Tag Archives: Winter

Of Birds and That Darn Tree Rodent


The feeder, put back together, filled with seed and hung. soon, I suppose, to be found by tree rats …

Over time, I’ve come to dislike squirrels. Not really hate them. But mildly dislike them.

Sure, they are cute. But they are basically tree rats, and they act the part. They dig in the garden with their nasty rat paws and eat the bulbs I plant for sprint flowers, for example. Granted, their digging is pretty minor—I would much rather watch a dozen squirrels in the backyard than see one rabbits.

Rabbits are evil.

Still, squirrels are like little raccoons. They are agile, aggressive and have little nasty hands that they can use, along with their rodent teeth, to wreak havoc.

Oh well. I do admit that I enjoy watching “chippy” enough that most of the time I’m willing to leave the tree rats unmolested. Besides, they are a good food source for owls, hawks and eagles.

But I wish they would leave my bird feeders alone.

Yes, I know, they are hungry wild things, too, and there are no property rights in the backyard. Whatever animal gets there first gets the food. But birds, messy as they get, just eat the seeds.

Squirrels disassemble.

Case in point—the current bird feeders I use. I’ve experimented over the years with several different kinds. Plastic ones are a thing of the past, as rodent dentation beats dead dinosaur compounds. (Is there some new version of paper-scissors-rock there? Plastic, squirrel teeth—what?). I have wasted my earthly treasures on fancy metal “squirrel proof” feeders with spring-loaded features that are supposed to allow small dinosaurs in while denying entry to arboreal mammals.

The squirrels don’t care about the springs and pried the lids off of those feeders.

So now I have two feeders. Neither is “squirrel proof” in the sense that tree rats can’t eat from them, but both are of durable metal construction and at least aren’t chewed up by those rodents.

Then, some big, tough mamma squirrel appeared this winter. I don’t know for sure if she is “she,” she just looks like a mean mama to me. She’s large, she’s mostly indifferent to naked apes and she is amazingly dexterous.

Late in December 2016, I found some parts of my red metal feeder, one of two seed feeders I use along with two suet feeder “cages” that I have to wire shut, on the ground. The pieces of that feeder are held together by basically a big wing nut that holds the metal hoop by which I hang the feeder.

Someone or something had unscrewed that lid and emptied the feeder—plus it (or she, as I think of her—am I feeling a bit oppressed as the only boy in a family of seven?) had unscrewed and disposed of or lost the top of the feeder.

I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to searching for that smaller piece In fact, I shouldn’t be writing this blog post right now, as I have work to do. But I looked for that top every time I filled the other feeder.



Birds. I waited in the lower yard for about three minutes on Sunday, and this crowd quickly showed up. This is my other seed feeder, which has not been taken apart.

Then, just by accident this weekend, I found the missing feeder top in the yard. The good news is that the metal construction of the feeder proved durable. While completely taken apart by, I presume, a vandal tree she Hun (there, I’ve accused her of being a simultaneous member of two different barbarian tribes—I like her that much), the parts of the feeder were fine.

I filled it again with seed. And I screwed the lid on extra tight this time. It may take her a few days to undo my work.

But she probably will.


Leave a comment

Filed under Garden

Plant Porn, Owl Wars and Other Signs

Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Spring is here! Well, not really. It’s only Feb. 8.

But unlike last year, when February was a bitter month followed by a second bitter month, this year’s February seems a bit more normal. Still winter, to be sure, but not as deep in winter as January—it’s not that odd to see some first signs that spring is coming as the weather turns lighter and the sun gains altitude.

Now, I will concede before I go further that February definitely means winter in Iowa. Frankly, March is usually more a winter than a spring month, in this climate. But things change in February.


The war of the eagles and owls. The Gazette today reported, although I could not find a link on their site, a story about this topic, the war between the famous Decorah eagles and a pair of great horned owls, who are trying to horn in on the eagle’s nest. Owls, it seems, are very mean beasts, and even though the eagles are much larger, the owls can put up quite a fight. It appears the nest will go to the mom that lays the first egg. Lots of people want to cheer for the eagles: “Push it out, push it out, waaaay out!” Me, I do like mom and dad eagle, but recognize I’m showing some anthropomorphism. The biologists are right. Let nature takes its course. It’s a tough life out there for dinosaurs.

The way in which 10 inches of snow is finally receding. Streams are running with water now. We had temperatures in the upper 30s or even, gasp, low 40s in recent days, and the snow pack is looking tired. We’re still socked in with snow—which honestly is a good thing because without it the ground could warm up too early. We don’t want little green things trying to sprout now. But even though there will still be bone chilling cold this season, and more snow, we’re at the point where cold snaps should be a bit shorter and sunny days in the 40s a bit more common. A normal February feels long just because it’s at the end of our cold, dead season—it’s not usually another January, and it feels a bit more normal this year.

How the urge to plant is taking hold. Several seed and plant catalogs, what I call “plant porn,” have arrived. I’m seeing tempting seeds packages in stores and thinking of starting flowers for spring gardens, but trying to hold myself back (I have a terrible track record with starting flowers indoors, it’s just not a good idea for me). My desires this year are pretty typical—I want toad lilies and irises, but don’t have much luck with those plants. Anyway, I’m hoping some monarch butterfly flowers, aka milkweed, put in an appearance in my gardens. I’m been planting free seeds gleaned from wild plants, but we’ll see. Maybe my wife will let me order a few plants. She’s almost as crazy for gardens as I am.

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up--but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. "Hey pinky," he seems to be saying, "you looking for me?"

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up–but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. “Hey pinky,” he seems to be saying, “you looking for me?”

And the birds are getting craaaaazy. Squawking, fighting, carrying on—on a warmish sunny day you hear them a lot more now. They know in their little dinosaur brains another season is coming and they want to marry, make eggs and raise babies. It’s not just the eagles and owls getting a bit nuts—it seems like the birds that visit my feeders these days are in a hurry, distracted, thinking about something.

Spring. Has to be.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Garden, Weather

Well, Who Said February Would Be Easy?

Cardinal as snow falls on Feb. 1.

Cardinal as snow falls on Feb. 1.

Winter staged a dramatic comeback in these parts Sunday. It began Saturday with several hours of rain in the afternoon that transitioned, well after dark, to slushy snow.

Sunday was all about the snow. It blew and fell all day, and the day began fairly nicely in the 20s but the temperature steadily declined as the day went on. It was a day of shoveling and playing (briefly) with grandkids under a grey sky and occasional flakes.

Grandson enjoys the snow Sunday. Not sure it would be as much fun today--a much brighter day, but also much colder.

Grandson enjoys the snow Sunday. Not sure it would be as much fun today–a much brighter day, but also much colder.

Today was shovel day, the sequel. I am glad I shoveled once mid-day Sunday—the snow, since it had a slow transition from wet to white, was of the heavy kind on Sunday, with an icy layer underneath. It was heavy labor to move.

Monday’s shoveling, since Sunday’s had been done, was not as bad—the snow a bit lighter, maybe 3 inches or so to move—while Sunday I shoveled 7 or 8 inches.

I’m not done with shoveling yet, since I haven’t done the path to the back or the back deck. I don’t like to leave snow on the deck, mostly because I’m worried that if it melts there, some will come into the back door, but it’s not urgent to clear that snow right after it falls.

It was a bit disappointing to watch the early morning news on Channel 9 today, as both my wife and I were waiting for the M listings. Kirkwood had called it off, as had all local public school districts—would Mount Mercy toss in the shovel and call it a day?


Grumble, grumble. But after breakfast, before I left for work, I put seeds in the bird feeders. And the early morning sun was riding in a clear blue sky and reflecting off the white coat that draped over the landscape. It was bitterly cold and beautiful all at the same time, and with chilled fingers (had to take gloves off to use the camera) I shot a few images. Here are some snow scene from Sunday. And here are some from today, Monday. Note how bright and pretty Monday turned out to be.

Warde Hall on Monday morning--blue sky, white tree. Sadly, it's an ash, so it wont' be here forever, but it looks pretty this morning.

Warde Hall on Monday morning–blue sky, white tree. Sadly, it’s an ash, so it won’t be here forever, but it looks pretty this morning.

It was the same on campus. I made it to MMU OK, the streets were snow packed but passable in town, and I even made it up the slick hill to the Warde Hall parking lot. Thank you, Rodrigo the Montego (so named by my youngest daughter, who owned the car for a while before passing it on to her parents).

Sculpture with shadow and snowy background, Feb. 2, 2015, near Warde Hall, Mount Mercy.

Sculpture with shadow and snowy background, Feb. 2, 2015, near Warde Hall, Mount Mercy.

I had to scramble to prep for my 10:30 a.m. class—it was already pushing 9 a.m.—but still I paused to shoot some photos. The morning light in the blue sky on the white snow was too tempting. It was just too pretty to pass up, a true winter wonderland.

OK, I’ll try to shut up now and join in the griping.

@@&**% winter. Ain’t it grand? (Oops. Sorry.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Weather

Iowa Winter Weather: Warm, Snowy, Cloudy, Sunny

Bird in lilac bush outside my office window.

Bird in lilac bush outside my office window.

In the past 24 hours, the weather in Iowa has shown its impetuous side.

Yesterday was so warm and sunny that we spent more than an hour in the afternoon at a park playing with grandchildren.

