Sunday, March 29, 2009

An early visitor after turning on the stream

We turned on the pump on Friday, so the stream is flowing. It takes a while for birds to get comfortable with the change in their habitat, so it wasn't until Saturday that we had many birds visiting. I saw a few pine siskins ignore the pond, perching instead on the empty bird bath wondering where the water went. But once the birds got used to it, we've had a lot of activity. Robins especially enjoy taking multiple baths a day. The chickadees also have been bathing (and the starlings unfortunately). The biggest surprise, though, was hearing a toad singing last night (Saturday). Usually a welcome sound of spring, its early appearance this year - coming during the Earth Hour as we had our lights out - was a sad reminder of the problems ahead when the usual patterns are broken. Though this sole male didn't seem to attract any mates last night (I saw him alone in the skimmer this morning), I wonder what the effect of early mating might be. Will eggs laid too early hatch as well? Will the tadpoles find enough food? Anyway, I recorded the event with Frogwatch USA.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another welcome sign of spring

I was happy to spot a frog swimming in our pond today. We've been concerned about them overwintering in the pond since we lost all of the adult frogs the previous winter. This year we put pipes in the pond and checked every day that they hadn't iced up. When they did, I added hot water to the pipe. I think the key is to keep an air hole open. Another reason at least one frog survived might be that we cleared out more of the vegetation in the fall so there wasn't as much decomposing vegetation to take up the oxygen in the water. We'll have to look into this more. I'll be happy to see the other dozen or so frogs appear. It's a miracle they can survive all winter in that icy water!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Signs of spring

Traditionally, seeing your first robin of the season is a sure sign of spring. For me, though, I've seen robins in every month of the year - not in any one year, but over the years. Since I've seen robins even in January, it's hard to say the seeing a robin signals spring's arrival. But I did see a song sparrow today, and hearing its song certainly made me feel that winter was ending. For the last few years, the most welcome sign of spring is hearing the toads' mating calls as they gather in our pond. It may not be the first sign of spring, since it happens in April, but it's surely joyful! Meanwhile, the most important thing I'm doing as I wait for spring's official arrival is to monitor selected shrubs for their first leaf bud to burst out as part of Project Budburst. Project Budburst is a citizen science project that collects data on plant phenology (life cycle events) for selected plants. In my yard, I'm monitoring serviceberry, bearberry, flowering dogwood, red twig dogwood and others - even the first dandelion.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

First chipmunk of the season

I saw my first chipmunk of the season today - perched on the stone wall waiting for a peanut as he did all last summer. He didn't remember, though, to wait for the peanut but rather scurried away when I opened the door. I'm sure he'll remember the routine soon! (This photo is from last year.)

My poor chickadee

Chickadees are my favorite bird, and I feed them mealworms every morning. The whole little flock comes to the window feeder each morning to get their share. (How do they fit so many mealworms and peanuts into those little stomachs?) I was sad to see this chickadee with a deformed beak, but he still seems to be able to pick up peanuts and mealworms. His beak is still growing (already much longer than when this photo was taken), so I don't know how much longer he'll be able to eat.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

House finch eye disease

A few years back, I faithfully participated in the House Finch Eye Disease citizen science program. I can't remember why I stopped, but having noticed on two separate occasions goldfinches with this horrible eye disease, it occurred to me that I should again start participating. I just got the hardcopy forms in the mail, so I'm back in business.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Helping my frogs survive this cold, snowy winter

Unfortunately, our frogs haven't survived the last two winters. Fortunately, they had left tadpoles that did survive so we were able to enjoy frogs each year for the past few years. We've tried to come up with a way to help them survive in our ponds without the use of electricity. Our attempt this year is to sink PVC pipes into the pond so that there's a source of oxygen in the pond. I check it each morning to make sure the water in the pipe isn't frozen. If it is, I pour warm water down the pipe and that takes care of it. Surprisingly, even on very cold days, it generally doesn't freeze, so I haven't had to thaw it very often. I worry about adding warm water and raising the temperature in the pond, but since I use less than a gallon, I don't think the warmth extends too far into the pond. I have no idea in which part of the pond the frogs decided to overwinter, so I don't know how close they are to the source of the warm water. If this method doesn't work 1) we'll have to acquire some new tadpoles or froglets this year (easy to do since people get them in their swimming pools and they would otherwise die when they add chlorine), and 2) we'll have to give some more thought and research to our overwintering strategy. We hope to be able to devise something that doesn't require electricity, though.