility!   Reading up on robins, I learned that they form flocks in the fall and winter and gather in trees to roost and eat berries.
    A week later I visited the same spot to see what was going on.  A bird flew up into a tree right in front of me.  I put up my binoculars expecting to see a robin.  Instead a bird with white eye rings, streaked chest, and pink legs and feet looked back at me.  An ovenbird!  I was surprised because as a migrant wood warbler I thought it would have headed south by now.  Apparently, sometimes they linger around.  Maybe it’ll stick around for the holidays!