All posts by Kristen Clark

How Avian Pox Helped Me Realize My Birding Addiction

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What if you were told you couldn’t feed or water the birds in your backyard for an entire month? No seeds.  No suet.  No thistle.  No water.

Yep, I cried.  Then I panicked!  And then I became aware of my birding addiction.

A bird expert with US Fish & Game recently confirmed that we are indeed having an outbreak of Avian Pox at our place.   Avian pox is a slowly developing disease of birds caused by several different strains of avipoxvirus.  A variety of birds worldwide, including upland gamebirds, songbirds, marine birds, and the parrot family can become infected. Transmission occurs via direct contact with infected birds, ingestion of food and water contaminated by sick birds or carcasses, or contact with contaminated surfaces such as bird feeders and perches. It’s a terrible virus and can be a significant mortality factor in some wild bird populations.

I took these pictures of an infected Pygmy Nuthatch. You can see the lesions at the base of its beak. And it’s the Nuthatches that are severely infected in my area.

Unfortunately, it’s been suggested that I take down all my feeders and baths, wash them thoroughly with a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water, and leave everything down for one month; that’s how long it can take for the virus to run its course through an entire flock.

The thought of taking down my feeders for an entire month caused me to gasp!  I suddenly couldn’t breathe and beads of sweat welled up on my forehead.  Holy cow!  What will I do if I can’t feed my birds???

I’m about two weeks into the process and not putting out bird seed and suet has been really tough.  I pass by my favorite bird-watching windows and… nothing!  The feeding frenzy and excitement, the glorious singing and frolicking, have all come to a complete stop!  I swear I got the shakes this past weekend from withdrawals.  And my mind keeps racing with ways to cheat!  What if I just sprinkle a little food on the ground for the juncos?  Or what if I hold in my outstretched hand a small bowl of black oil sunflower seed to attract a few chickadees?  Or what if I spread butter bark on the tree and only feed the woodpeckers?  That can’t hurt, can it?  Sigh.

I could feed and water the birds every day AS LONG AS I also decontaminate all the feeders and baths with the bleach solution mentioned above, but I don’t really have time to that every day.  And the real risk is in attracting all the sick birds back to my place so they can continue spreading the virus back and forth to each other.  NOT a good solution!

Yep, I have a birding addiction.  And, yes, I’ve cheated in all the ways mentioned above!  But I’m also learning how to spend my time participating in our wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary in different ways.  Here’s how I’ve been spending my time…

  1. I’m spending more time reading about birds in my bird magazines and books; and I’d forgotten just how many back issues I have!
  2. I’m focusing on other wildlife, including the deer, squirrels, and butterflies – it is spring after all!
  3. I am carefully cleaning all 17 bird feeders and 3 bird baths and sterilizing them with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water; they are setting aside until I can put them out again in May
  4. I am spending many mornings having coffee by myself, missing the birds that weren’t there to greet me, and reflecting on how their presence is a gift and good for my spirit; find us on Facebook and you can see the many videos posted of me having coffee with the various birds at our place
  5. I’m enjoying the arrival of the hummingbirds and learning as much as I can about them; since they drink nectar I decided that was a safe bet
  6. I look father than my front and back porches for birds by walking the property and seeing what’s going on at the neighbor’s house
  7. I check our wildlife trail cam more frequently and move it about the property to see what other animals might be passing through our wildlife habitat

Avian Pox is a terrible thing, but my birding addiction might be worse and I’m wondering if there are 12 step meetings for this particular vice!  Hmmm.  However, if I look on the bright side (I think folks in recovery call this having an attitude of gratitude), I’m getting a chance to participate in our wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary in different ways, and I’m discovering how that in and of itself is also an incredible blessing! Just take a look at the deer video below and you’ll see what I mean.

 

Birding New Year’s Resolution #2 – Visit a New Retail Store

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One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to visit a new birding retail store to see what’s new on the market.  Sounds simple enough, but from where I stand that meant a planned trip down the mountain, in between snow showers and in conjunction with other errands.  Ordering supplies from Amazon had been an easy crutch, but I made that trip this past weekend and I was delighted with my experience.

I visited Wild Birds Unlimited for the first time!  (I know, right?  Many of you are thinking, “Wow, it’s about time!”  Lol.)  And I immediately loved the ambiance in the store.  It was pretty, with beautiful stained glass window decorations in between the myriad of feeders, stands, baths, and food!  And I quickly noticed the sounds of mockingbirds mimicking other bird sounds playing over the speakers.  Nice!

The woman who greeted me spent time showing me around the store, and she was friendly and helpful; I was surprised by the attention I received.  More so, I was surprised to see the new birding trends that I hadn’t been exposed to yet, including the company’s very own bark butter!

