Signs of Spring 2015

It’s the first day of spring and… YIPPEE… there are signs that the season of rebirth is here. We still have a foot of snow in the yard but we can see positive signs that spring has arrived.

The “snow squirrels” (red squirrels) don’t live in their vast web of snow tunnels anymore:

"snow" squirrelThe appearance of snowflies (click to see it):

snowflyThe infamous snow truck camouflaged all winter at a shopping center is finally exposed:

snow truckOur bluebirds have arrived:

…and finally, the real estate market that was flat due a severe winter is booming again:

Happy Spring everyone!

Winter Walk-Off 2015

Spring begins on Friday but you’d never know it by the weather in New Hampshire. Today the temperatures were hovering in the upper 20’s with 25 MPH winds and gusting… true winter weather for the Annual Winter Walk-Off 2015.

Fellow blogger, Les, at A Tidewater Gardener, issued the following challenge to be completed by midnight, March 19:  “On your own two feet, leave the house, and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home (if you want to drive to your walk destination that’s OK too). Your post does not have to be about gardening or a travelogue (though I do like both), unless you want it to be. Maybe instead you will find some unusual patterns, interesting shadows, signs of spring, a favorite restaurant or shop, questionable landscaping, or local eyesores. Whatever, just keep your eyes and mind open, be creative, and have fun, but don’t show anything from your own garden.”

With the deadline for the event looming, I charged myself today with the task of completing Les’ challenge. There are no gardens visible beneath the snow in New Hampshire but when I thought of the most interesting shapes, angles, patterns, and shadows indoors, I could think of nothing better than the local Phillips Exeter Academy’s library, the largest secondary school library in the world.

The architect was Louis I. Kahn who was commissioned in 1965 to design a library for the academy. With his love of brick, his design fit right in with the brick Georgian buildings on campus. He was oft quoted saying, “I asked the brick, ‘What do you like, brick?’ And brick said, ‘I like an arch.'” And you see his arch again and again in this library. He is known also for his skillful use of natural light in the library. Groundbreaking was in 1969 and it was open for students in 1971. In 1997, the library was awarded the American Institute of Architect’s Twenty-Five Year Award.  Read more about Louis Kahn and the design process HERE.

The building is all about shapes. Walking up to the library, we see a square brick building that looks as if the outside walls are are detached or floating. Bricked pavilions lead visitors to entries.  Click to enlarge photos.

There are officially 4 floors in the library but in actuality, there are 9 levels. I climbed the stairs to all the floors and tried to capture a piece of the architecture: angles, shapes and shadows  and patterns…. arches, squares, diamonds, rectangles, and circles. Staircases provide curves, sharp angles, rectangles, and triangles:

Views from every floor give great form to function with the use of wood and concrete:
Click to enlarge.

There are 210 study carrels for students, all flooded with natural light and views to the campus below. Although the students are on spring break and nowhere to be seen today, I smiled when I saw that some of the carrels must be claimed domains:

Click to enlarge.

On the upper most floors are reading lounges with fireplaces, long tables group work, great views overlooking the campus and the administration building and a closer view of the circular atrium high above that illuminates the first floor:

Far below, a flurry of activity is evident on the ground floor level preparing for something new, The Library Commons, a place for social interaction. Furniture will arrive any day, furniture that will be flexible for individual or group use and can be arranged in a number of ways. Also in the plans for this area is a much anticipated café.

It looks nothing at all like Virginia’s beloved Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, yet I thought of TJ as I walked through the library.  I have a sense that both architects had similar visions for their buildings. They both possessed imagination and boldness of thought, both ahead of their time, both fashioned a building with a sense of serenity and, finally, this architect positioned his library to overlook this campus as Jefferson positioned his home to overlook his cherished University of Virginia.

Tree Hugging in Thought Only

The decision to remove all the white pine trees in this association was a difficult one for me. But, in the end, I went along with the majority vote to take them all. There were benefits to keeping the trees. They provided life and they provided shade and they gave us privacy. They blocked the frigid winter winds, helped to clean the air, and they certainly helped with soil erosion and water drainage as we live on the lower part of an incline…. but I had to concede the fact these tall trees were planted too close to buildings. There was a fear of what might happen if strong storms struck. It has occurred with other white pines in this neighborhood in year’s past.

White PineAnother reason given for the removal was that the species was not considered desirable. I held my ground on that one. Just ask Doug Tallamy, chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, author of the popular books, Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, who promotes growing natives to help support an area’s ecosystem. Pinus strobus, eastern white pine, is one he recommends for providing food, nuts, insects for a host of wildlife. Besides, I consider it a beautiful soft needled evergreen tree that whispers a song when the breezes come through.

