From Loon Lake Road – The habits of birds and making garden plans

Barbara Hendricks' monthly column of community news and activities from Loon Lake.

January began with snow falling and it just kept falling all day and overnight. It was light snow so the accumulation was only about 30 cm, more in places where it drifted.

Through the snow storm, the deer wandered around my yard looking for something, anything to chew on. They were wearing snow blankets which covered their backs and ears, at times resembling fallen tree trunks more than deer. They sure are well camouflaged until they move, then in the snow storm they looked quite ghostly moving through the tree trunks.

As they came closer to the house I watched them and noted that one of them had a black tail which is unlike the black tip on the tail of mule deer. I have now learned that we also have black tail deer here at Loon Lake Road.

 

The few days of brightness and sunshine this month were sure appreciated by humans and other animals. That has started me thinking about those neighbours who travel off to southern areas in the US, Mexico or other parts of Central America each winter “to get away”.

Yes, they get heat and sunshine nearly all the time, so does it really feel as good as when the sun finally comes out after five days of cool and grey? I doubt it.

I am one who really likes to have changes in seasons and already find those small suggestions that winter will be leaving us in six weeks quite uplifting. Where the snow has melted under the trees some of the grass is showing green. Buds are swelling on the deciduous trees and the air smells fresh and clean. Newborn calves are running around in rancher’s wintering grounds. The sun is higher up over the mountain and geraniums and hyacinths are budding out in the window. Daylight savings time is just a month away and then, when it is still light at 7 pm it doesn’t feel like winter anymore.

 

Planning for the next season’s growth is one of the pleasures of being a gardener – it seems always in our planning that the harvest is bigger, the blossoms are more abundant than in real life and I can already imagine the wonderful scent of sweet peas, nicotiana and other flowers wafting on the evening breezes.

I am pleased to see the increasing number of small local seed suppliers, seed exchanges and the increasing availability of native plants. I grow a number of native plants and my all time favourite is the native blue clematis, followed by anemones, fireweed, erigeron and gaillardia. The native shrubby penstemon is also a very beautiful plant but must have dry well drained soil and grows better in wild areas where it has seeded itself than in the garden so I let it be where it wants to grow. I also leave the Artemisia to grow where it will and harvest the tips for fragrant bundles in the house. Of course we are fortunate to have lovely evergreens that are native and I highly value the native juniper tree as a good small tree for the landscape.

Cache Creek will hold its Seedy Saturday on Feb. 7 and that is a good place to start the season with gardening hints and to pick up some local grown seeds. Last summer we had a horde of chipmunks living in the garden so I did not get very many seeds saved to share with others; the little rodents ate the seeds before they were ripe.

 

Part of each winter day here is spent watching the antics of birds in the yard and in the forest. This year five Steller’s Jays have been regular visitors along with the cute Grey Jays, a couple Clark’s nutcrackers, woodpeckers and flickers, all bigger birds.

The Steller’s Jays are real clowns and try to interact with me whenever I go outside; sure it is all about getting me to give them some more fruit and nuts and it works. They can make the most intriguing and surprising noises and can even imitate one call of the bald eagle. Often a grouse does a slow walk across the snow, tempting one of the cats to think he can sneak up on it – never works though. That slow grouse walk, there should be a special name for that. One day a whole chorus of nuthatches started singing and the yard echoed with their song. Chickadees and Juncos round out the list of regular feathered visitors. One hawk, most likely a sharp shinned hawk, also comes by on occasions; undoubtedly more often than I see it. I can hear the night hooting of a great horned owl in the evening but never see it on the wing.

The Great Backyard Bird Count will be held on Feb. 13-16 this year and I will again record bird species and numbers for the count. Last year there were 144,000 records submitted, making it the world’s largest simultaneous recording of bird populations.

Unfortunately, as the number of recordings increases, the results are showing that the population of many of the birds is decreasing. Gone are the flock of migrating birds that used to pass through the Loon Creek valley in the spring and I am convinced that this loss of birds is responsible to the major increase in insect pest that plague us in the summer.

Through activities such as long term observations and yearly recordings of local weather conditions and populations of birds I feel I am part of a continuity and attached to the land and nature, which is a far more important for me than any sensation of “getting away” to an exotic location as a tourist where all natural cycles are unfamiliar. Tourists can use, enjoy and then leave when something is uncomfortable or they want a change, and in my opinion, too many people live life as if they were perpetual tourists rather than getting involved in and becoming part of the communities where they live.

Barbara Hendricks

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