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Coming Home to Color

Sunday, June 29, 2014

North Dakota, where I traveled to work at the 12th Annual Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival, was amazing, as it always is. Here I've just gotten up off my now damp butt having gotten frame-filling photos of a Nelson's sparrow on my absolute favorite piece of prairie. In this photo it looks like just grass. Trust me, it's everything. Sedges and wildflowers galore, even little pincushion cacti. 

JZ victorious photo by Rick Bohn

 The sparrow formerly known as Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow. My best shot of a notorious skulker.

North Dakota was so sweet and special to me that I can't bring myself to blog about it yet. Or ever. I don't know. I get too lonesome for those skies, those spaces and those wonderful friends and I have to come back down to earth and write about something else, something right in front of me that's not just a dream or a memory.

I came home to some pretty nice things. Liam was charged with watering all my plants while I was gone, including the precious bonsai collection. He stepped right up to the plate and did an excellent job, with an assist from regular thunderstorms.  We have a wee bit of color going in the front...

Hanging baskets are coming into their own. I adore this new petunia called "Papaya."  Exactly.

Hibiscus "The Path," a Logee's specialty, and a gift from my dear friend Donna. Everyone needs a Path. Her enormous flowers stay open for two full days, instead of rolling up at the end of one, like all the other hibiscus. I feel like throwing a party when two salad-plate sized flowe

rs open at once, it's that wonderful.

A great big fishing spider, possibly Dolomedes tenebrosus. Nah, I'm not afraid of her. I rescued her from a cooking pot in the basement where she'd been trapped. A goodly spider, well met.

House wrens are nesting in one of my boxes for the first time in 22 years. This is not exactly cause for celebration, as a wandering male has already pierced and thrown out a clutch of bluebird eggs in another box. This pair in the driveway has behaved themselves, though. I plan to paint the babies for my upcoming book. Which I will likely never, ever finish. There are too many birds to include. Good news is I've fought back a lot of obstacles to start painting the plates again. It feels good.

June 22, 2014. The first egg appears. I breathe a sigh of relief. They've settled down.
Her mate won't be piercing bluebird eggs now. 

House wren eggs, exquisite red garnets the size of your fingernail.

June 24, 2014

June 25, 2014

June 26, 2014.  She's done, and incubation has commenced. 

You may remember my complaining a lot about having to repot the tomatoes and peppers I planted in mid-January in the greenhouse. I thought I'd have some nice healthy blooming plants by May. What I got was head-high monsters that needed staking before they were even set out, and had to be repotted three times before I was able to plant them in the garden. OK. I jumped the gun. I knew that when I planted those seeds, but spring fever hit me on Jan. 16 and I just had to do SOMETHING. 

Like a woman who wants another baby, I have forgotten the labor pains of growing them under glass. And all I can see now is the JUNE TOMATOES gracing our plates.

I have never had homegrown tomatoes in June. It is sweet beyond describing to be able to go out and pick a double handful in June. I usually have to wait until August. 

Also featured: sweet snack peppers, sugar snap peas, and bodacious Swiss chard, probably the most prolific and willing vegetable I grow. We eat a LOT of chard.

Temporary January madness=June fabulousness


I am currently eyeing two tomatoes in my vegetable garden that are almost... almost! ripe. If they are edible by tomorrow they will be June tomatoes - which would be unheard of for me. And these are from ordinary sized plants I bought (I'm far lazier than you are) in early May from a local nursery. Most of my tomatoes aren't going to be ready until at least mid-July, which is entirely normal.

Julie, what do you DO about the house wrens stabbing bluebird eggs and throwing them out of the box? Anything? I've been so distressed watching this happen in the boxes in my yard!

Right with you, Debra G. The essential nature of a househunting male house wren is to find as many cavities in one area as he can, and fill them all with sticks. Then, if his incessant singing attracts a female, she shops around his offerings, picks one cavity, puts a grass lining in the twig "nest" he's built, and they settle down. At the point at which you find eggs in one nest box, you can safely clean out the "cock nests" in the others. As for what you can do about it? NOTHING. Not until they've picked one and settled down. Then you leave their nest absolutely alone and hope for the best. Should you remove a wren nest with eggs, which is illegal anyway, you will just start the vicious cycle of egg piercing and baby throwing all over. I refer to HOWR as "powder kegs." Sometimes you can put up more boxes in thicker cover to try to lure him away, but because the wren is smaller than the bluebird, there's nothing you can do to keep him from going in and doing his dirty work. There are so-called wren guards which are like a piece of wood that comes down over the hole, hanging from the overhang of the box, that are designed to keep him from maneuvering his twigs into the hole. Those would have to be mounted after the bluebird has eggs and is committed to the box. Might do a Google search for "house wren guard." That's about all I know.

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