Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Birds in Winter Wonderland

Kansas has been out to reacquaint us with winter this year. In the last 2 1/2 weeks, we've had an ice storm with temperatures in the single digits, a 6" snow, and now a 4" snow...which is supposed to be followed by more frigid temperatures. It's been pretty, but I'm ready for warmer temperatures now. It's unusual for Kansas, but the ice from the first storm hasn't even had a chance to melt completely off yet, and much of the snow from the second storm has changed to ice too. Luckily most of the main roads are (or were, before today) in good shape.

I managed to get photos of a few birds, mainly during the 6" snowstorm, which I thought might be fun to post.

Franksparrow, this is especially for you!

During the storm, birds were literally flocking to the feeders. I think that the cardinals look particularly gorgeous against snow-covered trees.

After having the suet feeder totally ignored by all of the birds for almost 2 weeks, this flicker came in and found it. He immediatedly started vigorously defending it (and anything near it) from all comers. I actually had to move the suet feeder away from all the other feeders, to its own separate tree, to keep him from attacking the other birds.

During the first few days following the big (6")
snowstorm, it remained below freezing. With solar heating, the snow on the deck slowly melted anyway, and I noticed quite a few of the birds coming in to drink water. While I noticed a robin, Harris sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, and a house finch, I only managed to get good photos of this mockingbird and junco.

Organic Lawn Care is Finally Going National!

Finally! According to a blurb in The American Gardener, there is a new non-profit organization being launched in March known as SafeLawns. They've got a website up already ( with some great information and videoclips on how to care for lawns without all of the insecticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers normally considered mandatory for a nice-looking lawn.

These guys have been involved in organic gardening on both a personal and professional level for over 20 years, including one who has successfully run an organic lawncare service. It can be done. And it can be done throughout the country.

And I personally know it can be done, because we did it in Mobile, where everybody said it was impossible.. Our lawn may not have always been perfect, but it was just as nice or nicer than all those folks around me who drenched their yards in chemicals.

A couple tips that I picked up as I read the site:

1) To control crabgrass in a lawn, corn gluten should be applied as the forsythia begins to bloom. By the time the forsythia are done blooming, the crabgrass will have germinated and the corn gluten (which has a 9% nitrogen level, according to SafeLawns) will act as a fertilizer for the new young plants instead of killing them. The application rate is 20 lbs./1000 sq ft.

2) They've coined an acronym for weed control: RILE.
Identify (the weed).
Listen (to what the weed species is telling you about your lawn conditions).
Eradicate (the problematic lawn conditions, as well as the weeds).

As with so many organic changeovers, the first several years may be more time and energy intensive, but within a couple years you will be spending much less in all categories, as well as watering less and having the satisfaction of knowing that you are not inadvertently poisoning your yard and everything living in it.

And your lawn will look great.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A New Chapter: Windswept Cottage

At the end of December, Prairiewolf and I said a sad good-bye to Mobile, Alabama, and to our beautiful house and garden there. A new gardener has taken over that home, which pleases me intensely. She will, I'm sure, make the garden her own. I hope that she has as much pleasure and as many pleasant surprises there as I had.

In the first week of January, a new home with its own unique yard and garden, in a entirely different ecosystem, entered into Prairiewolf's and my lives. We are now living southwest of Wichita, Kansas, near the little town of Clearwater, on 10 acres of land. Our land was presumably once mid-grass prairie, with a mix of tall and short grass species. There's a dry swale that drains most of the section west and south of us, bisecting our land about 1/3 of the way back. In its protected lowlands, there are black willows, a few large cottonwoods, and lots and lots of shrub-form poison ivy.

In front of the swale is the Yard Proper - about 3 acres of mowed grass with the house, workshop/auxiliary garage, and a wide variety of planted trees and shrubs.

Behind the swale is overgrown pasture, full of brome grass, young cedars, and a few clumps of Indian grass, big bluestem and other prairie species.

The sunsets, which we can enjoy from our kitchen table, are sublime. On dark nights, the stars are breathtaking. And the wind is unceasing. (No surprise there, though. This IS Kansas, after all!) I've tentatively named our new home "Windswept Cottage".

We've set up bird feeders just behind the deck, and the birds are rewarding us by literally flocking to them. We have dozens of juncos and Harris sparrows and white crowned sparrows; about 20 goldfinch; and cardinals, blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, brown headed cowbirds, rufous sided towhees, tree sparrows, black-capped chickadees, and house finch. We've even had a red-bellied woodpecker, a downy woodpecker, a Carolina wren, a song sparrow, a mourning dove, and a Carolina wren.

There have been a pair of red tail hawks visiting regularly (checking out the nesting potential, I hope?!), and a couple mockingbirds are helping me transition from south to "north".

One of the most interesting bird-events occurred on Friday when we put out a bird bath with heated water. We put it out about 1:30 p.m. and watched for a while, noticing that a couple starlings found it fairly rapidly. When we checked it out about 4, almost all the water was gone, which we thought was a little strange. So I refilled it with 2 gallons and watched amazed as about 100 starlings rapidly descended on it, bathing and drinking. Within about 10 minutes, almost all the water was gone...and the starlings drifted off. We repeated the process again, with the same results. By the next morning, we decided that heated water just wasn't going to be on the menu anymore.

The temperature when all this happened was about 17 degrees, and we were amazed at how delighted the starlings were to be bathing in those temperatures. A couple of them seemed to have big gray beards, which turned out to be made of ice when we looked at them through the binoculars. Not my idea of how to cope with subfreezing temperatures!

68 degrees one day and 22 the next. Bearded starlings. Neverending wind. Stunning sunsets. We're back in Kansas, and there are new adventures ahead.