Sunflowers & Jewelweed

Yesterday, it rained. With the rain came cool, soft air with a strong hint of fall. Joe and I thought it was a bit like Vancouver weather–grey, misty, mysterious. It was the perfect weather for soup, and the restaurant where we were dining served up an amazing bowl of ramen noodle soup. Joe is going to make it at home–his own version, of course, which is never the same twice but always wonderful.

Today, the sun, heat, and humidity have returned, and soup of any kind no longer sounds good. A cool beer on the back patio is what is required today.

Now, at the tail-end of August, our willow-leaved sunflower is beginning to bloom.

This tall, gangly, narrow-leaved prairie plant spends the entire summer growing taller and taller, outdoing the common milkweed and the other sunflowers. It really looks like some alien life form, reaching out to catch something… anything…Most likely, it’s simply reaching for sunlight. Over the years, our trees have grown, and more and more of the flower beds are shady for a good part of the day. Every year, the garden is a little bit different.

For instance, we have jewelweed in the back corner garden for the first time this year. It arrived and grew on its own, as many interesting plants do, and now, in late summer, it is full of small dark-orange flowers that the hummingbirds love. Today, there have been three or four of these helicopter-like birds buzzing up and down, left and right, forward and back, throughout the patch, stopping briefly in front of each flower to gather some refreshment. Often, a bit of a fight breaks out as the pressure is on to bulk up before the long flight south.

We’ve also had the stunning goldfinch stop by the sunflowers and the zinnias. When he sits on the willow-leaved sunflower, he seems to be just another yellow and black bloom, swaying gently in the breeze. You have to look twice to notice him.

There’s a lot of eating going on out in the garden these days, and I hope there will be some seeds left for us to gather… but I think we have enough to share.

By this point in the summer, our cardinals are raising their last set of young. I can hear them chittering and cheeping each morning in the neighbor’s arbor vitae, which seems to be their favorite nesting place. The parents make good use of our nearby vegetable garden, scouring the tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplants for caterpillars to take back to the nest.

We won’t see the young cardinals for another few weeks; cardinal parents are very cautious. But, their energetic squeaking and the quick rustle and shaking of leaves lets us follow them as they venture away from the nest. Soon, they will appear alongside their parents on the garden fence, making their first attempts at finding their own caterpillars. ūüźõ

Bright New Year

January 1, 2017 – Looking out the kitchen window this morning, our sunny thermometer reads¬†44¬įF, but I don’t believe it. A quick check of the NWS website confirms my suspicions… it’s only 28¬įF. Still, that’s not too bad for early January. I repeat that to myself as I put on my barn coat and head for the garage. The coffee’s brewing, but I’ve found that I can’t really enjoy my morning cup until the birds have been fed. Silly, really, because the birds would do just fine without me. Nevertheless, I scoop out some peanuts for the bluejays, cardinals, and titmice and fill up the peanut feeder. Then it’s two more trips from the garage to the back fence with sunflower seed to fill up the feeders for the sparrows, the wrens, and the chickadees. These birds are our “regulars,” although we occasionally see a nuthatch and the red-bellied and downy woodpeckers. Of course, the grey squirrels just eat anywhere and everywhere–we’ve long since stopped trying to “squirrel-proof” the feeders. They’re all welcome here.

Looking out the back sunroom windows

Back in the house, I find a comfortable spot in the sunroom with my coffee, a blanket, and Samson. With everybody fed (including Samson), I can now watch the backyard wildlife activity essentially guilt-free.

The small, fluffy brown sparrows are at the feeders almost before I get back in the house. They benefit from the thick wall of English ivy growing in the back corner of the yard–perfect shelter and almost-perfect cover from the hawks and cats. The ivy leaves rustle and the vine tendrils flap¬†as the sparrows zip in and out with their seeds.

Lush English ivy provides good cover for small birds…
…but the hawk is always watching nearby.

Closer to the house, the peanut feeder provides some really amazing viewing. The blue jays glide in from the nearby power lines like feathered jet aircraft on final approach, announcing  their intent to land with a startling hawk-like cry. They are the most adept at piercing and extracting peanuts still in the shell, usually arriving and leaving before I can grab my camera.

The cardinal and the titmouse are less skillful, yet incredibly determined… and this persistence pays off. If, after a bit of tug-of-war, they can fly off with a peanut in the shell–great! That seems to be the preferred method, and you can’t blame them for wanting a bit of privacy while eating breakfast.

Peanut tug-of-war

However, sometimes things don’t go as planned,¬†and they wind up just pecking through the shell and eating the peanuts at the feeder. Either way, a meal¬†is achieved.

The squirrels just go for brute force, often destroying the feeder in the process. We’ve found that the wire (heavy wire) feeders last the longest, but often need some modification. Joe had to fasten this feeder’s top more securely to prevent the squirrels just dumping the contents all out at once. Now, they still manage to empty it in record time, but at least the other birds have a chance to get their fair share, too! But they have to be quick…

dscn1179                   dscn1206

We got three cute seed cakes from my brother for Christmas, each shaped like an owl’s head. Joe attached one of them to the bottom of the bird feeder. Here’s a sweet titmouse grabbing a quick bite:


This lasted only a day before we found the seed cake head in pieces on the ground… we suspect squirrels. Seed cake head #2 is hanging from the corner of the shed roof. So far, it has survived about a week. Perhaps the squirrels don’t like the¬†slippery shed roof. As long as there’s easier and tastier pickings elsewhere, we may never know… but squirrels usually find a way.