Making a Bird Feeder

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December’s colder weather and the year’s turn toward winter mean less available food for hungry resident birds. This time of year offers an opportunity for us to fill some of the vacuum left by nature’s waning resources, and by doing so bring some action, drama, color, and an endlessly watchable scene of hungry visitors to our attention.

Making this bird feeder is simple, and viewing the results of your work can be an exciting and easy way to connect with the natural world during this season.

 

Materials you’ll need:

What you'll need

A plastic bottle, a screw or eye hook screw, string, a wooden spoon, a knife or scissors, some birdseed.

 

What to do:

Putting the screw in the cap

Using your knife or scissors (parents, help your children), start a small hole in the cap of your plastic bottle, and then twist your screw into this incision.

 

Tying the string around the screw

Then tie your string around the screw. The length of your string can be based on the height at which you’d like your feeder to rest.

 

Cutting a larger hole in one side

Take your knife or scissors and make an incision toward the bottom of your bottle.

 

Cutting a smaller hole in the other side

Make another small hole opposite the first incision.

 

Putting the spoon through the bottle

Now insert your wooden spoon! Our first incision is slightly larger than the second in order to accommodate the wide end of the spoon, and to serve as an opening for bird seed to fall out of, onto the waiting bowl of the spoon.

 

Pouring the bird seed

Removing the cap, fill your feeder with bird seed. Most of our bird seed ended up on the ground around the bottle before it made it inside. A funnel would have helped!

 

Complete feeder

After filling your bottle with bird seed, close the cap, and you’re ready to hang up your feeder.

 

Hang the feeder, here on a string between two trees

We tied a string between two trees, and then hung the feeder in the middle (some squirrel protection).

 

We waited for our first visitor, who arrived only a few minutes after putting the bird feeder out.

An interested chickadee

An interested chickadee

 

Going in

Eating the bird seed

 

Have fun!

Ed’s Corner

It is now a few days before the official first day of winter, which arrives on Sunday, December 21st. This day, the shortest day of the year (least hours of daylight) is known as the Winter Solstice. Soon after this day the sun will  be in the sky for an increasingly longer smidgen of time each day. These smidgens do add up and it’s usually around the third week of January that I become aware, almost by surprise, of more light and a different quality to the light.

These weeks preceding the Solstice can be dark, gray, and can offer up, even now as I write this, cold rainy windswept days. Br-r-r. Thoughts of sitting by the fireside, sipping hot chocolate, even a nap, dance through my head. And as I sit next to the fireplace, warmed once again by the sun’s energy, some of which is now being released by way of the burning wood, I begin to think of all the amazing things that are part of the natural world, at this very moment, not very far from where I am or you are:
Slug eggs

Slug eggs

Slug eggs from a distance

Slug eggs from a distance

  • Under a nearby rock, which is probably frozen to the ground, there may be an overwintering bald-faced hornet queen.
  • Under a board or a large branch that has been on the ground for some time, there might be a small mound or two of round, white eggs. These slug eggs – yes, that’s what they are! – remind me of small stacks of cannonballs, the kind that I have seen at historical restorations.

 

  • On the coldest days many of our common winter birds puff up their feathers for more insulation. I know it’s not an ornithological phrase, but they sure do look cute.
  • Think of the lakes, ponds and puddles that are now frozen or beginning to freeze. Because of the special properties of water, ice forms from the top – the surface – downward. Just imagine the problems, especially if you were a water denizen, if a pond or lake froze from the bottom up.
  • The leafless deciduous trees and shrubs now reveal their skeletons, their branches. One can find and feel wart-like bumps on the tips and along the lengths of thinner branches. These buds hold the future. Even though they may appear dead and lifeless, there is life inside each one, the leaves and/or flowers for next spring! These buds were ‘made/finished’ even before the end of last summer and are now just patiently waiting – maybe like some of us – for the spring that will follow this winter.
  • Tucked into the crevasses and recesses of the bark of trees you may find what looks like a dead-looking (but very much alive) lightning bug, called a soldier beetle. These soldier beetles, so called because the red pattern on some resemble the British Redcoats, are related to the firefly family but do not produce light. They are good for our gardens because they eat aphids and other pests, and also help in pollination.
  • If you are sitting in your fireside chair in the evening, around the time of the full moon, you may notice, as the fire goes out, that there is still light in the room. That’s thanks to the full moons of winter, when the moon remains in the sky for a much longer time than during other seasons. The winter full moon follows a similar path in the sky that the summer sun does. It follows a high path across the sky, stays above the horizon longer, and thus is ‘up’ for a longer time.
  • You think green has gone? Not so. Now that many trees have lost their leaves the evergreens (trees and shrubs) stand out more, especially with a snowy white background. There are amazing greens on the sides of many trees – lichens, moss, algae – that can make for a riotous panoply of green!
A very green rock wall next to the fairy stream

A very green rock wall next to the fairy stream

  • And somewhere out in the woodlands there are, dug into the earth, the thumbnail-sized spring peeper frogs, waiting for the right combination of day length and warmth to signal them to wake and make their way toward a vernal pond or other nearby wetland. Once there, hundreds of males let loose their mating call of ‘Pe-ep! Pe-ep!’, the primordial sound of the earth awakening to spring.
  • And then, around the end of the first week of February, even from my fireside chair, I get a feeling in my body, some kind kind of unbidden knowing, that the sap is moving within the maple trees. and that sugaring time is nigh.
  • And if it’s snowing outside while you’re tucked warmly inside, consider the many millions of flakes that are falling, and the belief that no two flakes are alike. As we like to say at camp, ‘Ooh, Ah, How can it be?’.
And all of this and more is ‘happening’  as you’re sitting in that comfy chair by the fire. You can just think about these wonders of nature or even go outdoors and check them out.
Under the snow
            drifts
         the blossoms are
             sleeping
         Dreaming their
dreams of sunshine and June.
                                                  -Harriet Prescot Spofford

