Bobbie’s (Tucson) Back Yard
Snowbird - 1. A widespread and variable junco with gray or brown upper parts and a white belly. To me, this eastern bird looks like it landed in a puddle of white paint. 2. A northerner who moves to a warmer southern state in the winter. This is the most prominent bird I see this month.
Here I am in sunny Tucson for a month. I always wondered if I would like being a snowbird so this is my experiment. It was a long drive. I’m not as habituated to these trips as Shari, Darlene, Sandy, Patty and other PAGC gypsies. Luna Dog, Moxie Cat, and I squeezed everything we thought we couldn’t do without into the Subaru and we were on the road. In Washington and Oregon, we got the rain and wind from the storm that was predicted soaking my clothes in the roof carrier. In California, those clothes cooked while I found out that the A/C repair done in PA was not successful. Coming into Joshua Tree it was 95 degrees making us all sweat and drool. There weren’t a lot of birds to see on I-5 or I-10, just a few raptors. Maybe vultures.
If I were not too hot to get out of the car, I would have seen 2 PAGC travelers in Joshua Tree on a tour of National Parks. We were there at exactly the same time as Beth and Darlene. Instead, I saw rocks that looked like bread dough and a strong showing of crows. (We did have a kit fox come through our camp site in the night. Luna said so.)
In Arizona, my eyes were on the road instead of the sky except for the glorious sunsets. Now in my little house in the large RV resort, birding seems fruitless. I’m permitted to have one bird feeder and one hummingbird feeder. There are 13 different hummingbird species here, but the main four are Anna’s (yes, our Anna’s), Costa’s, Broad-Billed, and Black-Chinned Hummingbird. The Anna’s is year-round in Tucson, too. Since I brought my feeder, maybe some will visit me.
However, BUTTERFLIES are abundant. The Painted Lady like we have at home is quite busy in the Arizona flowers even now in November. But most noticeable are the Cloudless Yellow Sulphurs! As a kaleidoscope (that is the official term for a bunch of butterflies) of them come your way, you have a tendency to run or at least duck. Arizona hosts almost every species of yellow butterfly.
There are a total of at least 54 species of Arizona Butterflies. (Washington has 160+) All butterflies do better after the Arizona monsoons because the landscape becomes greener so there is more food for the caterpillars (not always a good thing for gardeners and farmers) and the mostly slumping number of butterflies increases. Can you imagine seeing 400 in two hours?! That’s what the count was in the botanical garden of Tohono Chul in August this year.
Have you heard of the Butterfly Wranglers? They will release hundreds of hand - reared Monarchs from Yakima’s Washington State Penitentiary this year. In cooperation with Washington State University, this group is tagging their releases to see where they will land next. Most will be going to California, but some will go further north and that is what the Wranglers want to see, how far north will they go. We don’t really have the right milkweed growing naturally in our region, so we are unlikely to see any tagged Monarchs, but who knows?
I am hoping to see more kaleidoscopes of yellow butterflies in my Tucson backyard because in most cultures they mean good luck and prosperity. I could use a bit of each. And I wish both to you all.
Bobbie’s Back Yard – October 2021
Yikes! If you heard Dee and Emily talk about the effects of the heat wave and climate change to come, you know it is time to think ahead. Normally we would be thumbing through the seed and bulb catalogs soon just for the fun of it. I suggest that this year, we do it to be forward thinking and preparing for the warmer, drier times ahead, as well as the winter we can’t really predict.
You might start browsing in the native plant category since most of them know how to deal with surprise weather. I was so frustrated, as I know many of you were, when we were told to take down our feeders due to disease hitting the finch populations. We had just been all pleased with the number of pine siskins at our feeders when we found that they were the group carrying the disease. Dutifully, I removed my feeders and suet and plopped down at the kitchen table expecting nothing to happen outside. Holy moly, was I happily surprised! Since a few years ago, I focused on creating a bird garden which needed particular plants for food, shelter, and prey. The National Wildlife Dept and the Xerxes Society had great guides as I was determining what to add to my existing garden. Therefore, when I took down the feeders, the other plants, especially the selected native plants and a bath with a dripper provided a habitat to keep the birds coming to my yard without the McFeeders. As we plan for a warmer, dryer climate, we need to think ahead and provide what not just the birds, but all pollinators and wild life will need.
Another thing to be thoughtful about is migration. Some of our backyard visitors will be stocking up for a long trek to their wintering spots. They will be burning lots of calories and who knows what the weather will bring for them to navigate through so they are going to be eating heartily before they leave. On the other hand, some will be coming down from their cooler sites where they have avoided some of the heat this summer and they will be looking for feeding areas where it is warmer than Canada, the Arctic or just higher elevations. Both groups will need lots of food and shelter and water to keep them safe and healthy for whatever is next for them.
A little aside here, I hope you have had a chance to see the trumpeter swans that flock to the fields near Sequim from January to March. To prove that things change, in 2008 birders rarely saw huge flocks come to our area, but each year the number has been increasing to over 180 counted, but in recent years the numbers have increased up to over 250. Just ask at Nash’s farm. They need open space, wetland and food. Call the Audubon Center this winter for where to find them. Few people in the past had to run out in their jammies and boots to brush the snow off the humming bird feeders until lately. This is another big change. If you are a newcomer, don’t stop feeding the Anna’s because they are going to stay with us all year. (Maybe we can make them little scarves.)
