"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." ~Wendell Berry

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The FOB - Part 2

Now that I'm on vacation this week, the continuation of building the FOB has been my highest priority.  I do not want to wait until March and have to be doing this out in the snow!
As mentioned in my last post (http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-freeze-owl-block-fob.html ), I had cut a couple of 18" arms to which I could test-mount the fencing.  It worked, so this past weekend, (and after sending Mr. Freeze back to the hardware store to get the right size nuts that I needed), I was able to cut and drill the rest of the arms and mount them to the gourd rack.
I then remounted all the gourd arms and made sure the nuts were tightened down so the arms would not rotate and allow the gourd to tilt downward.
The extra 18" angle arms are added to help extend and keep the fencing off the fronts of the gourds on the ends.  Holes drilled in the end of each 18" piece will be used to secure the fencing.
I then mounted the 6' aluminum angle arms between the main arms and carefully measured where I would drill the holes that would allow me to mount those without having to cut more metal, yet it would sit securely on the ends without slipping off.  Okay, I lied - I don't "measure carefully" unless Mr. Freeze insists that I need to.  And he said I didn't really need to, so I didn't.  I SWAGged it and it worked out.  I drilled a hole on each end of each arm and mounted them, butting one against the other.
The 4, 6' aluminum angle pieces are strapped down using zipties after drilling a hole in each end.  The pie-shaped top for this section was cut so that there would be no jagged edges.  They may overlap with the next piece a bit, but that's ok.  I'll also cut some 4"x4" holes in the top.
Right now, everything is secured using zip ties to ensure the design will work.  I haven't decided yet what the permanent solution will be.  I want to put this baby into practice and see what or if I will need to change something to accommodate my propensity to move quickly when doing nest checks while at the same time, not having to brush against mite-infested gourds.
I had been dreading facing two other challenges - figuring out how to get the maximum coverage from above without having to do a lot of cutting and what to use to cover the 'nibbins' when I cut out 4"x4" squares.  Today, the clouds parted and it all became clear.  Once I realized that I needed a 45 degree -pie-shaped section of fence and to do that, I needed to "cut two across, down one", I tossed the ruler, the square and the angle-thingy that Mr. Freeze gave me and started cutting.  I now have a roof over the top that will prevent the owl from dropping down inside the cage.  And I can secure it to the 6' angle arms, that I mounted earlier to keep it from floppin' around.
As for the covers of the nibbins in the newly cut 4"x4" openings, I have Mr. John Barrow to thank for that idea.  I am not ashamed to say that yes, I consult with a lot of friends to 'brainstorm' when I don't have a clue how to proceed.  John sent me some suggestions and armed with that information, I went to our local hardware store.  After the laughter died down from my trying to explain what I needed, they helped me find exactly the right material - easy to cut and cheap!  This trim is used to help start siding - commonly called "undersill trim".  I cut out a piece to try it and it snaps right on.  The best part is it doesn't try to rotate or pop off!  My hardware store sold me a 6' length for $2.50.  Yep, nothing like shopping "local"!  Thanks, John!
I have lots more cutting and some fine-tuning to do and I need another roll of the wire to finish, but basically, this is what my purple martins will return home to.  I'm only now starting to feel a lot better about their return next year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fall Treasure Hunts

“But then fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”
― Stephen King, 'Salem's Lot'

I love Fall.  There is just no other way to say it.  It is my favorite season.  As Stephen King notes, summer is treacherous.  Drought, heat, painful sunburns, ticks and chiggers, dry & crunchy grass, and bugs that look like they're from alien planets.  Did I mention that I really hate ticks and chiggers?  Don't get me wrong.  Summer brings with it lots of good things too - many different flowers, butterflies, bees and of course, my favorite birds, purple martins.
But there's nothing like Fall - not too hot, not too cold - it's just right!  Unlike the quickening we feel in Spring, Fall brings a feeling of a slowing pace.  It feels as if we have reached the end of this year's marathon race and now it's time to catch our breath, clean up the mess that was summer and prepare to tuck everything into bed for its winter's rest.  One of my favorite activities in the fall is to take a stroll down dirt roads and wander off through the trees to see what summer has wrought.  Where once stood bushes and briars covered with spiders, ticks and chiggers standing guard with their nasty bites as their weapons, waiting to leap upon their prey and leave behind bites that wouldn't heal for months, there are now dead leaves and cold, dead grass.  It is exciting to take in the colorful beauty of the leaves on the trees even as they are slowly dropping off.  The varieties of colors against a clear blue sky give me pause and I love to stand and listen to them rustling in the wind and take a deep breath of the cool, clean air.
Often times, people are oblivious to things that are happening in the forest as they zip to and fro down the highways and back roads around this county.  So, I feel like I’m harboring an exciting secret as I venture forth on a hike with Nikki through the woods, as if we are adventurers and we’re off to discover great secrets hidden in the deep, dark forests.  Well, it may not be “Indiana Jones” type adventures, but it is still quite exciting for us to find the unusual things that we come across in the forests.
This tree died long ago from possibly a lightning strike and Nikki and I stop to watch the opening to see if there are any creatures taking advantage of the large opening through the middle of the trunk.

