Thursday, January 19, 2006
Red sky at morning: gorgeous day ahead. I went out at dawn to try to capture the sunrise, having awakened before five, and found our bluebirds just waking up in their cozy roosts in the martin gourds. They stick their heads out and survey the scene for a long time before emerging. Very cute. They sometimes wait until they hear me put the suet dough out to rise from their pine-needle beds. We use pine needles in the roost boxes because, should rain get inside and freeze, the bluebirds' feathers won't freeze to the pine needles as they would to grass. I imagine it's because pinestraw is slick. We had two bluebirds get frozen to grass inside martin gourds, and we had to bring the whole gourd inside to thaw it out in order to free them! (Good thing we heard them scrabbling around in the gourds or they'd have perished in there). When I related the incident to Amish bluebird impresario Andy Troyer, he said that wouldn't happen with pine straw. So now it's pine straw or nothing. You can gather a grocery bag full in no time at all if you find a nice row of white pines shedding needles in the fall.
Liam, Chet and I set out for a mini-hike today. It was warmish, sunny, gloriously clear. Chet was very bad; he rounded up the heifers again, even barking at them as he darted in amongst them, until I had to roll under the barbed wire and go get him. He got the farmer's dogs all barking and the farmer's wife out on the porch hollering at the dogs, and it was not good. I felt like a jerk. Durn dog. You can't punish a dog who comes when you call him (even if it's the fifth time you've called him), so all I could do was leash him and lead him away. This cow fetish of Chet's is getting old. You think he'd give it up if I tied a cow to his collar and made him drag it around for a week? That's how they cured Ol' Yeller of killing chickens.
We spooked the same pileated woodpecker off the same old sassafras--even saw it fly--and I was most intrigued to see how much progress he'd made on his feeding cavity from yesterday. He's got four sub-cavities inside the main hole. He must practically disappear in there when he's working, as deep as the inner cavities are getting. He left calling cards at the bottom, in case you want to know what still-warm pileated poo looks like.
All told, we encountered four different pileated woodpeckers on a one-hour hike. I watched a male excavating an old bigtooth aspen that looks like Swiss cheese. He saw me but decided there was enough timber between us that he'd go on with his work. I was so proud of Liam; when the bird yammered I asked him what made that call. "Piewated woodpecker," he said without hesitation.
The dogbane is dehiscing. I just thought you'd like to know. Neat time of year to spread your seeds around; lots of wind, enough rain. Dogbane is a great butterfly attractant. Fritillaries and skippers love its tiny white flower clusters. It grows in great big clones of hundreds of plants, given enough room, so you can get great butterfly concentrations. We've got an enormous patch of it in our meadow. Nothing much eats it but dogbane beetles, who don't mind its yucky white sap, and they are the most gorgeous green-red-blue ultra-shiny little models you've ever seen. All around, a fabulous, underappreciated plant. Looks like a milkweed but actually in the closely related Apocynaceae.
It was the kind of dreamy, sunny afternoon when a bed of moss looks mighty fine, and Liam dropped thankfully onto one at the top of a steep hill. When I was little, I used to dream of having a house with a real stream running right through it, with real moss for carpet and big rocks for chairs. Frank Lloyd Wright stole my idea. Fallingwater. Pah.
Clearly, my little plan is working. I figure if I take the kids out in the woods every day, pretty soon they'll regard the forest as their living room. So far, so good.
Posted by Julie Zickefoose at 5:08 PM