Solstice

Ricky Cramshaw’s grandmother had introduced us kids to the Winter Solstice, and from then on we gathered with her on Dec 21 to burn a little dried bush along with some other things, and to thank Creator for the sun on the longest night of the year. There weren’t too many others in the village that openly celebrated this ancient holiday, but quietly, and in his own way, my dad Walt did. This usually meant a little twig fire in the backyard. My Irish Catholic mother Tessie avoided this. Clearly she disapproved.

Living on a dead end street in the last house before the Thruway, we seldom did any outdoor holiday decorations. Sometimes Walt stapled a string of tree lights around the front screen door. We did have a sickly little white pine, about six feet high, which looked like a sad little Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but it wasn’t strong enough to hold any decorations. My sister Terry planted it in our shady little dirt patch of a front yard, and for three years it inched its way upward but seldom produced a new needle. Walt tried to wrap it with Christmas tree lights but the poor little tree bent over and practically laid flat on the ground.


One December, just after Chanukah and a day before Solstice, it snowed heavy. In the morning we woke to a half foot white blanket. After breakfast Walt went out into the back yard and dug up his damp pile of kindling. Carefully he spread out the twigs in the garage to dry. Tessie was amused by this turn of events and told him the weather was against him. By late afternoon he had me sweep clear a place in the front yard, a few feet from Terry’s sad little white pine. The ground beneath the snow powder was cold and hard. Walt organized his little kindling twigs into a teepee shape on the frozen ground. He balled up a bit of newspaper, inserted it under the teepee and put a match to it. The paper burned itself out but the twigs did not light up. Not to be defeated he went to the garage and brought a handful of straw from the horse stable. Carefully he inserted the dry straw, put a match to it and we watched the straw burn up, but not the gathered kindling. He took out his pipe, lit it and sat on the step next to me. We stared at the dysfunctional Solstice fire and at the spindly excuse for a pine tree next to it. Our front yard, despite the snow, was not very seasonal.

After a bit, Walt got up and walked around back to the garage. He returned with a red can of gasoline. Standing over the kindling he poured fuel onto it. Then he poured a little more. He thought about this and then poured a little more again. I moved further away along the step. He took a small wooden match, struck it and dropped it on the drenched kindling bundle. He stepped back. The burn moved slowly across the top of the kindling, then dropped inside and then imploded and leaped up a good five feet, jumped into the white pine and torched it. The flames did not last longer than a couple of minutes, and left behind a little circle of black ash and a single burnt stick that used to by Terry’s white pine.

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Walt looked at me and said with satisfaction, “Now that was a Solstice fire.”

The black pine spindle remained frozen in the front yard for the rest of the winter. Tessie called it Walt’s Pagan Stick. Terry went out and offered a Christmas prayer for its miserable lost pine soul. When the spring came we pulled it down and planted grass seed across the dirt patch, which didn’t take except for the little circle where the pine had stood. It was like a little yard for an elf, maybe a Solstice Elf.

Wild Foods Diet

Whenever I do wild edibles presentations, I am inevitably asked how much of my diet consists of foraged foods. Of course, that greatly depends on the time of year. However, whether or not I create entire wild foods feasts or  merely graze from nature whilst out walking the dogs, I try to make sure that I include at least one wild ingredient in anything I prepare. Last weekend was a pretty typical example, and even though this is a sparse time of year for harvesting from nature, I still managed to find plenty of ingredients.

Pennsylvania bittercress

Pennsylvania bittercress

For breakfast on Saturday, I made a batch of scrambled eggs with chopped bittercress. In the afternoon, since the weather was lousy, I decided to stay home and do some baking. My wife suggested that I make apple turnovers. As usual, I used acorn flour to give them that unique nutty taste. They were so good, I didn’t expect them to last very long.


A friend stopped by while I was making them and watch me work as we chatted. He was fascinated by the acorn flour and asked whether I ever used it for making pancakes. That got me thinking – great idea for tomorrows’s breakfast.

Apple turnovers

Apple turnovers

My wife is a beef lover and had managed to acquire a couple of juicy shell steaks, which she prepared for dinner along with baked potatoes. My contribution to the meal was a salad made from Shepherd’s Purse, Chickweed and Lambsquarters, with a little sprinkle of Autumn Olive. Even though wild food is not my wife’s choice of cuisine, she is always game to try anything I make, and found the salad to be pretty tasty (particularly the Shepherd’s Purse). For dessert, we reheated a couple of apple turnovers and served them up with some fresh cream (yum!).

The next morning I cooked up a batch of acorn pancakes with raisins and Autumn Olive. They were light and fluffy and a little nutty tasting. Excellent with real maple syrup.

Acorn pancakes

Acorn pancakes

In order to keep my apple turnovers fresh I had put them into a tin with a tight fitting lid, and then left them out on the back porch (as there wasn’t room in our fridge). The following day, I decided to have one with my lunch and went out to get the tin. However, the lid was missing and the tin was empty. The darned squirrels had eaten every one, leaving not a crumb. When I told my wife, she laughed and said “Serves you right. You stole all their acorns, now they’ve taken them back from you!” I guess she has a point.