Last week was the icy, snowy, cold week for tree removal. The operation was reminiscent of scenes from the movies Fern Gully or Avatar as heavy machinery, trucks, cranes, cables, and saws advanced around the area. One by one I watched these trees fall. I watched two squirrels jump from the tip top of one tree to the snow covered ground. I watched as birds flew around the tops of trees but not landing.

Click to enlarge:

I will collect some of the cones left behind and toss them into the woods that surround the neighborhood. Let’s hope a few of the offspring take root.

For every negative, I look for the positive. 1. With the tall pines gone, we now have morning sun at the breakfast table, a totally unanticipated perk that puts a smile on our faces. 2. The herbs on the window sill are responding very favorably to sunlight and we have removed the grow light that kept them happy all winter. 3. Facing an easterly direction, we’re finding the passive solar energy is keeping the home warmer. That’s a very good thing for the heating bill.  Sigh…

Survival of the Fittest

Our population of neighborhood turkeys has dwindled. I’m sure some turkeys didn’t make it through the worst of winter weather but, also, about this time of year, late winter or early spring, the flocks divide into smaller groups… one of hens, one of young males, and older males in another group.  It’s been a tough winter for all wildlife and we’ve tried to help out our birding population as much as we can… and that includes our posse of turkeys.

Snow has drifted to just below the window in the kitchen, which has allowed us to be eye to eye with these noble creatures as they feast on seed that we scatter. They are wary of us but hunger trumps caution.

Tom TurkeyThe dominate male gobbler, above, keeps a sharp eye on us at the breakfast table and when he feels he’s had enough, he gives a silent sign and the flock slowly follows him through the shrubbery. We’re not sure how he does that. We think he watches us and the rest watch him.

We’re visited by 8 turkeys now, we think young males, from about 18 turkeys that visited us all fall. We watch this small group appear at dawn each morning, quickly devour the food we scatter the night before. They take the exact path each morning through a neighbor’s yard and across the road, then disappear up another neighbor’s driveway to their backyard.  I’m sure our small posse takes the same route because a generous soul has a laid out another breakfast course for them.

Turkey hunting season approaches in New Hampshire in May. We hope you fare well, young gobblers!

A Warm Day at Last!

Temperatures rose to 45° yesterday… almost a heat wave in New England. Icicles hanging from the roof began to thin and several large ones fell to the snow below. Instead of staying home and watch the icicles melt, mister gardener and I decided to venture out for a walk and lunch.

If we wanted to trudge through ice, deep snow and slush, we would have taken the woodland walk. We decided to journey down town and use the cleared sidewalks. Once there, we found that others had the same great idea and we walked behind, in front of, and passed happy, friendly folks getting a small-ish workout and enjoying the fresh air along the sidewalks of Exeter.

Afterwards, we had worked up a little appetite for a cup of soup at The Green Bean restaurant… and despite the warm temperatures, we decided that eating lunch on the terrace at one of our favorite restaurants in Exeter is still several weeks away. But look how clean the sidewalk is! It’s that way everywhere here and amazing to me just how the city and the businesses accomplish this feat with the endless snow this season.

Following lunch, we drove home the back way to see how a few neighbors’ mailboxes fared after perhaps a record amount of snow accumulation. Snow plows have no choice but to blast snow to the side of the roads and very often the mailboxes are the victims.  This year was no exception.

And finally, we laughed when we saw in astonishment that the mail is still being delivered to all of them.

A warming trend is in the forecast and we will be happy to say goodbye to these mountains of white, however, the next big threat in New England is water from the big melt. Most homes have basements around here… including us.  We’ve been warned that the threat of a flooded basement is a big one.  We are keeping our fingers VERY tightly crossed.

Almost Summer Camp

In the dead of a New England winter, I can only post about what I see… and it’s all snow or ice. So I am taking a trip back and posting about a warmer time, a time 2 summers ago when I spent a week on Star Island with a friend from Virginia. Star Island is a part of the Isles of Shoals, a group of nine small islands located a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine with names like Appledore, Smuttynose, Duck, and White. Groups arrive and leave all summer attending conferences, yoga camps, retreats, marine classes, photography, watercolor classes, or a family having a relaxing day-trip on these craggy shores. For us, it was the closest thing to summer camp for adults.