Many of our smaller pollinators will also fly south on their long migration route, yet many will stay. They will be hiding in one of their developmental stages ,chrysalis, adult, larva, pupae, so we need to be thinking of them. Most of us are well trained to put the garden to bed about now. However, those tall hollow plant stems, leaf litter, brush piles, mud holes will be providing shelter for the queen bumble bee, leaf cutter bees, ants, toads and frogs. The bird houses that are now empty can be turned upside down and with a little straw and a perch inside can be turned into shelters for chickadees and other small birds in a winter storm. When the male Mason bees get kicked out of their cocoons in early spring, they are going to need something to eat. What will be blooming in your yard in April? How far away will they need to go to get it? Will the mourning cloak, the comma and question mark butterflies, the swallowtails and fritillary have leaves to roll up in, or bark to slide within.
Yes, we can cozy up on the sofa and dream of summer flowers, but don’t forget about the critters who help bring those beautiful flowers about. They are either vacationing in the south or wintering over with us. Chose native plants, nectar and shelter sources to help them deal with our changing climate. Think ahead.
Excuse me, but I need to go sit in the sun with my binoculars and see what there is to entertain me today.
The Great Pollinator Project
August 2021 Looking Back
The highlight of my summer was watching fledgling sparrows in my yard. You know, with Covid, we learn to appreciate the small things. I was just forlorn when we were told to remove our bird feeders due to an outbreak of disease especially among finches. Since I only have usually three resident hummers, I took the risk of leaving my hummingbird feeders up. I have native plants and nectar plants, so I still had some avian visitors. I started focusing more on my Mason Bees, which had a bumper year! And I always love watching the bumble bees. They are not shy nor threatening. Life wasn’t completely boring.
Then the word came out that we could put our feeders back up but not to fill them with more seed than could be eaten in a day and to be scrupulous cleaners. Yay!! It took a while before my chickadees remembered me, but they and a few finches returned. In their absence, the house sparrows claimed the berry bush and my backyard as home. Many bird lovers would be disappointed with nothing but house sparrows! Again, I learned to enjoy what I had and am now completely entertained by the fledglings. They behave just like any brood of siblings. They vied for a special sitting spot, they aggravated and teased each other, they chased each other away from a food source, they competed for dad’s delivery of baby food. There was always a shy one and one who always seemed to be saying, “Hey, guys, watch this!” Then it was time to learn to take off and dock on the globe - shaped feeder while dad fed the younger siblings. This was a feat that had a steep learning curve. Some got very good at hovering, but not so good at getting their feet down for hanging on with head inside feeder while picking out just the right seed.
The real fun started when I put up the dripper! Thanks to our friend Karen Coles’ yard sale, I finally found what I wanted to create moving water for the birds. I had a bird bath. I even used a gift certificate for Wild Birds to buy a wiggler. Somehow, that just wasn’t successful. I also had tried the milk jug with a pin hole to allow water to drip into the bath, but I could never get the hole just the right size for the drip rate I wanted. But Karen’s dripper, perfect! With just the tiniest bit of water flow from my hose, the drip called out to all around, especially the fledglings. “Look, guys, a swimming pool!” And the jostling and antics began. Some preferred the shower that inevitably sprays from the poor connection between the dripper and hose. They would hop and sputter and splash. I watched one shower up, jump to a flower leaf, wiggle and shake then hop over to the hose and shimmy sideways on it, back and forth. Oh, how I wish I had some techie skills to put music to the little video I took of it.
I’ve always kept water in the ant moat that hangs over the hummingbird feeders. Last year I had a chickadee that bathed in one. This year I haven’t had problems with ants in the feeders so I just hung two of the moats in the willow tree and am entertained by the bathing chickadees and the nuthatch that comes to drink out of them.
In that incredible heat-wave we had – oh there are two sparrows drinking out of the ant moat now. Having my computer facing the windows to the backyard is good and it is bad. I get to watch the birds almost constantly while I research, type, zoom. Yeah, when my real face disappears and my picture shows up at a zoom meeting, it is a sure sign that I have the binoculars up to watch what is going on – oh, there is the nuthatch taking a drink – what was I saying? Oh, there is a slow learner out there perched on the herb garden gate wanting to eat from the feeder. Every time he lifts off to go for the feeder, one of his buddies cuts him off. He and one brother were the only ones trying to eat, but now there are 8 of them huddled on the gate. They must have been watching the hummers, don’t let anybody eat! The younger ones, likely the second brood or so, don’t have very long tails which probably makes it hard for them to maneuver as well as their older competitors.
Oh, yes, in a heat-wave, there is nothing you can do better than provide critters with water. There are a few requirements for a successful birdbath to make it safe for the birds and other pollinators; bees get thirsty, too. There should be a slope in the floor of the bath so there are varying levels of water. If your container, which could be a pie pan or fancy bird bath, doesn’t already provide a slope, you can create one by adding a few rocks. This also helps the bees who might drink a little too much or get too wet and need a place to dry off before they can fly away. The floor of the container shouldn’t be too slippery. Who likes a slippery bathtub?! It must be kept clean. Birds are not tidy about their bathroom habits. You know, like your cousin who pees in the pool? If you have a lot of visitors to the water source, provide more than one. Birds will be more interested if you have moving water. Get creative. It doesn’t have to be fancy shmancy. The birds won’t care. If you really want to help the birds and increase the bird activity in your yard, add water.
Well, as much as I’m enjoying these house sparrows, I am wondering if my gold crown sparrows, house finches, juncos, towhees, flickers, hairy woodpeckers, and varied thrush will be back as the season changes. It is about that time. We will see.