Posts Tagged Carolina Wren

Finally, Rain!

A suddenly abundant Silver-spotted Skipper enjoys a refreshed zinnia.

One of the suddenly abundant Silver-spotted Skippers enjoys a refreshed zinnia.

Two months to the day after the last drenching, inch+ rain event on my yard, the rains finally returned. My rain gauge registered almost exactly a two-inch total for the event. Of course, the airport a mere 30 miles away measured over twice that, but I’m willing to overlook that this time.

The only puddle that remained by this morning was in the driveway, and its size was modest compared to previous puddles. When I walked the floodplain this morning, the ground was not muddy anywhere, but it was at least not dusty anymore. And the grass grew half a foot overnight, of course.

Even though the rains came down hard for much of the event, little managed to run off into our creek. I know this, because the creek water level is still quite low. The water is muddy, but barely flowing — still an improvement over the thin thread that occupied that space a few days ago.

The little pond I showed you in my previous post is not full to the top, but the level did rise. Compare the following two photos to those in the previous post.

The pond level rose, but not to the top.

The pond level rose, but not to the top.

Compare this to the close-up view from my previous post:

Better, but not ideal.

Better, but not ideal.

Last weekend, Wonder Spouse decided to harvest his remaining two potato bags. The heat and drought were making the plants look pretty sad, and he was worried the tubers below might be adversely impacted if he waited any longer.

I showed you the harvest of Viking Purple potatoes in the previous post. All three varieties Wonder Spouse grew this year began as a pound apiece of seed potatoes. From that, his yield was 6.3 pounds of Viking Reds.

Viking Red potato harvest

Viking Red potato harvest

The new variety he tried this year, Marris Piper, yielded 7.3 pounds of smaller potatoes.

Marris Piper yield with a pine cone for scale.

Marris Piper yield with a pine cone for scale.

Potatoes are never tastier than when they are freshly harvested, and we have been enjoying frequent potato feasts. Any way you prepare them, the flavor is astonishing if you’ve never eaten anything but old tubers from the grocery store bins.

The other vegetables remain productive despite the drought. In fact, I suspect that the drought is the reason they are still doing so well. During last year’s highly unusual rainy, cool summer, the beans, tomatoes, and squashes all succumbed to fungal diseases quite early in the summer. This year, I’m still picking lovely zucchinis. Two of the six plants have surrendered to the evil squash vine borers, but the other four are still valiantly producing, aided, I suspect, by numerous enthusiastic honeybees from my neighbor’s hive. Thanks, neighbor!

A soggy carpenter bee dries out beneath a cosmos flower, where it likely sought shelter from yesterday's rains.

A soggy carpenter bee dries out beneath a cosmos flower, where it likely sought shelter from yesterday’s rains.

Speaking of pollinators, the almost completely absent butterfly population is finally showing signs of returning, no doubt aided by recent rains. The local experts on the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) chatlist are theorizing that the previous unusually cold and sometimes wet winter killed most of the overwintering larval stage of these insects. We’re finally beginning to see some, probably migrants from areas that weren’t so adversely impacted.

So far in my yard, I’m still seeing almost no swallowtails, but the little skippers and other small butterflies are now showing up in the numbers I expect, especially now that the flowers have been fortified by adequate (for now) rain.

A battered Pearl Crescent rests on a milkweed leaf. I've seen no Monarchs this year, alas.

A battered Pearl Crescent rests on a milkweed leaf. I’ve seen no Monarchs this year, alas.

I did spot the first bright green Praying Mantis of the summer a few days ago. It was loitering in a marigold growing next to my beans. I usually don’t notice these predators until about this time of year, as they grow larger in preparation for egg laying.

Speaking of egg-laying, just before the rains hit yesterday afternoon, I noticed the Carolina Wrens nesting in a pot on my back deck were covertly flying back and forth — a sign that at least one of the four speckled eggs they’d been tending had hatched. I tried to get a peek this morning, but only managed to annoy a damp Mrs. Wren snuggled inside the nest.


That's her unblinking eye staring at me.

That’s her unblinking eye staring at me.

A bonus with the rain is an influx of below-normal cooler and drier air, which is predicted to linger for several days. For me, that means I’m out of excuses regarding weeding and other plant-maintenance tasks. But with moistened ground and a refreshing air mass, digging in the dirt will be a pleasure, not a hardship.

The rains are predicted to return in a few days. Perhaps now that my yard has been re-moistened, some of the future juicy clouds will choose to visit soon.

Here’s hoping all our gardens receive the rain they need to flourish.

Welcome back!

Welcome back!

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A Tomato I-told-you-so

Diseased Early Choice tomato

Diseased Early Choice tomato

Sometimes I hate being right. When the company I usually order my tomato seeds from sent me a substitute without asking my permission, I had a feeling I was going to be disappointed. I explained my misgivings in this earlier post.

I had ordered Early Goliath. Due to a crop failure, they sent me Early Choice. I suspect that some order-filler at the company figured since both varieties had the word “early” in their names, they were equivalent. Not even close.

Wonder Spouse removing the diseased Early Choice plant before it can infect neighboring plants.

Wonder Spouse removing the diseased Early Choice plant before it can infect neighboring plants. The trash bag is for the diseased plant. Never compost diseased plants.

When I first visited the company’s site after I got my order, Early Choice wasn’t even described in their listings. It’s there now. I voiced my suspicions about this unwanted substitute’s disease resistance in an earlier post. Now, in their description of this variety, they claim it is “highly disease resistant.” However, the imprecision of their language is highly suspect.

If you look at a good tomato seed catalog, the first item listed after the name is usually a list of letters indicating the various diseases to which the variety is resistant. For example, Early Goliath — the variety I wanted and had grown successfully previously — has these letters after its name: VFFNTAS, meaning this variety is resistant to Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt (Races 1 and 2), Nematodes, Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Alternaria Stem Canker, and Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot. That’s a heck of a lot more specific than “highly disease resistant.”

My Early Choice seedlings started off looking as healthy as the other varieties I’m growing this year, and they’ve received identical treatment. I don’t know which wilt disease is actively destroying them, but it’s moving fast. And the fruits were nearly tasteless anyway. We decided to remove the plants before their plague could spread to neighboring tomatoes on the trellis.

Empty trellis space. What a waste!

Empty trellis space. What a waste!

I’m happy to report that the rest of the vegetable garden is flourishing despite over 6 weeks with less than a half inch of rain. I am watering all veggies twice a week, but the shallow well designated for that purpose will go dry soon. Our best hope is the developing tropical storm currently south of us. Rains from a nice juicy tropical system could easily reverse my drought in a day. Fingers crossed.

Carolina Wren takeover

Carolina Wren takeover

In happier news, a pair of Carolina Wrens has built a nest in one of the flower pots on my back deck. The flowers survived in this pot over winter in my greenhouse and were just starting to look nice. Apparently, the wrens agreed. A pair raised a brood in this same pot last year. I don’t know if these are the same parents, or perhaps an offspring that recognized its birthplace.

Three eggs so far

Three eggs so far

The female has laid one egg per day so far. Last year, they stopped at four. I’ll let you know what they do this time. The birds don’t seem to mind me coming out on the deck to water the plants. And it’s great fun to watch the parents hustling back and forth with tasty morsels when the hungry nestlings emerge. I do continue to water the plants in this pot, but I fill the bottom saucer and let the roots pull up the liquid from below.

The pot is on a stand tucked against the house under the eaves. Out of the wind and the worst of hard rains, it's not a bad spot to raise a brood of perky brown wrens.

The pot is on a stand tucked against the house under the eaves. Out of the wind and the worst of hard rains, it’s not a bad spot to raise a brood of perky brown wrens.