The largest building on the right is the old wooden Oceanic Hotel from the late 1800’s, the focal point of Star Island where we checked in and dined morning, noon, and night, where we showered, attended lectures, visited the gift shop, met friends, and enjoyed ice cream at the snack bar. Other buildings were guest rooms, guest cottages, the chapel, and lecture halls/classrooms/activity centers. The islands have been inhabited since the early 17th century (or earlier) by fishermen… some working their way up from Virginia colonies. In fact, Captain John Smith visited in 1614 and named the isles for himself, Smyth Isles. I guess it didn’t stick.

IMG_7951-X2Oceanic dining hallroomsYes, it was a lot like summer camp as we were roughing it on the island. We chose to share a miniature room with a bath (toilet/sink) rather than have a room in a cottage or the hotel with a shared bath, an upgrade we think, but showers were limited to certain days for certain hours in the basement of the Oceanic Hotel. Staff, dozens and dozens of young adults (“Pelicans”) of college age for the most part, showered on opposite days.

Watercolor LectureWe were free to wander the island in between activities and lectures. One day I poked around to see what flowers called the island home. The most abundant bloom I saw was the Rosa rugosa, a salt tolerant scrubby rose. It is prolific non-native that made the island look like a monoculture of rose. I searched for the scarlet pimpernel that grew on the rocks but to no avail. Mostly I saw blooms common to all.

Rosa rugosa

The black-backed seagulls outnumbered people by thousands. The breeding season was over but we were still warned about aggressive seagulls. I found the youngest gulls delightful and sometimes posing for the camera. This one went through his entire yoga routine for me.

young black backed gullOver the island, there were a number of grave sites and I couldn’t help but wonder if they brought soil from the mainland to cover the coffins on this thinly earthed rock. At the bottom of Eliza’s stone, it reads:

Death has cut the brittle thread of life
And laid my body in the grave.
Yet my spirit lives in heaven above
To sing the praises of God’s love.

Eliza

We signed on for an outing to another island, Appledore, the site of a Cornell/UNH marine science lab and the home and cutting gardens of Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), famed poet, writer, the daughter of the lightkeeper on White Isle. He eventually built two grand hotels in the mid-1800’s, one on Appledore and one on Smuttynose (both burned down). Celia became his hostess and her cut flowers adorned the hotels. Guests flocked to the island for relaxation and inspiration, among them famous writers and painters like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the artists William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam.

AppledoreWe followed the rocky path upward and across the island to the stone foundation of Celia’s home. This is a popular tour to visit a replica of her cutting gardens planted according to the plan she outlined in her bestselling book, An Island Garden. Our summer visit found only those late-blooming flowers at peak… but it was exciting to be there and catch a few photographs.

Back on Star, we followed paths, rutted roads, climbed boulders and rocks to explore every inch of the small island. Click to enlarge.

And at night we gathered with our cameras on the decks and on the gazebo called the summer house and watched the sun go down.

"                               " IMG_8079-X2Yes, we went to camp that summer….the discomforts of lights out early, limited cell phone use, no television, no cars, few showers paled in comparison to a week of great experiences with lots of new friends on what the locals call The Rock. Hope to go back!

Sandy and me with new friends on Star Island

ICE!

Today the temperature reached 37° and our icicles took on a life of their own. Drip. Drip. Drip. For the next 10 days or so, the temperatures will fluctuate. We may have negative temperatures at night and daytime will be in the teens, the twenties and a couple of thirty degrees here and there. We will have thawing and freezing of the very heavy snow atop everyone’s roofs…. which causes the dreaded ice dams that become leaks in a home. Ice dams are already creating havoc in many homes in New England and we are crossing our fingers that we won’t have a problem this year.iceRoof raking is a big business around these parts. We’ve had our home cleared of ice and snow twice. And we will have it done one more time this week. That should be it for the winter (knock on wood) for us but many others are waiting to have theirs done for the first time and just hoping for no more snowstorms. The weight of snow and ice has caused several major roof collapses in the area and created structural damage to schools, homes and businesses.

ice on cottage It is not an easy job, nor a safe job to clear roofs of snow and ice. Roofs are generally steep in this part of the world. Workers climb tall ladders and cross roofs in frigid temperatures carrying very long snow rakes. We’ve watched numerous homes being done, including our own. It’s a job I would not want!

Huge icesnowThe removal of ice dams is not for the faint of heart. Swinging a sledge hammer overhead like this, you would think it would go through the roof, but I was amazed at how exact these workers were at hitting only ice. They completed the task without causing structural damage to the home.

bang!Even though the ground is beneath about 4′ of snow, I can feel spring. It’s definitely in the air.  I am dreaming about those warmer days ahead and making lots of plans for our garden. Spring officially begins on March 20…. just weeks away (actually 25 days, 34 minutes, and 30 seconds!). Will the snow have melted by then? I rather doubt it…

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

Well, it’s that time of year again…. time for me to become a citizen scientist and count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes a day during this 4-day weekend, February 13 – 16. Then report my findings at birdcount.org. It’s easy, it’s free, and it helps avian researchers have a real-time picture of how birds are doing.

