Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's Officially Winter Now - The Snowbirds Have Arrived

We all see and enjoy the beautiful fall colors and feel the relief of cooler air that fall brings. It's a short lived introduction to the season we all know arrives next. But to me, nothing introduces the winter season more than the arrival of the Dark-eyed Junco. In my house these birds were, and still are, referred to as "snowbirds". I guess they got this nickname for their knack of showing up just before the first snowfall - or in my area, the first cold spell.


I'm always excited to see my first Juncos of the season and this weekend was it! I spotted them foraging under my bird feeders.

Juncos are ground feeders that tend to stay together in small flocks. They vary in color across the country, but in general they’re dark gray or brownish birds. When they take flight, they can be easily identified by the two white stripes on their outer tail feathers.

In my own yard, I've noticed that these birds like to hang close to ground cover - like shrubs or small trees. These birds would benefit well by providing them with a homemade brush pile for winter protection. I'll post more about that later...

Have a great week everyone and be sure to check out more bird photography over at!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Tribute to Berries - Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

When trees and other garden blooms begin to go dormant this time of year, other plants begin to peak in color. I try to be creative in my own garden and constantly work to add color throughout the year. One of my favorite ways to do this is with berries. Berries add an extra dimension to the garden. Berries of every color enhance the backdrop for the upcoming winter months; and as a bonus, they attract and provide food for many birds.

Winter holly has to top the list. This time of year they drop their leaves and leave a massive amount of red berries. This particular variety is 'Sparkleberry'.


I purchased several of these last fall, and as you can see, they are doing very well.


Another winter deciduous holly in my garden is 'Winter Gold'. These berries start out bright orange and slowly turn to yellow as the season progresses.


Next is my coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). They are not normally known for their berries but it's hard not to notice. Coral honeysuckle berries begin to appear in late summer and serve as a juicy food source for birds and other wildlife.


Here's a new shrub (small tree) I planted this summer - Harlequin Glorybower (Clerodendron trichotomum). This large deciduous shrub offers a late-summer display of jasmine-like white flowers encased in red tepals . Bright blue berries in fall are accented by bright, pinkish-red calyxes.


Nandina 'compacta' is another heavy berry producer. These berries will be bright red by Thanksgiving. They're great to use in a holiday decorations.


This is a favorite in the landscape at the moment - 'Winter King Hawthorne' (Crataegus viridis). Winter king is a small deciduous tree that features white flowers in spring that turn reddish in fall. Small, crabapple-like fruits mature in fall to a bright red and persist throughout the winter, or until the birds get to them.



Last but not least is the American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). It's known for its vibrant purple berries that form in tight clusters up and down its branches. The one I have (below) has become a victim of bird food; but if you look closely you can see a few berries still holding on.


Now that I've covered the berries in my garden here's a few of the other blooms still around.

Coreopsis - I believe this is 'Moonbeam'. This is a very tough plant that re-seeds itself in my garden each year.


Russian Sage is another tough, drought tolerant plant.


Hyssop, 'Blue Fortune' - a favorite of the butterflies and bees.


A mix of Lantana - 'Miss Huff' and 'New Gold'. These provide long lasting blooms.


A few blooms still on my Kaleidoscope abelias.


Be sure to check out more flowers in bloom over at May Dreams Gardens blog - there's lots of good stuff to to see there!

Technorati Tags: ,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Birding Trail Near You

I just love being outside this time of year. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, just being out and enjoying the fresh, cool fall air is all it that’s needed to help relax me after a long day at the office.

One of the things I enjoy this time of year, and hope to accomplish this fall, is visiting one of the areas birding trails. These trails offer opportunities for people to get out and find birds - or just take a leisurely hike. In my state (VA) alone, there are many trails to choose from. Some may require a little distant driving while others are more local. Many of the trails loop and connect with one another. Here’s a snapshot of my region:

Virginia Coastal trail map

I’m also excited about a new book I just ordered titled “Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail”. This book features detailed maps of the states trails and includes contact information and descriptions for each site. I’m sure each state offers a similar publication.

In the mean time, check out this four part series on birding trails put out on the web by Audubon Magazine. The series is broken up by region (West, South, East, and Midwest) and each guide outlines the top birding trails along with a little info about each, including who to contact for more information on each area. Each guide is written by Kenn Kaufman and can be downloaded (via .pdf) and saved or printed for reference.

Here is the East guide - click the thumbnail image to download the pdf:

Also, be sure to check out for more up-to-date information on birding trails. This site is also broken up by region and state.

With thousands of stops and trails throughout the US, chances are there’s a birding trail near you. So grab your binoculars and get out there!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fall Gardening Tips - Guest Post

 One of the blogs I really enjoy reading is DigginFood, managed and operated by west coast gardener Willi Galloway. Willi blogs about what's happening in her garden and kitchen, sharing some great gardening tips and recipes along the way. She is West Coast Editor of Organic Gardening magazine and the garden expert on Willi is also a weekly guest on Seattle’s KUOW 94.9 gardening program called Greendays Gardening Panel.

I'm always looking for new ways and ideas to extend the garden season. So I asked Willi if she would be willing to write a guest post on my blog on fall gardening tips. She agreed and I am excited to share her advice with you. So, please join me in welcoming my friend Willi Galloway to Birds'n Such.


  I’m very excited to be guest blogging on Birds ‘n Such! I love to stop by and learn about the birds that fly through Alan’s garden, because they are so different from the visitors to my urban Seattle yard, which is devoted mainly to vegetables. Even though we don’t have a lot of places for birds to perch in our yard, I happened to step outside at the right moment earlier this week and caught sight of an Anna’s hummingbird taking a sip of nectar from some radish blossoms.

I let lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, and radishes go to seed in my garden in late summer and early fall for the simple reason that that they self sow and grow with no work at all on my part. The salad greens don’t always plant themselves where I would choose, but it’s the easiest way to ensure a crop of fall greens. Of course, with a little planning you can easily extend your harvest to Thanksgiving and beyond and keep the plants contained in your beds:

Get Your Timing Right. So often people think about planning their fall garden now, as their squash and tomatoes and peppers begin to fade, but late summer is the best time to start a fall garden, especially when planting from seed. Getting an early start allows the plants to establish before the days grow short and cool. But not to worry if you didn’t plant Brussels sprouts in mid-July or beets and carrots in early August! You can think about planting your fall crops earlier next year while you get some seedlings in the ground now.



Plant Seedlings. Look for seedlings of cool weather crops, including kale, Asian greens, Swiss chard, lettuce, mustard, and collards at your local nursery or farmers market. Seedlings give you about a six-week jumpstart on seeds and they require less work, since you won’t have to thin them. You can stick seedlings in around larger summer vegetables that are still producing or clear an entire bed for fall crops—either way, be sure to dig in an inch or two of compost before planting. I pack fall planted seedlings a bit closer together because they take about two weeks longer to mature than ones planted in spring. If you plan on direct sowing or starting your own fall seedlings in the future, be sure to look for varieties advertised as “cold-tolerant”.


 Extend the Season. All of the vegetables I mentioned above thrive in cooler weather. You can leave the plants exposed, but mulching around them with a thick layer of straw and building a simple hoop house over your bed and covering it with plastic or a heavy row cover will help to extend the growing season and protect the plants from frost. (Click here to get my plans for building a simple hoop house).


Be Patient. As our autumn days grow shorter and cooler, the plants slow down and by late winter they’ll just sit tight and wait for better growing conditions. At this point, patience is called for on your part! Arugula, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard often survive the winter—even in cold climates like Colorado or Minnesota—and put on a big surge of growth in early March, which means you can start harvesting homegrown salads before most people plant their peas!



Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rare Encounter

  Have you ever had one of those times when you regretted not having your camera on hand? I had one of those moments this past weekend and I’m still kicking myself for not having one with me. I even debated whether or not to post this since I have no, as they say “proof of purchase” to confirm my encounter. Regardless, this is the place to document my exciting discoveries – right? So if you would, just take my word for it and hopefully next time I will have my camera with me!

On Sunday, my daughter and I headed out in my pick-up truck to the local landfill to unload some of the never-ending stuff that seems to collect in the black hole I call a garage (I’m sure some of you can relate). On our exit out of the landfill I approached a car in front of us that was stopped. As I slowed down behind the car something caught my eye. Out from in front of the stopped car came slithering a large snake. Virginia is home to a variety of snakes, many I have encountered before, but this one was unlike any I had come across in the wild. A quick look at its tail verified it for me – a real live, non-captive, Canebrake Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)!

I knew these snakes were around but had never encountered one. As a matter of fact, they are listed as endangered here in the state of Virginia. My daughter and I watched the 4-1/2 + foot snake safely from inside our vehicle as it slowly crossed the 2-lane road and disappeared in the grass and wooded area surrounding the roadway. Snakes aren’t on the top of my list of animals I want to encounter, but this one was a sight to behold.

Canebrakes are large, venomous snakes that can grow over 5 feet in length. Males grow larger than females. It has a triangular head and a pit below each eye. The black tail is tipped with a rattle.

Below is a photo of the canebrake rattlesnake taken by the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries:


I felt the encounter was also a good time to remind my little girl not to ever approach a snake in the wild. Here she is holding a captive cornsnake at the 2009 Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival.


The canebrake is sometimes referred to as the timber rattlesnake, or vice versa. It was once thought the two were separate species but is now considered to be just another color phase.


Technorati Tags:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mockingbirds Don't Forget!

   An interesting new study that came out this spring found that mockingbirds can remember people who have threatened them in the past.

