The robins are back! One decided to set up shop in our front yard.

robin perched on a pine branch facing left

Last year, a pair of robins built a nest on the downspout and raised several babies, so I was excited that we might be able to observe that process again this year. But I haven’t seen that yet; instead, he has spent his time fighting an intruder in his territory. (I am assuming this robin is a male.)

robin in midair with its feet straight up and claws extended

Except the other robin is just his own reflection in our front windows.

silhouette with its head turned to the left and wings outstretched

For several days in a row, rain or shine, for hours on end beginning at 6 am, he would watch the reflection from his spot in the tree, then move in closer and perch on a stick close to the window, then go in for the attack.

Each incident lasted from 2 to 5 seconds, and then he’d fly back to the pine tree and pause for a minute or two, then look both ways, then look straight at the window and start again.

The tree shows evidence of his presence.

pine branch with many bird droppings

This wasn’t just playful; this was feet-up, claws-out wrestling — at least, as much as he can wrestle with a window.

silhouette with wings outstretched, tail down, feet up

Nothing we did to dissuade him worked for the long term. Not putting up more anti-bird-strike stickers, not putting up shiny metal tape, not hanging a screen, not shooing him away from the inside or outside.

silhouette from the side, mouth open, right wing up, left wing down

He just kept coming back and fighting and fighting

silhouette from the left side, wings back, right leg and claws visible

and buzzing by repeatedly.

flying to the right, wings down

flying to the left, wings down

Finally, one day the constant attacks stopped. I imagined he must have admitted to his rival, “You are a worthy opponent.” He’s still around, and every now and then he’ll attack the window-robin once, but that’s it. And on Sunday we saw (and heard) a real skirmish: a robin flew super-fast into the tree and apparently dislodged another bird; they wrestled and screeched in midair, and one flew away.

hovering in front of the window, wings back, feet down

But mostly now he just watches his territory without incident. So far, I haven’t seen a nest; maybe he hasn’t had time to find a mate, what with him being so busy patrolling and all.

back on the branch, facing right, looking left

Learn more about this behavior

It seems strange to talk about snow after days and days of 50- and 60-degree temperatures and rain have left us with virtually none. This observation happened just over a week ago.

Near the compost pile I noticed a bright blue spot

round spot of bright-blue snow, with dark blue spots, several inches wide

and then another that I had walked right by without noticing.

oval-shaped dark blue snow next to a hole with a leaf

I had heard of this phenomenon before: animals eat some kind of plant, which turns their urine blue. I thought I had heard it was caused by deer or rabbits, and either could be the culprit in our yard. So I started looking around, and then I started noticing lots of round scat, which means rabbits. (Deer scat is more oval.)

small pile of snow with lots of brown emerald cedar leaves and rabbit scat

The plant: was it buckthorn? Hmm, didn’t we just realize we have a patch of buckthorn in the yard?

small woody stem cut off several inches from the ground

Yep, the stems of these small trees (which I suspect are buckthorn, given their appearance and location close to confirmed buckthorn) seem to have been snacked. An Instagram friend told me last year that rabbits chew the stems of plants cleanly at a 45-degree angle, like the photo above, while deer cuts are more crushed or ragged. Rabbits are also known to remove the bark all the way around a tree, potentially like the messy work below – though so are deer. This damage’s cause is less clear to me.

a tall, thin stem with more than half the bark removed to various depths, with ragged pieces hanging off

Several unofficial sources agree that both rabbits and deer are the animals in the equation, and the chemical is almost always from buckthorn (though apparently salts could be another culprit). Interestingly enough, it’s the bark of buckthorn, and not the berries, that causes this phenomenon.

And a closer look at the first spot showed some rabbit scat right next to the blue.

blue snow

If only the rabbits could eat enough of the buckthorn to kill it.


Insects aren’t the only living creatures in our yard. We also saw animals – or evidence of animals – all last summer, though without a zoom lens, it’s hard to get good pictures.

