Posts Tagged Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Autumnal Observations

Autumn color of Katsura Tree.

Autumn is making itself undeniably known in my part of central North Carolina. Every day, I see more leaf color along with more discarded leaves on the ground, scattered among acorns, walnuts, and many other fruits. Humidity has dropped (barring occasional tropical storm remnants), skies are deep blue, and in my yard, the air is perfumed by the unmistakeable fragrance of golden leaves of a non-native tree I planted 25 years ago. The Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) became a must-have for me when I saw it in the display garden of a local plantsman. He waxed rhapsodically over the autumn leaf scent, comparing it to ripe strawberries in sunlight and cotton candy. He was not exaggerating. Wonder Spouse thinks the fragrance that wafts from the autumn leaves of this tree on north breezes resembles cotton candy. My nose finds the scent to be more fruity — a cross between strawberries and ripe apricots, perhaps with a hint of sweet apple. The golden orange leaves and their distinctive perfume have become our signal that autumn has arrived. But it is most certainly not the only sign.

Cornus kousa on the left and Cornus florida on the right, both heavy with autumn fruits.

Bird activity has picked up again. They were always around, of course, but now they are making more noise again. Red-bellied woodpeckers and blue jays make a constant ruckus as they gather characteristically small acorns of the massive southern red oak (Quercus falcata) that dominates the top of our hill. It appears to be a big year for acorn production; dropped acorns cover the ground beneath this giant.

Bright fruits of American beautyberry adorn its branches.

Fruit eaters from squirrels to Eastern bluebirds, mockingbirds, catbirds, and many other species are chowing down on dogwood and American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) fruits. Our non-native Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) produced so much fruit this year that branches touched the ground until the fruits fell or were devoured.

Flocks of migrating robins clean off whole trees and bushes in a day or two. Migrating warblers are still passing through on their way to their winter hangouts, and finally this week, we’ve begun spotting rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeders, refueling for their southward journeys.

The photo is blurry, but trust me, that’s a river otter peeking at me.

The plaintive calls of green-winged teals once again echo across the floodplain from the beaver-built pond where they spend their winters. Great blue herons are more visible as they stalk creek waters among browning vegetation. Besides the grosbeaks, the highlight of this week occurred this past Tuesday morning, when my garden helper, Beth, spotted two, perhaps three, river otters frolicking in the deeper part of the creek. She hollered for me to get my camera, but I only managed one blurry shot of one peeking at us from behind the safety of an ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana). Wonder Spouse has now aimed one of our wildlife cameras on that part of the creek in the hopes that it will photograph them more effectively than I could.

The green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) forest that dominates our floodplain and which has become infested with deadly invasive non-native Emerald Ash Borers glows in the dim light of dawn and dusk as leaves turn a soft yellow before falling. Ash fruits still dangle in large clusters on the branches of female trees. Knock-on-wood — evidence of the imminent demise of these  ashes is not yet apparent. I am praying that the one experimental release of predatory wasps by experts from my state was successful beyond our wildest expectations.

With the departure of summer’s heat and humidity, I find myself tackling the infinite garden chore list as often as my joints permit. I’m collecting some of the abundant seed produced by native plants growing on our five acres so that I can share it with a friend who is attempting to re-establish native plants on a public greenway beside a local creek. The fall vegetable garden needs regular tending. I am happy to report that the broccoli crop is coming along nicely, along with myriad greens we will enjoy in winter salads. With Wonder Spouse’s help, the front water feature is drained, and plants in pots that live there all growing season have been cleaned up and relocated to their winter quarters inside the greenhouse.

Much remains to be done; the cooler air that continues to be delivered by frequent cold fronts reminds me constantly that many of the tasks remaining are time-sensitive. Fortunately for me, cooler air and the perfume from the Katsura tree’s leaves invigorate me body and soul as I race to complete as many tasks as possible before winter grips the landscape.

