Friday, April 30, 2010

What to Grow?

Last year's garden in late June

Okay, putting on my gardening hat now. I'm a bit at a loss over what to do with my vegetable garden this season. We are splitting a CSA (community-supported agriculture) share, so we should have plenty of produce all summer and I'm a bit afraid of having too much if I plant much myself. The only perennial foods in my garden are rhubarb, chives and sage, apart from no doubt some self-seeded tomatoes from last year's overflow of fruits that split on the vine, and maybe a few other volunteers. I'd like to establish some bunching onions, but the rest of the bed is available.

So, what else would you advise planting at this point, either direct-seeded or with purchased seedlings? If I act very quickly I could get some asparagus plants and plan a permanent row, but I suspect I won't.

Maybe this is the year to have a riotous bed of annual flowers, but that can get expensive, and it feels a bit late to start anything from seed.

Maybe I should plant a cover crop and let everything else lie fallow for a year.

What would you do?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tulips From My Garden

Tulips in bloom, April 26. Click on the collage to see lots more detail.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Blue-winged Teals

Here is a pair of blue-winged teals seen late yesterday afternoon in one of the ponds near the Amerman Pavilion and soccer fields on the southeast side of town. I'm told that if you go to western Minnesota, these are more common than mallards, which by the way are considerably larger. While we were watching these two, a mallard splashed down right next to them (rudely replaced them in the field of our spotting scope, in fact), and the size differential was very plain.
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Found a Skull - A Rabbit?

We found this skull, which we at first thought to be a bird's, on a stone beach at Lake Byllesby on Saturday. It has what appears from the side to be a yellow, extremely hooked beak something like that of a raptor.

But when seen from the front, it doesn't look like a beak, it looks like two curved front teeth. From searching Google images of "rabbit skull," I think that's what we might have, but I am very open to other more expert opinions.

Below is the underside.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

First Shorebirds and Many Ducks

A very pleasant sunny afternoon in the mid-60s called us over to Lake Byllesby near Cannon Falls, where we spotted our first shorebirds of the season other than killdeer, plus several dozen American white pelicans, many different kinds of ducks, a loon, coots, and Forster's terns. We viewed the lake from three different spots -- a deepwater public access area facing north, the shallows of the Cannon River as it enters the west end of the lake by the Hwy 56 bridge, and from our favorite shorebird viewing spot on the shallow north shore near the west end of the lake. We saw the loon in the deep water. I always get a thrill to see one of those in our region.

Looking northwest from the Hwy 56 bridge; the mudflat on the right is where we saw the solitary sandpiper.

Our first shorebird spot was a lone specimen on the edge of a mud flat on the west side of the Hwy 56 bridge, which we eventually identified as a solitary sandpiper. (Before we pulled out the field guide, I was asking, "Where are its friends?" It comes by its name honestly, apparently.)

Solitary sandpiper -- note clear eye ring, long bill, dull greenish (not yellow) legs, and mottled chest coloration that stops fairly high up on the breast.

Ducks we saw included decent numbers of northern shoveler, blue-winged teal, and ring-necked duck, plus smaller numbers of green-winged teal, gadwall, and pintail.

Blue-winged teals (white splash near tail and on head are diagnostic, as are the flashes of blue seen when the birds are in flight), with one green-winged teal at right rear (note cinnamon head).

Here's a view of the shallow side of the lake where we saw most of the ducks, coots, yellowlegs, and (further out) pelicans.

American white pelicans are enormous and are I think particularly stunning when seen in flight, when a lot of black shows on their wings that is almost completely hidden when the birds are at rest. The flashing black and white as the birds turn in the air almost creates an optical illusion and is really something to see.

American white pelicans (taken through the scope but without the help of my zoom lens, which is nonfunctional these days -- hence the lack of good resolution to several of these photos).

We saw modest numbers of greater and lesser yellowlegs. Here's one:

A yellowlegs chowing down. Since identification as greater or lesser yellowlegs depends largely on comparative bill length, this specimen will have to remain nonspecific.

In addition to all the birds already mentioned, on this outing we saw two bald eagles (a mature one and a juvenile that didn't yet have its white head and tail) , several tree swallows, an American kestrel on an overhead wire, and a wild turkey crossing a side road in front of us. We also saw the first chipping sparrow -- our smallest sparrow -- of the season. And we had one exciting non-avian sighting: a red fox near the side of the road on our way to Byllesby! An excellent day indeed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

First Arb Outing

Early spring in the Arb - mostly bare and brown, still, but with a haze of pale green and tawny colors as the trees in the distance start to get their leaves. (Click on photo to see larger version.)

We finally took our first Arb (Cowling Arboretum) walk of the season just now -- a beautiful late afternoon, about 70 degrees F., a light breeze, no bugs... We saw two Eastern Bluebirds and one or more Eastern Phoebes (not sure if we were seeing the same one more than once, or multiple birds), both also the first of the season. I am just getting over a bad cold with an exhausting cough, so I didn't have a lot of stamina, but it felt wonderful to be outside, walking slowly as we listened for birds. Besides the bluebirds and phoebe(s), we saw and/or heard cardinals, chickadees, pheasants, blue jays, crows, and a downy woodpecker. A really nice first outing.