Canada Geese

Too many people hate Canada geese. Once rare, this giant bird is now common across North America and enjoys living in town.

Geese were once uncommon rural birds, but starting several decades ago people began restoring populations in places where they were long absent. Our town of Cedar Rapids is an example. Nearly 40 years ago a few of the giant Canada subspecies were released in town. No one dreamed how successful they would be. Geese multiplied like crazy and now seem to be everywhere as they relax along the river or wing over downtown.

People dislike them because of the mess they leave on sidewalks, lawns, and golf courses. The expression loose as a goose is apt. Despite their mess, we find geese fascinating and love watching them, especially during our walks around Cedar Lake near downtown.

Goose couple in the snow

Geese pair up in late winter.

There’s much to admire about Canada geese. They mate for life and are devoted to their partner and babies, live many years, and have plenty of leisure to socialize and relax. Food is usually abundant. City geese enjoy eating lawn grass and the corn that spills from railroad cars.

Because geese are common, big, and unafraid of people they’re easy to observe.  Having knowledge of their annual pattern can help see them as fascinating animals rather than messy pests.

The Seasonal Goose Pattern

FEBRUARY AND MARCH:   Geese are now in pairs, rather than mixed in big flocks. Males and females show the same plumage, making it difficult to tell genders apart but usually, the ganders, or males, are slightly bigger than the females and have thicker necks. When we spot a lone goose in March, we know it’s likely a gander. Its mate is either laying an egg or incubating nearby but out of sight.

Goose nests are usually hidden, although sometimes one will be in plain view.   Normally it will be in a low spot near water, but we spotted a goose nest in an old bald eagle nest high in a cottonwood tree. Over a couple of weeks, the female lays a clutch that can have from just a few to a dozen eggs. When the clutch is finished, she’ll start a 35-day incubation period. During this time, she stays out of sight. People are most likely to see a lone goose, the gander, in plain view nearby.

APRIL:   Most goslings hatch in April, and the proud parents lead them to water.   Amazingly these balls of fluff can walk and swim when only hours old. Mom and Dad protect them from predators and people who approach too closely. Crowd a goose family and the parents will hiss and threaten. A big goose is intimidating but we know it’s mostly bluff.

Often several goose couples bring their goslings together, so we sometimes see as many as 25 or 30 babies intermingled in big groups. Adults seem to share parenting duty.

Adult goose and goslings

Adult geese protect their young.

SUMMER:   Goslings grow amazingly fast and by mid to late summer are almost as big as mom and dad. They gradually develop their adult feathers and by late summer look identical to their parents and have learned to fly.

FALL AND WINTER:   When the grass stops growing our Cedar Rapids geese often leave town in the morning to fly into the country, where they snack on corn that farmers’ combines missed at harvest. They wing back in the evening and spend the night along the Cedar River or lake. Winter geese socialize in groups of 20 or 30. Should a hungry predator approach, the flock will make a racket and send it on its way.

Many Canada geese are migratory, although some stay in town all year. In the fall and winter, some individuals in a big group of geese may have hatched as far away as Canada, while others are locals. It’s during winter that young geese form pair bonds that can last for life. Usually the female determines where home is. So, if a Cedar Rapids hatched male goose takes a fancy to a young Canadian girl Canada goose, he will follow her north to nest, perhaps in Manitoba. But if a young Canadian boy goose pairs with a Cedar Rapids girl goose they’ll set up housekeeping here.

Geese are fascinating wild animals. Because they are amazingly common and easy to see they are one of the best birds to observe as they go about their annual pattern of life.

Do Birds Like Milo?

Bird Seed

Sunflower seed, cracked corn, milo.

We recently bought a bag of cheap wild bird seed. It contained mostly milo with some sunflower, cracked corn, and millet mixed in. We should have known better but dumped a scoop of it on top of our platform feeder at Winding Pathways and watched what happened.

Birds swooped right in. Cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, and even a cardinal. They were joined by red-headed woodpeckers. The birds quickly devoured the sunflower seeds, then the corn, and finally the millet. They left the milo untouched.

Birds don’t like milo. Sure, they’ll eat it if they are hungry and there’s nothing else available, but they often leave it uneaten.

Milo is a type of sorghum grown in places too arid for corn. Its seeds are round, reddish, and about the size of a BB. The less expensive a bird seed blend is the more likely it is to have a high percent milo seed.

The very best all-around seed for feeding a diversity of seed-eating birds is black oil sunflower.  Many birds like cracked corn, which is inexpensive. Ground feeding birds like doves and juncos love millet, but they just don’t like milo.

Leave it in the store. It’s not a bargain.

What Kind of Cherry Trees Should I Plant?

Catalog Dreaming

While subzero cold enveloped Winding Pathways we discovered delightful seed and nursery catalogs in our mailbox. Leafing through their photos of rosy ripe tomatoes, peaches, and sweet corn made us dream of warm days as the frigid wind whistled around the house. Catalogs also made us think of our upcoming cherry tree crop.

We love our cherry trees and are happy to have two types growing at Winding Pathways. Most are the wild native Black Cherry, a member of the Rose family and common throughout the Eastern half of the United States.

Black Cherry

Black cherry juice was mixed with brandy or rum to make “Cherry Bounce.”

Early pioneers sometimes called this tree the Cherry Bear because bruins would walk for miles to feast on its juicy fruit. Bear cubs learned how to climb trees by following their mother up the trunk to reach ripe fruit.

Birds love wild cherries. They’ve helped spread this tree far and wide by feasting on a cherry dinner here and then flying there to poop out the seeds. In many areas, the American Black cherry is almost an invasive species, but one with many attributes.

Thomas Jefferson’s Cherry Tree Wood

People today rarely bother eating the bitter small fruits, but pioneers made Cherry Bounce by mixing the juice with brandy or rum to make a bitter, but flavorful, cordial.   Most people today enjoy this tree for its beautiful cabinet wood. When newly cut it is goldish in color, often with an intricate grain pattern. The wood darkens with age. Visitors to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, often wonder why our third president loved such dark paneling. They don’t realize that when he lived there the newly installed wood glowed with cherry’s warm texture. Two centuries of aging have darkened it.

In our mail recently came the newsletter of the National Arbor Day Foundation with an amazing story about today’s popular Bing Cherry. That’s the delicious fruit often sold in grocery stores to be eaten fresh. In 1847 Henderson Lewelling, of Salem, Iowa, loaded his eight children, pregnant wife, and 700 of his prized cherry tree shoots packed in dirt-filled boxes, into wagons for the long trek to Oregon. They endured freezing temperatures, scurvy, and dysentery but made it and established the Pacific Northwest’s cherry industry.

Two Types

Today, two types of domestic cherry are readily eaten by people. They are distinct from the American Black Cherry and are native to Europe and Asia. One type is called Sweet Cherries with the Bing variety best known. They are delicious when eaten fresh. Sweet cherries thrive in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana but don’t like the upper Midwest’s harsh winters. Ironically, Bing cherries got their start in Iowa but don’t grow well in the state today. We don’t have any at Winding Pathways.

Tart cherries

Tart cherries make great pies.

We love our sour cherries. They thrive here despite winter’s cold and summer’s inferno, yielding an abundant crop in June. Most commercial sour cherries are grown in Michigan, but they love Iowa. Our favorite variety is the Dwarf North Star. It resists bugs and diseases, and even the deer leave it alone. In some years our cherry crop is almost sweet enough to eat fresh. We love them best blended with mulberries in a pie or mixed into oatmeal. A handy cherry pitter removes some of the tedium of evicting the big seed from each fruit.

 

 

 

Tart Cherries

Tart cherries come ripe in June.

Planting a sour cherry in the yard yields delicious fruit for a family to enjoy. Dwarf varieties can be bought from many nurseries. They like full sun and don’t take much space. In contrast, plant an American Black Cherry and eventually, it will produce fruit savored by birds. The tree needs plenty of space. It can grow to 100 feet tall and likes full sun.

 

Two Great Sources to Learn About Trees

Lied Lodge

Elegant lodging awaits at the Lied Lodge.

The Arbor Day Foundation, arborday.org has a wealth of information about trees and sells dozens of species at low cost. A few years ago, we enjoyed a delightful visit to Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska. We overnighted in the Lied Lodge on the property and wandered trails while enjoying tree lure. Adjacent is the home of J.  Sterling Morton, Arbor Days founder.