So this past weekend I lost two tomatoes and gained (so far) three Carolina Wren eggs. I calculate this to be a net win for the yard and garden. Now if I can just persuade the rains to return…

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While they sleep …

Swelling flower bud of Magnolia 'Elizabeth'

Swelling flower bud of Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’

Just before dawn this morning, thick frost glimmered in the fading light of a full moon. As the sun topped the nearby ridge, surfaces sparkled — walks, benches, lawn, even the trees. The thermometer on my cold hill bottomed out at 26 degrees Fahrenheit before the strengthening Spring sun began its work — Winter cold. Too cold.

The Spring Peepers, which have lustily chorused off and on since late December, have been utterly silent for four days. The American Toads, which had added their exquisite soprano trilling descant to the thrumming of the Peepers two weeks ago, have also gone quiet. The Green Anoles, which sunned themselves on our gutters on warm days all winter, have not ventured from their sleeping chambers in a week. To be sure, our weather has not been fit for cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles.

The plants in my yard agree. Half-open flower buds have opened no further. Some have browned from freeze damage. Others seem suspended in time, waiting for temperatures that match the astronomical calendar, knowing the equinox was last week, wondering like me, I imagine, why March turned so cruel in its waning days.

But while the plants and cold-blooded animals sleep, the warm-blooded ones are scrounging for food. A herd of five pregnant does devours every blade of green from our floodplain at dusk, when they emerge from their hiding places on the other side of the creek. Dark shadows in darkening light, they drift around the trees, more ghosts than flesh in the dimness.

The birds, on the other hand, have refused to concede to Spring’s reluctant arrival. Growing flocks of American Robins patrol the landscape, plucking fat earthworms from rain-moistened soil, muttering in delight at each new-found morsel.

The Red-shouldered Hawks circle the floodplain, then dive at crowded bird feeders in the hopes of pinning a slow-moving Mourning Dove or a greedy Red-winged Blackbird that lingers too long for one more bite. When the birds elude their grasp, they settle for patrolling the ground, pulling back fallen leaves with sharp yellow talons to reveal earthworms, which they greedily devour. When they’ve had their fill, they fly off with more; hungry nestlings must be fed, even while their favorite cold-blooded prey sleep securely in their winter hide-outs.

Nestlings must eat regardless of weather.

Nestlings must eat regardless of weather.

Flocks of Purple Finches grow daily. I think groups migrating from further south have heard about the snows in their summer homes up north. They linger at my feeders — free food — all you can eat! A pair of Carolina Wrens busily inspect flower pots, deck underpinnings, and an open garage for potential nesting sites. Wood Ducks paddle up and down the creek, preferring water warmer than the air.

A Great Blue Heron stalks from sand bar to sand bar. Rising into the air on massive wings, its majestic flight starkly contrasts with its harsh squawk of frustration at finding nothing tasty.

Alert for anything that moves, the hungry Great Blue Heron remains statue still.

Alert for anything that moves, the hungry Great Blue Heron remains statue still.

Suet feeders are perpetually busy from dawn to full darkness. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are feeding nestlings, and insects are difficult to find in the frigid air. They are joined by increasing numbers of warblers, which must be arriving for spring nesting season. Like the woodpeckers, suet is their fall-back food until the insects finally emerge.

This morning as I filled the feeders, I heard the characteristic melodic gurgling call of Brown-headed Cowbirds. They usually arrive a few days after the warblers, lingering at my feeders until they pair off, and egg-heavy females deposit their eggs in the nests of unwary warblers.

Warm-blooded life does not seem to have the luxury of waiting for Spring to assert itself. Somehow it must carry on despite the dearth of natural food and warming nights. I keep my feeders filled and birdhouses clean, in the hopes that this eases their struggle a bit — for my local population anyway.

The weather forecasters predict that our perseverance will be rewarded. Warmer days are promised soon. I think perhaps they might be right. I spotted a bright yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail this afternoon struggling to make headway against a gusty northwest wind.

Any minute now, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be arriving for their spring nesting season. I’d best dust off their feeders ASAP, because their usual early food sources — blooms of Red Buckeye and Eastern Columbine — remain tightly closed against the unseasonable chill.

