Thursday, January 19, 2017

Winter Birds

With a name like Chickadee Gardens, we'd better have chickadees, right? Rest assured, we do. We have more than chickadees; a multitude of bird species visit year-round and the last several weeks of intense winter weather has had them desperately seeking food. With more than a foot of snow on the ground for a week now (as well as frozen ground and bouts of snow since November), it has been especially difficult for wildlife to forage. This part of the world does not usually see this kind of weather; we have all been caught off-guard. Fifty pounds of black oil sunflower seeds and bags of corn kernels later, our feathered friends have made it through the worst of it. 

Red-breasted sapsucker. Although not a feeder visitor, we have seen quite a lot of these colorful birds. We are leaving a few trees that have either died or had major trunks broken off in storms for snags. This bird is on one of the snags in progress (not quite dead yet!), a favorite hang out.

These two were having lunch together. Not sure if they are a pair, but they were friendly with each other. 

Varied thrush. We have seen an abundance of these medium-sized birds. They are not visitors year-round, rather in the cooler months. The last few weeks they have come to heavily rely on the sunflower seed offerings we put out several times a day as they are ground foragers, picking through fallen leaves for insects. Since there has literally been no ground to pick through nor a leaf on the ground to be seen, they were desperate. Don't worry, they were very well-fed. In fact, they all seem quite plump and orangy.

Such rolly-pollies! They chase each other off while foraging or waiting in a branch for another go at the bird feeders. Not the most welcoming within their own species.

Ha! It looks like a candy corn, but it's a regular corn kernel in her mouth. We've been sharing the chickens' treats with the wild birds, too. The chickens don't mind.

In this shot she's standing on the frozen birdbath that has become another platform for seeds. 

Here, the varied thrush (or V.T. as we call them) shares seeds with a black-eyed junco.

Speaking of juncos, here is one of about 3,793 currently living at Chickadee Gardens.

They come in droves this time of year even without the cruel weather.

Western scrub jay - appropriate as we live on Blue Jay Lane. We love these guys. This one is kind of the boss of the larger birds around here.

Steller's jay - a beauty. He loves the corn, but is kind of weary of the scrub jay so comes in quickly to grab his fill.

Here he is sunning himself. We have about three couples that live nearby, they are all regular visitors.

Downy woodpecker feasting on suet. These little ones have very little fear of us. We see them regularly year-round, always going for the suet. Speaking of suet, there's a great recipe out there to make your own from a wonderful blogger Real Gardens Grow Natives. You can find the recipe here.

Northern flicker, another regular visitor. These birds are very nervous and are easily spooked. Slightly larger than blue jays, they are related to woodpeckers, and they often search for grubs and insects in trees. They also love ants, so will ground-feed when they come across a colony.

Their long tails are used for balance. Here you can just see it curled under its body. Sometimes suet feeders come with a little plank at the base, this is to help the woodpeckers and flickers have something to balance their tails against.

American crow. We've befriended the crows here, very slowly. It will take time for them to totally accept us. This weather brought large numbers of them looking for the daily pile of kitchen scraps we leave for them. They have been bringing buddies in this weather. We also have one or two raven visitors. They are twice as large as the crows, very impressive birds. FM heard one before dawn the other morning calling as it flew down the valley. Perfect.

Anna's hummingbird, a year-round resident in the Pacific Northwest so in these frozen months, it's especially helpful to have clean, fresh hummingbird water available. The recipe is one part sugar to three parts water. No honey, no molasses, nothing but plain white sugar. Organic is great, but make sure it's white. Boil for one minute, let cool and store in the fridge. No red dye! Keep it fresh by changing it every several days, more often in hot weather. If you start, they come to rely on it so you have to keep doing it through the winter. If you don't have time for it, don't start. There are a few plants that provide winter nectar - many native Mahonia species (Oregon grape), Ribes species or flowering currants are another. Chime in with your favorites in the comments section if you have a successful flowering plant for hummingbird nectar.