Bark butter is a spreadable suet that can be easily smeared on tree bark or on a bark butter feeder to attract birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, mockingbirds, wrens, woodpecker, towhees, etc.

How could I resist!  I bought some bark butter AND a bark butter feeder!  And then I spotted some much needed peanuts, so I added that to my cart, in addition to the newest issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest.  The magazine really caught my attention because I didn’t even know it existed, and I had considered myself pretty well up to speed on all the birding magazines.  Oops.  Missed that one completely.

And then I spied from across the store an oriole feeder to hold grape jelly and orange slices.  I don’t know that I’ll get any orioles up where I am, but it’s possible and so I’m game!  I added that to the cart, too.

All in all, it was a terrific adventure and I can’t wait to visit another birding store again in the near future.  As for my purchases, the next morning I put out the bark butter and feeder, and within 15 minutes the chickadees and nuthatches were sold on the new dining station!  Sweet!

My big revelation?  I’m not exposed to all the cool new birding trends from the internet and Amazon alone.  There are some things I need to learn by getting out of the house and into a store!  Thank you, Wild Birds Unlimited, for a terrific experience.

 

A Valentine Treat for the Birds: DIY Terrarium Bird Feeder

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February is National Bird Feeding Month and I can’t think of a better way to show the birds a little extra love than with this sweet DIY bird feeder!  Super easy to make and something the birds will love!

Here’s what I used:

  • Silk flowers
  • Butterfly stickers
  • Organza ribbon and/or lace
  • Colorful plastic beads
  • Plastic round terrarium balls (which I picked up at the Dollar Store)

Here’s what I did:

  • I hot-glued the silk flowers to the top of the terrarium ball
  • I added a butterfly sticker to the ball near the silk flowers
  • I threaded the ribbon and/or lace with the colorful plastic beads to make the hanger, knotting in between the beads to keep them separated
  • I added some mixed wild bird seed and hung the ball outside

Chickadees are curious, so it didn’t surprise me that it was a chickadee who decided to check out the new feeder first!  But he was quickly followed by a pygmy nuthatch who also wanted to explore the new diner! Lol.

February is National Bird Feeding Month and a great reminder to feed the birds through the tough winter months when food sources can be scarce.  Let’s show our feathered friends a little love with this sweet feeder, and remember to keep it well stocked all month long!

Birding New Year’s Resolution #1 – DIY No Suet Bird Treats

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One of my Birding New Year’s Resolutions this year is to learn to make a new bird food, like suet or hummingbird nectar.  Since I already know how to make nectar, I decided to give the suet a try.   And, I have to admit, I have a new appreciation for the suet artisans who take the craft to heart.  Bravo to you!

Because I live up in the mountains, going into town for supplies is not always convenient.  So I decided to see if I could find a recipe that didn’t require lard.  I had plenty of peanut butter and bird seed on hand and I wanted to see what could work with just those two ingredients.  I found a few suggestions and here’s what I did:

  1. I melted the contents of a 16 oz. jar of peanut butter in the microwave, in a microwave-safe bowl and covered with a paper napkin, on high for about a minute.
  2. I poured 1 ½ cups of wild bird seed into the bowl, including black oil sunflower seed (a bird favorite!)
  3. After mixing the bird seed into the peanut butter, I spooned the mixture into silicon molds; I had a rosette mold that I had purchased from Amazon and I thought I’d use that to create rose-shaped treats for some added interest. J
  4. I covered the filled molds with saran wrap and placed them in the freezer overnight.

It was really that easy, and here’s what I learned:

  • Peanut butter alone doesn’t harden well enough to hang the treat with string or ribbon (as I had hoped); as a result, I placed two rosettes in a wire suet cage, which worked really well but defeated the purpose of the decorative rosettes.
  • Peanut butter alone will melt in warm weather, so this project really only works when it’s cold outside, (below 40 degrees F.)
  • I placed a few of the rosettes on a rock out back and the birds STILL loved the treat; they didn’t care if it was hanging from a tree or laying on a rock.
  • My treats attracted many birds, including chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, Steller’s Jays, and a Northern Flicker!

All in all, the project was a lot of fun!  And next time, I’m going to try adding lard to the mixture!

My Backyard Birding New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not usually one for New Year’s Resolutions but as I reflect on my birding adventures over the last year I realize there were several things I wanted to do but never got around to.  Attending the Festival of Cranes and celebrating the return of Sandhill cranes to Bosque del Apache is one terrific example. And I can’t for the life of me remember why I didn’t make that event.  So this year I’ve decided to be more intentional in my birding pursuits by proactively planning activities I know will enhance my birding adventure!  And I’ve decided to make sure I do one new thing each month.  So, with the New Year upon us, here is my list of self-promises for the year:

  1. Maintain and update regularly our range map of the birds in our backyard, tracking the bird species that visit each month and then comparing those visitors to last year’s visitors in the same month.
  2. Keep an eagle eye out for new bird species visiting our backyard and learning as much about them as possible.
  3. Visit a local birding hot-spot over a weekend or day trip and identify birds we don’t usually get in our own backyard.
  4. Attend a birding festival I haven’t been to yet, and more specifically attend the Festival of Cranes!
  5. Encourage new species to visit our feeders by placing out a feeder designed just for them.
  6. Attract new bird species to our backyard by adding a new and different food source; this year I’ll try fresh fruit.
  7. Determine to see a bird I’ve been wanting to see and make the necessary arrangements to do so; the Barn owl is coming to mind at the moment.
  8. Join a local Audubon chapter and get involved in their events and activities.
  9. Plant a bird-friendly hedge, tree, or climbing plant that is native to our region.
  10. Learn to make a DIY food source like home-made suet.
  11. Freshen up our backyard by adding a new garden accessory, like a new bird house, feeder, or bath.
  12. Visit a birding retail store and see what’s new on the market.

What do you think?  Any of these resonate with you?  If so, feel free to borrow any of my resolutions for yourself.  I don’t mind.

And from my backyard to yours… Happy Birding!

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Quick and Easy DIY Bird Seed Parfait for the Holidays

The hubbub of the holidays can be stressful, but nothing can be more frantic than realizing you have an upcoming white-elephant or holiday gift exchange and NO GIFT!  Eek!  Or maybe you’re simply looking for a creative gift idea for a fellow birder.  Well, here’s an easy, inexpensive, DIY holiday gift anyone can make in just minutes.  And it’s a gift idea that can be easily altered to accommodate any gift-giving holiday; just change up the ribbon and decorative topper.  Take a look!

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Ravens and Owls and Bear, Oh My!

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It was still dark out when I heard the ruckus.  The Steller’s jays were all in a frenzy, squawking violently at something.  But I could hardly adjust my eyes to see what was causing all the commotion.

I got some coffee and continued readying for work, and that’s when I heard the ravens.  I knew immediately that this was about something bigger than a mere plea for more food.

I went to the window again and could see the outline of two large ravens frantically trying to flush something out of the tree.  They were NOT happy with whatever had arrived in their backyard!

I continued watching as the sun rose up over the mountain peak and revealed what was in the tree, and I gasped with delight.  He was beautiful.  Majestic.  And a little intimidating.

I went outside with my camera and the ravens flew off, but our new visitor stood its ground.  He didn’t budge.

I went back inside and woke up my husband. “If you want to come see it, get up now,” I whispered.

He didn’t even need to ask.  He knew that if I woke him up in the middle of a sound sleep then it must be worth it.

We stood side by side and in awe of the beauty before us.

I drove to work giddy from the morning’s excitement and the opportunity to add a Great Horned Owl to my life list.  And I was grateful to get the one picture I did get because the owl was gone by the time I got back home after work.  And the thought occurred to me that I may now need to relocate my trail cam to somewhere up high.  That is if I can successfully imitate a bear climbing up and down a tree.  Hmmmm… I better rethink that.

Lions, and Tigers and… SNAKES?!

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I stumbled into the kitchen and this feeling of horror crept over me!  What had I done?!  Had I really let in the enemy?!

Coffee seemed of little importance as I stared at the shed snakeskin I had cut and laid out on parchment paper the night before… and I cringed.  I nearly squealed with delight upon finding the shed snakeskin the day before.  My husband had gently lifted the brittle shell to carry it into the house, and from the looks of it, the snake had shed its skin several days prior, maybe even weeks.  It was so very fragile and I immediately went to work researching shed snakeskins.  That’s when I discovered how to make jewelry pendants from the skins, an idea that caught my fancy, and I went to work hydrating the skin so I could lay it out flat to dry overnight.

But things always seem different after a good night’s sleep and something about the snakeskin seemed eerie in the morning light.  I became immediately conflicted about its presence in our home, let alone the idea of wearing it!  Several thoughts stampeded my brain.

As a Christian, I was instantly reminded of the verse in Genesis where God cursed the serpent more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field, doomed to go on his belly and eat dust all the days of his life.  Floods of other scripture reminded me that the snake is the symbol of evil, the serpent a deceptive trickster particularly adept at promoting all God has forbidden as “good”.

I had to pause and take a breath before sorting through the other thoughts flooding my mind:

While Christians may believe the serpent to be a symbol of evil, snakes serve as different symbols in other cultures:

  • In early Egyptian society the snake was the symbol of royalty and deity.
  • As a Spiritual Animal, the snake represents healing, transformation and life changes, often providing guidance about life changes and transitions – physical, emotional, and spiritual.
  • In Medicine, the snake is a common symbol on pharmaceutical packaging and hospitals, with the two serpents wrapped around the staff of Asclepius, Greek mythological son of Apollo and god of medicine and healing.
  • Ancient symbolism (the ouroboros) depicts the serpent or snake eating its own tail, representing the infinite cycle of nature’s endless creation and destruction, life and death.
  • In other eras and other cultures, the snake symbolized eternal love, healing, fertility, wisdom, and even immortality.

