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April 17, 2014

WELCOME! It's great to see you! How are things in your corner of the world? Just ducky, we hope :) Happy Spring, FINALLY! And boy oh boy, have you ever seen a weirder weather year??

It's Spring here, too, and swinging wildly from warm, sunny days (quick, where are my tank tops?) to deep freeze and snow (quick, where'd I throw my down vest?). But that's no oddity—that's normal for spring in the high mountains :)

 

Our wildflowers have started, YAY!!! First the fuzzy-baby-ducks pasqueflowers, as always. Then the little snow-white mountain candytuft and the yellow corydalis. The show starts slow here, not with a bang like in does in other regions, where the "spring ephemerals" burst into bloom all at once....

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Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, Before the

Our woods is solidly pine, with groves of aspen trees mixed in here and there in wetter places. The shade is the same all year 'round, which is why most of our wildflowers are in the sunny meadows that dot the forest.

Although we do have shade-loving wildflowers—our fabulous blue-and-white columbines, to name just one—there's no carpet of spring wildflowers under those trees, like there is in places where the woods goes bare in winter.

If the woods in your area are mostly deciduous trees that lose their leaves in fall, then you're in luck!

Your spring wildflowers are "spring ephemerals"—flowers that take advantage of the temporary sunshine beneath those still-leafless trees to bloom and set seed, fast.

Once the trees fill in the canopy, blocking the sun, those wildflowers go back to sleep until next year. They've done their job. And boy, wasn't it wonderful to see!

A few of them will keep their leaves going—while their flowers need sun to bloom, their foliage is big and made for the shade.

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March 25, 2014

The Birds Are Back!!!!
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Juncos
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And Our Supercat Is Back,
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An Eye on the Sparrow:
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7 But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:

8 Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee... —Job 12:7-8

I love good stories, and I love birds. This book makes the connection between the two. What's the natural behavior behind the Scriptural references? Why did the quail rain from the sky onto the sleeping Israelites? What species was Noah's dove? Would ravens really feed Elijah?

It's a bird book, not a religious book. A fun read!

Click here to read reviews and other good stuff on Amazon and get An Eye on the Sparrow for yourself!

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Sally Roth

Naturalist. Horticulturist. Field botanist. Ornithologist. Which is just a fancy way of saying I'm a plant nut, a gardening nut, a bird nut, a bug nut, a nature nut. Oh, and I'm also a writer, editor, consultant, public speaker, music lover, and vicious Scrabble player ;)

PHOTO BY HANNAH LAREE BURROWS

All content copyright (c) 2014

November 25 & November 18. Turkey trot, a room of one's own, vegetable gems, and mysterious crop circles; Sally goes all Martha Stewart on us, paying last respects, Joe the cat, and brain balls.

November 11 & November 4. Toaster of the Month Club, attracting birds to concrete and other big ideas, and shirtless Santa Claus; City mouse/Country mouse, where's my rake, feeder pests, and petting a lamb.

October 28 & October 20. Disney trees, autumn whine, a "starving" Princess, punctuation butterflies, and rotten bananas; An inspiring wasp, a big digger, ravens & Ravens, and the latest in fashionable hats.

October 12. A gang of dogs, fixing the facilities, and maybe, just maybe, a columbine plantation.

October 4. Home is where the heart is, the glory of aspens, new 32-sq-ft birdfeeder, and gooey love stuff.

September 26. Time to go, bidding "fare well," what's next, and a huge THANK YOU.

September 20. Get out NOW, gifts from the sky, yay for Jeeps: the whole Big Flood story.

September 11. Most beautiful butterfly ever.

September 9. Packrats good & bad, molting birds, green is the color of my true love's Volvo, & more.

September 1. Fresh as a daisy, white as snow, silly as Sally, & lots more.

AUGUST. Hummingbirds like neon, wildflowers galore, gardening stuff, all the glories of summer.

March 11. Yep, there's a gap here—we were on the road, giving talks to bolster our "fix the driveway" fund and meeting lots of friends, old and new. Here's where we went and what we saw.

January 31 & January 17. Getting ready for the road trip. And Matt explains football.

January 10. A "zipper" of animal tracks, an oriole nest of a different color, and misnomers that drive me nuts.

January 4. Exploring the field, pine nuts and butterflies, and our friend Clark.

December 30. Family ties, art appreciation, prairie dogs, and the sweet smell of hyacinths.

December 23 & December 16. Star-bellied Sneetches, squirrel capades, a towhee arrives, and battle of the Alpha bitches (female dogs ;) ); Mexican wedding cookies, a houseplant you've never seen, home on the range, and Little Yarn Shops.

December 9. Charlie Brown Christmas trees, killer Christmas trees, one bad robin, garden glories.

