Bring Butterflies to Backyard Dubuque!

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Whether it feels like it or not, Spring is right around the corner!!  At 6:29 a.m., March 20th, it will officially be Spring!  If you’re anything like me, you are already studying the ground for evidence that the ground is thawing and for proof of life!  The past month has brought Dubuque the full spectrum of spring and winter weather, so I am sure many are worried about buds and shoots that already braved the elements.  But fear not, no irreparable damage was done.

For those of you planning secret gardens and backyard wonderlands, here are a few pointers for bringing butterflies to your backyard (bonus:  these tips will also attract bees and hummingbirds!!)

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Colorful Flowers – Butterflies love yellow, orange, pink and purple colored flowers – look for:  violets, geraniums, thistle, sunflowers, lantanamonarch

Flower Clusters/Small Flowers – Show butterflies some love and welcome them into your yard by providing flowers that bloom in dense clusters or have a multitude of small flowers – look for:  mint, marigolds, snapdragons, dill, phlox, zinnia

IMG_3264 Sunlight – Butterflies love to feed under the warmth of the sun – look for:   backyard spaces that benefit from full sun (planting accordingly); look for: spots that have at a minimum full morning or afternoon sun if you don’t have areas that have full sun throughout the day

Avoid Insecticides – insecticides are lethal to butterflies as well
Don’t Forget the Next Generation! – Today’s caterpillars will be tomorrow’s butterflies; make sure you are adding plants that are caterpillar friendly throughout your flowerbeds – look for: milkweed, verbena, lilacs, daisies

Trees – Trees provide food and nectar for both caterpillar and butterfly – look for:  willow, cherry, apple, aspen, elm, birch, black cherry, sugar maple, dogwood

 

The Chill is Back…

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After a sneak peek at what many of us have been missing all winter, Mother Nature decided to dump a few inches of snow on us to let us know who’s really in charge!  I have been creating lists and menus for over a month now that are full of summery, light foods that we haven’t had in a few months, but this weekend it was back to comfort food that warms from the inside out.  I made the following recipe with fresh vegetables (ahem, flash frozen fresh vegetables that I received from my farm share last October) and Hormel meatballs – yes, Hormel makes meatballs and if you cook them just right they taste homemade!!  I hope you enjoy this semi-homemade, simply-titled recipe that will help hold that unwelcome chill at bay a little while longer!

Meatball Stew

…what you need…

  • 2 lbs meatballs
  • 2-3 c chopped potatoes
  • 16 oz beef broth
  • 16 oz water
  • 1 c chopped carrots
  • ½ c chopped leeks
  • ¼ c chopped onions
  • ¼ c minced garlic
  • 2 T flour
  • 2 T melted butter
  • Herbs/Seasonings to taste:  thyme, oregano, rosemary, salt, pepper

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…what you’ll do…

  • brown the leeks, onions, and garlic; set aside
  • brown the meatballs with preferred seasonings; add garlic, onions, and leeks back in
  • add carrots, potatoes; sauce until vegetables and meatballs have a nice caramel glow
  • add broth and water into pan – adjust seasonings to taste
  • simmer until carrots and potatoes are tender
  • make a “slurry” in a separate bowl: add flour and using ½ c of the cooking broth add slowly to the flour, making a paste; add melted butter and combine
  • add to pan, whisking into broth until combined
  • simmer until heated throughout

 

 

 

Summer’s End Signals Fall Migrations

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IMG_3740As summer winds down, it’s important to be aware that many birds have already begun migration.  If you are like me, your feeders are not always full throughout the summer.  But as bird migrations head into full swing it’s time to start regularly filling them again – don’t worry about creating a distraction to the birds in flight – you are actually providing essential energy for birds that are flying hundreds – even thousands! – of miles.

Here are a few things you can do to make your backyard a prime feeding area as birds head south…

