Thursday, February 26, 2009

Migrating Geese - Skywatch Friday #33

I watched from my front yard earlier this week as flocks of Canada geese flew by in their neat v-formations just before sunset. I continued to watch as each passing flock lowered and then disappeared just below the tree line once they reached a nearby lake. I suspect that these were flocks making their way back north.



An interesting fact I read from Cornell was that many migratory populations of Canada geese are not going as far south in winter as they once did. This shift has been attributed to changes in farm practices that makes waste grain more available in fall and winter, as well as changes in hunting pressure and changes in weather. Happy skywatching!IMG_2799



Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Birdscope - DIY Chickadee Nest Tube

One of the several membership publications put out by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is Birdscope. For those not aware, Birdscope is a seasonal newsletter that publishes the latest bird-related news, insights to bird-related questions, citizen science projects, tips about bird watching, and other similar educational resources. I've been receiving Birdscope for about a year now and just recently realized that anyone can access a majority of the publication online - both current and past issues.

Now that you are aware of this great resource, I wanted to share one of the articles that caught my interest recently. It first broke in the summer 2008 edition, titled Looking for the Perfect Fixer-Upper. In this article Cornell scientist experimented on which type of nest house chickadees prefer. A series of different types of houses were set out and what they found was very interesting. First, chickadees prefer birdhouses filled with wood shavings, giving them something to excavate. Second, the type of house preferred in most cases was an artificial tree snag, made from 4" PVC pipe. How cool is that?


The plans referenced in this issued weren't very detailed but the latest issue of Birdscope (winter 2009) contained better detailed plans for making your own nest tube (see links below).

If your a do-it-yourself type and would be interested in trying to attract a pair of nesting chickadees to your yard, these artificial tree snags may be the ticket! Here are a couple detailed plans that were referenced in Birdscope:




...don't forget to add the wood shavings in the tube after construction.

When complete, you can paint it to look like a tree or give it a camo paint job so it will blend in with the surrounding landscape.

I'm looking forward to trying this myself. I'll keep you informed on how it goes.


Monday, February 23, 2009

BirdCam Adventures 3

I've taken my Wingscapes BirdCam mobile for this series of bird photos. I've taken it to my parents place just a few miles west from where I live. Even though we live within a few miles of each other the variety of birds are somewhat different. They live on a wooded lot and their feeders attract a different variety of woodland birds that I don't get on my open lot.

So lets see what BirdCam found...

First on the list is the ever so common Northern Cardinal.


Look closely at this next one and you will see two male cardinals fighting. This is the time of year that the males start becoming territorial.


The male cardinal below wants to get a close-up.


Next on the list is the white-throated sparrow. Although its breeding range barely extends outside of Canada, it is common throughout the middle to eastern United States in winter.


Notice how well they blend in with the ground below...


Next is one of my favorite sparrows - the fox sparrow.


The fox sparrow is another winter visitor. Their neat to watch under the bird feeders. They scratch the ground using both feet at the same time, also referred to as "double-scratching". I've noticed that they are very shy about coming out to the feeders compared to other types of sparrows.

Last but not least is the song sparrow.


Song sparrows are very common throughout the US. They live up to their name in being persistent singers during the breeding season.


Before concluding, I learned that some birds just couldn't take not being included; so an agreement was made that I will include them in this post if they continue to provide me with fresh eggs. After all, they are birds aren't they?




...there, I hope you chickens are happy!!


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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Backyard Astronomy

If you enjoy the occasional backyard astronomy, like I do, then this is a good month for you! Throughout this month you’ll have the opportunity to see (naked-eye) up to 5 planets (but not necessary all at once). I have been enjoying the evening view of Venus this week. You can’t miss it, just look west. It’s one of the brightest things in the sky right now. Other planets that can be spotted this month are Saturn, Juniper, Mercury and Mars. Check out the original story from the link below to see when the best times to view and what direction to look in.

Tip: Use binoculars to get a closer view if you don’t have a telescope. You'll be surprised at the difference it makes.

