Monday, June 30, 2008

Titmouse and Glimpse of Red-bellied Baby

The titmouse fledglings are coming regularly to our feeders. This little guy seems a bit reluctant.

He looks around for his parents.
He chirps but no one comes. He's going to have to get to the feeder by himself.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is still being fed by his parents. He always seems to be positioned among the leaves, perhaps to make it more difficult to be seen. Here is a glimpse of the big baby.

While I always look forward to migrations and the varieties of birds I may see, I much prefer our "ordinary" birds. You can always count on them to bring hours of amusement. I especially love our year-round birds, who hang out and bring us joy even during the winter.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Frustrated Pileated

Friday evening, I saw Big Daddy (our adult male Pileated Woodpecker) frantically flapping his wings while on the suet feeder. Gasping, I thought he must have somehow caught his foot in the wire. I panicked, wondering how I would be able to release him without injury to either of us.

Then my attention moved to the top of the feeder. To my great surprise, a gray squirrel was sitting on the hook, challenging Big Daddy. I stood watching far too long before I ran to grab the camera and took a couple of shots through the glass door. (You may want to click and enlarge to appreciate the look on his face.)

Big Daddy looks more agressive in this shot, almost ready to take on the squirrel.

He's backing away, as if re-thinking whether or not to take on the challenge.
While I was re-focusing to catch both of them, Big Daddy decided not to continue the standoff. He flew away and swooped into the woods. The gray squirrel seemed surprised by the sudden movement and he ran down the pole and away.
I have no idea how often such an encounter occurs and I don't know who was at the suet first. But it was a sight to behold! One of those moments you never forget and can't begin to describe to others.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Fridays are Golden

Our Golden Girls are temperamentally very different. This was evident very early. When Ellie was in obedience training, she very quickly learned all the commands and with equal speed she obeyed them. She still does.

Lucy, on the other hand, had a lot of questions when it came to her training. She must have had a dozen questions about the command "sit." [Oh, you mean NOW? Where exactly? How should I sit? How long must I sit? Do I really need to do this? Does my whole body have to be still?] Lucy is almost three and while she obeys commands most of the time, she occasionally has questions about them. [Do these commands still apply when we have guests?]

I took them outside for some photographs yesterday afternoon.

Lucy, I have the camera. Look at me.
Just a minute, Mom. I think I found a bug.

Ok, let's try it on the steps.

I think I see someone walking a dog down the street.

Lucy, look at me.

Wait a minute. I think I smell something in the air.

Come on Lucy, just one good shot.

There, are you satisfied? You won't get much more from me today.

All right. Ellie, let's get one of you.

How's this, Mom?

That's great, Ellie. Can you hold you head up a little more?

Like this?

Thanks, Ellie. That was great!

We adore both of these dogs, different as they are. That also applies to our children, doesn't it? Very different but all wonderful.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Red-bellied Woodpecker

We have a nesting pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers on our property. They have two fledglings which I have been unable to photograph. They bring the fledglings to a tree not far from the suet feeder, but always seem to hide them behind the leaves. Perhaps when they are a bit older, they will come closer to the feeder.
This is their home:

The nesting cavity is about 30 feet from the ground.

The female grabs some suet to feed the little ones:

We call her Rosy, because she has more red on her cheeks than most females.

This is the male. You may notice the Downy on the other side of the suet feeder. I assure you the Red-bellied has no idea he is there. He is notorious for chasing the Downys away and through the woods. We call the male Big Red, or Big Red Bully. He chases everyone except the Pileated Woodpeckers away from the suet.

I cannot tell you how much time I spent trying to get a photograph of Rosy or Big Red going into the cavity before the little ones fledged. It is possible they might have another brood this summer. If my neck holds up, I'll keep trying.

My neighbors who have seen them at our feeders call them Red-headed Woodpeckers. Yeah, the same neighbors who call the Pileated "Woody Woodpecker". Sometimes I just let it go. It's so much easier that way.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Confused Cardinal

I apologize for the poor quality of the photograph, shot through the window and screen. I decided to post it anyway, because it illustrates one of the most endearing qualities of fledglings. They have no idea what to do when the parents stop feeding them. This little cardinal doesn't seem to understand that his beak is not going to work at the niger feeder. And he clearly doesn't understand why he can't get any food. (NOTE: An observant reader pointed out how red the beak is and how much color the bird has. This make it more likely it is not a fledgling but an errant visitor. I agree, especially since I never saw him before or since.)

Hey, I saw the Goldfinches eating here.
I especially love to watch the fledgling chickadees. They will sit on the feeder tray, screaming while Mom and Dad eat for themselves. Finally, the little ones get the message that the delivered food is over and they must figure this eating thing out for themselves.
We can all learn a great deal by watching the birds, can't we?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hummingbirds at Last

I have tried and tried to photograph the hummingbirds coming to our feeders. Unfortunately, there is so much territorial behavior that no one feeds long enough for me to get a good photo. We must have several families, and there is constant discord and defense of the feeders. They sip and go. A chase usually follows. I'm sure they must expend more energy than they receive in the nectar.

