We’ve been having more adventures with possums. Marion spotted a new visitor to the bird feeder one late February afternoon.
It was a smallish opossum. We called him “Pogo” after one of our favorite cartoon characters but didn’t realize we’d be playing tag with him (or her) for the next few weeks.
Possums’ feet help it hold food and climb.
Many people dislike possums and think they’re ugly and dumb. We like ‘em. They’re fascinating and love to eat ticks, including those that spread Lyme Disease. We find their paws especially interesting. Take a look at Pogo’s feet in the photos. They’re like strong-clawed hands that let him climb.
We spotted Pogo a few evenings later sniffing around our composter. He ambled off and scooted under a brush pile, where we assume he lived. That’s a fine place for an opossum to live so we left a scoop of dog food nearby for a late-night snack.
The next night Rich went out after dark to check the chickens in the barn. He turned on the light and there, staring at him from inside, was Pogo. Now, we like possums but not when they’re in the barn near the chickens.
After eating an egg, Pogo took a nap.
I wondered, how in the world did he get in? We searched high and low for holes in the building big enough for a smallish opossum to squeeze through. There weren’t any, so we assumed he probably scooted in the open door during the day unseen. Rich ushered him out.
We didn’t see Pogo after that for a few days until Rich went out to gather eggs. There was Pogo napping in a nest! Our possum never seemed aggressive. He didn’t growl, snarl, or attempt to bite the shovel Rich used to scoot him out the door. He just opened his toothy mouth, stared at Rich as if to say, “What’s the problem?” and ambled to the brush pile. Again, we looked for possible openings and didn’t find any.
Quite at Home
No sign of Pogo for two more days. Then it was coop spring cleaning time. The chicken’s waterer was perched on two cinder blocks. Rich removed the waterer and went to pick up a cinder block when he saw a nose pointing out. There sat Pogo, curled up snugly inside one of the block’s cavities.
Opossum curled up in cinder block nest.
Again, all he did was stare and open his mouth as Rich explained that he was welcome to live under the brush pile but not in the barn.
We think we have the mystery solved. Pogo didn’t come into the barn after dark. He walked right through the chicken’s pop hole door when it was open during the day and made a home in the cinder block. It’s a great possum spot. He slept on soft wood chips and had plenty of fresh water and chicken feed nearby. Pogo probably snacked on an egg or two but never attempted to catch or kill a chicken.
We still want him to live in the brush pile but not in the barn. So, we now carefully monitor every nook and cranny in the barn before we lock the door at night. We haven’t seen Pogo in the coop lately and hope he’s relocated permanently to the brush pile.
Quilting and the Chesapeake Bay
Guest Blogger, Sigrid Reynolds
I have always loved the humble arts of unknown women who pieced quilts. My own attempts at the craft had resulted in exactly 10 squares in the 1980s when I had small children at home who took afternoon naps. At the same time, I started looking through the piles of quilts at antique stores in the Shenandoah Valley. It thrilled me to see the patterns, colors, and precise stitching of women from the past. So seduced was I by these piles, I knew collecting could get out of control. But then I found a Pennsylvania Dutch unquilted top in an original bold tulip design of blue, red, and yellow colors. I decided to seek and purchase only this color combination. That kept the lid on it since these colors are rare in combination.
Taking up quilting again didn’t occur to me until Spring 2020 when I was asked to join a young friend’s virtual pandemic quilt circle. In a time when we all faced our own mortality and the uncertain path the pandemic and the nation would take, we needed something to calm ourselves. As a retired person, I had nothing filling my time and frankly, felt the need to leave some little part of me behind in the lives of my descendants.
The group chose a striking geometric pattern with many triangular pieces. I purchased material, cut a few triangles, and then I went rogue. My inclination was to go faster, larger and more personal since I’d found piecing tedious in those earlier tries. Besides, I am 30 years older than the members in my group so my “life” time is more limited. I found purpose in a multi-generational family vacation home on the Chesapeake Bay just begging for Aunt Sig artifacts for posterity.
A “Fishy” Quilting Inspiration
My first quilt was a re-interpretation of a fish painting that the family had owned for 90 years. The family has always asked guests to tell them how many fish they see in the painting. So, I added goldfish for a humorous twist and quilted in additional fish. In all, there are 40 fish in this quilt.
