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July 31, 2010

Summer Its Own Self

To me, nothing, but nothing, say summer on Cape Cod like the gorgeous blossoms of the hydrangea bush. The leaves are so lushly green and the bloom heads come in such a variety of colors, ranging from soft pink, through fierce red all the way to the traditional purple-blue; they are such a garden staple and can be seen in nearly every yard Cape-wide. Our two modest bushes are dazzling in their colors and to me they represent the absolute quintessence of a Cape Cod summer.

hydrangea_resized.jpg

And speaking of quintessentially summer stuff, here at Casa CapeCodAlan we are trying a new recipe. Yes, it's summer, so it's an ice cream recipe, and since banana splits are something dear to Alan's heart, we are attempting a recipe for banana split ice cream. The custard has milk, chocolate milk, bananas, strawberries, and crushed pineapple in it, and even though we halved the recipe, it still made a LOT of custard.

In fact, it made so much custard, that I used less than half in the ice cream freezer, but even so...

banana split ice cream overflow_resized.jpg

Yes, the ice cream freezer overflowed. It overflowed by quite a bit. It overflowed like a golden chalice to bright wine, and while we won't be eating it out of golden chalices, we were able to rescue the ice cream, and we're hoping that we were able to clean all the excess from the motor area. I guess we'll know for sure the next time we try to make ice cream, right?

In the meantime, the ice cream is in the freezer, firming up. I'll be back in an hour or so with a report on the finished product. Keep your fingers crossed!

LATER: Well, here goes nothing! We're about to serve it up. Let's see how it goes.

banana split ice cream bowl_resized.jpg

Aaaaand, we have a winner!

See you by those summertime feeders!

Mrs. CapeCodAlan

P.S. And don't forget that video contest!


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July 30, 2010

A Brief Cool at Last, and a Bit of Yardwork

Hi all,

Just checked the outside temp: 66F. That may or may not sound like a cold snap for you, but for us it's been a rough haul. For the last two or three weeks, it seemed that every day was an oppressive 80 degree plus haul. Temps here in the house would routinely hit the 85+ mark. Arggghhh!

But through it all, I've tried to re-claim a sizable chunk of our back yard. Here's the skinny... The previous owners of this house built up a sizable pile of leaves, grass clippings, and whatnot in the back corner of the lot in the hopes of making a compost heap. While those ingredients will eventually break down into an organic matter, they alone certainly do not a compost heap make. (It didn't help that Mrs. CCA and I added on to the mound.) But all avoidances must come to an end, and "The Mountain" was/is no exception. And so game was on... (As it turned out, the decades of leaves and clippings did ultimately make for a good home turf for crawling vines and other undesirables. Oh goody! But because of the heat (not to mention temporal constraints), pretty much the only time I can get out there is dusk and night.

Backyard jungle_400_IMG_0287.JPG

feeder in_Backyard jungle_400_IMG_0287.JPG

The idea is to flatten the riff raff back to the tree line and mow the ivy such that it only crawls the Lawns of Glory. Then we can plant some grass and figure out what we want to do with the new 500 - 1,000 sq ft. of yard. I'm thinking maybe a corner feeder and perhaps a couple of real drum-composting units... Then again, we could use a shed back there, or maybe a gazebo... Hmmm...

Pondering by those dark feeders...

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Don't forget our video contest!


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July 28, 2010

A Pointless Post or Am I Just Going Crazy?

Hi,

Well, if you've read this far, my hat is off to you. I don't have much to offer... Just a little hummingbird and a couple of blurry crows...

Use_resized_hummingbird with crow_2010-07-28_015228.jpg

And even at that, you'll have to squint to see the hummingbird hovering over the right-hand side of the red dish feeder. This is hardly chest-pumping action. But then again, there is the Zen of the thing... Peace.

You know, it's a strange world that we live in. Tune in to the SyFy channel any Saturday at 2PM (prime time for our young people) and you won't have to wait long to see a character decapitated, dismembered, disemboweled, skewered, or otherwise gruesomely killed. And the weirdness doesn't stop there. Our politicians are wildly corrupt and inept... Our long-term national economy looks cataclysmic... We've dumped over a trillion dollars into the "stimulus" and still the jobless rate hovers just under 10%. And the madness just goes on and on...

Truth be told, most people who read this are not avid birders. Could it be that momentary bits of sanity like the hummingbird above are the only things that keep us sane? In 1861 Emily Dickinson wrote the following...

