Seattle Life in the Yard

Sustain biodiversity: garden with native plants.


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Yard Report 7.2013

The Towhees, in the front yard, have been successful so far in raising a chick this summer. I have been hearing a buzzy trilling sound in the morning and evenings. Birds make such amazing sounds it is impossible to translate to human language and almost silly to try to sound it out linguistically. That being stated, it sounds a bit like: Twzreeee. It is very regular, evenly spaced and coming from the southwest area of the yard, so while I was puttering, enjoying the cool evening air and the buzzy trilling against the background of ambient suburban noise, I heard a rustling on the ground in an area that has a protective covering of native trailing black berry. I looked closer and saw the silhouette of a chubby sparrow scurry out of sight and seconds later a Towhee landed and scurried after the little shadow. I thought it must be a Towhee chick and its mother and was able to clearly see them both the following evening; the chick’s coloring is more like a streaky brown sparrow and it does not look like a strong flier yet. The mother has the typical dusky marking of the adult female Towhee. 

This morning, a pair of Oregon Juncos are collecting Cody hair on the back patio; one hair at a time. The little female is intent and focused at jumping around and grabbing the next little hair she sees, but the male is just bouncing around close by; it appears the little male is keeping a look-out while the female is so busy. She looks as though she has a very large white mustache. I read at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that they will raise 1-3 broods a season so although it might seem late in the year for nest building I guess it is still nesting time for these two. I think I read somewhere that humming birds will raise more than one brood a year, in different nests and even have over lapping times for their broods. What a tremendous amount of work. 

Little Mother is definitely gone, but her baby from last year, Junior, is still here bringing people food to the bird baths and I think she left two of this year’s babies behind too. I saw one following Junior around begging to be fed for a couple days and then I saw two very awkward young crows that seemed to be begging to be fed from no one in particular and they were not very good at walking or flying. They are staying very close together, foraging here in the yard and staying high in the cedar trees. I am assuming that Junior has taken on the job of feeding and teaching these siblings. I hope they make it; it is not a good start for these birds that would normally have a year or more of hanging out with mommy and learning what to do. Perhaps Junior will be a good substitute mommy. 

A pair of flickers took turns at the bird baths yesterday, first a very striking colored male and then the more subtlety marked female. The male has the red malars (bird cheeks) and also small red patches on either side of the nape of its neck, but not a full red crescent as shown in “The Sibley Field Guide To Birds of Western North America” by David Allen Sibley. These are very shy birds that I hear frequently and don’t see much, but lately I’ve seen them picking out the bugs in the rotting logs I have strewn about the yard. 

The Stellar Jays are here daily now searching the hazelnut tree for nuts that the squirrels missed. The jays pick a nut, take it to a rock or a stump and stab at it with their beak until they break it open. I read that Stellar Jays are one of the two birds that eat tent caterpillars. The tent caterpillar has very bristly hairs that are unpleasant to most birds and most birds cannot eat them, except one being the Stellar Jay that will find the chrysalis, break them open and eat the little pupating moth, in the same way they break open hazelnuts to eat the nut-meat inside. 

I am still working away at invasive alien plant removal at Meadowbrook Playfield forested area. It seems overwhelmingly daunting at times, especially when I see so many invasive alien plants in seed production in surrounding yards and unmaintained areas, but that is the horticultural Pandora’s Box we have now until we can change to a “first do no harm” approach to horticulture and gardening. 

Here is a little science entertainment I can recommend: A 4 Part Radio program called “The Age We Made” by Gaia Vince, broadcast on the BBC Nov. 2012, is available to listen to on her home page at her website – http://wanderingaia.com . They are very information dense 18 minute programs so you can’t really multitask while listening. I thought they were well worth the down time.