Cuckoo in Kansas

(Please note that these pictures all came from various birding organizations on the 'net. )

I love birds and I love watching birds. We put out several different kinds of feeders to attract a wide variety of birds, keep the birdbaths clean and full, and plant lots of bird (and butterfly) friendly plants. all of this pays off because we get a very wide range of birds who visit our yard for food, water or insects (I don't use any pesticides in my gardens and I never have insect problems thanks to my feathered exterminators).

I like to read books about birds and birding. I have narrowly avoided a few accidents due to bird-watching while driving (almost as bad as knitting while driving). Today, I took another step closer to becoming an official bird-geek - I went on a bird-watching walk at the arboretum near my house. Mr. Criquette's jaw dropped when he saw me appear at the coffeepot at the crack of dawn. I am not at all what we call a "morning person". But I was determined to do this because I have become A Wannabe Bird Geek With a Mission. The mission: to see one of these in person:

This gorgeous fellow is the Pileated Woodpecker. I have had 2 dreams about these beautiful creatures this spring. It is currently at the top of my lifetime bird list. They are not only strikingly colored, but apparently are also huge, like crow-sized or larger. Here is a map of their distribution:

According to this map, northeastern Kansas is out of their range. I pouted and started planning trips to visit family and friends who might live in their territory

I guess Kansas doesn't have the kinds of thick forests with humongous old trees that they like - oh wait - yes we do! There is a large patch of virgin forest just 20 miles south of my house! Is it possible there may be one or two who venture north from time to time? The arboretum's website actually mentioned pileated woodies as one of the birds that have been sighted there. Be still my heart!

So I went and today could not have been more gorgeous in terms of the weather. It was warm with low humidity and a very nice breeze. We had a very nice young biologist as our guide and he did an outstanding job. We only covered about half of the park today, but I added 4 new birds to my list that I have not seen before!

Great Crested Flycatcher - I am a huge fan of flycatchers. Not only do they eat more than weight in nasty flying critters, but they are also extremely attractive birds. I've been wanting to see one of these.

This is a much smaller member of the flycatcher family, the Acadian Flycatcher. Since the word "Cajun" is derived from "Acadian", these were on my list - I really wanted to see a little Cajun bird. Today, I saw 2. C'est bon, cher.

This one was completely unexpected! I had no clue these little guys even existed, much less in this neck of the woods. But the arboretum was full of the little cuties - the Northern Parula. Right after the guide told us we'd never see one (just hear them), I saw a small bird flit into a tree in front of us. Guess who spotted him first?

I did think there was a chance I might see a Summer tanager, which has been on my bird list for a long time. We rounded a bend, and there they were - a pair. Just gorgeous!

Male Summer Tanager

I never did get to see a pileated woodie today. But I did get the inside scoop. There are a couple of nesting pairs in some huge old trees by the river. The guide gave me exact directions on where to go to see them and where I should look. If I can drag myself out of bed early tomorrow, I'm headed back.

I was only a tiny bit disappointed because I got a fabulous consolation prize, #2 on my lifetime list:

The elusive and rarely seen (around here, at least) Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. We heard it's lovely cooing during parts of our walk, but didn't even see a glimpse. The group was watching a chickadee but I was bored. I was randomly looking around in the treetops with my binoculars and all of a sudden, one landed on a branch not far from me. I (and the rest of the group) was able to get a long, clear look at him. I almost wet my pants I was so excited! As you can see, I am ridiculously easy to entertain.

So I am off to bed, about 2 hours sooner than usual on a Saturday night. But I have an important date in the morning!


If It's Summer, It Must Be Rerun Time

It is a known fact that, in TV land, summertime means either endless reruns or really bad fill-in shows. The jury is still out as far as which is more intolerable. But the truth is, actors, writers, directors, producers and all of the people who are responsible for bringing our favorite shows into our homes, need a break in order to refresh their creativity. Makes sense to me.

That's why I decided to borrow a page from their screenplay and present a rerun today for my Dogs on Thursday post. I thought I would share one of the earliest posts, when my blog was still in her infancy. Most of my 1 or 2 readers may not have seen it before and I figure it may be better than posting nothing.

The title of the post, "Another of Abbie's Escaping Escapades" alludes to her obsession with escaping whenever possible in order to hunt bunnies. As a beagle/Jack Russel mix she can't help it: it's genetically programmed. It's a good thing she has so many other good qualities (we will overlook her other obsession with snacking from the litter box). Hope you enjoy!

The Pi is done!