During a recent visit to a park ranger station, I was delighted to find hummingbirds peacefully enjoying an afternoon drink. They were most accommodating.

Ah! So cool and refreshing.

Did you want a profile shot?

Focus on me. Never mind the blurry bird at the other feeder.

Of course we can share. There's plenty for everyone.

Only one of them seemed a bit indignant at my presence:
So, what you looking at?
It was wonderful to see such a peaceful gathering of hummingbirds. On the other hand, I also love my little rebels too.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fields of Echinacea

On Saturday, Gaia Herbs held an open house. The company grows plants and manufactures herbal extracts on a 250-acre medicinal herb farm in Transylvania County. It was a beautiful day, so my husband and I opted out of the wagon tour and walked the farm on foot. It was gorgeous.

One of several fields of Echinacea Purpurea in bloom.

The farm is located in a peaceful valley with a great mountain view.

Ginko, whose leaves are used for Ginko Biloba.

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica).

Another Echinacea field. The larger white flowers in the background are Valerian in bloom.

One of many greenhouses on the property.

The ubiquitous story-teller.

If the claims are to be believed, this must be the healthiest bird around.

We did not tour the sterile manufacturing plant, preferring to stay outdoors and enjoy the day. In doing so, we overheard some really interesting conversations about the powers of the various herbal remedies. These folks have some satisfied customers who eagerly spread the word.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fridays are Golden

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Dichi Sirius Eleanor Rose!!!

Our Ellie will be five years old tomorrow. She was born at Dichi Goldens , one of two females in a litter of nine. (Click on "Dichi Goldens" to visit their Web site. If you love Goldens, or dogs in general, you won't regret it.) You may wonder about her name. Dichi is from the breeder and all dogs bred by them have "Dichi" as the first name to recognize the kennel. The name Sirius comes from the Dog Star, the brightest star in southern sky. Ellie's mother was named Star, so Sirius is a tribute to her. Eleanor Rose is a tribute to a woman I admire greatly, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ellie has a scar near her left eye. When she was only a few weeks old, she somehow managed to crawl under a freezer and get stuck. At some point during the ordeal she sustained a cut near her eye resulting in the scar you see. We were told about the injury and offered the pick of the next litter. We said we wanted this dog, so we were given a discount. (We have never told Ellie she was marked down.)

Ellie has brought us joy every single day of her life. She is intelligent, loving, and eager to please. We've never had a dog with a better temperament. Tomorrow's birthday will pass largely unnoticed. No special meal, no cake and ice cream. Ellie thrives on routine, and a celebration would not be for would be for us. She wouldn't understand special treatment one day and back to normal the next. So we will simply give her the same love and affection we give her every day. At dinner tomorrow night, please raise your wine glass to Ellie and wish her a happy birthday.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Take Your Breath Away

One of the hazards of living in a house in the woods, especially one with lots of windows is the occasional heart-wrenching sound of a bird hitting a window. After a while, you can differentiate the sound of a stunned bird from a death. The other day, I heard the awful "death thump" and ran out to see the victim. It took my breath away. There on the deck lay one of our Downys. I know the guilty is the Red-bellied male who has become extremely aggressive toward the Downys and Hairys for the past few weeks. Not content to drive them from the suet feeder, he furiously chases them out of the yard, deep into the forest. This poor Downy headed in the wrong direction to try to get away.

While we don't have a lot of birds hitting the windows, the hummingbirds go in such a frenzy that they occasionally hit a window or even a wall. A male hit with a light thump and landed between the slats on the deck. I picked him up and again, it took my breath away! What a thrill to feel this tiny little heart fluttering in my hands. I held him for only a short while until he recovered and flew into the trees.
NOTE for those of you looking for Wednesday Waterfalls: I am putting the waterfall posts on hold until we get more rain. The water flow over them has decreased dramatically, and while they are still great, they are not majestic. Transylvania County typically has more rainfall than any county east of the Rocky Mountains. We average more than 80 inches of rain annually, and a portion of the county is designated as a temperate rain forest. From January 2007 through May 2008 (a 17-month period) we had about 55 inches of rain. This is the driest stretch in the past 114 years. So bear with me and hope, dance, pray for rain in the NC mountains.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


One of my favorite summer flowers is the moss rose (portulaca grandiflora). Available in many colors, this beautiful spreading plant loves the sun; full sun all day long. It has a high drought tolerance, and unlike impatiens and petunias seems to thrive even if you forget to water.

Although it is often used as a ground cover, it is perfect for hanging baskets exposed to a lot of sun. I use portulaca for my "hummingbird" basket. The basket has three hummingbird feeders which are not only pleasing to the eye, the hummers love them and often come here to feed. I have two colors of portulaca in the basket.

The flowers in this basket will continue to bloom all summer. They are very forgiving, don't need to be dead-headed and do well in heat and sun.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Downy and Hairy

We have four pairs of woodpeckers regularly coming to our suet. The pace is pretty fast right now as their young are almost ready to fledge and all the parents are gathering food for them. In fact, the Downy Woodpeckers already have two fledglings that we have seen.

