Friday, April 24, 2015

Spring Fever

The snow has all melted, the days are (mostly) warm, the Crocuses are up, and the Daffodils are even starting to bloom.  It's now official...

Crocus chrysanthum 'Romance'
it's finally Spring!

After this long winter, hungry critters are coming out of the woodwork.  I'm almost relieved to see that there are still deer alive after the incredible amount of snow we got.  They romped through my front garden, biting the tips off of the Crocuses and Tulips.  They even nibbled some Hyacinths, which are supposed to be poisonous, so they must have been pretty desperate.

The deer bit off the tips of the Crocus, pulling out some of the bulbs in the process.
The bees were out as soon as the weather warmed up, emerging even ahead of the Pussy Willows and other early spring food sources.  For a couple days, all the Crocuses that were saved from the deer were being swarmed by the hungry bees.  I don't think I've even seen my Crocuses so popular before!

Thankfully, it wasn't too long before the Pussy Willows started flowering their distinctive silky catkins, quickly followed by the little blooms of the Maple trees, and the bees dispersed to find more plentiful food.

One early warm day, I even saw a butterfly flying by.  It was a strange sight to see, as I felt that we had just been shoveling snow a few days before.

Iris reticulata
Now that it's Spring, it's time to take stock of the garden.  Thankfully most everything made it through, including a few that I was surprised about.  I was very happy to see new shoots of the woodland Mayapples, which had barely made it through last summer, poking through the dirt.

The strange shoots of Mayapples coming up
There are a few dead-looking plants and empty holes in the garden, but I'm still holding out hope for a few more weeks before digging anything up.  Other than that and a few shrubs with broken branches, most of the damage we sustained from the winter actually occurred inside the house.  Due to an ice dam (something I had never heard of until this winter), some water soaked in under one of our upstairs floors, so we are in the process of getting that fixed. We were fairly lucky, though; I know a lot of people, especially those with older homes, that had a lot of water damage to their walls due to ice dams this year.

Now that the snow is all melted, we have started all our outdoor projects.  Our backyard is soon going to look very different; we are getting a patio built, which Mr. Red House has been looking forward to for a very long time.  (What is it with men and patios?  I think it's a barbecuing thing...)  We've also been working on building raised beds for the vegetable garden, as the plants did not fare as well as I liked last year in the existing soil, even though I had amended it somewhat.  Mr. Red House is building the beds, and I am painting them - red to match, of course!

new raised beds being built
While Mr. Red House is excited about the patio, I'm very excited about a very different brand new addition to our backyard: a Red Trillium!

Trillium erectum
I bought this little guy as a bare root back in February at the Boston Flower & Garden Show.  It sat in my refrigerator until I could finally plant it in the woods out back, and I am so happy to see it actually flower.

I am also keeping busy with starting probably hundreds of seeds, as well as working on plans for expanding the front garden... by a goodly amount.  Mr. Red House thinks I am a little crazy for wanting so much space for gardening, which I very well might be.  I might have caught a bad case of gardening Spring Fever.

But after this past winter, can you blame me?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Victory is Mine! (For the Time Being)

For the last few weeks, the weather has been warming up, the snow has been melting, and Spring has slowly been making herself felt.  Animals have become more active, waking up after a long winter...

...including my old enemy,
The Squirrel.

I'm baaaaack!
Every morning for the last couple of weeks when I looked out the window, the sight that greeted me was always of a squirrel hanging off the bird feeder, stuffing itself with as many sunflower seeds as it could get its little greedy paws on.  After this long winter, I took pity on my adversary for awhile.  But after it had gone through more bird seed than a whole flock of birds, enough was enough!  It was time to end the gluttony.

So yesterday evening I moved a few things around in the backyard and was delighted to finally see a different sight when I looked out the window this morning:

What the...?!
The squirrel baffle was up, and the feeder was no longer close to anything within jumping distance. That squirrel just sat there for several long minutes, sitting back on its haunches and staring up at the bird feeder in disbelief.

After it finally got over its shock, the squirrel sprung into action.  It tried its best to get past the squirrel baffle, but with no luck.

It started to get frantic, running up the greenhouse and every tree within a ten yard radius, trying to figure out if there was anyway to reach the beloved treasure trove of sunflower seeds.  Nothing worked.

Spicy suet!  I don't want this!
The squirrel could climb the nearby pole to the suet feeder, which was full of spicy suet that squirrels hate, but it still couldn't get to the desired sunflower seed bird feeder.

Victory was mine.


I don't know if I should celebrate too loudly, though.  As I was taking pictures of my enemy's failure in order to mock it on the internet, the squirrel turned and gave me this look.

I'm just a little bit afraid.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Resident Northern Flickers

This winter I was delighted to have several Northern Flickers take up residence and visit my feeders regularly.

I love woodpeckers. Northern Flickers are particularly interesting because they are a little different from most of the other local woodpeckers.  Usually you would expect to find your basic woodpecker in a tree. Northern Flickers, however, spend a good amount of time on the ground (at least when it's not totally covered in snow!)

Flickers are on the ground so much because they eat mainly ants, beetles, and other insects, digging into the ground with their beaks to find them.  Northern Flickers eat ants possibly more frequently than any other North American bird.

Northern Flickers also look entirely different depending on if you live in the East or the West.  Here on the East coast we have Yellow-shafted Flickers, which have yellow under their tail and wings.  The males have black 'mustaches'. 

female Northern Flicker on left, male on right
The Western Red-shafted Flickers, on the other hand, have red on the underside of their wings, and the males have red 'mustaches' as opposed to black.  In the middle of the country the two forms interbreed, so there is a good amount of variance.

male Northern Flicker woodpecker on birdbath
My Northern Flickers also distinguish themselves from the other local woodpeckers by being the only woodpeckers to drink from my birdbath.  I've read online reports of other types of woodpeckers using birdbaths, but I've never had any others at mine.  The Flickers came almost every day to drink from the heated birdbath that I had right outside my window.  It was, of course, a lot of fun to watch.

Are the two Robins gossiping about the woodpecker at the birdbath?
Also unlike many of the locals, Northern Flickers are strongly migratory, so, even though I am pretty far North, it is likely they might soon be flying further north for the summer to breed.  It would be nice if they stayed in the area for the summer, though! 

Last week I saw a Flicker doing a courtship dance for another.  Even though the watching Flicker seemed disinterested at the time (and kept hopping away from its amorous admirer), I am hoping a mating pair will take up residence and that we'll see some baby Flickers!  If you've never seen a courtship display between two Flickers, watch this YouTube video by Danny Brown.  It's really adorable!  Northern Flickers will vigorously bob their heads around, drawing loops or figure-eights in the air.  Two Flickers of the same gender will often do this towards each other in a 'duel' for the affections of a prospective mate.  I don't know how they determine the winner, but it's quite fun to watch.

I will be a little sad if all of the Northern Flickers leave for the summer, but I did enjoy having them around for the last few months.  If they leave for the summer, I do wonder if they will migrate back to the same place for the next winter.  Does anyone know?  

 I would love to host these beautiful birds again!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

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