There are two days are left in the count… today and tomorrow. Just Do It!

Ice-encrusted mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) in Portsmouth NH

Near the feeder, it’s an easy task but in other locations, it can take a bit of concentration. Can you spot the lone chickadee among American goldfinches and a junco in the crab apple tree? Click to enlarge.

American finches and chickadee

 

Protecting Shrubs in Winter

In the milder zone 7b of my former home in Tidewater Virginia, people often tie up their roadside shrubs with burlap to protect them from road salt. Now we’re in New Hampshire. Here it’s done, not only for that reason, but to protect branches and shrubs from the weight of snow. We often see small shrubs and large ones protected with tents of burlap or tied up tight with roping.

Tide Hill Korean BoxwoodWe learned the hard way last year when three new dwarf boxwood (Buxus microphylla “Tide Hill”) were buried under 6′ of snow. In March, when I finally dug them out, the entire crowns were crushed. Multiple stems were completely snapped off (bonus: I rooted them and now have a dozen baby boxes).

The three boxwood were transplanted to a more protected garden and three dwarf Helleri holly (Ilex Crenata “Helleri”) replaced them. More rugged than box, but they have similar small leaves. We will maintain them as a small hedge.

Even though a mild winter was in the forecast for the 2015 winter months, we weren’t taking any chances. We wanted to protect the small Helleri hollies from the elements. So mister gardener made small sandwich boards that he put over the hollies when the first flakes began to fall.

Dwarf Helleri Holly protectionThe next snowstorm covered the boards.

Helleri HollyNow take a look below at our 7-ft. snowdrift over the hollies today. The final snowstorm this week confirmed our suspicions about the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Listen to no one… not the weatherman, not the clerk in the store, not the Farmer’s Almanac, not the mailman, not friends or neighbors. This we know: snow is a given. Take preventive measures to safeguard the garden, the house, the automobiles, and yourself. We are learning….

7-ft drift

For the birds…

It has been an extreme few weeks in New England that has brought us over 40″ of snow in our area of New Hampshire. Today the snow is coming down steady again… enough that the snowplows have cleared our drive 4 times! We always feed the birds but during severe weather we step up our support as natural food supplies are difficult to find. We have trenches and we shovel out to refill feeders twice a day. The snow is as light as ivory flakes so the shoveling isn’t strenuous. And, amazingly, it’s full of tunnels where the squirrels are searching for wayward birdseed. They pop up here and there like Whac-A-Mole game.

trenchThe familiar backyard avian crew frequents our feeders… just in greater numbers in this weather. The black-capped chickadees, the white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, and tons of American goldfinch, pine siskins, and purple finches dine on the tube feeder and the covered bluebird feeder. The noisy finches that number in the twenties also monopolize the nyjer seed feeder.

finches on nyjer sock

American Goldfinches

Northern cardinals, mourning doves, a handful of blue jays, white-throated sparrows and a few other sparrows, a large number of dark-eyed juncos, a common redpoll or two, American finches and pine siskins hop around atop the snow for the seeds we scatter.

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Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

junco..

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpeckers, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, the chickadees and titmice go through the suet in no time.

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chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

 

Female P. Finch

Female Purple Finches

 

Pine Siskin

 

The avian activity provides a lot of excitement and entertainment at our house. Breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime at our table are hives of activity at the window feeder. We enjoy watching the shy, the gregarious, the bullies, the bold, the eat-and-run birds, the noisy, and the birds that like to watch us watching them.

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At least it’s a leisurely hobby that you can enjoy from the comfort and warmth of your home… unlike some of our neighbors who must wait for the snowplow to clear enough snow so their animal friends can have a little recreation. Brrrr….
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Cindy and pup

Soup does a body GOOD!

After running errands trying to beat one of our recent snowstorms, I was greeted at home by rich aromas wafting from the kitchen. mister gardener, who does practically all the cooking in this household, was making his mother’s chicken noodle soup. That means starting with a nutritious stock from scratch using an organic whole chicken from our farmers’ market and his mother’s homemade egg noodles.

He was removing the chicken bones and vegetables from the stock pot when I poked my head around the corner. It had been simmering for an hour and a half with an assortment of vegetables and herbs and smelled heavenly. The dough had been rolled out and drying on a side table.

