Category Archives: Backyard

Fawn | Hiding in Plain Sight

I stepped out the front door to see if anything was going on in the cul-de-sac. A slight motion caught my eye in front of the house across the way. I watched for a few moments. It was there in the bushes and plantings.

I went back into the house for my camera with a long zoom lens. The fawn rested quietly in the shade. The doe was nowhere to be seen. It remained there several hours. During the first 4 weeks, a fawn is commonly left in grassy protected areas while the doe forages.

The people who live there came home, opened the garage door, drove the car inside, and closed the door. The fawn didn’t budge. It was gone the next morning.

Monarchs and Milkweeds

In the summer of 2015 I transplanted some local varieties of milkweed to a small patch in my garden next to the rain barrel. They were shocked by being dug up. I watered and they survived. In the summer of 2016 they all came up looking healthy. I was hopeful for visits by Monarch butterflies. I never saw evidence of any. If you aren’t familiar with milkweed, this link will help. When damaged, they bleed a white sap.

This year in 2017 the plants are nearly 6 ft tall and strong. I put a 4 ft tall piece of fencing around them so they wouldn’t blow over. This picture shows them in the center in full bloom. The second picture shows their flowered tops.

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Praying Mantis | Babies Hatch

A spirea bush in front of the house had two praying mantis egg cases attached to twigs. We first noticed them last fall. Each warm day this spring we checked to see if the young were hatching. It finally happened. They were about 1 cm (<1/2 in) long. They sat for a while to dry and firm up their exoskeleton.

Soon after that they scurried along the twigs and leaves for cover. This one stopped long enough to look back at us before it disappeared. More about the mantis in an earlier post when one of last year’s brood looked into our front window.

Birdsong

by Melanie and Jim

We’re fortunate to have an extensive paved trail system in our area. The trails connect with broad sidewalks in many places, giving both safe recreation and transportation space for walkers, runners, and bikers.

This morning we went for a walk in our neighborhood, looping away from our house to the west, then northward around a pond, and back in on a deer trail behind the house. The birds make a joyful noise this time of year, attracting mates and defending nests. Redwinged blackbirds trill, wrens chatter, and the red-bellied woodpecker repeats its hoarse, cough-like call.  We hear birds we can’t see, and even the birds we see, we can’t always identify.

Today’s first notable bird-spotting was a male Eastern Bluebird. They like areas that are mostly open. It was perched on a small tree, but it flew away before Jim could capture it with the camera. Beyond that, above the tall trees, floated a red-tailed hawk.

Jim especially hoped to photograph a meadowlark today. We often see them in the grassy areas, but they don’t stay still very long for photos. Instead we saw a speckled bird (little brown jobbie?) a bit smaller than a robin. Any ideas for identifying this one?

On the way back toward the house in an area more thickly wooded, we both heard a mystery-bird. High in the trees, we couldn’t see it. We kept moving toward the sound until we found the correct tree. The song tripped my memory and I said, “It’s an oriole.” Why I was so certain, I don’t know, as we don’t enjoy orioles around here much. But that gave us a color to look for. The bright orange of these birds would make it easier to spot. Finally Jim saw it and was able to get a couple of good photos. Handsome fellow, isn’t it?

I remember long ago hearing a radio talk show. The hosts were visiting with a caller who talked about birding outings, and how they sometimes would have blind people join their group. The radio hosts were surprised that blind people could identify birds. In fact, often the call is the easiest way to “spot” them.

One last note, if you aren’t aware of the great website All About Birds, you should take a look. It’s like having the best bird book ever, including audio recordings to boot.

Backyard | Raccoon Vandals

We have a bird feeder hanging in the back several feet from any trees. It weighs several pounds due to batteries and a motor that spins the perch if squirrels get on it. It is hung from a rope about 3 meters above the ground by a sturdy carabiner clip.

This morning the feeder was lying on the ground. This is the second time it has happened. The only way to unhook it is to grip the spring clip on the carabiner and lift the feeder support wire out of it. You need hands with a strong grip to do that. We suspect raccoons are the culprit.

… And An Old Friend

by Melanie and Jim

One morning in February we had an unexpected visitor. A great horned owl perched behind our house, fending off harassing crows with its dignified, quiet pose. Though we’ve lived in this house for almost 15 years, we’d never known a great horned to stop here before.

As excited as we were, we also were a bit concerned. I’d read that great horned owls and barred owls don’t share habitat. If the great horned was here, did that mean we’d no longer welcome our old friends, the barred owls? There was no need for concern. The next day, the great horned owl was nowhere to be seen. Within a couple of days, we heard barred owls in the woods again.

On March 2 I opened the garage door to ready trash for pickup. As I did so, I heard a barred owl. It was close and sounded like it was across the street. I stepped out into the cool morning air, sky brightening but still dark before sunrise. The owl loudly called again as I searched for it, and I realized it was behind the house rather than in front. The echo had fooled me. I hurried to the side yard in time to see one land in the neighbor’s tree.

I ran in to tell Jim, and he was able to see it, too, through the window. Well, no need to worry about the great horned owls chasing the barreds out of the neighborhood. We had one a few feet from our house.

The bigger treat came later that day, as the sun was low in the sky. A bird called again, just behind the house. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?” came the characteristic hoot. (Listen to the recordings at All About Birds. Check the “Various hoots” first.)

We looked in the direction of the call. There on a branch, about 30 feet from the house, was this beautiful bird.

Barred Owl. Iowa, March 2, 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Jim also got a few seconds of video.

Since then we’ve heard these wonderful birds nearby several times. We’re fortunate to share our yard and close green space with them, and with the occasional unexpected visitor.