A wonderful old book on tree natural history is a two-volume series called A NATURAL HISTORY OF TREES OF (Eastern or Western) NORTH AMERICA. If you find one at a used book store…….buy it!

ARBOR DAY

Most northern states honor Arbor Day on the Fourth Friday of April each year, but many southern states celebrate it at seasons more appropriate for planting in their climate.   Arbor Day dates for all states are listed on this link.

Deer Entertainment in Our Backyard

Guest Blogger
Nancy Garberson shares these observations and photos with Winding Pathways.

This time of year, we call it “wild kingdom” in our backyard because we see deer every day. All kinds of birds and tracks in the snow from the nocturnal creatures dot the snow as well. Our dog is fascinated by the steady entertainment. It’s funny but she never chases them, she respects them as if they were family.

Watching deer roam in our yard can make us feel as if we are living in a natural paradise. Our neighbor has a pond and we have connecting woods. We think that’s what attracts the deer to our area. The deer feel safe and they have lots of water and natural food, as well as our feeder supply, to keep them happy. Another neighbor has an apple tree, which appears to be another draw for the deer. Even the bucks walk in nonchalantly to feed.

So, not only are we enjoying the winter wonderland, but we also have a steady showing of wildlife to enjoy on winter days.

 

Owls and “Mouseterious” Happenings

Guest Blogger, Sue Fehsinger of New Hampshire

Mice got into the hybrid system of my Prius and destroyed it. They also got into our greenhouse and ate some important seeds my husband  Bob was growing. These critters are a common problem, but we have always used live traps; after all, they were here first and are just doing what they need to do to survive. That is until they crossed the line and, reluctantly, we declared war and the snap traps and peanut butter came out.

Once a nature lover, always a nature lover, though, and hoping that some good can result, Bob puts the dead mice out in places where they will be found by “someone” looking for an easy meal.

Yesterday he had an amazing experience. He had caught a couple of mice and put them out but yesterday afternoon no one had taken them, so he moved them to a more open place. As he was crouching down, he felt something soft. An owl swooped down and took the mouse while Bob still had the tail in his hand. The owl remained still in a nearby tree, for the rest of the afternoon while the second mouse stayed on the ground and we waited to see what would happen next, but nothing happened before dark. This morning both are gone.

We have hosted at least one pair of Barred Owls for many years. We rarely see them, so yesterday was a real treat, but we regularly hear them (“Who cooks for you?”) Since mice are the secondary host for deer ticks (those are the ticks that carry Lyme disease) these owls and the yearly expanding family of hawks which also lives here are very welcome.

Be sure to take in the International Owl Center in Houston, MN, this winter. Their Owl Festival is scheduled for March 1-3, 2019. Whooo’s up for it?

Keeping Binoculars Handy

We celebrated the first day of 2019 with a drive in the country. An inch of crusty snow had fallen a few nights earlier, and the countryside looked wintry. Wildlife seemed tucked in on this frosty morning, but as we rounded a gravel road’s bend, we spotted 20 huge white birds in the stubble of a picked corn field.

They were too far away to identify. Were they snow geese or swans? Fortunately, our binoculars were at the ready and we were soon delighted to watch trumpeter swans feeding on corn missed by the combine.  

In previous years we would have had to rummage through coats, mini shovel, rope, and other debris stowed behind the pickup’s seat to find our binoculars. Too many times the birds we wanted to see departed before we found the optics. Not this time.

We recently received a Bino Dock device. It fits securely in a car or truck cup holder, making it easy to grab our binoculars quickly. Roof prism binoculars fit snugly into the Dock, reducing the odds of damage caused when optics are stored loosely under or behind a seat. More important they’re instantly available should we spot an unusual animal or even vintage airplane we want to observe more closely.

We found only one downside to the Bino Docks. Because they hold optics at the ready, they are visible from outside the vehicle. This could make them a target of thieves who are able to quietly and quickly break a side window and be off with valuables. We solved this problem by simply putting a dark colored baseball or stocking cap over the binoculars when we are away from the car. Remember it’s never wise to leave anything that appears to be valuable visible within a parked car. Stow them in the truck, under the seat, or cover them.

For information on Bino Docks see www.binodock.com

  Please note:   We were not paid to review Bino Docks.