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  • Clean out those feeders that have been sitting all summer AND the ones that have been full throughout.  Empty uneaten food, take the feeder apart, wash with hot, soapy water – at the very least spray them down.
  • Try to keep your feeders 5-7 feet from branches, shrubs, and fences.  If you are hanging them from branches, try hanging it on a hook or rope so predators cannot climb right onto or reach right into it.  If you have them on posts, add protection to ensure predators cannot climb right up to your bird’s front door.
  • Don’t forget the birdbath!  This also needs to be cleaned out – again use hot soapy water.  Use a birdbath heater once the temperatures begin dropping below freezing.
  • As for seeds, if you’ve got seed bearing plants in your yard, consider leaving seed heads throughout winter.  As summer winds down, so do the valuable resources that birds depend on for food.  Sedum, coneflowers, sunflowers, etc. all offer seeds that birds love to eat.  Just let the heads dry and watch as birds visit throughout fall and even winter.
  • As for shelter, roosts, shrubbery, and wood piles all serve as excellent shelter for all birds.  If you’ve got nests and roosts in place, clean out the overstuffed and abandoned ones, check for and repair damaged shelters.
  • To help prevent window strikes, tie/attach ribbon or yarn to help birds steer clear of windows.
  • Offer energy-laden foods that a variety of birds can enjoy – black oil sunflower seeds, suet, mealworms, berries, and nuts are all great options that many birds can rely on for energy and protein as plants and insects begin to die off.

For those of you interested in migration patterns in your area, take a look at these websites:

Audubon’s Mississipi Flyway

North America Flyways

Cornell Lab BirdCast 
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Herbs

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Over the past few years, I’ve tried several different ways of preserving summer herbs throughout the winter.  Today, I want to share one of my favorite ways…

I mainly use this with cilantro because I feel like dried cilantro just does not have the same depth or intensity when dried.

…what you’ll need…

  • fresh herb clippings
  • mason jar
  • scissors
  • olive oil

…what you’ll do…

  • rinse and then strip your stem clippings of the herbs
  • place in mason jar
  • while in jar chop with scissors to desired consistency
  • add olive oil and shake gently
  • cap and freeze
  • microwave 10-30 seconds and spoon out desired amount

…why this works…

  • quick access to fresh herbs throughout the fall, winter, and spring
  • easy prep, no tasteless dried herbs, no bulky bags filled with ice cubes floating in your freezer
  • the taste and smell of fresh herbs in the dead of winter without paying outrageous market prices

I hope you will enjoy this technique as much as I do and, as always, if you’ve got any tips of your own, feel free to share!

 

 

Sunday Morning Baking with Backyard Dubuque

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While the snow is definitely too early for my liking, I couldn’t help but to look outside every 10-15 minutes to watch the snow fall.  I love fresh snow – especially when it blankets everything!  The quiet and the unexpected coziness of falling snow amazes me every time!

In honor of last night’s snowfall, I wanted to make something for breakfast that really said “winter comfort food.”  For me, that is  something baked.  I found this delicious recipe for Pecan Cobbler not too long ago and have been waiting for the “right time” to make it – I think this early snowfall and these frigid temperatures provide the perfect opportunity.   Have you ever known from the start of a recipe that you were about to make something wonderful – something that would become a family favorite?  For me, this is one of those recipes.  I am making it for breakfast, but this makes a great dessert and is amazing served warm with cinnamon ice cream (I use Cold Stone Creamery’s Cinnamon Ice Cream; find a store near you here!).

That being said, here is the recipe:

Pecan Cobbler

Ingredients
  • 6 tbs butter
  • 1 c pecansIMG_1863
  • 1 ½ c all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1½ c granulated sugar
  • ⅔ c milk
  • 1 tsp maple extract
  • 1 ½ c packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ c hot water
IMG_1865Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a 9×13 “ pan in the microwave or oven.

Sprinkle pecans over melted butter.

Combine flour, sugar, milk and vanilla in bowl, mix until combined.

Pour batter over butter and pecans, do not mix.

Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over batter, do not stir.

Carefully pour hot water over the mixture, do not stir.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.*

*The original recipe states that the cobbler will not be firm after baking; it will firm up as it cools.

Adapted from Call Me PMc

Readying the Backyard

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Dare I say it? Winter is coming. True, we are enjoying beautiful fall temps, but as my garden visits begin to produce fewer treasures and leaves begin to fall, whispers of the approaching winter rudely force their way into my consciousness. Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoy the winter season, but I feel like summer was too short-lived and I want to be able to lounge in the sun and feel its warmth within my bones. That is one of my favorite feelings. However, reality insists on being taken seriously and as I look around my yard and listen to the birdsongs and chatter of squirrels playing in the trees, I am reminded that very soon I will need to make sure my yard and its inhabitants are ready to weather through the winter.

As I watch the landscape in Dubuque change around me, I am increasingly aware of my responsibility to provide supplemental habitat and feeding for our area wildlife. The electric company razed one of our tree lines – completely destroying natural habitats and food supplies in one fell swoop. Right now, heavy equipment is razing 4.3 acres of natural habitat and food supply off of JFK and the NW Arterial. It is easy to see the destruction of natural habitats and food supplies and not make any connections between area wildlife and our ecosystem, but the results are undeniable.

