Friday, February 22, 2008

Snowy Scenery

We had a light snow last night and Derek and I went out to take some pictures of the beautiful trees. Why they cancelled school today is beyond my comprehension.

"When I was a kid there had to be three feet of snow on the ground before they'd cancel school."

We tried to get some nuthatch photos but even the Red-Breasted nuthatches wouldn't let us get very close. The boreal birds are out in numbers today, fattening for their trip up north. Even the White-Crowned sparrows were feeding right at the feeders instead of waiting for seeds to hit the ground. Their boldness hints at an underlying urgency to eat in preparation for a long flight. The cold north wind kept us from wanting to stand by the hopper feeder and be patient, so we moved on to the windbreak. I wanted to get the picture for my new header above. While I was on the hill I got some photos of the house and pond.

That alien-looking thing is the fiberglass Wood Duck nest. I am watching it to see if papa Screech Owl claims it as his own. The box we built for the owls is about 100 feet away from it in the windbreak. It's going to be really interesting to see which birds claim which boxes.

We've been having such odd weather this winter. It seems to follow a cycle of freeze, snow, thaw. The thaw periods are nice except for the awful muddy Ohio clay that makes up the soil in our glacier-created area.

Before the snow hit last night I was able to get outside for an hour or so and spread some of the wonderful pine mulch we made with the huge chipper last weekend. I've now got my landscaping beds the larger size I've been wanting them to be. All that's left to do is cut those two tall, skinny pines out of the windbreak and turn their trunks into edging around the house. I pried the awful treated lumber from the frozen ground yesterday to make room for the all-natural and environmentally-friendly pine logs.

I don't consider myself a tree hugger but I do respect the trees for what they are. Without them we would face the harshest winter winds and the hottest summer sun. As with all things in nature, trees perform several vital tasks and when we cultivate trees for our own needs they do a remarkable job for us!

Here's a shot of the smallest Blue Spruce on the twelve acres. It is the same age as the "three brothers" (see first photo) and illustrates what happens to a tree when it is hit by a lawn mower over and over again. I would estimate its height at 15 feet. The tree's growth was severely stunted and it's lucky to have survived.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

About an hour ago I walked out to the shop to see what Jim was working on. I didn't need a light to make it the 60 feet or so because the bright moon lit my way very well. It was different when I left though. I walked out of the shop and wondered why it was so dark. Where did the moon go? I looked up and saw the answer to my question. Good thing Derek told me there would be a lunar eclipse tonight or I would have been freaked out by what I saw!

Graphing Trap Results

Spring is fast approaching and I am looking forward to being able to watch the local birds raise their young in the nest boxes we've provided around the twelve acres. I trapped another starling today and recorded the bird on the graph I created to help me visualize my results. I've trapped 56 European starlings since the beginning of January. The coldest days bring them out in large groups. As they migrate I no doubt will catch many more. Thankfully, my husband Jim is able to help out by shooting at large flocks of them as they pass through our area. Today he managed to get 12 of them. Hooray for our side!

I have not caught any House sparrows since January 21. I don't quite know what to make of this since these birds do not migrate. Should I allow myself to feel victorious in my efforts to eliminate the local population? Perhaps! Even on the very snowy bitter days I only see one or two at the feeders, a huge reduction in the mobs that I used to see back in October. It's so nice to see the native birds at the feeders relaxing and enjoying a meal without any pressure from aggressive HOSPs!

The graphs shows something else I should feel really good about--I've caught many more males than females. Since males are the ones who wreak havoc on Bluebirds, and many other native cavity nesters, it is the male HOSP one should strive to destroy. Without a mate, a female will simply move on without attempting to raise the young on her own. My tally so far is 64 males and 29 females for a total of 93 birds since November 17, 2007. Fantastic!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mini Conifer Forest

I have two Bristlecone pine seedlings from the two dozen seeds I started in January. Some of the seeds didn't germinate and some of the seedlings I had didn't survive. I'm glad to see these two doing well because I had plans to make room for two Bristlecones at the east end of the house. I'm going to give these babies some time to grow bigger before I even think about putting them outside though. They grow at a snail's pace so it's going to be a while!

