Spring Garden Notes for Sanity

I realize that I’m incredibly lucky to have a garden I can escape into, even if we’re confined to home.

It’s like having a cabin with an outside deck on the cruise ship of pandemic life.

The least I can do, in gratitude for my good fortune, is to share some of the things going on out there.

I hope to be posting every other day, about birds, or crows, or ravens . . . but some days  I (like many of you) feel just a bit too discombobulated to construct a sentence, so bear with me if there are gaps.

Newly returned pine siskin enjoying the bird bath.

Now that it’s officially spring, I took the bold move of finally removing the bird bath heater. Call me crazy! We may even go hog wild and get the small fountain out of winter mothballs too.

I keep thinking that the Steller’s Jays have moved on permanently, but then, when I’m reconciled to their absence, back they come. It’s not hard to know when they’ve arrived, what with the shrieking calls and flashes of electric blue — my cue to stop listening to the radio and rush outside and enjoy them before they move on again.

The finches, House and Gold, are providing a more melodic garden sound track with an almost constant chorus of song.

Mr and Mrs House Finch

The bushtits are back, but often in groups of only two, now that nesting season has arrived.

Female bushtit with her pale gold eyes.

And those bushtits are still using their clever little claws for holding their food like a the world’s smallest burrito.

I have been doing my Feederwatch bird count each week, even though sometimes it’s hard to settle down and do it. I have to say, I highly recommend it as a mental health strategy. Even if you don’t have a garden, you just need to pick a spot with some birds (even if it’s just a few crows or pigeons), register, and do a count when you feel like it. It doesn’t have to be every week — just when you can.

Often when I go out there to count it’s as if the birds know and they all scarper.

But I’ve learned that if you are quiet enough and just sit for a few minutes, you will find that there’s always a bird somewhere out there.

Often it’s just one modest brown song sparrow scuffling ever so softly through the shadowy leaf litter.

Or a finch, outlined against the sun on a high branch, gathering a long breath for the next musical recitation.

I suspect there may be a metaphor to be sifted out of that word litter  . . .

Song sparrow tightrope walking on the Daphne Odora

To close, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog, and sometimes writing to let me know it helps a bit.

The fact is that writing the blog helps me a lot too, by giving me something positive to focus on at this crazy time.

So, thanks and stay well, be kind to each other. And to the birds, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consider the Bushtit …

Yes, let us drag our minds away from the headlines for a few moments to consider the many amazing things about this rather drab, and somewhat unfortunately named little bird.

And it really is minuscule, weighing in at about 5.3 grams — approximately the weight of one nickel. It’s one of the tiniest songbirds, coloured a modest beige-grey and, with it’s squeaky call, very like a flying mouse.

You can see how really tiny they are when they decide to take a bath. I remember how shocked I was as kid when I saw my aunty’s Yorkshire Terriers soaking wet.

Similar effect with bushtits.

It’s hard to decide what I like most about bushtits, but high on the list has to be their nest making technique. Essentially, they weave an elastic sock out of moss, grass, lichen, leaves, small twigs.

A bushtit nest I found lying on the ground after nesting season a few years ago. It measures about 25 cm (10-inches) from top to bottom.

The ingenious addition of spider web to the construction is what makes them stretchy — a handy feature as both parents, possible extra helpers and, eventually, 5-7 baby bushtits, will all be snuggled in there at one time. The interior is made extra cosy with a lining of downy plant material and feathers, while the outside is camouflaged with the addition of material from nearby foliage.

You can see a bushtit popping his head out of the nest, top left.

Another bushtit bonus: they generally come in bulk. It’s rare to see one by itself as they arrive in the garden like an excited tour group on a very tight schedule. One minute there are zero bushtits, then there are thirty. They’ll crowd the local attractions, tweeting their reviews, before abruptly weaving off en masse to the next stop on the itinerary.

They love suet, but they also like the finch feeder — and I’ve even seen them  drink from the hummingbird feeder on occasion.

Another thing for gardeners to love about bushtits — they will eat aphids from your plants! They also enjoy small spiders and other bugs that live on the underside of leaves. Their small size gives them the advantage of being able to hang underneath leaves and access a bug harvest there that’s inaccessible to bigger birds.

Me next!

One of the very most amazing things that I’ve just recently noticed about bushtits is that they can hold food in their little claws and eat it like a sandwich. I thought my eyes were deceiving me at first, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to get a decent photo. Not so easy, as those feet are so tiny and so fast, but here are a few of my efforts to capture the Bushtit Sandwich Effect.

I’ve not noticed any other of our local birds using such a prehensile-like feeding technique, and I honestly don’t remember seeing bushtits doing this until the last few months, so I sort of wonder if it’s one of those miracles of city bird adaptation.

Still need more amazing facts about bushtits? OK, how about the fact that, despite their tiny size and uniform colour,  you can easily tell the males from the females by their eyes? The males have dark, button-like eyes, while the females have light coloured ones — pale gold in our part of the world — giving them that intense “Angry Bird” look I do so love.

Male Bushtit

Female (don’t mess with me) Bushtit

The photo above became the basis of one of my most recent bird portraits of “Agnes, the smallest but by far the most furious of the Furies.”

Do you sometimes hear a small shrub alive with tweets, and then the bush seems to deconstruct before your eyes into a living Escher-like bird design — and it’s bushtits heading off somewhere else? That’s another thing I love about them. They’re magic.

So, while there are definitely a lot of massively worrying things going on in the world right now, this is a small (tiny, really) reminder that there are still many good and amazing things going on all around us — under leaves, inside mossy sock-nests, or flying around in judgemental little groups.

Sometimes, for your own mental health, you just need to Consider the *#@*!! Bushtit …

 

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Christmas Address

It used to be just Edgar who used to offer up, Queen-like, his pithy Christmas thoughts, but this year we’ve got a bit of clamour of creatures willing to share their musings for 2017.

I’ve told them all they’ll need to be brief if we’re going to fit everyone in.

EDGAR

Naturally, my thoughts are the most important.

For maximum efficiency, combine your stretching exercises with relaxation.

Claiming the higher ground always gives you a comforting tactical advantage.

GEORDIE

As a rescue dog I am, by nature, a pessimist — but nevertheless I try to be brave and plunge into new things. Most of the time (except for the baths) it’s turns out pretty well. Also, I like it when everyone is kind to each other.

MARVIN & MAVIS

crow on a fence, photograph by June Hunter

Sometimes life can throw you challenges.

Crow on a fence, photograph by June Hunter

With a bit of perseverance though, you can learn new things.

Sometimes your loved ones will try to do helpful things …

… which will result in a hairdo like this. But, they love you and they mean well, so just keep your beak shut and say thanks.

THE BUSHTITS

Sometimes it’s nice to get together will a bunch of friends over the festive season.

Bushtit photo by June Hunter

… but sometimes it’s nice to spend a bit of quiet time on your own.

THE CHICKADEES

Be bold! Be free! Don’t miss out on the peanuts!

And that’s about it from all of us over here at The Urban Nature Enthusiast. The sparrows and juncos wanted to put their five cents in as well, but I have still got some wrapping to do!

Thank-you so much to everyone who has read the blog this year and sent me so many kind comments.

Have the very brightest holiday season, whether it’s being surrounded by friends and family, or simply enjoying the quiet of the winter season with some good books and walks outside. Much love to all of you.

 

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