When we had a vegetable garden in our backyard, woodchucks were our adversary. Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, are a type of mostly plant-eating rodent that digs burrows. They are actually part of the squirrel family.
I remember one time, when looking out through the rear window of my house, I realized the plants in our garden were swaying. Seconds ticked away as my brain processed why this was happening. Suddenly, I realized that there wasn’t a breeze or a storm blowing in; it was a certain short-legged intruder munching on the baby veggies. I flew out the back door yelling “Caaa-Caaa” while loudly clapping my hands together and chased the woodchuck into his underground tunnel beneath the neighbor’s shed. It was all in vain though; it didn’t take long for him to return and take a bite out of nearly all of that day’s ready-to-pick vegetables.
My neighbor also had an eye out for woodchuck invaders. We called her Babcia (babshee?). She was Ukrainian and, I believe, in her late eighties. With her hair pulled up in a bun and wearing her muumuu-type dress, she spent almost all day tending her garden of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, corn, and other expertly-grown produce. She was a sweet neighbor, until the groundhog decided to venture out from under the shed into her garden — then she became ruthless. For an elderly woman, she could be very spry. In a flash, I’d see her grab a broom and chase the critter. After she passed on, I picked up her technique for myself…Note to readers – I only scared them away, no groundhogs were injured in the process!
Woodchucks were actually a double threat to our garden. Not only can they burrow under the fencing, but they can also climb quite well. When the groundhog became nervous about being in my neighbor’s garden, it would climb the chain link fence into our yard. I never realized they could climb that well, until I watched one skillfully pausing at the top to make sure the coast was clear. As soon as he decided he could visit without interruption, he’d jump right down from the fence into our garden.
If you can forgive them for raiding your veggies, woodchucks are quite fun to watch. They waddle around like large, rotund guinea pigs. They are quite humorous when they stand on two legs, probably checking the landscape for broom-carrying humans. I’ve never had an encounter with one that was aggressive; they seem to run away quickly when a human being comes near. Other than human entertainment and their yearly prediction of when spring will come, groundhogs do make a contribution to the ecosystem. Other animals use their burrows as shelter and all their digging helps improve the quality of the soil. Interested in learning more about these creatures? A general woodchuck overview can be found on this school website.
This is our backyard bunny with his ears flattened.
This is the same bunny from the front. Sometimes it’s all in the perspective!
American Kestrel perched in a tree
Today, I had the opportunity to see a bird that’s considered out of the ordinary for my state. Although common elsewhere, the American Kestrel is considered a Species of Special Concern in New Jersey
, most likely due to shrinking areas of grassland needed for its habitat.
The kestrel that I saw flew fairly close to where I was walking. It landed in a tree and then moved to a few different branches before perching on a nearby wire. Moments later, it was in the air. It hovered in place while beating its wings, before suddenly diving down. It’s amazing how it can stay in one spot, despite the wind. The kestrel put on quite a display searching for food before I lost track of it. I couldn’t tell if it succeeded in catching anything or not.
Guide books describe the American Kestrel as a raptor of the falcon family, similar in size to a mourning dove or a jay. They are very attractive-looking; the colored patterns on the underside of the kestrel reminded me of a common flicker.
An American Kestrel in central New Jersey was certainly an out of the ordinary sight for me.
It’s spring, time to get the female cardinal to take notice
First a little singing, then fanning the tail feathers
The attentive female cardinal takes it all in
There are a few scattered piles of unmelted snow in the dark corners of my backyard, but some telltale signs of spring have come. The daffodils started poking out of the ground and, a few days ago, the spring peepers began calling from the boggy area down the road. I thought the birds would still be waiting for warmer weather, but the cardinals have already abandoned all thoughts of winter and progressed straight into the spring mating season.
I heard the male cardinal tweeting repeatedly the other day, so much so that I stopped what I was doing to look outside. From the top of a small tree, the male cardinal was loudly carrying on. The reason for all the ruckus? A female cardinal was perched nearby in an adjacent tree. After he finished his serenade, he flew over closer to the female and began chipping and strutting about, fanning his tail feathers and putting on quite a show. She played cool though, sitting very still and seemingly not giving him a glance. Today, I noticed the cardinal pair checking out the site of last year’s nest, so I suppose his display won her over. Spring is here!
Linking to “Signs of Spring” at the Outdoor Blogger Network.
Posted in Insects and Animals, Weather and Sky
Tagged backyard wildlife, bird watching, birding, birds, cardinal mating, cardinals, male and female cardinal, nature, New Jersey suburbs, New Jersey wildlife, Outdoor Blogger Network, photo, wildlife in suburbs
This backyard hawk caused a downy woodpecker to make some stealthy moves
The woodpecker flattened itself against the tree branch
What a trick! Hiding behind the branch out of the hawk’s sight
Every once in a while a hawk visits our backyard; today it came twice and caused one of our backyard birds to resort to a stealthy move for its survival.
The first raptor visit was early this morning when I was in the kitchen. Through the window, I saw the hawk perch low in the walnut tree next to our bird feeders. I wanted to take a photo through the sliding glass door, but the hawk flew off just as I returned from down the hall with my camera. Later this afternoon, I was outside in the backyard, with my camera, when the hawk returned a second time.
Normally, when a hawk is nearby, the backyard birds flee into the hidden areas of the bushes or pine trees and there is silence. All chirping ceases. This afternoon, the hawk appeared so suddenly it seemed to take the birds by surprise. They weren’t able to resort to their normal safety routines.
The female cardinal didn’t flee and hide. Instead, it stayed completely frozen in place on a tree branch, not moving whatsoever. The tufted titmouse was a little bit braver. It made a short, sudden warning call and then immediately dropped into the pine branches out of sight. The mourning doves stayed still in the same position they had been sitting in previously. The downy woodpecker, however, was the stealthy one. First, he froze on the tree branch. He didn’t move his head to the right or to the left, but you could tell he was aware of the danger. Then, he pressed his body down as close as possible to the branch. His final move was to swiftly rotate around to the underside of the tree branch to get out of the hawk’s direct line of sight. The woodpecker stayed completely still in that position, keeping the branch between himself and the hawk, until the hawk finally flew away. Once the danger was gone, the woodpecker moved back around to the top of the branch and started to eat some suet. The other birds also resumed their activities like nothing had happened.
Posted in Insects and Animals
Tagged backyard birds, backyard wildlife, bird, bird hides from hawk, bird watching, birding, downy woodpecker, hawk, nature, New Jersey, New Jersey suburbs, New Jersey wildlife, photo, wildlife in suburbs
The Western Conifer Seed Bug has travelled eastward to my NJ office.
Bugs like to cling to the facade of my office building.
East met west this afternoon in front of my office building. I had stepped outside for a breath of fresh air, when I saw a strange looking insect sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. I’m definitely not a bug fan, but it caught my attention anyway. Not only was it fairly large, but it was unusual because I hadn’t seen any insects hanging around all winter, except the stink bugs. Today the temperature reached into the mid 40s, so perhaps the bug was attracted by the pre-spring warmth.
The insect had a brownish colored abdomen with a pattern on it and long front antennas. I had never seen an insect like it before. I was intrigued enough to run back inside the office to grab my camera. After taking a photo of the bug, I Googled “large brown bug with antennae” to see what I could find out about it. I figured out that the mystery bug was a Western Conifer Seed Bug. Western . . . immediately I thought I had made a mistake identifying the insect. Since I live on the east coast, I checked to see if perhaps there was an eastern variety of seed bug. After a little reading on the Penn State Entomology web page, I learned that the western conifer seed bug has been expanding its range into the east. At first it was identified in Pennsylvania and now the bug ranges in New Jersey and even into Canada.
Although the western conifer seed bug I saw on the sidewalk was barely moving, apparently they buzz and fly like a bee. The bad news for me is that the bug is considered a pest that likes to come indoors, inside homes and office buildings, in the winter. Perhaps this western conifer seed bug has been hanging around with the stink bugs at my office all winter and I hadn’t noticed it before.
I suppose it’s the February cold, but I’ve been seeing so many hawks this past week. On my way to work the other morning I spotted at least five and I don’t have a very far commute. Usually they are perched high and away, but these hawks were perched low, prominently positioned much closer to human activity. The winter search for food must be getting more intense.
In a few months when the weather gets warmer, it will be time to start looking for the chimney swifts again as they return from South America. Although I hadn’t taken much notice of them before, this past summer they entertained me quite a bit with their fast flying antics. They were regularly flying overhead, darting back and forth in the air, similar to bats. Not only are they fast, but I don’t think I ever saw one land and sit for awhile. It’s almost like they fly nonstop. This constant motion made taking photographs very difficult. I tried for weeks to get a good shot of a chimney swift, but ended up with lots of blurry photos of distant dots in the sky. What you see posted here are my “best” pictures. I thought that maybe they spent their evenings nesting in the big brick chimney at the school complex nearby, but I wasn’t able to confirm that. I figured that stalking around the schoolyard with a camera probably wasn’t a good idea.
Although the chimney swifts seemed to be plentiful in my neighborhood, I read a web article recently about a decrease in the chimney swift’s population. While it had been presumed that these birds are becoming less numerous because of chimneys being capped off, the article points to the bird’s diet as a cause. Hopefully, this year the chimney swifts will be just as plentiful flying over my neighborhood, because I need another chance to photograph them!