A humorous adaptation of the family fish painting.
Remembering sunning turtles.
What came next was an urge to recognize the other birds and animals seen regularly on or near the Bay: herons in the morning and evening along with osprey all day. And then I was remembering sunning turtles in a nearby spring-fed pond. I added more goldfish and quilt fish to keep the puzzle going.
I next needed to represent the loblolly pines that line the shores of that estuary. And, of course, I needed additional visitors: raccoons, foxes, and box turtles. While quilting, I added one ghostly possum in the lower right-hand corner. And why not add some quilted poison ivy since that is always an island hazard? And yes, there are fish quilted into the water to count.
The beginnings of a personal quilt.
Capturing the sunrise
Finally, as this quiet, worrisome time comes to an end, I realized that I needed to turn from nature to hail the Baltimore Light, a caisson lighthouse, that has defined the deep channel for ships going into Baltimore Harbor my entire life. Since it was winter, I recalled the two times that I had seen the Bay had frozen and decided that might be a good subject. And yes, there will be quilted fish to count under the ice floes.
Nature Continues to Inspire
I have pondered what prompts this late-in-life creativity and conclude that the pandemic opened up a fertile field in me that might have remained fallow. I, like many, turned to the nearby nature of our backyard and parks but memories of a barefoot childhood on the Bay persisted. Quilting allowed me to visit the nature of my memories.
March is a pivot month. It’s neither winter nor spring. Often called “mud season”, March is maple syruping time, but it’s also birdhouse building month at Winding Pathways.
As humans in northern climates wade through mud and long for spring, millions of birds far to the south are planning their long migration north. A few hardy waterfowl arrive as soon as the ice melts from lakes and ponds, but most birds appear, as if by magic, in April and May. We make sure our birdhouses are up before they arrive.
Looking out at the world.
House Wrens, Eastern Phoebes, American Robins, House Sparrows, and House Finches all nest on or near homes, barns, and garages. Although few people enjoy seeing messy House Sparrow nests tucked into nooks and crannies, most love hosting the native species as they raise the new generation outside the window.
March is the best month to make birdhouses and restore older ones somewhat worse for the wear. Most are easy to build using simple carpentry tools. Better yet, birds aren’t fussy. Although the size of the house and the diameter of the entrance hole is important, the residents don’t care if the maker is an excellent carpenter or a novice. So, if the joints don’t fit perfectly it won’t bother birds!
Helping children make birdhouses is a fun project that involves them in nature as they learn safe tool use and basic construction techniques.
We scrounge a nearby pallet pile for free wood. Often the discarded pallets are made from boards the right width for our houses. Relatively inexpensive pine, spruce, or fir work for people who prefer to buy wood.
Working with children to make a birdhouse is rewarding.
Children learn wood types, stages of building and how tools work.
The birdhouse is nearly complete.
Great Resources to Guide Your Work
The best information source for virtually anything about wild birds is the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Their website gives great information on many aspects of birds, including what species likely live in an area. The site is complex but fascinating. A second website, also by the Lab, is more specific to birdhouses and nesting. The Laboratory of Ornithology site helps anyone predict what birds might migrate to their yard and when they’ll arrive. It also includes plans on how to build birdhouses. There’s even a video showing construction tips.
There’s more to birdhouses than just making one. They must be erected in the right place and height above the ground. The Lab’s website provides the right information. And, here are two tips from Winding Pathways.
Tips from Winding Pathways
- Many birdhouse plans to use nails as a hinge so the house can be opened for cleaning. We buy and use small hinges, hooks, and eyes to make opening the box to clean it easier.
- It’s tempting to attach a birdhouse to a tree using a nail or screw. That may work but eventually, the birdhouse falls off. But, the metal remains embedded in the tree. This creates danger as the tree grows around the metal, hiding it. Hitting a nail with a chainsaw is downright scary and dangerous. Also, driving a nail into a live tree can introduce diseases that could kill it. We use wire or rope to attach our birdhouses to live trees and use screws to attach birdhouses to nonliving posts and poles. One of our wren houses is suspended from a hook screwed into our porch ceiling.
Building birdhouses and enjoying a wren couple raises a brood is a fun family activity that we never tire of.
Millions of people love their cats. Some 36% of households keep an average of two cats. They are the second most popular companion animal in the United States, lagging only behind dogs.