December 2. Knitting Club & football, mouse massacre, metal in the mashed potatoes, Geeks 'R Us.

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WELCOME! It's great to see you! How are things in your corner of the world? Just ducky, we hope :) Spring sprung yet? Or starting to spring? Feeder scene changing as migrants move through? Mornings sounding a little different these days? Yay, don't you love it?!

Here? Well, we're thrilled to say we've moved back home!!!! Had to evacuate & spend six months in town because of the big floods back in September, but enough is enough— we wanted to get home, even though our driveway is still too damaged to use, and we're still saving up to fix it. Me to Matt: "I'm pretty good with a pick and shovel..."

So we came home, sledded our belongings down the back driveway (oh man, did we laugh), and started work to reclaim the house from the plague of packrats and mice that had moved in while we were gone. Feels WONDERFUL!!!! And just in time to enjoy Spring :)

After half a year without a handout, you'd think it would take a long time to bring our mountain birds back to the feeder.

Nope. Half an hour, and the gang of Steller's jays were back :) Within a couple of days, all the rest (except those stubborn gray jays) came, too.

And their activity caught the eye of migrants, who stopped off to rest and refuel, too.

Hard to take our eyes off the feeders, there's so much going on. Twenty, 30 times a day, it's Matt & me saying to each other, "You see (that thing they're doing now)?"

Here, meet some of our friends, in order of appearance at the feeder. And yes, it's still snowing here—hey, this is Spring in the Rockies! :)

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Steller's jay. Six came in the first day; now about 20 are back :)

Gray-headed junco (Rocky Mountain race). These are our summer nesters; all of the winter-resident types had already left by the time we got home. And they're already feeling their oats: Fights are frequent. Usually the standoff starts with two birds stretching their kecks high, to make themselves look taller than the opponent. Then it's attack—a faceoff with battling wings, straight up into the air.

Mr. Hairy, the woodpecker, was so happy to see the peanut butter restaurant is back in business.

LEFT, ABOVE: First night, it was hundreds of ravens and crows flying over the house towards a roost, doing acrobatics in the air. Turns out that's an every-evening show, which we just love. But a mated pair of ravens came in, too—that's "Ravenzilla" on the right, biggest raven we've ever seen.

RIGHT, ABOVE: No cardinals in these parts :(, but our male Cassin's finch is looking pretty spectacular in his spring duds.

LEFT: Another dose of snow brought a lone migrating red-winged blackbird to seek sanctuary way up here in the mountains for a couple of days.

BELOW: Hot dogs were laid by the chimney with care, er, feeder, but STILL the gray jays didn't come back. "Won't feel right until they do," we agreed, checking the feeder every five minutes, day after day.

Finally....

First, one... Then, two... Then, all three, including the youngster from last year. YAY! They're alive and well! And just as fond of hot dogs as ever.

BELOW: And today, amidst the bustle of fighting juncos, squawking Steller's jays, giant ravens, tiny siskins and chickadees, hot-dog-snatching gray jays, pretty finches, good old Mr. Hairy, and two kinds of nuthatches (red-breasted & white-breasted), we saw a flash of yellow. Quick, more sunflower seeds— evening grosbeaks are back! Six so far, and all males. A week or so, and the females will arrive, just in time for nesting season to commence.

Mountain life is tough for a cat, what with blizzards, 30-below cold, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, moose, and forest fires.

That's why our cat is named "02." It's a serial number, since he wasn't expected to last much longer than Cat 01.

Turns out, though, that 02 is a Genuine Buckhorn Supercat, the last surviving spawn of a legendary mother.

First of the Supercats, Katy Mae lived to the ripe old age of 17, a miracle among cats here in the Buckhorn Canyon. Her son 02, only survivor of the litter, is now 6 1/2 years old, a record in itself.

We knew 02 was something special, since he'd already survived (1) electrocution from biting into an electrical cord as a kitten; (2) a dog attack that sent him into convulsions; (3) many encounters with bears and coyotes, which he singlehandedly drives away; (4) being bitten by some critter who left a quarter-inch-wide, third-inch-deep fang hole in his head (a bottle of peroxide and a tube of triple-strength antibiotic cream are always on hand here); (5) the huge High Park Fire of 2012, when the forest all around burned to black matchsticks; (6) who knows what else.

But we still thought we might be seeing the last of him when we bade him goodbye when we evacuated for the flood back in September.

As usual, he declined to come along. Which means he clawed and bit Matt fiercely—and you don't know fierce until you've heard 02 launch into his war cry while attacking with claws and fangs—and then ran and hid under the house. So we set out 250 lbs of kibble and wished him luck.

The morning after we came home, Matt went upstairs and found 02 on the bed, looking at him as if to say, "Yeah? What?"