As a toddler, he remembers climbing up on the kitchen stool up to watch and ‘help’ his mother roll out the dough and cut the noodles. He uses her recipe and her methods to this day… rolling out the dough, letting it dry, dusting the dough with flour, rolling it, and cutting the noodles.

Sliced carrots, sliced celery are added to the stock and it all simmers away until the vegetables are just tender. The reserved cut-up raw chicken is added and, finally, the delicious noodles are tossed in for the last 5 minutes. A little salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and some chopped fresh parsley just before serving, and dinner’s ready. (I’d like to think the parsley is my small contribution since I am tending it in my lovely winter herb garden!)

Dinner is served….

Chicken Noodle SoupChicken Stock: mister gardener makes his stock mostly with chicken bones. He reserves the raw breast and thigh meat, and partially cooks the bones and a few extra chicken parts, sans skin and fat, in water until the fatty foam forms on the surface. He tosses that water and starts a fresh pot of water with the same bones and simmers the stock for 1/ 1/2 to 2 hours with cut up carrots, onions, celery, garlic head, fresh thyme, and parsley. He strains the stock through a colander and he’s ready to make his soup!

Blizzard 2015 Visits New England

A week ago, I spoke a little too soon about needing some snow in New Hampshire. This week the January 2015 blizzard came to town. The snow started on Tuesday and never stopped. When all was said and done on Wednesday morning, we officially had 25+ inches on the ground in Exeter…. however, high winds whipped snow, swirled snow, and piled snow in every nook and cranny creating mountains you could get lost in. Beautiful to watch from the window with a crackling fire, a fine cup of java, and two good books to take me far away.

To give you an idea of the Great Dig Out, here is my grandson with his dog following along as his parents forged a path to their mailbox in Portsmouth, a city that received a whopping 31 inches of snow, according to local news.

Drew on Path

And this is how they found the mailbox, buried by the snowplows under several feet of snow. More dig out…

Mail Box in PortsmouthIn Exeter, mister gardener dug a series of deep trenches to the bird feeders trying to keep our feathered friends well-fed for the duration of the storm. All birdseed we scattered atop the snow was completely covered within minutes.

birdprintsBefore the storm hit, we built a small snowman with available snow on the deck railing.  The snows of ‘Juno’ began and we were certain it would be the end of Mister Snowman.Our small Snowman But he withstood the whipping winds of the blizzard. We found him standing upright in the morning although he’d lost an arm and had transformed into Mr. Conehead with a cape.snowman2Very slowly over the next three days, our little man began to lean more and more until he finally toppled and expired late today.

The cleanup continues in New Hampshire with two more winter snowstorm warnings on the horizon. We are ready for them, but not for another threat that emerged this morning. Icicles can possibly foreshadow the dreaded…. ICE DAMS …..identical to the one that caused a leak around our skylight last winter! Yikes! Give me a good snowstorm any day!

icicles

Snow’s a’comin…

Our granddaughter, seen here with her pony, has had more snow at her home in the Midwest than we have in New England. We’ve received family photos of snowmen and romps in the yard. How could that be? Shouldn’t we have more snow? We hear all that is going to change very soon as we’ll be getting the BIG SNOW beginning tomorrow morning.

Claire and her pony, Pongo The National Weather Service is cautioning residents that a strong nor’easter will be bringing us to 7 or 8 inches of heavy snow. You might think that with severe weather warnings, moaning and complaining would be heard across the community but all I hear is ‘bring it on!’

These hearty New England residents have missed seeing the white stuff. They don’t clear out grocery stores with stashes of survival foods like folks do in Virginia when threatened with snow. Here, their skis are waxed, boots lined up, sleds by the door, snowmobiles gassed up. They are ready.

Our plans are less exciting than our adventurous friends. We might take a walk in the snow or sit by a roaring fire or watch the birds at the feeders or make some good soup or snap some photos. We have certainly missed the snow, but as southerners, we have not learned to embrace the outdoor adventures like our enthusiastic neighbors. We will likely venture out to keep our walks clear and will wave to all as they set out on their winter activities.

Surfs Up But…

… the mercury was down in the Atlantic Ocean on this January day. The icy 40° water temperature did not seem to deter our brave winter surfers!

The popularity of winter surfing in New England simply amazes me. I’m told that many surfers prefer the winter when the sand isn’t packed with beachgoers and large numbers of surfers aren’t competing for the same perfect wave.

Temperatures seemed mild today for January so we took the short drive to the beach to watch the action. Well… there they were. About a dozen or so surfers were bobbing in the water just waiting to catch a wave.