Facilities Manager has done the hummingbird feeder shuffle every day - bringing them in at night and out before first light to keep the nectar warm enough to stay liquid. One of my readers wrote me to say hello and tell me about a great product, the hummingbird feeder heater, the Hummers Heated Delight. Click here for a link, I am in the process of ordering one. Thank you, Jackie! It makes a lot of sense to me, I'd love to try it. After all, FM needs his sleep!

Seeing this hummingbird brings to mind our friend Jimmy the Hummingbird. He was a little guy who was left for dead a couple of winters ago by another hummingbird trying to kill it -- the competition is fierce when it freezes. You can read about that to find out what happened here.

Here, the birdbath heater keeps the water just above freezing to allow birds to have liquid in these frozen days for drinking and bathing. Providing water in the winter is not something we have to think about usually, but when it's frozen, it can mean life or death for many small critters. The birds really appreciate it as it helps them through these tough days. The heaters are fairly inexpensive at around $20 (I bought mine at the Backyard Bird Shop here's a link), well worth the investment I made several years ago. The rocks in there are to give traction for the little birds as the sides of this particular birdbath are quite smooth, they tend to slip right off. It also provides shallow pockets of water, something the really little guys and bees appreciate.

I have written posts about birds before, you can visit those here and here. This week it's all about the winter birds and helping them in this especially difficult time. Usually our winters are mild and snow lasts a day or two at best and wildlife has a fairly abundant variety from which to choose. This time around, as well as plant losses, I'm sure there will be plenty of wildlife losses unfortunately. We normally don't put out four giant overflowing bowl fulls of extra sunflower seed every day. Our regular protocol is simply keeping the feeders well-stocked and providing plenty of plant material to attract insects to eat. This has proven to be an exceptional winter, however, as anyone who lives here can lament, so perhaps we've helped one or two little guys along the way.

As of today the snow has started to melt and the flooding has begun. At least our feathered buddies can now forage in the few green patches for worms and other bugs, back to their regular diet.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening and bird watching! 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Snow Part II

All I have are snow photographs. I want nothing more than to show photos of projects we've been working on or new plants recently purchased. However, none of the sort has happened. Therefore, no photos. What you see is what we've experienced this winter, which is frankly Enough! thank you very much. Not to sound like a complainer, but we just don't usually get this kind of weather in the Portland area. Or so I thought.

We have had snow on the ground here at Chickadee Gardens for more than three weeks.

We were hammered with over a foot of snow last night. The whole city shut down, as many of you who live here know by the 24-hour news coverage. We've got nothing else.

In lieu of a proper post, I give you the scenic beauty (ahem) of a snow-filled landscape, a la Facilities Manager for he took a stroll around the property and captured the spirit of today. --UPDATE-- I have added a few photos from Thursday the 12th, the following day, as the sun came out and it was especially pretty.

This is one of the newly added images from Thursday...sunrise over Mt. Hood in the background. More sunny snow photos have been added at the end of the post.

 The twin maple trees all dressed up. The driveway runs between them but you simply cannot see it any longer.

 The wilder areas are especially pretty in this weather, I admit.

 Maybe next year's postcard for Christmas.

 Hazelnut branches heavy with snow touch the driveway. 

The suet feeders were quite busy this afternoon. No customers here, but rest assured our feathered friends were well cared for.

The last remnants of Christmas. The lights actually melted the snow a little.

There is a Carex textacea under there.  I have a lot of fears about this weather. I have so many new plants in the ground that are small, I don't know how they will fare. Many evergreen or woody shrubs are what I am most worried about. I started uncovering the many hebes and ceanothus that literally were not visible at all. You could not tell any plant was under much of this snow, I had to go by memory. After uncovering several, I asked my friend and local nursery owner Paul of Xera Plants if I should leave them under the snow or uncover them. Leaving them for snow protection for upcoming sub-freezing temperatures or uncovering them to relieve the snow weight. He suggested I leave them. Darn. But some were so overwhelmed that they were going to break. My olive trees for example were flat on the ground. They haven't broken (yet) but they nearly did. Time will tell what will live.

