Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thieves Among Us

Many folks where I live count birding as a hobby and spend more than a couple of bucks over the course of the winter feeding these lovely winged creatures. But, when you feed the birds you get squirrels. People have been rigging up all sorts of contraptions of wire, filament, metal baffles, whirligigs, and so on just to thwart those seed-stealing busy tails. Now, I like squirrels but I draw the line when they empty a recently filled bird feeder within 30 minutes.

I recently read an article that stated there is no feeder that a squirrel cannot get into. There are, however, squirrel resistant feeders. Reminds me of deer resistant plants – NOT!


Texas is home to the fox, gray, flying and rock squirrels. Ninety percent of the squirrels in east Texas are the gray squirrel (or as they are called in east Texas – limb chickens). Squirrels are very social creatures and have the ability to share knowledge among each other. Imagine if you will, the squirrels discussing who has the best seed and easiest feeder to break into. Baby squirrels learn how to get seed out of a feeder by observing its mother or grandmother.

Squirrels are agile creatures and can rotate their hind feet 180 degrees when descending a tree. With large eyes set on the sides of its head, the squirrel can see all around with little movement of its head. It can see above and below, an adaptation well suited for life in the trees where danger can come from the ground, through the air, or along a nearby limb. Squirrels also have a yellow filter in their eye lenses to help reduce glare and enhance contrast in low-light conditions to improve vision – like night vision glasses so they can find the seed!!

Two to four helpless young are born six or seven weeks after breeding takes place. They are blind and nearly naked and develop slowly.

Photo courtesy of Becky Sheridan
Their eyes open at five weeks, but they do not climb out of the nest for at least seven or eight weeks. They do not get out of their nest tree until they are about ten weeks old. By the time they are three months old, they can fend for themselves. At ten or eleven months they reach sexual maturity, and the cycle can begin again.

Of all of the squirrel-deterrent devices out there, the best is probably the cylinder baffle. It should be 6” in diameter, 18” in length and at least 5’ off the ground. 

Umbrella or tilting baffles placed above the feeder are good too. 

Weight activated feeders  are supposed to be good but my squirrels have found they can lay on top of the feeder and still get to the seed. 

Cayenne pepper added to seed works until the squirrels build up a tolerance to it and it has no effect on birds. Word to the wise, don’t add the pepper to your seed outside on a windy day – just sayin.’

I have tried many of the remedies listed above to no avail. I guess I will just sit on the porch in my rocker with a cup of coffee and spend my time seeing how those little boogers get into the feeders. Kind of comical if you ask me.

It could be worse, I guess. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Cedar Waxwings Are Here!

Have you had a day like I have? The anticipation and excitement of the holidays are over. Family is gone and house is put back together. So, you relax with a cup of tea to look outside at the brown leaves, brown grass, brown trees when all of a sudden a dash of color catches your eye? Mother Nature has teased us with a succession of color with the Cardinal and Bluejay, then Pine Warbler and Goldfinch and now she treats us with the Cedar Waxwing! Enjoy these sleek, tuxedoed, black-masked birds while you can because when their food source is gone so are they.

The Cedar Waxwing is a medium-sized, sleek bird with a large head, short neck, and short, wide bill. They are pale brown, gray or olive on the head and chest with the color fading to soft gray on the wings. They sport a belly of pale yellow, a bright yellow tip on the tail and have a crest that often lies flat and droops over the back of the head. Their face has a narrow black mask outlined in white. The wings, with brilliant-red wax-like droplets on the feathers (hence their name), are broad and pointed. The square-tipped tail is fairly short and rufous underneath. Waxwings in the Northeast United will have an orange tip on their tails, caused by eating the berries of Morrow’s honeysuckle. I suppose this is much like feeding your baby too much carrot and sweet potato baby food and its nose turns orange.

Most often you hear these birds before you see them. When you hear their high-pitched “sreeeeee “whistle, look up and you will see a huge flock flying at break-neck speed stopping short of crashing head on into a tree.

