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
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.
You know Steve Brown is from Texas right away. Vernon, Texas, to be exact. Home of the Red River Valley Museum, that features native sons trombonist and singer, Jack Teagarden and singer-songwriter, Roy Orbison. Brown’s drawl and easy manner draw you in. But, there is something else in his voice – maybe a hint of an Eastern clip? Perhaps a touch of wry Midwestern humor? And, what about the creative way he describes raises chickens in the north?
Technology and Tinkering
All of these are part of Dr. Stephen Brown who has lived, studied and worked in Upstate New York, Kansas, and now Alaska. “I grew up raising chickens since age eight,” he stated. “I love the soap opera of the coop,” he added. An engineer and self-professed “tinkerer” Brown is smart, innovative and ambitious. Above all, he is good with people. Pretty important qualities since he is District Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension Service Agent for the Mat-Su/Copper River District of Alaska. He integrates his specialties of Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with agriculture and the environment.
He applies his advanced degrees in Environmental Sciences from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the State University of New York, and his numerous publications and presentations practically for those living in the far north.
As Alaskans learn to raise poultry, till the soil, and ward off predators Brown is right with them. “I get to remote homesteads by boat, airplane and snow machine,” he said. “I may be the only extension agent in the country with reimbursement mileage for a snow machine,” he quipped.