Monthly Archives: December 2012

Fourth Day of Christmas

By | Birds | One Comment

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…four hummingbirds!

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only kind we get in my neck of the woods (at least regularly—every now and then a weird vagrant will blow in) and they’re only here through early fall. They’ve long since left town at this point, completely defeating the bit where I planted two kinds of late-blooming salvia for them, which have never yet flowered while there are still hummingbirds in residence. I leave them up A) because there might be late migrants I miss who are really happy for the hit of nectar and B) because I don’t actually know if I can kill that one salvia and if I try and fail the plant will laugh at me and take my lunch money. (It’s only the size of a haystack. In the vegetable bed. That’s hardly inconvenient at all, really…)

Ahem. Right. Hummingbirds.

The ruby-throated hummingbird has a stable population. Single Female Hummingbird, who shows up in my yard (same individual or a succession? No idea) every year raised two babies this last year, much to my delight. The sight of a hummingbird with down still sticking to its tiny noggin was one of the greatest gardening moments of my life. I was so damn proud that my garden had enough going on to raise a hummingbird family. And there were two of them!

I do miss the dramatic hummingbirds from my time in Arizona, but really, any hummingbird is just plain cool.

Third Day of Christmas

By | Birds | One Comment

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!

Technically our hamster is behind the times, since the American form of the moorhen is now known as the common gallinule. But he’s trying very hard.

Moorhens (or in our case, gallinules) are a type of rail. Around here, the American coot is the more common rail, but we do get the occasional moorhen too. (Given that this is black and white, the bird there looks more like a coot anyway, since they have white bills, and moorhens had red bills, but we’ll go with it.)

Alert readers may note that I once nearly killed a man over the difference.

I do not have enough wetland here to attract either coots or gallinules (and would be very surprised if they were to show up in the frog pond) but if you go about two miles towards town, there’s a very nice little lakelet that gets the occasional rail visitor. And a coot showed up at my friends’ place down the road. The theory is that it was exhausted and saw their ducks and thought “Flock! It’s a flock!” and landed with them. The coot was fine after a few days of recuperation, but my friend Marq said that it took the poor bird the length of a field to get airborne. Rails are shy, graceful beasts among the reeds. In flight, they’re…somewhat less graceful.

Our American form of this species is not endangered, not threatened, and not apparently in decline. There is a Hawaiian subspecies that’s probably in trouble, by virtue of being a native bird in Hawaii. It’s called the ‘alae ‘ula, and supposedly in legend is the bird that brought fire from the gods to the people. Which is really quite lovely, particularly compared to comparable Greek myths involving people’s livers.

Second Day of Christmas

By | My Garden | One Comment

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…two mourning doves!

And a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!


Ah, mourning doves, better known to birders as “mo-dos” (generally uttered in a tone of mild disgust–“Is that a—?” “Nope, mo-do.”)

These birds are, to put it in the most flattering possible light, dumber than a wet brick. They have those tiny little heads, and you know there’s not much room for brains in there. Most animals that aren’t very bright, you can say things like “They’re very intelligent about things that matter to ____.” I have heard people say this about owls, who are mostly eyeballs, and sheep who are…sheep.

Nobody tries to say this about mourning doves. They possess a kind of elemental stupidity.

They are also incredibly numerous, despite laying eggs in the worst possible fashion (one nested in my mulch pile, there’s another in the rain gutter where it undoubtedly lost the eggs to cold water) with an estimated 350 million in North America. So they’re doing something right. There are two pairs who live pretty much in my garden—occasionally they wander off somewhere else for a few hours, but they spend the better part of most days here. Unlike other birds, I have never felt a need to name them, as none of them are particularly distinctive. They are the Dove Collective. They coo, they attack each other, they freak out and do a kind of aerial waddle into the trees. I hold them in a sort of good-natured contempt 99% of the time, and the time one turned up dead on the mulch pile, I lost my mind and vowed to hunt the killer to the ends of the earth.  (Hey, I’m complicated. And it hasn’t happened again, now has it?) 

The two pairs that actually live here year round stay all winter but they raise two or three babies a year. (I’m assuming, since they’re like pigeons in that regard—one day there’s just an extra apparently full-grown dove in the yard.)  So we go up to six or seven during the summer. Then they clear out at some point.

Apparently there were plans for awhile to try to clone the passenger pigeon using modo stock, but as it turns out, passengers were more closely related to the band-tailed pigeon. And while looking up stuff, I discovered that the oldest known morning dove was 31 years old. Holy mackerel.

First Day of Christmas

By | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!

Wretched trees, Bradford pears. They stink like dying tuna, they fall apart in snow or wind (the official reason is, I kid you not, “weak crotches”) and the bloody things sucker like the devil if they get into a suckering mood. Landscapers plant them because they grow really fast and look impressive very quickly, and their flowers really are spectacular. Then they self-destruct at about the twenty-year mark. Not a good plant.


By | My Garden, plants | One Comment will be the death of me. Also, they have their new seed catalog out.

After several very pleasant evenings spent laying in bed and circling things, I finally narrowed it down to about a dozen.

