Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Easy, Fun and Eco-Friendly Holiday Gift Ideas

These are brush piles.  Make them to attract ground feeding birds and to provide shelter during cold days and nights for birds and rabbits.  Make sure there are openings and cover with leaves for insulation.  Create one for someone on your gift list who enjoys wildlife.

So, with ten days left until Christmas and fewer than that until Hannukkah, I have a few gift ideas to share with you.  Edible bread and pine cone ornaments for feathered friends can easily be made by children.  For bread ornaments just stale or toast bread slices and use holiday cookie cutters to make different shapes.  Poke a hole towards the top of each ornament with a nut pick.  Thread a piece of yarn through and make a loop for hanging.  Smear ornament with peanut butter or shortening.  Then press on bird seed.  Black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite of many birds.  Do the same with the pine cones.  Make an assortment of both.  Hang in a tree or at a feeder station.  A bird lover and the birds will appreciate this gift.
The above creation is an edible ice feeder.  Take a round cake pan and coil a piece of twine around inside the pan, and make a loop overhanging the pan at the top.  Fill the pan up halfway with water.  Place bird seed, berries, pine needles, apple and orange slices in the pan.  Carefully place the pan in the freezer and freeze solid.  Remove from pan and hang in tree or on feeder pole.  As it melts, treats will fall to the ground for ground feeding birds and squirrels-of course!

During a program at the Round Lake Library we attached the recipe for hummingbird nectar to canning jars.  This simple gift can be paired with a feeder, ant guard, copy or subscription to Birds and Blooms magazine or a bird identification guide.  A membership to Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, or the National Wildlife Federation are additional gift ideas.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes November 2011

     I have milkweed growing in my yard though I didn't plant it there.  Milkweed seeds are contained in a pod that splits open in the fall.  Each very light seed has a silky fiber parachute attached to it. (During World War Two this fiber was collected to stuff life jackets!  Today the fiber is being used to stuff pillows and comforters as a down alternative).  The wind sends the seeds off to be planted.  Some seeds found themselves in my garden.
    Milkweed.  It is the host plant for monarchs, meaning that it is the one and only plant that monarchs will lay their eggs on so starting another generation of monarchs.  The egg will develop into a caterpillar which will eat the toxic milkweed plant leaves (thus making the adult butterfly nasty tasting to birds and other predators).  The caterpillar will develop a chrysalis which is like a smooth tent where it will form into a butterfly.  In addition, the milkweed plant has flowers providing nectar.
    Last fall, I was driving through the monarch butterfly migration up in Ontario, Canada.  It was not only incredible to see them fluttering for hours over the car as I drove, but to think of their several thousand mile journey across the country to Mexico, as well.  Since then I have been reading up on monarchs, learning about their life cycle, what attracts them to our yards and gardens, and how they fare during their migrations.  A couple of good web sites are the following:, a migration tracking project and, a site about planting milkweed.
    I have learned that the population of monarchs is on the decline.  Habitat loss due to development, use of herbicides, and roadside mowing is occurring in the U.S.  In Mexico, the winter home of monarchs, there is habitat loss from illegal logging of trees in the areas monarchs roost.  This year they had the terrible Texas drought and wildfires to deal with during migration.  Texas nectar sources that the butterflies rely on towards the end of their long journey had shriveled up due to prolonged drought.  Texans reported seeing fewer monarchs than usual.  It appeared that the monarchs were correcting for this dilemma by flying further west but then had to deal with crossing mountains. . . .
    Those milkweed seeds that floated into my yard  grew into  plants and flowered.  They developed seed pods which I collected. I needed a place to plant them that wouldn't be mowed or sprayed.  A few seeds were planted at the Library but I really wanted a field to broadcast them in to create a larger monarch habitat.  I thought of Florence Cruz's property and she agreed to the project.  I needed a few helpers. Scott Peterson and Claire and Elyse Flannery were up to the task.  On Sunday, November twentieth, we broadcasted and pressed into the ground, over a couple of hundred milkweed seeds.  It was fun to see the seeds floating around the field.  While we were doing this  Elyse found plant galls (round growths on plant stems) and is very knowledgeable about how they form.  Just ask her!      We are hopeful that there will be young milkweed plants popping up in the spring.  These plants along with all the flowers in the wonderful gardens throughout town will provide habitat for the monarchs.   You can view pictures of the broadcasting at