But the symbolism that resonated with me the most was the role of the snake in the circle of life.  In fact, most naturalists will suggest you do nothing to remove snakes from your yard or garden because they play a critical role in the natural ecosystem.  Not only do snakes help control the rodent population… snakes also serve as a food source for several bird species, including owls, hawks, falcons, and herons.  And you know how much I LOVE birds!

I came “full circle” in my thinking when I remembered Psalm 148 which serves as praise to the Lord from Creation itself, praise from all things – beasts and creeping things (including snakes) – and I could suddenly imagine snakes everywhere praising God for having created them too (image snakes at a Christian rock revival).

I started to breathe easier after my mental wrestling match and decided to celebrate our find.  Snakes shed their skin to allow for further growth, and further growth is good for our wildlife habitat.  Further growth is also all part of God’s design and I decided that finding this particular shed was a gift, one I could wear as homage to the circle of life and all things created by God.

So I ask… is it a terribly weird idea and you’d never let any part of any snake in your house, no way, no how?  Or, do you totally love it and want a pendant of your own?  Thoughts?

10 Things I Learned During the First Year of our Wildlife Habitat and Bird Sanctuary

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This month marks the one year anniversary of our Wildlife Habitat and Bird Sanctuary, and as I reminisce over the last twelve months, I’m reminded of how blessed we have been.  Common visitors to our bird sanctuary include chickadees, Steller’s jays, juncos, pine siskin, and house finches, while special appearances were made by a black-throated gray warbler and Williamson’s sapsucker.  We have several birdbaths and over a dozen bird feeders, AND we go through about 80 pounds of bird seed a month.

Getting to experience the birds and wildlife every day is a special treat but the real gift lies in the wisdom I’ve acquired in such a short time.  Nature has its music for those who will listen and I’ve done my share of listening.  Here’s what I’ve learned in the process:

  1. The date and time stamp on the trail cam matters in keeping good records.
  2. Birds will not set a limit on how much food I should provide them, so I have to.
  3. Indoor window clings are critical in avoiding aviary window strikes.
  4. When time or resources are limited, water is more important than food.
  5. Having a contact at the local US Fish and Wildlife Service is really helpful.
  6. Photographs are required to support a claim of wildlife or bird species.
  7. There will be injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife and knowing in advance what to do when I find them will reduce stress – for me and for the wildlife.
  8. Volunteering at a local wildlife rescue organization is an ideal hands-on learning experience.
  9. The traffic patterns in my habitat may not match the information in various field guides, and that’s okay.
  10. Knowing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 will help keep me out of jail.

I should probably write a book about everything I’ve learned this past year, but for now this is my short list.  And if you’re interested in hearing the details around each of these ten learnings, check back here over the next several weeks. My goal is to elaborate on each and every one of these in greater detail.  In the meantime… happy birding!Special care ad

Celebrating the One Year Anniversary of our Wildlife Habitat!

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One year ago this month, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), America’s largest wildlife conservation and education organization, recognized me and my husband for having successfully certified our Wildlife Habitat through its Garden for Wildlife program.  This month, we are celebrating the habitat’s one year anniversary! Woo hoo!

Truth is, we certified our mountainous habitat in response to the “Dog Head” fire that consumed nearly 18,000 acres in June of last year.  We had experienced a sudden influx of both birds and wildlife immediately after the fire and we wanted to do our part to create a safe haven for them.  In fact, in just this past year alone, we’ve had 32 different bird species come through our habitat, many of which have nested and are now raising young.

Common visitors to our bird sanctuary include chickadees, Steller’s jays, juncos, pine siskin, and house finches, while special appearances were made by a black-throated gray warbler and Williamson’s sapsucker. We provide for the wild birds with several birdbaths and over a dozen bird feeders. And we go through about 80 pounds of bird seed a month! But providing water is the most critical aspect of what we do (as you’ve heard me say before) because a bird will die from dehydration before it will die from starvation, especially during critical winter months or droughts when water is scarce.

Even wild mammals need water, as evidenced by several photographs I took this summer of a mule deer drinking water from our birdbath out back.  (That was terribly exciting to watch!) Other mammals frequenting our wildlife habitat include Abert’s and rock squirrels, brush and cottontail bunnies, coyotes, and a pair of wolves.

In the midst of the worldly drama around us, we’re grateful to have nature as a form of distraction.  The beauty and grace of our wildlife and birds delight us daily, reminding us of the splendor of God’s creation.  Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us, for your encouragement along the way, and for your support of our efforts.