Monday, June 11, 2012


Whether you're hunting mushrooms, glassing for elk on a hillside or trying to look through water to see the fish, it's all about pattern recognition and what we call, "getting your eyes on." After that first or second sighting of something you're having to pick out of a challenging background, your brain seems to relax and you start seeing the shape you're looking for much more easily.

Same thing happens when we're looking for waterbirds to count. At our refuge we count waterfowl, shore & marsh birds, and raptors twice a month. Sometimes it's about trying to tell cranes from geese in the first light of dawn, or picking out different duck species in a flock of hundreds; sometimes it's just seeing them where they are. Last week provided some of the most interesting -- and rewarding -- exercises in pattern recognition we've had in a while.

Because I was recording sightings for four avid birders my POV was from the middle of the back seat. While everyone else was glassing the sky and nearby telephone poles and trees, my view was kind of like this.

Hey look! That's a...

Killdeer on a clutch of four eggs.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) are fairly common down here but I had never seen a nest before. Had the bird not been on them, I'm not sure we would have noticed the eggs.
Later on we saw this:

Oh look! What's that?!?! Oh yeah...

Green Heron on a nest.

The nest was typical for the Butorides virescens, a basket of small sticks on a branch over the water. Next week we'll be checking for little gray downy chicks; if there's an average clutch of 2-6 green eggs in that nest we are hoping for least a few hatchlings.

Alas, we don't have any nest cams on the refuge (yet) and after a brief look around the web the Green Heron doesn't seem to rate one. If you're interested, you can see young GBHEs at the  Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Great Blue Heron Cam, along with all sorts of other nest cams.

During that same bird survey we also saw a Black-necked Stilt on a nest. We have already seen Snowy Plover chicks and owlets so for the next survey we'll be on the lookout for all manner of fluffy balls o' bird on the ground and in nests. If they're mobile, the chicks should be a little easier to pick out, although as I recall, those SNPL chicks looked like dirty cottonballs drifting across the salt-encrusted grass and beige sands of the lake edge where they nest. Better be gettin' my eyes on...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Garden Life: the Garden is In!

Finally. Last minute travel plans and other events meant seeds didn't go into the ground until the 3rd week in May. And almost everything went in as seed, no indoor starts and only a few bought jalapeno and bell pepper plants this year. It's plenty warm in the daytime and still cooling down nicely at night so the seeds are happily following their genetic imperatives and everything looks promising. However, the weather and water have also jump-started a bumper crop of weeds.

Although may not be the case in a few weeks, my views on weeds thus far flow along these lines:
 Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be.  Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony.  It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative's latest example of unreasonableness.  ~Christopher Lloyd, The Well-Tempered Garden, 1973
'Soothing monotony,' until you really start paying attention to the 'weeds.' Here's what's happening amongst the Tiger Thai Eggplants: 

eggplants in lower left corner; elm seeds, grass and volunteer basil

Okay, everything gets pulled but the basil, we'll get it when it's big enough to season some pasta or serve as a garnish. Of course, all this extra growth is occurring on top of the mound so a hoe is out of the question -- at least in my hands -- and even the Hori Hori has to be used sparingly. The work gets even closer in some areas. Wonder what's supposed to be growing in this row...

not tomatoes... not pole beans... it's a row of Dill, those tiny, 2 leaf seedlings next to the soaker hose

Why all the volunteers? Remember the frozen vegetable section photo from last year's freeze?* The mild winter and lack of moisture must have preserved all kinds of seeds, our own little heirloom seed saver project without the collecting... and the labeling. Some of the volunteers will get to stand their ground and others will go friends' gardens in a week or so when the thinning is done. I don't think they'll mind the addition of mystery tomatoes... unless some of them happen to be Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes. Those were some of the best cherry tomatoes we've ever had but they were teeny and the skin tore when you picked them so you had to eat them almost immediately, or snip off a bunch still on the stem.  This year, Matt's volunteers will be treated like weeds.

Alas, there has been no inspiration for a novel, although a downright seedy thought came to me while weeding tomatoes from tomatoes: our parsley has bolted and is just starting to flower; a planter or two under the heads for the seeds as they drop should result in another pot of parsley. Yep, that's easy* and... free!!

Flowering parsley; the pollinators are here, yay!

 From weedy & seedy to chic, check out the cool small space gardening ideas at No Ordinary Homestead. This is link-y fun so join us if you can!

*Yes, Intrepid Reader, you know I'm a bit of a lazy gardener. The garden litter did not get picked up with alacrity; I thought it would be good for the soil. Yeah, that's my story... 
 * See? That's a lazy gardener.