Rufous Hummingbirds: August Fireworks

plh_6895rLike animated jewelry, the bright copper hummingbirds have been rocketing through our yard for the past few weeks. I’m constantly amazed at how something that small can go that fast. Rufous Hummingbirds are our special treat this time of year. In spring they migrate northward along the Pacific flyway, making the enormous trek from Mexico to Oregon, Idaho, or even all the way to southern Alaska, in order to nest and raise their young. Now that they’re empty nesters, it’s time for the return trip.

Some Rufous hummers go home the way they came, flying through California. Others head for the Rockies. No one knows why—maybe they just want a change of scenery. The upshot of their wanderlust is that those of us who live in Colorado get a late summer fireworks display. Starting in mid-July and running until Labor Day, these feisty birds dominate the feeders.

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Hand-Pollinating Zucchini

It’s time to learn about sex. Oh, you think you already know all about that? OK, but how much do you know about making baby zucchinis?

Perhaps your zucchini (or other squash) plants are producing plenty of flowers, but no squash. Or, maybe they start to grow little squashes but then the babies turn yellow to brown, get all wrinkled, and fall off. What’s wrong? It’s highly likely the problem involves zucchini sex.

All squash plants (and related crops such as cucumbers) produce two kinds of flowers, male and female. Here’s how to tell them apart:


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You Know You’re a Birding Fanatic if…

hike-cuchara-pass-co-12jul05-plh-575Lately, my husband has taken to calling me a “Beak Geek.” I’m not sure whether or not to be insulted at this or take it as a compliment. I thought I’d ask a few other friends if the label fits. They hedged a lot. Hmmm. So I did an internet search and found the following:

You know you are a Birding Fanatic if…

… There is a strange, but distinct correlation between the last time your house was thoroughly cleaned and the development of your birding interest.

… you’re hopeless at remembering people’s names, yet you know the scientific names of all birds ever seen in North America.

… someone is trying to sell you some swamp land in a 3rd world country and you actually are interested! —Bill Kossack

… you have a trip list from your honeymoon.

… for your wedding anniversary he takes you to the Brownsville City Dump to see the Mexican crow! —Keri Dawkins

[At this point I’d like to point out that, while I’ve never been to the Brownsville City Dump (because we’d heard that the Mexican crows aren’t there any more), my loving sweetie did take me to the Ft. Lauderdale dump to look for birds. In addition, we spent our 25th wedding anniversary at a dumpy motel near Alamosa because it was near two wildlife refuges… and he’s not even a birder!]

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spittle-bug-dbg-lah-001rHas someone been spitting on your flowers? What is that collection of tiny bubbles surrounding that stem? If you probe beneath the goop, you’ll find one of a number of leafhopper species called spittlebugs. All leafhoppers resemble stocky, miniature grasshoppers about a quarter-inch long. They have sucking mouthparts used to puncture plant stems. Then they feed on the juices and sugars found inside.

Spittlebugs use a special pore on tip of their abdomen to bubble air though some of those juices. The result is a frothy mass that protects them from predators.

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Perennial Sweetpea – Lathyrus latifolius

lathyrus-latifolius-perennial-sweetpea-home-lah_5796Perennial sweetpea is a lovely, old-fashioned flower—one that grandmother might have grown. The keeled pea blossoms, ranging from a blushed white to a deep rose pink, form a clump atop long stems. Lanky vines sport sparse foliage. Bloom will continue from now until early fall if spent flowers are removed. If left to mature, the round, spiral pods will suddenly twist open, flinging their seeds several feet into the air, and sowing plenty of new vines in your garden.

lathyrus-latifolius-perennial-sweet-pea-home-lah-010While the more familiar annual sweet peas don’t do well with Colorado’s wild weather gyrations, this perennial form thrives here. The plants are long-lived, growing six feet long by the end of summer and then dying back to the roots in winter. They cling with tendrils, so some supportive netting is helpful.

Difficult to find as plants in nurseries, perennial pea is easily started from seed. Soak the seeds overnight to hasten germination and then plant in average garden soil in full sun to part shade. Go light on the watering.

With their cottage garden appeal, the vines combine well with clematis and roses, or you can grow them on a fence. They are also suitable as cut flowers. The only drawback is that the blossoms lack the wonderful fragrance of the annual sweet peas.

Hotspots: Where the Birds Hang Out

You’ve got your binoculars in hand, ID book in one pocket, notebook and pen in another, and your resolutions to be a responsible, ethical birder firmly in place—you are ready to go birding. But, where will you go?

Birding Ramah SWA_LAH_015
Birders at Ramah SWA

While birds may be found virtually anywhere, they are not evenly distributed across the landscape. When birders discover a place with lots of birds (both in numbers and variety of species) that location is called, in birder-speech, a “hotspot.”

Just as people tend to congregate in places with housing and markets or restaurants, birds have their own favorite hangouts, and for the same reasons. Birds need water, food, and shelter. Any site providing all three is bound to have great birding.

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Grow a Garden of Eatin’

264-wheelbarrow-of-veggies-closeupDo all the fresh veggies appearing in the local farmers’ markets have you inspired? Victory gardens are back in style. Maybe it’s the economy. Growing your own can save you money, although your initial investment may take several years to pay off. Or perhaps you want to plant crops that are normally expensive at the market.

Gardening is good for you. You control which chemicals (if any) you use in your garden. Plus, it provides a great excuse to go outside and get some exercise.

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