What’s that bird that’s driving me crazy?

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. I was awakened early this morning by insistently loud hammering on the metal chimney guard on our roof. Yup, it’s that time again. Our resident Northern Flicker is announcing his ownership of our property. This year we’re ready. But last year we had a major issue with these woodpeckers. They drove my husband crazy, and inspired me to write the following story:

Not even the cat is awake before 5 am. Soft snoring comes from the bedroom, darkened by shades against the early appearance of the sun this time of year. It’s a lazy Saturday morning in mid-March. Nothing important is scheduled for hours. Later there will be errands to run, chores to catch up on, phones ringing and dishes. Right now, all is peaceful, all is calm.


Like a staccato burst of machine gun fire, the noise reverberates off the metal gutters directly outside our bedroom window.

Continue reading “What’s that bird that’s driving me crazy?”

A Memorable Owling Trip

I went camping last weekend.

Why would anyone even partly sane choose to go camping in February? This was no trip for sissies. We set up camp at 9,500 ft., on top of a mountain in Colorado. It was definitely cold. One weather website claimed a low of 8º F, much lower than the predicted 16º. While I am a die-hard camper, this was pushing even my limits. So why did I do it? One word: owls.


As I’m sure you know, owls are active at night. Therefore, if you want to see one, you must become a night-owl too. And, if you’re going to be up that late, you might as well spend the night. At least, that was the theory.

Why this time of year? Owls are early nesters. They are currently flirting with one another, pairing up (sometimes with last year’s mate), claiming territories, and in general, going about the business of making baby owls. (Ornithologists explain that the predilection for winter nests produces hatchlings just when most rodents are having their litters, ensuring plenty of small, newborn prey for the owlets.)

A birding friend is doing a survey (part of Colorado’s Breeding Bird Atlas II project) to determine which bird species are breeding on her assigned quadrant at, you guessed it, 9,500 ft. elevation in the Pike National Forest of Colorado. She needed to go count owls. Well, we couldn’t let her go all by herself, could we? So we packed our hot cocoa and hand warmers and set off. Continue reading “A Memorable Owling Trip”

Xeriscaping: Watering Zones

In our part of the world, water use is a huge issue. Western gardeners need to take their garden planning one step further, and think of plant materials in terms of their water needs.

Many of our traditional garden trees, shrubs, and flowers come from areas of high rainfall, such as the eastern United States and Europe. They need more water than they will receive naturally in this area. In order to keep them healthy, we have to irrigate on a regular basis. This puts a strain on our limited water resources.

Little water, bright color
Little water, bright color

Instead of buying the same old plants, why not take advantage of our distinctive western climate and grow plants suited for Colorado?

Xeriscaping just means making efficient use of the limited irrigation water we have available. This is done by planting in watering zones. The concept is simple: different plants need different amounts of water to survive and thrive. Just as most familiar plants need constantly damp soil, many of our most beautiful and interesting Colorado species will rot if their roots are always wet. Continue reading “Xeriscaping: Watering Zones”

Surviving the Winter: Basic Garden Design 3

Too many times I find myself wandering around my yard, holding a new plant in its pot, wondering where I can squeeze it into my landscape. While those impulse buys are a lot of fun, that’s probably not the best way to go about adding plants to a garden. It’s best to consider the size, shape, and color of a plant first, before trying to determine what exact species is best.

Consider how nature positions plants. In any forested area, trees form the highest canopy. They reach up to capture the full brunt of the sun pouring down on them, and provide shade in varying degrees to the plants underneath.

In the shelter of the tallest trees grow understory plants. Usually large shrubs or small, multi-stemmed trees, these plants form a middle layer of the forest. Continue reading “Surviving the Winter: Basic Garden Design 3”

Surviving Winter: Basic Garden Design 2

When contemplating a garden design, I ask myself: What do I really want in my yard? What features are permanent, and what am I willing to change? How do I want to use my outdoor space? What feelings do I want to experience when I step out my door?

water-garden-dbg-lah-2711While we all want to gain maximum use from our yards, it’s very helpful to prioritize. Perhaps you entertain a lot, and your garden wish list includes a deck or patio, a fire pit, and a lawn for playing games. Or perhaps you are the introspective sort, and you want a garden bench under an arbor, a reflecting pool, and paths wandering through your plantings. My priorities include food and water for the birds, a secluded place from which to watch them, and a vegetable garden. Limiting yourself to three main features brings a sense of unity to your landscape. Continue reading “Surviving Winter: Basic Garden Design 2”

Surviving Winter: Basic Garden Design

After dreaming about blooming zinnias and vine-ripened tomatoes, I woke up and looked out the window this morning. Yup, still winter. What’s a frustrated gardener to do?

Dogwood's red branches add winter interest
Red-Twig Dogwood

Winter is actually the ideal time to think about spring. This is the best time of year to design a new garden, or improve upon the one you already have. With all the foliage out of the way, the bare bones of the garden show clearly. Is there still a sense of design to the landscape, even without growing plants? Is some of last summer’s growth still attractive in its dried and dead state? What about interesting bark or seed pods? Dried berries and other fruits? Bare branches form winter sculptures. Look at your dormant landscape—do you like what you see?

When I can’t take another day of leafless branches and frozen soil, I grab a mug of hot tea and head for my favorite chair—the one that has a view of my garden. Then I start to imagine. Continue reading “Surviving Winter: Basic Garden Design”

Surviving Winter: A Tropical Vacation… in Colorado

The greater Denver area sports at least three options for anyone in need of a green-leaves-and-humidity break from winter: The Denver Botanic Garden, Westminster’s Butterfly Pavilion, and the Denver Zoo.

OrchidHere I am, still in the middle of winter. There are five more weeks until spring, and that’s just according to the calendar. At my altitude of 7,000 ft, I won’t be seeing green until the end of April. I need something to encourage and motivate me… something green and flowering… something more productive than pacing the floor, complaining about the gloom, and dreaming about a trip to the Bahamas that isn’t in the budget.

My husband is well aware that his wife develops a bad case of cabin fever by mid-February. That’s why our annual Valentine’s Day date involves a visit to a tropical rainforest. No, we don’t buy a plane ticket. In fact, we head north. We hop in the car and make the hour drive to Denver.

The greater Denver area sports at least three options for anyone in need of a green-leaves-and-humidity break. Other parts of the country will have similar places, where you can escape winter for a day. Continue reading “Surviving Winter: A Tropical Vacation… in Colorado”

The Birds and the Bees

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and once again the topic of love is in the air. We often mention “explaining the birds and the bees” as a euphemism for discussing… well… sex. But is this valid? Is there anything similar between the mating habits of people and birds and bees?

Bee on Anthemis tinctoria
Bee on Anthemis tinctoria

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and once again the topic of love is in the air. We often mention “explaining the birds and the bees” as a euphemism for discussing… well… sex. But is this valid? Is there anything similar between the mating habits of people and birds and bees?

Yes, the goal is often the same—babies! However, the way members of a species choose one or more mates, and then rear their young, varies not only between birds and bees, but even among bird species within the same family.

So, how do the birds and the bees “do it”?

Continue reading “The Birds and the Bees”