"Hope" is the thing with feathers--
That perches in the soul--
And sings the tune without the words--
And never stops--at all--

And sweetest--in the Gale--is heard--
And sore must be the storm--
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm--

I've heard it in the chillest land--
And on the strangest Sea--
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb--Of Me.

See you by those Prozac-free feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Don't forget our video contest!


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July 25, 2010

Osprey and New Contest

Well,

First the osprey... Here is a shot of the bird coming in with a fish to the nest perched atop a 50' cell phone tower. (They don't call them "fish hawks" for nothing.)

Osprey with fish_400_IMG_0138.JPG

And a better look...

Closeup_Osprey with fish_400_IMG_0138.JPG

As best I can tell, that's a very unlucky catfish in the claws. Ouch.

Anyway, lunchtime...

Cropped_Osprey_chick_400_IMG_0173.JPG

uber_cropped_IMG_0173.JPG

Now on to the contest... Here's the deal... Do you remember back when we had our eBirdseed.com photo contest?

Well, it's time for another contest!

Here's the idea... We use your homemade "YouTube" videos as contest content... We're talking backyard bird videos. (Though if your backyard is a field, we'll take that into consideration...) Features such as subject, lighting, focus, video quality, audio, etc. will weigh heavily on the final decision.

Here are the rules:

  • Each entry must be your own original material. Piracy is strictly forbidden! If you didn't create the video from scratch in its entirety, you're disqualified!!!
  • Each entry must be one minute or less in length.
  • Submissions will be YouTube links.
  • Capturing, holding, or harassing of birds is not allowed.
  • eBirdseed.com employees and their relatives cannot enter.
  • eBirdseed.com reserves the right to embed the winning video code in our Web site.
  • Only entries from the continental U.S. will be valid. eBirdseed.com will pay for prize shipping.
  • All decisions by the eBirdseed.com judges will be final.
Mmmm... Let's have the contest run from now until 11:59:59PM, Sunday, August 8, 2010. That will at least give you a couple of weekends to do your best. So break out the "Flip Video" or simple cell phone and have at it.

For all this "Cecil B. originality", what do you get??? How about a $60 "Squirrel Buster Plus" feeder?

prize_re_sized_2010-07-26_013354.jpg

Not bad... Not bad... Can't wait to see the entries...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 23, 2010

Life List Bird: Great Crested Flycatcher

We hear them all the time. They raise families in the neighborhood every year. We see them flitting in the tree branches, with the occasional mad dash out to grab a bug. But we've never actually gotten a photo of one. Until today.

crested flycatcher_2_resized.jpg

I swear, I've been trying to get a good look at this bird for five years now--ever since I first heard that distinctive "Peeeeehp! Peeeeehp! Peeeeehp!" coming from the treeline. I was pretty sure it was a flycatcher, as I'd had an occasional glimpse of that yellow tummy. It was maddening to know he was there, be able to see the movement among the trees, and yet still not be able to see the darned bird!

crested flycatcher_1_resized.jpg

All that changed today, as the whole family of flycatchers was out and around, and I was fortunate enough to grab the camera, slap it on the tripod, point it in the general direction of the trees, and sit quietly and wait. Sure enough, there they were, flitting amongst the branches of the hemlocks. Slowly I pointed the camera, focused, and started snapping.

crested flycatcher_3_resized.jpg

Seriously, how could you not love a face like that? After half a decade of trying, I can finally add the Great Crested Flycatcher to my life list. And I've got the photos to prove it!

See you by those rewarding feeders,

Mrs. CCA


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July 22, 2010

The Hummingbird, the Yellow Jacket, and Me...

No, this isn't "The Rainbow Connection", and Kermit isn't singing about "... the lovers, the dreamers, and me..." But here we go...

Hummingbird vs yellow jacket_400_IMG_0188.JPG

I shot this on a whim with little more than a few minutes to spare. Frankly, it was one of those times when I was doing four other things, and thought that I'd just toss out the tripod and camera and see what happened. I waited just a bit, and took the photo. (Didn't even see the yellow jacket.)

I keep stressing the informality and simplicity of backyard birding for a very good reason - these are not easy times, and most of us don't have beaucoup minutes to spare. In the case of the picture above, I had a max of a quarter of an hour, and I was done in just two-thirds of that. Will the image have "The National Geographic" kicking in my door? No. But it was a subtle pause in a rat race where the rats all too often seem to be winning. (For what it's worth, I'll remember that moment with the hummingbird and the yellow jacket. Maybe I'm just hokey... At least I'm not a green frog...)