Not even a flower bud is yet in evidence on the native Coral Honeysuckle beloved by the hummingbirds.

Not even a flower bud is yet in evidence on the native Coral Honeysuckle beloved by the hummingbirds.

Like the warm-blooded life surrounding me, my garden and I must persevere. Lettuce transplants huddle beneath garden fabric in the vegetable garden. I’ve been afraid to check on them, fearing that lifting the fabric might chill them more. And the tomato and pepper seeds I sowed a week ago have mostly germinated in the greenhouse. I’ve raised the thermostat to reduce the chances of cold air being fanned onto new-born seedlings.

Gardening is always an act of faith. This season, however, is requiring a bit more of it than usual. Believe, my friends. Soon we’ll be up to our knees in tall grass, mosquitoes, and summer squash.

But don’t blink. I have a feeling we’re mostly skipping Spring this year.

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Bird Brains

Great Blue Heron

Over the nearly 22 years that Wonder Spouse and I have lived on our five acres, we’ve added a lot of mostly native shrubs, trees, and wildflowers to the property. In so doing, we created much new habitat for the winged ones. Birds of many species happily find lodgings on or near our property, and they conduct much of their business — food-gathering and courting/territorial displays especially — within ear- and eye-shot.

I confess that it is easy for me to lose an hour just sitting where I can watch and listen to the avian inhabitants who share my space. Of course, sometimes their proximity creates challenges. Take Carolina Wrens, for example.

I love these busy little brown bundles of energy, but they have a habit of seeking nesting sites in impractical places. I routinely chase them out of my greenhouse — it’s just not big enough for me, my plants, and a family of wrens.

Yesterday, I unknowingly closed one into my garage after I completed my chores. When I returned a few hours later to retrieve my car, I first had to persuade a confused Carolina Wren to exit through the door. This is not as easy as it sounds. The wren’s mate was waiting in nearby bushes, greeting its wayward spouse with quite a scolding.

Eastern Bluebirds are my current greatest challenge. I love bluebirds. Who doesn’t? Their cheerful burble — sort of a cross between a babbling brook and a quiet chuckle — signifies spring to my ears. Several pairs of these beauties nest on our property, which is probably why the gorgeous red-breasted males feel obliged to perpetually prove their worthiness to the demure females.

I have read about Cardinals fighting with their reflections in windows. Until last year, I had never seen an Eastern Bluebird obsessively battle his mirrored self. We had hoped it was a one-time fluke — one confused male who thought that throwing himself against the windows of our house and garage was the way to win his true love’s undying admiration. Either the same one has returned, or the obsession has spread.

Yesterday and again this morning, a male bluebird is repeatedly throwing himself at my bedroom windows, where the sun first illuminates the house. If his behavior pattern holds,  he will move to different windows as the day progresses, following the sun. The windows in our garage are still covered in wing prints from last year, the dusty film on the outside creating a perfect medium for his imprints. They are very high windows, which is why they’re still dirty. However, I doubt they are dirty enough to discourage the bird-brained bluebird from his obsession.

He talks the whole time he’s battling himself. The female sits in a nearby tree and burbles back at him. I’ve tried going outside and explaining to them that this behavior is a waste of their resources. But their brains are dominated by reproductive hormones. Like most human teenagers, only one thought rules their minds.

And finally, as I was sitting in my living room yesterday, I noticed a Great Blue Heron standing statue-like on my floodplain. He seemed to be gazing into the water of a small shallow pool, but he was too far from it to catch a fish. When he didn’t move for five minutes, I realized I should try to photograph him. But using the telephoto lens through window glass makes for less than ideal pictures. My apologies. I tried stepping out onto my deck for a cleaner shot, but I only got one before he flew off.

He’ll be back. We see his kind regularly, along with just about every other bird species you would expect for our region. That’s one of the many wonderful things about creating wildlife habitat — you never know who will stop by next.

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