Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ice Skating and Redpolls

What do they have in common? Well, while the boys all ice-skated on the pond a Common Redpoll chirped at me in dismay because I was standing too close to the thistle feeder for his liking. It sounded like a loud Goldfinch call, the questioning one that rises at the end. This bird must have been asking me if I was going to move away from the feeder anytime soon. I did, as soon as I finished getting pictures of all the action on the pond. Oh, and I filled the feeders too.

After the boys started shoveling snow off the pond our cousin across the street came over with his 4-wheeler to help out. He got it all cleared off very nicely. Too bad we got another inch or so last night and the ice is once again covered! Oh well, I'm sure they'll get out there again today to skate some more.

Here's a good shot of Derek having fun on the ice. His feet and mine are the same size right now so I wore his skates the other day and went skating for the first time in 13 years! And I did pretty good too, I must say!

And in the next shot he's using some of his fancy shmancy hockey footwork.

Next he's being chased by Jim.

Oh, and a big bonus find last night at work. We found some boxes that look like half-finished duck/screech owl nest boxes. All they will need is a floor, a hinged roof, a wire ladder for the duck boxes and the proper sized holes drilled in them. I have four of these heavy wood boxes and the hard part is done already. They are the perfect size for screech owls and I think ducks would like them too although they might be a bit too small inside. We'll see. If they don't use them some bird surely will.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Double Raptor Sighting

It was a good day for raptor sightings here on the twelve acres. We were treated to a long-lasting Bald Eagle sighting first, at about 4:30 p.m. I had some pork sauteing on the stove and I glanced out the kitchen window to see what was going on out by the woods (as I am wont to do) and an enormous bird with long wing beats was just clearing the edge of the woods. It flapped a few times then glided, then flapped again. As it came closer the white tail and head stood out clear as day.

"Derek! Derek!" I called in the tone I use to indicate that a really cool bird is in view. He came running and slid on his stocking feet right up to the glass door to see what I was so frantically announcing. When he saw what it was he ran to the opposite side of the house to catch it heading north toward the lake shore. He got to watch it until it became a small dot in the distance. Cool.

The next sighting was just as cool--the mated pair of Red-Tailed Hawks that share the trees with us. At about 5:30 p.m. Derek and I were headed out to the orchard to get some apple wood for a friend, and as usual the Durango spooked up a big raptor from the windbreak. I was expecting to see our Cooper's Hawk but the tail was too short and the wings were different. Then I caught a flash of that famous red tail and knew who it was instantly. The really cool part was that it flew up to the gigantic willow tree near the end of the windbreak where its mate sat waiting on the highest branch. As it flew up to land, it reached out its right foot and seemed to affectionately or playfully grasp the other's right foot. It was almost a familiar gesture. Do raptors show affection? If so, I got to witness such a special moment between two fantastic birds of prey! How awesome!

Of course I didn't have my camera at hand for either sighting, which is usually the case. Damn! When the weather warms up I am going to take my camera and binocs and go sit in the trees and bird watch. We have so many bird species here that it's ridiculous that I still haven't dedicated the better part of one day to just watching birds. I'm going to do it, and that's final.

After getting the apple wood, we drove toward home and again the first bird took to the air and glided directly overhead, leading us down the road. I nearly drove off the road as we watched the hawk glancing at us side to side as if it was sizing us up in an irritated fashion. I suppose it was tired of being disturbed and wanted us to quit bothering them as they looked for dinner. How cool to watch the hawk...watching us.

We've had Red-Tails on our property ever since I can remember. We don't get to see them as often in the winter as we do in the warmer months, so it was a real treat to see them today. And it was a bonus to see them interacting in such an intimate way. I emailed the Black Swamp Bird Observatory to report the Bald Eagle sighting this evening. What a great raptor day!

Nest Boxes

It was cold and windy yesterday but I wanted to get out and get some pictures of the duck box and bird house gourd in the fence row.