Below is a list of absolute musts that I endeavor to complete before winter sets in. What type of winterizing do you do in your backyard? Take a look at my list and feel free to share your own tips with others who would like to make sure their backyard provides support for wildlife trying to survive the winter.

  • Winterize nests and roosts – clear out abandoned nests and roosts in the fall, birds will return to these nests throughout the winter, so it is important to clean them out early on. Also, provide new nesting material. Cut up old yarn, use lint from the dryer vent, or even strips of old t-shirts – make sure the pieces are short and narrow, ½” by 1” is a good size.
  • When cutting back foliage, I always leave some through the winter. This provides shelter and a food supply when winter sets in. Remember different animals prefer different shelters – squirrels prefer trees, birds prefer trees and shrubs, rabbits prefer shrubs, brush and tall grasses, while deer prefer wooded areas or other areas with dense cover.
  • Place an electric warmer in birdbaths – there are models that will shut off when the temperature is over 32°. This ensures a water supply for birds and other wildlife that will visit your yard throughout the winter.

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I use this one in mine and it works great!  It was a Christmas gift, but I believe it came from Theisen’s!
  • If you have the space in your yard, invest in a bale of hay that will help wildlife during harsher conditions. Remember, if snow is on the ground, wildlife can use it for food and nesting materials.
  • Place a deer feeder as far away from your house as possible – or place bags of feed out with a panel cut out to contain the food and cut down on waste.  Begin with small amounts of feed in late fall so that animals are used to it before harsher conditions set in.

deer feederA feeder like the one above can be bought on-line.  You can find one like this at Hurleybyrd.

  • Believe it or not, deer visiting our yard last winter enjoyed munching on tender plants that were protected underneath mulch and leaf piles. We piled all of our leaves throughout the fall along the back tree line and it provided cover for plants as the temperatures began to drop. Once the snow began to fall, deer were able to dig beneath the leaves to the protected greens far into February!
  • Add one or two roosts to your backyard for birds and squirrels – this allows for them to roost together and use each other’s body heat to stay warm on the coldest days and nights. The opening on a roost is at the bottom as opposed to the top as in traditional birdhouses – this is to ensure heat does not escape as it rises. 


If you choose to provide supplemental feedings for your backyard wildlife throughout the winter, please understand the commitment you are making. Wildlife will stray from their normal routes if they come to depend on a feeding spot. They will return to this spot wasting vital energy if food is not available. While wildlife feedings provide us with enjoyment, during winter it provides wildlife with vital energy they need to survive winter conditions. And remember, winter does not end on a specific date when it comes to survival – understand that if you plan to provide a reliable supplement for area wildlife that you will need to continue doing so until natural food sources become available again.

Return of Mr. & Mrs. Bluebird

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These last few weeks have brought a flurry of feathered visitors to our backyard, creating excitement for not only us, but Bailey and Nessa as well.  Nessa (our ferocious Siamese) whines and paws at the door to get out while Bailey (our not-so-ladylike mini Schnauzer) runs around the yard, nose to the ground on a daily basis now.  But I have to say, when we spotted the bluebirds flying around our backyard, I was especially excited!  My biggest question is whether or not it is the same pair that visited our yard in early spring, late summer, and early fall last year?  The romantic in me says yes!  Either way, I thought I would share these few photos I was able to take before they disappeared into the leaves.  Clearly, they are looking for a layover, but I am not sure that wren house is the ideal choice – hopefully, they will choose one of the bluebird houses and stick around for awhile before they continue their migration.

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Migration Time

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Evidence is all around us that Fall is on the way – gardens are browning, plants are seeding, the sun has begun to shift positions and is setting earlier, and wildlife throughout Dubuque is on the move. From squirrels to deer and butterflies/bees to birds, there is excitement in the ever-cooling air as animals, birds, and insects rummage, flutter, and scurry about readying themselves for winter.

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This morning, our annual visit from migrating Brewer’s Blackbirds flew through our neighborhood, resting atop trees throughout. I have several recordings of their roosting calls from the past four years and I love to listen to them throughout the winter. Recently, Grackles have been visiting our yard as well – they are not regular visitors here. This past spring, I planted several different varieties of sunflowers in our garden and for the past few weeks, our backyard as been flooded with feathered visitors of all sorts. As I try to convince my husband to leave the dying vegetation alone for just a little longer, I have also been looking for other ways I can aid birds as some begin their migration to warmer lands and some rummage about looking for food and shelter as temperatures begin to drop. Below are just a few ways you might be able to help as well.

  • Begin refilling feeders near the end of August if you usually do not feed throughout the summer. Migrations throughout the United States typically begin the second week of September.
  • Leave hummingbird feeders out into September and even through October when temperatures are mild – don’t worry, hummingbirds know when it’s time to leave, no matter how good and full that feeder is!
  • Keep water in your birdbaths and keep it fresh for visitors (which will include other wildlife!).
  • Avoid pesticides and allow your yard to “go wild.” This will aid in nesting, fledging, and providing natural shelter from weather and predators as birds begin their journeys and also as they prepare for winter.
  • Turn off outdoor lighting – many species of birds travel at night to avoid predators. Artificial lighting can disrupt their navigation.
  • Try keeping your cat inside – they pose a particular threat to fledglings.
  • Prevent window collisions by keeping curtains closed, creating a visible pattern on the outside of windows (streamers, decals, lights, anything to alert the birds), and placing feeders at least two feet away from windows.
  • Plant fruit bearing trees and seed producing flowers native to your area.
  • Provide birdhouses along your property – avoid cleaning them out until after the birds have left.

Sept 2014 Migration

Photo Credit: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdCast.  This image indicates the migration movements over the U.S. in mid-September.  The lighter blue coloring indicates initial migratory patterns while the darker blue, green, yellow, orange and red areas indicate increasing migrations.

Did you know…

  • Hummingbirds have been recorded as traveling nonstop over 24 hours across the Caribbean Sea to reach southern destinations!
  • The Rufous Hummingbird travels over 3000 miles from Alaska to Mexico each year (and back again!).
  • Migrating birds need to build up a fat reserve before beginning their journey – some birds will use up to 90% of their body fat along their journey. Many birds will double their weight within the last few weeks before migration.
  • Many birds will migrate during the night to avoid predators – on a clear night look up towards the moon, you just might catch sight of a flock of migrating songbirds!
  • Migrating birds use the stars, sun, and wind to aid in navigation – as well as earth’s magnetic field!
  • Many birds will travel 100 hours or more when flying across oceans or seas!
  • Birds face many obstacles along their journeys – predators, hunters, light disruption, severe weather, window collisions, habitat loss and many other natural and manmade threats.
  • Birds will not become dependent on birdfeeders – they may become accustomed to a reliable food source, but they will search elsewhere for food sources.

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Visit the Iowa Audubon website for an interactive map that details Important Bird Areas of Iowa.

iowa young birders

Visit the Iowa Young Birders website for an exciting and educational program for youths aged 8-18. This non-profit group schedules regular field trips providing young bird enthusiasts the opportunity to explore and engage Iowa’s natural treasures.

Trumpeter Swans

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Did you know that Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinators) used to nest freely throughout the state of Iowa? Unfortunately, due to overhunting and land development, the last wild nesting of Trumpeter Swans occurred in 1883. Trumpeter Swans were not given nationwide protection until 1918 and in the 1930s, less than 70 Trumpeter Swans were observed in a nationwide count.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources began a program designed to restore the Trumpeter Swan population in 1993. Their goal was to “establish 15 wild nesting pairs back to the state by the year 2003” and to “use the swans to promote the many values of wetlands not only for wildlife habitat but for water quality and flood reduction” as well. In 1998, the Iowa DNR recorded its first wild-nesting of Trumpeter Swans since 1883.

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Thanks to this program, in 1998, 1999, and 2000 the first and second generation of “free-flying trumpeter swans nested in Iowa since 1883.” The Iowa DNR set a new goal to establish 40 nesting pairs of Trumpeter Swans by 2007. By 2008, Trumpeter Swans were located in 21 different locations across 14 counties throughout Iowa. In 2011, the Iowa DNR announced that its campaign was a success and that they would begin phasing out their campaign. As of 2012, the Iowa DNR has recorded 50 nesting pairs of Trumpeter Swans. with over 150 cygnet hatchings.

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Did You Know…

  • Trumpeter Swans can live up to 24 years.
  • Trumpeter Swans are one of the largest flying birds in the United States with wingspans up to seven feet!
  • Young Trumpeter Swans are called cygnets.
  • A male swan is called a “Cob” and a female is called a “Pen.”
  • Swans are aquatic vegetarians – they eat leaves, seeds, and roots of pond vegetation; they will also eat grains.
  • There are 6 different swan species in the northern hemisphere:  Bewick’s Swan, Jankowski Swan, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, Whooper Swan

 

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Info courtesy of the Iowa DNR and www.stuorg.iastate.edu/swan/