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 19, 2010

Reasons to be Careful Out There

Hi all,

Sorry to gross you out, but...

mystery bug_resized.jpg

Uhhh... Yeah. That is the microscopic shot I took of Lord Only Knows what Toby (our Ragdoll cat) managed to find... My hunch is that this is something I tromped in after working out in the yard. It's probably 3/16" long and quite frankly indistinct save a wary eye.

I bring this to your attention because this is the summer, and we all like to be out playing Frisbee and frolicking in the grass and whatnot. Without proper attention to wee beasties (like ticks, etc.), the good times could stop rolling pronto. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to cooking. (Imagine if that little hairy speck above got into your sala... Nevermind.)

Anywho, you get the idea, and I'd just as soon log off right now... But with one final thought... I've done quite a bit of landscaping, and no doubt disturbed much more than my fair share of monster arachnids... Last night I stumbled upon one in the narrow staircase that leads into the shop basement. If it wasn't a brown recluse, it was the big brother of its bodyguard. By the time I found the bug spray, it was gone. So now we have a potentially poisonous spider the size of a '55 Buick Roadmaster roaming the shadows of my workspace and beyond. Oh goody. One thing is for sure, he and his ilk are toast. (I have a friend here on the Cape who was bitten on the arm by a brown recluse, and has the divot to prove it.) As I said, he and his ilk are toast.

Sooo... My heartfelt advice is this - get out there and enjoy the season. Enjoy the birds and the feeders, and the BBQ, and all the rest... But just be careful out there...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 17, 2010

Sneaky Seagulls

It's still hot here on Cape Cod, with a very high humidity in the air, which makes for sticky and uncomfortable days if you don't have a good fan, an air conditioner, or at least an outdoor area that is protected from the sun and catches the passing breeze.

Fortunately for CapeCodAlan and me, we have all three of those items, in abundance, so we've been surviving pretty well what has been one of the hottest summers in my memory.

I Can Haz Steak.jpg

As the day progresses, our trees shield the house and catch the cooler air as it comes off the ocean; so we are able to enjoy our outdoor areas (yard, deck, garden) especially in the afternoon and evening.

In fact, we were doing that this evening! Having grilled some beautiful lean steaks and put together a light salad, Alan and I were about to enjoy a summer supper out on the deck. Dinner was on the plates, the plates were on the table outside, and we both ran back into the house to grab some condiments. Imagine our horror when we looked out the kitchen window to see one very LARGE seagull on the deck railing, eyeing our steaks with gluttonous desire. Ack!

Out we rushed, to save our supper. Off flew the rapacious gull, only to land on the roof of the house and monitor our every move as we ate our admittedly tasty supper. It was, however, a bit disconcerting to be under the eye of a creature who made it very clear that he wanted what we were eating. And he REALLY wanted it.

He even attempted to conceal himself behind the ventilation pipe.

you cant see me_1.jpgwhite box.jpgyou cant see me_2.jpg

All in all, the meal was delicious, but the company was a bit, er, aggressive for our tastes. At least the crows have the common courtesy to stick by their feeders as they demand food.

See you by those ill-mannered feeders,

Mrs. CapeCodAlan


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July 15, 2010

Just Another Day in Paradise...

Ah yes...

Remember when our freezer turned turtle? Gee, that was just a few days ago... Well, we fixed the freezer, but now the top half is belly up...

frig in center of kitchen_415_IMG_0069.JPG

If that wasn't entertainment enough, my bandsaw has decided to go down in flames. (Not really, but it might as well have...)

400_topless_IMG_0071.JPG

I'll simply skip over the former for the moment, and focus on the latter... Here's a microscopic shot of the part that failed on the saw.

broken assembly better_400.jpg

Micro-cracks... That's not good news, because there's a hutch demanding to completed...

400_IMG_0061.JPG

But back to that fridge... Ten years and we're looking at a new unit... As for the bandsaw - that struggled to last 15 years under powder-puff conditions. Whatever happened to 25-year refrigerators and 50-year power tools?

And people wonder why we feed the birds... We put the seed out, the birds show up, and everybody's happy. No planned obsolescence... No junk metals... Just birds...

Just another day in Paradise...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 14, 2010

New Camera and Old Planes

Hi,

Well, it arrived, and it's a beauty...

cropped and resized 101_0533.JPG

As best I can tell (cameras and I have a hate/hate relationship) this is a 10 Mpx Canon Rebel XS, and has more intellectual horsepower than NASA used to put a man on the moon back in '69. (And that's no joke BTW.) It really is a stunning piece of engineering and optics. Wow... Just wow... Down the road, there may be more lenses, but that's not even a remote issue right now... If I could offer just one bit of advice for anyone considering a quality camera, it would be this: be sure to buy a decent tripod (apx. $30) and a remote shutter trigger (apx. $30 also). The finest camera in the world, with all its image stabilization wizardry, still won't measure up to a remotely triggered system on a stable platform.