Jim helped me mount this Wood Duck box in this Ash tree before winter set in. My cousin across the road gave us two of these and a fiberglass model which Jim put on the far edge of the pond. It would be so cool if some Wood Ducks decided to use them next spring!

If the ducks don't like it, hopefully the Screech Owls or maybe even a pair of Kestrels will.

Here's a close-up of the nest box:

I found a bird house gourd in the orchard last fall while I was out gathering winter squash. I'd never used one before and thought it would be fun to see if the birds would actually use it.

It took a few months for it to dry out and once I heard the seeds rattling around inside it I drilled a hold in it. There were a lot of seeds inside which I saved for growing this spring. I'm sure I could grow several hundred gourds from the amount of seeds that were in it.

I sanded the gourd lightly and applied two coats of a matte sealant to protect it from rain. It's now hanging in a Red Osier Dogwood in the east end of the fence row, my wildlife garden-in-the-making.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How Many?

How many Goldfinches can fit on one sock? I counted 12. Not bad. If I used a shoe horn I bet I could get a few more on it.

There's also a female Downy Woodpecker on the suet feeder.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Grandpa's Pruners

My cousin, John, gave me this big piece of apple wood the week of Christmas. He told me he had cut some of the original apple trees and thought I would like to have this piece of wood. He knew it would mean something to me. Damn right it did. When he handed it to me my eyes welled up with tears.

It's cut with the grain instead of against it which makes it very unusual. Its odd shape is due to the fact that it is the trunk profile, the upper right corner being an old cut wound left behind after a limb removal. The wood is rough from being cut with a chain saw. The tree it came from was at least 65 years old.

I wasn't sure what to do with it since it's such an odd shape. I thought about sanding it smooth and turning it into a shelf or a wall hanging of some sort, but it didn't seem fitting somehow. Jim suggested I mount grandpa's pruners on it. I had to think about that for a while though. I decided it was a pretty good idea but I didn't think the pruners would fit. Today I placed the pruners on the plank and discovered that they did indeed fit. I drilled three holes and mounted the pruners with some thin wire. I found the picture of grandpa pruning an apple tree in one of my photo albums and mounted it between the handles where it seems to fit perfectly. It's just taped there for now until I can find a suitable mounting method for it.

Isn't it odd that this piece of apple wood seemed destined to hold grandpa's pruners? It's a perfect fit and I can't help but think that this was somehow preordained. Jim even says it's "perfect" and that it seems that the wood was made for the pruners.

Those pruners and I have a history. I've had them since I was a young adult when mom gave them to me. She knew I'd appreciate having them since I spent so much time with grandpa out in the orchard talking with him while he pruned trees. He explained how and why to prune and I learned by watching his skilled hands shape hundreds of apple trees into top-producers.

I wish grandpa was around to see where his pruners are now. I like to think he'd be pleased with what I've done with them.

Monday, January 21, 2008


These American Coldfinches Goldfinches are such fun to watch. I'm amazed that these tiny birds are able to survive the bitter cold we're experiencing right now.

When I interrupt them to fill the feeders they sit in the maple tree nearby and implore with their questioning call, "Bee-bee-bee-beeeee?"

The Goldfinches are the first to the feeders in the morning and the first to bed at night. I plan to feed them year-round so that I can enjoy their bright yellow plumage in the breeding season.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Stories It Could Tell

...if only it could speak. I'm quite certain I spent time in this tree as a child too, just as Derek is here. I've climbed each and every one of the original apple trees that my grandpa cared for on his portion of the orchard which was located in his large back yard. I would estimate this tree's age to be at least 60 to 65 years old. There is only one row left of the old ones, the original trees. How sad to see them succumb to the effects of old age. Sixty is very old for a fruit tree. They still produce though, a testament to my grandfather's diligent care. I spent many hours in the orchards with him and he taught me how to prune and showed me how to graft. He was a bonsai master on a grand scale. I never learned how to graft but I can prune well enough.

I asked Derek what it felt like to stand by a 60 year old apple tree and he said, "It's big!" I was just happy to see the fourth generation of tree lover standing next to this tree his great-grandfather took care of.