Follow me on iNaturalist

After being recently exiled from Facebook for the sin of using Piedmont Gardener as my name there (for many years), I have turned to an application I’ve been meaning to get to for some time — iNaturalist. If you aren’t using it and you love the natural world as I do, please check out this free application. You’ll find me there as piedmontgardener.

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Birds and Blooms

A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak atop the feeder with a female Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoying the suet.

Wonder Spouse and I don’t live in a suburb. Thirty-one years ago, we found five acres on what was then a country road. Now that once-quiet road roars with traffic twenty-four hours a day. Dozens of new subdivisions connect to it; multiple schools were erected nearby; even a fire station is now staffed 24/7, so trucks and ambulances, sirens blaring, pass by at all hours.

Our five acres are a haven of peace amidst the ever-growing chaos, especially because a growing beaver-built wetland adjoins our land on two sides. Wildlife abounds because of the wetland, and because we’ve spent 31 years planting native trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers well-adapted to our land. My brain explodes at the mere thought of trying to count every native species now living nearby or on our land, and that’s a good thing.

One of the ways I know our efforts to build suitable habitats have been successful is by the creatures that visit. Most species that nest in my region nest near or on our land. Waterfowl overwinter in growing numbers in the wetland, and migrating birds stop by in spring and fall to refuel before heading off to complete their journeys.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

This spring has been exceptional most notably for the prolonged visits of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Today makes the nineteenth day in a row that male and female birds of this species have visited our feeders and foraged in our trees and shrubs. These visitors are much more shy than the year-round birds that routinely scold me if I let their feeders go empty. I had been unable to get any photographs of them, so I asked Wonder Spouse to get out his long lens and tripod to capture these beautiful visitors. Yesterday, he set up his camera indoors in front of the window with the best view of the feeders. He got a number of decent shots, but unsatisfied, he eventually took his apparatus outdoors to try for shots unobstructed by a pane of glass. The grosbeaks did not visit the feeders in the same numbers or with the same frequency, but he did get some very nice photos I’m sharing in this post.

While he was outside, Wonder Spouse couldn’t resist photographing some of the abundant blooms currently open these days. I especially wanted him to shoot the Tangerine Beauty Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’) growing on a sizable loblolly pine and blooming ten feet above my head where my camera couldn’t do it justice. He also couldn’t resist the abundant and colorful water-loving irises blooming on our increasingly wet floodplain. Most of them are Louisiana iris varieties; a few other water-loving types are also blooming happily in the muddy water. I’ve lost track of the variety names of the irises, but who cares? Their vibrant, colorful presence is all I need.

Tangerine Beauty Crossvine blooms

Without further explanation, here are some of the photos taken by Wonder Spouse yesterday. I think we can all agree that his many talents include strikingly beautiful photography. Remember you can click on any photo to see a larger version of it, and that doing so will reveal captions that identify most photos. Enjoy.

Birds Visiting Our Feeders

A Few Blooms

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Veggie Garden Update

Happy greens

Happy greens

It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks, but Wonder Spouse and I have just about got the vegetable garden where we need it to be. Mostly, anyway. Certainly, the bed of lettuces, spinaches, arugula, and broccoli is doing very well. We’ve enjoyed a number of quite tasty salads. However, as usual, the arugula has already begun to bolt. It’s really too bitter to eat now, and I will force myself to pull it up as soon as the scary weather predicted for the next several days is safely past us.

Coastal Star Romaine Lettuce

Coastal Star Romaine Lettuce

The spring garden was planted later than usual, because our darn temperatures wouldn’t stabilize, and because the ground was too wet to work longer than usual. My greens are doing well, because I started them in the greenhouse and then transplanted them to their bed.

Red Cross Butterhead Lettuce

Red Cross Butterhead Lettuce

But by the time I direct-sowed the beets and carrots, it was already about a month too late. They’ve sprouted beautifully, but the plants are still really seedlings. I am not hopeful that I’ll get much from them unless May high temperatures are much, much lower than normal.

