Birding in our Back Yard
We’ve traveled throughout the United States seeking interesting birds, and we just discovered the very best place.
It’s our backyard! Since we began actively diversifying the plants in our yard they’ve welcomed many new bird species to visit, rest, and eat. And, we live next to Faulke’s Heritage Woods, a 110 acres of shrubs and old trees that is a warbler and woodpecker haven.
Anyone who plants an array of bushes and grasses in their yard, even if it’s a tiny yard, can enjoy birding at home. Planting appropriate shrubs, mainly native species is important because some shrubs like barberry are invasive and crowd out beneficial plants.
Because the yard is right out the door, it is an easy place to grab the binoculars and a glass of wine or cup of tea and sit quietly.
Here’s what we’ve seen or heard in our yard in the past two weeks:
Problem with Hot Weather
A friend emailed today with this dilemma: “I got a whiff of a horrible smell near my rain barrel. I looked inside, and there’s a horrible, putrid layer of something floating on the top of the water. I think it might have come from all the fuzz from the trees in the past few days. Do you think I should empty the barrel, scrub it out, and start over? I do have that screen over the top, but something obviously got through it and seems to be “growing” on top of the water.”
Keep your rain barrels clean in hot weather with these easy tips.
It’s important to do these three things to keep the water fresh:
1. Clean gutters to keep leaves, catkins, and other stuff from getting into the barrel and clean the screen at the top of the barrel.
2. Use the water. Don’t let it stand in the barrel for too long. If it’s really rainy water moves through the barrels and helps keep it fairly fresh.
3. A couple of times during the summer empty the barrel, take the lid off, and wash it out with tap water.
4. Winding Pathways has cleaned the screens on our rain barrels several times already and after each rainstorm. They tend to plug up most during the first few rainstorms. It might also help to put a very small amount of chlorine bleach in the water. It’s toxic to bacteria and molds that might live in the barrel.
A little practical maintenance will make using rain barrels a pleasure and help your plants.
Years ago, a homeowner visited a garden store and bought plugs of a plant commercially called ground ivy, but most folks today call it Creeping Charlie.
A great ground cover that can get away from you.
In many ways this exotic plant was an ideal ground cover. It’s tough, easy to transport and plant, adaptable to a wide range of conditions, needs no special care, and it spreads like crazy. It only grows a few inches tall so was touted as a plant that, once established, needs no maintenance. And, it attracts valuable pollinators early in the season before other flowering blooms appear.
Creeping Charlie’s benefits are also its curse. It does everything too well. Creeping Charlie doesn’t creep. Rather, it races to cover a yard with astonishing speed, often crowding out more desirable plants.
There are two ways to view Creeping Charlie.
Even before Lyme disease created a serious tick-borne health hazard no one wanted ticks crawling on them. We sure don’t want them at Winding Pathways and because our yard has tall grass, shrubs, and a woodland we have tick habitat.
Collection of ticks
A few years ago, Rich contracted Lyme Disease caused when a tick injected bacterium into him. Thanks to a wise physician and effective antibiotics he was cured, but it’s possible to get Lyme Disease again and again. We’re more cautious about avoiding ticks now.
Ticks of many species live throughout most of the United States. They’re common in brushy, grassy, and woodsy habitat but they also love living in yards. It’s possible for a tick to enjoy a human meal even if that person never leaves a mowed yard.
Natural Tick Predators
At the Iditarod Start
Food in Alaska is just plain fun! The Last Frontier state has one of the most ethnically diverse area codes in the country. English, Irish, Scottish, German, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, African Americans, Laotians, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Native American, Italian, Mexican and Russian are among the many groups of settlers. Alaska Natives with their several family identifications make up even more diversity.
And, as the spring 2018 issue of “Bake From Scratch” magazine points out, each cultural group brought its own type of food which has since fused into uniquely Alaskan fare. I sampled lots the few days I was in Alaska this winter. Some from different cultures and some from the subsistence foraging that is part of being Alaskan.
Art on a wall
My daughter and son-in-law hosted me for a fun Fur Rondy-Iditarod time in March. At a charming downtown restaurant, we enjoyed the wall art being prepped for “First Friday” when art galleries and restaurants feature new art, stay open for music and sometimes introduce new dishes. Tomato bisque and roll and grilled cheese sandwiches hit the spot on a cold and grey late winter day.
After walking off the lunch we hit Wild Scoops for their truly Alaskan sourced ice cream of “wildly” exciting flavors. From the micro-creameries to the harvested berries they boast ingredients from Alaska in generous Wild Scoops portions. We then wandered through the Alaska Museum to walk off those calories.
On the morning of the Iditarod, the first order of business for Brian and me was the stop at the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. This truly family affair of making traditional and specialty breads, muffins and scones using organic ingredients was a delight to see and smell. Lines out the door gave a clue to the popularity and was worth the wait to select a roll and coffee for the walk up to the Ceremonial Start. We saved a muffin for Nancy who was working at Campbell Creek Science Center where the Ceremonial Start ends at the Campbell Airstrip.
While not particularly “ethnic” the hotdogs for sale by vendors at the downtown Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod had long lines waiting with numerous sauces and spreads to tempt the taste buds.
Artisan Breads ready to buy.
New and different foods!
A trip to New Sagaya market was an eye-opener. So many choices from so many countries and cultures within each country. We snacked on interesting appetizers while we sipped great coffee. Poke – Hawaiian for slice or section – can be both a fish salad and an appetizer. We ate aku a raw oily tuna. Well, it was OK to try – once. Mochi is a round rice ball. Kind of soft and squishy. It had a subtle sweetness. Mike Barnes, Chief Operating Officer, accurately boasts, “NEW SAGAYA DOES WHAT NOBODY ELSE WANTS TO DO…WE GO THE EXTRA MILE.” Indeed, they seem to! Friendly, knowledgeable and the store is well-stocked with about any diverse food customers could want.
Waiting for the movie to start.
The Bear Tooth Theatre Pub is a “have to visit” place to eat and sample craft beers while watching first run, indie and foreign films. Broken Tooth Beer served there is just one of the best! And the pizzas are loaded with great locally sourced toppings on a crispy yet substantial crust. And, the popcorn…of course! Have to take it in. The background is that a few “fresh-faced college friends” concocted the idea of The Theatre Pub in the late 1990s. They gave up lucrative careers in computers and law when craft beers were coming of age and have been going strong since.
Not only did we eat out, but also, Nancy and Brian prepared wonderful meals at home. Most Alaskans forage and they are onto this one. They’ve had great adventures halibut fishing, picking berries and making jams and chutneys. Brian has plans for fall hunting and fishing expeditions. Meanwhile, they served elk and moose from previous trips, halibut tacos, Dutch Babies with their jams, and salmon from a neighbor. One friendly fact about Alaskans I learned is that if someone offers to help or offers food, say, “Yes. Thank you.” Alaskans mean it when they offer.
Moose and elk with greens and side dish.
Beautifully presented dinner.
We enjoyed wonderful home cooked meals.
Alaskans I met are genuinely friendly and use organic and local products as much as possible. Always, the dishes are infused with a truly Alaskan personality – We are Glad you are Here!
Mama Hen with chicks foraging.
Now a couple of months old, the quartet of chicks is exploring farther afield. After the cold and snowy introduction to the outside world in late March, they readily follow Mama Hen outside.
Mama protects them inside from the other hens by cornering the chicks and standing literally in front of them, screening them from the others who get too close. Outside, Mama clucks and calls the chicks over for food and again, warns off the adults with a serious sounding tone and lunge toward one that may get too close to the chicks or be aggressive toward them.
Mama hen with four chicks on roost.
The chicks learned how to fly up onto the roost with Mama and she mightily shelters them at night. We were worried the first few nights in April when temperatures fell to 11 degrees. But, they did OK.