Locks on Rideau Canal

Locks on Rideau Canal
Locks on Rideau Canal

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

If I Ran the World, I'd Be a Lotta Bugs

I was sitting in the Visitor Information Center, (VIS) yesterday listening to the rain and waiting to go locate the places to drill holes for our new trees.  We’ll be planting about 400 of them on Feb 5 and you are invited to come help and then stay for a hot lunch on us. ) With nothing better to do than some research for answering a Mr. Smarty Plants question or completing my database of  information on the trees/shrubs that volunteers will be planting,  I started browsing some of our new books.  One book gripped me and I’ll probably finish it next time I’m managing the VIS.   It is Insects and Gardens: In Pursuit of a Gardening Ecology by Erick Grissell.

The author uses an engaging chatty approach and lots of humor to get us to appreciate the role of insects and other bug-like creatures in our gardens.  He would like us to respect and appreciate insects and understand how they fit into the grand scheme of things. To do that he includes beautiful pictures, gives us lovely descriptions and includes lots of interesting factoids. He also talks about how we are developing superbugs by our use of chemical pesticides.

One of my favorite quotes is “ We certainly might ruin the world, but we do not run it, not by a long shot”. And the author quoted Edward O. Wilson, who stated, “ Insects are the little things that run the world”.
If you want to expand your appreciation of thousands of your fellow creatures, this would be a great read. You will gain an appreciation of how all things are hooked to everything else and how together they form our world.  And if you garden for birds, you probably already garden for insects which help feed your birds.  And once you get interested in insects, you’ll have lots more to pique your curiosity, right in your own garden.  Insects, are at least as interesting as cheetahs and elephants and you don’t have to travel far to enjoy them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Recycling is for the Birds

Most of the few trees that are left here at Anahuac NWR are damaged and have lots of dead wood in them.  The refuge manager asked me to start cleaning them out. As soon as I thought about what I would do with the limbs, I realized we need lots of brush piles to give the birds places to hide and forage.  So I got permission to build a series of brush piles.

Brush piles look kind of messy but are beautiful to a bird's eyes. They are great places to sleep out of the wind and safe from owls and to dive into when a hawk approaches. Every yard should have at least one. At my daughter's new house, the builder left  one huge brush pile and a smaller one.  Both of them attracted lots of sparrows to the house. I had over 150 chipping sparrows all winter and a few of  other species of sparrows from time to time. The song sparrow was so attached to the brush pile that it would not move 50 feet around the corner to the feeders. I had to climb on my toilet to look out of a high window to get to enjoy it. And a wren built his nest in the bird box next to the brush pile and the pair were often found foraging in it.  

How should you build a brush pile.  If you want to maximize your visitors, it is best to start with several large logs, at least 4-6" in diameter.  Then stack more logs on top of them, leaving several inches of openings between each log. Then you can stack on smaller logs and branches and start pushing some of the small branches down through the stack.  Leave some branches sticking out or up a little higher to provide perches. Rabbits and quail will use brush piles made like this. But if you only have smaller branches, don't worry, you'll still attract some of the smaller birds.  Just be sure to stack them with spaces.  You can add more branches to the north side to provide protection from the winds or build the brush pile on the south side of a building.  You can even use some of your fire logs for a base


Getting Started

Adding Branches

This is not finished, I'll have to finish it next week. 

One of the sparrows in the area.  I think it is an immature white-crowned sparrow.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Volunteer Work Day at Anahuac National Wildlife RefugeThe



Today was our January volunteer day.  This is when local volunteers join most of the RV volunteers to do work for which the refuge has no time. Today we planned to finish pruning the young live oaks that (mostly) survived Hurricane Ike. They were severely stressed and responded by growing lots of sprouts.  They needed to be cleaned up - of sprouts and dead wood and put back on the road to tree health.

We had done over half of them in December so we kind of knew how to easily finish the job.


The trees waiting for pruning

Bob uses a reciprocating saw to remove larger branches

Pruning high and low

Loading up the clippings
Looking and feeling better.

We were rewarded with  bowl-scrappin' good chili for lunch

Friday, January 7, 2011

Birds du Jour - at the Bolivar Jetty

Yesterday I went to the Gulf Coast Master Naturalist meeting in Houston via Galveston, where I had arranged to get some recycled pots for plant projects. I went via the Bolivar/Galveston ferry and gave myself a little reward by stopping at the Jetty.

WOW! What a reward!  Avocets, Avocets, Avocets - by the thousands - sitting and sleeping or jumping up into flight, only to land back in the same positions and get back to their naps.

A few of the thousands of Avocets
And hundreds of skimmers.  Several flocks came in and joined the group while I was there.

Skimmers in the sky and foreground along with godwits.
About one third of the avocets are in the background.
Other birds there included gulls, royal terns, western willets, Hudsonian godwits, western sandpippers, great egrets and double crested cormorants.

Hudsonian Godwit and Western Willet
 The two subspecies of willets are very interesting to me.  For years, I had to relearn willets each fall and spring.  Finally I learned that we have the eastern version in the spring/summer and the western version in the fall winter. The western is paler, a little hunkier, and has a heavier bill.

Feeding Hudsonian godwits

Feeding western sandpipers

  I was also able to see several species of flowers in bloom.  A good thing for the few monarch butterflies still around. (And by the way), my Galveston friend has two Monarch caterpillars on very small Butterfly weed that I grow from cuttings taken in August.)

Still not sure what this is.

Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)

Smoth Oxeye ( Heliopsis helianthoides)  This is supposed to bloom June - September but
obviously it can't tell our crazy seasons.


And I was able to get a couple of hundred free pots.  And then attend and interesting meeting.  A very good day.