Our little veggie plot has given up the ghost.

 Flat fern.

 The fir trees were so heavy with snow that I had to walk around them rather than under. Quite a strange sensation.

 This was about the only green (besides the fir trees) seen today.

Facilities Manager's second wood pile. 

This is the beginning of a brush pile we are leaving for the birds in the far northeast corner of the property. I plan on adding to it and just leaving it to decompose and do its thing, providing shelter for the little guys. I hope to add a couple more in this general area. That is when the SNOW goes away.

 It is pretty, though. 

 The funny little fence that divides our property (not for long) actually accumulated snow.

Poor little Charlie Brown tree. 

This is my favorite photo of the day. So many little birdies!

I don't see this kind of beauty every day, I wanted to share. Enjoy, and hopefully no more snow photos after this:
 Sunrise was especially spectactular.

 The row of trees behind the house.

This beautifully illustrates the land south and west to us is a forested area, possibly a tree farm.

The native dogwood tree is apparently home to a one-way squirrel.

As I said, I am worried for my plants. I have put a lot into this garden and it's so new and un-established that anything can happen. That this is one of the more terrible winters on record gives me anxiety. I don't know if I could do it all over again. 

But I would.

I should be embracing this beauty. I will try and let it go, for there's nothing I can do about it. I am fairly certain I've lost a phormium and who knows about the Astelia 'Red Gem' and other borderline goodies. I had a Grevillea gaudichaudii that was looking fantastic. If it makes it, I will be a believer. Right now I can't find it. It's that far under the snow. But the birds are a treat to watch. We've had so many visitors to the many feeders - suet, sunflower and hummingbird. Oh, the rotation of hummingbird feeders to keep them melted has been an adventure. Facilities Manager rounds them up every evening after the tiny birds have had their final fill and stores them indoors. Every morning before the sun comes up that's the first thing he does - places them right back out where he got them and inevitably a hummingbird is waiting nearby.

OK, that's my story for this week. Let us all hope for melty green weather before a lot of Portland gardeners go crazy.


By the way, I am using this down time to migrate my blog to the website You should have no problem finding me, it should automatically redirect you. I just wanted to make life a little simpler. So that's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening! 

Thursday, January 05, 2017


It's time to meet the ladies! 
In November we bought four hens. I have never had chickens in my life, but Facilities Manager grew up with them so we were totally willing to give it a go. We'd been ready with the chicken cube (coop) in all of its green-ness to have residents for several months, but, besides the coop and FM's childhood memories, we were unprepared. Honestly, we didn't think we'd find any hens this time of year but on our local homesteader's Facebook page we found a nearby family that was selling the farm. Well, selling off the chickens, ducks, a turkey and some goats, anyhow. Recognizing the opportunity for non-stop fun, I jumped at the chance. And, I said, oh, hey, Facilities Manager, how about four hens? Not ready? Sure you're ready. Let's go now!

We were off and running, driving about 20 minutes south to buy a few hens one rainy Sunday. One minute we were doing chores around the house, the next we were off to buy chickens.

We didn't know what specific breed we were looking for, just four gals that got along and were layers. If I remember correctly, these are all about two-year-old hens. Pictured here is Effie. More on her in a moment. The woman who sold them to us pointed out each one and we basically bought whomever was closest that she thought would be a good layer. With four hens in a giant cardboard box, we headed home. Well, to the feed store first. Did I mention we were a little unprepared? 

After buying feed, scratch, oyster shells, corn, a feeder and a water tub, we were ready. We unloaded the girls into their new home and they, in true chicken form, took to it right off. They really are very easy and sweet and do exactly the right thing at the right time. No training on how to jump up on their roost, no training for getting them into their coop at night. It has been pretty basic and a lot of fun so far. 

