A tale of two feeders and bluebirds

Bluebirds joined us for breakfast this morning … not at the table, but outside at the feeder … the new feeder that comes with a tale.

Bluebirds waiting their turn at the suet.

Bluebirds waiting their turn at the suet.

The pole – complete with squirrel baffle – upon which the new feeder rests, spent years in a front yard garden holding a different wooden feeder where winter birds visited for a cold-weather snack. It stood in a spot far enough from trees to keep leaping squirrels away, but too far for us to easily watch its visitors from the house. Its location made it difficult to fill during times of deep snow, and it was near an area of the yard where we found bear tracks and scat. (I’m convinced that my use of thistle seed, instead of sunflower seed, is what kept any bear from trashing the feeder.)

Last autumn I decided to move the pole feeder into the fenced back yard where we could easily watch it from a nearby breakfast nook; a spot also far enough from the house and trees to keep leaping squirrels at bay. After positioning the pole for optimal viewing from inside, I planned to remount the original wooded feeder  – which had become covered with moss and oozed old-world charm – to a new board to accommodate hanging the three suet feeders.

Much to my disappointment, moisture and moss had so softened the wood of the old feeder that it nearly fell apart when I removed it from atop the pole. Not ready to say good by to the aged feeder and its tales of winters past, of blizzards and ice storms, of generations of birds that visited to feed on its contents, I hung it in a new spot where it is less taxed by its life’s work, and is still visited by an occasional bird.

Old, weathered bird feeder

Old, weathered bird feeder

The quest began for a new wooden feeder that could begin to weather into the charming progeny of the old one … and here it rests, attracting birds to within our view.

Bluebirds sharing suet.

Bluebirds sharing suet.

It’s fresh and new, and does a great job of enticing all kinds of winter birds. So far we’ve seen pairs of downy and hairy woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker and a yellow-bellied sapsucker, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, mourning doves, a pair of cardinals, blue jays, an adorable little winter wren, and now bluebirds.

Bluebirds, woodpecker, juncos at a feeding station.

Bluebirds, woodpecker, juncos at a feeding station.

With time this feeder will weather through winter storms; its wood will darken with the dust of years gone by and age from generations of birds stopping to partake of its contents. It may even mature with the same old-world charm of its predecessor and, after years gone by, whisper a tale of the morning bluebirds stopped by for breakfast … and life goes on.

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Finally … winter snow

Snow has been rare in my south-central Connecticut garden so far this winter so I more than welcome this morning’s measly three inch snowfall. Finally … winter snow has arrived.

At this time last year we already had good snow cover and I was checking animal tracks to see which creatures were active around the house and gardens. More animal track observations may be possible if the wind remains still and the snow cover doesn’t melt away due to one of the broad temperature swings that, so far, have highlighted our 2014-2015 winter.

But, this morning’s creature watching was all about birds. A junco perched for a photo atop the branch of a white lilac and, on the main trunk, a downy woodpecker seems to be listening for insect activity.

Junco and downy woodpecker in a January 2015 snow

Junco and downy woodpecker in a January 2015 snow

Both await their turn at the nearby feeder, but the woodpecker’s actions capture more of my interest. This lilac was host to some sort of borer last year. I pruned out damaged trunks and branches, and dug out as much of the damaged root section as possible, then waited and watched for new insect holes in the woody branches. If woodpeckers remain interested in the trunk sections of this shrub I know to keep watching it closely for further borer damage.

In the meantime, activity at the feeder shows it’s time to refill the suet and thistle seed.

Juncos and downy woodpeckers on a snowy morning.

Juncos and downy woodpeckers on a snowy morning.

They’ll get their wish later, when it’s time clear the walkways. For now, I’ll just continue to enjoy the view, and hope my woodpecker friends visit the lilac as a resting spot, rather than a place for food.

 

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Re-purpose your Christmas tree

If you decorate with a fresh-cut Christmas tree you also face the annual question of what to do with it after the holiday. Here are some ideas, updated from a January 2011 post, to help you re-purpose your Christmas tree, rather than casting it off as trash.

1. After dragging the tree outside, trim still-green branches off its trunk and use these to mulch dormant perennials. The branches from our tree become winter mulch for spring-blooming bulbs, while any evergreen boughs used in outdoor decorations – such as those in the photo below from 2011- help protect dormant perennials from frost heaving.

evergreen-boughs-as-mulch.jpg

2. Turn your tree into an outdoor shelter for feathered friends.  It’s relatively easy to either lean the tree against a bird feeder pole, an outside deck railing, or some other vertical support near where birds feed during the winter. (If a snow pile is handy you can simply pound the base of the trunk into the pile and pack the snow tightly around the trunk. If it stays cold the tree can stand in this spot for quite a while.) Birds waiting their turn at the feeding station can find refuge in the tree, as can those seeking a roosting place while they ingest seed. To provide even more feeding stations hang stale bread, suet-filled pine cones, or orange or apple slices from the tree.

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3. Use some cut evergreen boughs as the base layer for a new compost pile. The natural form of the branches allow for air circulation at the base of the pile, which encourages the compost process. Cut branches can also be placed atop a full compost bin or pile. They might discourage winter rummaging by local animal residents. In the spring these same branches could become the base of a new compost pile.

4. If you have wooded areas on your property, use your discarded tree as part of a small bird and animal shelter by mounding fallen branches over your no-longer-needed tree.

5. If you cut boughs off the trunk, the trunk can be used as a bird feeder or bird house post, or be cut into smaller sections for use in an outdoor fire pit.

But before turning your tree into a wildlife shelter or mulch mound, consider enlisting some help moving the tree to locations in your yard and gardens that might look better planted with an evergreen or conifer shrub. Granted, you might not want to try this with a large tree, but one that’s about 5 feet tall could act as a nice stand in for any future planting. While your helper holds the tree in place you can view it from different vantage points to get an idea of how a permanently planted tree /shrub will look.