Birds and Wildlife


Housefinch

The house finches don’t seem to want to be too predictable with their first mating song (that I hear, anyway). A few years, they’ve been early enough that I started to wonder if the “first” song of the year/season would start happening in late December of the previous year. But nothing like that happened this year!

It all seems to come down to weather. If we have big stretches of warm, sunny weather in late December and early January, I hear the song earlier. More traditional winter weather, and it is later. And I make a point of getting out often, so it doesn’t just come down to my not being outside as often in “real” winter weather. 

So this year, the winning date for first full house finch song is

Jan 28! (The latest date since I started keeping records!)

Here are my results from past years:

2015: Jan 23

2014: Jan 2

2013: Jan 17

2012: Jan 3

2011: Jan 3

2010: Jan 19

2009: Jan 12

2008: Jan 8

2007: Jan 15

2006: Jan 15

2005: Jan 23

housefinch.jpg

 

Wow – I was starting to worry the house finches were taking this year off from mating season! Every year, I ponder what the factors affect how early I hear them start singing their mating song. I know day length has to be part of it, but other factors must come into play as well. 

Over the past many years, they’ve been getting earlier, especially during years when early January is quite warm and sunny. This year, we’ve had some long GRAY stretches, along with occasionally  very VERY cold temperatures. I don’t know if these are actual factors, or if they just affected how often I was outside to be listening.

So this year is the first one I can remember in which I had to start actively listening for them (most years, they surprise me while I’m out on a walk or run – “Oh right! The first house finch song!”) But this year, there were several instances when I stood out on the deck listening hard, or stopped between the car and the house on a sunny day, just SURE I’d hear one of them singing. Occasionally, I’d hear a house finch to a note or two, kind of like he was warming up, but then….nothing. Finally, on a morning jog, one of them surprised me just as I was about to enter Monument Valley Park. He sang one full song, and that was it. Glad I caught it! Three days later, in the same spot, more than one was singing and they were doing multiple verses.

So this year, the winning date for first full house finch song is

Jan 23! (It was ten years ago that I heard one this late!)

Here are my results from the past several years:

2014: Jan 2

2013: Jan 17

2012: Jan 3

2011: Jan 3

2010: Jan 19

2009: Jan 12

2008: Jan 8

2007: Jan 15

2006: Jan 15

2005: Jan 23

Squirreltomato2

I laughed when doing a search on “squirrel” on this blog and finding several posts that began with “Sigh….”. Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the little buggers. Most of the time, we get along fine, and I enjoy having them as part of the community that lives around my house. They provide quite a bit of entertainment. But there are two times when our relationship becomes a bit strained (when you just might overhear me calling them….well…uncomplimentary names): (1) When attempting to plant a large number of bulbs in the fall, and (2) when the tomato plants have a decent number of sizable fruit on them. 

As for the bulb issue (see Bulb Battle with the Squirrels – Part 2 and Part 3), I’ve given up on the idea of an early season bulb lawn in the buffalograss for a variety of reasons. So now I only plant smaller quantity of bulbs, and when I do, I paint them with a liquid repellent and dump cayenne in the holes for good measure. This seems to do the trick!

Now on to the tomatoes…I cannot imagine ever giving up on having tomatoes in my vegetable garden. I’ve worked hard over the years to hone my tomato growing skills. But when the squirrels decided they liked trying the tomatoes, I was in trouble. In the early years, they might just try a red one and leave it near the garden with a bite out of it. I hoped that meant they were learning they didn’t like tomatoes, but no. So I started picking the tomatoes as soon as they started to blush. This was good enough for a bit. But apparently the squirrels started really acquiring a taste for my tomatoes. By the time we got to last year’s garden, in addition to red ones, they were picking hard green small tomatoes and eating most of those too. 

(more…)

housefinch.jpgThe house finches are back to being early birds this year. I headed out for one of my routine jogs and when I was in a nearby park, I realized that I was hearing finches twittering a bit. At first I heard just parts of songs (I only count the first FULL mating song that I hear), but I stopped and found the flock hanging out in a nearby shrub. One bird took off and landed at the top of a spruce tree, and I thought “Ah, he is going to be the one…” And sure enough, a moment later, he belted out the full house finch mating song!

So this year, the winning date is

Jan 2! (This is the earliest I’ve heard one so far.)

Here are my results from the past few years:

2013: Jan 17

2012: Jan 3

2011: Jan 3

2010: Jan 19

2009: Jan 12

2008: Jan 8

2007: Jan 15

2006: Jan 15

2005: Jan 23

housefinch.jpgThis year, the house finches were a little more reluctant to get started on the singing. (The chickadees have been singing their song for about two weeks already.) I’m sure day-length is one of their triggers, but given conditions this year, I would also guess that temperatures also play a part. We’ve had a couple of very cold spells this January, but this week we warmed back up into the mid-50’s. And surprise, surprise – within a day of the warm up, I heard the first finch singing to me as I dragged my trashcans up the driveway from the curb.

This year, the winning date is

Jan 17!

Here are my results from the past few years:

2012: Jan 3

2011: Jan 3

2010: Jan 19

2009: Jan 12

2008: Jan 8

2007: Jan 15

2006: Jan 15

2005: Jan 23

argiope1.jpgAfter noticing that another cat-face spider had set up hunting grounds in our garden this year (we saw our first one four years ago, and I chronicled its visit here), I realized I’d never shared another nifty arachnid who visited in late summer/early fall two years ago (we seem to have an every-two-year cycle going here).

Meet our black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia), also known as “Spidey” (as every spider in our garden is destined to be named). She was BIG – like a good two inches across. And she, like the cat-face spider, was a member of the family Araneidae, the “orb weavers” of the spider world. (more…)

We Start a Few More Seeds and the Mystery is Solved!

It came time to start the second round of seed varieties – this time, quite a few tomato and eggplant varieties. I was on more familiar ground now. I had often started these same plants at home! Once again, I got a few other volunteers to come help and we got another bunch of seeds potted up. Spring was warming up a bit, and we nearly always have sun here, so I committed to checking in daily.

greenhouse8.jpgThese seedlings were quite a bit larger than the osteospermum when they first came up, but they didn’t seem to be coming up in the numbers I expected them to. And sure enough, they didn’t get much larger, and after awhile, it seemed they’d disappeared. I was panicking a bit….reading up on damping off disease, something I knew was supposed to be a problem in greenhouse culture. But I wasn’t seeing the pinching at the bottom of the seedlings. I wasn’t seeing…well anything! But I diligently stopped by each day to water and and encourage the little seeds.

I had extras of the tomato and eggplant seeds, so I asked a few volunteers to help me replant. We dumped the old six pot soil into bins and then redistributed the soil before planting the new seeds (we were very careful to only use “old” soil from the same varieties to plant the new seeds…just in case!). (more…)

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