Category: Creatures

Birds at the feeder

When the ground is blanketed in snow and frigid temperatures reign, it’s fun to watch birds at the feeder.

The colors of birds’ feathers brighten the view when flowers cannot. Red cardinals often grab the show.

A cardinal, juncos, and woodpeckers feeding as snow falls.

A cardinal, juncos, and woodpeckers feeding as snow falls.

Cardinal and juncos.

Cardinal and juncos.

I love the florescent blue of bluebirds’ feathers. The color shows best as bluebirds fly to and from the feeder and the ground below.

Bluebirds at the feeders and perched atop the pergola.

Bluebirds at the feeders and perched atop the pergola.

Bluebirds dining on dried mealworms and thistle seed.

Bluebirds dining on dried mealworms and thistle seed.

Woodpeckers abound at the suet cakes, performing an aerial ballet as they swoop from the feeder to nearby shrubs and trees.

Male and female downy woodpeckers, a male red-bellied woodpecker, and juncos.

Male and female downy woodpeckers, a male red-bellied woodpecker, and juncos.

Male hairy woodpecker (left), smaller downy woodpeckers, and juncos.

Male hairy woodpecker (left), smaller downy woodpeckers, and juncos.

Sometimes you get to see something really adorable, like this cardinal pair sharing seed.

Cardinal pair.

Cardinal pair. 

Other visitors include tufted titmouse, bluejays, chicadees, finches (house and gold), a wren and an occasional sparrow.

I plant many shrubs that provide berries for birds – winterberry (Ilex verticillata), holly (Ilex crenata ‘Compacta’, I. crenata ‘Helleri’, I. meserveae ‘Blue Maid’), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), and various junipers. Birds enjoy the berries of a few small trees I’ve added – viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium, Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariessii’), and dogwoods (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’, C. alternifolia). Plus, I leave seed heads on many perennials to give birds additional food through cold winter months.

But, when snow covers the ground and temperatures dip to frigid levels (-11 degrees F. over last night and just 8 degrees F. at noon today), it’s nice to provide a bit of extra food for overwintering birds.

It’s nice for the birds and nice for the gardener planning for warmer days, knowing that neighboring birds will feed on emerging caterpillars and insects come spring.

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Bug soup

Bug soup is not for the squeamish, but it is one way to control some annoying garden pests –  think bright red lily leaf beetles, Japanese beetles, slugs, and any other plant pest that can be knocked or scooped into a jar of soapy water.

To start your bug soup, repurpose an empty peanut butter jar, or other wide-mouth plastic jar with a lid. Clean the jar, fill it about halfway with water, then add a small squirt of liquid dish washing soap like Dawn.

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Bug soup – an empty peanut butter jar, water, and a squirt of dish soap.

Head into the garden, preferably in early morning or late evening when pests are most likely found, with the jar and a small spoon you don’t intend to use again as an eating utensil. Troll your plants for the pests. Once spotted, remove the lid of the jar, place the jar under the bug and tap or push the bug into the water.

The soap makes it difficult for the pests to crawl out of the water. They soon drown.

Replace the lid – this keeps you from accidentally spilling bug soup as you wander from plant to plant – and continue your search.

Keep your bug soup jar outside, where it’s readily available, so it’s easy to grab when taking a garden stroll. Chuck any stewed bug soup after a few hours or every few days – it gets stinky when left stewing too long – then replenish the jar with water and dish soap, and start over.

If lily leaf beetles are your focus be sure to head to the garden in the early morning when they are most active. Lily leaf beetles are bright red and easy to spot, but they tend to drop as soon as the plant is touched so be sure to place the jar directly under the beetle so it drops into the jar or use the spoon to direct the beetle to its demise. And … don’t forget to search under lily leaves for beetle eggs and the excrement-coated larva. A plastic spoon comes in really handy for collecting and depositing these icky masses into your bug soup.

The same goes for Japanese beetles, nearly impossible to capture during the heat of the day when they fly or drop at the slightest touch but less active early and late in the day. Just hold the open jar under the leaf or flower on which Japanese beetles rest and knock them into the jar. I’ve used this method for over a decade and my Japanese beetle population has diminished quite a bit. No traps … just bug soup.

If slugs are your target, use the spoon to scoop and drop them into the soup. Who wants to touch those slimy bodies with bare, or even gloved, fingers? Slugs are best found early in the morning or evening. For heavy slug infestations consider going on slugfari – a slug hunt, by flashlight, after darkness falls.

Making bug soup is standard practice in joene’s gardens, even our 6-year-old granddaughter joins in. Recently, when I saw her returning my bug soup jar to the outside shelf and asked what she was doing, I heard the most matter-of-fact reply, “Catching a slug, Mum-mum. It was eating one of the strawberry plants so I used the spoon to scoop it into the water.”

If a 6-year-old can make bug soup, you can too.

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Joene Hendry