The Pumphouse

Built by my grandfather, it was once used to fill the tanks that were used to spray the orchard for fungus and insects that could ruin the crop of fruit each season. The tractor pulled up alonside the pumphouse and opened the lid for the spray tank behind it. A pull of the rope and hundreds of gallons of water would quickly fill the spray tank. They'd close the lid and off they'd go to spray the orchards. The spray was yellowish/green and had a bad smell to it. I stayed away from the orchards for a few days after a heavy spray just to give it a chance to dissipate.

The pumphouse is no longer operational but it is kept as a family heirloom of sorts. I'm glad my cousins had the foresight to preserve it for future generations, like my son Derek here.

Winter Moon

Brrrrr! Baby, it's cold outside! As I type it is now 5 degrees with a wind chill factor of -10! I'm so glad I'm not out there tonight. Even a campfire wouldn't be enough to keep me warm. My cat wanted out a few times but wanted right back in after a few minutes. I feel sorry for all the birds that are out there tonight just trying to survive the night. I hope they've all fed well enough on sunflower and nyger seed today to keep their little bodies warm. I hope the hawks all got a good meal too. We have nest boxes of all shapes and sizes placed throughout the twelve acres so I hope they are being utilized as roosts tonight. We have seen evidence that they do indeed roost in the nest boxes when the weather gets cold, so that's an encouraging sign.

I captured this photo of the moon high above the red maple tree that shades the southwest corner of the house. The moon is so bright that it's actually possible to see the deck post and rail on that corner. The neighbor's security light off in the distance makes it look like a warm glow in their yard. I even managed to capture a few stars with my little Nikon CoolPix 5900. It's such a great little camera and does quite a bit of difficult work despite its size. It's strength is in macro photography. It goes with me every time I head out of the house to try to capture the absolute beauty of the twelve acres on film. I have a lot of photographing ahead of me!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Snowy Scenery

We had a few inches of snow that started late last night, which was bad since I drove my Z3 to work instead of the Durango. BMWs are the ultimate driving machine unless you're driving in snow and your Beemer happens to be a little roadster! I could only drive 10 mph on the road that leads to our house. Lesson learned--next time check the weather Amy!

This bird house was made by Jim and me this fall. The wood came from a recycled pallet I found at work. It was a nice, heavy oak. The rusty nails were sawed off from behind so no little birds can get hurt by them. I do like the rustic look they lend to the bird house, along with the rusty corrugated metal roof. I found the metal on an old shed that had fallen down in the neighbor's woods. We used it to make three wren houses this winter for Christmas gifts too. It didn't take long for a tenant to show up. A few days after we mounted it last fall we could see grasses and a feather inside! Maybe they're using it as a roost until spring arrives.

The bird house is placed on a landscaped mound we created last year. It was something I'd envisioned in my head since I can remember. It fits nicely into the curve of the driveway and there are three White Birches planted on it. I'll finish it with perennials in my chosen color scheme of purple and creamy yellow.

It was cold and blustery today but I wanted to venture into the north end of the windbreak to snap some photos. I like the way the pines and spruces look like a Bavarian forest at this end. This open end is the result of the tornado that ripped hundreds of trees down in June, 1996. There is still a lot of damage to repair and we are working on it gradually. I acted like a big squirrel last fall and stuffed my pockets full of acorns from various oak species in our area and spaded them into the ground as I walked throughout the north end. I hope to see lots of fresh green oak seedlings pop up in spring! Some of the seeds I planted are Red Oak, Pin Oak, Shagbark Hickory, Honey Locust and Bur Oak.

The windbreak trees are right around 65 years old and most are straight as can be. Some have developed multiple leaders as the result of the tornado that ripped their main leaders off. My goal is to replace these patriarchs over time with a mix of conifers and hardwood deciduous trees to created a mixed forest feeling where we can walk and observe nature.

