Friday, January 30, 2009

VA Wildlife - Image of the Month

Mallard Photo by Alan Pulley - 2008

Some may remember this photo above from a past post titled "Who Says Mallards Don't Nest in Trees?". I was pleasantly surprised earlier this week when I received the February issue of Virginia Wildlife Magazine and learned that this photo was selected and published as the "Image of the Month".


Virginia Wildlife Magazine has been published by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for over seven decades. This magazine, for as long as I can remember, was the one magazine that always came to our house. I can remember as a child flipping through the pages just to see the stunning photos; now it's a part of my household.

While I still enjoy the great photography it contains, I enjoy reading the great articles contained inside each issue. It's dedicated to the conservation of Virginia's wildlife and natural resources. In addition, the magazine covers a variety of information on subjects like hunting, fishing, hiking, photography, birding, education and heritage. To say the least, I'm honored to have one of my photos published in this fine magazine.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Indoor Blooms

I'm happy to report that my paperwhite narcissus are in full bloom and have provided some much needed spring color and fragrance throughout the house.


In a recent post I explained how I was going to use alcohol to stunt their growth to prevent them from flopping over. I used a ratio of one part rubbing alcohol to 10 parts of water. The paperwhites still managed to get tall, but not to the point of falling over.


Once in full bloom I back them away from direct sunlight - this seems to make the blooms last a bit longer.


After a few days of enjoying the blooms, I gave them to my parents. My dad suffers from depression and this time of year can be a little tough on him, so I thought a little spring color in their house would do him some good.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

BirdCam Adventures 2

It's obvious that I've been having a lot of fun with my Wingscapes BirdCam. Every few days I move it to a different location within my yard in hopes of capturing the best variety of birds and maybe even something new and exciting. In its new location it has done just that. I've not only captured a nice variety of songbirds, I've managed to capture a new bird in my yard. The new location happens to be the backyard corner deck post - it's a partial deck that extends around the pool. It seems to be a favorite perching spot for the backyard birds. Here's the line-up:

Click any photo to enlarge

Eastern Bluebird (male) - lots of these...


Eastern Bluebird (female)


House Finch (Male)


House Finch (female)


American Goldfinch


Northern Mockingbird


Carolina Wren - This wren was puzzled as to what that white stuff was falling out of the sky. We haven't gotten snow in a long while.


Look closely at this next one (click it to enlarge). A Mockingbird (bottom left corner) has chased a bluebird (top right corner) off his perch.

Hey, it's a tough world out there!


Last but definitely not least was a bird that I was not expecting to see - the Common Redpoll (female). This bird was a first for me. It typically doesn't come this far south; in fact it only enters the US in winter:

"An abundant breeding bird of the boreal and taiga regions, the Common Redpoll is seen in North America primarily only in the winter. Even then, it generally occurs during irruptions, typically every other year." (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds)


She's a little bashful...

I get a lot of house finches, a few purple finches and pine siskins at my feeder; so as you can envision, it's easy to miss this bird in the mix of other finches. I spent this past weekend watching the feeders closely and spotted what looked like a male common redpoll. Unfortunately I wasn't able to snap off a photo in time.

On the same note, Check out Bill of the Bird's blog post titled "Starting the Year Off Right". He tells an interesting story about identifying a redpoll in his area.

Stay tuned for more BirdCam adventures!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Are you a Compulsive Gardener?

Too a lot gardeners (like me), this time of year can be very tough. As the seed catalogs pour in and the winter days drag on there’s only so much indoor garden planning one can do. There comes a time when a gardener just needs to get his or her hands dirty!

With that said, I recently came across a newspaper article that puts it all in perspective for the compulsive, obsessive gardener. Here’s how to tell if you fit in that category - I definitely relate to a few of these:

1. When stuck in traffic, you want to weed the median strip.

2. On a walk in the neighborhood, you look at the plants so much that you trip on the sidewalk.

3. You find yourself worrying about your neighbor’s plants. Especially when your neighbor is doing something stupid.

4. You are tempted to adopt those straggly, mishandled plants at the garden center because you think you can give them a good home.

5. You want to collect seeds from half the vegetables you eat.

6. You find yourself pruning, pruning, pruning because it’s just so much fun to be in control.

7. You wish you could prune your neighbor’s plants.

8. Visits to the zoo are more about plants than animals.

9. You wish all plants, everywhere, had labels.

10. In winter, you ease garden withdrawal by reading seed catalogs like novels.

11. You pass idle time by imagining how to plant pots to get the right combinations, then replant them.

12. When passing houses, you rearrange the entrance planting for every doorway.

13. You wish you could “cultivate the weather,” as Karel Capek put it, to make it behave: regulate the rain, decree the last frost, hush the wind …

14. You refuse to wear a watch in the garden, because gardening should always be the perfect opportunity to live in the moment.



