Lost My Flying Flower Garden

I regret to have to tell y’all that Bubba (the male painted bunting who spent 11 days at my feeders) has left. His lady is gone, too. The last time I saw him was the day he landed on my windowsill. I guess he wanted to let me know he needed groceries so he could fill up his little bird tank for a trip to someplace else. I miss him! It’s like a whole flower garden is gone; he was so colorful. We’re back to our brownish, grayish with a bit of green winter. I’m not seeing enough cardinals to make up for his absence.

However, there are lots of other birds around here to appreciate. There is a flock of robins who are out in my backyard at this very moment eating Ligustrum seeds. I didn’t know they would do that. I always think of robins and worms, and I never see them on a feeder, so I just assumed they were carnivorous. I guess not. They sure are pretty. Have you ever seen one’s face straight on? I was looking through the binoculars and saw one of them turn his head so that his beak and eyes were what I was seeing. The way his markings are on his eyes and throat, he looked like a cartoon character.

One morning, I opened the blinds to see a Northern Flicker up in a tree on the other side of my neighbors’ house. He is so pretty! And another morning, I saw a pileated woodpecker. We had one of those several years ago who was pecking at his reflection in side mirrors on vehicles in the neighborhood. He broke two of my dad’s mirrors down the street. My cousin (next door) saw it on a truck at his house and said he never would have believed it if he hadn’t seen it himself. That bird even saw his reflection in one of my windows and went after it. I was torn between shooing him away so he wouldn’t break the glass and staring at him in awe. I’d sure never seen a pileated woodpecker from just a few feet away! I guess you know I just watched him. No shooing here.

Everybody I talk to is wondering why we don’t have many goldfinches. The most I’ve seen at once is nine. We have tons of sparrows. I like them but they sure like the expensive food. I got some safflower the other day, so they can eat more black oil sunflower seeds and just a little of the millet. That way the other birds can have something to eat without so much competition at the table.

OH! There is still a lady rufous hummingbird coming to the feeder. She sure is hard to photograph! As soon as I get ready, she flies. Last time it warmed up she sort of disappeared, so I’m glad to still have her during this warm spell we’re having. Shoot, most of this winter has been a warm spell. Birds are singing like it’s spring. I wouldn’t get too comfortable though; I’ve seen snow on roses around here.

ADDENDUM: I just saw the female bunting!! It’s now about 8am on the 21st of January, one day after writing the above post. Maybe Bubba is still out there!! It’s been a week since I’ve seen either one of them. Oh, wow. How cool!

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His Name is Bubba

I learned that Mr. Painted Bunting prefers to be called Bubba. A few days ago, I was sitting at my indoor bird blind (down low behind a table) close to the window waiting for him to show up so I could practice taking video with this new camera. (I’m using the manual to take lessons on how to use it and it was video time.) The daylight was fading away and his colors were going to be muddy if he didn’t hurry up, so I said, “Come on, Bubba!” and there he was within seconds of me calling him.

Yesterday afternoon I didn’t get the millet refilled. Or, the peanuts either, but there was plenty of black oil sunflower seed, thistle and suet and I knew I’d be getting up pretty early this morning, so I didn’t go out in the dark to refill millet and peanuts. This morning at about 7:30 I was in the kitchen when I heard a bird kind of flutter and thump at the window. I figured someone had landed to complain about the breakfast menu. (Sparrows seem to do that most often if there is no seed at all.) When I looked there was Bubba! I was shocked! He was on the windowsill looking inside the house. He has millet now.

I’ve been asked for photos so I’m going to post one even though it’s sort of embarrassing because I know better ones are coming. I’m still using the auto setting, but I have gotten some pretty good shots of sparrows so I know it’s possible on auto. However, this camera (Kodak Easy Share) has a faster speed on manual settings than my Honeywell Pentax that I was given as a graduation gift in 1975, so I know better photos are coming. But just so you can see that this bird is colorful and he’s here…(Addendum: click on the photo for a better look!)

Mr. and Mrs. Painted Bunting

Mr. and Mrs. Painted Bunting

A Painted Bunting in January?