The growth on the side of this tree is so oddly shaped, it deserves further inspection and the zoom lens.  Now, what in the world could have caused such an oddly shaped growth?
It looks to be perfect for a future home for some creature.  A bit of work to remove the rest of the dead debris and an enterprising, ambitious squirrel or bluejay could make a nice nest site out of it.  It even has a nice view of the nearby road.
Nikki sniffs out our next treasure.  This is her most preferred type of dog walk - one where she is allowed to stick her nose to the ground and follow every scent in Texas County.  If I let her off leash, she would eventually get lost because she, much as a hound, follows her nose everywhere.
And her find is a doozy.  A tree trunk twisted by some violent, incredibly strong force and rotted down the middle.  
 It's fun to ponder what must have happened to this tree. A tornado, perhaps?
But the hunt isn't over yet.  There are more treasures that my guide must sniff out!
Back on our own property, this mulberry is one of my favorites.  It was unfortunately (mulberries like full sun, but do okay with partial sun) planted by a bird, likely perched on the branches of the nearby oak under many other big trees.  Its limbs desperately reach for the sun, just at the edge of the savanna. 

After trimming this Easter red cedar tree, we noticed that someone had been very busy keeping the bugs under control.  Our likely bug hunter is either our very sweet little Downy woodpecker or our Yellow-bellied woodpecker pair.  They left some very interesting patterns too!
 Lastly, my river birch with its peeling bark of many colors.  Dolly Parton had a coat of many colors.  Well, so does my river birch!  I love these trees.  The trunk is as smooth as a baby's butt and the different colors of peeling bark add to its interest.

Here in the mid-west, fall is over as of this writing.  It seems that every year, things change in our natural environment.  I'm finding that I'm changing with it too.  I'm noticing these types of things more often and I find that walks in the woods have a strange, deeply calming effect on my soul.  I'll be doing more of it this winter when the snows fall and create another entirely different world.  One that still has no ticks or chiggers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Yellow-Bellied Pirates

Yes, I have pirates in my yard, in the middle of Missouri.  Thieven' little scoundrels, that's what they are!  Today, I went to gather some pale purple coneflower seeds and found I was almost too late to the party.  As I identified the first coneflower head from wince I could harvest seed, my eyes, now-trained-for-finding-coneflower-seed heads, scanned the field, looking for more.  I waded deeper into the weeds and wondered why I wasn't finding more seed heads.
I listened as my ever-present Goldfinches twittered overhead and finally landed in the nearby oak trees, noisily letting me know they were not happy about my presence in their favorite feeding area.
Then I slowly put two and two together.  The reason I have less coneflower seed is because of the flying, yellow thieves that were chiding me from the safety of the trees!
My friend Aya Katz, defines "pirates / piracy" in this article (http://theodosiaandthepirates.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-karankawa-indians.html ) as:  
This brings us back to the meaning of piracy. Piracy would mean preying on your own. Privateering means preying on enemy ships. The whole difference between the two is where you draw the circle. If the Spanish are your allies, then preying on them is piracy. If they are your legally acknowledged enemies, it is privateering.
I am the goldfinches' ally and they are taking advantage of my goodwill (and my seeds) and committing piracy!  Yeeaarrrggghhhh!!!  There is a plentiful bounty of rattlesnake master and prairie blazing star seeds to satiate the Goldfinches so I don't feel badly about confiscating the coneflower seed heads.
I was able to find a few seed heads and I quickly cut them off and moved them to a safer location so that I can break the seeds loose and redistribute them this winter.  Of course, if you examine these seed heads closely, you really do have to admire the skill that it takes to get the seeds out without poking their little eyes out!
Harvested seed

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Freeze Owl Block (FOB)

Finally!  For a couple months now, the weather has been too hot to go out and start the cleanup of all the gourds and housing.  This past week has been much cooler and, feeling more secure that the mites and other creepy crawlies have drifted into their winter slumber, I ventured out to start the cleaning process.  With dirty gourds removed, Mr. Freeze is now more willing to help with the implementation of the new owl block whose plan has been changed countless times and under much discussion for months.
Mr. Freeze's 5 points of resistance were:
1. Wind.  Well, we do get lots of it here in Missouri.  My response was, the materials are lightweight and plenty of holes (ie, minimal surface area to catch wind).
2. Weight.  My response was again, the materials are lightweight and it's a 3" pole.
3. Our view.  We bought this property specifically because of its fantastic view to the south and who wants big cages permanently mounted in their direct line of sight?  My response, ok, we won't put them all the way up to the top, permanently mounted.  We can't really reach that high anyway.
4. Cost.  My response was, I've spent a lot of , ahem, a few bucks on these rigs to host purple martins and by comparison, it's not going to be that bad.
5. Why now?  Well, because Mr. Freeze, I don't want to go out in the February / March freezing temps and snow to try to measure & figure out the proper configuration for my racks.  Besides, you don't want to be out there then either, freezing off your wee knees right?
Thanks to Aprils Owl Guard pictures and a few emails back and forth with April, we were able to come up with a plan.  We found aluminum angle iron (36" long and 6' long pieces) at the local Lowe's store and the 2"x4" welded wire fencing (4' high) at our local farm store.
The 36" angle arm pieces were cut to 18" each then marked so they could be drilled to fit the already pre-drilled angle arms.  Since the angle arms are 1/8" thicker, we also purchased more bolts that were 1/8" longer to accommodate both the gourd arm, the original angle arm and the new one in the inner-most hole.  I thought we were being so smart to think of that.  But after drilling all the arms, I realized that I hadn't allowed enough room on the inside / underside of the new angle arm for the nut. So I had to move the small gourd arm to the outside and put the nut on the outside.  I can't think of a reason why that's bad...just aesthetically, it would have been better inside I guess.
2 pieces of fencing temporarily hung to ensure sizing is correct and the gourd won't be too close to the fencing.
The nut would not go on the inside as the hole was too close.  Every other vertical will be cut out to make 4"x4" openings.
Out at the opposite end of the arm, we drilled 2, 1/4" holes just in a bit from the end so that we can run #9 wire through the top and middle of the fencing to stiffen it, then bend the end of the wires downward so they can drop through these holes.  This will also allow me to remove the fence panels if needed during the season.
The #9 wire has not been weaved through the fencing yet.  Hung only temporary here to ensure proper sizing.
Right now, until I see how this is going to work in practice, I also plan to use the full height of the wire fencing - 4', hoping that will help discourage the owl from trying to fly up under it.  Once I wind the gourd rack down, I'll still be inside the cage and since I'm so short, I can move from section to section without removing the panels, unless I really need to.
I'll also be cutting out every other vertical wire to make the holes 4"x4".  I really wish I could find some pre-fabricated wire of that size that is made of this same light-weight material, but my searches have yielded nothing.
The 6' long piece of angle iron at the top will be used for support and to have something to which I can secure the top layer of fencing.
The 4' height of the fence may be too much, but I will leave it for now.
Lastly 4, 6' pieces of angle iron will be added across each set of arms at the top to support the welded wire fencing that will need to be spread across the top of the openings, so that my favorite Great Horned Owl can't just drop in for dinner from above.  Right now, there are no plans to enclose the bottom.  I'll monitor the rack and if he ever does decide to try to fly up into the cage, I'll deal with it then.  My preference though for now is to allow the martins an open bottom through which they can fly out and if the owl lands on top - which I'm sure he probably will - if they do panic & fly out, I don't want to find a bunch of birds hung up in the fencing in the morning.  Construction and ideas continue.  I will post more pictures as it develops.
(see Part 2 here: http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-fob-part-2.html
see Part 3 here: http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-fob-part-3.html)
The top will be enclosed with the fencing.  It will be secured to the 6' length of angle iron.