Project Feederwatch

Being home with the children has given me an opportunity to do something I did not realize was such an enjoyment: bird watching. It started with us putting up a small feeder in our front yard. Our daughter and I would enjoy watching the birds eat in the early afternoons. We soon put a second feeder in our backyard, conveniently located behind our dining room window so we easily watch our bird visitors throughout the day. Just recently, I started to read about Project Feederwatch, a Citizen Science program through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I had previously requested their Urban Birds data collection packet, but this was during the time of our relocation and getting ready for the baby and so unfortunately we did not find an opportunity this summer to do this. But I decided that since we get so much enjoyment from watching the birds who visit our yard, we could participate in Project Feederwatch this season, as this would be a great Nature Study to incorporate into our homeschool lessons.

The project is simple: people have their location that they feed and watch the birds on their property. The data collection season goes from November 12th through the end of April 2012. Participants should observe two sequential days every week or two, and have the option to report on the website (the preferred method) or sending in paper reports at the end of the season. Species at the count site are observed and counted over the two day period, and the highest number observed at one time is the number recorded for that species for that particular count period. Participation helps scientists observe bird winter migration patterns across the country and in Canada.

There is a small fee to participate ($15), and this provides a calendar, and some birding tips, bird identification posters, and information on feeding birds. We are novices at this, so the material has been quite helpful. The only species I could identify before we started was the plainly obvious Northern Cardinal, of which we see a couple of males and females. We also have a slew of small brown birds that I realized were house sparrows, which apparently are the bane of bird people nationwide because they are so prolific, and crowd out native species, like blue birds. They tend to crowd my feeder so I am exploring some ways to feed them away from the main feeder to keep the other species I get happy. We also get three (at least) Tufted Titmice and I have seen a single Goldfinch, a single Eastern Towhee (or at least that’s what I think it is) and a few White crowned Sparrows. We get a fair amount of Mourning Doves and the Grackles here are RIDICULOUS! And so noisy! I typically just grouped all the black birds I saw into one group until I really started watching them this past week. This is when I realized that while most of the black birds that we see are the Grackles, there are a couple of smaller black birds too – and they are not a solid black but rather a black body with a brownish-greenish head and chest. The best I can figure, these would be Brown-headed Cowbirds – so that’s what they are getting listed as. I will continue to tweak our feeder setup, hopefully draw away the House Sparrows to keep my other birds happy, and see if I can get some more unusual visitors. We plan on counting each week if possible, so I will have a counter on my main page throughout the months of November through April 2012.

Please check out Project Feederwatch and the other wonderful resources available from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Our backyard setup. Hopper feeder with Songbird food mix – mostly black sunflower seeds with some other feed mixed it. A tube feeder with thistle – so far I’ve only seen one Goldfinch visitor. I also have two small dishes near the ground that I fill with water daily for the birds. With our drought they are most appreciative! This is a great location because it is under two Live Oaks, and next to my fence and my neighbor’s smaller trees. Also, the ground under the feeders has tall grass for shelter so they feel secure. We also have a small brushpile near my composter that the birds enjoy. In the drier weather they enjoy using the dirt in my planter boxes for their dust baths.

One of the mourning doves perching in my tree. We get several of these – both larger ones seen here, and smaller ones that are similar in size to the Cardinals.

A Northern Cardinal and House Sparrow in the smaller tree against my fence. There are four or five of these trees against my fence, and this is the main congregating area for the birds. They spend most of their time in my Live Oaks or these smaller trees.

Our property backs up to a Greenbelt so there can be no development behind us. All there is to see is Texas scrubland. We usually get cows grazing a couple days a week, and deer on occasion. We were lucky to see this deer mama and youngster feeding just behind our fence. While I was photographing, one of our resident Cardinals was on the fence for a photo op!

A time of transition

I haven’t posted in some time, as our family has been going through a major transition period. We relocated halfway across the country, and this involved a six week separation while my husband moved with all of our stuff, and I stayed behind with all of our dependents. Finally, we are all together in our new house, and slowly life is getting back to our new normal.

Our new normal. As if relocating was not enough of a shock to the system, our entire routine has now changed. Seven weeks from the arrival of our second child, I am now at home full-time. This is an entirely new experience for me – I am not used to being home and handling domestic concerns fulltime. I arrived to a large stack of administrative task to handle, as I will be the “administrator” in our household now. I have taken a backseat to most things of this nature for years in our relationship, so this is very new for me. I am embracing the challenge and looking forward to getting my own “system” organized and running smootlhly.

A major change in our routine is having our daughter home. She has been in daycare since she was 6 months old, and has been in preschool this past year. We have spent the last two months preparing her for the change to her schedule, and so far she seems to be enjoyoing it. Because there is so much initial stuff to handle with relocating (insurance, doctors, new homeowner stuff etc.) we haven’t gotten into a normal routine yet, but I have made our initial steps in that direction. I have involved us with our local homeschool group so that she gets to socialize with other kids in her age group (and I get involved locally as well). We have also found our local library, and found out the Storytime schedule. I’ve really tried to make the effort keep her engaged during the day with educational activities, though I am sure I am leaning a little too much (out of necessity at this point) on computer games and educational shows. I think the mound of paperwork should be handled by week’s end, though, and we can have a much better routine in place.

I am also enjoying the more domestic aspect of our new routine. Even though I have a lot on my plate now, with getting our home unpacked and organized, and handling all of the administrative tasks, I am home to make dinner at a reasonable time, and have time in the morning to pack my husband a lunch, and get our breakfast made. For too long, our morning rush has been a source of stress, and long days resulted in quick meals thrown together after work, or a willingness to dine out and eat substandard food at a ridiculous price. Being at home will be a great opportunity for me to try out a bunch of new recipes I have earmarked in my cookbooks (once I find out which box they are in!).

A lot of things going on, and that I will be posting on:

I am reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, and following the book club over at Clean . I’ll be posting some thoughts as I work through the book. So far it is a great read. We are working to simplify our routine and lifestyle (all around, but definitely with regard to our daughter) as we can see firsthand the effects the ‘too much, too fast” lifestyle has on her behavior and our sanity.

Diving headlong into home crafts – being at home full time is affording me the time (and financial motivation) to transition our family more toward homemade items, such as soap and personal care products, as well as baby items such as cloth baby wipes. I’ve been really looking forward to this, and am really excited to get started!

Simplifying our food even more. Two hectic work schedules have not really allowed for the amount of home prepped food we would like. I much prefer homemade, but have had to pick and choose based on what has been realistic for our lifestyle. I am looking forward to more home-prepped food – bread, pasta, preserves, etc. My goal is to minimize our processed food as much as possible – I’m not giving up my Tofurky deli slices, but I would like to find a good vegan sausage recipe that my family enjoys. And for the amount of bread we go through in a week – I definitely need to be baking my own. I will finally start canning, and hope to invest in a smaller second freezer for food storage. The only short coming in this part of my plan is the late start to gardening. The growing season starts early here in south Texas, and I still need to put in a couple of raised beds. But minimally, I plan to have at least some tomato plants, peppers, and squash plants growing soon. Being 8 1/2 months pregnant also limits how much gardening I can manage this summer (i can only put so much on the hubby’s to-do list…), so I may be at the mercy of my local farmers market (once I find it this weekend!).