Art Exhibits and Garden Tour, June 7 and July 5

ART SHOW/GARDEN TOURS on JUNE 7 and JULY 5 for First Friday Gallery Night, 5-8pm, at the artist’s studio in downtown Ithaca! It's been ten years since the last one!!! Don't miss the bird mural on the front porch, the silent auction, the note cards, and the bioregion maps for sale! Venmo and Paypal accepted. More details here:

My Bird Neighbors

Last week, June 11th, 2017 (forgot to hit publish), I could hear and finally located a woodpecker hole high up in a 100+ year old Sugar Maple tree which occupies both my yard and my neighbor’s. According to, it will be another two weeks from now before these Hairy Woodpecker babies fledge.  The perfectly round hole is about 30 feet up on a dying limb of the tree.  Today, before I took off on my bike, I heard a Pileated woodpecker calling in the tree of the nest.  It called for about a minute, then flew off, and has not been calling from here for months. I couldn't help but think the bird was coming by to visit (like an auntie) to check on the babies!  I could not make out the bird, but it was large, mostly black and surprisingly close to the nest cavity (about five feet, maybe less).  I do not think this was an accident as I have not heard the Pileated or the Red-bellied for several months.  I later read that Hairy woodpeckers sometimes follow Pileated woodpeckers to eat the bugs they miss, but no mention was made of the other way around.

Shortly thereafter, four blocks from my house, while I was on my bike, a black and white bird undulated in front of me and landed in a small tree near me.  I stopped to watch and saw it was a Hairy.  Since it was so close to my house, I suspect it was likely the female I have been watching all week, and that she was foraging for insects for her babies.  It then went from its perch to the rooftops and looked in gutters and peaked in several holes of uncaulked crevices of houses.  The male called from down the street, and the female responded.  It looked like she had a "routine" path, as if she knew where the insect "hiding hotspots" were.  Why do I say this?  Because it would fly directly to a gutter corner, then zig zag backwards to a crevice, then up to a roof, look under a loose shingle, then without hesitation bolt between two houses to the tree behind.  The bird appeared to "know" where she was going as she promptly left for the next spot if no bug or spider was found.  Very cool!  Kind of like how squirrels "remember" where they hide their nuts (and my stolen unripe peaches)?

So I am left wondering if anyone else has these kinds of close-encounters? I was on my way to the library, minding my own business, when the Hairy flew a few feet in front of me, at eye level, and landed in a young tree.  What kind of coincidence is this? What are the chances that a Hairy would pass me as I was biking???  That's almost as crazy as the time I felt the tail wind of a Sharp-shinned Hawk swoop up and over my helmet as I was on my bike at Newman Golf Course and it was hunting a flock of Mourning Doves (or were they sparrows?).  It came out of no where and suddenly swooped up behind, over, and in front of me while I was peddling hard.  Both of these incidents were so close I could have easily collided into these bird(s) with only a mili-second in time difference.  Coincidence???  Clearly, they are agile and highly skilled flyers who know their abilities and can out-maneuver me; but why did they choose to go in front of me instead of wait until I passed by?  I have my theories, and may share in a blog entry.

Regardless, the entire experience helped me better understand why the parents can be gone for 15-20 minutes at a time before returning to the nest to feed the noisy nestlings!  Also, I have even greater appreciation for birds, especially those who reduce the number of spiders and bugs on our houses! 

Why Did I Cover My Lawn with Cardboard?


This summer I did something really scary: I covered my front, back, and side lawns around my house with cardboard ...and two enormous dump trucks of wood chips.  I was done spending hours every day weeding the grass out of my beds.  When spring came, my garden, which was previously beautiful with grassy paths and flowers beds, now looked horrendously brown, scruffy, and bleak.  I regretted the mulching and worried that I might have if I just devalued my house.  But I was soon relieved to hear the humming of honey and bumble bees in the Anise Hyssop, to see not one, but FOUR Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed, and to see goldfinches eating sunflower seeds.  

I didn't know where to begin, but the little voice said, "just grab a rake." As I raked, I could see that it was the larger pieces of wood chips that made the garden look so ugly.  Now, the garden is starting to look amazing again, and I can't wait to get up in the morning with my cup of tea to see what's new and different! 

Now that I am switching over to more native and bird-friendly plants, I love my garden even more.   More varieties of beetles, bee-mimics, bees, butterflies, and moths are showing up than before, and that makes me want to go outside more often and stay outside even longer. Being outside longer means I see more going on, and more of the inter-relationships of everything....  For example, today I noticed two red beetles mating on the milkweed leaf and ants all over the milkweed flowers (photos #2) while I tried to work at my outdoor "office" (photo #3).  Was all of this going on before?  Maybe, but it seems to be more intense and frequent.  Have the changes in my garden really made a difference to the birds and pollinators?  I kept a journal, photographed each new insect I saw, and will report back when I have more to say!