Helping Our Bird Friends in Winter

by Donna Lewis

Don’t be fooled by our nice weather…  just around the corner could be lurking a cold winter blast.  Hopefully not a blast from the past (I am talking about the 10 days of freezing temperatures we had. So, there are some pretty simple things you can do to help our feathered friends right now.  Better to do these things while it’s nice for us to go outside.

We built and installed a platform under our front porch for the Phoebe’s to build their Spring nest on.  This is to hopefully keep them from putting 10,000 pounds of mud everywhere on our porch trying to build their own platform for their nest.  Boy is that messy. I have never done this before, so we will see if they use it.

Many species of birds like open platforms. Here are a few: Chickadees, Wrens, Phoebes, and Nuthatches. Ducks and other large raptors also use large platforms that are higher up.

Also new is a Bluebird feeder. This is an attempt to keep the dried mealworms from blowing off the platform dishes onto the ground and getting them wet and icky in winter weather. It’s hard for any insect-eating bird to find food in the winter.  

I have also stuffed the Bluebird nest boxes with dry pine needles for extra protection from the weather. I have shown here the area behind my house where I feed the Bluebirds and put out eggshells for the Purple Martins. The cow panels make perfect perches for the birds. Perches are very important if you want to draw any birds to you.

Bluebird house

I have placed these feeders away from the regular feeders so we don’t have conflict between the birds, and I can see it easily from inside the house.

These are my regular feeders. The open hopper is a favorite of most all my regulars, Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, and just about every bird.

So, you can do a few things that will assist our wild friends. Do what you can.

The Queen Butterfly in December

by Donna Lewis

This week I had so many butterflies everywhere here on our property in Central Texas. Sulphurs, Gulf Fritillary, a Swallowtail, Queens, and numerous tiny little butterflies too quick for me to get a good look at.

Queen in happier times when the flowers are blooming

Of course, we also have had one freeze that took out most of any flowering plants I still had. It has been warm, so the plants have not died down completely. The Coral Honeysuckle is blooming proficiently, and all the butterflies are swarming around it. This is also the Hummingbirds favorite plant in my yard.

The Queen Butterfly was really unexpected. Poor things were flying everywhere in my garden trying to find those special plants that I have for them, mainly the Purple Mist Flower. They really love that plant in particular.  The Mist Flower usually shows up late in the summer when it is dry and very hot. Right now, it is dead as a doornail. Really sad.

Not looking very helpful to butterflies.

I see all these butterflies with nothing to nourish them, and I know the first big freeze is on our doorstep. I wish I could help them.  Many of these little guys should be asleep in a chrysalis for the winter months. But the weather has tricked them into waking up and thinking it’s springtime. 

But this is how we learn about nature.   We observe her and learn lessons. Mother Nature is a great teacher.

Here Come the Martins

by Donna Lewis

Believe it or not, the first Purple Martins have already landed in Florida as of December 27, 12021! Wow, that’s pretty early. Whether that is good or bad, I couldn’t tell you.

Ready for cleaning

But, if you are a Martin landlord you need to get your housing in shape and ready. Here are my guidelines:

  • Do not open any apartments or gourds yet.  Block them off or other bird species will go in, and the Martins will be left out in the cold.
  • The housing should be clean, with extra pine needles in them (if you do that).
  • Be ready to raise the housing up as soon as you hear a Martin or February 1, just to be safe.
  • You never open all the entrances at once, just a few at a time.

The Martins here in Milam County have historically arrived around Valentine’s Day. Last year I did not have any till March, however. So, as the earth’s weather changes, wildlife changes also.

I opened my apartment house today to see if it was still clean like I had left it last summer when I closed it for the year. I had taped over the entrance holes for the first time to see if it would keep out the spiders, lady-bugs and wasps. 

It worked pretty good, but there were still lots of spiders near all the corners. The spider webs are difficult to remove. Here’s a tip that I use to get them out easy and fast:

Spider web

Get a stick and twirl the web around it. They come out fast. Then, pitch the stick.

Stick magic

Secondly, I use a wet/dry vac to get anything else out that might be in there. I wipe out anything nasty with a damp paper towel or sponge and let everything dry for a day or so.  You need the apartments to be dry. I will do that later and take photos of it. For now it is so much easier to prep your houses while it’s not cold outside. Much better on your hands.

Time to vacuum!

Our friends are coming!

Donna’s Garden in December

by Donna Lewis

Hi everyone, this is the last photo essay of the year for my pollinator garden here in Milam County.

As you may know, we have had one overnight freeze to date. That’s pretty unusual, but we all know there is no normal for the climate lately. We just go with what happens today.  Always a surprise.

As you can see, the blanket of leaves is starting to cover my friend over. The winter blanket that Mother Earth provides her plant and animal creatures. Last year it looked sparser than it does this year. It was about 58 degrees today when I took these photos. That’s crispy for me.

I do not do cold well.

My garden is a living friend of mine.  She looks different every year, an amazing feat by any standard.  I have planted almost all native plants here in the 14 years or so before she was born. I am always anxious to see what she will look like in the next year.

Sometimes she has more yellow and orange highlights, or some years there is more purple and red. It depends on her mood.

The colors call to the butterflies and birds that come to it for everything they want: water, shelter, food, and nectar depending on their individual needs.

I do my best to learn as much as I can so I can provide what they come for. They also provide me with what I need.  Peace and beauty.

By the way, “Sly,” one of my neighbors’ horses, is always waiting near the corner of the garden on his side for his daily apple or carrots. He likes peace also.

What’s That Sound?

by Donna Lewis

You know that sound without looking. It’s the Snow Geese returning from the arctic tundra and northern parts of Canada to stay in the Southern parts of the U.S. and along the coastlines.

They make a sound that people from around here remember from childhood, and it’s one of the few good things I remember that are still here. I hope it will always be here for me and those who come after.  It’s comforting in a primal way.

Photo by Andy Wilson on iNturalist.

I saw a flock of about thirty-five geese this morning around 10:00 am. I was so happy I just wanted to share the moment with someone. 

Lucky for me, Rusty was by my side, and I pointed them out to him. Rusty is one of our dogs.  He seemed to understand. Well maybe?

The Snow Goose actually comes in two colors.  The experts call that a morph. There is the traditional white morph and a second dark morph, sometimes called the blue morph. The blue Snow Goose is gaining in numbers, because the white goose is an easier target for both predators and hunters.

Both morphs. Photo by Paul Donohue on iNaturalist.

The geese flock to marshes, farm fields and edges of coastal wetlands. Many of these marshes are being drained for housing projects now. So sad. If you look up at them passing over in their V grouping you can see the long necks, mostly white bodies, and black wing edges.  The dark morphs are harder to identify, at least by me.

The geese make more of a honking call, while the Sandhill Cranes make more of a trilling sound.  They came through a few weeks ago. I hope you go outside while the weather is still warm and clear and look to the skies. The geese are here.  Winter is on our doorsteps.