Cats decimate bird populations.
Some cats cause problems, especially when owners allow them to free-range the neighborhood. According to the American Bird Conservancy, they kill 2.4 billion birds a year and may be a significant cause of the decline of many species.
Catios to the rescue!
A growing number of cat lovers, many who also enjoy bird watching, recognize the problem and are increasingly adding a catio to their home. Wonder what it is???? It’s simply an enclosure that allows the family cats to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and a bit of adventure without allowing them complete access to the neighborhood.
Many catios are enclosed patios, which spawned the name, that let cats play outdoors while their owners enjoy lounging or socializing nearby. They are relaxing places for both species. Other catios are small and positioned outside windows. Catios can be either purchased or homemade and often an existing patio can be modified into one.
Although cats love roaming the neighborhood, it is not a safe place. They pick up ticks and transfer them to humans, suffer accidents, are killed by cars as they cross streets, and are taken by predators.
A catio is a good solution to several problems. It allows cats to enjoy the outdoors safe from cars and predators in a place where they can’t kill birds. And, the owners always know where their cat is.
An array of catio photos is visible on Catio Spaces. Many other websites feature them. Catios are a great way for cat lovers to show care of wildlife species, keep their cats safe, and live in peace with human neighbors who are frustrated when they spot a feline stalking birds under their feeder.
November 5, 2020, was a perfect day for burning our prairie. We’d enjoyed several days of dry weather, and had our fire permit. We just needed a bit of breeze.
On that gorgeous day we burned the labyrinth, the backyard prairie, and our savanna…….and then we struck a match into our newest prairie. With the help of Linn County Roads and Air Pollution Departments, Pheasants Forever, the Monarch Research Project, UNI, and Sustainable Landscape Solutions we had prepared the soil and killed the weeds last May. Then we broadcast a native seed mix containing 82 species.
Prairie’s slow to start. We didn’t expect much this first year and ended up with lots of crabgrass. It grew to about 8” and dried out nicely. A slow fire removed most of it, allowing sunshine to warm prairie plants beneath. We expect a resurgence of delightful plants next spring and summer.
We burned the new prairie to encourage the native plants.
Several organizations and businesses are collaborating to create and manage the prairie.
As we ate breakfast during the deep freeze that descended on February 7th six wild turkeys trudged through the snow from nearby woods and feasted on corn scattered under our bird feeders. It was 20 below zero – genuine 20 below. With the wind chill, the air was even colder.
The turkeys each stood on one leg as they pecked corn. Every once in a while, they alternated legs. One leg was always holding the bird upright while the other was tucked in the bird’s feathers. We wondered how they do this, so we went to our favorite new bird book, David Allen Sibley’s, What It’s Like to Be A Bird. According to him, birds have several adaptations that make it possible.
Here’s what he wrote, “The center of mass on their body is below the knee and a knob on the pelvis prevents the leg from angling any higher. Balancing on one leg requires angling that leg so that the foot is directly below the body, and with the leg essentially locked in position, and the body leaning against the leg, tiny adjustments of the toes are all that’s needed to stay upright.”
We often wonder how ducks and geese keep their legs and feet from freezing when swimming in frigid water or standing on ice. They have a useful adaptation. A bird’s leg is high, muscled, and covered with feathers. What we see that looks like a naked leg is actually a modified ankle, containing bones and tendons yet lacking blood vessels. So, the vascular area remains warm beneath feathers as the bird stands on the ice.
David Allen Sibley
We had the good fortune to chat with David Allen Sibley after he gave a presentation at the Outdoor Writers Association of America conference a few years ago. An astute ornithologist, writer, and artist, his books on bird identification and behavior, and his tree identification book, are always close at hand in our home. We’ve learned much from him.
Birds Need Grit in Winter
Most bird species need to occasionally eat tiny pebbles. These end up in the gizzard, a powerfully muscled pouch, where pebbles act like grindstones reducing hard seeds into a slurry for digestion.
During periods of snow and ice birds have a tough time finding grit, so about once a week we toss grit beneath the feeders. Sand works, but we usually use fine and medium-sized grit sold to help chickens digest their feed. Once the snow melts there’s no need to add grit, as birds easily find plenty of natural tiny pebbles.
Adapted to the cold