In winter these birds flock together to come and eat berries. They are mostly frugivorous (fruit eater). If you have Dogwood, Cedar, Juniper, Holly, Cherry Laurel or Privet, you will have Cedar Waxwings. They will also eat early spring buds of the maples and elms. When they have eaten all the berries, they move on. At this point you will remember you have left your white car parked outside.

Often Cedar Waxwings pass berries to one another as they perch in a line on a tree branch. Occasionally a waxwing will become drunk from eating fermented berries. These birds also groom each other. Mating season begins in late spring and runs through late summer. The male courts a female by doing a hopping dance and passing berries or pieces of fruit to the female. If the female is interested, she will do a hopping dance and pass the fruit or berry back to the male! The pair may do this a number of times in a row!

Sounds like some folks I know who think they can dance after having several drinks!

Thursday, January 16, 2014


In the bulb there is a flower;

In the seed, an apple tree;

In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!

In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence,

Seeking word and melody;

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.

From the past will come the future;

What it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
In our time, infinity;

In our doubt, there is believing;
In our life, eternity.

In our death, a resurrection;
At the last, a victory

Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see


Saturday, January 4, 2014


In 2012, Time magazine listed the top 10 New Year’s resolutions that were most often broken as:

1.  Lose weight and get fit
2.  Quit smoking
3.  Learn something new
4.  Eat healthier and diet
5.  Get out of debt/save money
6.  Spend more time with family
7.  Travel to new places
8.  Be less stressed
9.  Volunteer
10  Drink less

After reviewing this list (and being guilty of breaking one or two in the past), I decided not to set myself up for failure. Putting my thinking cap on, I have come up with my 10 New Year’s resolutions that if I follow to a ‘T’ I will have success. Plus my garden, the birds and other creatures living there will benefit.

  1. I will not plant vegetables or fruit-producing plants in the shade. Just seeing the sun from the area where the plant will go does not mean ‘sun.’ Most plants need at least 6 hours of FULL sun with vegetables needing 8-10.
  2. I will invest in good gardening tools and equipment. Selecting, investing in, and maintaining tools that are dependable can save much time, money, energy and frustration.
  3. I will not be deceived by weekend specials at the big box stores. Most of these ‘deals’ offer plants that bloom in the dark, grow 40’ in one year and eliminate household odors. They include grass that never needs mowing and plants that never need watering. Be wary fellow gardener!
  4. I will never plant more of ‘anything’ that I cannot maintain. Recognize your limitations (physical, mental, financial and time). Choose easy-to-care for plants that are tried and true performers in East Texas climate and soils.
  5. I will not believe in miracles. Miracles are too precious to be sold in little plastic bottles. Products with secret ingredients that ‘cannot’ be listed on the label are suspect. Keep plants healthy with periodic applications of the appropriate fertilizer. Healthy plants are less susceptible to disease and insects.
  6. I will be wary of sales. A dead plant is not a good deal. Sales are generally for dying plants, excess supplies of non-adapted plants or poor-quality plants.
  7. I will consider sources of information carefully. I will seek out sound gardening advice from authorities (local garden experts, extension agents and Cecil).
  8. I will not over-indulge my plants. Plants will not grow faster or bigger with kindness! Do not put twice the amount of fertilizer recommended,  water too often or spray with pesticides made double strength. Avoid the “if a little does some good, a lot will be better” philosophy.
  9. I will plant the right plant at the right time in the right spot. Don’t try to cheat by planting too soon. Trying to have the first tomatoes of the season among your friends will only damage your plants and reputation. Learn the requirement of each plant for your landscape (light, water, soil, extra care or protection, pruning, etc.).
  10. I will recognize my mistake(s) and take action. Make the right decision first to avoid suffering consequences for years. Don’t think you can take a regular crape myrtle and prune it to dwarf size because it blocks your window. Constantly pruning shrubs to fit a location can easily be remedied by replacing with appropriate sized varieties.

Now, see these resolutions will be easy to keep. And, most of these resolutions include the Time top 10 in some fashion as well. Except for the drinking - you must have a glass of wine in the garden now and then.
Garden on!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Porch

I sit on my porch – in my favorite rocker – in the spring and watch the dogwood trees blooming in the forest below.