My son saw it first. He came and got me so I could see him. (I was washing hummingbird feeders for the rufous ones we have this winter.) We had a male painted bunting eating Scott Superior Blend Wild Bird Food. It has mostly millet, which is why I bought it and that is what this colorful guy was eating. He’s not supposed to be here right now according to the books. I don’t think some of the birds read the books. I was so excited I moved too fast and too close to the window and scared him away twice, but he came back both times. The third time he landed on the feeder and sat there eating and chirping for five minutes while I made Bird Sighting Phone Calls and watched him. You can see what they look like here. Tomorrow, I hope to get some batteries for my new camera and I hope he comes back so I can get some photos of my own!

ADDENDUM: I’ve learned that a painted bunting on the Gulf Coast in the winter isn’t unheard of. It is rare though.

About Those Hummingbirds…

You know (if you have been reading my bird posts) we have been watching more than one hummingbird at our feeder the past few weeks. Last week, my son who carries binoculars and a bird book in his car, (my other two are what I would call ‘incidental bird watchers’ but this son is deliberate about it) was here to visit for Christmas. He took the window screen off so we could get a better look because we really need to see detail so we will know who we have here. He asked if I was sure that both of the hummingbirds were female rufous hummers. I told him I was wondering about one of them because I’ve noticed the throat is dark-colored, but not orange. (Females have a bit of what my friend likes to call “beading” on their throats, except our female’s throat is pretty much white. It’s rows of teensy tiny spots that go from their chin down the throat just a little ways. The female also has a dark spot below the “beading” that males don’t have. Males have a solid orange throat.) My son said it may be an immature male rufous. He noticed the rufous in front of his(?) wings goes back over his shoulders a little ways, too. This bird is also a little bit smaller than the aggressive one.

A few days later in the week, my friend who has been watching birds for decades and is very good at identifying them, came to take a look. She said it’s possible that my son is right. We will have to watch and see if he(?) changes and begins to look more like the mature male.  So, maybe we will be watching a little boy hummingbird grow up this winter. That would be so cool!

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the female, who is so aggressive she chases off sparrows, has never showed up to chase this bird away when it is feeding. She does chase a hummingbird, but it’s hard for me to tell if it’s this one before it lands, or if it’s a different bird entirely.  I’ll be getting some new batteries for our new camera in a day or two, and I hope to get some photos so I can compare these birds, especially their throats. Then, I want to learn how to put them on here so you can see, too.

One more bird thing – yesterday, I finally saw two goldfinches on the thistle sack at the same time! Won’t be long and there will be a crowd. Winter sure is a great time for watching birds in the Southern US. I hope you are seeing some great things out your windows, too.

Watching the (Almost) Winter Birds

Whoo-hoo! Today there were cedar waxwings in the treetops on the other side of my next door neighbor’s house. I’ve been wanting to see some of those birds for a while now. I usually catch them once a year when they come through. A couple of years or so ago, I saw them twice and I think I missed them last year, so it was really good to catch sight of them today. I think they are the most elegant birds. They were so far away that I couldn’t see their little red spots on their wings, the yellow at the tip of their tail feathers, and I couldn’t see their ‘eye makeup’ either. I could see the crest on their little heads though. It leans back like a fancy hat. I think they are the fashionistas of the bird world. Soft colors, the hat and the eye makeup…understated elegance.

As far as other birds, I’ve seen some interesting ones. One day last week I saw a hermit thrush in the shrubby tree outside the kitchen window. That’s where I have the hummingbird feeder. Well, I had one feeder out until…

On Saturday, I saw two hummingbirds! They were both females and they were fighting over the feeder. They wouldn’t be still so I couldn’t tell if they were both rufous hummingbirds, or if one of them was a ruby-throated who didn’t make the trip south this year. I got all excited and put out another feeder in the backyard, where it was out of sight of the one they both wanted to claim. And since that day I haven’t seen more than one at a time. I was out of town yesterday and just haven’t stopped and stood still long enough to watch the backyard feeder when I’ve been home, so I don’t know if only one bird is still here, or if they are just avoiding each other. I think it would be weird for two rufous hummers to avoid conflict on purpose. I’ve watched the first one who showed up chase sparrows away from her feeder. (They were just sitting in the tree!) I read that they are the most aggressive hummingbirds and I’m inclined to agree.