Original story:

Other cool links from

· Online Sky Maps and More
· Sky Calendar & moon Phases
· Astrophotography 101

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Counting Birds from the Bed

I hope everyone had a chance to get out and participate in this past weekends Great Backyard Bird Count. Unfortunately, I came down with a bad case of a stomach virus on Friday and have been laid up in bed ever since. Yep, it hasn't been pretty, but it seems the worst is about over - hopefully! I haven't accomplish much of anything in the last few days. Just this morning I was looking out of my window and noticed that the bird feeders are about empty. I am felling a little better today so hopefully I can muster up enough strength to get outside and fill them up.

Although I had planned to do more, I was able to observe and count a few birds on Saturday from inside the house. It's nothing to exciting to brag about but here's the checklist I submitted:

Black Vulture - 1
Killdeer - 1
Mourning Dove - 10
Blue Jay - 1
American Crow - 2
Carolina Chickadee - 1
Tufted Titmouse - 1
Carolina Wren - 2
Eastern Bluebird - 5
Northern Mockingbird - 1
European Starling - 2
Pine Warbler - 2
Dark-eyed Junco - 5
House Finch - 10
American Goldfinch - 8
House Sparrow - 2

Bird counted between Feb 13 thru 16th can be submitted until March 1, 2009.

Mbird Northern Mockingbird

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Country Church - Skywatch

I accepted the invitation recently to photograph an event at a nearby church. I enjoyed spending the evening walking around snapping photos of people as they celebrated a birthday party for one of their oldest members. I always find it funny to watch people's reaction to the camera. You have those that seem to thrive in front of it, and others who just clam-up and don't know how to act when its pointed at them. Regardless, everyone seemed to have a great time.

In the mist of it all I was able to sneak outside behind the church building and snap off a few sunset photos through the trees.



I worked my way around to the front of the church and captured a few more photos.


This church, better known as Great Fork Baptist is not just any church. It's one of the oldest Baptist churches in the area. It was established in 1833 with 32 members. Great Fork is located in the small country town of Whaleyville, Virginia, on the back roads of the Virginia / North Carolina line. I've always had close ties to this church being that my grandparents were once members when they first moved to Virginia in the 1950s. They would occasionally bring me to services here when I was younger.


I'm not sure of it's membership total now, but it remains a proud symbol in this small town. Although Great Fork Baptist has been through several major renovations since the 18oos, it continues to maintain that quaint old country church style that was once a common scene throughout the area.



NWF Photo Contest - 2009

Just a quick post to let you know, if interested, the National Wildlife Federation's 39th annual photo contest has started. It's open to all photographers worldwide who are at least 13 years of age. The contest ends on July 20, 2009. There are 3 divisions and 7 categories. Up to 20 photos can be entered for a $15 fee.

Here is the link for more information:

Be sure to read the rules carefully. I've heard that some contest will take ownership of your photos once you submit them. I don't believe this contest does that but it's something to be aware of.

IMG_1673 Photo by Alan Pulley 2008


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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Seed Swap

I've decided to join Dave over at The Home Garden blog and jump in on a seed swap. This is a great way for gardeners to share their excess with others and to save money; and we all need to do that in this day and time.

Not all, but most of what I have is in its original seed envelopes. When it comes to buying seeds, I have a bad habit of buying more than what I need; however, it does come in handy in times like this. All the seeds I'm offering today are less than a year old, most being only a couple months old. If you see something you like just let me know what you have to offer. You can do it via email or in the comments of this post. My email is alan dot pulley at gmail dot com (it's spelled out to prevent 'spam crawlers' from detecting it). We can exchange mailing addresses via email once a deal is done.

So, here is what I have to offer:

Butterfly Flower (Asclepias Tuberosa), aka butterfly weed - perennial with bright orange blooms and attracts butterflies. Blooms best in second year. I have enough for one offering (15+ seeds).


Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum) - perennial with tall stems; white blooms that are 4-5 inches across. Blooms second season. I have enough for two offerings (15+ seeds ea.)


Cardinal Climber Vine (Ipomea multifida) - annual flowering vine with red tubular flowers and dark green feathery foliage. Great plant for attracting hummingbirds.


Sunflower, Evening Sun (Helianthus Annus) - 6ft annual; pedals have a velvety feel with red and mahogany shaded flowers. Great flower for attracting birds to the garden. I have enough for two offerings (15+ seeds ea.).


