Category Archives: The Great Outdoors

Suburban wildlife in pictures

A few months ago I saw an article about a blog by a woman in Michigan who, using a device called Bird Photo Booth, posted dozens of close-up photos of birds. I looked up the device and saw that it was on back order. I knew that at some point I would buy it because it seemed perfect for me. I could mount it outside my attic window and feed birds during the day while watching the photos on my computer so I ordered it at the end of April. Earlier this week I got an email telling me that my Bird Photo Booth was on its way and should arrive today.

Unfortunately, even though the device has WiFi it is not the WiFi I thought it was, but WiFi to connect to a smartphone. Still, that’s better than the trailcam I bought last year, hoping to get fun photos of birds at the feeder or maybe other wildlife in our suburban backyard. None of my bird photos were very good, except the ones below.

Speaking of the trailcam — in early January, Dean mentioned that some critter had built a large and tidy nest under our side porch composed of leaves, vegetable skins and eggshells stolen from our compost bin. I researched it and came up with the conclusion that we had a opossum living under the porch. I was excited because they are good wildlife. I set up the trailcam to see the opossum in action.

a tidy nest made of compost
The “nest”

Dean, however, had a different idea and wanted to demolish the pile of compost which he did, some that day and more later in the week. He wasn’t happy about having a opossum living under our porch.

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During this time the trailcam collected some pretty cool images — with an early plot twist and a huge one at the end.

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So, it was not a opossum after all, but a boring nasty rat. Before we knew it was a rat Dean put out mothballs, thinking critters stay away from mothballs. It didn’t bother the rat.

Remember — we didn’t know anything about the critter until we looked at the photos several days later. I still thought we had a lovely opossum.

We also had other visitors to the “nest” area — a squirrel stopped by, also undeterred by the mothballs.

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Here are some night shots of our resident not-a-opossum.

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A curious house sparrow
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Another squirrel

More night shots.

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The final night shot that night is the climax to the story and the final plot twist.

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A fox arrived 3 minutes or so after the last rat sighting

We’re pretty sure the fox ate our rat for a early morning breakfast on January 9th. No more rats were picked up on the trailcam after that.

And now for the fun shots.

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While I was disappointed we didn’t have a opossum, I was grateful we had a fox to take care of the rat.

Anyway — watch this space for, hopefully, more birds. I promise I won’t show any more rats.

 

Take time to smell the lilacs

I have an app or two on my phone and tablet that sends me “memories” of what I tweeted, or posted on Facebook or took photos of that day in history, back to 6 or 7 years ago. For the past few days I have been seeing photos of lilacs that I took and either tweeted about or posted about on Facebook. This morning I panicked, worrying that I’d missed the lilacs this year. That I’d been so preoccupied with a bunch of other things that the lilacs had come and gone and I’d not had the chance to smell them this year.

My lilacs are in the front yard and one would think that I’d notice if they were in bloom or not, what with my car usually being parked 10 feet away from them. But I’d not gone outside much lately and when I did, didn’t think to check the lilacs. I did check them about three weeks or so ago and noticed there were a few tiny buds, so I knew I was going to get a few blooms this year, but not many.

I was happy to see that there were some lilacs on the tree when I checked from the front window of the house but it was hard to tell if they were in bloom or past their prime. This afternoon, after my dentist appointment I got a close look at them and saw that a few of the small flowers were in full bloom, but most were still tightly closed. I’d not missed them after all. I took a few big sniffs, smiled and went on with my day. For the next week or so I plan to visit my lilac bush several times a day and deeply inhale one of my all-time favorite scents.

I also took a moment to snap some shots of the other flowers in our yard. Spring is definitely the nicest season on our property.

Miracle Zinnia

miracle zinnaA couple of months ago two neighborhood girls held a bake sale for some charity that also included some handmade items and a few plants. I bought a cookie or two and some lemonade. I also bought a small zinnia to help their cause.