Monday, November 7, 2011

Out and About: Round Lake nature Notes October 2011

    We got a very long run with our flower and vegetable gardens this season.  I realized that some of the annuals that I purchased  in early May survived almost six months!  It helped that  the first frost held off until the end of October.  The warmer than usual temperatures tricked some flowers, like Barb Haynes’ Bearded Iris, into flowering again.  Roses have been pumping out blooms.   Even after two snows and a frost you’ll notice that roses around town are still looking good.  Up to the last week of October, I picked tomatoes and peppers from my garden.  My husband and I just unearthed our sweet potatoes.  Dan read that waiting to pick them right after the first frost sweetens them.  We’ll let you know.  I spotted Dark-eyed Juncos, also known as snow birds, flitting around in shrubbery down at the end of Andrews Avenue on the twenty-fourth of October.  Last year I first saw them back in town on October thirteenth.  The milder weather this year may have allowed  them to linger longer in the higher elevations where they summer.
    If you are tired of raking leaves, take a break and try to catch one.  When you do, you can make a wish.  Late Round Lake resident, Bob Foster, came up with this activity.  We tried this at toddler Green Hour and found it was a lot of fun, not so easy, and a great work-out.  We had just a couple of collisions.  We're hoping our wishes come true.
    Julianna Spallholz not only had the Great Pumpkin in her Janes Avenue yard, but a real-for-sure deer as well.   It was spotted by Julianna on the morning of October twelfth as she left for work.  Reportedly, it strolled up to Prospect Avenue where it may have nibbled on Virginia’s zinnia flowers.  It checked out the playground and walked through town!  Deer’s Day Out.  Sorry I missed it.
    On October tenth several of us went on the lake in our kayaks to watch the full moon come up. As we paddled out into the lake an eagle flew from a tree on the eastern shore, heading to a stand of pines on the lake’s north side.  Then it either circled around behind the trees or it was a second eagle that flew back toward us.  It landed in a dead tree where it kept us company for over an hour.  We watched it preen and watched the moon rise. We wondered if it would roost there for the night. Wonderful entertainment!
    The eagles can sometimes be spotted flying over town.  Dave Hewitt told me recently that he saw one overhead at his house on Curry Avenue.  We talked about the increase in chipmunks around the village and wondered if eagles would eat them as they do mice.  As opportunistic eaters, I’m sure they would although fish are their preferred meal.  The eagles will probably hang around until the lake freezes up.  Look up from time to time.  Maybe you’ll spot one!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beautiful Blooms on November 1, 2011 and Moon rise on October 10, 2011

Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes: September 2011

    First, I would like to thank everyone who either brought over mushrooms or told us where good mushroom patches were located.  Bob Conners found the largest puffball we’ve ever seen.  It was the size of at least two basketballs!  He found it growing in his yard.  Pat and Rich took a walk in One Hundred Acre Woods in the Tech Park and reported seeing at least nine different types of mushrooms.  With so many mushrooms out and about, Dan started using a dehydrator.  He dries the mushrooms, stores them in glass jars and then uses them later in soups and stews.  If you have a favorite mushroom recipe please send it our way.
     Garden books and gardeners often talk about the Autumn task of putting a garden to bed.  It is a general clean-up and winterizing of the garden. It may include cutting back perennial plants, raking leaves, and giving winter protection to some of the more fragile plants and shrubs by mulching, staking or wrapping in burlap.  Here’s a piece I wrote last year, on my blog, concerning this task.
    I usually wait for the last leaf to fall from our two large maple trees before I begin raking.  It then seems like an endless job of covering garden plants and shrubs with some leaves, composting as much as will fit in the piles, and bagging the rest.  I procrastinate raking them up.  I enjoy the crunch of leaves underfoot and shuffling through them.  I love seeing kids in our neighborhood tossing them up in the air, making leaf forts, and jumping into huge 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 other wildlife.  Leaf litter is a good hiding place for insects and larvae to winter over in and will also attract wrens, robins, White throated sparrows, and juncos looking for these food sources.  In addition, leaves will act as an insulator and fertilizer for grass and plants.  My huge ornamental grass will flop over and become a frozen table where I’ll place seed to be eaten by squirrels ( of course) and birds.  Underneath the grass, birds will take cover on frigid days and the neighbor’s cat will need to be chatted with as she slips under there too.  I haven’t cut down my garden plants because I’ve noticed in past years, the seed pods from coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and obedient plants are enjoyed by the goldfinches and chickadees.  A pile of sticks, meant for a fire, is turning into a nice brush pile.  It will offer winter protection for birds and small mammals.  Now I’m looking out at the yard thinking things are looking pretty good, at least from a nature lover’s standpoint.  I think I’m done with raking!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes August 2011
                By Diane Shapiro

