Category Archives: Backyard

Great Horned Owl Visiting Again

In February we told the story of a great horned owl visiting our backyard. Before that day, we never saw or heard one in our yard. Today we had the privilege of a second visit.

This time it perched on a lower branch than before, and Jim was able to get some terrific shots.

Great Horned Owl. Eastern Iowa. 11/15/2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Click on any picture below to embiggen.

And here is a short video to show a bit of personality.

We watched it as a cat roamed through our yard beneath it. The cat was lucky the owl wasn’t ready for dinner. Later a squirrel grazed under the bird feeder and similarly escaped a violent death.

It was quite a treat to see this beautiful bird.

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Squirrels & Feeders

Some of us choose to do battle with our local squirrels at the bird feeders. I confess to being one of them. Both humans and squirrels are creative. The challenge of foiling the squirrels is one I accept and enjoy. They usually win.

Several years ago our daughter bought a feeder for us that was supposed to be guaranteed squirrel-proof. It has a motorized perch for the birds. If a squirrel gets on it, their weight causes it to spin rapidly throwing them off. The Yankee Flipper did a good job. We were entertained for a few days as squirrels hopped on and were flipped off. This video shows one of our locals giving it a ride.

They soon quit trying. Then it became just another feeder. And, last year the rechargeable batteries quit holding charge for long. They only lasted a couple of days. That really emboldened the squirrels. Most of them went out on the rope and hung their bodies down from the wire bracket by their hind feet and ate leisurely. I needed some way to make the bracket impossible to grip. The local Goodwill store had a plastic bowl the right size. I put it in place as you see in this video. It seems to work well. Their bodies are not quite long enough.

There is still the batteries problem. I need to buy a replacement part for the spinner. It is fun to see the squirrels who are passing through and are unfamiliar with the spinner. They get a few rides and then quit. The locals know better. On YouTube are several videos posted by people with the same spinner. One in particular made me watch in amazement. This guy hung on for over 2 minutes. The owners said it wasn’t harmed. It got up and ran in a straight line down the drive. Are squirrels not subject to getting dizzy?

Snakes on a … Sidewalk!

by Melanie and Jim

Most snakes in Iowa are pretty harmless, not scary like snakes on a plane. The ones we see most often are non-venomous and pretty amusing. They are Brown Snakes, and they typically measure from 13-18″ long. Most we see in our neighborhood are smaller than that, with lengths from about 8-12″.

Yesterday’s first snake sighting was on the paved trail behind our house. We had just left the house for a short walk when we happened on the snake, stretched almost its full length across the trail. We estimated it was about a foot long, maybe slightly more. There was some dappled sunlight warming the little thing. They seem to appear in early fall. They like areas with water and some woodland border, making our neighborhood the perfect habitat.

Jim ran back to the house to get a camera while Melanie stood guard. Two women came along and admired it while we waited. They said there were other snakes that were much smaller farther along. And then one of the women hopped a little and pointed to two more snakes at the edge of the sidewalk. A bicyclist rode by, and we directed him to the side so he wouldn’t run over the small monster.

Finally Jim came back, camera in hand.

Slightly out of focus, its tongue is flicking at high speed.

Great picture of its markings, including the top of its head.

With no sense of scale, you might think this is large and ferocious!

A few seconds of video, with Melanie’s finger to show how tiny it is.

After that encounter, and noting the two other snakes at the edge of the sidewalk, we didn’t see any more for most of our walk. Shortly before getting home, Melanie saw another skedaddle into the grass. It was a larger, longer snake and moved very quickly. It moved too fast to get a good look at it, but because of its larger size, we guess it may have been a garter snake.

Snakes are always fun to see around here, partly because we know they are harmless if not bothered. Do you encounter snakes where you live?

Vespidae | Everyone Has To Eat

I spotted these on the trail as I returned from a walk this morning. According to Bugguide, they are Eastern Yellow Jackets Vespula maculifrons. They were feeding on something moist and fleshy I could not identify. It has been exceptionally dry here in eastern Iowa since mid-August. Yellow Jackets are found near anything with moisture.

They didn’t mind that I got within a few centimeters to record some video of their activity. Sort of gruesome. But, as Melanie says “Everyone has to eat.”

Backyard | Visitors Welcome

Frequent visits lately of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds and Black Capped Chickadees to the backyard feeders. My records show the last hummingbird sighting is in the final week of September for my eastern Iowa location. Chicadees stay all year long.

The video has been slowed to 70% for the hummingbird and 50% for the chickadee in order to view them more easily. Enjoy.

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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