Here are a few photo's from my 2008 vegetable garden. The first picture below was taken in early spring. The raised bed was my new herb bed. Since this photo was taken, I've added another raised bed behind the herb bed (where the onions are).


This photo (below) was taken in mid-summer - in the photo is cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, cantaloupe and peppers.



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

'Ticked Off Bluebird' - Wordless Wednesday


Doesn't this bluebird look like he's ticked off?

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Carolina Wren

One of my favorite birds to watch is the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). These little spunky birds never seem to sit still. They will hop along and dart from one spot to another more often than they actually fly. They come across to me as a very curious birds, hanging out around the house, under the deck, peaking in flower pots and any other bucket or pail left outside.


Another reason I'm especially fond of this little bird is its song. Although Carolina wrens are small, they are very vocal, especially the male. The male can be heard whistling any time of the day and any time of the year. Click on the link below to hear the song.

If you have Carolina wrens around your house in the spring then their likely to have a nest nearby. I've noticed from my own experiences that their especially fond of hanging flower pots and will use whatever cubby hole is available to house its nest--holes in walls of houses, barns, under porches, holes in fence posts, or even nest boxes.


One neat thing I learned recently is that a Carolina wren pair bond may form between a male and a female at any time of the year and will stay together for life.

Go visit Bird Photography Weekly #21 to see other great photos of birds.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's Blooming in January?

This is my first time participating in bloom day and I probably picked one of the toughest months to start. There's just not much in bloom right now. On top of that, I've only lived in this house going on three years now so there's still much planning, planting and garden beds to be made. It's definitely been fun thus far. My subdivision was built on what was once farm land less than 10 years ago, so for the most part I've had a blank canvas to work with. With all that, I was still able to round up a few things that I would like to show off. In this process I learned that if you take a little more time to look around, there may be more color in the winter garden than you think.

The first and most exciting thing going on in my landscape now is my Japanese flowering apricot (variety Peggy Clark). It's a winter blooming tree but this year it's blooming earlier than in previous years. Normally it starts blooming in mid February. I'm really not sure why it's blooming so early. Whatever warm spells we've had this winter weren't long lived; however, I did relocate the tree last spring to a different area of my front yard. Maybe the "root shock" has caused it to bloom early this year. Who knows...but its been a pleasure to watch. IMG_2468



Below is my Mediterranean pink heather. This is a little winter blooming shrub (mature height of 10"). It's very easy to grow, makes for a nice border, stays green year around and produces small little blooms for most of the winter months.


Here are some potted pansies that live on our front porch. An easy to grow winter annual and does great in pots.


Below are some holly shrubs that are part of my front foundation garden bed. I'm not sure what variety they are. These holly's were already established when we moved in the house. Their great berry producers and the mockingbirds and robins frequently snack on them.


My Carolina jasmine (gelsemium sempervirens) are still hanging on to a few blooms. These vines bloom heavy in early spring and put out a few more blooms in the fall. I have these vines climbing a trellis I constructed using lattice to hide my outside gas tank. I chose this vine for the trellis because it's fast growing, it's evergreen, and its native.


Nandina 'compacta' is another evergreen. I love the contrast that it has this time of year - bright red berry clusters against dark green leaves. We made a nice holiday arrangement this year using its leaves and berries.


Lets not forget the birds. They can provide all sorts of winter color to our garden. It's obvious that I enjoy feeding them, but I also like to plant various trees and shrubs that will provide food and cover for them in winter. More about that another time...


Go here to see other great garden blogs and see what's blooming in their yard.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly #20 - Pine Warbler

This week I chose the pine warbler for my bird photography weekly pic.


Pine warbles are a frequent visitors to my feeders, especially during the winter months. They're the only warbler that eats mostly seed - as this one below is about to do.


Keep a lookout for pine warblers at your feeders.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Garden Shed


Usually by the end of the active garden season my garden shed is so packed and unorganized that I struggle to move in it, much less find what I'm looking for. So I took some time on Saturday to clean and organize it. This is a chore I try to accomplish every winter while the lawn and most things in the garden are dormant. Doing this once a year helps to keep the clutter from building up to bad and it allows me the opportunity to inventory what I may need for the upcoming garden season (like fertilizers, sprays, storage items, etc, etc...).

