Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Report from the Yard

We share our home in the warm seasons with a small flock of brown headed cowbirds. They appear every spring just about the time the juncos leave and are a sure sign that winter is at an end. They eat bugs as well as seeds from the feeders we keep around the place. Lately, they have been pairing off with the black bodied and brown headed males strutting and fluffing their wings at the drab brownish females.

These birds used to be known as buffalo birds because they were first observed following herds of bison on the Great Plains. With human settlement and deforestation, their range has expanded over the years to both coasts of North America. Where we live, the cowbirds appear to conform to ordinary migration patterns of other migratory species, although I have no idea where they spend winter. In any event, while in Stormville they don’t follow any herds of ruminants even though a herd of belted Galloway cattle is located conveniently about a mile to the north of us.

The cowbirds evolved a breeding strategy that took into account their pastoral lifestyle. They didn’t stay in the same place long, so they took to laying their eggs in the nests of other birds much like cuckoos do. I worry a little that they will have an impact on the other songbirds around my house by laying eggs in their nests, but this has not been the case in the 3 years we have been in this house. Will the cowbirds on the coasts evolve to tend their own nests now that they stay put all season?

Meanwhile, our other principal harbingers of spring, the hummingbirds, have been making themselves scarce the past week and visit the feeder very infrequently. We see them around the property more than we see them on the feeder. I hope we have not offended them with Mrs Vache Folle’s frugality inspired home made nectar. There’s store bought nectar now, so perhaps we will be forgiven.

The water snake appears to have a harem of sorts. We saw him basking by the branch with three smaller snakes wrapped around him. He goes from branch to pond and back again by crossing the meadow a couple of times a day, and it has been a challenge to keep him and Jasper apart.

A lot of the tadpoles have matured into frogs, and their twilight chorus is becoming more impressive by the day. Still, many egg sacks have yet to hatch, so I anticipate a bumper crop of frogs this summer despite the water snake’s predations.

Last year’s poison ivy eradication project seems to have been 95% successful in the front and back yards. We will set our sights on the poison ivy on the forest trail this year. This is a priority in view of the reports of increased toxicity due to global warming. No wonder I have been getting rashes where I once enjoyed immunity.
Mrs Vache Folle has caught the gardening bug this year and seems quite enthusiastic about replacing the weeds around the pond with perennials even though perennials cost money. Her English heritage is showing through in her love of order in the garden. She made me move my wildflower bed to a corner of the yard by the fence and have the old bed by the house mown for walking and fetch playing. Next thing you know she’ll want to plant a maze.

We have been working on the troublesome swampy spot this year yet again. We put in the silt and leaf litter from the pond over some river rock, covered this with soil, and put the turf from my new wildflower bed on top of this. Even with settling, this added a foot, and drainage should improve. We have done this with only a third of the swampy region and have decided to put in raised beds next spring over the rest. This is one of the sunniest spots in the yard, and it is too wet for any other use.

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