Natural History Notes

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Red-bird Ridge clearing

I'll take an entry or two to summarize what we have done recently here at the Ridge. We're making it look a little more civilized, but I don't believe we have done anything much to degrade the habitat, more the contrary. Of course, the ultimate aim, of building a few houses and selling their lots, will do so to some extent. But three one- or two-acre lots, with the structures we envision, and rules protecting natives and prohibiting transformation of prairie into lawn, should be able to fit in OK. Certainly the wildlife, at least the birds and occasionally the foxes, come right up to this house.

Friday 16 Jan was the first time we used the new little 14" Husqvarna saw. Eddie cut half a dozen little trees, some dead, to open out the clearing at site SC. Then he tackled the largest of his targets, a 7-8" oak, and it fell wrong. He tried to cut the little twisted strip of remaining wood, and the trunk shifted and trapped the chain. Though he turned it off immediately, the drive sprocket damaged some of the drive teeth. I filed them so they would fit in the groove again, but it didn't serve.

So I found a place with knowledgeable Husky servicepeople at Ed's Lawn Equipment in Addison, and trekked down there next day. They sold me a new chain and got the chain brake loose where we did it wrong. Sunday I put the chain on, but I couldn't get it to start.

Last Friday I had Eddie and Virgil and Scott. Scott and I went to the dump with the trash from the shop last summer, and E and V tried "about a hundred times" to start the saw, then gave up and used the handsaw and the axe. Eventually though the SC clearing was pretty open, and the NC also, though I have less sense what needs to be done there. The house is getting a good wood supply (I used a LOT yesterday and today!), and we made a nice shelter-pile with the trimmings. Virgil mowed most of the half of the south field I had started,and the dry gray dead broomweed between the house and NC.

I think mowing fields of weeds and briers is good practice, as a support for the grasses that get more sun. There are still several "hammocks" of trees overgrown with briers in that south field. They are probably more sheltering than the field-ful of thin brier growth. I want to clear out some of them, but I guess not all.

Saturday I went back to Ed's. They diagnosed a flooded engine, removed the spark plug, pulled the starter several times, replaced the plug, and it started right up. Smokily. I brought it home again (via Books-a-Million, where I GOBBLED up Bujold's new Horizon.) Even I could start it Sunday afternoon.

Monday the three guys, with my participation, much more energetically than last Friday, when I was barely over my bad cold, cleared privet at the gate and made a pedestrian gate into the panhandle woods. I surveyed into the woods and located a possible site where clearing a 20' mound of privet, several small dead trees, and one live one would make a nice site, without impacting the ravine/sometime creek. V finished mowing the S field, E and S made another gate/stile from the center woods into the west half, and then we came up to the north field.

Turns out there is more land west of the bulldozed seismic track than I had realized, at the s end of it. The guys made an effort at clearing a path along the west fence, but did no more than half of it. Then E asd I inspected from the back side of the tank dam where Jorge mowed last year. We found that two of the dead pines have smashed the fence. Buddy could have been long out and gone if he wanted to slither down the dam. The seismic-study bulldozer seems to have taken out part of the cross-fence. And as far as the first surveyor's claim of an "iron rod set" in that corner, well! We really need to get our money back from him!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

sleet and cardinals

It sounds like perhaps the sleet is about over. It was quite noisy earlier, but there is only a faint high-pitched clatter now. This is a widespread storm covering almost all of north Texas, with possible accumulations of a half inch forecast; this on top of a glaze of ice. I am out at the Ridge writing this; I called Joy and told her where to find the ash can if they needed to get more traction.

January has had a roller-coaster of temperature. Three times this month the mercury has reached around 80°; each time it then abruptly dives for the thirties or even twenties.

The bird-feeder-watching was really excellent today as the freezing drizzle came down. Alabaster particularly seemed to think so!

My camera is not really built for wildlife photography, especially on a dim day through glass with reflections of the sky through the windows behind me. A long lens, some very fast film or CCD, and a polarized filter might be of help. Still I captured something of the feeling of the excitement of having so many birds coming, including so many of our eponymous red-birds. Several times I counted eight males at once. They are much in evidence in these snapshots, along with the chickadee I caught coming in for a landing, the wren, several goldfinches, and more.
Bluejays, mockingbirds nibbling the yaupon berries, Harris', white-crowned, and white-throated sparrows, a brown thrasher, and a towhee are also around.

Nope, the sleet's not over. The faint background noise just crescendoed back into a dominant motif. In spite of using a good deal of my new firewood (courtesy of Eddie's efforts with the new baby Husqvarna), I am also using up propane. I called today to get the tank refilled tomorrow. Hope that will last till late spring, though I guess it depends on how many cold days I spend out here. But I believe heating this house is more efficient than at 711.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

great birdfeeder

Here are actual photos of my birds on the new feeder, somewhat fuzzy, and taken through glass with some reflections from within the room. On the upper left and on the bottom tray are goldfinches, upper right is a titmouse, and at the lower right is a confusing superposition of a Harris' sparrow and a cardinal. They eat up the supply pretty rapidly; it looks like I may need to refill weekly or even more often. A 25-lb. sack of sunflower seeds every month won't break me. But it sure will leave a pile of seed-coats on the ground underneath!

The cardinals often pose in the late afternoon sunlight. I may do some thinning of the yaupon, privet, hackberry, plum thicket, but I will certainly leave plenty of perches.

I have heard the s-s-see, s-s-see of waxwings, though I haven't looked the right direction to see them yet. These are the yaupon berries that draw them. (These are last year's, but there is a good crop this year also, somewhat unusually; often a poor crop alternates with a good crop.) A flock of waxwings will descend in a flurry onto the yaupons and stuff themselves madly with berries, then on some signal they will swirl up into the bare oak, where they will sit motionless, all facing the same direction, for 20 minutes, digesting. Any lawn furniture below will be liberally purple-spotted.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

just about perfect

Sitting in the Ridge living room, nice fire in the fireplace, Agate purring in my lap (Tut curled asleep with her nose under her paw in another chair, Alabaster on the futon-sofa), watching the birds at the splendid new feeder. Chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, Carolina wren, white-crowned sparrow, Harris' sparrows, brown thrasher, cardinals, blue jay, mockingbird. Down by the tank I saw a great blue heron.

It is a real major pain that, when a flicker of motion draws my attention from the computer to the window, I have to push my reading glasses out of the way to be able to see. And it's hard to type with a lapful of cat noodging the laptop off the lap. And I'm SUPPOSED to be making jewelry. Well, I'm about to, I guess.

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