    My husband, Dan, has been a mushroom hunter for almost thirty years.  Most likely, Tom and Linda Peterson will remember his early attempts at mushroom identification.  We were all spending a weekend at the  Petersons’ Adirondack camp.  Dan thought he had discovered morel mushrooms growing in the woods by the cabin.  He told us how morels are considered prize mushrooms, with a nutty flavor when cooked.  We picked them, brought them back to camp, and got out the cast iron frying pan.  Dan did a review of the mushrooms using his new identification guide.  There was a skull and crossbones next to what looked like the mushroom’s picture, saying it was a false morel.  (As you might imagine, a skull and crossbones label is not good.)  We tossed the mushrooms out of the cabin, washed our hands, and came up with another dinner plan.  Today, Dan is still not sure whether they were false morels.  I think he’d like to find the ones we tossed and do a further identification.  He hates missing a meal. 
In any event, we will never know and I think that’s a good thing!  Years later, Dan has gotten much better at identifying mushrooms, especially the local ones.  Many mushrooms are poisonous.  If eaten they can make you sick and some may even kill you. But many of the edible ones, when cooked, are absolutely delicious.
    Tropical Storm Irene set up perfect conditions for mushroom growth.    Ninety-five to a hundred percent humidity and fifty to seventy-five percent ground saturation, which the storm provided, enables mushrooms to thrive.  The week following the storm, mushrooms popped up all over the village, in the woods, and especially at Shenentaha Park. Dan had a field day finding puffballs the size of baby heads and gem-studded puffballs, the size of thumbs.  He discovered amanita mushrooms in red and yellow and an indigo milk mushroom that he had never seen before.  The indigo mushroom stained his skin blue.  It was edible – firm but not particularly mushroomy. 
As much as Dan likes to find and identify mushrooms, he likes to cook them even more.  He has made puffball parmesan, lobster-infused polenta with wild and domestic mushrooms and mushroom risotto.  If you are interested in mushroom hunting, grab Dan along with his many identification guides and go foraging.  Make sure your life insurance policy is paid up.

Many Many Mushrooms- Thanks Irene!

An Hour's Window

        Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes July 2011
            “An Hour’s Window” By Diane Shapiro

    Yards and gardens keep us busy.  Weeding, watering, planting, pruning, mulching, mowing, deadheading- repeat!  One day I decided I would just sit in my garden and watch what was going on there.  I forced myself to sit still and not jump up to pluck a weed or two or three.  I soon saw a couple of Cabbage White Butterflies fly into the garden zigging and zagging over the flowers.  They are white with one black dot on each wing for males and two black dots on each wing for females.  They quickly spiraled up in the air and were gone.  Cabbage Whites are one of the most numerous species of butterflies in the country.  The day before I had seen a Monarch butterfly calmly floating through the yard and drifting from one Milkweed plant to the next.  The Monarch’s flight pattern was in direct contrast to the frantic flight of the Cabbage Whites.  It turns out that each species of butterfly has a unique and instinctive flight pattern.  A butterfly, the size of my thumb, landed on the Meadow Rue a foot away from me.  It took off so fast I couldn’t get a good look at its markings.  One the size of my hand had been on the purple Coneflower a few days before.  Gazing around the garden I saw the thumb-sized butterfly now on the Coreopsis.  It stayed there for about five minutes giving me enough time to get pictures with my digital camera.  I later matched the pictures to a butterfly from an identification guide and believe it was a Variegated Fritillary!  It was orange with numerous black lines, spots and “ V” shapes.
    Back sitting on the porch of my garden shed, I realized the Butterfly bushes in the garden were beginning to flower.  They’re a great nectar source for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  The one we planted at the Library, on Earth Day, is already in full bloom with beautiful purple flowers.  A Ruby-throated Hummingbird came to drink the sugar water from the tube feeder hanging from the garden shed porch.  I could hear its wings humming as it drank for about twenty seconds.   It then flew to a dead tree limb and perched for a few minutes.  I saw a Dragonfly land on a dead flower head.  I quietly and slowly walked towards it hoping to get a close-up picture.  It cooperated and really had a fierce look when I zoomed in on it.  Later on, I read up on Dragonfly behavior.  It turns out that they catch a variety of insects and chew them into pieces with their strong jaws.  Wow!  I didn’t know that was happening in the garden.   I have to say I really enjoyed the time spent in the garden and I didn’t even pull a single weed.