I’m not exactly sure how warm they were but they appeared comfortable out there. It looked like every inch of their skin, except for the face, was covered in a thick wet suit and I’m sure faces were covered in a substance like petroleum jelly to protect the skin.

I would think the most difficult part of this activity would be getting out of the water, back to their cars, maneuvering out of the skintight wetsuit, drying off and changing into dry clothes… likely done before the cars warm up!  Gives me a chill to think about that.

click to enlarge.

surferscatching a waveJust below me on the rocks were some shore birds huddling on a boulder, resting and trying to stay warm. I am not great on identifying shore birds but I do think the white breasted birds with dark legs may be non-breeding sanderlings. The orange legged and beaks belong to another species of sandpipers…. perhaps the purple sandpiper that winters here. Someone else may have to make positive IDs for me.

Wave runners!

Look who came to breakfast!

Yesterday I attached a small bird feeder to the kitchen window. I used it for a while last year but the messy spillover on the basement bulkhead below resulted in removal of the feeder.

My daughter’s interesting birds at her kitchen window convinced me to turn a blind eye to the oily mess and just enjoy the birds. Immediately the bold little chickadees lifted out most of the nuts. Very early this morning before the sun was fully over the horizon, the American finches found the feeder filled with shelled sunflower seeds for those dainty beaks.

Heck with the mess. C’mon little tweetie birds!

The American Goldfinch is the only finch to molt twice a year. Their dull winter colors are a stark contrast to the bright yellow breeding colors of spring and summer.

In Virginia, I participated as a Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen scientist in a data collection survey called House Finch Disease Survey for Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. This terrible condition caused swollen, crusty eyes, and often blindness in a good number of my goldfinches, house finches and Northern cardinals. It was heartbreaking to watch a bird trying but unable to land on a feeder. Some diseased birds recover but many starve or are eaten by predators. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, feeders are the best place for transmission. I regularly removed all feeders, disinfected them, and waited a week or so before hanging clean feeders and clean food. Thankfully, I have not seen this condition in New Hampshire.

The survey has ended, however, one can report a disease sighting through Project Feeder Watch until April 3.

Gardening in January

New Hampshire winters arrive early and by the time January rolls around we are yearning for green. So earlier this month we made an attempt to create a bay window herb garden in the kitchen even though we must deal with the low light winter sun and temperature fluctuations next to the window.

Selecting an attractive planter was my job. No plastic planter on my windowsill! I wanted metal and I found the ideal trough at Terrain, one of my favorite online stores. The dark zinc metal tough is 36″ long, 5″ wide, and 4″ high and fits perfectly in the bay window.

Habit & Form Troughmister gardener was in charge of buying and planting herbs. We now have chives, basil, oregano, and sage growing in the kitchen and being used in cooking. Because they aren’t getting the needed 6 hours of sunlight, we supplement with a grow light.  So far, so good.

We are now satisfying our need to dig and tend a garden and mister gardener is having fun with our herbs elsewhere in the kitchen.

carrot soup

Carrot soup garnished with fresh chives from the new kitchen garden

Quick Carrot Ginger Soup

2 T. butter
7 large carrots
1 large onion
1 t. minced ginger
2 c. vegetable stock
2 c. water
1 t. orange zest
salt and white pepper
chopped chives for garnish

Melt butter in a large pot. Add carrots, onions and salt and stir until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add chicken stock, water, ginger and orange zest. Bring to a simmer, cover until the carrots thoroughly soften, about 20 minutes. Remove the orange zest and discard.  Add the soup to a blender in very small batches holding the lid down and purée until completely smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped chives.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Angry Birds?

It was frigid yesterday and we always take extra care of the birds in severe weather. Fresh suet, heated bird bath, filled feeders, and sunflower seed scattered to attract the ground feeding birds. Who came to dinner? Our neighborhood rafter of turkeys!

I don’t dare intrude when our 18-20 hungry turkeys arrive. The gobblers can be a trifle aggressive and I sure don’t want to ruffle their feathers so I videoed a few of them from the window. The dominant Toms had slim pickings as they kept watch on the fringes allowing the rest access to the sunflower seeds that I scattered for much smaller birds on this icy morning.

I’m becoming rather attached…

The Thrill of Stratham Hill

On a rather gray day in October, mister gardener and I explored another recommended trail in nearby Stratham NH. Our goal was to find and climb a restored fire tower for a bird’s eye view of the surround. I’d never climbed a fire tower and could hardly believe folks were allowed to do it. We had no idea how far we had to walk but it turned out to be a rather short and gradual assent to the summit, an elevation of 280 feet.

We soon approached a tree-tunneled opening and were surprised to find an expanse of well-maintained fields. To the right, a sign pointed to other trails but we could see the tower at the summit on the left. Well, I thought, that tower certainly doesn’t look imposing. I’ve seen taller.

Click photos to enlarge.

We walked up the dew covered grass and noticed the tower that seemed so manageable was looming larger as we got closer. And once there, I saw that the metal steps were dew covered and slippery. I had qualms… but I swallowed my apprehension and began the slippery climb, holding on very tight and photographing each level as I passed with my free hand. The worst part was a see-through metal grate instead of a solid surface beneath my feet. Whenever I looked down, I saw all the way to the ground. Add a breeze up there and I developed a slight case of vertigo. I didn’t linger.

On a clear day not only Portsmouth and the Great Bay can be seen, but several mountains can be identified… including Mt. Washington 88 miles in the distance.

Can you spot the picnic table? We are up high! Click to enlarge.

I stayed long enough to see what people tagged on the beams… mostly nice thoughts but when I saw one about jumping, I decided it was time for my safe descent.

On the way back down to the parking lot, we took a steeper trail, the Lincoln Trail named for Robert Lincoln, Honest Abe’s son.

We stopped to read the plaque on a large boulder that marked the spot where Robert Lincoln, a student at Phillips Exeter Academy, read the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1860, the year his father was elected president.

Once back on level ground, we checked our GPS and found that we had logged less than 2 miles, a short walk. This map of all the trails in this area illustrates the amazing 9 miles of trails on both private and public land. We had barely scratched the surface!

Stratum Trail Map

Christmas for the Birds

As a special treat to her feathered friends, my daughter added a handful of shelled pecans to the sunflower seeds on her window feeder. She wondered whether the birds would even like the nuts, but lesson learned. It took 15 minutes before all the pecans were gone. Click to enlarge photos.

First the chickadee eyed them.

chickadeeIt was the titmouse’s turn next….

IMG_7500…followed by the white breasted nuthatch.

IMG_7497All the regulars, the nut lovers, arrived to share a gourmet Christmas treat. Joy.

My Ten Favorite Photos of 2014

Les over at A Tidewater Gardener annually posts his ten favorite photos from the year and he challenges readers to do the same. Since we have downsized and no longer maintain our acres of gardens, I’m not as serious about garden photography and rarely carry my heavy 35mm camera around my neck. But I do carry the world’s most popular camera in my pocket at all times. My iPhone! Not sure about these being my favorite photos but they jumped out at me while scrolling through hundreds!

Since we spent most of the winter under a blanket of snow, I thought I should add at least one photo of the beauty it can bring. Taken on February 8, prints in the snow show where animals come to the stream banks.

Click on photos to enlarge.

IMG_8150I love photos that tell a story and there’s one here. Peaceful demonstrators in Keene NH braved the elements for several hours for a cause on February 7. I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves…. maybe seeing whose turn it is to get some coffee.. among other more important things.

Make Love, Not War!Keene NH also provided another photo that I like. A rainy, gray day was brightened only by taillights at a stoplight on April 15. With family in Keene, we visit this area on a regular basis.

IMG_9886We ventured out of the Granite State for this photo. Two lovely ladies in straw hats were admiring a seaside garden on the rocky shores of the Atlantic. We toured several Cape Neddick Maine gardens on this day during Garden Conservancy Days, June 22.IMG_1338Anyone who knows me knows I am interested in insects and have hundreds of photos and IDs The plump fellow below, the jumping spider, claimed the watering hose as his own at Rolling Green Nursery this summer. These are brave and scary looking spiders, but, oh so harmless. Whenever I moved in, he moved closer. They stalk prey and can pounce a few inches but I just give them a puff of air and they fall to the ground and scamper away. I really like these spiders because they have personality plus. July 12.

The second photo below was a two-for-one. I was photographing the tachinid fly and didn’t see the second insect until I downloaded the photograph. The tachinid is a nectar eating fly as an adult, but one that lays eggs in insect hosts. This time the lowly hover fly is the victim seen just below her body. I don’t like these flies very much as butterfly caterpillars are often victims. July 16.

IMG_1635 IMG_0712Rain drops on vegetation after an all night soaker is always interesting to me. The new growth on this spirea is an especially nice color. May 19.

rain dropsThe sunflower below was a volunteer from our bird feeder. Several seeds that the birds overlooked germinated but only this one grew tall and straight and eventually fed the chickadees many ripe sunflower seeds. (Staring at the center long enough may hypnotize!)  August 26.

volunteer sunflowerFinally, the highlight of 2014 was a vacation with the youngins to Bethel, Maine. Below are two photos from that hiking, swimming, boating trip in August.