Black-Eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia Alata) - Annual vine with orange -yellow flowers with dark center. I have enough for two offerings (12+ seeds ea.).

B-E Susan Vine

Basil, Bush Spicy Globe (Ocimum basilicum) - Annual herb basil that stays in a compact bush form; great for pots. I have enough for one offering (15+ seeds)


Let me know if you have any questions. For more seeds head on over to Dave's blog to see what he has.


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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bats in the News Again

This morning I was browsing through the news, as I always do on my Yahoo! homepage, when I noticed a headline titled "Bat-killing syndrome spreads in Northeast". At first glance it sounds like killer infected bats are headed northeast. But what the article was referring to was the terrible virus-type syndrome that's killing hibernating bats - known as the white-nose syndrome. This is somewhat of a follow-up post that I did last year concerning this killer syndrome and its effect on bats (

Many of you are probably aware, or at least heard of white-nose syndrome. Bats infected with this burn through their food reserves before spring, driving many to leave their hibernating caves in search for food. Most bats die as a result. The name white-nose syndrome comes from the symptoms that bats get from this disease, which is white spots around their nose and wings. This syndrome was first reported about two years ago. The first bats found infected were located in caves in New York.


Since the first reports, scientist worst fears are coming true. White-nose syndrome is spreading. New Jersey and Pennsylvania were named in the article but there's evidence it has spread into other nearby states as well. The good news, if there is any in all of this, is scientist have recently identified the fungus that creates the syndromes white spots on the hibernating bats. The tough part now is how to stop it from killing off more bats. It’s definitely a race against time!

Bats often get a bad rap as blood-sucking, rabid carrying little monsters. But that’s far from the truth. Bats play an important part in our ecosystem, such as keeping mosquitoes and other flying insects in-check, and some bats play an important part as plant pollinators. I welcome bats in my yard. I enjoy sitting on my deck in summer evenings and watch the bats fly around chasing insects. Sometimes I’ll turn on my backyard flood light to attract insects for the bats to feast on; and last spring I put up a bat house. Unfortunately, it hasn't attracted any bats yet, but I’ve read that it could take a year or two, so I’m hoping this coming summer will be the year.


By putting up a bat house you are helping provide bats a home for roosting and raising young. You will also benefit from having fewer yard and garden pests. Also, bat guano makes good plant fertilizer! It also makes a great conversation topic with the neighbors. It's funny to watch their expression when you tell them that it's a bat house. Oh well, nothing I do nowadays seems to surprises them, they just think I'm nuts.

If interested, go here to learn more about bats and bat houses:



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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

BirdCam on Martha Stewart

For those interested, I just received the following in my email this afternoon:

Martha Stewart Show to feature the Wingscapes BirdCam
The Wingscapes BirdCam will be featured on the Martha Stewart Show on Friday, February 6, 2009! The BirdCam will be featured in a segment on bird feeding to support National Bird Feeding Month (February). Dr. Stephen Kress of the National Audubon Society has been invited to discuss the BirdCam and other products that are revolutionizing backyard birdwatching. This episode of the Martha Stewart Show will premiere on Friday, February 6, 2009. Check your local listings for air times:

Looks like the BirdCam will be getting some good exposure!

Check out my BirdCam photo series:

Part 3 coming up soon!

Indoor Gardening

herbs Earlier this winter I was considering starting an indoor herb garden. For various reasons I didn't, but it's something I will definitely consider next fall. Growing indoor herbs throughout the winter months extends the garden season and provides fresh herbs year around. Good standard herbs for indoor kitchen gardens include (but not limited to) basil, oregano, parsley, sage and rosemary.

Although I didn't grow any indoor herbs this winter I did spend a little time researching the subject. The biggest disadvantage of growing anything indoors, especially herbs, is light. It's hard to replace bright outdoor sunlight. A bright window seal works best for growing indoors. Unfortunately that may not be an option for some, and not a good one for me either. Another option I was looking into was indoor LED (light-emitting diode) grow lights. LED lighting seems to be quickly becoming the latest trend to indoor gardening, especially in hydroponic gardening. LED grow lights have many advantages, such as energy savings, low heat output, better light spectrum, and incredibly long life span. The biggest disadvantage, especially for me, is the expense. LED grow lights are very expensive, especially when compared to the alternative fluorescent light bulbs.

