Sunday, November 18, 2007

Carolina Wren family update

Our family of Carolina Wren's, we call all of them "Nancy," have found the bucket of meal worms we bought for the Blue Birds. The Nancy's are constantly in the bucket getting worms. I have to monitor them and keep them covered sometime to avoid her decimating the 5000 worms I just received last week.

Two of the baby "Nancy's" had been spending the night in a artificial plant that we have hanging under the roof on the front porch. We thought they had found a new place to sleep when we didn't see them come to bed 2 nights in a row. Last night around 5pm we walked by their basket on the porch, and scared 2 birds away. It appears they are going to bed earlier and are still using the baskets. I think the cooler weather is bringing them to bed earlier. It was good to see they are still using baskets. It had been a ritual every night we would have "happy hour" on the porch and wait for the "Nancy's" to go to bed. It started out being around 8pm but as the days get shorted, they are now going to bed around 5pm.

This is our first fall in Cairo. The fall color is starting to get nice but is by no means at peak. Last year, we got here after Thanksgiving and the colors were beautiful. The colors may not be like they are up in the north Georgia mountains, but for a couple from Florida, we were impressed! We have had 3 heavy frosts so far. Our average first fall frost date in Tallahassee is November 17th, so we are right on schedule.

I have planted lettuce plants and lettuce seeds. I planted some seeds for Merlot Lettuce. It is a beautiful burgundy leaf lettuce. I had a few plants last year and they lasted well into the warm weather. I always had some lettuce for sandwiches or salads and they tasted good and were extremely beautiful. I also planted some romaine and mescalin lettuce. Last year was my first time growing lettuce and I found it was easy to grow, and carefree. I planted it in pots and put them on the back porch where they get some sun. I am thinking I had them last year through some very cold weather and they were fine. We'll have to see. So far there has been no frost damage.

I also planted some sugar snap peas in the garden. This is a little more difficult because we have to bring a hose over to water them. It's hard to want to drag a hose over when it's cold. I am still waiting to find the "English Peas" that I grew last year. They are like a sugar snap pea, but not as sweet. You eat the whole pod.

Feeding the Honey Bee's

I had a Hummingbird feeder still out and it was attracting bees like crazy. I noticed a late Hummingbird come to feed last week (November 10th). I only saw him once. He appeared healthy. I guess he just got a later start migrating south. They normally leave this part of south Georgia the first week in October. I quickly made fresh syrup (4 parts water to one part sugar, heat to boiling, and cool before filling feeder). The bees were thick on the old feeder so I left it there for them. We decided that they needed to eat too and since there are not many flowers for them to go to, I put a flat plastic lid down on the ground and poured Hummingbird syrup on it. The bees loved it. There must have been 50 bees hanging around. They were not aggressive and I never got stung. I refilled it for several days until I ran out of the mix. I was too lazy to make the regular boiling hummingbird syrup so I just eyeballed it, mixing some sugar and water, stirred it and put it out for the bees, without boiling it. A few days later, I noticed about 10-12 bees laying dead around the feeder, and the other bees were gone. I don't know if I put too much sugar in it or what, but I felt bad. They weren't hurting anything and are very helpful in the garden. I plan to make some more regular nectar for them today. I will use the boiling water and 4/1 water sugar ratio.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Our first fall in Cairo

Thanksgiving is just over a week away and we're getting ready for a visit from our good friends Carol and Mike. We are going to take a trip to Savannah for a few days. It will be our first visit there. We're planning to stay in the historic district even though it is more costly.

First Frost of the Season
This is our first fall here in south Georgia. It is definitely a lot colder than Tampa and there is more of a seasonal change. We got our first freeze last week, I think it was the 6th or 7th. The grass was all frosty white and it almost looked like snow. It got down to 29 degrees. We have not seen snow in many many years. It snowed one time in Tampa. The lima beans, green peppers and Jalapeno peppers all were damaged. We loved our fresh green peppers, they had such a wonderful smell that you don't get from store bought ones. The okra had been slowing down, so it's done for the year as well. We had so much okra that we were getting tired of picking it. It had to be picked every other day to avoid tough pods. The cottonwoods were also damaged from the frost but they are still blooming. The mums are fine, but a few other flowers were damaged. It has been in the upper 70's all week, and 80 yesterday but today it's raining and will cool down.

Blue Birds
We are working on attracting Blue Birds closer to the house. We have quite a few on the property and want some close to the house so that we can enjoy them. Al nailed a plastic dish on a pole near the house. We have been putting meal worms several times a day. When we go to put new worms in it, we call them and hope to get them to associate our voices to the worms. It seems to be working, after just a few days, we were getting them to feed from the worm dish. They seem to come shortly after we put new worms in. This is the method I was told to use. One man we talked to at Birdsong Nature center feeds them directly from his hand. That would be wonderful.