This morning started off with an obscenely early rude awakening. Mr. "Refuses To Listen To Me" woke me up 30 minutes before the alarm to tell me he dropped Abbie's leash while on their morning walk. Of course Abbie Bad Beagle, who is suffering a bad case of Bunny Fever grabbed her chance and was off and hunting. Her speed makes Gone in 60 Seconds look like a turtle race. So Mr."Why Won't He Use A Second Leash On Her Like I Suggested" ran home to wake me up to help him find her.
Ha, this is the challenge. Abbie never runs away in a straight path. She zigzags, zogs and zooms on her quest for bunnies. She seems to vanish into thin air and so the first part of the hunt for Abbie is to locate her - she could be anywhere, in any direction. Fortunately God sent the little miracle I was praying for and gave us a break. She had doubled back to a large field near our house and had her full attention on the bunny she had located.

The trick with catching Abbie (assuming you can even locate her) is to be patient and try your best to keep up with her until she has the bunny cornered. Then you stroll up in back of her and scoop her up. Of course she always chooses the day after a storm to escape so she (and you) are covered in mud. So you haul her home, wipe her down, and put her sternly into her kennel for a timeout. And she totally knows she is being punished. She starts howling and singing the blues pathetically. And then when she comes out, she falls on the floor with her head down in the most contrite manner you will ever see in either human or beast.

So of course you have to pet her and reassure her she is still loved and won't be shipped off to the Big House and say a prayer of thanks that she didn't run into the woods where there are wolf-sized coyotes and bobcats looking for a little beagle bagel to snack on, or get hit by one the cars speeding way too fast down the busy street at the front of the subdivision.
And tonite, she insisted on lots of snuggling and playing so no knitting today. I had to content myself with taking some pictures of the unfelted Kitty Pi with your choice of either Criquette or Bad Beagle filling.

"Why would you run off when there are such lovely wooly things at home?"

Still looking Very Sorry


Criquette In the Garden

Here at the Casa de la Criquette, spring has finally sprung and I have been as busy as a hive of bees getting the gardens ready for summer. Would you like a tour? Let's start at the front...

This is a very shady and damp bed as it faces north/northeast. It's not good for colorful flowers, but in the heat of the summer, it is a very restful green and white. I grow Limelight and Annabelle hydrangeas, astilbes, chelone (turtlehead) and wintergreen boxwood.

I also have a white dogwood tree, variegated false Solomon's Seal and sweet woodruff groundcover.

Walking around to the west, there is a large berm that runs along the property line and gives us some privacy from the neighbors as well as serving as a windbreak from the wind, which can get pretty ferocious. We grow mainly white pine in the berm, but there is also a Fat Albert blue spruce and a blueberry cobbler viburnum. If you look closely, you'll see that a robin built her nest in this tree. She reared 1 baby, who fledged early this morning.

Our bird feeding station is in this curve of the berm. We have a birdbath, a big cardinal feeder, two finch feeders and a hummingbird feeder.

Moving south to our backyard, we have a patio under the porch, with a small curved bed in front of it. It contains salmon-pink non-stop roses that will start blooming in a week or so. Before that show, the Japanese iris gives us a gorgeous shot of purple for about 3 weeks.

This is one of the earliest perennials to bloom - 'Carolina Dawn' baptisia (false indigo).

If we keep heading south, we get to the woods that run the entire back of the yard. I planted a little plant of white violets last spring and the rabbits ate them down to the ground. I was pleasantly shocked to see this big patch. We have several bunnies this spring, but they haven't taken even a nibble.

This is a honeysuckle shrub, which grows wild in the Kansas City area. It is not a native, but is an introduced species that has started taking over native woodlands and so is considered a pest. I think it's lovely and allow a couple of them in my patch of woods. (Warning to the honeysuckle shrubs: I'm keeping an eye on you!).

When the builder first cleared the land, they left a little copse of trees. We love it, and turned it into a little island bed. I'm growing some daffodils and columbines in the shade and there is a beautiful wild white rose. We hung one of the wren houses there. This year, a little male wren worked very hard building a nest in the house. I saw him bring the female to inspect it. She must not have approved, because after a brief look inside, flew away, with Mr. Wren close behind.

Also in the copse, one of my favorite statues. It belonged to Mr. C's parents. I like to think they are looking out for us whenever I see this little guy.

There's more, but I don't want to test anyone's patience, so I'll save it for another day. Happy summer!

Cornus florida (dogwood, 'Cherokee Princess')


Seven Things: Abbie & Chloe Version

When I was over at Chan's blog a while back, she had a fun little meme called 7 things about me. Since I've been running low on anything remotely interesting to post about my canine kids, I thought they could have their very own meme for this week's DoT. So I'm tagging them. Go for it, girls:

Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you.
2. Share 7 things people may not know about you.
3. Tag 7 people to share 7 things and link to them.
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged. (I consider these steps optional since my taggers just noted that if you’re reading this and want to play al
ong, you’re tagged…)

1. Abbie uses her stuffed toys as communication tools. She brings over 1 toy and shakes it while prancing in front of us when she wants us to play with her. When she needs to go out to potty, she stuffs 2 or 3 in her mouth at once then presses the toys hard into our legs. She brings us toys and lays them at our feet to greet us when we get home. This is what it looks like by the back door at the end of the day.

2. When we have special treats that Abbie really, really wants, she does her special "begging boogie". Even the dreaded Collar of Doom can't stop her.

3. Chloe is getting older (we adopted her 9 years ago when she was about 6 months old). She goes a little slower and takes longer to get up when she's laying down and has a lot of white around her muzzle. But she's still as sharp as a tack, especially when it comes to herding the cats and neighbor children. And she still breaks out into little bursts of "happy running", like she did as a puppy.

4. Chloe is so obedient we can take her anywhere outside with us, without a leash (unlike her sister). Last week, she forgot she was getting older when she spotted a squirrel bouncing it's way to the birdfeeders and took off after it. She almost caught it, too. Just because she's getting old doesn't mean she has to act old!

5. Their favorite hobbies are sunbathing and barking at invisible critters in the yard.

6. When they are out on a walk together, people always think they're mother and daughter, or sisters. Not only are they not related, but they're not even mixtures of the same breeds of dogs.

7. They are the best dogs in the world and they are very, very, very loved!


Elderberry Juice

So many things have been conspiring this year to keep me out of the garden. The weather has been very cool and wet, or hot and wet. It has rained (or snowed) at least once every single weekend since early March. Wet clay soil, such as we have here, is Not Fun to dig in. Then there has been the health matter. When I got that nasty flu at the beginning of March, not only did it take a couple of weeks to start recovering, but I think it re-activated the Epstein-Barre virus that I contracted about 20 years ago. So for the past month, I have been having low-grade fever, body aches, headaches and a lot of fatigue. It also gave me a lot of mental fuzziness. Whatever energy I did have was getting depleted by work. So I haven't been able to do much of anything.

Last weekend I went to my local Whole Foods to re-stock my supply of vitamins and other supplements and while I was there, a man who has a small company that produces elderberry concentrate was there giving out samples. I am always game to try something new. It sort of tastes like strong, unsweetened cranberry juice, so I wasn't impressed. That is until I found out that native Americans have used elderberries for hundreds of years because they have so many health benefits. One of those benefits happens to be strong anti-viral properties. Hmmmm, since the epstein-Barre wasn't getting any better with my usual regimen, why not try it?

So I did and after 3 days of taking a tablespoon in a glass of pomegranate juice, twice daily, I woke up in the morning alert and full of energy. I'm almost back to feeling like myself again. You can read more about the healing properties of elderberries

I also have had elevated blood pressure on and off for the past year or more (hereditary as well as since I started taking hormones for perimenopause). I've been monitoring it daily, and the numbers have dropped by 10 points (systolic) and 3-4 points disystolic. When I saw my doctor yesterday, she wasn't convinced that this was good enough and really wanted me to start taking Bp meds. Since my sister is going through the same stuff right now, and has had a bad reaction to 3 different bp drugs, I am opposed to going this route without trying a natural approach first.

I already eat a pretty healthy diet, low in fat and sodium, so I can't change much there. But there are some supplements I can start taking and there is one big difference I think I can make, and that is excersise. I used to work out 3 times/week regularly, then about 5 years ago, I had a bulging disk in my lower back that caused me to have foot drop as well as lots of pain. I was determined to avoid surgery, so had aggressive physical therapy and was healed in about 3 months. But at that point, I didn't go back to working out, mostly because we had started builing our house about that time and starting a private practice and literally didn't have a spare minute in the day. When the house was finished, and the practice up and running, I had taken up knitting. And honestly, for me, working out doesn't even have a chance when it comes to how I spend my free time! I did try to figure out a way last year to knit while using the treadmill, but the normally knitting-supportive Mr. C put his foot down.

So this means that, with the exception of taking the dogs on a 1 mile walk about once a week, the most excersis I was getting came from either gardening or walking through a parking lot. Therefore, I think that if I start working out again, keep my sodium intake under 2000 g/day and keep drinking the elderberry concoction that I can get my bp into a healthier range. My doctor has given me 3 months. Once she said that, it turned this into a challenge - she doesn't think I can do it...and I am determined to show her I can.

I started researching my options. We have a workout room in our house, with a treadmill, 2 other evil pieces of equipment that I am not coordinated enough to use, free weights and an exersise ball. It's a nice room, filled with light and there are no current foster babies taking up any space in there. No Excuses. However, I do bet
ter working out with people, but I won't go anyplace if it's not convenient, so I am checking out Jazzercise (which I have done in the past), Pilates and yoga classes. Until then, I'm going to walk on the trail near our house or use the treadmill. And since this is the first weekend without the threat of rain, I'll be gardening like a maniac.