I ate the cookies, drank the lemonade and planted the zinnia on the front porch. When it bloomed for the first time I remembered a comment Lali made on a blog post I wrote about lilacs — she said that with most flowers the more you cut the more you get. I knew this was true for zinnias so I cut the first bloom off the zinnia to make sure I got more. I put the single bloom in a silver vase Clare received as a birthday gift from her godmother, Totty. It prettied up the kitchen table for a week or so, then I moved it to a higher location so our cat would not eat it. There it stayed for weeks. Eventually the color faded and I thought it was dried out. Eventually I pulled it out of the vase to put elsewhere — after all it was a dried flower — and was astonished to see that it had grown roots! A good 8 inches of roots. I’d learned all about advantagious buds in botany class, but didn’t realize a plain old stem could create roots.

I planted it in the same pot as the mother zinnia and it is still living — the leaves are green and the flower seems to have gotten some of its color back. We have a good couple of months left for it to grow outside. I wonder if it will just stay the way it is — or try to create seeds with its head. Maybe those advantagious buds that are probably near where the leaves meet the stem will begin to grow into stems with more flowers. I may need to bring this little miracle into the house for the winter!

Mine!

I am selfish. I have a hard time sharing things I like — dark chocolate, Jelly Bellies (TM), time with my kids, etc. I remember attending a Friday Mass when I worked at a Catholic school that talked about the benefits of sharing but I remained steadfastly selfish.

The other day I picked some lilacs from “our” bush (it was the neighbor’s lilac bush when we moved to Hoover Street but it has since  migrated to our side of the property line) and noticed that we had more bunches of flowers than in years before. I wondered how to make them last so I could enjoy them for as long as possible. I love lilacs. I worried that people would come in the night and take away my fragrant blossoms.

This evening as I planted basil in a planter on my front porch two women walked by the lilac tree and stopped and smelled and exclaimed at the scent. I called my agreement to them.

One of the women said she grew up in the Alps and had lilacs in her garden. I told her to take some. She was reluctant, but did take some. Then I realized that sharing is better than not sharing — you get more out what you share. I think I understand that Mass now.

 

Patchwork garden

grandma's quiltWhen I was a child and would visit my Grandma Patrick, sometimes she’d tell me about the patchwork quilt that hung over the back of her sofa in her living room. Its pattern was of tulips in pots and suns with beams. Flowered material made up the border. As we sat under the quilt she’d point to a pot or a flower or a sunbeam and tell me about the piece of clothing that it came from. Sometimes her own, sometimes one of her 4 daughters. There even were pieces of shirts from my dad and his dad, her husband.

mountain mintTo me this quilt was special, not only because she made it herself, but it was made up of scraps of material that once clothed her family. This quilt now hangs on a sofa in my house. While I don’t remember whose dress or shirt each flowerpot or sunbeam was made from, I have told my children about it. Maybe someday they will tell their children too.

fall blooming crocusI thought about this quilt last night after thinking of the plants that will go into the bed in my front yard. I’ve hired my neighbor, Terese, a professional garden designer to plan the bed, and she’s come up with a great design. She’s purchased some plants for it, but we will incorporate some existing plants from the bed and take some from other places in my yard that I planted without knowledge of what they needed in the way of sunlight, drainage, etc. A few of these plants were from the garden of my friend, Bob, who reluctantly moved away from the neighborhood last December. We’re also getting a few plants from my friend, Alison. Terese is giving me some plants from her garden and maybe some from a community garden.

So my garden will be somewhat of a patchwork garden, plants from friends and neighbors will grow next to newly purchased plants. Plants that are re-purposed — just like the cloth in Grandma’s quilt. And it will be all the better for it. Maybe, when my future grandchildren visit, I will tell them about the people who gave me each of the plants; about Bob and what a beautiful garden he had or about my friend Alison and her family, with whom we had some amazing times. If only I’d remembered to take the plants that Frances gave me from my yard in Alexandria when we moved to Bethesda.