Annapolis Red Romaine Lettuce tastes as wonderful as it looks.

Annapolis Red Romaine Lettuce tastes as wonderful as it looks.

Wonder Spouse’s potatoes are doing well. Here’s what one bagful looked like earlier in the week:

Before the bag was raised to the next level.

Before the bag was raised to the next level.

This past weekend, Wonder Spouse unfolded another third of the bag, filled in around the plants with the rich leaf mold/compost mix he devised, and counseled the plants to produce yet more tubers at this higher level.

Ideally, the stems should sprout new roots and then potatoes along the freshly buried stems. Here's hoping!

Ideally, the stems should sprout new roots and then potatoes along the freshly buried stems. Here’s hoping!

The onion plants I transplanted in mid-March are doing well. I’m trying to be very attentive about watering them. For once, the well we use for the garden is full to the top, so I can be more generous with this precious resource than in recent past springs.

Of course, as soon as the spring garden was in, I began weeding the beds set aside for summer vegetables and flowers. Weather — again — slowed my progress, as did my cranky joints. Alas, this aging gardener has discovered that repetitive gardening tasks are ideally allotted to alternating days, at least if I want to walk upright.

When I saw the weather forecast for this week — basically, an entire week of rain — I knew that the tomato starts in my greenhouse would never last another entire week confined there. So, ignoring my joints and with the help of Wonder Spouse this past weekend, the tomato beds were power-weeded, planted, and mulched.

A weeded tomato bed before planting. It was chock full of earthworms.

A weeded tomato bed before planting. It was chock full of earthworms.

The tomatoes were hitting the roof of the greenhouse.

The tomatoes were hitting the roof of the greenhouse.

It is a very satisfying feeling to step back and admire a well-planted, well-mulched bed. Of course, now I will chew off my fingernails worrying about hail and damaging winds.

Gardeners don't need to go to Vegas to gamble; we gamble on the weather.

Gardeners don’t need to go to Vegas to gamble; we gamble on the weather.

The first summer bed I prepared was for the Fortex pole beans. I think I planted them about two weeks ago, and I may have gotten 100% germination from them. I am excited.

Fortex pole beans in foreground; much of the rest of the vegetable garden behind and beside them.

Fortex pole beans in foreground; much of the rest of the vegetable garden behind and beside them.

I also got my squashes planted yesterday. I start them in the greenhouse, to ensure top-quality plants. Direct-sowing isn’t a terrible option, but when you have a greenhouse, you might as well use it. I transplanted three plants each of two kinds of zucchini — Spineless Perfection, and a new variety for me — Dinja. As soon as they’re tucked in, watered, and mulched, they are covered in their garden fabric tents to prevent insect pests from devouring the baby plants. As I explained here, the fabric comes off when the first flowers open.

Safely tucked beneath their insect-proof tents, the squash plants can focus on unimpeded growth.

Safely tucked beneath their insect-proof tents, the squash plants can focus on unimpeded growth.

I interplanted a few basils and marigolds with the tomatoes, but I have many, many flower and herb plants impatiently waiting their summer homes in my greenhouse. I can’t even think about their relocation until this terrifying weather pattern is past and the ground dries out. My area is predicted to receive 3-5 inches of rain. I’m praying my yard receives the lower end of that range.

Several of the tomato plants were displaying their first open flowers when we transplanted them, so I’m praying that the weather will be kind, and I’ll be devouring fresh-picked tomato fruits soon.

That’s about it for the veggie update. But I can’t close without mentioning the arrival of two species of birds that I associate with late spring — Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Summer Tanagers. The grosbeaks visit for about two weeks every spring and fall on their migrations to their summer and winter homes. My well-stocked feeders are a favored stopover for them.

The Summer Tanagers nest in my region every summer. I rarely see them, but I hear them often. They exchange a chipping call high in the treetops as they hunt for and devour the zillions of caterpillars that feed on the leaves of my canopy trees.

I know summer is nearly here when the tomatoes are in the ground and the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are visiting my feeders.