We ordered 5000 (we're optomistic) meal worms from Grubco on Monday and they arrived Wednesday. Great Service! They cost $20 and $8.95 for shipping. We ordered small ones and they are a little small so we will order large ones next time. I put them in a 5 gallon bucket with oatmeal and some apple slices. They will grow as long as they don't get too cool. I will bring them inside (covered) if the weather gets too cool. They don't get out of the bucket so I don't mind keeping them in the house.

Nancy (our Carolina Wren) keeps getting into the worm bucket. She and her children have learned this is a great place for a free meal. We keep the bird feeders filled with bird seed but she prefers meal worms. I don't mind her getting them but she can wipe out a supply of worms very quickly. I have to keep it covered part of the time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Carolina Wren family

We have a family of Carolina Wren's in our yard. They are one of my favorite birds because they are so bold and not at all afraid to be around people.

I read that the male will build 4-5 nests and the female will pick the one she wants from these nests. This must be true, because they seem to build a lot of nests, and in the most unusual places.

Last spring the nest was built in a silk plant we had hanging on our front porch. One day the weather was getting bad, so I had to take some rope and tie the basket up so that it wouldn't get blown around by the wind. The pink ribbon I used isn't the prettiest, but it kept the babies from being blown out of the nest.

The next nest that the Carolina Wren built was in a rolled up piece of carpet in our barn. There were 3 babies and I was lucky enough to be there when they left the nest. They were so cute, hopping around in the barn. The mother then rounded them up and brought them to our feeding area under a large oak tree by our front porch. The first night they left the nest the mother (I call her Nancy) found little beds for each of the 3 babies to spend the night. Two of them spent the night in a hanging plant under the oak tree and the other one went in a large Pampass Grass. Soon the 2 babies discovered the hanging silk baskets on the front porch and every night, right before dark they both fly into the basket and go to bed. It's the exact same ritual every night.The first one flies in and is very quiet and about five minutes later the second one flies in, scurries around (you can hear it) cheeps a lot, then settles down. It reminds me of 2 kids fighting over the covers in the same bed. We have named them "Nancy." All of the Carolina Wrens we have are now called "Nancy."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mockingbird Takes Over Our Yard

One lonely Mockingbird almost drove all of our other birds from the yard. We work hard to attract as many birds to our yard as possible. We keep them supplied with food and fresh water, and do our best to keep predators away. We feel them the "good stuff" and not the cheap mix you get at the home improvement stores. We discovered a type of birdseed that they really love. It is called "Nut and Berry" and is made by a company called 3-D. We find it at Walmart. It smells like nuts and cherries. The birds love it, and there is no mess. The squirrels love it as well, but that is another story.

Anyway, back to the Mockingbird story. We have attracted a lot of birds to our property and really enjoy sitting on the front porch watching our birds.

Sometime last winter, a Mockingbird showed up. We were glad to have a new bird. The ones we had in our yard in Florida were great wonderful songbirds and weren't mean. We were happy to have this bird here until he started getting mean and chasing all the other birds away from our yard. One time I actually saw him collide with a tree while chasing a Tufted Titmouse. The Mockingbird constantly chased our other birds. He was so mean that I named him "Ivan the Terrible." He kept this up for months, until he met a girl bird and fell in love. He became much nicer and was too busy with his girlfriend to chase the other birds. We named her "Ivana." She was a good bird, except when she ate ALL of the strawberries I had been growing on my back porch.

Ivan the Terrible and his wife Ivana eventually became parents to two little baby "Terribles." They kept mom and dad very busy begging to be fed. I was so impressed about what good parents they were and soon I decided I actually kind of liked Ivan. The babies kept him so busy, he no longer had time to chase the other birds. They eventually had another nest with 2 more babies but continued to feed the first two and kept extremely busy tending to 4 demanding babies. Ivan was much too busy to chase anyone unless he thought it might hurt his young. He would constantly chase the Red Shouldered, and Red Winged Hawks that live on our property. It was quite amazing watching this little bird go after the much larger hawks. He was also known to chase crows and squirrels. He was such a good daddy.

One day Ivan was not able to discourage a crow and the crow got one of the babies. My husband Al heard a lot of commotion, ran outside and was able to chase the crow away. the baby was injured so we rushed it to the Vet, who referred it to a wildlife rehab organization. The baby had some injuries but they felt it would recover.

Ivan and Ivana continued to feed the 3 remaining babies most of the summer. One day, Al happened to see 2 Mockingbirds flying away and we haven't seen Ivan and Ivana since. We still had the 3 babies and they seemed to do fine on their own. They would hang out together and never fought with each other or chase the other birds. Eventually one of the babies started showing signs of dominance. He started chasing his siblings once in a while and we think he finally drove them away from the yard. We are back to just one Mockingbird, which we have aptly named "Ivan Junior." He has been a pretty good bird, but recently has been showing some of the characteristics of his father and occasionally he will chase the other birds. We don't know where Ivan and Ivana went but I did find an article about Mockingbirds which said they have summer and winter grounds. We're anxious to see if they return and if they do, will they chase Ivan Junior away? We have wondered about this behavior and have decided that having the parents leave the territory it is natures way of keeping them from inbreeding. That is my guess anyway. If one has any other ideas, we'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

City Girl Moves to the Country

My husband Al and I moved from the big city of Tampa, Florida to a small town in southwest Georgia with a population of less than 10,000. Our life changed overnight! I was 55, and Al was 57.
In Tampa we had been beach people and very avid scuba divers. We had spent many, many hours in our boat and underwater, scuba diving in the Gulf of Mexico. I was an avid underwater photographer and spent a ton of money on underwater cameras and accessories. We had lived in Florida for over 30 years and hadn't really discovered the beauty of the woods and the fall foliage until we took a short trip up to see the Georgia mountains. We were amazed by the beautiful fall foliage. This lead to several more trips to Georgia, and North Carolina during the fall. We soon learned that staying in a motel was not great, so we bought a pop-up camper. We fell in love with camping, nature and nature photography. We did a lot of camping through out the state of Florida. We did a lot of hiking, biking, and kayaking and always came back from "vacation" completely worn out. We have traveled to most of the state parks in Florida. At a later date I will post some photgraphs I have taken in our various trips to florida. I still love Florida. It is a beautiful state with lots to do. During this time we discovered how enjoying birdwatching was and I started taking photographs of the birds and all the other wildlife.

As we got more and more into nature and the woods, we decided we didn't like Tampa as much as before. It was discouraging seeing all the beautiful natural areas being torn down to put in yet another new subdivision. There was an area in Tampa that actually used to have a group of wild Flamingos. Of course they moved out when they built houses there. It was an incredible place that was ruined in the name of progress.
One day in March of 2006, we took off work for a 4 day weekend and drove north from Tampa looking for property to buy. We had been thinking of the north Florida area. I had kind of been thinking of taking an early retirement from the insurance company I had been working at. We wanted to move out of the big city, away from the traffic and into a more rural area. We had no idea where we wanted to go or exactly what we wanted. We just knew we wanted more nature and less concrete and cars. We had no clear idea of what size of of property we wanted but felt we'd know if if we saw it. We initially though of moving to north Florida, but somehow ended up in southwest Georgia. We found piece of property with a house on 11 acres and ended up buying the property that same weekend. We have always been impulsive people! There is a 4-5 acre fenced pasture area, and the entire place is surrounded by woods. I have always wanted a horse but as of yet do not have one. They are expensive, I hear. Our property is a nature lovers paradise. We ended up buying the property that same weekend and haven't looked back. We have a ton of birds which we feed well. They have fresh food and water every day and we try to protect them as best we can. We do have several families of Red Shouldered and Red Winged Hawks.

They prey on small mammals and rodents. We have cats but they stay inside and can't get to the birds and the Hawks can't get to them. A lot of people lose their small dogs and cats to these Hawks. They are super predators. I have a friend that almost her Yorkie to a hawk. She was walking it on a leash when the hawk swooped down and tried to grab her dog. She jerked the leash and dog away just in time. We also have a healthy squirrel population and Al has had his hands full keeping them from eating all the bird food. We have rabbits, Armadillos, foxes, deer, and a neighbors cat that comes to visit on occasion. We have Hummingbirds, Blue Birds, Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wren's, Mockingbirds, Carolina Chickadees, House Finches, various woodpeckers and many other types of birds. It is now the fall migration time and have been seeing different kinds of birds. The hummingbirds are heading back south but we still have a few. I will miss these guys when they go.

We moved to the property last December and have been thru 3 different seasons. We have memories of our Bluebirds and their babies, our resident Mockingbird who was so mean we named him Ivan the Terrible. He fell in love, married Ivana, ate my strawberries and eventually had children. He was mellowed out by fatherhood and we ended up being very fond of him. We have seen several nests of Carolina Wrens hatch and grow up. We have 2 Carolina Wrens that spend every night in a silk flower basket we have hanging on our front porch. Every night like clockwork, they get into their beds first one then 5 minutes later the second one comes. We cannot move around on the porch at their bedtime or make any noise after they get into bed. That is a story for another day.

This is a story of a couple who met on the Island of Guam. I was 15, Al was 18. We were there with our Air Force Fathers during the height of the Vietnam war. We then moved back from Guam to Nebraska, started dating when I was 21, and married the next year. We decided to move, picked out Tampa on a map and packed up an moved to a state neither one of had ever been to. I told you, we were impulsive.