Monday, February 18, 2008

They Call Me Chip

With spring fast approaching and my landscaping project on hold for the winter, I was beginning to feel pressured to get things rolling. My dilemma was how to remove the tornado-damaged trees in the windbreak and make the best use of the wood. The trees I wanted to remove were bent over Arborvitaes and White Pines that had their growing tips snapped off by the tornado that blew through the windbreak in 1996. The Arborvitaes were bent over from the force of the wind but didn't break. However the damage was permanent and the trees would be considered hazards if they were near a structure.

Since I am replanting the windbreak in stages, I felt it was best to remove the damaged trees and chip as much of them as possible to use as mulch to protect their replacements. I also wanted to save the very nice, straight trunks of the White Pines to use as lumber for future projects. I think it will be wonderful to have the pine wood from the trees my grandpa planted. Wouldn't it be nice to have spruce floors from my own trees? We are going to look for someone who can mill the trunks for us into usable planks.

The only problem with my grand plan? No chipper! I called the local industrial equipment rental company and inquired about a wood chipper. The sales guy said he did have one and it could handle 6 inch logs! Perfect! We drove out to get it and $150 later we were ready to get started. The nice part about renting it on a Saturday was that we got to keep it Sunday for free. We made good use of it and I now have 4 large piles of pine mulch waiting to be used to landscape around the house and protect all the baby trees that will get planted in April.

I wish I could make this post scratch-and-sniff so you could appreciate the wonderful pine scented mulch piles that are sitting in the yard. The particle size is small and uniform, not like that hacked up junk you get when you buy a bag of mulch from your garden center. This is primo-quality stuff and the best part is we did the work ourselves. I can honestly say that I got my money's worth out of renting that chipper.

The photo shows Jim pushing the last branch into it. I don't know how large a standard Dodge Ram's bed is, but we got four truck beds full! The only difficult part of the project was getting the Ram unstuck...twice. We learned our lesson and kept it on the road after that. In the photo, you can see the cooling tower of Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant. Now that you all know where I live you are welcome to come out and visit the Twelve Acres!

I'll have to get some photos of the wonderful logs we now have. Thank you grandpa, the trees are going to be put to good use! We only cut down 3 White Pines; the snags we simply limbed and left standing for the birds to use as nesting grounds and food sources. I'm quite certain the many woodpeckers, flickers and owls will appreciate the snags. We removed 6 bent over Arborvitaes which made a wonderful cedar-scented mulch. We found 2 pines that are very tall but quite dead. We are going to use these smaller diameter trees as the border edging around the house. It feels good knowing nothing went to waste and every part of the trees will benefit both man and beast.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spring Raptor Migration Monitoring Workshop

Derek and I spent 4 hours at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory today learning how to identify 14 different raptors so we can help count them as they migrate through our area. We learned so much about hawks today that our heads are swimming as we try to keep them all straight! We didn't get to see any rehab birds, as I was hoping we would, but we did get to see 4 mounted raptors and compare them side by side. There was an American Kestrel, a Cooper's hawk, a Sharp-Shinned hawk and a Red-Tailed hawk and it really helped to look at them close up. Now we know for sure that our beloved "Cooper" is indeed a Cooper's hawk!

The migratory count begins March 1 and ends May 9. I plan to volunteer one day each of my weeks off and try to help out with data collection. I need to work with an experienced birder and practice IDing raptors before going it alone. I've only recently begun a more serious approach to birding so I have a lot to learn.

I told one of the volunteers there that they are welcome to come out and watch the birds out here on the twelve acres. She told me she would call me to arrange a time when they can bring the kids group out to walk around and birdwatch.

What's my favorite raptor? Well, Screech Owls of course! But today was all about hawks and out of all the hawks the Red-Tailed is my favorite. I've become fond of seeing our mated pair, Bonnie and Clyde, taking their daily wing-stretch over the field during our supper time. I can almost set my watch to them they are so regular.

Here's some falcon action. Ya gotta admire the speed and guts of the Peregrines!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Owls at Work?

By my records, I have trapped and dispatched 42 European starlings and 94 house sparrows since I got my sparrow trap last October. I love this trap because it attracts the non-natives and gives me the opportunity to kill them humanely without harming the native species in any way. The occasional Dark-Eyed Junco, House Finch or Tree Sparrow gets trapped but I can easily release them unharmed--and it's a great opportunity to see the native species up close.