Here they are. FM calls this the "album cover picture." Front and center is Frida, back row left to right: Effie, Betty and Blanche. Let's meet them individually, how about that?

First up, Frida. She's a speckled Sussex and she's also our favorite because of her sweet personality. She's definitely the most curious and friendly, and most of the time the first one out of the coop in the morning. She's not the lead hen in the pecking order, however as she does get bullied a very tiny bit. The girls all do generally get along so it's hard to tell what the pecking order is. I've just seen Betty and Blanche nudge her aside to get at her food, that's about as bad as the pecking gets. She gets her name because, well, it's a cool name and I love Frida Kahlo.

FM here: I thought it was spelled Frita, as in Frito Layer (of eggs)?

See? She's first at the door, ready to go.

She loves bugs, and will happily take them from my hand, as well as seed or anything else I'm offering.

She's the first (and only so far) one of the group to make it up the stairs to the deck, checking things out. Curious Frida.

She's cruisin'!

Meet Blanche. We were told she's a Jersey giant, but we aren't sure. Whatever breed she is, she's sweet. Her name matches the little old lady theme and, well, she's black so it's funny. Plus, we love saying "BlaAAAAnche" followed by "Stella!"

She's primarily black with a little bit of sheen on her feathers. She's kind of shy but goes along with the others. She ate out of my hand once. No worries, I'll have her in my lap in no time.

Gal on the go!

And the perfect chicken shape.

Meet Effie! Named after one of David's late great-aunts, she's the pretty one. To me she's the stern great aunt you don't mess with. She looks mean but really, she's fine, even a bit timid. I'd say she's actually the shyest of them all, often the last to leave the coop in the morning. We don't know her breed, there was a lot of lovin' going on at her former home, so many chicken mixes, if you know what I mean. Wink wink!

I love this shot of her, she looks like a cartoon character in her expression.

Very beautiful. Her silver gray feathers are marked with a bronze center on much of her body. Her head is primarily gray. I should also mention that the combs on all of the girls are quite small and from what I understand this is good as it means they are generally cold hardy birds. If they were larger there is a danger of frost damage in winter months in colder regions.

Aaand, to round out the little old lady theme, here's Betty! She's the boss of us all. We were told she's a gold-laced Wyandotte, but there was a lot of hanky panky at the old farm, so she could be a certified mutt. If there was a pecking order, she'd be at the top of the pile. She has eaten out of my hand and is kind of friendly. And pretty noisy. She is often the first to sing her morning song.

Betty contemplates leaving the nice warm coop for the frigid rewards of foraging in the snow.

Ha ha, I love this because behind Betty you can see Blanche in motion jumping down off of her roost. Bombs away! That Blanche, always stealing the show.

She shows off her beautiful warm-colored feathers. 

The coop: To recap Facility Manager's building adventures, he spent the summer tinkering around with his coop. It's super insulated with a raised floor with much gravel and layers of chicken wire underneath to prevent predators digging their way in. Plus there is a cinder block base. The pen has the wire buried into the ground a bit, as well as rocks around, also to discourage unwanted predators. Songbirds, though? They jump right in and help themselves to seed. The chickens don't seem to mind. The window opens for ventilation, and there is a small door to the pen seen in the next photo. He built it small and tight, so it stays really warm in winter. 

Here, the girls hang out in their pen. Facilities Manager added wire to the top of the pen well before the hens arrived and as soon as we got them in there, we realized they need a dry place, so we put a tarp over the top for the winter (yes, that's snow on top of the tarp). FM then added plywood to the north and east sides to help block out winter winds, also for winter. Both can be removed when the weather warms in the spring. You might notice the nest boxes at the back of the pen. They had been in the coop but there is not a good spot for them to avoid being bombarded with chicken poo. For now they sit outside---we did see a squirrel in it once. At least someone's using it. FM will make appropriate nesting boxes another day, for now they're not laying anyhow so it's not a huge concern.

Scratch around! I have that hip hop song Jump Around by House of Pain in my head every time I see them scratching. Of course, I've changed the lyrics to suit me. It's their theme song, much to everyone's chagrin (Facilities Manager's especially). Scratch around indeed! I bust out in scratching moves while singing hip hop every chance I get.

Another interesting thing I've learned about these girls is that they come RUNNING toward you if you have a metal bowl. They associate it with food. Here I brought out an empty bowl to place my olive harvest in (a little coffee was spilled), and these girls came out of nowhere. They even sampled the dab of coffee. No like.

After I had harvested my olives and came walking back up to the house, I looked up to see this.

Ooooh, yummy bitter green olives (blech). What you don't see is the 14 or so olives thrown on the ground. One by one they kept picking an olive out thinking it might be tasty then throwing it on the ground then going in for another, thinking IT might be tasty. I think this would have gone on until they cleaned out the bowl if I hadn't taken it away.

I have this rock bird bath that they found right away. They really love drinking out of this and can empty it in no time between the four of them.

Ha ha, close up cam. See Frida's bent tail feather? She's generally a bit frazzled. But first in line!

I love looking out while I'm gardening and seeing a little bit more life in the garden. The ladies, or girls, seem to fit right in. They often follow me around, but it's been so cold and miserable outside since their arrival that they haven't had a lot of outside exposure. What they have had, they seem to really enjoy. They scratch and peck for insects and have already eaten their fair share of cutworms (yay!). They seem to leave my plants alone for the most part and have an instinct about what not to eat, something I learned studying up on them. That's good news as we plan on allowing them a modified free-range lifestyle. They all hang out together as a flock and are very perceptive about what's happening in their surroundings. Cats don't bother them at all, in fact Lucy is petrified when she sees them and goes slinking back inside. Hobbes did at first, but now he just avoids/ignores them. They know they are bigger than him and they have no fear.

Our routine has been feeding and giving them fresh water first thing in the morning, and on very cold mornings they get warm oatmeal with cinnamon (good for their circulation) and sometimes yogurt. We feed them table scraps (veggies mostly) sometimes along with their feed and scratch. Then they are let out of their pen if we are going to be home for a while and they want to go out (if it's not too cold and/or rainy). If they do hang outside, they congregate close to the house and under the deck if we're not outside with them. If we're around, it's a safe bet that they are near us. Around 3 pm they sense the sun is low and head back to their coop. We lock them in for the night, all tucked in. 

Of course, we didn't get them just to be fun mascots in the garden. They are valuable additions to the farm. They add fertilizer (poop) and have already been helping with bugs. They will eventually lay eggs, we hope. Probably in the spring when the days are a little longer and we have proper nesting boxes set up for them. They will not be meat chickens, they will be our egg chickens, our pals and pets in the garden.

FM is going to teach me how to hypnotize them one of these days.

Go Frida, go!

Many of you have experience with chickens and are hopefully laughing along with us. We are, as mentioned, new at this so I'm sure we'll learn all kinds of chicken facts along the way. That is to say, we are no experts. Since becoming a chicken mommy and wanting to learn as much as possible, I have plowed through three books about chickens, all of which I found to be most helpful. They are Raising Chickens for Dummies by Willis and Ludlow, Free Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom and Gardening with Chickens by Lisa Steele. There are also great websites and blogs, a couple of my favorites are Fresh Eggs Daily and Backyard Chicken-keeping has gained such momentum lately, resources are quite abundant if you are interested.

There you have it. The farm is well on its way. Maybe our critter population will expand one day (don't tell FM) to include a duck or two or maybe a Guinea hen. Then again, I hear they are screechers - very loud. Maybe not. How about a pygmy goat? Hmm....

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening!