Bluebirds vs. Sparrows!

My husband made this bluebird nest box in the spring and mounted it on a pole that is easily visible from our kitchen window. We had a pair of bluebirds move in within a couple weeks. We took joy in watching them fly in and out, first bringing grasses to build a nest. Later they laid eggs and raised a clutch. We saw them spend a lot of time flying around, going in and out, carrying insects and other delicacies, presumably for their young chicks. This went on for a few weeks.

Recently, we experienced just how cruel nature can be. House sparrows and wrens started hazing the bluebirds. It was rather traumatic watching the bluebirds come under attack after watching them raise a family.

I did some on-line research and discovered that this is quite a common occurrence. House sparrows and wrens frequently chase off bluebirds. They will even break the eggs, or kill chicks, and sometimes kill adult bluebirds, so they can take over the nest. They are even known to build their nest right on top of the bluebird bodies.

House sparrows are an invasive species. That means not native to the United States. Hence, they are not protected by the Migratory Bird Act. Wrens are native and so are protected. I immediately employed some of the deterrents that I read about to help our bluebird friends. I found instructions for something called a “sparrow spooker” and constructed and installed one right away. This consists of the metal strips hung from a strip of wood or twine. It can be seen in the photo above.

The sparrow spooker seemed to confuse the sparrows for a bit. I did see them or the wrens enter the house a few times afterwards, but other times they shied away. I was back the next day ready to continue battle with the avian invaders after doing further research. Apparently, if you install monofilament fishing line vertically along either side of the entrance to the nest box, sparrows, and hopefully wrens, do not like it. The sparrows and wrens cannot see the line and when they bump into it, it confuses and upsets them. Hopefully, enough so that it will keep them away. I did see a wren bump into the line and sit in a branch nearby tilting his head and staring at the offending area. Bluebirds, being insectivores, are thought to have better eye sight and can avoid the fishing line. That installation is also visible in the photo above.

Bird activity in general is less at the nest box today. I haven’t seen the bluebirds since yesterday, and the number of sparrow and wrens sightings is less too. I am hopeful that the clutch of bluebird babies grew up and fledged before the interlopers showed up. We did not find any baby bluebird bodies in the nest, nor did we find any on the ground in the surrounding area. My research says that bluebird babies fledge in 17-21 days. We had been watching the box for some time so it is possible that the young left to live out their lives elsewhere.

There is one last thing to try at some point in the future. My delving into sparrow habits unearthed the fact that they are territorial. They will not allow other house sparrows in the immediate area of their nest. It’s not the bluebirds per se that the sparrows take issue with. They just want the nesting site. I read that if you install two of the “bluebird houses” within 10 feet of each other, the sparrows will use one and bluebirds can nest in the other. The resident sparrows will not allow other sparrows to use it, leaving it open for the bluebirds.

This experience gave us pause to think. We put up a birdhouse, but who are we to say it is a bluebird house? The sparrows and wrens do not see it that way. And although it was upsetting when “our” bluebirds were driven off, it was nature at work. Should we be allowed to specify who lives in a birdhouse just because it is our whim? Tough choices.

And following, is a photo of one of our flowerbeds that was recently enlarged. Just so there is something positive to report today. I planted gladioli in it, so it should be bright and cheery soon!

Baxter says…”Have you heard? Don’t walk dogs on hot pavement!”

There are some things to know before taking your dog for a walk in hot weather. You think about what you need for a walk and what conditions you will encounter. Don’t forget to consider the same for your dog.

Don’t walk your dog on hot pavement, or even sidewalks when it is really hot. The rule of thumb is to put your hand on the surface. If it is too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog. Dogs can get burned, get red and sore footpads, blister, and endure suffering. Yes, dogs have thick pads, but they are still sensitive tissue that can be damaged. Check the internet. There are pictures.

This doesn’t mean you have to forego walking altogether. Move your walks to early morning or later in the evening. Do still check the pavement temperature when it’s really steamy out. Are there any grassy places you can walk? Since it is not a solid surface and it’s not black, grass doesn’t absorb heat as well as pavement.

If you’re going farther than around the block, take water along for both of you. Keep an eye on your buddy, if he shows signs of overheating, stop and rest, then head back home. If he’s in real distress, sprinkle him with some of your water to help him cool off. If the distress is severe by the time you’re back home, you may want to call your vet.

