Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Plastic litter rears its ugly head

I was checking nest boxes this morning at the Ecology Center where Eurasian Tree Sparrows are the dominant, if not only birds using the boxes. Eurasian Tree Sparrows are orb weavers that nest in cavities such as trees and nest boxes, gathering grasses, feathers, horse hair and even bits of garbage to create a glob of a nest with a short tunnel leading to the a hollowed center where the eggs are laid and chicks raised. Checking the boxes entails me blindly sticking my hand in through the grasses to feel for eggs and chicks. If there are only eggs or the chicks are small, I leave the nest as is and refrain from pulling the contents out. However, if the chicks feel big in my hand, I will carefully pull them out with as little disruption to the integrity of the nest as possible, to see if they are big enough to band. Usually by the time the chicks are big enough to be banded, the nest is pretty much a wreck with their movements and probably the parents feeding as well.

This morning I came across a pair of chicks entangled in plastic. They were bound together and attached to a mess of nesting material.

 It took me several minutes just to remove the nesting material from the tangle of plastic line before I could make sense of what was going on with the young birds.

One of the birds only had plastic wrapped around its foot, but the other chick had the plastic crisscrossed across its back and around its neck.

The plastic removal went uneventfully and I didn't realize I was holding my breath until I freed the last chick. Once I returned the chicks back to their nest, I sat down and examined the offending material.

This was rather flimsy and made me wonder if it was part of a shredded plastic bag.

This was the plastic bit around the neck and back of the chick.

This is what the plastic looked like stretch out. I have NO idea what it was or where it came from, but it was pretty sturdy.

A creek runs through the property of the Ecology Center and upstream there is a golf course and countless retail stores and other businesses. It is not uncommon to find quite a bit of trash in the creek and on the banks after a good flood. There's no telling where the adults found this "nesting material".  But I suspect the chicks grew into the offending nest material and I'm not sure the chick with the plastic across its back would have survived to be banded (The chicks were too small today to have bands placed on their legs).

I think people are aware of the plastics that inundate our oceans and rivers, but give little thought to the garbage that floats in creeks or blows across the parking lots to end up in someone's yard. Of course that same litter on the street and parking lots is easily accessible to birds and other wildlife, who will pick it up to use in a nest or ingest it, thinking the trash is food.

The moral of the story? Please don't litter. Most businesses have public trash cans and at the very least, keep the trash in your car until you get home and then throw it in the garbage can. But I imagine I'm preaching to the choir if you're reading my blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I am nothing but a pawn in her rise to domination

Life is rarely dull in a house filled with cats, especially when 2 of those cats have strong personalities and are constantly vying for the role as head of the house.  For the longest time, Samantha, cat #2, was queen of the house and everyone knew their place. But the balance was upset 6 years ago with the arrival of cat #4, Olivia. In April 2006, a feral cat gave birth to kittens in our backyard. I rescued the litter of 2 and set to taming the kittens when they were around 4 weeks old. I found a home for one of the kittens but when the home for Olivia fell through, we decided to keep her.

Olivia is a little spitfire and from day one she has challenged my authority and Samantha's role as queen. But when Olivia pushed for Samantha's top spot she quickly retreated when the older cat put her in her place. The fragile balance was upset with Amelia's (the oldest cat) death. It's an upset I don't understand because Amelia was an easy going cat and Olivia more-or-less ignored her. But there has been a noticeable shift in the cat family and I've become a pawn in Olivia's game.

Both Samantha and Romeo (cat #3) became a little more clingy after Amelia died and were constantly underfoot or on my lap. Olivia is a smart little cat. Too smart for her own good. When I'm in the office, she sits behind my chair or in the doorway so the other cats have to pass her to get to me and when they try to pass, she tries to start a fight. When she sees Samantha or Romeo near me, she jumps on my lap. The domination game between Samantha and Olivia is near constant now and I've noticed she's back to challenging my authority again.

She's not a bad cat. She has her moments of being adorable, funny and sweet. She's just a cat with a very strong personality and it seems like no matter what I do, she refuses to see me as an authority figure. I'm just one of the cats...and a pawn in her game of household domination.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Weeding and transplanting, in that order

Today I had the day off and I didn't know what to do with my time. I ran errands, did the dishes and spent waaay too much time on Facebook before I decided to go out in the jungle known as my yard to transplant several young plants and weed the ever growing honeysuckle that was again encroaching into the sunny areas of the yard.

When we bought our house I made the conscious decision to buy only those plants native to my region. I don't have a green thumb, mostly because I do not have the attention span to remember to water regularly  Plants native to your region are used to the climate and rainfall and don't require the same amount of care that non-native and exotic plants need.

