Tag Archives: finches

IT’S SNOWING IN IPSWICH!

Tiny flakes falling through the trees, making that distinct pitapat sound of snowdrops landing on crisp frozen leaves below. But wait, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. An assembly of Redpolls overhead, hungrily teasing seeds from the tree’s cones were creating a shower of snow-seeds.

I followed along ever so quietly as the flock moved from tree to tree, expertly pulling the cones apart for the small kernel held within.

Returning several times to the same trail and hoping to catch sight again but, with most of the cones gone, so too were the Redpolls.

The Common Redpoll is a species of finch with a distinct crimson cap that looks like a mini French beret, giving the song bird a bit of a rakish appearance.

Their small yellow bills evolved to eat small seeds, such as those of thistles and birches. Some studies show that in winter Redpolls subsist almost entirely on birch seeds.

Common Redpolls have been known to survive temperatures of -65 degrees below and even sleep at night in snow tunnels that can be up to a foot long. Redpolls nest in the Arctic tundra; we only ever see them during the winter months.

Looking for Pussy Willows

Habitat Gardening Post #2 ~ Beauty in Our Midst

Pussy Willow Salix discolor Niles Pond gloucester © Kim Smith 2013

Blooming now along the water’s edge and wetlands is our native Pussy Willow (Salix discolor). The first photo is cropped (click to view larger) so that you can easily see the Pussy Willow tree on the far right at the pond’s edge– a pretty pale yellowish-green. The small tree, or large shrub, can either easily be pruned to a standard shape, or allowed to grow in its more unruly, wildy way. Prune the branches down to the ground and the following year you will be rewarded with straight shoots for cutting and bringing indoors. Salix dicolor grows easily in average, wet, and moist areas, and grows best in full- to part-sun.

Pussy Willow Salix discolor © Kim Smith 2013

Pussy Willows are pollinated by wind and by insects and produce a very high-sugar nectar. They are an important early food source for native bees. One Pussy Willow catkin contains about 200 fruit-bearing flowers. Cardinals and finches find the flower buds tasty, too. Willows are dioecious, which means some twigs  produce beautiful golden stamens (male parts), while others bear slender greenish pistils (female parts).

mourning cloak

I often see Mourning Cloak butterflies around the berm between Niles Pond and Brace Cove; the leaves of the Pussy Willow are a larval host plant (caterpillar food plant) for both the Mourning Cloak and Viceroy butterflies. The Mourning Cloak is one of the earliest butterflies seen in our region because they overwinter in the adult form.

Pussy Willow Salix discolor 2 © Kim Smith 2013

The bark and roots of Pussy Willow contains a compound called salicin, and the herb is used similarly to aspirin in treating mild fevers, cold, infections, headaches, and pain.  Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is a synthetic replacement for salicin.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly nectaring from milkweed, image courtesy Google image search