Amongst the patriarchs new life springs forward. This White Pine seedling grows from a niche in the bark of its parent. When it comes time to remove the mature tree I'll be sure to leave the youngster so it can grow and replace its parent.
As I walked through the trees I scared up Cooper, our big Cooper's Hawk. I know, the nickname isn't that original but it helps me keep all the raptor species straight. So far I have counted six raptor species out here. We have so many that I think I should call the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and tell them they can come out here anytime to hold bird watching events. I really should join but with my crazy work schedule I don't know if I'd be able to participate much.

I checked for signs of activity near the Screech Owl nest box we mounted in December (below). I don't see any indications that the owls have been in it. I know they use the windbreak for hunting along with the hawks, so I feel confident they will use it...that is, if we've done our homework and placed the box properly. Time will tell! In the meantime I'll keep an eye out for them.

And how is it that everyone I know has found an owl pellet but me? Hopefully I'll stumble upon one before long.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Twelve Acres From Above

Thanks to Google Earth I can take a look at the twelve acres from a satellite's perspective. Imagine what it looks like to the raptors! I don't know how old this photo is but I can tell that it was taken after the tornado went through and removed the northern end of the windbreak on June 25, 1996 (top of photo is north). The photo was taken before the Rose of Sharon's were removed from the back yard and before we cut down the old, rotten poplar tree that used to shade the master bedroom. A baby River Birch has since replaced it.

The south end of the twelve acres is bordered by the fence row. The thinner end on the right is my wildlife garden area which will be planted this spring. The ash trees we've thinned from the fence row were used for firewood. I'm going to be planting a lot of new trees in the fence row to try to increase the variety of hardwood and softwood species.

The pond is a hideous fake blue, the result of my ex-step-dad putting blue dye in it (how incredibly stupid). It will be some time before that ugly blue returns to a natural color like the neighbor's wildlife pond on the other side of the woods (second photo).

This photo shows the entire family plot. All those little evenly space green dots are the fruit trees my grandpa, great uncle and now cousin-twice-removed have planted. There are several orchards around the family property. They produce all the apples, peaches, pears and plums that get sold in the family-run store, Moore Orchards. There are several orchards in the Great Black Swamp area because the soil here is ideal for agriculture. Fruit trees do well in this soil. It's the soil the Wisconsin glacier left behind during the last glacial period.
We are 574 feet above sea level here but about a foot below Lake Erie level. Without the complex system of drainage ditches, dikes and pumps that drain into the Toussaint River (bottom of photo) we would have knee deep water in our front yard! My cousin John keeps us dry year-round by running the family pump, seen at the bottom right corner of the photo.
I look at the open canvas that is the twelve acres and my thoughts immediately turn to the trees I'm going to plant all around it over the next few years. I wonder how these pictures will differ in a decade? There will certainly be less open gaps in our windbreak and the yard will have a two-tiered windbreak filling in in the back yard to break the strong southern winds we get out here. The pond should be slate blue again and there will be many more green dots throughout the yard.
When we first moved here I was overwhelmed by the amount of trees that need to be replaced. However, now that I have it planned and know what I'm doing it's actually a very enjoyable pastime. Hurry up spring! I'm anxious to get started!

Hummers Revisited

On this gray rainy/snowy afternoon I thought it might be nice to look at the hummingbird videos I took this fall before they all migrated. They left for warmer climes on September 12, 2007. Since we had just moved in on August 1, I hadn't had much time to feed them before they left but I had two feeders going all the time and the action was jumpin' (or should I say buzzin'?)

We only have Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in our area. I had mostly juvenile males and females but once in a while a mature male would show up and dazzle us with his jeweled throat.

Hummingbirds are little miracles of nature. How can something so little be so feisty and tough? Rock on, little hummers...rock on.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Birth of A Patriarch?

Just five days old, this Pinus aristata (or Bristlecone Pine) seedling is the first one I've ever grown. I have 24 more seeds of its kind, three of which have also sprouted. My germination tray is low-tech and recycled--a foam egg carton.

I was thrilled to see this first seedling. I feel a sense of awe and honor as I help this ancient species continue its existence. If I'm lucky I'll get to see it reach a few feet in height before my own passing into history. I hope my son will care for the Bristlecones I manage to grow and plant here on the twelve acres. I plan to keep them close to the house so that I can keep watch over them without having to walk far.

Looking at this seedling makes me wonder just which species is caring for which. It's so easy to take trees for granted because they are such an integral part of our lives. They are always there. Everyone can probably think back to a specific moment in his childhood where a tree played a significant role in the making of a memory, be it a tree that held a tire swing in the yard or the tree that became the centerpiece of a Christmas morning. I have many memories of "my" trees. Do they have memories of me?

The trees that frame the twelve acres are witnesses to my life. I know them because they were my playground when I was growing up. The smell of the pines in the windbreak brings back floods of childhood memories. They are dear old friends and, like me, their roots are in this ancestral ground.

Photographer James Balog brings the thought home for me as he describes what it was like to photograph a 1,400 year old Live Oak:

"Though I don't usually indulge in romantic, druidic speculation about trees, when I'm in the presence of this oak, I can't help wonder who is the observer and who is the observed. While we watch trees, do they gaze back at us?"
Photo: Bristlecone Pine, Nevada

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Magical Moment

I remember one morning last summer when the world was covered in glistening dew on a particularly humid day. I watched as a Ruby-Throated hummingbird drank the dew drops from the ends of one of the Colorado Blue Spruces near the pond. It was pure magic.

I was in awe of what I was seeing. Moments like that make me realize I have not yet seen all that nature has to offer. What a humbling experience.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Fence Row

The fence row is a wooded area that borders the south edge of the twelve acres. Although I've never measured it (but now I must!) I would estimate its length to be well over 400 feet. It has three narrow drainage ditches running the length of it and is covered with mature hardwood trees. The tree roots hold the mounded earth in between the ditches firmly in place. They do such a good job at retaining the soil that little has changed in its height or width since my childhood--truly a testament to the value of tree roots in the prevention of soil erosion. These trees were just seedlings when this area was claimed by my great-grandfather, Harold G. Moore. He turned what was once part of the Great Black Swamp into sugar beet fields, then later along with his sons, he planted the fruit trees that would become Moore Orchards. What was once uninhabitable swampland is now acres of apple, peach, pear and plum trees. Our property lines are clearly visible because of these large fence rows that were left standing to act as natural property boundaries. Apple trees grow on the other side of our fence row.

I took this photo on a late summer evening in 2007 just as the sun went down. The crescent moon looked lovely. I love the silhouettes of the trees in the fence row. That night we were treated to getting to listen to the pair of Great Horned Owls as they spent at least 15 minutes calling to each other, "Hoo, hoo-hoooo, hoo, hoo-hoo!" One owl's voice was higher than the others' and my bird book said that the female's voice was the higher one. How interesting!

Starting at the east end, I plan to naturalize this fence row. It has been a dream of mine since I was little. Wouldn't it be lovely to walk through this area and see all kinds of wildflowers with butterflies and birds enjoying the blooms? In my previous post I listed the perennial species I plan to sow this spring. I think they will have an easy time of getting established. They'll have dappled sunlight from the sparse trees at the east end and the soil is ideal for plant growth. I certainly hope they do well at least!

Over the years, as trees have matured and the canopy has gradually risen, what was once a solid stand of trees has become sparse with large visible gaps between the trees. As a result I feel like I have less privacy from my cousin's farm at the end of the road. It is my goal to fill in the gaps with new trees. This spring, I am going to plant young trees inside the fence row to replace the trees that have either died naturally or been removed by us. The trees we've cut have been strategically removed to allow more light to penetrate the canopy, which in turn will give new plantings better light and less competition for soil nutrients. I plan to plant a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees including some stately Dawn Redwoods and Bald Cypress, which are fast growing deciduous conifers. Some Red Maples will go in because of their quick growth and some Forsythias will make for a colorful understory planting. While deciduous trees can provide a visual screen only when they have leaves, conifers can provide privacy (and windbreak benefits) year-round.

What's growing in the fence row right now? A large variety of native Ohio trees and understory shrubs. I walked through it last fall and collected the leaves and fruits (if found) of the trees and shrubs. There are plenty of Red Osier Dogwoods for understory growth as well as a few shorter trees, including one native crab apple tree. There are several American Elms, White and Green Ashes, Shagbark Hickories, Pin Oaks, Hackberry, Hawthorns, Mulberry, a gargantuan White Poplar and several large trees I haven't been able to identify yet. We have been working throughout fall and winter to eliminate the wild grape vines and poison ivy growing up the trees and have been able to remove a lot of it.

There are quite a few snags standing in the fence row that I adamantly refuse to remove because there are nest cavities in them. Screech Owls and Northern Flickers use the larger cavities which are excavated by our native woodpeckers. I have also been moving dead and rotten logs away from the foot path and leaving them on the sides. The decaying logs provide food and habitat for a myriad of fungi and insects. There is one very large snag with a cavity nest in it that has been designated as the screech owl area. I have placed dead logs around the base of the snag to allow smaller wildlife to use them as cover which in turn feeds the owls.

As we manage the fence row we are keeping our eye on the future. This special area is a connecting point between nature and us. I want to be able to walk through the fence row without tripping over logs or getting my eyes poked out by twigs, but I don't want it to be so manicured that it looks like a park and the birds are reluctant to nest in it. Finding the balance between the two worlds is not as challenging as one might think. It simply takes some common sense and research, as well as educating the next generation on effective land management so that our efforts will not go to waste when we are gone.

Seed Purchase

It has been a dream of mine for years and now I'm going to finally make it happen--I'm going to naturalize the east end of the fence row! And I'm going to do it all by scattering and sowing seed.

Yesterday I ordered:
  • 4,500 Apricot Foxglove seeds
  • 50,000 'Excelsior' Foxglove seeds (above)
  • 600 Echinacea purpurea seeds
  • 100 'Band of Nobles' mixed Lupine seeds (below)
I will wait till very early spring on a day before rain is predicted and I will go sow my little heart out. The Foxglove seeds will get mixed together and scattered widely amongst the tree trunks. I will hand plant the Lupines and Purple Coneflowers.
The Purple Coneflower is my favorite native American wildflower. I must have them wherever I am. I grew them from seed in Fremont and I will do the same here. I have so many garden plans in my head it's all I can do to keep my head from swimming! But this is the joy of gardening!

I also love Lupines but they aren't fond of Ohio clay. Fortunately for me (and them) the fence row's soil is rich with organic matter from centuries of leaf fall. The Lupines will have the soil they prefer which is a well-drained loam, rich and black with organic content!

Of course, there will be many other perennials introduced to the fence row, but all in good time. If I plant it all now what will I do for the next 30 or so years?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Burnin' Brush

After dinner tonight I took our Coleman camp lantern, a rake, a propane torch, gloves and a can of pop down to the south end of the windbreak. My goal was to burn all the accumulated branches and limbs from the drainage ditch at the east end of the fence row. It had been raining earlier in the day so the wood was good and wet.

On my way I startled two Cooper's hawks, one right after the other. They must have been out hunting for supper when my lantern spooked them. A few hours later a trio of Screech Owls discussed the evening hunt with each other. One sat in the orchard on an apple tree, the second was in Helle's woods and the third (oh joy!) had to be less than 30 feet from me. They whinnied and trilled to each other and the one in the apple orchard seemed especially excited about something or other. The one near me would answer with a loud descending whinnie. It's always a thrill to get to listen to them call to each other. I can only wonder what they must be saying! Listen!