SIX MONTHS of being completely on his own. Yeah, I'd call that a Supercat. Good job, 02! Welcome home!

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ABOVE: First things first: After all that dry kibble, 02 demanded something good for breakfast. Canned salmon, which we'd lugged on foot to the house (along with 150 lbs of birdseed, 12 lbs of hotdogs, and other necessities) did the trick nicely. Yay, happy kitty! And possibly more fierce than ever.

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Yep, I miss that incredible spring show of wildflowers in deciduous woods! So we thought we'd share this gallery of spring ephemerals I've known and loved. How many have you seen this spring?

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BLOODROOT. Flower, LEFT, and seedpod, RIGHT. This one was an oddball, growing all by itself—usually you'll find a whole big patch. Those leaves unfurl into a beautiful groundcover that lasts for months.

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HEPATICA, ABOVE LEFT. Love those little nosegays of flowers! They're usually purple, but of varying shades. And may be white or even pink.

FRAGILE FERN, ABOVE RIGHT. Fell in love with these oh-so-delicate ferns when I lived in southern Indiana. They keep that gorgeous spring green color, and are a wonderful thing to plant under maples.

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CUT-LEAVED TOOTHWORT, RIGHT.

An unappealing name, but, boy, what a cheery little flower! Only about 6 inches tall. Blooms early and keeps going for many weeks, until every bud has blossomed.

Host plant for the "falcate orangetip" butterfly, an equally little guy with white wings tipped with, you guessed it, bright orange.

See those four-petaled flowers? That's a sign that this plant belongs to the big Crucifer Family, the mustards.

"Crucifer" means cross-shaped, and yep, that's the arrangement of those four petals.

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SPRING BEAUTY, LEFT AND ABOVE.

Spring beauties grow by multitudes, spreading fast by seed. Their root goes wayyyy deep, attached to a little bulb that's often a foot below ground.

Lawns look like they're dusted with snow when the spring beauties are in bloom. Like toothwort (above), they bloom for weeks, until every one of their dangling buds has opened.

Flowers are white or pale pink, but they all have bright pink stripes on the petals when you look close.

Those stripes are "bee guides," to direct pollinators to the nectar waiting at the heart of the flower.

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REDBUD TREES AND SPRING BEAUTY, RIGHT.

Murphy Park in New Harmony, IN, is gorgeous in spring, with a solid carpet of spring beauties beneath the splendid redbud trees.

You'll see snowdrifts of spring beauties in city parks, from St. Louis to EVansville, IN, and elsewhere.

How'd they get there? They're evidence that that land was once a forest.

Because their bulbs are so deep, and because they sleep most of the year afer their spring bloom, the spring beauties survived, adopting those grassy lawns as their new showplace.

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TROUT LILY, also known as DOGTOOTH VIOLET, ABOVE.

First, the leaves show up, mottled like the speckles on a trout's belly. Then the dainty pendant flowers open. LOVE this wildflower!

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A TYPICAL INDIANA WOODS IN SPRING, ABOVE.

Every. Single. Plant. is some fabulous wildflower or other.

If you haven't been out for a walk yet, get going! I'd be there too, if I could :)

DUTCHMAN'S BREECHES (I say "britches"), ABOVE RIGHT. See the pantaloons hanging on the washline? ;) A relative of that bleeding heart in your garden.

TRICORNE DELPHINIUM, also called DWARF LARKSPUR, RIGHT. Have I ever mentioned how much I love blue flowers? ;) This one grows from a bulb, which sleeps underground after the flowers finish.

DELPHINIUM TRICORNE, WILD SWEET WILLIAM, and a glimpse of VIRGINIA BLUEBELLS, LEFT.

SWEET VIOLET and WILD SWEET WILLIAM, RIGHT.

More blues. Wild sweet William, also called wild phlox (it's Phlox divaricata, if you're looking to buy plants), varies in color from pale blue to lavender to deeper hues of those colors. The delphinium is always the same rich blue-purple.

See the Spring Beauties at bottom of the pic at left?

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BELOW: Green is pretty, too :)

JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT, left. Pure green or green with brown, Jacks are a fun plant.

TRILLIUM ("toad trillium"), middle. Trilliums come in white (aging to pink), yellow, and brown. the brown ones attract flies for pollination—they're drawn to the color, which looks like rotting meat.

TWINLEAF, right. Flowers are white, but it's those "angel wings" leaves on long bare delicate stems that are even prettier, to my eye.

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VIRGINIA BLUEBELLS.

Why I bought the house I did in New Harmony, IN?

My late friend Allen Cook's colony of Virginia bluebells, which he'd started some 60 years before.

I spread starts all over the entire yard, to bloom with the daffs & tulips and all the other flowers I planted. (Not a bit of lawn left when I got done, just paths through flowers :) )

Spring was sublime....

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