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  • Archive for April, 2015

    My Hobbies: Backyard Birdwatching

    2015 - 04.26

    Most people have multiple hobbies and interests, and in my case, that is very much true. For the most part, I enjoy reading books and writing stories, whether they are independent or as a collaborative work with others, but in recent years, I’ve sort of gotten into birdwatching.

    I’m not one of the hardcore birdwatchers with the binoculars and a membership to the National Audubon Society, but I do enjoy watching birds. Even as a kid, I liked watching the birds that visited the feeder on our back patio deck as well as the red squirrels that came up to eat the corn I would put out for them. I got into this hobby as an adult when I repurposed one of those old T-shaped clothesline poles as a bird feeding station last summer. I used zip ties and attached a suet cake basket to the front of the pole, and then I hung two bird feeders from S-hooks from the holes through which the clothesline would loop through. I was amazed at how many birds visited my feeders.

    I am not home enough to watch all the different kinds of birds visiting, but it’s nice when I have Christmas break or summer vacation so I can see them visit and figure out what kinds of birds are out there. So far, I have seen the following:

    This is an unmistakable bird with its bright red plumage and the fact that they are indigenous to all of North America. The females are sort of a tawny brown but their wings have bits of red, and they have the same bright orange beaks. The cardinals are frequent visitors to my bird feeders throughout the year, but especially in winter when there is snow on the ground. Last winter, I counted about fifteen cardinals visiting my feeder at one time, many of them female, though I had some males as well.



    Mourning Dove
    Another bird indigenous to North America, the mourning dove is also hunted as a game bird. I usually see mourning doves in pairs in my backyard, and this is because doves are monogamous; they mate for life. When I see them, they usually prefer to scrounge for seeds underneath my feeders. I never see them actually perch on the feeders and take from them. On an interesting note, the mourning dove is a close relative to the now-extinct passenger pigeon.




    Dark-Eyed Junco

    Juncos are a type of sparrow that are winter-only visitors to Missouri. During spring, they migrate back north up to Canada. While hummingbirds herald the arrival of spring here, juncos herald the arrival of winter. I see quite a few of these foraging around my bird feeder during the long winter months. If you see them in winter, enjoy them while you can before spring.



    House (Red) Finch
    The house finch is a brand new bird that I just started noticing within the past week or so. I recently decided to try hanging a thistle sock near my bird feeders, and after a week of nothing on the sock, I finally observed one of these little guys hanging off it yesterday while I was filling a planter with petunias. These are usually confused with purple finches, but really the main difference is that purple finches are only seen in our area in winter. Needless to say, I was happy about seeing another bird variety visit my yard.



    American Goldfinch

    At the beginning of spring, I saw one of these American Goldfinches hanging out in a tree branch above the feeder near my back door. I didn’t know what it was at first, but I described it to my mother who said it was probably one of these. What I did not know was that American Goldfinches actually undergo a complete molt and change the color of their plumage in summer and winter. When I saw the goldfinch earlier this spring, was still in its winter plumage (drab brown, yellowish head). In summer plumage, the goldfinch is a gorgeous bright yellow like in the photograph at the left. I’m hoping the thistle sock I put out will attract them to the yard.

    Tufted Titmouse
    I’ve seen some of these on my feeders in winter. They will often gather in multi-species feeding groups during the winter months, though they tend to be more shy than the others when taking seeds. They’ll wait until the feeder is empty, fly down, take a seed, and then they usually disappear to a branch to eat the seed before coming for more. You often hear them in the woods, and they have a pleasant sound.




    Black-Capped Chickadee

    The chickadee is another frequent visitor to my bird feeder. I see them more commonly in winter, though yesterday, I did spot one or two stopping in for a visit. They’re cute little birds, and they also have a pleasant song.




    Common Grackle

    These buggers have been irritating me ever since I won my war with the squirrels. Many people lump them together with blackbirds, but they’re actually not closely related. The grackles are opportunists, and they like to bully the other birds away from my feeders so they can hog all the food for themselves. They can also eat down a suet cake in about a day or two. They are also omnivorous, which means that they will eat insects, frogs, and they have even been known to consume small mice and other small birds. In my yard, I think it might be the mealworms I mixed in with the seed that might have attracted them, so now I know not to do that again. If anything, I might offer only thistle and safflower seeds to the songbirds I want and give the grackles their own feeding tray out in the front yard. If anything, they’re at least worth having around to observe their unusual behaviors and so they can eat insects off my lawn.

    Red-Bellied Woodpecker
    The best thing about keeping a suet basket out is that you inevitably get woodpeckers. I have a lot of trees in my front and backyards, and having these guys is not only inevitable, but beneficial. They’re good for keeping pest insects off your trees, thanks to their eating habits. I have also seen this kind of woodpecker feed from hummingbird feeders. The red-bellied woodpecker is one of two species of woodpeckers that visit the suet basket.




    Downy Woodpecker

    This is the second species of woodpeckers that visit my suet basket is this one. It’s actually a very small woodpecker, about the size of a sparrow, and it makes its home in dead and decaying trees. I suspect the one in my yard lives in the dead tree in the back yard that we’ve never cut down.