Now, about those planes...

planes_resized_IMG_0049.JPG

Kind of a dichotomy from the camera ain't they? From left to right they are: a 1910 Bailey #4; a treasured 70-year-old Stanley #3; an 1800's coffin-sided smoothing plane; and a modern ECE palm plane. When properly sharpened and tuned, each can easily nudge 1/100ths of an inch accuracy.

What to do with all this technology be it 21st or 19th? Well, in the case of the former, I'm afraid that there isn't much that can be done (at least for me), but the latter, that's a different story. There is nothing so serene as shaping wood with a sharp plane. (Note all the shavings in the shot above. Are those cool or what?) The hutch is slowly coming together. After that, I'll probably build a few boats and sell them. Anyone want to buy a Gloucester Light Dory??? After that, no doubt Mrs. CCA will have more projects...

See you by the feeders and the sawdust,

CapeCodAlan


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July 11, 2010

Rabbits in the Grass, Alas!

Well, not in the grass, actually. More like in the front garden. Eating my flowers. Aaaaargh! Wait, look, I'll show you.

See, doesn't that look cute, a happy little rabbit, enjoying life, taking a moment to stop and smell the flowers?

rabbit in garden_1.jpg

But wait, what's this? He's not smelling those cosmos! He's tasting them!

rabbit in garden_2.jpg

Oh no, another blossom bites the dust. I'm telling you, I've lost astilbe, black-eyed susans, cosmos, coreopsis, and who knows what else to that wascally wabbit. He doesn't seem to like the iris or the hosta plants, thank goodness, or for that matter the hydrangea. That would really make me mad!

I don't know why he and his buddies can't simply stay in the back yard and eat all the weeds that are masquerading as a lawn out there... Heaven knows they play out there often enough, chasing each other around the butterfly bush and feeders until it's nearly dark.

backyard rabbit.jpg

If only they'd stay out back... Ah well. You take the good with the not so good, and if this is the worst I have to complain about in my life, I guess I'll take it and be grateful.

Waxing philosophical by the feeders,

Mrs. CapeCodAlan


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July 10, 2010

The Heat Wave and the Busted Freezer

Hi all,

coolers_resized_101_0515.JPG

More about the photo above in a moment, but for right now you the reader should enter into this post expecting lightheartedness. The reason for this is simple - if I don't write this puppy in a jovial fashion, I shall run screaming into the night, and we wouldn't want that to happen now would we? I didn't think so.

Sooo... As the heat wave was finally beginning to ease almost to habitable levels, the wife and I unconsciously (and quite independently) took it upon ourselves to check the ol' freez-o-rator. (In retrospect it was one of those self-defeating compulsions like looking at your gut in the mirror after a shower - maybe, just maybe the situation isn't that bad after all... Right!) And sure enough, the God of Inevitability didn't let us down... A few things weren't quite frozen through and through. At that point it was nighttime, and the most prudent course was to wait until morning and pretend that the worst wasn't looming. And so it went... In the morning, Mrs. CCA went out for some bags of ice, I cleaned the coolers, and we both laid down the towels. It was time to gut the beast. Out came the chicken, out came the liver (sob!), and out came the almost frozen shrimp. Out peas! Out green beans! Out seasonings and chicken! Ho ho ho! Yeah, the coolers filled quickly. We added ice and moved on to the root of the problem - the vents that provide the cold air flow for the freezer were iced over. Only a couple of possible culprits - either the mechanicals (condenser/compressor/fan) were shot, or the machine simply couldn't breathe. Answer? Latter. The air intake was wearing a mohair suit. Oh goody. We defrosted and cleaned, but one problem remained... What of the drip pan that by then was no doubt over-flowing. To make an excruciatingly long story short, there was no way to access the drip pan according to Sears Tech Support. The best we could do was set up a fan and wait.

Sooo... That's the story of the heat wave and the busted freezer... Hardly any birds in the story at all except for the crows that will get the shrimp and whatever else looks safe.

Do you see why I'm struggling to be jovial?

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 7, 2010

Mission Control, We Have Hummingbirds at the Bee Balm; a Smidge of Cool in the Air; and a New Cam On the Way

So it turns out that the sneaky little buzzards like the bee balm after all. While I didn't need to smack them with the video cam and tripod, it still took a while to get a few seconds of decent video of one of our resident ruby-throated hummers visiting the monarda patch.