I never get too upset when I see cute baby rabbits, as long as I don’t remember that they will grow up to eat so much of our garden. I startled this tiny one (no bigger than my hand) by moving a flowerpot he was hiding behind. He hunkered down in the grass for a minute and then in his haste to find safety, he crashed straight into my foot.

small rabbit hunkered down low in the grass

Rabbit sampling a pot of flowers:

rabbit sniffing moss roses, with zinnias and ornamental kale in the same pot

If only they would stick to eating the dandelions!

rabbit with a long dandelion stem hanging from its mouth

I was endlessly entertained by watching them first pick the dandelions at the ground, then chew from the bottom up.

A hawk – which is in our neighbor’s tree, but it hangs over our yard:

large mostly brown bird facing away, on a thin branch

It made such an interesting sound:

Evidence of some kind of altercation:

five large dark feathers and many small gray feathers

Even pesky squirrels have to eat:

squirrel hanging upside-down from a birdfeeder that is cracked open from the strain

Mole damage in the backyard:

four dirt patches in the grass

A mole making its way underground:

Vole? Shrew?

small gray animal mostly hidden behind calendula leaves

Birds in the vegetables:

two birds in the kale, one bird on a short fence next to lettuce

Whew! Finished this bugs-and-beyond series before spring truly got underway, though plants are already sprouting. Now I am ready to start looking at the 2016 garden.

More bugs and critters:

When we got married five years ago and I moved into his house, we started converting the lawn to flowers. It started very small – just a short hillside, which was hard to mow anyway. That was so successful that we’ve been chipping away at more and more of the grass every year.

We started buying flowers with gift certificates we received for our wedding: mostly perennials, some of them native plants. Now the only thing I will consider adding to the permanent garden is natives (though we do have annuals in pots each summer, too).

As the flowers have taken hold and expanded, more and more insects and other critters have been taking up residence. Who knew that swapping bluegrass for native plants would result in such a large insect community? (She wrote with dripping sarcasm.)

I recently added a list of my favorite flower posts to the sidebar. All five involve bugs.

This is the start of a multi-post series on critters, published in 2016 using photos from my 2015 garden. First, some bugs I haven’t yet identified (on plants I have identified).

Invasive creeping bellflower:

long green bug with legs like a grasshopper

Native black-eyed susan:

short black-and-white bug

Common milkweed:

skinny bug or arachnid - not sure how many legs

Joe-pye weed:

leaf damage - white spots with dark forms like tadpoles underneath

Butterfly weed:

long, skinny yellow bug

Common milkweed:

possibly a fly with very long antennae

Bee balm:

dark brown bug with a reddish spot and

Common milkweed:

light green bug with skinny grasshopper-like legs and very long antennae

More critters

We’ve never exactly appreciated the squirrels that live in our neighborhood, but this year they seem especially mean.

This sunflower already had its top bitten off, and the rest didn’t last long after this photo.

sunflower sprout

An entire evening primrose was pulled out of the ground, stem by stem.

four evening primrose stems lying on the ground

This white coneflower, which bloomed this year for the first time, was snipped off near the ground.

a wilting white coneflower with three blossoms lying on the ground

I was especially annoyed that the squirrels were damaging our flowers for no good reason: they weren’t even eating them. But then they turned to the vegetables, and I wasn’t any less upset even though the food was being eaten.

A chicken-wire fence, which stopped the rabbits, wasn’t enough to deter the squirrels from picking the tomatoes. So we had to add another fence to the top to the garden, which makes it a challenge for the humans to harvest the tomatoes and kale.

half of a green tomato, and a whole green tomato lying on the ground

Earlier this summer, when the squirrels were ripping up the squash and gourd flowers, we fenced them all in, which stopped the damage – but we eventually had to remove the fence because the vines were too constrained.

At one point, we had two acorn squashes. One disappeared completely, and the other ended up with a good chunk eaten off the top.

acorn squash with lots of little bite marks on the top

Same thing with this yellow squash. They also got two zucchini, but I don’t have the photo evidence because I was too busy rescuing the untouched zucchini to document it.

summer squash with a hole eaten out of the top, with chunks of the rind lying nearby

There were at least five gourds at one point, each distinctly different in appearance.

a small, round green gourd

Two disappeared, one is now just a fraction of a rind, and a few scattered “crumbs” were all that remained of the fourth.

the remains of a green gourd

After this week’s gourd and squash damage, we re-fenced our one pumpkin and one remaining gourd. Without a top to the fence, though, I fear it’s just a matter of time before they’re gone too. At least we have tomatoes and kale!