After several attempts at getting a hot fire going I finally got fed up and did it right. Then it really took off and we were finally getting somewhere! You see, our cousin's boys had been allowed to play in our fence row and had cut trees willy-nilly to make "forts" which never came full circle but left quite a mess behind. Tonight I burned their attempt at a fort along with all the cut limbs they mutilated next to a snag that I'm leaving standing for the cavity nesters that might want to use it next spring.

The boys will not be allowed to hack up the trees in our fence row anymore, needless to say. I believe trees serve a purpose and entertaining young boys is not one of them. I have plans to naturalize the east end of the fence row to start with and will gradually work my way throughout the whole thing as time and money permit. I'm going to be planting 5 Dawn Redwoods there this spring along with 4 Forsythias and 2 Red Maples. I want to fill the end in with lush growth to block the view of my uncle's barn and silos at the other end of the road. When I was growing up you could never see through the fence row but now you can. Time to get in there and clean up the mess to make room for new growth. I plan to plant several varieties of shrubs as well to fill in the lower growth areas near the trees. I might also try to grow some native wildflowers for natural ground cover. I've always thought some foxgloves would look just lovely growing amongst the shrubs and trees.

The soil is good there so I could plant just about anything I wanted as long as it doesn't have to have full sun to thrive. And now that I can actually get in there I can start to prune out what I don't want and keep what I like. There are some nice Red Osier Dogwoods there and I like to have them as understory plants. I might take some of the neighbors' Jack In The Pulpits and transplant them to our fence row this spring. I'd like some at the house too.

So much to plan and think about and I'm enjoying it very much. I've never had such a large area to work with before so this is a real treat. And it's an ongoing gardening experience that won't ever end. The joy for me is planning it out then making it come to life. How very rewarding!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Nest Boxes

We've been building nest boxes and bird houses in our spare time using scraps of wood I find at work. We've come up with some very nice designs I must say. They're all shapes and sizes for the various songbirds and raptors we have here on our twelve acres. We hope to get to watch a pair of Screech Owls raise their young in the owl nest box to the left. We can see the box from the house so we won't have to intrude on their privacy to watch the nest.

It's mounted about 18 feet off the ground in a mature white pine tree. The broken branches around the box can be used as perches. It's recommended that an owl nest box be mounted beneath a branch.
My cousin across the road gave me two wooden duck/owl nest boxes along with this fiberglass model, which Jim mounted on a pole right at the edge of the pond. It remains to be seen what bird species will be interested in nesting in such a habitat. I've read the wood ducks raise their young in wooded areas then lead them to water after they hatch. Mallards nest on the ground in grass, so I doubt they'll want to use it. Perhaps owls will? As soon as I find out I'll be sure to write about it.

Bald Cypress

Derek and I went to Black Swamp Bird Observatory at Magee Marsh today. It's only about 5 miles from our house and I'd been wanting to go out there to see the marsh area again. It was too cold to walk the bird trail but we got to see 5 white tail deer, a gaggle of Canada geese and Derek saw a Cooper's hawk which I missed.

What struck me more than the fauna was the flora. There are some outstanding oaks throughout the marsh. And then there's the row of Bald Cypress trees growing in the stream next to the observation deck at the head of the bird trail. I noticed their uniform branching and deeply furrowed trunks. For such a tough tree they have a very fine texture.
I have been considering planting some Bald Cypress in our windbreak and now that I've seen their beautiful, red trunks and lovely pyramidal shape, I have made up my mind that I must plant some. Who could turn down such nice looking trees? The bonus is they can handle all sorts of soil conditions from dry to knee-deep water. Perfect for our windbreak!

I think the one negative aspect of Bald Cypress trees is they are deciduous. That means little to no windbreak protection in the winter, something that makes spruces and Arborvitaes preferred plantings for windbreak areas. I think deciduous conifers are oddballs, but I grew up with evergreens and I'm not used to seeing a conifer drop its needles completely. Still, I'd like to have some beautiful Bald Cypress trees like the ones I saw today. Come next spring when the soil and water conservation district offers tree seedlings for sale, I'll be sure to order some Bald Cypress babies for the windbreak.