Here's a photo from the seller's website showing a sparrow trap full of quarry:

I haven't killed all the starlings I've trapped. I have clipped the primaries on a dozen of them and released them during particularly harsh winter weather to give the raptors an easy meal. Apparently, it worked (see photo at bottom). I've found two dead starlings with clipped wings in the windbreak, both headless. My first thought upon finding them was that the screech owls caught them and only had the heads for a meal. I've read that, in good times, Saw-Whet owls will eat only the heads of mice, but I seriously doubt there are any Saw-Whets here. I hope other birders with more experience than me will chime in and offer their opinions.

To the uninitiated this practice of trapping invasives and killing them probably seems harsh. But it's a bird eat bird world out there and I feel that I'm helping the local cavity nesters by eliminating as much of their competition as I can. I cringe at the thought of finding starlings nesting in one of my owl or duck boxes! I read an article about managing bluebird trails that simply stated it is irresponsible on the part of the bluebird landlord to place nest boxes for them and not monitor them to prevent competition from non-natives. Trapping is legal since invasive species are not protected under federal laws and in some areas it is encouraged by wildlife authorities.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

One Man's Trash...

is another man's treasure. It is so true, isn't it? Last week one of the guys I work with brought me one of these wooden boxes and asked if I couldn't turn it into a duck nest box. All it was missing was the roof, bottom and hole. I was so excited and asked how many there were. There were six altogether, but when I looked at them I could tell that two would be more work than I wanted. He took those. These wooden rectangles were used to ship a large piece of equipment to the factory where I work. And as they say, if it looks like a duck box and quacks like a duck box, it must be a duck box!

While he intended to turn these into duck boxes, I looked at them and instantly thought "screech owls" (or flickers or woodpeckers)! I'm cuckoo for owls and we already have two duck boxes mounted anyway, so owl boxes they were.

Last night, Jim and I worked diligently to finish the boxes with proper hinged lids, bottoms with drainage holes and 3" entrance holes. Voila! They are ready to mount. I am giving one to my mom's friend in Michigan and another to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory if they will take one. I'll mount the third one as well as the big duck box in this photo.

While we had all the tools out (and the inspiration) we finished this cute log cabin bird box Jim built during Christmas. It was a prototype to the one he built for his parents as a gift. I'm currently looking for the perfect mounting pole. It has to be something that I can grow a vine on. This little log cabin is so cute I can't put it on a plain old pole. Isn't it precious? Don't miss the teenie birdhouse on it!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Migration Monitoring Workshop

I'm very busy working this week and haven't had time to write about much. When this work week is finished I'm going to relax and spend my downtime with Jim finishing some screech owl nest boxes. The funny thing about these boxes is their original purpose was packing material for some of the large equipment that's going into the new addition at work. What they held in place is beyond me but I got four really nice screech owl/wood duck boxes for FREE. And free is good. All they need are roofs, floors and 3" holes drilled. I'll post pics when they're finished.

I signed Derek and myself up for the following program at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory:

February 16th – Spring Raptor Migration Monitoring Workshop 1:00 – 3:30 PM – Black Swamp Bird Observatory Nature Center. This long term project is in need of volunteers to help monitor migrating raptors from March 1st – May 9th. These workshops offer information about this project, identification tips, and a chance to give Julie Shieldcastle a hard time! Please call 419 898-4070 to reserve a seat and program materials. FREE PROGRAM

I also invited the group to come out to the twelve acres and bird watch whenever they want. I think I will join the BSBO group after all. I would learn so much more about the birds that share the twelve acres with us than I would on my own. Plus I'll learn better ID methods for all the hawks we see out here.

Side note: the Red-Tailed Hawk family is baaaaaaack! Each afternoon at about 4:30 to dusk we get to watch the mated pair (henceforth known as Bonnie and Clyde) frolic at the end of the day. The male performs aerial acrobatics as he flirts with his mate. And yesterday we got to see the whole family: Bonnie, Clyde and two juveniles. They are a tight knit group and it's unusual to see only one. It's such a thrill to watch them. It's also very endearing to see raptors show affection toward each other and play together. What fun! Now that Bonnie and Clyde have returned, Cooper has been rarely seen. I miss her.