A couple of days ago, I saw either a house finch or a purple finch. He took off before I could be sure who he was. Usually, I have house finches, but the book doesn’t show them here in the winter. It doesn’t show either of them here in summer, but they’ve been here. I think I’ve had both over the past few years, but I’m sure I’ve had house finches. It does show purple finches here in winter. I don’t know if they have changed their territory or not though. Some birds have moved into different areas the past few years and I’m close to the edges of both birds’ winter territories. Something I’ve started doing is writing down what I see in a blank book that is now my bird book. There shouldn’t be so much confusion in the future; I’m keeping it with my binoculars and my main field guide (I should get the updated version!)  instead of scribbling down names of birds here and there, usually on a calendar that I don’t feel like digging out of storage.

I’ve been watching for goldfinches and so far have only seen one at a time. I put out a bag of thistle this year. I usually let them eat the black oil sunflower seed, but this year I read an article in Birds and Blooms magazine that motivated me to put out thistle so maybe I’ll get a pine siskin. I think maybe the junco that I saw last week may have come for the white millet. I hope so. I put that out there for him.

I’ve also been roasting squash seeds this fall and breaking them up just a bit and adding them to the feeder. I put them on the platform feeder on top of the feeder pole, along with whole raw peanuts for the blue jays.

I don’t know why, but this year we actually have pretty fall colors on our trees in the city. Usually, we have to go to the River to see such pretty colors. I think it’s fun when the leaves fall and we can see the bird and squirrel nests. Leaves are pretty on the ground, too, with the grass peeking through them. Then my next thought is that they make great mulch and I need to go curb crawling and grab a few more bags for the garden. I hope you all are seeing lots of cool birds in your yards.

Rufous Hummingbird!

All right! Two years ago I got it into my head that I wanted a Rufous hummingbird to come to my feeder in the fall and stay for the winter. They do that on the Gulf Coast, although the closest ones I know of have been seen about 10 miles from me (that’s 10 miles as the crow flies, which is important when you’re talking about birds).

Two years ago, I left my hummer feeder out past the Ruby-throated migration in hopes that a rufous would find its way here. I didn’t get a Rufous, but got something totally unexpected. A Buff-bellied hummingbird showed up. Boy, I had no idea what that bird was until I looked him up. That’s when I learned the male and female Buff-bellied hummers look alike.

Last year, I left the feeder out still hoping for a Rufous, but also wanted the Buff-bellied to come back. Mr. or Mrs. Buff-bellied did show up and spent the second winter here. It was really nice, but still no Rufous.

This year, I left the feeder out hoping the Buff-bellied would come back. No Buff-bellied hummer this year, but about a week and a half ago, we saw a hummer at the feeder. It was small and I thought it was a female Ruby-throated straggler who would only be here for a day or two; she was busy doing other things when everyone else left and now she was running way behind. I don’t really know how a person would tell if a bird was old and too weak for the trip, but she looked fine to me.

Then came the surprise! When I was washing dishes and she was feeding, I would be watching her. That is when I noticed a flash of rufous coloring on her sides and tail when she flew. The first few times I saw it, it didn’t really register in my head that this was not normal for a Ruby-throated. After about a week of watching her, it dawned on me that even though she didn’t look like any Rufous I’d seen before, she just might be one. So, I looked in my bird books and that is when I discovered the male and female don’t look alike. What I had seen before were males. I needed one more good look to make sure who this bird is.

Then, along came a cold front. We had rain and a cold north wind and it got down to freezing last night. I read that the Rufous might stay for a week or two and then move on, and I was afraid she would leave if she didn’t like the climate, and I’d never be positive about her identity. Well, she didn’t leave and today the lighting was just right, and I finally got a good look with binoculars at her side, belly and flank and she is a female Rufous! I am so happy! My friend who lives 10 miles away has had them stay all winter, so I expect that as long as she likes the groceries and I can keep them coming, she will hang out with me this winter. I’m so happy.

My Yard During the Drought

It’s been forever since I’ve written about the plants in my yard. We’ve been in a drought, but most of the vegetation in my yard is still alive. The only thing we’ve lost, really, is some St. Augustine grass. Unless it’s been watered, everyone I know has lost St. Augustine grass. Normally, we get enough rain for it, but when we don’t, it dies, and we haven’t seen “normal” very often the past few years. Our weather has been crazy.

From my studio windows I can see two trees at the edge of the woods that look like they have died and one that may be dying. The two that look dead may only be dormant. I’ve learned that some of the trees are going dormant because of the lack of rain; I guess we’ll know next spring what we have left around here. The third tree has severe hurricane damage, and what is left doesn’t look so great having just a few leaves.

The only ornamental plant in my yard that I have watered is one azalea bush. And I’m not real good at remembering to water it, so it’s been stressed pretty often. Poor thing would have droopy leaves before I’d notice it was in trouble. If plants could talk, this thing could give me a holler and it would definitely get better care!

Just a few feet from the azalea is a lipstick plant. It should have bloomed months ago, but it didn’t. It was staying alive, so I left it alone. Water isn’t free, and even in Southeast Texas where we have lots of it we could end up rationing, so I’ve tried to be careful all year. Well, this fall we’ve had a little bit of rain here and there, and now the lipstick plant must think it’s spring. It has shot up taller than I am and it’s blooming.

What is really weird is our mock orange shrub. Part of it looks like it normally does in November with leaves turning a sort of yellowish brownish, and getting ready to drop. Part of it looks like it’s dead from lack of water, part of it has small new leaves, and part of it is blooming. I have never ever seen mock orange bloom in the fall! Technically, it’s not one plant, but several all growing in a clump. The clump all gets the same light, water, temperature, and wind exposure and everything. Yeah, that’s weird.

Then I have these other plants. Like the Canna lilies that are supposed to be miniature that grow by my front porch. I planted them there because the lady who gave them to me said they wouldn’t get any taller than they were in her yard, which is how tall they were in her mother in law’s yard. I thought, “How cute! They are about two and a half feet tall and they will look great next to the porch by the sidewalk.”  How about seven feet tall next to the porch by the sidewalk? With great big leaves? I have to cut some of them down every now and then just so we can walk past them without brushing up against them. That’s a good way to get a lizard on you.

Another plant that I have to cut back so we can get in and out of our house is the Turk’s cap. I go out there every few days, and whack it back and it just grows and grows. It’s been great for hummingbirds. They love the bright red blooms.  The butterflies like it, too.

And, oh, the Amaryllis! I have some pink ones and some white ones that have been growing like crazy. The red ones have been run over by the white ones. Back in the spring, before it got so hot outside that a person couldn’t even think out there, I fixed a border around the Amaryllis. (I’m still working on the front of it. I ran into a bunch of rocks in the ground.) I also mulched so my husband wouldn’t have to try to weed eat and mow around them and between them and the house. Either they like the mulch, or they saw the brick border as a challenge. It looks to me like they have made a run for the border! The white ones have grown taller than I am.  A few days ago I dug up some white ones and pink ones and gave them away. I need to do some more of that. My daughter in law said I need a whip and a chair to tame the Cannas, the Turk’s cap and the Amaryllis plants. She said she loves how things in my yard grow. She said it’s like they all just say, “I am Plant!” very forcefully. And then they grow! Really big!

One more thing about the yard and the drought. Mosquitoes. It seems like every time we get a sprinkling of rain, which is about all we are getting, the mosquito population explodes. I can’t even go outside to pick up black walnuts without three or four mosquitoes at once landing on me. What I wonder is where are the mosquito hawks? Well, that’s what we call dragonflies. Those guys can eat a ton of mosquitoes! They can eat 100 of them in 30 minutes. I haven’t seen any in a few months. I wonder if when it was dry and there weren’t many mosquitoes, the mosquito hawks all went someplace else? I hope this next cold front knocks out a bunch of mosquitoes. I sure have a lot of work to do out there!