Wednesday, 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
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!