IMG_2741IMG_3346

Hiking through the Winter Woods

After wet, heavy snowfalls this fall, I thought for sure we were on our way to more polar vortices and deep snowfalls like last winter. Click to enlarge all photos.

There’s never 100% certainty, but because a strong El Nino did not materialized, the Climate Prediction Center of the NOAA now predicts a 40% chance the Northeast will have above average winter temperatures. We still may have our share of memorable snowstorms because those can only be predicted one or two weeks before. Fingers crossed…

This weekend the temperatures in Exeter hovered in the 40’s….great Virginia-like weather for a holiday hike with family. Blue skies. Abundant sun. Mild temps. Light breeze.

farmWe hiked over private land to the Phillips Exeter Academy woods and numerous trails that run along the Exeter River and beyond. With hardly a ripple in the water, we were treated to some spectacular reflections of the sky and trees…. only broken up by the activity of 20 or more mallards happily enjoying the mild weather.

Winter is the time to notice the bark on trees and we stopped several times to witness activity and interests along the trails. Click to enlarge.

Finally, with abundance of wet weather, the tiny natives along the trail were gloriously happy and green on the woodland floor when little else was green except tall evergreen trees.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens) with its bright red berries grows slowly and will form a thick mat when conditions are right. I am careful not to disturb it.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum) is a club moss that looks much like a tiny pine… whose 100′ tall ancestors existed almost 400 million years ago before flowering plants populated the earth.  They reproduce by rhizomes and spores. Often used for Christmas decorations, many states now protect this delicate native plant.

Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

Gardening with Conifers

Winter officially arrived yesterday at 6:03 p.m.  The contrast between December 22, 2013, and today is remarkable.  On this date in 2013, we had a few feet of snow on the ground and 5 – 6′ icicles  hanging from the roof…. and it only got worse for weeks and weeks… ending with ice dams on the roof and a few dead or damaged shrubs. Folks tell me last year was not a normal year. We shouldn’t have a repeat this year.

So far, so good. We’ve had enough snowfall to have the driveway cleared, followed by some warming and freezing this fall. The forecast for Christmas is 50° and rain. That suits me fine, but after that, I’ll begin to miss the white stuff. Even though the natives say last year was a fluke,  I’m not taking any chances after losing some new plants to the weather.

I asked for advice, I studied other gardens, I formed my vision, I made a plan, and I decided to install a mixed conifer border that will provide interest and give us screening for a cozy backyard retreat. I looked for plants that would survive in zone 4. Conifers bring diversity in color, shape, and texture for every season. The greens are welcome in the spring before perennials and leaves of trees emerge. Summer’s colors in the perennial garden look even more dramatic against the evergreen backdrop. Autumn colors abound in trees and shrubs but it’s pleasing to see contrasting green foliage. However, conifers own the winter season. Cold arrives early in the Northeast. Bare branches, brown grass, barren and bleak landscapes need conifers. Add a bit of snow along the green boughs and, voila! Magic!

Plus, I’m all about the birds in our compact habitat. They have taken to these new woodies as I knew they would. On brisk or snowy days, I can see them seeking shelter inside the branches and dining on the berries. Here’s the short list of what I chose:

  • 6′ Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Maid': the hardiest of these hybrid blue hollies, fast growing, bright red berries, can reach 10′-12′ but will prune to about 8′. Her ‘Blue Prince’ grows nearby for pollination.
  • 5′ Juniperus chinensis ‘Hetz Columnaris': sharp needle-like green foliage and full of  bluish-green berries for the birds.
  • Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kosteri': a semi-dwarf falsecypress known for its twisty olive green foliage and dense texture; this 2.5′ species will slowly reach 4′.
  • Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock': several of these evergreen native hollies are scattered in the border; I will keep these inkberries at about 4′.
  • Buxus sinica ‘Tide Hill‘: I moved my 3 miniature Korean boxwood to this border after the snowplow mounded 5′ of packed snow on them, crushing the centers. They have recouped for two seasons in a temporary nursery until recently. Full size: 15″ high by 3′ wide.
  • Taxus x media ‘Densiformis': this popular yew is thick and lush and easy to maintain.

Click on photos to enlarge:

Some perennials and ornamental grasses grow in the spaces between the young plants but this landscape will be developed in stages. More decisions will be made after the neighborhood association removes the mature white pines later this winter. I’ll then know how much sunshine my cozy backyard will receive.