Freeze Time in the Garden: Visiting Downy

I’m going to try to keep better track of the birds that visit our backyard this year. We hadn’t entertained a Downy in quite a while, that we knew of, but we had one visit last weekend, and this one (maybe the same one) today. It likes the cake in the Wild Birds Unlimited suet feeder. Hello, Downy! Aren’t you beautiful!

Downy woodpecker at feeder.
Downy woodpecker at feeder.

Hoo-hoo, Spring is in the air


It’s spring, and John and I are looking forward to the times we will spend in the backyard this year, admiring the flowers and the birds, and visiting with family and friends. Our garden journey began in 2013. Before then, John dabbled a little in trying to beautify the front and backyard. I can’t even remember why 2013 became the year I fell in love with flowers, and eventually with birds. But it happened.

Birds visit us year-round in Colorado, but as the year ends, we say good-bye to the flowers. And when spring comes, we look forward to seeing the magical transformation, to see what will come back from last year and to decide what new things we’ll plant. But right now, for my first “Freeze time in the garden” post, I’m not going to talk about flowers. I’m going to talk about birds, because something very exciting happened last night. John had just come home from work and we were relaxing and watching TV right around dusk. Suddenly, we heard “hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo” outside. The sound startled us. At first I thought it was a dove, but it didn’t really sound like the sound doves make. John said, “That’s an owl!” and jumped up and went to the back door, with me right behind him. He pointed to the neighbor’s roof, where the owl was just landing. Then he said, “There’s another one!” My eyes aren’t as good as his, but I did see both of them landing. My first thought was to grab the camera, so I quickly went back to the living room. As I came back to the back door, John said, “They flew off.” I was so disappointed. So was he.

The house the owls landed on, to the south of us in our cul-de-sac, belongs to our neighbor Craig. The owls had landed on his roof a few feet from where two of our bird feeder poles are. I’ve seen owls on TV and I’ve seen owls at Wild Birds Unlimited when a birds of prey rescue organization brings in owls and hawks, but we’ve never seen an owl near our house for the more than twenty years we’ve been here. The rest of the evening, we talked about the owls, expressing the hope that we would see them again.

This morning, we were still excited about seeing the owls. I reminded John that Scott, who also lives in the cul-de-sac, told us a few days ago that he saw an owl in his tree. John told me not to get my hopes up. I realized that after the excitement, I was already regretting that I might not ever see one that close again! And it wasn’t as if I had seen them very well anyway. That was another regret. After John went to work, I got on the computer and looked up information about owls. We had seen a great horned owl. From everything I read, it sounded like the best chance of seeing him again would be at dusk again, or maybe dawn.

I was very curious what owls eat. The list was long, although rodents were at the top. I was a little concerned that they will eat other birds, like doves and starlings, since I’m very protective of the birds that visit our yard, including those. And they will eat squirrels, which we also feed. The most concerning prey I saw was small cats. One of our shih tzus, Candy, is quite small, and I was already thinking that if the owl did come back, I might have to keep an eye on her.

Before John came home from work, I went outside and looked around, hoping to see the owl. Although I didn’t see it, I did see something that cheered me up, ironically. Our bird feed attracts a lot of birds, but they also attract some rodents. My guess is that they make their way to our yard from the nearby big-box store, or maybe from a nearby farm. And our Virginia creeper vine is a great hiding place for them (as well as birds). As I looked around the yard, I spotted a particularly big rodent making away with some bird seed. I thought to myself that if the owl knew he was there, he’d probably be back!

We have a big backyard with landscaping tiers at the west end. The house above and beyond the tiers has been vacant for some time. A pine tree in that yard, just on the other side of our fence, spreads its branches above our tiers. As I looked around, at about 6:30 p.m., I spied a shape in the tree that didn’t quite look “tree-like.” I went and got the binoculars and decided that the shape must be an owl! I called John and told him that the owl was back!

When John came home, even though it was slightly chilly, I asked him if we could eat outside under the umbrella, drink some wine, and see if the owl did anything. I brought the binoculars and a camera outside. For the next forty-five minutes, we watched the owl do mainly nothing. Once in a while he turned his head or blinked his eyes. He was well hidden behind the pine branches, but we definitely could see him. We took some pictures, although we knew that from that distance, they wouldn’t be very good. Plus, my camera isn’t great with low light. (Or maybe it’s the photographer, since I’ve never gotten around to learn all that the camera can do.)

great horned owl in pine tree
Great horned owl in pine tree.

When Craig came home, I got up to say hi to him over the fence and to share the news that we were watching an owl in the pine tree. My movement might have startled the owl, because it flew away. But we were happy. The owl came back!

Happy Birthday, Flower

The excitement of seeing the owl eclipsed the fact that it was Flower’s birthday. Flower is one of our four adopted shih tzus. She turned seven today. I didn’t get around to making her any treats, so I bought her some from the store. Since it was her birthday, I tried to be extra nice and not get upset when she barked fiercely at the squirrels and chased them away.

Flower the shih tzu in garden
Today is Flower’s birthday. (Photo taken Aug. 17, 2013)