Saturday, November 18, 2017

Nesting Sunday

Last Sunday, ProfessorRoush was really wanting to rest and read, but the outside weather was so temperate (55ºF) and sunny that I just couldn't make myself stay put indoors.  I also knew that if I stalled cleaning out the bluebird houses any longer, it would only lead to the task being critical later when the temperatures were 20ºF and a blizzard was forming.  If you're responsible for a trail, you can't just let it go.  The bluebird houses need occasional repair and removing the old nests decreases parasite and disease incidence.  And I needed a walk, so the Bluebird Trail was calling out to me from the brown prairie. "Come out, Come out.  I need your care."  Perhaps, ProfessorRoush was just, himself, nesting for winter.

I always gain a nice warm fuzzy feeling as I find all those nests where happy little bluebirds and various other species have raised a family under my roof(s).  When you are walking a trail of houses, you can easily tell the ones that hold bluebird nests because their nests are thin and haphazardly constructed, usually of soft prairie grass, as pictured in the top photo.  Other birds, usually wrens, sometimes nest in my boxes, and those nests are formed of coarser twigs like the one at the left.  They are also loaded much higher, sometimes stuffing the box to the top except for the opening entrance.   This year, of my 19 self-designed, NABS-approved nesting boxes scattered over the edges of 20 acres with another 80 acres around them, I counted 10 bluebird nests, 6 wren nests, and 3 empties.  The empties were all houses laying on the ground where the donkeys had rubbed them off the posts.  Donkeys seem to have something against random bird houses around their pastures. 

Walking the perimeter of my land is always educational as well.  I was surprised to notice this small nest within a dried up Babtisia australis (Blue Wild Indigo) floating around the pasture.  These prairie legumes bloom early in spring and normally grow perhaps 2.5 feet tall and round alone or in clumps over the prairie.  In the fall, they dry up, break off, and blow all over the prairie like tumbleweeds, clogging fences and flower beds and becoming perfect tinder for prairie fires.  I've never known that they might serve as shrub hosts for low nesting birds, but here is the proof, a deep little cup formed within what was once thick green foliage. 

You can see, in the closeup at left, the careful construction and perfect form of the nest.  It seems a little big for hummingbird, but whatever was here was a pretty small little guy/girl.  I would put odds on it being a Dickcissel nest, since that species is ubiquitous on the prairie and nests on the ground or in low prairie shrubs.  Whoever the architect was, I hope it was a safe home, because birds and the prairie are meant to be together.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Round One; Advantage Me

ProfessorRoush has been busy and neglected his blog, but not particularly his garden.  It was a long, hot autumn, and I'm still diligently digging out Rose Rosette victims, which I can do in absent-minded fashion only while admiring how the grasses have bloomed.

I've put my garden away for winter, for the most part, and I'm looking forward to a long winter's rest.  One of my last chores, last weekend, was to replace a broken end-post on my vegetable garden's electric fence.  My rejuvenated strawberry patch has flourished this year and, last week, it occurred to me how delicious that tender green patch of strawberry leaves looked next to all the browned grass in the acres and acres around it.  Remembering the last time the patch looked so good, and remembering that the deer had, within weeks, chomped it down to the ground and destroyed the next season's strawberries, I resolved to immediately beef up my large-furry-rat defenses.

So I replaced the end post last week and fixed the electric fence where deer had already been through it, noting that its 10 year old charger was on its last legs. 

Lo and behold, I checked it again yesterday and discovered that the fence was again wrecked.  And, if you look closely at the picture at the right, you'll see that the varmints had eaten about half the leaves off, leaving naked stems, but thankfully they haven't yet eaten the crowns.

So yesterday, I replaced the charger with this brand-new, souped up charger pictured on the left, repaired the fence again, added a second line of twine strings to deter their attack, and baited the trap with the aluminum foil strips coated with peanut butter (see below).

My fiendish plan is for the deer to lick the peanut butter and get nasty shocks on their innocent little velvety tongues, providing a peanut-ty Pavlovian proselytism for their education.  I don't know how else to keep them away, short of chaining the intrepid Bella in the garden every night.

And yet this first morning, when I rose, I spotted the lone doe pictured at the top, from my kitchen window.   She meandered across the garden, joined two others in transit, and all proceeded to walk to the garden and stare at the new setup, the lush smorgasboard just beyond their reach.  Finally one reached up to the peanut butter, and then another, both reacting only slightly and then dejectedly moving away.  I suppose I won the first round, but I'm disappointed that they didn't get knocked off their feet and make a more hasty retreat.  More twine?  More fence?  Somehow, 25 quarts of homegrown strawberries at $4 a quart replacement value still seems worth it, don't you agree?   All this wire and plastic, though, isn't helping my carbon footprint.  Maybe it would be wiser to persuade my neighbor to take down his deer feeder.  Or to fill it with moldy corn.


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