    There are many advantages to having bird feeders out in your yard. My biggest challenge with the bird feeders has been keeping squirrels off them, but what I did to remedy that was mix vegetable oil into my bird seed, and then a tablespoon of cayenne chili pepper powder to coat the seeds. Squirrels, raccoons, and opossums have tastebuds, but birds do not. Needless to say, I burned a few squirrel tongues with my concoction. If you can weed out squirrels and grackles, you’ll soon see the many beautiful winged friends you’ll collect in your yard.

    All-Time Favorite Disney Characters

    2015 - 04.19

    I’ve been a fan of Disney movies for pretty much my whole life, and of all the years I’ve been watching Disney, I’ve narrowed down my all time favorite characters and why I love them.

    Belle from Beauty and the Beast
    I remember when Beauty and the Beast came out in theaters. The first Disney movie I ever saw was actually The Little Mermaid, and I had gone with my mom. But I fell in love with Belle the moment I saw her movie. Belle has been and always will be probably my top favorite Disney princess. I think I fell in love with Belle because I identify with her the most. Like me, Belle always has her nose buried in a book, and she was always the oddball because of it. She loves roses (so do I), and she has the ability to see inner beauty, even if it is difficult to find. She is also adventurous and independent, and she wants something greater for herself than the status quo.




    Pocahontas from Pocahontas

    Pocahontas is yet another one of my favorite Disney characters. I remember I used to even have one of those Sun Colors Pocahontas dolls (I may still have it, come to think of it), and I also had a John Smith to go with her. Okay, so the real Pocahontas was about 12 or 13 when John Smith first landed, but I love Pocahontas because of her strong sense of independence and the fact that she is wise beyond her years. She has to make a very difficult choice between duty to her tribe and marriage to Kokoum, or to follow her own path (and her heart) as well as bring peace to both her people and the Jamestown settlers. Pocahontas is also one of those rare Disney princesses who actually doesn’t get her man in the end. In fact, there is a second movie in which she marries John Rolfe, which is historically what happened.

    Merida from Brave

    This girl is just awesome. What can I say? Merida is one of my favorite characters because first, she doesn’t look like a typical princess. She lacks the long, flowing locks and the flowing dress. Her hair is wild and curly, and we’ve never really had a curly-haired princess. Then there is the fact that she is very tomboyish, and she openly rebels and defies her heritage as a princess and would like for nothing more than to be a normal girl. This Scottish princess will never be that “damsel-in-distress” type. She knows how to fend for herself and protect herself. Plus, her story is not really about a romance involving a prince; it’s more about the relationship between her and her mother, Elanor. Merida learns a valuable lesson: actions do have consequences and can end up hurting the ones you love the most.



    James Norrington from Pirates of the Caribbean

    James is quite possibly the most underrated character in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I won’t deny that I am a fan of Jack Sparrow — er, Captain Jack Sparrow —  as well, but James merits a spot on my page more than Jack because James has a much deeper character than anyone realizes. As a Commodore (later Admiral) for His Majesty’s Navy, James has a very strong sense of duty and justice. Despite his dry sense of humor and his very serious demeanor, James is actually a good man who just wants to do some good in the world, though that means bad news for pirates. In his words, that would be, “A short drop and a sudden stop.” He is also very dedicated to those he loves and cares about and will go through any length to protect them. In Curse of the Black Pearl, James has made it his life’s mission to eradicate the seas of pirates, yet it is the pirates (namely Jack Sparrow) that bring about both his fall and his redemption in the movies that follow Curse. To add to his complicated situation, he is deeply in love with Elizabeth Swann, yet his love for her will be forever unrequited, though he does give his life to save Elizabeth from the ‘clawtches’ of Davy Jones, corrupt captain of The Flying Dutchman. 

    Dug from Up. 

    I cannot leave Dug off the list. The biggest reason Dug is included on this list is because he is basically my own dog, Andy, in animated form. Dug is sweet but simple-minded, and he’s a faithful dog, much like Andy. If Andy could talk, I swear he would sound like Dug. Even the mannerisms between Dug and Andy are frighteningly similar, but in a very hilarious and entertaining way. For example, the way Dug wags the end of his tail when someone is speaking to him — my dog does that. Andy is also the kind of dog who does not meet a stranger; he loves everyone, which is why he’s a horrible watchdog, like Dug. Both Andy and Dug are clumsy as well, but you really couldn’t ask for a better dog.


    Anna from Frozen

    Last but not least in the lineup of favorite Disney characters is Anna from Frozen. I love Elsa, too, but I can relate to Anna more because she is a little like me in some ways. Anna is a total optimist and, like me, she doesn’t give up easily. Sometimes, though, she says the wrong thing or she talks entirely too much (like me), but she’s always kind and upbeat. She’s also a bit of a klutz, and so am I, really. Anna also reminds me of my friend, Rachel, because of the red hair and the optimism. Rachel is about one of the most optimistic people I know and she doesn’t give up easily, either.


    If you have a favorite Disney character, leave it in the comments!