First photo of Jay. Not the last.

First photo of Jay. Not the last.

This morning started on the warm side, for Iowa winter, with a sort of sleety snow falling. As the morning wore on, the temperature dropped a bit, and so did the snow. In the end, we maybe got an inch or so, and now (about 2 p.m.) the sky is trying to clear and a thin layer of clouds seems like a lampshade.


Say hey to the Jay.

While it has turned colder, the weather is not really cold. It’s 33 degrees outside at 2 in the afternoon, and as soon as I’m done writing this post, I’ll scrape the snow so that it can finish melting off the walks.

I thought that when the snow fell, it would end my biking for this week, but now I’m not so sure. If we get a sunny afternoon, the streets may be in better shape tomorrow than I would have expected. We’ll see.


Cardinal keeps and eye on feeder action. I think he is sitting in Magnolia bush.

Anyway, on the way home from our morning exercise in the gym, my wife and I stopped at Hy-Vee Drugstore to buy some white bread for French toast, and also some birdseed. When I filled the birdfeeders, there was almost a frenzy, with birds mobbing the feeders. I saw several male and female cardinals, a pair of blue jays, many other smaller birds and some squirrels.

Nice looking bird on feeder hung in Tulip Tree.

Nice looking bird on feeder hung in Tulip Tree.

Despite the changes in the weather, it’s not too cold. It has been a nice winter and this particular snow is not too obnoxious. We’ll take it.


I like how you can see snow is falling in his photo. Another bird in lilac bush.

My wife got a bit tired today of my constant “bird updates.” But, what do you think? I enjoyed watching and photographing my many visitors today. Now? Time to go shovel some snow.

1 Comment

Filed under Garden

So What’s A Warm Saturday For, Anyway?

Bridge on a bike trail in Marion, Iowa. It was a pretty, sunny, warm day today in Iowa. Snow tomorrow.

Bridge on a bike trail in Marion, Iowa. It was a pretty, sunny, warm day today in Iowa. Snow tomorrow.

I spent part of the day indoors today, because I had to get some papers graded, but I was lucky to have two outings.

In the morning, I rode my winter beater bike, an old Schwinn mountain bike, to the gym and for a brief trail ride.

But the true fun was this afternoon. My wife had some errands to run, so I stayed home grading papers. She suddenly popped in the door, announced she was meeting some grandkids at the park, and did I want to come?

Well, I’m under the weather, just a bit. I have a cold. And I did have lots of work to do, but …

The sun was shining. The temperature was rising above 45 degrees. My wife had told a grandson just a few days before that it was always too cold to play at a park if the temperature was below 45, but that explanation just didn’t hold up today. So away I went.

Me on a ride-on bee with Amelia. Later, she would be a princess and a dragon would abscond with her on the same bee, but that drama has not started yet.

Me on a ride-on bee with Amelia. Later, she would be a princess and a dragon would abscond with her on the same bee, but that drama has not started yet.

The park interlude was a blast. Among other things:

  • The ladder-slide area became a castle and my daughter transformed into a dragon who, along with the assistance of her minion, my grandson, kidnapped a prince and planned to cook her. They rode off on a giant bee, but never seemed to get anywhere.
  • A snowball war broke out. My wife isn’t sure whether she or my daughter instigated it, but they are the prime suspects. Some icy snow was left in little piles here and there, and my daughter, wife and grandson spent a fair amount of time chucking it at each other or me. Watch out for that grandson. He has an arm.
  • The merry-go-round was a very popular item—and grandpa (me) had the honor of supplying most of the power. One young granddaughter would yell “faster, faster,” until, a few seconds later she would yell “I need to get off.” Despite my cold, I did get some exercise today.

Well, what a fun afternoon. I don’t know how many sunny, warm Saturdays there will be before March, but we put this one to good use.

More park scenes--my daughter and wife attack me with snowballs. Below--youngest of the four siblings at the park like merry-go-round

More park scenes–my daughter and wife attack me with snowballs. Below–youngest of the four siblings at the park like merry-go-round


Finally, just because I can, I bought some flowers for my wife, who just returned from a trip to England. I liked how the morning sun streaming in the dining room window lit the bouquet, so I photographed it, and it seems a nice foreshadowing of the coming spring that is only a few weeks away:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Grandchildren

The New Bird Food Visitors

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I got some additional kinds of foods for my feathered friends recently—a suet block and some black seeds—just for a bit of variety.

And I was rewarded this morning, with some nice visitors to my feeders.

Well, the “winter flowers,” as my oldest sister calls them, are nice to see. And only 6 weeks or so until we may start to see the first signs of spring flowers. Knock on wood.

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden

Does The God of Mice Demand Ice Sacrifice?

From commons.wikimedia.org, uploaded by Edal Anton Leferov, Abraham's sacrifice, a fresco in an old church in Raduil, Bulgaria.

From commons.wikimedia.org, uploaded by Edal Anton Leferov, Abraham’s sacrifice, a fresco in an old church in Raduil, Bulgaria. We don’t do this anymore. Then again, neither did Abraham.

It seems to me that, whatever you might think of religion in general, the fact that today not many mainstream churches practice human sacrifice is probably a good thing.

Not that human sacrifice is totally alien to our modern thinking, what with anorexic fashion models, drone strikes, capital punishment and the NFL.

Anyway, mouse culture and religion, on the other hand, may not be so enlightened. Or maybe, if you are into reincarnation, the side garden I created several years ago in front of my house by the garage happens to be on an old Native American burial site from an ancient, unknown tribe that practice human sacrifice, and so offended whoever is in charge of reincarnation that they’ve come back as rodents.

It could be. After all, we had a “ghost hunter” appear at the university where I teach recently, and it was a popular event with students. I don’t think ghost hunters or psychics or fairy dancers or tree spirits or astrology or numerology or whatever is all that consistent with the intellectual rigor one would hope for from a university, but that’s just me. And no, I don’t put “religion” into that same category—believing in God is a matter of personal faith and lots of smart people are also people of faith. Believing in ghost hunters is a whole other level of irrational magical thinking and not as positively correlated with smarts.

Anyway, I could be wrong. Recent events, if not ghostly, are at least a bit spooky. Maybe the here-after is sending me a message about the here-after in a block of ice.

A block of ice. I didn't photograph the actual dead animals--you don't really need to see that--and the ice block in my garden is a bit smaller, I think. An image from commons.wikimedia.org of ice in Iceland by Andreas Tille.

A block of ice. I didn’t photograph the actual dead animals–you don’t really need to see that–and the ice block in my garden is a bit smaller, I think. An image from commons.wikimedia.org of ice in Iceland by Andreas Tille.

This is where things get weird. Just in case you were scoring at home, they’ve been normal up until now.

A week or so ago, partly due to the increase in recycling produced by the Thanksgiving holiday, my wife suggested that I start using a red plastic pail as our glass recycling container. In Cedar Rapids, glass for recycling is placed in a separate container that one puts adjacent to the big recycling bin that the city provides, and I had been using an old plastic pitcher, but the red bucket is bigger.

The idea, unlike “ghost hunters,” made sense to me. We had rain some time ago (seems like a long time ago now) and it had frozen in the bucket, forming a block of ice that I dumped onto the garden. At the time, I didn’t notice anything odd about the ice.

But Monday, as I was getting my bicycle out of the garage, I saw a frozen, dead mouse in the ice. And not deep in the ice, only partly buried on the surface.

That’s very strange, I thought to myself. I would think an expired animal, even something as small as a mouse, would be something I would notice when I dumped the ice.

And why was the mouse only half buried? If it drowned, wouldn’t it be submerged? Or at least have its head under ice?

Oh well. Best laid plans of mice and all that.

A mouse. From the NIH, but you know what web site I found it on already.

A mouse. From the NIH, but you know what web site I found it on already.

Then, this morning, as I got my bike out again, I happened to glance at the block of ice again.

There’s another dead mouse there, a second one a few inches from the first. And I know that the second mouse was not there earlier this week—when I saw the first dead rodent caught in the ice, there is no possible way that I would have overlooked a second one almost right next to it.

The second passed-on Mickey is only partly “submerged” as if it, too, had been swimming in the ice—which is a neat trick, considering whatever happened to this second  mouse happened well after the ice block froze and the temperature has not been above freezing for some days.

What is going on? The mice remains look relatively intact; there is no sign of violence or struggle, as far as I can tell. But it seems a bit odd that the slain mammals are collecting in my garden.

I suspect some mouse cult. They come out at night and enact their primitive mouse rituals on the ice altar. Whoever drew the shortest piece of string cheese doesn’t even resist as the other mice use tiny hair dryers to melt a patch for the sacrifice to swim in until hell, or at least the ice block, freezes over.

Maybe thousands of years ago, human sacrifice took place on this spot. I would like to think not, and I don’t know that the American Indian cultures in Iowa were ever known for that practice, but you never know. I also don’t think there are ghosts in Warde Hall, either, contrary to what many students seem to believe. But what do I know? I can’t readily explain the collecting cat food carcasses, either.

Or maybe, rather than a scary mouse religious cult, it’s the mice mafia. Cement is expensive, but ice is cheap.

“You don’t tell us where the cheese is, Guido, and you’ll sleep with the roses.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden