Monday, March 30, 2009

Cardinals and Computers

We have found that Cardinals tend to be a bit aggressive at the bird feeders. This female Cardinal seems the exception. She doesn't seem to mind the Tufted Titmouse sharing the feeders. (Perhaps she doesn't even see him. That's another great feature of this feeder.)

A chickadee comes along and she seems all right with that as well.

But truth be told, I think she is most happy when she has total control of the feeder. She looked at me as if to say, "I told you I would share. Now can I eat in peace?"
Wednesday brings us April Fool's Day. Lots of people love to play pranks, and some of the worst are almost certain to be computer viruses and worms.
----------Before midnight tomorrow night, make certain your computer is protected. A firewall does no good if it is not turn on.
----------If you do not automatically update your virus protection and spyware, go to their respective Websites and install the latest updates.
----------If you use Microsoft Operating System and Windows or Vista, make certain you have downloaded and installed the most recent updates.
----------Run your virus protection and spyware detection programs late Tuesday and make certain they are on your start up to run when you turn on your computer Wednesday morning.
----------In spite of your careful measures, you may still get infected. One method that is gaining in popularity and notoriety is through Face Book. The offenders send worms after hacking into Face Book pages. The worm is sent to all "friends" who open the message and have their computers infected. The worm tracks passwords and grabs credit card numbers. It goes without saying that you need to check your accounts regularly.
Hopefully the day will pass with only the simplest of April Fool jokes played on you.
BTW: your shoe's untied.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Soaking Wet Bird

Unlike other birds, he sat and sat in the rain. Other birds came and went, snatching some seeds and flying off into the trees. Despite the fact that there is no bubble over this birdfeeder, the bird sat even though he was soaking wet.

He was hard to identify because he was so wet. We have only a few red birds in Western North Carolina, so we thought he must be a Scarlet Tanager. That is not a common bird around here, but not unheard of. (Please advise if you think it's something else.)
LATE ENTRY: Science Guy, Lynne, and Robin have identified this as a Red Crossbill! I hadn't even considered that since we are SO far out of its range. Wow! Thanks, blogger buddies.

I thought this photograph showed him cracking a seed. Looking at other pictures, I'm not so sure.

The bird returned after it stopped raining. He was finally dry but still spending a very long time at the feeder. I feared he might be sick, but he appeared to be eating and not simply hanging around.

Finally, I saw the problem. Look at his crossed bill. The bird apparently was having great difficulty eating because of his bill abnormality.
I think all of us have a soft spot in our hearts for birds with any imperfections that might interfere with their lives. We put out some already cracked sunflower seeds for him. I think he will be all right, since he looks otherwise very healthy and I suspect he was born with this deformity. I hope he makes it.
Late entry: I don't think he will have any trouble at all, now that I know he is really a Red Crossbill. What a pleasant surprise!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fridays are Golden

Last weekend I had a blogger brain shutdown. We had house guests who brought their dog along with them. I had planned to take a lot of photographs, but I was so glad to see my friend and talk with her that I totally forgot about the camera.

It was only when they were preparing to leave that I grabbed the camera for a few shots of their gorgeous English Springer Spaniel. I have a soft place in my heart for Springers, since we had one who lived to age 17 and another who lived to age 16. This one is a beauty.

The dogs got along well. I think the Springer was tired from the traveling and he didn't seem to want to play very much. He spent most of his time right beside his mom or in her lap while we talked. The men and the Golden Girls spent much of the evening downstairs watching basketball, coming up to refresh their drinks and update us on the games.

It was such a nice visit. My friend and I had worked together for quite some time, and we spent hours talking about what had happened to some of the people since I left there. We didn't go anywhere outside the community, since they had already been traveling for more than a week.

Our house guests brought two hostess gift for us and one for the girls. Ours was full of wonderful Wisconsin cheeses, local wine and jam, and a special treat. Some maple syrup they made at their family farm in Minnesota. The farm has been placed in a land conservancy, but the two sons can continue to farm it.

Here the girls check out their gift bag.

Working together didn't seem to work so well. They simply pushed the bag all over the floor.

Finally the contents spilled out.

Ellie grabbed a fun-looking toy and took off with it.

After playing with the toys for a while, Ellie went back to the gift bag just to make certain there wasn't something left.

This last Friday in March finds us with heavy fog and forecasts for more rain. We certainly hope we get more. We are already behind for 2009 and entering our third year of drought. We are so sorry for all you Duke fans (not) and for others whose teams have left the tourney (yes, really). We will spend another weekend hanging around the house for sure. A major bike race will bring hundreds of bicycles up and down the mountain. Not a good time to be driving.

Whatever your plans for the weekend, have a wonderful one. Stay safe from all the things that trouble you.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spread the Word About Epilepsy

I don't usually blog on Thursdays. But today's message is too important to neglect. Today is Purple Day, a day designed to raise awareness and to show support of the many people who have epilepsy and other seizure disorders. You are encouraged to wear something purple today, if only a ribbon.

One of our blogger buddies has epilepsy and still manages to bring us lovely photographs. Drop by Michele's blog "Rocky Mountain Retreat" and show support for her and her wonderful photographs. She is definitely an inspiration to all of us.
To learn more about epilepsy and related disorders, go to, or

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why We Bring the Feeders Inside

We hang birdfeeders in summer as well as winter. We know we are not doing this for the birds...we are doing it for ourselves. The birds will be perfectly fine without our food. On the other hand, we would not be fine if we didn't see all our friendly birds so often. Because of the feeders, the birds nest nearby. Because of the feeders we have the delight of seeing parents bringing their fledglings where we watch their clumsy attempts at learning to feed themselves. They amuse us all summer long.

Birdfeeders are a magnet for black bears in the mountains. Many people believe the bears want only food, but birdseed is a special treat for them. It's not enough to keep your garbage secured. Our community has been established for more than 35 years, so bear sightings are not common as they once were. On the other hand, we have a lot of green space and border a national forest, so there will always be an occasional encounter. Most of the encounters with the bears occur because a homeowner did something stupid. Like leaving dog food outside the door, or leaving leftover food on the porch, or throwing bread crumbs out for the birds, or hanging bird feeders from the ground, or leaving bird feeders up overnight.

The bears are awake and moving now as they always are in the spring. Last week, this picture was in the Asheville newspaper. There were three black bears, although the photograph shows only two of them. They climbed up to a second-story deck to feast at the bird feeders.

Photo from the Asheville Citizen-Times

There is no sure way to keep black bears from birdfeeders short of removing the feeders completely. That is a fact. There are a few other things that may reduce the attraction. We hang the birdfeeders off a second-story deck. In summer we feed only low-residue seeds. They are much more expensive, but there is little waste and fewer seeds on the ground. (An added benefit is that the birds remain at the feeders longer since they don't have to crack any seeds.) We bring the feeders in before dusk, much to the chagrin of the cardinals who really like to feed at this time. We hang them again after sunrise. We regularly use a leaf blower to dispurse any seeds on the ground.
----------Despite all this, we are fully aware that nothing will stop the bears if people like us continue to feed the birds. So we are doing this fully aware that we might have a visitor. If so, we will definitely stop feeding the birds except for the winter. I would miss them terribly, but it wouldn't be fair to have a black bear learn that humans provide food in the form of birdseeds.
----------Fortunately, we have not seen any bear signs near our end of the community. No scat, no rubbing, no digging for larvae. Be assured that if we do, our birdfeeders will come down for all except the winter months when the bears are hibernating.
The bears are extremely clever and can get to almost any feeder.
Photo from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Photo from NY Dept of Environmental Conservation

So we keep our fingers crossed that the bears do not wander our way. Because, much as we adore our birds at the feeders, the feeders will come down should we have evidence of bear activity.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Courting Cardinals

Spring is so wonderful! The birds are very active, singing their best songs and trying to show off. We have a pair of Cardinals we have been watching for a while. The male is trying very hard to become the suitor for the female.

This is about as close as he has come to the female before she flies away. She is in the upper right corner, trying to look nonchalant.

He is in the lower left corner, trying to look beautiful.

I think he is quite handsome.

She seems less impressed.

She looks at me as if to say, "Lady, this is none of your business."

Much as I love the bird activity, there is one thing I love even better about spring. The days are getting longer by minutes rather than milliseconds. Oh, it does a body good!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Few Blossoms Survived

When planning our yard, we selected native plants for several reasons. The first reason is practical. Native plants are more likely to survive our "normal" weather. Secondly, we wanted a more natural look. We wanted plants that are found naturally growing in the area.

After many years of suburban flower gardens, we opted not to have daffodils, tulips, or other bulbs. We do not plant annuals, although we do have several baskets on the deck and on the porch. That said, I'm in love with camellias. Native to southeastern Asia, these plants thrive in the southern US. The flowers are absolutely gorgeous and they bloom early in the spring. When not blooming, the green plants fit in well with the native ones.

So we have several camellias in our yard. This year they were all full of very large buds. Too soon it appears, because we had a heavy frost and several days of very cold weather. I was very disappointed to see the large buds turning brown and drooping their heads in sorrow. Much to my surprise, a few of the buds continued to grow and we have a few camellia blossoms. Not many, but still enough to enjoy.

One of the wonderful things about nature is that there will always be a next year. Another spring to awaken the plants. I hope next year the camellias will be in full bloom. Until then, I will appreciate the few blossoms we have.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fridays are Golden

It has been recommended that people not let dropped seeds accumulate in one area because that may allow for transmission of diseases. My husband regularly takes a leaf blower to disperse all the seeds on the ground under the feeders. The girls love to be out with him as he blows the seeds into the woods.

I like this picture of Lucy jumping up into the air because it appears she has been blown by the leaf blower. Not true. She has a stick in her mouth and is trying to get it positioned better.

I got it! I got it!

Oops! In her attempt to get a better grip on the stick, she has lost it. You will note there is a bigger and better stick right in front of her, but that's not the stick she wants.

I lost it! I lost it!

Lucy brought the little stick to my husband and is waiting for him to throw it for her.

All right, already. Are you going to throw it or not?

When Ellie's turn comes, she is poised and ready to run in any direction.

I just love chasing sticks!

The nearby trees are filled with golden hair. The Golden Girls are happy to share their wonderful soft hair with the birds. Almost every bird nest we find is lined with the golden hair.

We are having house guests this weekend. My husband's first response was, "Does that mean I might have to miss some of the NCAA Tournament?" Our guests will be bringing their 8-year-old male Springer Spaniel with them. The girls have never had another dog in the house before. It will be interesting to see how they interact.

I hope you all have a wonderful and fun-filled weekend. I wish it were possible for everyone's team to advance in the tournament. Take care and stay safe.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Purple Finches in the Rain

The birds are singing loudly and pairing up. We are so happy to see so many birds nesting in our woods. This year, for the first time we have Purple Finches. They have been hanging around for quite a while and I am hoping they will nest nearby.

This week brought some welcome rain...more than two inches of gentle rain over two days. I love to watch birds in the rain, especially birds as lovely as the Purple Finches.

A male and a female recently shared lunch in the rain.

The female kept her eyes on me most of the time, but she stayed to eat with her mate anyway. I just love this time of year!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nuthatches and the Nesting Box

Various bird houses hang from the trees throughout the woods at our house. At the end of the season we clean all the bird houses and leave them in place for the winter. One of the houses apparently got used after we cleaned it. This house is favored by the Chickadees.

On Monday I looked out to see a White-breasted Nuthatch coming and going at the bird house. What a surprise.

She came out of the house with her mouth totally full of nesting material.

She struggled at times to get the big globs through the opening.

She carried them to the tree trunk.

Both of the nuthatches worked. Here they are passing something from one to the other.

The pieces of material were placed on a branch near the tree trunk. Methodically, the two nuthatches flew from the bird house to the tree and back. The gentle wind kept blowing the material from the branches as it accumulated.

This bird stopped what she was doing and looked straight at me and the camera. Then she resumed her work.
After removing quite a bit of material, the nuthatch began tucking the material under the eaves of the bird house.

I watched for a very long time as the nuthatch went about her job. She definitely had a plan.

To our amusement, the nuthatches worked all day long to clean out the bird house. Taking short breaks to eat or drink, they kept on working. At the end of the afternoon, the bird house looked like this:

They left lots of nesting material tucked under the eaves. Then they pulled more material to cover the opening. I've never seen such a sight. On Tuesday morning, one of the nuthatches returned and I looked forward to another fun day of watching. She removed all the material from inside the house. Then she took the stuffing from under the eaves, leaving the bird house totally clean.
Neither of the nuthatches has been seen entering or leaving the bird house since Tuesday. I wonder what they are thinking.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tracking the Hummingbirds

It won't be long now.

One of my favorite arrivals is that of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Even non-birders talk excitedly about the first hummingbird sighting. In case you didn't know, there is a really great hummingbird migration map. You can use the map to report a sighting or to follow the migration. Once they approach your area, get out those feeders and make your nectar.
Here is the link for the map:
-----------My computer seems to have made a Lazarus-like recovery and survived the hard drive crash and other problems. It's back home and working just fine. With a new hard drive and reinstallation of the operating system, it should be good for a while. This is one service contract that more than paid for itself.
FRIENDLY NOTE: Get a portable hard drive and back up any data you wouldn't want to lose for good. While in my case the service crew was able to clone the hard drive, that is not always the case. I felt much better knowing that I had almost everything I needed backed up on a relatively inexpensive portable external hard drive. There is also Internet-based storage available. Oh, if you don't actually use the process to back up data it doesn't do you any good!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday is Golden

The weather pattern (hereafter known as the Great March Snowstorm) left us with more snow than we had seen since we moved away from Wisconsin. My husband took the Golden Girls out to play in the snow and snapped a few photographs of them.

This is the edge of the woods. The branches are heavy with the snow, bending down almost to the ground.

Ellie takes a break from running and sniffing in the snow.

Lucy looks behind her to see where Ellie is.

Lucy did not seem to care much for the snow. She shoveled it with her nose, but did not run around as much as Ellie.

Here they are playing chase. Lucy is the reluctant member and Ellie is having a wonderful time.

I think Ellie is telling Lucy some little secret.

Lucy sits in the snow, her eyes begging to go back inside.

Lucy spent a lot of time trying to get the snow off her paw pads.

Lucy is a dog who detests having anything on her paw pads or tail feathering. Perhaps that is why she didn't care for the snow. Ellie enjoyed every minute, running and playing like a puppy.
----------The reason for the Thursday doggie post is that my laptop STILL is not working properly. After installation of a new hard drive, the computer takes as long as 30 minutes to boot up. So, back to the service department for repairs. I do hope they won't have to keep it long.