This is the first year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:
Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – I heard but didn’t see the first red-winged blackbird in our yard on Sunday, March 31. This was 10 days after others had seen them in the Twin Cities area. I didn’t see or hear a red-winged blackbird again for at least a month. A pair, however, has set up home near us and are regular visitors to our tray feeder.
I saw the first bumblebees on Monday, May 13.
Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) – I saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird flying around our backyard on Wednesday, May 15. A day later I observed a male in our yard. They now visit our feeders numerous times per day.
Kat saw the first monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Thursday, May 16.
Three years ago, I bought a nest box and placed it on a tree near our garage. It was a nest box intended for woodpeckers and my hope was that a woodpecker would use it. Despite having plenty of woodpeckers frequenting our yard every day, they didn’t use the nest box. Instead a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) took up residence in the nest box and raised a clutch of chicks.
Inspired by that family of nuthatches, I bought another nest box and placed it on a tree outside of our dining room. I was hopeful we would watch nuthatches raise a family while we enjoyed our dinner. A pair took up residence in the nest box and laid a clutch of four eggs. Unfortunately, a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) killed all the eggs, threw them from the nest box and claimed the box for itself.
When I discovered this, I was livid. Researching house sparrows, I learned they are an invasive species introduced from England and are known for taking over nest boxes and displacing native birds, in particular, blue birds.
I also learned I simply needed to narrow the opening to the nest box. House sparrows don’t tolerate openings that are 1 ¼-inch in diameter whereas native song birds such as White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees have no issue with an opening that small. To displace the unwelcome occupant, I opened the access panel to the nest box, dumped the contents and tilted it at an angle so that the house sparrow could not build a nest in it. It returned daily with nesting materials but all fell out to the ground. I then purchased the appropriate constrictors and attached them to the two nest boxes I had, preventing the house sparrow from entering.
This year, much to our delight, the nuthatches came back to raise a clutch of four chicks in one of the nest boxes. It was a joy to see the chicks following the adults around from tree to tree, learning how to forage for food.
I have a yearly schedule for the nest boxes. I empty the boxes in the fall on the first of October and fill them with wood shavings every spring on March 1st. Emptying and refilling them annually reduces the parasite load, thus, reducing risk for the birds.
We now have three nest boxes, this year one was occupied a Black-capped Chickadee family and another was used by a nuthatch family. The third was too close to another box, so, it remained unoccupied. I moved it further away this fall, I hope it will to be occupied next summer. If all three boxes are occupied next year, I’ll buy another nest box and place it in the other corner of our yard. With luck, in a year or two, we’ll have four families of song birds living in our yard.
We have a dozen White oak (Quercus alba) trees on our property, several of which are large and overhang the house, patio, and sidewalks. Starting in August, there is a constant staccato of knocks on the roof when the oaks drop their ripe acorns. When the wind gusts, the bombardment from the falling acorns is particularly heavy. And this year, the bombardment has been especially heavy, even on calm days with little wind.
Last year, the oaks produced a very small crop of acorns, so much so that I don’t recall seeing any on the walkways. This year, as if to compensate for last year’s meager output, the oaks produced a copious quantity of acorns. Regardless if we sweep the walkways once or twice a day, by the next morning, they are covered with acorns.
This morning, the bombardment by the back steps seemed strangely intense and concentrated. Looking out the window, I saw two acorns hit Lizzie in quick succession. When I went to investigate, I saw a gray squirrel up on a branch. It was the cause of the intensified bombardment!
After the squirrel had ran off to a different tree, I ran inside the house to retrieve my phone so I could take photos. Returning with the phone, I squatted to take pictures of the acorns scattered on the sidewalk when I was hit on the head by an acorn! Unbeknownst to me, the squirrel had returned while I was inside and had renewed his bombardment!
It was with dismay that I discovered there was ragweed growing in our front lawn. None of the plants were particularly large but, unfortunately, some had begun to flower. Ragweed pollen is a primary cause of allergic rhinitis, AKA hay fever in late summer and fall for many Midwesterners. While I am not allergic to ragweed, Kat is and, therefore, I have a particular anathema for ragweed.
There are three species of ragweed native to Minnesota. Ragweed can be found growing everywhere in the Twin Cities, including along the medians and shoulders of freeways and highways. Because of its widespread prevalence, there is no chance of eradicating it. I just do my small part by removing it from our yard whenever I discover it.
The following are photographs of Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) taken by Katy Chayka of Minnesota Wildflowers.
A point I would like to clear up is that goldenrod does not cause hay fever. Goldenrod and ragweed are completely different species. Both are native to Minnesota, are widespread, bloom in late summer and fall, and grow near each other.
Goldenrod pollen is spread via pollinating insects whereas ragweed is dispersed via the wind. One clue that indicates goldenrod relies on insects for pollination is that its flowers are bright yellow. Ragweed flowers, not needing pollinating insects, are hardly noticeable. As such, whereas there may not be much goldenrod pollen floating in the air, ragweed needs to release a lot of pollen into the air. It is all the ragweed pollen floating in the air that triggers allergic rhinitis in so many people.