Ask me if I have room for a dozen new vegetables. Ask me. Go on.

No. Obviously not.

But I did manage to score a half-dozen half-whiskey barrels for $10 a pop at an end of season thing, so I have someplace to grow some of the veggies. I am terribly smug. They had dried out and looked ratty and loose, but you soak ’em and the wood swells and they’re happy again.

My list:

Good Mother Stallard beans — Oh my god, will you LOOK at these things?

Hidatsa Red beans — It says they’re rugged and 3 feet tall. We will see.

Rattlesnake Pole bean — Good for hot humid areas, apparently.

Miniature White cucumber — says it’ll work in containers. I am skeptical, but I can try. My Mexican miniature sour gherkins got et by worms last year and mostly scrambled without producing a lot of fruit, so I’m auditioning another cucumber. The Parisian pickling cuke remains a staple.

“Tigger” melon — It’s so PRETTY!

Lincoln pea — “Wando” is my go-to at the moment, since it gets hot fast here, but I’ll give Lincoln a shot. Fourscore and seven peas ago…

Fish Pepper — This one looked too interesting to pass up, and Kevin wanted a hot pepper. (Not that we won’t wind up buying Anaheim and jalapeno starts next spring anyway.)

Jewel Peach nasturtium — I learn from my mistakes occasionally. These are supposed to be dwarf nasturtiums!

Tall trailing nasturtium — I don’t learn that well.


And I’ve got a Parisian carrot and a white beet and “Bull’s Blood” beets and a couple others hanging out from a previous order, and some carrots and sweet peas from a trade, plus scarlet runner beans and “Wando” peas I saved myself so…uh…five whiskey barrels just need to hold…err…three types of plant apiece…and the one pot that was going to hold the pepper when the annual coreopsis died, except it’s not dying, so, uh….and I need to be able to plant about ten basil plants because we had such a lousy harvest last year…

Yeah, I’m screwed.


By | Birds | 3 Comments

This is a hermit thrush.


Photo by William H. Majoros, Wikimedia Commons

It has been a positive clearing house of thrushes in the yard lately, as we had a late Swainson’s in the front, a flock of robins mooching around the back, and for the last two days, Thrush-Bob the hermit thrush patrolling the deck.

Thrush-Bob showed up and promptly began attacking the windows. This wasn’t suicide-by-window, where they plow right into it thinking it’s sky, this is a kind of fluffing scrabbling up-and-down the glass. (The deck windows are those latticed types made up of a dozen smaller rectangles, so we’ve never yet had a suicide-strike–they see the grid and slow down.)

No, as far as I can tell, Thrush-Bob is pissed at the other thrush in the glass.

I am not entirely sure if mid-December is territorial time for a hermit thrush. I am not even sure if thrushes are territorial! But damned if I can think of another explanation, unless Thrush-Bob is flying at the enemy screaming “STOP COPYING ME!” (And hell, bluebirds go house hunting in January, so it’s not that weird, I guess. Or maybe Thrush-Bob is young and trying to carve out his own new territory.)

Kevin finally turned the lights on inside the house, to try and make the windows less reflective. This slowed Thrush-Bob’s assault. Now he simply bounced from railing to grill to potted plant. He runs along the deck (being a thrush) lurks briefly in the miniature rose, up to the railing, runs the railing for several feet, hops on the grill, launches himself into the air, lands in the spicebush, stares in the windows accusingly, then hops down and runs off again.

For the last two mornings, a row of cats has been glued to the windows, quivering with pent up predatory instinct. Even Ben, who believes that hunting happens to other people—who then give it to him, their lord and master—is not immune to the Saga of the Thrush. Several times he has given me a stern look indicating that I should be out there catching him dinner.

Hermit thrushes, in case you’re curious, are one of those birds that are actually increasing in population. Being bug eaters, pesticides are bad for them, but as the forests regenerate in the East, their numbers keep going up. So that’s a nice thought. They seem like such fragile little creatures that it’s nice to know they’re pretty tough.

So, getting back to my particular thrush.

There are only two solutions, as I see it.

Well, three.

A) Do nothing. Wait for Thrush-Bob to move on to wormier pastures.

B) Get one of those hawk cut-outs to scare him away before he hurts himself. I hate to do this, because the deck has the birdbath where the Carolina chickadees and the titmice come to drink. (Heavier birds just plop into the frog pond.) Thrush-Bob is unbothered by these little guys, it’s only the Other Thrush that arouses his ire. I don’t want to scare off my little garden birds from one of the primary neighborhood water sources! (Seriously, we may be the only thing going that isn’t a horse trough for a mile.)

C) Buy mealworms and leave them out for Thrush-Bob so that he can keep his strength up.

I lean toward A, with perhaps a bit of C. The cats haven’t gotten this much excitement since the time the lizard got in.

On the downside, Thrush-Bob wakes up VERY early, and the sound of him savagely attacking the Other Thrush is enough to wake the beagle, who begins baying hysterically because WE WILL ALL BE MURDERED BY THE TINY BIRD OH GOD THE HUMANITY. So we’ll see if I am still feeling so charitable in a few days.