Be conscientious. Dogs can die from heat stroke. It happens every year.

This should go without saying, but don’t ever leave your dog in a closed car in the warm summer weather either. The temperature rises quickly in a closed vehicle, even with the windows cracked. Even if I think I can run into the store and be back in 5 minutes, I don’t do it. You just never know if there will be a long line or something unforeseen will happen. I take my dog home and go back if I need to. My dog’s life is not worth anything I want in the store! Neither is yours’s.

Books I Read in May 2021: And the Winner Is…

One thing that I did manage to make enough time for, in the midst of gardening season, is reading! I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t make time for reading. It is a form of meditation for me. Quieting my mind and bringing inner peace, at least for a bit. It takes me away to other places and on adventures. It is good for the soul. On to the books I read during the month of May…

  1. One for the Books-Jenn McKinlay

The wedding of librarian Lindsey Norris and boat captain Sully is finally here. Of course, the proceeding is beset by murder. Lindsey and Sully need to figure out who the murderer is so they can get on with their wedding without interruption. This is probably my favorite cozy mystery series and this book did not disappoint.

2. Spin-Patricia Cornwell

This was a library book and when it came due, I returned it. I was only on page 40 and doubt that I will check it out again to finish it. It didn’t keep my attention, which is very unusual for a Cornwell book.

3. The Spotted Dog-Kerry Greenwood

This book should have been right up my alley, it has a murder mystery and a bakery. After trying to read it for three days, I only made it 38 pages in and gave up. It just didn’t hold my interest.

4. Murder Likes It Hot: A Downward Dog Mystery-Tracy Weber

Kate Davidson is solving a murder case once again while trying to overcome problems in her own life. She owns a yoga studio that she must keep running while trying to conceive a baby and volunteering to boot. This is one in a series. I might not have picked this book based on the title but gave it a go based on the author’s previous works. An enjoyable book.

5. Maisie Dobbs-Jacqueline Winspear

This book was recommended to me by someone, and oh my! I am so glad I read it. This is one of the best stories I have read in a long time, and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Maisie, through hard work and good fortune, rises through the ranks from service to become a college educated professional. She is a private investigator, and the story opens in 1929. It goes back in time to when Maisie was a young girl and explains how she arrived at where she is today. When the story resumes in her current life, she manages to solve a very intriguing murder. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

6. Virgin River-Robyn Carr

I love the Virgin River series of books! You get sucked into the characters’ lives and can’t wait to see what happens next. Melinda Monroe, after suffering a life altering tragedy, decides to accept a job in backwoods Virgin River, as assistant to the only local doctor.  All is not as she expected, and she plans to move on, but becomes absorbed into the intricacies of life in this small town.

7. Winning Hearts-Debbie Macomber

A compendium of two short books, Laughter in the Rain and Love by Degree. The first is a love story between Abby and Tate. I found Abby’s character to be immature and annoying, but of course boy gets girl. I enjoyed the second story more, but still found the relationship between the characters of Ellen and Reed to be shallow. I suppose you can only do so much in the span of a novella.

My winner for favorite book that I read this month is definitely Maisie Dobbs. I already went to the library and checked out the second book in the series. Someone recommended that I read them in order, so that is what I plan to do. This first book was published in 2003, so they were written by as a historical novel. If you seek it out, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

In Search of the Perfect Quesadilla

I love quesadillas. I see them as a variation on the grilled cheese sandwich and the possibilities are endless. I will share with you my basic recipe, but changes are allowed and to be encouraged.

Quesadillas, Servings: 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 flour tortillas
  • as many thin slices of white cheddar cheese as it takes to cover the surface of half of each tortilla
  • 3 oz. of mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 or 3 handfuls of fresh spinach
  • avocado oil to coat pan, about 2 teaspoons
  1. Lay the tortillas out side by side. Fold them in half and make a crease, so you can open them and see where the middle of each tortilla is. Cover half of each tortilla with the slices of cheese. If it doesn’t reach the edge of the tortilla in some spots, it’s ok, it will fill as it melts.
  2. Melt butter in non-stick pan on medium heat. Swirl to coat the surface of the pan. Place the sliced mushrooms in a single layer in the butter. Cook until the mushrooms are a nice golden brown. Use a fork to turn each mushroom over when it has the golden brown color. Cook on the second side until it also has the golden brown color. The mushrooms will be soft all the way through with a slightly crispy exterior. Use the fork to distribute the mushrooms evenly between the two tortillas.
  3. Return the same pan to the burner. Add more butter or oil if needed. Put the spinach in the pan and cook until it is nicely wilted. Distribute the spinach even over top of the mushrooms and cheese layers. Fold the tortillas in half. You now have two taco shaped, semi-circles.
  4. Add the avocado oil to the same pan. Using the same pan throughout, gives additional flavor to the final product. Wait for the oil to heat. It will swirl easily around the pan when it is hot enough. This makes for a crispier tortilla than adding it to the pan before the oil is hot. I have also found that using avocado oil, vs. other oils, gives me a more nicely browned, crisp result.
  5. Add both tortillas to the pan. Cover the pan and occasionally drain off any moisture that condenses on the lid to keep it from dripping onto the quesadillas and making them soggy. I drain the moisture several times while they are cooking. Keep checking to make sure that they are browning. If they start to burn, turn the heat down from medium by one notch. After several minutes, when the bottom of the quesadillas are nicely browned, flip them over and repeat on the other side. The second side cooks more quickly since everything is already warm.
  6. Remove the finished quesadillas to a cutting board or plate and allow to cool slightly for a minute or two, so the cheese can set. Cut into wedges and serve. Fresh guacamole makes an excellent condiment for these, although they are great on their own.

I call for mushrooms and spinach in this version because it is my favorite. You can also use:

  • sliced onions
  • red or green peppers
  • corn
  • avocado
  • olives
  • or many other veg,etables
  • Pre-cooked meat or seafood

You can also substitute any cheese that suits you for the cheddar. Havarti is particularly good. I do avoid smoked cheese in these because they don’t melt well for me.

I served these the other day when a friend came over for lunch. They were a hit and very convenient. I cooked and assembled the quesadillas to the point where they were ready to go in the pan to brown the tortillas, so I could focus on the visit. I also served a side of beans and rice with them. That recipe will be forth coming in a future post.

Before eating, we took a quick tour of plants in the yard and then sat around to enjoy the patio gardens and good conversation after the meal. This was a rare treat. This was the first time we have had anyone over, with the rare exception of an occasional family member, in 18 months. Not since the pandemic began have we had company. It was a delight! We felt daring and crazy to have someone here and none of us were masked. (We all have our vaccines, including our guest). We look forward to more such craziness as the summer progresses!

Garden Views

Rhododendron and Siberian Irises
Rhododendron and Siberian Irises

I thought I would use this post to show you some of what I have been working on that is keeping me so busy I haven’t had time for regular posts lately. Gardening, of course!

Another bed of Siberian irises

The perennial beds all require weeding. And then there are plants to be split and moved to other flowerbeds or even new ones to start.

Sunblaze Rose

And the roses are plants that have needs all their own. They need regular fertilizing, treating for pests and diseases and frequent pruning.

Sunblaze Rose with multiple blooms
Climbing Rose, America
Red Knockout Rose
Red Knockout Roses and Pink Drift Rose
Foxglove (Digitalis)

The foxglove, I started from seed. As finicky as they were to get started, they don’t require much upkeep now. And they reseed!

There is also much to do that I haven’t seen the pay off for yet. This week I planted 80 gladiolus bulbs and several dahlia tubers. These are all ones that I dug up last fall and wintered over in the basement. I planted seedlings that I started on the enclosed porch last month. And there were seeds and seedlings to get started in the vegetable garden too.

I’m no where caught up and don’t expect to be again until the first frost. Plants have the ability to grow faster than I can keep up with them. Even so, I vow to do better at keeping up with regular blogging!

Follow My Facebook Page to Keep Up to Date on This Busy Time!

Heirloom Peony

You may have noticed that I haven’t published many blog posts in the past couple of weeks. Time has been getting away from me. There is so much to do in the summer months that before I know it, it is time to cook dinner, hang out with my husband, and then off to sleep.

We have switched our hikes from the afternoon to the mornings. As it has gotten warmer (today excepted, rain and temperatures in the 50’s as June approaches!), it has been too warm for the dogs, and me!, to walk in the afternoons. Getting our walks in early has been good for several reasons. Besides it being cooler, it also helps the dogs burn off excess energy early in the day, so they are better behaved for the rest of it. Another plus is, there are less other walkers out and about when we go earlier. This is handy when you are trying to socially distance from people. It is also helpful when walking a reactive dog. There are less encounters that end with Zekie snarling and lunging at passersby which makes the whole adventure more peaceful.

And last but not least, walking in the morning has given us an opportunity to see birds and wildlife that we haven’t seen later in the day. Recently, we have sited a pair of scarlet tanagers, some orioles, some unspecified warblers, and heard birdsong that we hadn’t noticed before. I remember going birdwatching for ornithology class in college. We always left at 7:15 a.m. because that’s when you saw the most birds. Many birds are early risers. Silly birds!

We tend to get up earlier these days too. Claire the sheltie starts barking at first light and attempts at continued sleep become futile. It’s actually the cats’ fault. They know that as soon as one of us comes downstairs, they will get their breakfasts. So, when dawn breaks, the cats start tearing around the downstairs, chasing each other and wreaking havoc. This makes the dogs start barking, which was the cats’ plan all along. Once the barking starts, Claire continues until someone comes downstairs and puts her and the other dogs outside. Then all the dogs decide they are up and want their breakfasts too. No point in trying to sleep after all that.

Clematis

Once every member of the household, including humans, have had breakfast and a hike, it is at least mid-morning. That means it is now time for watering plants which takes up to an hour and a half. One of us does that and the other does some weeding, fertilizing, planting, or other plant maintenance. This takes us up to lunch time.

After lunch time, there may be errands to run. Going to the store for groceries, seeds, bedding plants and such. If there are no errands, we spend the afternoons on various projects such as moving or planting flowers, shrubs, greenery, or small trees. There is always something that needs weeding, and more gardening or mowing to be done.

Before I know what has happened, it is time for making and eating supper. We watch a bit of television and do some reading or crossword puzzles until bedtime. The days fly by so quickly that I wonder where they went and how I ever had time to work a 9 to 5 (or 6:30 to 3:00!) job. Occasionally, I miss that professional work life, but mostly having the freedom to do what I want without it, is great!

All these activities explain why I have been remiss in posting regular updates on the blog. In the end they will provide more subject matter for posts when I start taking photos of all those plants growing and blooming and share them here. If you want another way to keep up with what is going on here at Sanctuary Acres, you can also “Like” the page Sanctuary Acres | Facebook or follow us on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sanctuary_acres/ . It is easier for me to take a moment to post a photo or two during the day than to write a blog post, so you will find more updates there. The blog posts also publish to my Facebook page so if you follow it, you will be sure not to miss any!

Thanks for reading!

Roses and clematis currently blooming.

Did You Know There Are Many Types of Trilliums?

Great White Trillium

I find trilliums to be fascinating. I learned long ago that they were endangered, so I get excited whenever I see one. I had them growing in the woods behind my first home and I have one clump of them at the home I have now.

The type that grows here at Sanctuary Acres is the Great White Trillium. It is startlingly white and blooms faithfully each year. It doesn’t spread or reproduce, we just always have the one clump.

I learned on-line that there are 43 species of trillium known worldwide, with 38 of them occurring in North America. The majority of these are found in the Eastern States. All trilliums belong to the Lily family. This information is from the U.S. Forest Service.

Large groups of trilliums at a nearby park

My husband and I and the dogs were out hiking earlier this week. I was busy watching where I put my feet so I didn’t trip on a tree root or rock, when my husband pointed along the side of the trail. There were beds of trillium for about 200 feet along both sides of the trail. We just stopped and stared at them, soaking in the beauty. (Even though we hiked a different trail the next day, we hiked a short spur up this same trail again to see them.)

Pink (?) Trillium?

My husband pointed out that these trilliums are different than the ones we have at home. I’m not sure of the type. Possibly a pink trillium? I discovered that the types can hybridize, so it’s hard to be sure. Whatever type they are, they are beautiful. Apparently, trillium do not have true leaves. What looks like a leaf, is actually a bract, or part of the rhizome that grows above the ground. It does have chlorophyll and functions as a leaf.

Isn’t nature great?

Another Installment from the Problem Child

Zekie with the frisbee

If you follow my blog, you know that Zekie is my problem child. Salvation Life is not easy with a no mistake dog. And his crate looks like it was built by the people at Fort Knox. Close. He has an Impact High Anxiety Dog Crate built by a wonderful company in Idaho. You can read about the crate and when we first got it, at the link above.

It was the only crate I could find that is guaranteed from dog damage as it is made from aircraft quality aluminum. The manufacturer will replace it, or parts of it, if the dog damages it. Why am I bringing this up now? You guessed it. Zekie has managed to start chewing through the metal plate that covers the main latch.

Tooth damage above and below the latch cover

He is not in danger of chewing his way out yet, but it’s only a matter of time. I decided to act now, before it became an emergency. I contacted the manufacturer and they are indeed honoring the warranty. They are sending me a replacement cover along with the special drill bit that is needed to change it out.

I do not fault the company. I am happy with their product. Zekie is just a nut. He doesn’t have any fangs left and a number of his molars are cracked off from his regular attempts to escape from the crate. And, he is only a 34 pound dog. Heaven forbid, if he weighed 100 pounds! Yes, I have tried to treat him in many ways for this. All to no avail. (You can search the blog and read about some of these attempts.)

The thing that seems to distract Zekie the most when he is confined to the crate, is a Kong toy with peanut butter smeared inside and baby carrots or dog biscuits stuck into the peanut butter. The peanut butter glues the carrot or treat to the surface so he has to work harder to get them out.

If someone tells you that smart dogs are easier, don’t believe them. Zekie can hold a fine sit-stay or down-stay. He follows a wait command and directional commands. He also has a good comprehension of the English language and will often respond to complete sentences. That comprehension also enables him to think of ways to escape or get into to things that he’s not supposed to. Zekie is very good at following commands, you just have to give him commands all the time so he doesn’t think up his own mischief. And then there are times when he thinks he knows better than us. He will always be a work in progress.

Gotta love a Zekie Bear!

A Dog Rescuer’s Point of View on Puppy Mills

Image from Facebook

You may get a puppy from a puppy mill and it turns out fine, so you think what’s the big deal.

Your thought process says, “My puppy is healthy and all is well”. That’s great but where did that puppy come from? I’m betting the parents are not well. They are are probably living in squalid conditions and receiving little to no veterinary care. You’ve seen the photos. I’ll spare you those here. But, look at the offenses documented above.

Why wouldn’t the kennel owners provide veterinary care to the dogs? Because the dogs are seen as a product and spending money cuts into the profit margin. The dogs are a commodity and it is cheaper to get another one than put money into the adult dogs that live there. Ditto for any puppies that cannot be sold for a profit. Compassion and emotional well-being are not a factor that is considered.

Your puppy mill dog may be perfectly healthy and be a fine companion. But by buying from this source you are promoting the system and allowing it to go on. Each puppy sold provides more money for these people to continue with what they do.

Some people buy their puppy directly from the puppy mill farm. They see the conditions the dogs live in and pay for that puppy and take it home to get it out of poor circumstances. This is a double-edged sword. You save the puppy you went to meet, but you feed the system. It continues with the parents left behind and new generations of puppies born into suffering. I would not condemn anyone for choosing to buy the puppy and save it after you have fallen in love with it. I don’t know what the right answer is. But you should have the full knowledge of what you are doing before you make the decision.

I am the President of a local breed rescue for Northeast Ohio. I have seen some of the dogs who make it out of the puppy mills. We rarely get puppies from any source. When it comes to puppy mill farms, we get the breeders and the dogs that didn’t work out as expected. The dogs who didn’t produce enough puppies or they have health problems that the owners don’t want to deal with. They come to us generally in poor physical condition and they have not been socialized.

These dogs are afraid of people and life in general. They are afraid of going outside. They are afraid of coming inside. They are afraid of stairs, petting, and direct eye contact. Our rescue had one who would only eat in the dark, after the rest of the household had gone to bed. These are the dogs that usually stay in rescue for a year or more. They go to homes where people are willing to live with their issues. Sometimes, they stay with their foster families forever, because we don’t want to subject them to the trauma of going through it all again. Also, it is not easy to find the special families who are willing to work with these dogs. If they do get adopted, there is the possibility of them being returned.

The average dog owner wants a dog that they can do things with, like go to the dog park, take a leisurely walk around the block, and snuggle on the couch. Many of these puppy mill survivors will take many months or years of work before they get to this point. Some will never make it.

There are those puppy mill survivors who are able to integrate into a normal life with a bit of retraining and lots of love. If you become the owner of such a dog, the rewards are great. Knowing you have turned life around for a dog like this is a feeling like no other.

Some rescues and shelters frown on buying purebred dogs from reputable breeders. They think the only answer is adoption from a rescue or shelter. And I agree, adopting from rescues and shelters is indeed a wonderful thing! I recommend people looking for dogs, check into adoption first. There are many wonderful dogs awaiting their forever homes. Many of them have no issues whatsoever and are there through no fault of their own. Purebred and mixed breed dogs who would fit into many homes seamlessly.

And I think there is also a place for the reputable breeder as well. The good breeders go to great lengths to plan their litters. They take great care to make sure their dogs are healthy and receive prenatal care and general veterinary care. They may do genetic testing if it would be beneficial. They breed for maximum health and to maintain breed standards. These dogs and puppies are housed in good and safe places, often the breeder’s own home. The resulting puppies have been handled and are used to people. The mother dogs only produce a few litters, so their bodies do not wear out. And when the puppies are gone, the adult dogs are still a part of the breeder’s family life. These puppies may cost a little bit more, but it is an investment in the health and quality of the dogs. And reputable breeders take their puppies or dogs back if they do not work out or the buyer cannot keep the dog at any time down the road. They will take the dog back until they can re-home it, or they may decide to keep it.

Sometimes our rescue will even refer people to a reputable breeder. We may not have an available dog that is right for every situation. If we are not sure our rescued dogs are good with small children, we may refer them on to someone who has puppies. The children and puppies can grow up together. If someone wants a dog for a specific activity like agility or herding, we may refer them to a breeder who specializes in dogs who were breed for this. When the dog is a good fit for the home, things tend to work out.

If you plan to make a canine addition to your home, think about how you expect your life with a dog to look. Do you want a companion? A working partner? A running buddy? Pick a dog that is likely to fulfill the plans you have. Be willing to put in the work.

And above all, consider where they come from. By making an informed choice, you have the ability not only to set yourself up for success, but to play a part in ending puppy mills and the suffering that takes place. YOU can make a difference!

Be a Covid Warrior!

Selfie

It is becoming safe to go out into the world and do a few things again for those of us who have been fortunate enough to receive our Covid vaccines. Life is no where near a return to normal though. Still, I am glad for those family members that I have been able to see in these past two weeks.

I went five months without seeing my daughter and three months without seeing my brother. And it was hard. I know others have had it so much worse, but at times this seemed like a lifetime. Time between visits was longer during the winter because it was too cold and snowy to meet outside often. This is the first year ever that my brother and I have celebrated our December birthdays outdoors. Mercifully, it was in the mid 50’s that day when we met under a park pavilion for cake. And our families were so glad to see each other that we were thrilled! After that, visits became farther apart while we waited for either warmer weather or vaccines, whichever came first.

One trick that I used to make myself feel better when my brother and I could not get together for a visit, was to wear this purple sweatshirt (above) that he gave me as a gift a couple of years ago. Wearing it makes me think of him and feel a little bit closer. It reminded me of getting together and knowing that we will do so again. Ditto, for a pair of earrings my daughter gave me.

Yes, these are just physical things but they are symbols. Signs of caring and hope. Do you have any coping mechanisms that seem silly like this, but help you?

My husband and I have received both doses of our Covid vaccines (Moderna). We are blessed and relieved. After the first dose, my arm hurt for two or three days but didn’t interfere with any activities. After the second dose, I had a headache and felt chilled during the first night. So I just went back to sleep. The second day I had a headache. The headache wasn’t that bad. I have had much worse.

This was the price to pay for freedom. And we have the knowledge that we are directly helping to stop the spread of the pandemic. Each one of us who receives the vaccine is a warrior against disease and possible death from infection. We need an army of warriors to emerge victorious.

Will you be part of the solution? Be a Covid Warrior!