Shortly after we moved into our house, my husband came in and said we had the biggest Downy he had ever seen. Of course, what he had seen was a Hairy Woodpecker. The two are remarkably similar.

For comparison, here are the two at the same feeder: (Click to enlarge)
This is the Downy. He is less than half the length of the feeder. Note that his bill is relatively short, about half the length of his head. A goldfinch seems to be interested in watching him.

Compare him to the Hairy:
The Hairy Woodpecker is much larger than the Downy. His length covers more than two-thirds of the feeder. Note the length of his bill. It is almost as long as his head.
Both the Downy and the Hairy do drumming on dead trees to attract mates and establish territory. Our other woodpeckers, the Pileated and (to a lesser extent) the Red-Bellied also drum. The resonance of the drumming is very different from the sound of pecking for insects or excavating a nest cavity. It is a wonderful and welcome sound. No additonal percussion is required.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fridays are Golden

Golden Retrievers seem to have instinctive thermostats that shut them down when the temperature is warmer than 80 degrees. These active sporting dogs become floor potatoes (they aren't allowed on the couch) and position themselves under an air conditioner vent.

Lucy chooses the rug at the top of the stairs.
"It's not at all hard to pretend to be asleep."
Ellie selects a spot just outside the sunshine.
"Gosh, darn. That sunbeam is gaining on me. I may have to get up and move."

If you are in the midst of a drought, I wish rain for you. If you are in the mid-west floods, I wish sunshine. And wherever you are, I wish you a safe and happy weekend.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Garden Tour

Our house was on the Garden Tour today. My husband is the resident expert on the plants, so I fully expected to simply greet folks and smile a lot. He has jury duty this week, but this is a small town and what were the chances he would be on a jury Wednesday? Pretty darn good, it turns out.

My friend (many of my friends are funny) said I should simply use my nursing background and make up some clever-sounding names. After all, the medical language is Latin, and the plant language is Latin, so who would know the difference?

I was a bit worried, but I didn't care much about the medical terminology idea either (although I really came up with some beauts). I decided to be forthcoming and tell people the little that I knew, use my husband's notes (which were about as readable as if they were in Latin) and do the best I could do.

I should not have worried. Group after group of people came through in a steady stream. Almost every group included a master gardener who would say, "Look. They have (insert plant name) and isn't that a beautiful (insert plant name)!" Here are the questions people most frequently asked me:

Where did you get that lovely stained glass lawn ornament?

A friend who is a periodontist does this for relaxation

Oh! Did a local potter make the mushrooms?

Yes, they came from Muddabbers.
And what about the yard bird?

Also from Muddabbers.
By far, the most frequently asked question:
Where did you get that wonderful banner?
It is a nice banner, one of many that we have, but I really don't know where my husband got it.
And's just as lovely on the other side!
Thanks, we really like it, too.

It was a very long day. People crowded through from 10:00 until 12:00. I was constantly greeting, constantly smiling and trying to look comfortable. I took the Golden Girls for a walk between 12 and 12:30, drank several glasses of water, and prepared for the 1:00 onslaught. Another steady stream from 1:00 until the end of the tour at 3:00 (actually four people showed up at 3:15). It was an exhausting day. When the stragglers finally left, I took the girls out again and changed clothes, sat in the recliner, and cooled off with some lemonade.

My poor husband came home just before 5:00. He has to go back tomorrow for the judge's instructions and the jury deliberation. He asked how the garden tour went, and I said, "JUST GREAT!"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Woody Woodpecker

We had a little dinner party for some friends. While we were having cocktails, one of them pointed to the deck and shouted, "Look! It's Woody Woodpecker!" Everyone turned around in time to see a Pileated Woodpecker at the suet feeder. Several of the people had seen Pileateds before, but never so close and always in flight. Apparently, most of our neighbors do not bother to learn the real names of the birds, so Woody Woodpecker was fine with them. I didn't have the heart to tell her that it must be Woody's wife.

(Sorry about the quality. It was shot through the glass. No, not the shot glass, the window)

There may be some of you who are too young to know Woody Woodpecker. Therefore, I have linked to the official site. Just click on the highlighted "Woody Woodpecker."

For some reason it makes me feel quite old.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wild Azalea

Mountain azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) is an orange wild azalea that grows in thickets and open woods in Western North Carolina (WNC). It blooms (depending upon the elevation) from mid-Spring until early Summer. I recall that it seemed more abundant when I was a child, but we all know how inaccurate some of our childhood memories are. It is now close to peak in our area. It does not bloom as early as the cultivated azaleas and the bushes are more gangly and less dense. I recently found some and it is a lovely treat for the eyes.

The Mountain Laurel is still blooming in profusion. This is one of the best years for the Laurel in a long time. It will continue to bloom for another three weeks or so and the forests are filled with their beauty.

We have plants on the deck to attract the butterflies and hummingbirds. I caught an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail getting some nectar.

And the heat wave continues. At this writing (7:38 PM EDT) it is still 79 degrees! The air is still and the birds are quiet. Here, in the cool mountains, it is 79 degrees this late in the evening!