Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The garden -- such as it is -- in January

Last week we had snow. This week we got an unexpected blast of arctic air that the weather gurus thought would bring snow, but brought freezing rain ahead of it in the wee hours of the morning, then snow on top. Traffic has been a mess, schools have been closed, and while the main roads were clear today, getting out of our own neighborhood was the most hazardous part of my drive in to work today. I waited until things thawed out a bit this morning before I ventured out onto the roads. The cats were whining for a walk yesterday, but sleet and snow don't make good kitty walking conditions. This morning I took them out on their harnesses, and got some garden pictures while I was at it. Amazing. Even in January, it's possible to find some garden eye candy.

Remember Wild Bill from last summer? (Feral Kitten Update and Wild Bill is in the House) He's become a sweet-natured house kitty, a bit of a clown, and even at seven months, still kittenish cute. He sometimes still cringes when we try to pet him, as though he expects to be attacked, but more and more often he rolls over to show, "I'm not really afraid." He's also learned that sitting and looking cutely at me when I'm on the couch sometimes gets him a kitty treat. Alas, his mama that we were caring for disappeared just before Thanksgiving. We think she may have been a victim of a suspected cat poisoner in the neighborhood. Yet another reason we keep our kitties indoors and only take them out on a leash.

Here's Wild Bill, looking up from his busy sniffing, with an expression of, "What's that crazy lady pointing at me now?"

A few pieces of old slate stacked up make a nice platform feeder for ground-feeding birds. Here an Oregon Junco searches for birdseed in the snow.

My little birdbath, made of three clay pots and a clay saucer fastened together with silicon glue (ten minute crafts -- something I can actually finish), and full of ice. Keeping water out for the birds in this weather is a real trick. I try to pour some hot water into the pans in the morning to thaw out the ice from the night before. At the base of the birdbath you can see some disks of ice that came out of the birdbath on the prior days that still haven't thawed.

Snow-glazed Daphne leaves, with the buds turning pink already. We should have some fragrant Daphne soon.

Brilliant Cotoneaster berries, dusted with snow, brighten the winter landscape considerably. The robins have been munching on them, too.

Our house has a garage in the back, and the access drive was still covered in snow. There was a neat line of raccoon tracks leading from the wooded lot behind the houses across the street, down our drive, and into the neighbor's yard.

Brrr, I hope we thaw out soon. I still have garden chores to do that I was supposed to do in the fall!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hummingbird in the snow

I finally caught our little Rufous hummingbird on film, but it took the video camera to do it. It's backlit, so you can't see the few sparkling orange feathers on his throat that are his winter plumage (in summer his whole throat is metalic orange), but you can see he's still active in spite of today's freezing rain and snow. The little chirps you hear are not the bird; it's Belle, my little kitty, who spotted the hummingbird and wants to go play with it.

If that doesn't show, click on Hummingbird in the Snow Movie. Plays with Quicktime.

Monday, January 15, 2007

First flowers of 2007

As I was outside filling the bird feeders, I spotted these little gems popping up. Snowdrops in the frost, first flowers of the year, carrying a promise of spring to come.

Not your usual winter feeder bird

Last October I was out in the garden and heard a familiar hummmm and a squik squik! A hummingbird? In October? Sure enough, there was a fat little Rufous hummingbird still hovering around, going for the last of the hardy fuchsias. I'd long since taken in the hummingbird feeders, so I told him to go south with the rest of the hummers.

I guess he didn't listen to me.

Later in December, I heard the same sound again. And sure enough, there he was -- no, this time two of them, zipping around the garden, searching for something to eat.

I've heard that one shouldn't leave hummingbird feeders out late into the fall, because hummers need to go south while there's still food on the way, and that leaving feeders out encourages them to stay when they shouldn't. I've also heard that they know to go south by day length, not by food availability. And I've heard that in some areas, hummers are hanging about all winter instead of going to Mexico like they should. Whatever the reason, we still have hummers gadding about the garden.

I put the feeder out for them again, but with the cold snap we've been having in the west, it's been freezing solid at night. Then I hit on the idea of hanging the feeder by the flood light on the back deck. The heat from the lamp keeps the feeder from freezing, so there's food available first thing in the morning. For all I know, they may be sipping at night, since the feeder is lighted for them.

Here's a shot of one of the little guys resting in the Douglas-fir tree. Look closely and you can see him. I'm trying to get a picture of one at the feeder, but it's tricky, and my camera keeps focusing on the trees in the background instead of the bird in the foreground.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Winter Wildlife Show

All it takes is a handful of peanuts to start the show.

First the crows hear the familiar sound of peanuts rattling on the frozen pavement, and they start calling, "Food! Food! Mine! Mine!"

Then come the scrub jays, to claim their share:

Western Gray Squirrels, of course, come running for the handouts, and start swarming all over the squirrel feeder:

A couple of shy Steller's Jays, not very common at our low altitude, joined in this morning:

And as always, the show plays to a fully appreciative audience: