Apples Are a Favorite of House Sparrows

Keep your eye on the sparrow! My 3-in-1 apple tree has produced apples that are proven winners to the neighborhood house sparrows and at least one very bold northern mockingbird. Apparently they are quite delicious! They are tearing through the fruits, almost daily so I have to stay vigilant so that I can still pick edible fruits for my own enjoyment. The rust-color specks on the leaves in the background are oxidized apple bits after the birds fed off of this one apple just this afternoon. The pecking must have been wild and a bit cartoonish! The apple in this photo was intact just yesterday. I expect that the birds will finish it off tomorrow. And it wasn’t even fully ripe!IMG_3307

Long ago, I accepted that in terms of my fruit trees, most of the fruit would go to the house (me) and some to nature (birds and critters). I think that’s right to some extent, to be a good partner with nature. But as seasons like this prove, this seemingly rabid feeding frenzy by these energetic birds has to be managed so that the scales do not tip the other way. This hadn’t happened in previous seasons much because the tree had not produced so many fruits before, and all at one time, so, in a way, it’s a signal that this tree is successful. I am very glad. In the future, however, I will need to be vigilant and prepare to do some bird abatement around my apple trees. I’m envisioning the use of inexpensive nylon webbing to create a bit of a canopy to significantly reduce apple loss. I will thin some of the fruit and will leave some in an area away from the tree for the birds to enjoy.

A bit of good news to report: The two newer apple trees that I have shown signs of improved health, as both have produced new green leaves and very young future apples! It’s been so disheartening thinking that I may have to consider removing one or both of these trees because they have been stricken with cedar apple rust and fighting against it. I’ve not applied any further fungicide this year. I just removed rusted leaves as they appeared and watered the trees – just a generous dose of tender loving care and it seems, as of today at least, that they have responded in a positive way. I hope this is the start of a healthy trend.

As with my roses, I do not want to prematurely sign a “death certificate” to my plants. I want to give them a lot of time to improve and have their health restored. It’s such a big decision to remove/kill a plant, for me anyway, since each plant is a member of my beloved garden community and I am looking at my garden with a long-term perspective. Should these trees survive and thrive, I know that I will be rewarded with a garden overflowing with delicious apples for many years to come. That’s a warming thought!


CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  Apple seeds are highly toxic if ingested. More information on toxic plants can be found here:


Female Hooded Oriole on a Dragon Tree Seed Stalk

It’s been three years since I was last able to photograph a hooded oriole in my yard. This time, my camera was close at hand to capture an image of this beautiful female. I’ve been hearing its somewhat harsh kek-kek-kek call in my neighbor’s citrus trees for several weeks, initially thinking it might be a squirrel making that sound. With no squirrel in sight, I concluded that it had to be a bird but I needed a sighting to confirm my suspicions.IMG_3246

It was again in my neighbor’s citrus trees but I had my camera ready in case in flew into my back yard. Amazingly, it did find its way here, briefly perching atop one of the seed stalks of one of my dragon trees – she’s in the center of the photo. She looks right at home to me!

Female Purple Finches in a Pear Tree

There are two female purple finches in this photo! Check out the strong brown streaking on the breast and, as shown on the second bird, the deep notching of the tail. I saw some of the males feeding on the ground below. I have two of these trees and they are a very popular hang-out for many birds throughout the year, even when the leaves have fallen.IMG_3041 More information about these gregarious birds can be found here:

Although this is a 3-in-1 pear tree, it (and my other pear tree) stopped producing pears a few years ago and started producing quince fruit instead (dwarf pear trees are the result of grafting onto quince rootstock). Earlier this year, I removed several smaller, criss-crossing branches to improve the airflow of the trees and hopefully have a smaller number but larger fruit (which were wiped out last year because of brown rot). This afternoon, as part of maintenance, I will be removing the new thin branches that have formed where the older branches were cut. The tree is fruiting, as shown in the photo. Hopefully, they will be healthy and edible when the time comes!

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  The quince is related to apples and pears, whose seeds are highly toxic if ingested.  For this reason, do not ingest the seeds of these fruits.

More information on toxic plants can be found here:

Birds: Bushtits in My 3-in-1 Pear Tree

My 3-in-1 pear trees (which produced quince but no traditional pears this season)  are very popular with birds. For a long time, I’ve known that bushtits enjoy flitting to and from these particular trees but it’s been very difficult to capture them in photos, until today!IMG_2927

It’s somewhat hard to see but one of the acrobatic birds is the dark gray, small but plump blob in the center of this photo, underneath the long, thin horizontal branch. The head is a little darker than the rest of the body. Click on the image to get a better look.

They’re very gregarious and tweet a lot while they’re hanging out – I wonder what they are saying to each other?

Many birders strive to get the “perfect,” crisp, close-up shot of a highly colorful male bird, with its face pointed directly at the camera lens without any physical obstructions to block that perfect shot. That’s not often possible, nor realistic! Oftentimes, I will check my backyard and spot a bird and identify it by its song or view of its tail, etc. In other words, I like to see birds in situ. This photo brings me great joy, and to me, the capture of a lovely moment in time.

More information about this delightful and lively birds can be found here:

In the background, with its mighty sword-like leaves,  is one of my dragon trees, grown from a branch cutting, in a container.

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  The quince is related to apples and pears, whose seeds are highly toxic if ingested.  For this reason, do not ingest the seeds of these fruits.

More information on toxic plants can be found here:

Allen’s Hummingbird, Caught on Camera!

This avian gem has long eluded my camera, until now! In the past few weeks, I have seen at least one male Allen’s hummingbird enjoying my fruit trees very much, perched for at least a minute each time on the many slender branches. But just as I got the camera ready, it was gone.

Within the last half-hour, I spotted this mercurial fellow  perched upon one of my tomato cages.

The image is a bit blurry, but if you click on it for a larger view, check out the reddish gorget, white beneath that, and rufous further below that. Thank goodness my digital camera was handy!

One of the really wonderful outcomes from keeping a somewhat unkempt backyard garden is that it creates great opportunities to observe the many visitors to my garden. My current batch of tomato plants have been exhausted, but I decided to keep the cages standing where they were. Had they been removed, I might not have had the lucky chance to finally capture this truly lovely bird on camera.

Likewise, a small patch of weeds earlier this year (which I have since removed) was allowed to grow a bit tall, and it, unexpectedly, drew the interest and multiple visits from finches, sparrows, and even Western bluebirds, which I had never seen in my garden before!

So, it seems that many interesting creatures (and especially birds and insects) are “in the area” but looking for the right circumstances to take a chance and visit someone’s garden. Why not consider creating a small paradise in your garden to attract some of these area visitors? The paradise can be temporary but it will create an incredible number of opportunities to see birds, insects, and other critters that you may not have even known live in your neighborhood.

Nature lovers, if you enjoy watching creatures in action but have not the time to go out on a nature excursion,  this is a relatively easy way to make it happen!

Mourning Dove in the Shade!

Summer time, and the living is easy! Or so it seems for this mourning dove, sitting quietly and enjoying the shade (and safety) underneath one of my 3-in-1 pear trees! This lucky bird has been in this spot for at least 20 minutes! The bird is in the middle of the photo, amidst the shadows.

Several mourning doves have similarly rested underneath these particular trees. I am happy that my trees provide fruit for me and respite for the birds!

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  The seeds of pears are highly toxic if ingested.  More information on toxic plants can be found here:

Quince Aplenty!

Wow! It’s been only a few short years since I have had these two lovely fruit trees. They are dwarf 3-in-1 pear trees, which means that they were grafted onto quince rootstock to keep the trees small.

In the beginning, both of these trees were producing pears. Now, they are awash with quince! I am not sure if or when pears will return. The quinces seem to have suppressed the production of pears. A similar circumstance is playing out right now with my hybrid tea rose, Sunblest. It is a yellow rose that was grafted onto the red Dr. Huey rose rootstock. Dr. Huey has  appeared this year on my Sunblest rose, but not overtaken it. Very interesting.

This year has been the most abundant ever, in terms of fruit production for these pear trees. Last year, the trees produced just a handful of quince fruits. From modest to bounty, indeed!

In the second photo, on the right-hand side, you will see bright green plastic gardening ties. I am using them to hold up some branches that are weighed down with fruit. Some branches are hanging low, near the soil, so I will have to keep adding supports to alleviate the stress on the branches and to keep hungry ground-dwelling critters at bay.

The second photo is what I see from my home office. Lovely! This particular tree is very popular with sparrows, bushtits, and hummingbirds, who enjoy hanging out on the branches. Mourning doves particularly enjoy sitting in the shade that the tree provides.

These wonderful trees have brought great happiness to my garden and home!

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  The quince is related to apples and pears, whose seeds are highly toxic if ingested.  For this reason, do not ingest the seeds of the quince. More information on toxic plants can be found here:

Black Phoebe

Minutes ago! No doubt this sweet black phoebe is looking for insects in my backyard garden! Black phoebes are “regulars” among the birds that visit my garden.

Check out the white belly! It has not been easy to snap a photo of this flycatcher since it often seems to be ready to fly off to another location just as I am scrambling for my camera. I  rarely see them on the ground.

I most often see black phoebes perched on the telephone wire above my house or on one of my walls, bobbing their tails.

It is happy news that my garden provides insects, seeds, and nectar to birds that seek sustenance!


Western Bluebirds Love My Weeds!

It’s true! After spending an hour this afternoon whacking weeds with my newly repaired cordless string trimmer, I began raking the dead vegetation, creating a few piles of the stuff. Moments later, in the corner of my eye, I saw a bold streak of blue. I stopped and became so excited to see that it was a Western bluebird! Check out the chestnut-colored breast of this male. Wow!

This was the first time I’ve noticed this bird in my garden. Absolutely thrilling!

The difficulty for me was to slowly drop my rake and rush to get my camera. No easy feat since this bird did not love my camera, though the camera certainly loved it!

It brought a few Western bluebird friends along with it, perhaps to get nesting materials? One drawback of maintaining a totally pristine garden is that you could end up losing opportunities to attract birds who enjoy some of your garden’s untidy features, e.g., weeds.

I have removed 60% of the weeds so far in today’s session alone, but am likely, during my removal of the other 40%, leave at least a few weed piles behind for birds to use. I love gardening and I love birdwatching: win-win!

UPDATE: I’ve owned this string trimmer for less than three years and something in the wiring makes it short out and not work. This happened today, 3/15/2014, the second such incident. I only use it once a month, so I doubt it is from overuse. Sadly, I will hold off on bringing it back to the repair shop since I suspect the problem will return and I am not sure what causes it to short out. It is also a bit tiresome to have to the battery run out in under 30 minutes and then you have to wait to recharge it to continue on with your work. (Hands thrown up in the air). Disappointed with Ryobi. If manufacturers want more people to “go green,” they have to make the products last as long (if not longer) and perform as well as non-green products. I will be shopping for a gas-powered string trimmer soon.

Mourning Doves Under a Pear Tree

My 3-in-1 pear tree is covered with small quinces right now,  as well as many leaves. These mourning doves have taken the opportunity to rest underneath it.

Oftentimes, one would expect to find birds foraging, building a nest, looking for mates, and so on. But this is like a little slice of life. And this is not the first time that mourning doves have visited this tree. Spa day!

One of the great pleasures of gardening, for me, is that it allows me to indulge in birdwatching on a daily basis. I enjoy the opportunity to better understand their behavior and to look more closely at their features for identifying marks.

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  The quince is related to apples and pears, whose seeds are highly toxic if ingested.  For this reason, do not ingest the seeds of the quince. More information on toxic plants can be found here:

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