The easiest way for me is to take on this task is to remove a majority of the stuff out of the shed so I can clean the shelves, sweep the floor, and throw out what I don't need. Then everything can go back neatly in its proper place.



Notice my 4 year old daughter in the background above - she started out helping but quickly lost focus and began playing with our dog Macy. Oh well, what's a dad to do? At least she was out there keeping me company.


Above is a a broken terra cotta pot. Normally I would throw something like this away but thought it would make a nice home for a toad in the garden. Attracting frogs in the garden can be very beneficial. Like earthworms, frogs in the garden normally indicate a healthy ecosystem.


I place citronella oil and candles in several places throughout the shed. This deters bugs and spiders that may otherwise inhibit the shed. Not to say I wont have bugs in the shed, but this will definitely help keep their numbers down. I don't remember where I heard this tip but it really works.


Below is a handy bracket set I mounted for storing my wheelbarrow off the floor.


...and below is the wheelbarrow sitting nicely in an upright position off the shed floor. This provides much needed extra floor space.


Now that its finally picked up and organized, I'll be better prepared to take on the upcoming garden season. At least in the beginning...


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Red-Shoulder Hawk - Skywatch Friday #26

This week's skywatch post is of a red-shoulder hawk. I took this photo on New Years Day just a few miles from the house. I've seen quite a few of these hawks around lately. This particular hawk was overlooking a vacant field, probably looking for field mice to munch on.


Here's a 'cool fact' feature from Cornell's All-About Birds website about red-shoulders:

The Red-shouldered Hawk is divided into five subspecies. The four eastern forms contact each other, but the West Coast form is separated from the eastern forms by 1600 km (1000 mi). The northern form is the largest. The form in very southern Florida is the palest, having a gray head and very faint barring on the chest.


Happy skywatching!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

BirdCam Adventures

I wanted to take some time and follow up on a previous post about my new Wingscape BirdCam. I've really been enjoying this cool little camera, even more so now that I'm back to work from my two week holiday vacation. This time of year I leave the house when it's dark out, and if I'm lucky I may get an hour of afternoon daylight when I get home. With BirdCam it's nice to have the ability to capture a little glimpse of the days birding activity.

It's been fun experimenting with it in different locations and angles throughout my yard. Sometimes I wonder what the neighbors are thinking. They probably think that I'm some sort of pervert trying to take pictures threw their! Oh well, I've learned that you can't focus too much on what others think, especially when it comes to neighbors.

Nothing spectacular, but here are a few of my favorite images thus far - click on any image to enlarge:

WSBC0017 (3) Eastern bluebirds


Red-bellied woodpecker

WSBC0015 Mourning doves - check out the motion of the wings. His wings were flapping as the camera took the picture. Looks like its doing some sort of weird matrix type moves.

BBirdhouse (9) Even throughout the winter months, eastern bluebirds will often investigate nest boxes. In colder climates they will roost in them.

I have some other cool ideas with this camera I want to try this summer. I'm incorporating a new flower bed in my backyard and want to get some photos and video of butterflies and hummingbirds. The camera also has a time delay feature so it could actually capture a flower bloom opening. I have more to learn more about that feature...

If you're interested, there are a lot more BirdCam photo's on the Wingscapes web site:

Monday, January 5, 2009

Forcing Paperwhites - Stop the Flop

Now that the holiday colors have slowly disappeared and old man winter is just starting, what better time is there to add some spring color inside by forcing a few bulbs - I'm talking about paperwhites and amaryllis. Most people force these bulbs earlier in the fall so they will bloom in time for the holidays, but personally, I need something that's going to provide some inside color now that will help get me through the winter months.


I recently was listening to the Gestalt Gardener podcast and picked up on a neat tip on forcing paperwhite narcissus. Many of you may already know, but it seems that when paperwhite bulbs are grown in a diluted solution of alcohol, the plants reach a height of 1/3 their normally expected growth - but the flowers remain normal size and last just as long. Why would you want to do this you ask? Well, paperwhites can get leggy and become top-heavy as they bloom and eventually flop over unless staked. It appears that the resulting water stress on the plants is just enough to stunt their growth, creating a shorter, stockier plant, preventing it from flopping. This find was made by the horticulture department at Cornell University. Click the link below to read the report. The report explains how much and what kinds of alcohol can be used:


I'll post info and results from my paperwhite narcissus bulbs as they grow and begin blooming - hopefully I wont OD them!

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