Ms P. and the Rats of NIH(M)

I’m a birder. A lazy birder, but a birder nonetheless. It is part of who I am and has  been for more than half of my life.

One huge aspect of birding for me is feeding the birds. I have many bird feeders — two Droll Yankee tube-like feeders: one serves up tiny nyger seed that the finches love and one doles out larger seed such as sunflower, cracked corn or safflower. I also have decorative bird feeders — one looks like a birch log, but is ceramic. Another looks like a church, with a roof and clear plastic sides which hold in the seed — which I am surprised has not been chewed apart by squirrels yet. Then there are the suet cages and nyger seed socks.

I don’t have all of these feeders up at the same time. That would be unwise in Bethesda. I’d be the crazy bird lady. Recently I had one Droll Yankee feeder filled with sunflower seed and one nyger sock in back by the bird bath and one nyger sock outside the attic window.

One day I noticed that the nyger sock in the backyard had a huge hole in it. I wondered what animal had made this hole. I suspected it was a squirrel, but knowing that squirrels don’t particularly care for nyger seed, I was more than a little worried we had another rodent problem.

A few days later I looked out the window and saw the culprit. A large brown Norway rat. It was just after dinner and this rat was helping him or herself to the nyger seed. It was actually kind of cute — if you forget all the bad rat stories. But I was dismayed. I thought we were done with these things.

Years ago we had rats in the ductwork of our addition. Dean and I both noticed a funky smell coming from the heating vents in the sun room — it reminded me of the elephant house. When we discovered that it was a nest of rats, I was horrified and would never ever have admitted our discovery to anyone. I was embarrassed and ashamed and it lowered my self-esteem for a while. Dean, being the son of a dairy farmer, took care of it and we hoped we were done with rats.

The following January, however, we came home from our annual Christmas in the Midwest trip to find a rat had gotten into our house and was trapped in a mousetrap behind our stove. Dean took care of it, too. I was ready to hire an exterminator, but Dean felt that he knew what to do as well as any exterminator, so I believed him.

The next year was the year of cicadas in our area and when the cicadas died out the entire neighborhood had a rat problem. It seemed that the rats were displaced from NIH because of construction there. They didn’t care where they lived because they had a bounty of cicadas for several weeks, but after the cicadas were done with their (very cool) life cycle in our area, the rats had nothing to eat, so became a nuisance. I finally lost the embarrassment I was feeling about the rat problem we’d had — especially since other neighbors were admitting to having had rats in previous years as well.

Everyone dealt with the rats in their own ways, some hired exterminators while others, like Dean, took care of it themselves. The worst part of the rat problem for me, however, was having to give up feeding the birds. I had a slight meltdown when I realized I’d have to do this, but Dean said that maybe it would not be permanent. I held on to that hope.

We went a few years with no apparent rat problems — I even was able to feed the birds again until this year when I saw the rat eating the nyger seed.

So now I’ve had to store my bird feeders for good. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feed birds in the backyard again — certainly not at this house. I think I can still feed them at the attic windows — but it’s not really the same. I’ll not be seeing any more Rose Breasted Grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seed outside the window in the back yard.  I can still provide water for the birds and I have started looking more at planting more bird friendly plants in the yard. But I feel as if a part of my personality has been lost for good.

5 things I hate about fall and 5 things I don’t

I love the way the sky looks impossibly blue behind still green leaves.
I don’t like how some leaves turn completely brown.
I love the smell of fallen leaves and the way they sound when you walk through them
I hate the way the fruit from the ginkgo tree makes your feet smell after walking through them
I love the way our sugar maple turns bright orange in the fall.
I hate knowing it will lose all the leaves very soon. (Although birds will be easier to spot when that happens)
I hate the way the black-eyed susans have lost their petals and greenery
But I like the seeds left over that attract the birds.
I dread the falling temperatures.
But I’m looking forward to sitting by a cozy fire.