I know summer is nearly here when the tomatoes are in the ground and the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are visiting my feeders.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the folks in the middle of the country being hammered by tornadoes. It is indeed a cruel twist of Fate that Spring is often as destructive as it is beautiful.

Stay safe out there, ya’ll.


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The Birds of Summer

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks refuel.

I know that summer is nearly here when the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks refuel at my feeders every late April-early May. These males showed up last Saturday. Usually, the males arrive first, then the females join them and linger a few days after the males leave to claim breeding turf. That pattern held this year. The females showed up late Sunday, and I saw one lonely female hanging out at the feeder this morning. Their massive beaks demolish the safflower seeds I offer at astonishing speeds. But I deem it worth the price of seed to see these lovely birds every spring, and again in the fall when they pass through on the way to their winter hangouts. You have to admire the feisty Chickadee in the photo above as it stares down the Grosbeaks, all of which are about three times its size.

By the time the Grosbeaks arrived, I had spotted a male Indigo Bunting hunting bugs in our backyard a week earlier. He’s there most every day now, so we suspect there may be a nesting female somewhere in the nearby shrubby area that is, shall we say, less than manicured.

The warblers, buntings, and many other summer visitors seem to appreciate all of our wilder areas. Our bird populations and species diversity have increased enormously over the 20+ years we’ve lived here. Truly, if you build it (i.e., provide their habitat requirements), they will come.

Seeing these two species caused me to mentally tick off my list of expected summer visitors. I’ve spotted the hyperactive Blue-gray Gnatcatchers zipping through the underbrush several times, and I spied one with nesting material in its mouth as I was watering my vegetable garden yesterday morning. These tiny dynamos are insect-eating machines, and always welcome in my gardens.

Just two days ago, I finally heard the hunting chip-chip call of a Summer Tanager. I rarely see these denizens of our summer treetops, but I hear them often as they move along branches hunting bugs. Occasionally one will visit a bird bath — always a treat.

When I heard the Summer Tanager, I realized I hadn’t yet heard the unmistakable call of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I always associate their calls with thick humidity and searing heat. Sure enough, yesterday, one called from the Northern Red Oak that towers over my home — just in time for our record high heat.

The winter-visiting birds have mostly departed. Although Northern Flickers are reported to be year-round residents of my region, I haven’t heard or seen one for over a month, which is normal for my Piedmont yard. They always vanish in the summer.

Likewise, the White-throated Sparrows no longer call plaintively in the early morning. Most have left, although I spotted one at the feeder this morning — probably what birders call a non-breeder.

All the various warblers are back. I can hear them, but I rarely see them. I’m hoping a Blue Grosbeak will visit a feeder when I’m watching. They usually nest in the wild blackberry thicket on the other side of our creek.

Last but never least, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird males have been back for about a month. The females are probably here too, but I haven’t seen one yet. Although I’m keeping fresh sugar water available in the feeder by my kitchen window, I’ve never seen more than one male stop by for a drink. However, I’m hearing their chatter all over my yard.

One male scolded me yesterday when I unintentionally startled him as I watered a squash plant. He was intent on visiting a patch of still-blooming Eastern Columbines, and he didn’t see me until he almost flew into me. I suspect the abundance of blooming flowers in my yard is the reason my hummingbird feeder is unpopular. That will change as summer heat slows blooming, and fledglings seek easy food sources.

The rhythms and dances of Piedmont summer are building to their usual crescendo, which I associate with the Summer Solstice. The thrumming of cicadas should punctuate the air any day now. The blinking lights of fireflies grow more numerous with every passing warm night. And the Cope’s Gray Treefrogs chorus lustily every time the humidity rises enough to hint at the possibility of a thunderstorm.

All I need now to complete this Piedmont summer scene are a few ripe tomatoes. And the good news is that every tomato plant in my garden is already sporting promising green globes. Oh yes, I do believe I can almost taste that Piedmont summer goodness.

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