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I was away for about 5 days last week. As I drove up to my house I was stunned to see a new bird at my feeder. I’d never seen it before.

Turns out it’s an Evening Grosbeak. Here’s an excellent image from The Zen Birdfeeder in upstate New York. She also has an excellent post.

I could only capture this fellow from the front. Our western variety has a narrower “eyebrow” band. They have a high single-note chirp.

There seems to be at just one pair that’s frequenting my feeder. The female is lovely but doesn’t sport the bright yellow markings.

This Spotted Towee is usually much more demure … and only seen in the underbrush. With the new feeder location generating so much excitement I guess it was more than this little one could resist.

I gotta say, you get a lot of mileage out of a bird feeder and bird bath. Your yard becomes a locus of activity and provides terrific entertainment.

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The Birds Are Back

I can’t tell if it’s just because it’s spring … or that my feeder is back up. It took the Chickadees only a few hours to discover the feeder’s new location. But it was over a week before the crowds showed up.

The first were the American Goldfinch … in clusters of six or more!

Then whole families of the European House Sparrow arrived.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch joined the fun.

This is either a juvenile or female Black-headed  Grosbeak.

It looks just like the Rose-breasted  Grosbeak — but I don’t think that bird frequents our region. The throat was quite rosy but note the streaks under the wing.

There were also purple finch, scrub and blue jays and the ubiquitous Black-capped Chickadee. Another little Yellow-rumped Warbler flitted to within a few feet of my chair only to dart away. They may be here longer than I thought. They’re just secretive.

The Robbins don’t feed at the feeder, but there’s no other bird that enjoys a bath so much! I’ve discovered a nest and brooding female in one of my trees. They’re very entertaining birds. All these birds are nature’s most efficient “insecticides”.

Winter’s Harvest

Last fall’s leaves have stewed all winter. They didn’t get “hot” this year. I don’t know why. Maybe the pile got too wet. It steamed for the first week and then cooled — no matter how much I turned it. Still it shrank in size and I can only assume composted to some degree.

When I harvested it I was surprised the discover HUGE worms throughout. There were plenty of the regular red worms, but also these enormous paler worms with flattened spatula tails. Wikipedia has an excellent article of earthworms in general. The bigger ones I found are Lumbricus terrestris. The wetter cooler compost may have been more attractive to them.

Here’s my lousy picture (I didn’t want to touch it and it was squirming rapidly into the soil.)

These worms are not well suited to an indoors compost bin. They burrow deep in the earth and it’s believed they surface to mate when it rains — and it’s been raining.

There was a recent article about the Giant Palouse worm in eastern Washington and Idaho. For a minute there, I thought I had one of my own!

Backyard Sightings

This is the second year I’ve spotted the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Audubon briefly visit my yard — same time of year, same corner of yard. There were at least two pairs. Apparently they pass through here while migrating to breed. They were very shy and hard to glimpse with binoculars, let alone a camera! I really had to keep my distance.

My photo (male):

Web image:

You can’t really tell from either photo how striking that yellow head-patch is. When out in the field that paired yellow above and below the beak flashes as the bird pecks the ground and darts its head up again. It’s unlike any other bird in this region.

The Pieris japonica are blooming and attracting bumble bees. It’s funny how different flowers attract specific bees.

This is the classic fat-bodied, yellow and black bumble bee:

This one might be the orange-belted (and shy) variety:

Neither bee kept very still. Apparently they’re social and have colony hives. Meanwhile, I’ve got 5 Orchard Mason bee “nests” built. I’m hoping for many more once the weather heats up (and dries out).

I went out on my first 50+ Hikers’ hike for 2010. It was pouring rain in Vancouver and Portland but got steadily dryer as we drove East. Our first hike was Hood River Mountain – just past Hood River, Oregon.

Just across from the trail head was this gate. I think this could be called a chain of locks.

Here’s the topo of the trail:

As hikes go, this was an easy one — only 3 miles RT and a mere 600 ft elevation. As the map shows, the elevation gain was initially steep but it leveled off to a very pleasant ‘table’ with sweeping views of agricultural fields and orchards.

The spring wild flowers were just coming on. The most notable of which were the Balsamroot:

Lupine vegetation was lush but not quite blooming yet. Here’s the Indian Paintbrush :

We also saw Larkspur, Glacier and Fawn Lilli’s, Brodiaea hyacinthina, Service Berry, Big-Head Clover, Fiddlenecks and lots, lots more.

Here’s a field of Butter Cups seen on our down-hill return:

After lunch we took a second jaunt at the Rowena Plateau — a square mile nature preserve on the bluffs overlooking the Columbia River. Again, fields of wild flowers and sweeping views.

Just below this cliff we spied this very healthy looking coyote.

And last, but not least was the ice cream stop at Route 30 Cafe in Mosier, where Umpqua ice cream was served. Here’s the big picture:

See: Grant’s Getaways – Rowena Crest Wildflowers from Travel Oregon on Vimeo.

Chickadee Birdhouse

I’ve had my birdhouse(s) for nearly two years. Last year House Sparrows robbed / invaded the Chickadees’ nest. I installed predator guards to make the entrance small enough to thwart them.

A month ago a female House Sparrow returned and spent several hours trying to get into the birdhouse. I was painting a bedroom and so was able to observe her. She squeezed and squeezed but just couldn’t fit through the opening. She cried out her dismay, but never returned.

Here’s a photo from last week when a pair of Chickadees were checking things out. The predator guard is the little wooden protrusion the Chickadee is perched on in this photo. All it does is reduce the opening to 1 1/8″ diameter.

The other thing I learned in my reading is that the birdhouses should be placed away from the feeding area. I placed two birdhouses on the West side of the house — whereas the feeding area is (or has been) on the East side.

Here’s the male (I suspect) returning to feed what I hope is the roosting female.

I placed cedar wood shavings in the box. The bird that stays in the box has been making considerable knocking sounds. So either she’s arranging the cedar shavings or trying to make more. They’ve subsided lately.

I’ve seen one bird at a time (or only the male?) coming and going quite regularly — which makes me suspect that the female might be roosting eggs. The arriving bird always announces its arrival with calls. I’ve been careful to keep a respectful distance and not disrupt their sense of safety.

Trial and Error

This is the first time I’ve grown tulips in the ground  …  from the raw bulbs in fall in the cold earth. I’m tickled with my haphazard success. I lost about half of what I planted out of ignorance. I now know bulbs are typically planted at a depth of about 3 times their size. (I thought the label said 9″ deep, whereas 6″ – 8″ would have sufficed.)

The deep purple tulips that were to accompany this ensemble never made it.

Photographing these little suckers is another matter entirely! My camera has a hard time deciphering just exactly what it is I want to focus on. The preview screen is really very poor for manual focus. (I use a Canon S5IS.) And then there is the question of all that overhead light.

Dewy mornings mitigate some of these issues — although the top of this tulip is still awash with too much light on top.

Oh, and did I mention backgrounds? I haven’t mastered the art of clipping masks in Photoshop. Moldy trellises and drab pavement are hard to overcome.

When all else fails I let loose and swing the dials in Photoshop to salvage what little I can from my efforts or block out a scuzzy background.

Okay, that’s too much. Here’s another try…

My neighbors have gotten used to the crazy lady who’s out in her yard at all hours in her bathrobe or otherwise hunched over her flowers. A better camera and lens might help my photos … but not my image. 😉