In my research I did come across something that looked promising. And that is the AeroGarden indoor garden planter. AeroGarden is a small hydroponic system that requires no dirt. The AeroGarden system claims to be the most advanced and simple indoor garden out there, bringing home hydroponics into a easy to use, "anyone can do it" device  that fits just about anywhere. The cost starts at $80 and goes up from there depending on the size. This may be something to consider next winter.


I would love to hear from anyone who may be familiar with AeroGarden products; or if anybody has any experience with growing under LED lights - would love to here your comments…


Monday, February 2, 2009

Remembering Bob

Quail Sketch_2008 Thinking back to my early years, nothing could have been more satisfying to me than waking up early in the morning to go hunting with dad. I can remember trampling through the woods behind him with a pack of beagles all around us with their noses to the ground and their tails wagging. I just knew a rabbit was going to burst out of that patch of honeysuckle at any moment, followed by an exciting chase. It was the greatest, it’s what I lived for back then.

It wasn’t just the hunt that I looked forward to, it was being outdoors exploring the woods, hanging with dad, and experiencing nature and all it offered. Although we were after rabbits, other wildlife encounters often occurred within the thickets of the cutover. I can’t begin to count the number of times that Northern bobwhites would explode into the sky all around us, only to land again just a few hundred feet in front of us. If you haven’t experienced a covey of bobwhites scattering straight up in front of you with wings flapping and going every which way then you’re missing a thrill. It was quite the experience; then again it would often scare the bejeezus out of me. There was no time to react, much less pull up a gun, aim and shoot; besides, dad wouldn’t allow me to shoot any game other than what we were after, regardless if it was in season or not. Only bird hunters with trained dogs had a chance against these birds.

Since those past years I now hunt using my camera, and the bobwhites aren’t as common as they once were. Even bird hunters have since adjusted to an easier approach of hunting them on game preserves, where the quail are pen raised and released for hunting and dog training.


The Northern bobwhite quail is a non-migratory game bird of the eastern United States and Mexico. It’s mostly a ground-dwelling bird. Its name (bobwhite) derives from its characteristic call – ‘bob-white’ or ‘bob-bob-white’, mostly made by males in the spring and summer. Seeds, fruits and some insects make up the biggest portion of their diet. Both the male and female participate in nest building and incubating the eggs. The nest is usually just a shallow depression in the ground lined with grasses and leaves.

It’s no secret to area birders and outdoorsmen that the bobwhite quail has been in a state of decline for the last several decades. Loss of habitat is the biggest reason for their decline. In addition, modern farming practices are part to blame for the spread of non-native invasive grasses such as fescue. Fescue grows fast and gets very thick, too thick for quail to move through. Fescue seed is often found in many of the seeds that farmers use and it thrives in fields that are routinely bush-hogged for maintenance.


A new program called Quail Forever was established in 2005 as a result of the bobwhites declining numbers. Quail Forever (QF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to quail conservation. Its mission is to work with farmers and other landowners to help improve habitat and increase awareness. Similar organizations such as Pheasants Forever and Quail Unlimited are also dedicated to the cause and work together to identify solutions to aid quail populations.

Finding large scale suitable habitat are the toughest challenges that lie ahead. The main goal for QF is to find new habitat and work with state officials to offer guidance on a variety of landowner programs and habitat management options. For instance, establish a larger and more wildlife friendly buffer around crop fields, eliminate non-native grasses, and encourage the growth of native plants. In the near future, QF hopes to offer their own brand of seed specifically designed for bobwhites.

If interested in learning more about quail habitat, the University of Kentucky and The Progressive Farmer organization have come up with a new tool that will show ways to increase the quail population on your land and other useful tips on helping quail in your area.


Progressive Farmer Quail Habitat Management Course CD

The Northern bobwhite photos were taken by me a couple weeks ago at a nearby animal farm.

Reference - Clarkson, Dyke. "Bring Back Bob". Virginia Wildlife Oct 2008: 4-8.