While goldenrod can be a nuisance because it can crowd out other species, I much prefer the fields of goldenrod growing in our yard to the stands of ragweed along the highway.
This summer we have sighted a numerous American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) in our yard. There have been so many that occasionally it can be difficult to walk through the yard without stepping on one.
Whenever Lizzie shows interest in a toad, we tell her to “leave it” because we don’t want her to harm it. However, their prevalence and their using her water bowls to relax in makes that task somewhat difficult.
Every year, starting around mid-July, the cicadas emerge to serenade us. We typically have at any given time, what sounds to my ear, to be two or three cicadas in our yard. This year, however, there have been so many that I am unable to count them by listening. And they emerged earlier than usual, with the first being heard at the tail end of June!
Near a stump in our yard, I counted nine shed exoskeletons and at least one live cicada.
While cicadas and crickets aren’t attractive insects like monarch or swallowtail butterflies, I enjoy the buzz of the cicadas and the trill of crickets, especially at night when I have the bedroom windows open.
It is an annual event where our sewer mainline will become plugged, causing sewage to backup into our downstairs bathroom shower and laundry room. It happens with enough regularity that the sewer guy and I are on a first name basis. Starting about three years ago, the frequency increased from once to twice per year. We had the sewer mainline unclogged early in December 2017 and, now, just this week, it clogged again. So, once again, I called up Juve, our sewer guy.
Juve was puzzled by the increased frequency and said, “It is always about 30-40 feet out that it is plugged. Can we look down the manhole in your backyard?” After we had popped the cover off of the manhole, he looked down and said, “Oh no! That is no good!” The city sewer was plugged! It was barely flowing and it was rising up the manhole.
The plugged city sewer would explain the increasing frequency of our mainline being plugged. We determined that probably what was happening is that when Juve would get his cable down 30-40 feet it would be at the point where our mainline entered the city sewer. He would then break loose the clog at that point and our mainline would drain. That would be good for awhile until something else plugged the mainline.
To remedy the plugged city sewer, we found a pole, about 20 feet long, and used that to push and move the sewage around. This broke up the clog in the city sewer, resulting in the sewage draining from the manhole.
After most of the sewage had drained out, we saw various items that had been part of the clog. Using duct tape, we taped a bow rake to the pole and used that to retrieve items from the manhole. We pulled up a corroded metal rod which was about three feet in length, a chunk of asphalt, a mass of tree roots, tampons, “flushable” wipes, plastic wrappers, fibrous pads of some kind, and other items that should never be flushed down a toilet.
I suspect someone dropped the metal rod through the hole in the manhole cover but I’m baffled by the chuck of asphalt. There was no way for it to get in there unless some had removed the manhole cover and then dropped it in.
Those two items, when combined with other items that do not break down, such as “flushable” wipes and plastic wrappers, were what it took to plug the city sewer. I don’t know where most of that junk came from because we don’t flush anything down the toilet except bodily waste and toilet paper.
Our mailbox was taken out once again. Lizzie and I were relaxing in the living room when we heard a loud bang. She ran barking towards the front door and I was close behind her. When I looked out the front door, all I could do is groan with resignation.
Our game camera has captured plenty of daytime images but what interests me the most are the images captured at night. During the daytime, I frequently see the squirrels and birds that frequent our yard during the daylight hours. Below are a few images captured at night.
We occasionally see Easterncottontails in our yard during the day but I had hoped the presence of Lizzie in our yard would scare off the rabbits. However, the amount of images of rabbits captured by the game camera made me realize the real party is at night!
Prior to the erection of our fence, nighttime sightings of raccoons were a regular enough occurrence that I thought nothing of it. After our fence went up and we saw no raccoons during the day, I naively hoped they were not frequenting our yard. The image below informed me that they were still visiting our yard, even if only on an irregular basis.
Prior to our putting up our fence, a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) made regular rounds through our yard. On one occasion, I saw it lift its leg and piss on our garage. I also found the remains of several rabbits under shrubs and bushes that, I assume, belong to the fox. I thought that maybe the fence would dissuade the fox from entering our yard. Apparently, that is not true. Hopefully, the fox will eat the rabbits that have been frequenting our yard.
I bought a game camera with the hope of recording the coming and going of a nesting pair of White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) that were nesting in one of our nest boxes. For various reasons, that didn’t work out to my satisfaction. Looking for a use for the game camera, I placed it in various locations in our yard to discover what it might record. Below are a few images captured by it.
Another frequent visitor to our yard is the American robin, often with an eye towards the ground, looking for worms to eat. While gardening, I place any grubs I find on a stump for birds to eat. Robins are usually the first to snatch them up.
The Chipping Sparrow is a regular summer-time resident. I frequently see them hopping through the grass, looking for seeds and insects. They appear to be fairly bold birds, approaching within a few feet of Lizzie. Lizzie, for the most part, ignores them preferring to hunt for rodents.