Dec 29, 2014

Fruitmania Garden School for Home Gardeners

January 17, 2015
Cypress Gardens- Dean Hall - 9 am to 4 pm
Classes-Strawberries, Blueberries, Citrus and Native Pollinators. Jam and Jelly Contest with cash prizes.  Pie and cobbler contest, Limited to 125 students -Lunch included. Vendors selling fruit tree, plants and honey.  

35$ Limited to 125 students Lunch included – no ticket sold at the door, pre-register Go to:
Or Call Loretta at 843 553-0515. Or Mail Check (made to: LFGS)  to : Zennie Quinn, 1106 Woodside Dr. James Island SC 29412

Dec 1, 2014

Fruitmania Garden School 1/17/15

The Hidden Virtuoso in the Garden

Many years ago I was walking past a tall tree in my garden; a mocking bird was in the top of the tree singing. As I passed the tree, it occurred to me the mockingbird was singing rather odd. I do most of my birding by ear while I am working in the garden.  This bird was repeating phrases only twice and moving on to the next song.  Mockingbirds will repeat a phrase 3 or more times.  I decided to stop and look back at the bird in the top of the tree.  It was no Mockingbird, but a Brown Thrasher, a close relative.  I wondered how many times I had made this mistake. 
In the spring, male Brown Thrashers will find a high perch to sing. This is always an odd sight to me, for Brown Thrashers spend most of their time foraging on the ground under bushes.  Ornithologists agree that the Brown Thrasher has one of the largest repertoires of any bird in North America.  A single bird knows over 1000 songs which are clear and loud. They often mimic other birds, but are not as good a mimic as the Mockingbird.  Both male and females are identical and both will sing.  I assume that it is the male who sings in the spring from a tall perch to find a mate.  Just the other day, I heard 2 Brown Thrashers singing under a large azalea bush.  They were not singing in harmony or even copying each other. Was it a mated pair singing together or was it 2 dueling males?  Without warning, the 2 birds flew up into a large camellia tree and chased each other around and around.  Was this courtship display or a territorial fight? 
Brown Thrashers are not often seen in suburban yards, but if you manage  your yard as a wildlife habitat you may have a pair. They like to forage under thick bushes and hedgerows with plenty of leaf litter.  In the summer, they eat insects and worms. In the winter, they will dine on berries like dogwood, pyracantha, rosehips and Virginia creeper.  They nest in thick bushes rather close to the ground.  Both parents incubate the eggs and take care of the young.  Young birds leave the nest less than 2 weeks from hatching.  

I have traveled around the country to observe wildlife; especially looking for birds. I think one of the most remarkable observations I have ever witnessed was in my own front yard.  One spring day a few years ago, I was sitting on my front porch. With binoculars in hand, I was hoping to see a few warblers passing through during spring migration.  The only bird in view was a Brown Thrasher under the loquat tree.  There is no grass under the tree and we leave the leaf litter as mulch.  I put my binoculars on the bird to see what it was eating.  It was picking up sticks and tossing them down.  I first thought it was looking for nesting material.  Then it found a stick about 4 inches long with a fork at the end.  Next, the bird put the stick down and picked it up again this time holding the stick near the end opposite the fork. To my amazement, the Brown Thrasher began sweeping the leaves with the forked stick.  Brown leaves flew off the ground as the bird swept the ground. Suddenly it dropped the stick and grabbed a bug and flew off. In 1835, Charles Darwin observed the Woodpecker Finches of the Galapagos Islands using tools. This was an important scientific discovery.  I have seen YouTube videos of crows using tools, but I had never personally seen a bird use a tool until that day.  Since that day, I always take the time to watch Brown Thrashers, but have never seen one use a tool again. 

Nov 6, 2014

The 3 Mimic in the Tree

Hush, little baby, don't say a word,
Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird.

Not too long ago, I saw a small flock of Starlings land in the top of a tree. They were not foraging, but just seemed to be enjoying the morning sun. The Starlings had entered the territory of a Mockingbird who was none too pleased to see these illegal aliens. The Mockingbird began to scold them and drew the attention of a Brown Thrasher who decided to join in. The Starlings paid no attention to their chatter.  To my surprise, a Catbird flew up into the tree and joined in the verbal assault on the Starlings.  In all my years of bird watching, I do not think I have seen these three members of the Mimidae Family all together in the same tree. Starlings are originally from Europe, so I was surprised to learn that recent genetic testing reveal that they are related to our local Mimidae Family members. Starlings seem so different from Mockingbirds, Thrashers and Catbirds and I wonder if this had caused the family feud I witnessed.
Mockingbirds have thrived in the suburban habitat. They are as common as mailboxes in any neighborhood and not just here in the South. I am often asked “Why is it called the Northern Mockingbird when they live in the South?” The Northern Mockingbird ranges from the southern Canadian border to the southern tip of Mexico. They also can be found throughout the Caribbean. They do not migrate. There are other mockingbirds that live in Central and South America and that’s why ours is the Northern Mockingbird.  
Our gardens are well suited for Mockingbirds. They like to perch in a tree and fly down to the lawn to catch a bug. Their hunting behavior is similar to Bluebirds but Bluebirds like more open spaces. They will often flash their white shoulder patches to scare up insects in the grass. When I dig in the soil and find a grub, I like to toss it to the Mockingbirds. I have had Mockingbirds follow me when I pick up a shovel.  They are famous for their singing and infamous for singing at night.  Males who do not find a mate will sing all night. It is illegal to kill a Mockingbird but temporary insanity from sleep deprivation would be a good defense and the jury will be sympathetic.  They not only mimic other birds, but will repeat a phrase over and over and that can really drive you nuts.  Mockingbirds are very territorial and singing is also a way of declaring a territory. During nesting season don’t even think of going near a nest, especially if you are a cat. These feisty birds know to attack you from behind.  My Mockingbirds like to nest in my overgrown antique rose bushes.  Perhaps they know the thorns will deter predators. 
Mockingbirds often cause trouble around bird feeders by keeping other birds away. They normally are not seedeaters but they will eat mealworms, suet and peanut butter.  I think they do not like a bunch of other birds eating a free buffet in their territory.  If Mockingbirds become a problem at your feeders, move the peanut butter and suet to the other side of the house.
What I really love about Mockingbirds is their scientific name - Mimus polyglottos.  Mimus is Latin for mimic and from the Greek we have Polu or poly meaning many and glotta which is Greek for tongue.  So the Mockingbird name translates to mimic many tongues.  I like it when a scientific name is so well suited.