An Hour's Window

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes May 2011

Hi Everyone!  I thought you might join me for a walk.  Long sleeves and pants and/or bug spray might be a good idea if you do the walk’s wooded section.  Start at the kiosk at Curry Avenue and the Zim-Smith trail.  Cross over Curry Avenue, going north on the Zim-Smith, to take a look for the Killdeer (bird) family.  They are to the right of the trail, down in the area that was a large puddle.  Sue J told me about seeing them there.  You may hear them saying their name.  They are gray-brown above, with a white neck and belly and two black breast bands.   As of June second there were at least five of them running around in this area.  Now come back across Curry Avenue and head south.  On your left the spring rains have made some huge puddles as well as ponds.  Mallards have been swimming and dabbling in this spot.  Linda P and I saw and identified a Solitary Sandpiper at the water a few weeks ago.  You may see Blue Jays, Robins, European Starlings, Common Grackles and House Sparrows as you walk along.  When you get to the stream listen for the Eastern Wood Pewee which calls its name- “peweee”.  It sits in trees and then swoops out to grab passing insects.  A loud and deep “weep-weep” can be heard here too.  It is the Great-crested Flycatcher.  It also snatches insects in mid-air or gleans them from treetop foliage.  Most days I hear these two birds but don’t see them.  A Common Yellowthroat Warbler calls “wichity- wichity- wichity”, in the tangle of low shrubs on the right side of the trail near the stream.  It also stays out of sight.
If you are not going into the woods, walk down along the streambed and wait for us at Peck Avenue.  You can look to see if the Mallards are going downstream or if any birds are bathing.  There’s usually a pair of Cardinals in this spot.  If you are going through the woods continue walking on the Zim-Smith.  Note on the grassy right side of the trail, that there’s some Poison Ivy.  “Leaves of Three- Let it be”!  The leaves are toothed or lobed and can be dull or shiny.  Right now they are greenish-red in color.  On the left side of the trail, look for a well-worn path into the woods, heading east.  In this stand of red and white pines you’re sure to hear a Chickadee or two.  At the end, take a left and you’ll see Peck Avenue up ahead.  Look for Jack-in-the-pulpit, which is a wildflower, on the left side.  It also has three green leaves but they are not toothed and a fourth leaf curls down and can be streaked with brown or purple.  It’s referred to as the pulpit.  Before you get to the first downed tree, look into the woods on your right to a pine tree with at least a half dozen woodpecker holes.  In the third hole from the top, there’s a wasp nest tucked in!  It’s high and dry.  When you get to the stream, check for tracks on the muddy bank.  Even earthworms make tracks.
So we meet up again.  Let’s walk down Peck Avenue heading north.  In the wooded section on the right side I hear Song Sparrows, a Carolina Wren, a White-throated Sparrow and a “Loud Mouth” that I’m still figuring out.  Last year, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers nested in here but I haven’t seen them this season.  Buttercups, clover and Common Fleabane are growing in a grassy section after the woods.  Now we’re up at the yield sign at Peck and Lake Avenues.  I’m going to let you go with hopes that you got a glimpse of a bird or two and enjoyed the walk.  Let me know how it went.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Loons and Eagles and Herons- Oh My !!

On Saturday, April 9, I paddled out on Round Lake and down the outlet.  There were four Common Loons swimming and diving in the middle of the lake.  There were a couple of hundred Double-Crested Cormorants on the lake with Gulls and Common Mergansers.  A juvenile Bald Eagle was skimming over the ducks and gulls.  It was lunch time!  Tree Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles were at the inlet, where I put in my kayak, as well as, down the outlet.  I was most interested in what was going on down at the Great Blue Heron rookery.  The outlet is flooded out and very wide.  The beaver dam that I couldn't get my boat over back in the fall, is below the water level now.  I saw a goose trying to make itself invisible on top of a beaver lodge.  She must be nesting.  As I got closer to the rookery I realized I had not seen any Herons yet.  Looking ahead towards the nest site my heart sank as I could only see a couple of nests.  When I finally got to the area there were two and a half nests.  A Heron did fly over but didn't stop at the nests which were empty.  I have been keeping track of Heron nest activity for the last several years. My notes indicate that there have been Herons at the nests by mid-March.  They seem to repair the nests, steal sticks from other nests for their own, and occupy the nests by this date.  The number of nests has steadily declined over the last several years.  In 2007 there were 23 nests.  In 2008 there were 15 active nests.  Last year there were four nests with only one occupied by Herons.  I was in the vicinity for about 45 minutes and no herons came to the nests.  I paddled further down the outlet and saw what looked like a double beaver lodge- they're building condos!  I got to see a beaver swimming with a stick.  I paddled back to the lake, seeing two Herons flying around by the eastern shore.  I spotted a mature Bald Eagle in a tree by the inlet.  I was hoping for a great photo-op but it started flying right towards me.  I put my paddle way up in the air and truly felt like a sitting duck.  It veered to the left right in front of me and then flew back towards me.  I continued to keep my paddle up and splashed water.  No need for binos or a camera.  I could see the Eagle very clearly.  It then turned and flew off to the south.  Maybe it never had seen a tie-dyed kayak before!  Great day on the lake! 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Common Loons on Round Lake

Just a quick note to say that today there were four Common Loons on the lake. Thank you to my neighbor, Steve, who came to tell me!  They are our favorite bird.  The Bald Eagle was on the far east shore- hanging out and flying around a bit.  Assorted ducks and gulls but I was riveted on the Loon sighting.