Fortunately, I don't have to buy plants unless I am looking for a specific species because every summer the Ecology Center gives their leftover plants to volunteers and staff. Unfortunately my backyard is almost completely shade and most of the plants up for grabs at the Ecology Center require full sun, although they do have a small number of shade-loving plants up for grabs. I hit the jackpot earlier in the week and got my hands on Rose Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua), Hairy Wood Mint (Blephilia hirsuta) and Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and a bit of Sedge, although I do not remember the specific species.

I spent yesterday and today weeding and planting those young plants in a flower bed over run with Rose of Sharon . UGH. I HATE that plant. It is EVERYWHERE in my yard. In fact, the Rose of Sharon is almost as bad as the honeysuckle and winter creeper in my yard and is more prevalent than the grapevine that climbs across my trees and taller flowers. But I digress.

I'm not very organized with my gardening. I don't spend time pouring over plant books, or sketching my yard on paper ahead of time to figure out flower placement according to height, flower color and bloom time. Any prospective plant needs to meet only a few requirements: the plant needs to be a native, attractive to butterflies and birds, and love the shade (since I filled my sunny slots).

So here is my newly weeded and planted flower bed. I placed little flags around the new plants to remind me what not to pull at the end of the summer when the bed is again over run with weeds and I cannot remember what the newer plants look like. There is still some weeding to be done. I didn't pull all of the clover and the back half of the bed is still filled with Rose of Sharon plants. It will remain so until I can get more shade plants.

Sedge Plant

Rose Turtlehead

Hairy Wood Mint

After transplanting, I went to the back half of my yard to weed and check the progress of my growing flowers. I pulled some vagrant goldenrod, honeysuckle that refuses to die, even after the stump was sprayed with Round Up, winter creeper and grapevine. Last fall I planted several flowers that are about to bloom.

I have 2 mystery plants. I have NO idea what they are. 

 I'm fairly certain I did not plant this. It popped up this spring after I removed 2 large honey suckle bushes. It is very small. No more than 1 foot off the ground.

I planted this last fall. I don't remember what it is, as I did not place a sign with the plant.  The orange flag kept me from pulling it.

I have 2 sunflower plants growing alongside the mystery plants. I feed the birds Black Oil Sunflower seeds but I thought those seeds were sterile. Is it possible that a fertile seed escapes the fate of sterilization and a bird's beak?

I planted lots of Cardinal Flower in the back half of the yard. I can't wait to see them in bloom.

The portion of the backyard closest to the back door is in sun for most of the day and I crammed it with
Gray-headed Coneflower

Purple Coneflower

Swamp Milkweed that is about to bloom.

And Common Milkweed, that refuses to bloom after 2 years.

My itty bitty tomato has gotten a bit bigger and has a little tomato brother now.

Stay tuned for more blooming events in my backyard.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

And I complained I had nothing to write about

Earlier this morning I was going to go Sheldon Cooper on someone's a$$. I found a new arch nemesis and it wasn't Will Wheaton but the people who mow the grass at the Ecology Center.  This has been an off-and-on battle of wits and aggravation for the last 4 years.

As you know, I mist net on Mondays at the Ecology Center and there are several components to my weekly enterprise. There are the nets, the poles that hold the nets, and then the pvc pipes or rebar that anchor the poles in place.  The pvc pipes are in the ground long term. They are in place so that I do not have to hammer rebar in every week.

The pvc pipes are OUT of the pathway and on the edge in the tall grass so that they are out of foot traffic and avoid getting run over by lawnmowers. But somehow, from time to time, the guys run over the pipes and shred them up. THEY are deviating from their path into the tall grass where they are not supposed to mow. Over the years, I've spray painted the pipes and placed flags around them and yes, they still get shredded up. But I will say last year the lawn service managed to avoid hitting my pipes. That was the first time in 3 years, mind you.

But already this year, one of my pvc pipes got hacked right to ground level. So I replaced 4 of the pipes. Here is another, recent attempt at making these pipes highly visible.

There is supposed to be grass around the area of the pipes. The guys have a path to mow that does not involve this weedy area. I still don't know how they manage to hit my pipes.

Then I have 2 nets out in the prairie and for those I use rebar. The rebar stays in the ground and is removed at the end of the season when the staff does a prescribed burn on the prairie. They are on a trail and for that reason I place the rebar as close to the prairie without actually putting the set up in the plants. The reason I do not put the setup in the plants is that the nets would not be able to touch the ground, or come close to the ground and I would most likely do unnecessary damage to the plants.

This is a little more tricky in terms of seeing the rebar.  The lawn service managed to avoid hitting the rebar last year so I thought I would be ok. This year, to be on the safe side, I placed 2 flags around each bar but refrained from spray painting the rebar. I thought you could see the rebar reasonably well (although in this picture one of my flags got mowed down) but I was WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Imagine my dismay when I went to put my nets up this morning and found one of my net lanes destroyed. The flags and both rebar were BENT.

I was so mad. I'm glad I set the nets up ahead of time. Hammering the rebar into the ground and erecting the poles takes time and if I was to do this Monday morning, I would have been eating up precious time. Well, no actually that net would have not been put up because I did not have spare rebar.  I made a trip to Home Depot and bought 6 extra rebar, reflector tape and spray paint. I spray painted all of the rebar but held off on using the reflector tape.

This is the finished product. I was a little dismayed to see how much the rebar still blends in with the plants. I'm thinking the reflector tape is going on at the top and bottom of the bar.

I'm at a loss over how to make these stand out. I do not want to pull the rebar out after every session. That means a lot of unnecessary and unsightly holes in the ground and contrary to what you may believe, hammering rebar into the same hole continually makes the hole bigger and therefore unusable. I'm not sure the Ecology Center would allow me to place a laminated sign on or near the rebar because there will be kids coming out for camps and adults coming in for seminars. But it is a possibility. Pvc pipes are an option, but would need to be removed before the prescribed burn and the lawn service would be more likely to hit the pipes more frequently, forcing me to replace them when damaged (and the pvc pipes are more expensive than the rebar).

I texted Stream Girl and she said she had an idea we could discuss tomorrow morning. I know I'm partially to blame for the rebar getting bent, but couldn't the mowers been a little more observant? I did have bright pink flags next to the rebar.

If there is no other solution, I suppose I will be hammering holes into the ground every week. I can't afford to continue to buy rebar and I don't want the lawn service to revolt because my little poles screwed up their mower blades.

I'm still mad about this.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

This city slicker would not make a good farmer: Tomatoes! part 2

If you remember in a previous post, I took some tomato plants home that Deanna was giving away at the Ecology Center. The tomato plants were small and honestly, I wasn't sure they were going to survive. 7 of the 8 plants have survived and flourished, even the plant whose stem I cracked upon transplanting . I just tucked the cracked part into the soil in the hopes that roots would emerge from the damaged part. That plant is pretty small compared to the others and still isn't out of the woods as far as I'm concerned, but I'm starting to ramble.

I confess that I'm outside almost daily, butt up in the air and nose under the leaves searching for signs of fruit. About 2 weeks ago (maybe 3, I don't exactly remember), I noticed a little yellow flower on one of my tomato plants. Could it be? Last week I found a little round green lump where the yellow flower once bloomed.

This is what the tomato-to-be looked like this afternoon.  And there are more yellow flowers scattered across the various tomato plants. I feel like a parent of sorts, comparing the development of my tomato plants to others and wondering if my tomato babies are normal. Are we running on schedule? Am I doing something wrong? Why isn't there more fruit on my plants?

Maybe it's because this is my first set of tomatoes, but I think the plants are beautiful. I love going outside, touching the leaves and smelling the plants. I'm obsessed with them. I worry about them.

With all the worrying and obsessing, I don't think I would make a good farmer. I'm doing this on a very small scale. I can't imagine worrying about hundreds of acres of corn, soybeans or wheat or whatever else is growing in the fields. But then again, I do worry and obsess over my birds at times and I manage to sleep at night.

If this goes well, I may make a garden bed in the backyard next summer. Danno is happy over that thought because that means less grass to mow. But how does one build a garden bed? You know, one that is slightly elevated. Are there books? Is there a website?

I shouldn't get ahead of myself. I only have one itty bitty tomato to show for my watering and obsessing.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Still here, just uninspired

Hi all. I'm here, lurking about in the shadows, reading blogs and trying to figure out what to write. I have writers block and my life is boring. Well, maybe not BORING, but I'm sure you people don't want to hear more about my work life. The eyes of my family and some of my non-birding friends tend to glaze over when I start talking about my prairie birds and the events going on in their feathered lives.  And there is some goings on in the avian community, but I won't bore you all with the details, at least, not yet anyway. I am actually holding my breath and waiting for something to happen with a pair of special birds in the prairie and once the summer is over, I'll write a big long entry over it, but until then, let's just say I'm waiting.

Had a physical Wednesday and I'm so not ready for hitting middle age. The doctor was discussing when I should have a baseline MAMMOGRAM done and steps I need to take for heart attack prevention (which is important, because there is premature coronary artery disease in my family. Apparently this is a real condition because my doctor mentioned it). And she asked me if I was having hot flashes. WHAT??? I'm not ready for that question!!! And NO, I'm not having hot flashes, thank you very much.

Drove down to Oklahoma and attended Nature Girl and Peregrinus' wedding in mid-May and last week went down to Texas to go to Texan Gurl's high school graduation. Texan Gurl is the daughter of my Soul Sista. Gosh, I remember when she was maybe 3 years old and what a little cutie pie she was growing up. Just one more thing to remind me I am approaching middle age.

So yeah, now that I'm sitting here typing this, growing older has been on my mind quite a bit the last few weeks and I just don't want to talk about it.  Maybe my preoccupation with growing older is giving me the writer's block.