In summer, I sit there, a glass of iced tea in hand, watching the hummingbirds visit the feeder. In the fall, I arrange a variety of pumpkins and squash up the steps and beside the door. And in winter, glorious winter, you will find me wrapped in one of my grandmother’s quilts swinging in the porch swing.

This past week, when it wasn't raining, the dreary skies blocked the sun. Sometimes I feel discouraged. Even looking out the window at my garden is depressing – the flowers are gone, the plants are brown. I can feel winter creeping into my soul.

As I sit on the porch, I am reminded that nothing lasts forever. Winter, as dark and cold and rainy as it has been, will always be followed by spring and then summer.

Another view
The view from my porch

My front porch is my sanctuary. Sitting there, I am not bothered by the demand and pressures of everyday life. Trouble and stress seem to melt away.

Everyone needs a porch – a sanctuary – where rest and renewal can be found. 

Do you have a sanctuary? 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Norman Rockwell Holiday

My family has never been guilty of trying to make the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner a Norman Rockwell moment.  Has yours? 

What we are guilty of is serving the same food over and over again. Ours is always turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing (that no one eats except Granny the Great), cranberry sauce (canned chunky and jellied-for sandwiches the next day), green beans (Sissy insists on green bean casserole), fresh bread, pumpkin pie and Granny the Great’s pecan pie.

Another thing my family is famous for is names. No, not their given names but we name food and name dishes all based on the people who served them, what they served them in or the occasion.

I guess the most famous are the Jim Miller potatoes. My 93 year old mother (Granny the Great) talks about as a child going to a school chum’s (Jim Miller) house and his mother serving these potatoes. Nothing fancy – just good old home cooking. This dish is boiled lumpy potatoes (skin on or off your preference), with added butter, milk and chopped onion. Yes, keep them lumpy. All part of the mystique.

The company salad, well, it is the salad that is only served when company comes and over the years it has become a staple for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I tried to do away with it one year, because no one eats it, but the family asked where it was. So it has reappeared. It is just lemon Jello with chopped bananas and pineapple, topped with whipped cream made with the pineapple juice and then added shredded cheese.

Christmas morning debuts Grandma Betty’s waffles. It is the only time of the year that we have waffles – really. The Belgian-type waffle batter is made Christmas Eve as the kids are getting into bed. In the past we served these with venison sausage processed by Kuby’s in Dallas but my source disappeared. Sad. . . 

Then there is Juli’s mashed potato bowl. Our holiday dinner usually consists of 4 to 6 to 10 people - maybe more; maybe less. I always make a 10 lb. bag of mashed potatoes (not to be confused with Jim Miller potatoes). These are served in this antique McCoy bread bowl and usually there are no leftovers. What can I say; my family likes potatoes.

This enamelware pan is one used by my grandmother to take potato salad to church picnics. My mother always gestured by making a mountain with her hand to indicate how full the pan was. I just had to keep this pan – although unusable for potato salad or anything else for that matter.

My mother made her potatoes in this sauce pan. I will always remember her banging on the lid to secure it while the potatoes were cooking.

Lastly are the Christmas plates. My children made these while in day care – hence the spelling or lack thereof. Every year, the kids piled these plates high with waffles and sausage, turkey and gravy and pecan pie. Now my grandbabies are using these plates for Christmas dinner.

Although not Norman Rockwellish, our holiday dinners have been a source of tradition and memories from the time my mother was a child to now when her great grandchildren are being served dinner. We will be ever thankful for the love of family, wonderful memories and good food. As we prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I wish you the bounty of God’s blessings. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Owl Eyes

Fellow blogger, Rebecca Deatsman, wrote a wonderful piece of her encounter with a Short-eared Owl at Grasslands National Park which is  a Canadian national park located in southern Saskatchewan.

Her essay is not so much a study of the Short-eared Owl but more about the way nature speaks to us. Click on the link below and enjoy!