IMG_2444 Northern Mockingbird - photo by Alan Pulley, 2009

The study was lead by Doug Levey, a professor at the University of Florida, showed that mockingbirds ignored most passers, but attacked when they recognized people who had approached their nest just days before.

"Sixty seconds of exposure was all it took for mockingbirds to learn to identify different individuals and pick them out of all other students on campus," Levey said.

Check out the article and video when you get a chance - it's very interesting:



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August Sunset - Skywatch Friday

This was the scene in my backyard a few nights ago...

So that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.
Isaiah 45:6 (NIV)

Be sure to visit the Skywatch Friday home page for more great photos.

A Day at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens


I spent a fun day earlier this week visiting the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. I remember going there once at a young age but haven't been back since. It's about 35 miles from where I live and I've been trying to get back to it for a long time now. Needless to say, my expectations weren't let down.

Norfolk Botanical Garden is nationally recognized for its deep-rooted history and celebrated for its blooms in every season. The 155 acre garden is home to 30 distinctive themed gardens, 95 species of birds and 30 different kinds of butterflies. There's also a 3-acre children's garden where they can explore the connections between plants and the environment.

Here my daughter is intrigued with a tiger swallowtail butterfly.


The butterfly exhibit was one of the more exciting areas, especially for the kids. This enclosed exhibit was filled with hundreds of butterflies.

Black Swallowtail


Gulf Fritillary


The Japanese Garden was another favorite.



Norfolk Botanical Gardens has one of the largest, most extensive collections of azaleas, rhododendrons and roses on the East Coast. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait and go back next spring to see them in peak bloom; however, there were plenty of other blooms to explore. The following is some of my favorite photos I took in the gardens.





A few roses were still looking good...



The park was home to some gorgeous crepe myrtles.


I hope you've enjoyed this brief pictorial tour of the gardens. If you're ever in the area and have a day to spare, swing by Norfolk and visit their botanical gardens - you wont be disappointed.

Technorati Tags:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hawk ID Presentation

  I wanted to share this  really cool hawk guide, I recently found, created by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). This free guide is a PowerPoint presentation that combines photographs of flying raptors, silhouettes and in-flight identification tips to help improve your hawk watching skills. The guide has been out for a few months but I just came across it this past weekend thanks to RGVBirding Fest, who posted it on Twitter.

Here's some screen shots from the presentation guide:




The free guide is called Identification of Raptors of the Northeast and can be found here:

HMANA is a membership-based organization committed to the conservation of raptors. They are the same organization that put out the Silhouette Hawk ID Guide about a year ago.

Like I mentioned, this guide is a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. If you don't have PowerPoint on your computer you can download PowerPoint Viewer for free. PowerPoint Viewer allows you to view PowerPoint presentations but doesn't allow you to create or modify presentations.


Technorati Tags:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mystical Moths


Isn't this a striking creature?

I'm not sure what species of moth this is. If anyone knows please leave me a comment. I've tried to ID it thru Bug Guide but haven't quite narrowed it down yet.


In my efforts to make my yard a better habitat for birds, butterflies and bees, I've found that other little creatures tend to tag along as well - like moths.

I've taken a little time here recently to try and familiarize myself with moths and their purpose in the natural world. They are considered a pest to many. Some moth caterpillar species become invasive and can cause extensive damage to plants while others like the clothes moth can cause damage inside a home.

Aside from a few problematic species, moths play an important part in our ecosystem. They are a big part of the food chain, making meals for others like spiders, frogs, bats and birds. Moth larva also serve as a source of food for wildlife. Moths are also important pollinators. Many plants, especially night blooming ones, depend on moths for pollination.



Moths ans butterflies are closely related - both being of the order Lepidoptera. Some of the differences between moths and butterflies are fairly obvious if you look closely. Butterflies fly in the daytime, while most moths fly at night. Butterfly antennae are thin and smooth, with small clubs at the end. Moths have a thicker, feathery antennae, without the club on the end. Most moths have thicker bodies as well.


The above photo may look like a moth at first glance but if you notice the "clubs" (circled in red) on the end of its antennae, you will see that it's a butterfly.

Another easy way to tell butterfly and moths apart is to watch it land. If it's wings are folded together pointing up, its probably a butterfly. If its wings are folded against its body or pointing out flat from its sides, it's probably a moth.

My daughter has a bug book with a recipe for attracting moths - called "moth sugar". I personally haven't tried this but my daughter and I hope to do this before the summer ends.

Here is the recipe:

Moth Sugar

  • 3 tbs sugar
  • water
  • 2 tbs apple juice
  • 1 quart plastic jug/container
  • old paint brush
  • sponge

(1) Fill jug with water (2) mix sugar and apple juice into the jug of water (3) use the paint brush to brush the "moth sugar" on a rock, stump, fence post or wherever...or soak the sponge in the mixture and hang it up in a tree (4) just after dark, go see if you have any moth visitors!

Have a good weekend everyone!

Camera Critters

Technorati Tags: ,,