Human beings aren't the only ones who like the ending of winter and the coming of warmer weather. Of course warmer weather also means more snacks! The garden may be young, but it's bringing plenty friends to the library's yard.
Spring has finally come, even though it doesn't feel like it. FeederWatch is over and I'm finding all the interesting birds are now visiting the feeders. It'll be their last chance as we start to change from winter feeders over to summer feeders. Gone will be the sunflower seeds and high protein nut mixes and out will come the nyjer seed and the nectar for hummingbirds. Not to say we won't throw the occasional peanut out to keep our furry friends happy, but we find it's best to let the birds forage on their own as well as not attracting any bears.
This elusive bird is the Northern Mockingbird. After FeederWatch finished we discovered we have a pair that seem to be hanging around. I wonder if they're nesting in the area? We had a single visit very rarely during the winter, only seem once on twice, but now he/she seems to visiting on a regular basis finishing the last of our suet. We've finally gotten a picture to prove that its been visiting, as according to the Merlin Bird app, it's uncommon for this area.
It has finally snowed and the library garden and grounds are completely buried. Snow is always a great thing to see, it provides entertainment for kids and for animals (have you seen the pandas sledding), but it can make things a little difficult to get around and not just for people.
Birds and bigger animals like rabbits, foxes, deer have it a little easier, the taller you are the easier to walk though a foot of snow, and the lighter you are its easier to walk on top, but what about those little animals, those not light enough to walk on top but too small to see or bound over drifts how do they get around - well its quite easy, they tunnel.
Here at the library we have the entrance/exits to two tunnels around our bird feeders. As you can see below whoever made these tunnels wasn't messing around, they new exactly where the food or the path to the food was and got busy building an access to it.
Can you just imagine what it must be like to use these tunnels to get around? Or can you imagine just how many there could possibly be, because from the top of the snow you can't even tell that the tunnel is there. We never would have know if hadn't seen these openings. Just imagine a whole maze under your snowboots!
Let's talk sparrows. They are a very common bird that we see all the time, but while they all look the same size, all seem to have the same brown color, they are not always the same sparrow. Sometimes these little brown birds (LBBs) are the hardest to identify. Why is that? Well for one they do all look rather alike, they're all small, they're all shades of brown and they are all very skittish. Often every time you try to lean in to get a better look, they fly off and away into the bushes, taking with them your chance to identifying who was who. And to top it all off, not all LBBs are sparrows, they could be the female of a species such as a female house finch or female purple finch. It gets very confusing.
Unfortunately there isn't much you can do. Really what it takes to identify these LBBs is patience, a good guide book (or poster) and a pair of binoculars help. The LBBs, sparrows, who visit the library feeders took Miss Renee a good 3 months to identify, without looking at the bird identification poster; as for the others (those finches) she's still working on them. But when it comes to the sparrows, she's now a pro and will rattle off who is who with only just a good look at the bird - but that good look is half the battle.
We've been looking at a lot of birds over the holiday and while the library was closed, I spent a lot of time watching my own feeders. I even had the chance to introduce birding to my niece and nephew, who thought it was exciting and a little weird that their aunt spent so much time staring out the window watching birds on feeders. Then again, a lot of the things I do they think is a little weird. But one question they seemed interested in is how to tell the girls from the boys. And for some birds that's easy to do and for some not so much.
Some birds, you can still tell the boys from the girls, but it's a little more subtle. These downy woodpeckers below may look like the same individual, but in fact the picture on the left is male and the picture on the right is female. How do I know? Well look at the back of their heads. See that red spot on head of the left picture - that's how you know it's a boy. Only the males have that mark of red. So for some birds, its a special marking or different shades of the same color that can help you tell the difference.
But for some birds it's impossible to tell. To this day I can't tell which chickadee is male or female, the same goes with the tufted titmouse, the dark eyed junco, the song sparrow, the blue jay and a whole collection of others. Can you tell which of the two blue jays below is a male or a female? I can't, but that's okay. As I tell my niece and nephew that's what makes nature so mysterious.
The joy is in finding out, not knowing the answer. Where would all the fun be if we knew everything?
We sometimes get asked, why we don't just cut back all that brush at the back of the library and open it up. Well, there are a few reasons, one if we got rid of all that brush we'd be left with a bare hill that would eventually wash into the waterway every time it rained, which of course would be dangerous. Two, while we do occasionally cut it back and down all that brush is quite useful as a habitat for small animals that live of the edges of fields and forests, animals like the bunny and three it offers protection for small birds such as sparrows, cardinals, chickadees and so many of our feeder visitors
I know it looks a bit messy but have you ever take a really good look at that brush. It's filled with flowers in the summer drawing bees and butterflies, during the fall its filled with berries for birds and squirrels and even in winter though it doesn't look like much you have to look a little closer. Even when the animals have scattered you can still see the trails they've left behind.
Can you see animal trail in the picture above? Here's a hint if you look at the space between the two peanuts - can you see it now? The ground looks softer, the branches almost from a tunnel, the trail curves off to the left? Can you see it? This is what we'd call a small animal game trail. Animals tend to travel certain paths through the woods over and over, almost the same way we use roads. Large animals do the same. Those are paths that they know are relatively safe and lead to areas with food, water, shelter or just from one area to another. They're part of the animals' habitat. So while you may just see a wall of brush, for the animals these little hidden "roadways" are an important part of their community.
Here's another - can you see the animal trail? If you can't and your really interested to see, stop by the library in person and Miss Renee will take you out and show you.
Miss Renee was able to get a real up close and personal view with one very hungry chickadee. While she was filling the feeders, s/he was apparently in no fear of Miss Renee decided to grab a snack before all the other birds. "I have noticed of all our bird visitors, the chickadees are the bravest. They flutter around my head often while I'm filling the feeders, but this is the first we've ever been eye level. I loved it," reports Miss Renee. It'll be fun to see if this trust continues through the winter.
Now that winter is swiftly approaching, the chill is already in the air - the garden has been closed for the winter. The plants have shed their leaves, the grasses have seeded and turned their winter colors and the garden is still busy.
The plants may have hunkered down for the winter, but with the bird feeders out, the garden has been active with birds of all kinds visiting the feeders. FeederWatch has begun.
FeederWatch is a yearly program by Cornell University as a citizen scientist program to gather information about birds that visit feeders. The library began participating in the program last year and it brought a lot of joy to see these mostly little birds flitting about the grounds outside. We've decided to participate again. While we can't have kids and families participate like they did last year, but sitting in the windows and identifying birds and counting, you can still see the FeederWatch activity and keep track of our count. Just visit FeederWatch in the menu.
This project was made possible in part by a grant from the RI Office of Library and Information Services using funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Back Layout Before Bunnies Bunny Strategy Butterflies Caterpillars Credit Gadget Garden Prep Grass Removal Hummingbirds Insects Plants Pollinators Programs Rain Rain Barrel Water Weeding Weeds Welcome