In fact, their preference is for the feeders, as the nectar is more reliable there. But the hummers seem to be somewhat fastidious in their eating habits and don't like ants crawling on the sugar water founts when they are dining. So I let the feeders get a bit ant-covered to, ah, encourage the birds to visit their secondary food source. And guess what? It worked.

So while I didn't have to jump ugly and pull a "Barry Bonds" to swat a few hummers into the garden, I still had to use sneaky tactics to get them there. Oh well.

Setting aside the hummingbirds, at long last (four days) the heat is beginning to ease just a bit here on Cape Cod. Tonight, it dropped below 70 F, which is pretty much heaven. At last check, the crows have stopped panting. Come on rain!

Lastly, it looks like we're finally going to replace our late Canon Rebel XT. That camera had a "salt-water moment", and that was all she wrote. Stay tuned. By tomorrow I might yet again be able to make the late Ansel Adams spin in his grave.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 6, 2010

Bees, Bee Balm, and Heat

Hi all,

Well, so much for the hummingbirds... This was the wife's second day trying to get a video of them, and this was the result...

Great shots of bees if you're looking for bees, but not so much if you want hummingbirds. Next time, she threatens to stand guard at the bush with folded tripod sans camera and whack the little buggers should they actually show up. (Just kidding, just kidding... Geez Louise, can't a soul blow or a little steam from time to time?)

And blowing off steam is a good idea indeed... Today reached about 96 F, and even now (1:43 AM) it's 86 degrees in the house... A couple of random thoughts... First, if you really want to know the "heat index", look at a crow's beak. If the animal is panting, it's hot out. The more gaping the beak, the nastier it is. (Crows like dogs shed heat via panting.) Your weather forecaster is probably trying to guesstimate within a local radius of 15 miles and a time frame of two hours; the crow outside your window is telling you what it's like right now within inches of your front door. Crows may be many things, but they aren't liars... And in our second random-thought-but-related-to-the-heat department... Don't forget that there's a fantastic free manual online that discusses virtually every type of disaster that a person might encounter including heat waves. We'd say that that rascal is a "must have"...

Hot and tired, but will still see you by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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Heat Wave, Turkeys, and New Gulf Disaster Bird Count

Hi all,

First off... We hope that you had a good and safe 4th... Thanks once again go out to all our veterans who make Independence Day possible...

Onward...

Yeah, the following from CNN is not what you want to read...

"A heat wave of historic proportions could strike some Northeast states, with prolonged triple-digit temperatures possibly creating "a dangerous situation," the National Weather Service advised Monday."

You know the drill - stay in an air-conditioned environment, keep hydrated, avoid strenuous activities, etc. One other consideration... Because of the increased demand on our electrical grid from air conditioners, try to cut down on unnecessary power uses for things like TVs, a ton of lights, long hot showers, the oven and stove (salads are good), coffee pots, etc. A blackout is the last thing we need.

On to those turkeys...

ma with poults_resizes_101_0502.JPG

Kind of cute in a creepy sort of way... There's just something about those gobblers that gives me the willies... It's as if they're "ninja birds" or "Westworld birds"...

And last but not least, the ornithological scope of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is finally coming into focus, and it reads like something out of a bad horror movie...

In a Reuters' piece entitled, "Oil spill's toll on birds set to drastically soar" authors Steve Gorman and Ernest Scheyder write,

"Despite the images of oil-soaked pelicans flooding the media in recent weeks, wildlife experts say the toll on sea birds from BP's Gulf Coast oil spill is smaller than was anticipated, so far.

That is expected to change drastically for the worse." (Emphasis mine.)

And to further brighten your day, the spill may be threatening up to one billion birds... There really is little to say... About the best we can do is offer a link so that you can try to help...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 3, 2010

Kids These Days...

Spring is gone and summer is here in earnest, and all the baby birds are fledged and out of the nest. This doesn't mean, however, that they aren't still pestering Mom and Dad to feed them.

In the yard recently we've seen youngsters of all birdie descriptions, and they all have two things in common: they're hungry, and they want handouts from the parents. Chickadees, titmice, a family of downies, yes, even the young crows are importuning their folks for tasty bits of... whatever.

But the most entertaining are the orioles. Each year we have at least one oriole family in the neighborhood, and those young'uns seem to make life miserable for their parents, as they follow the adults around, fluttering their wings pitifully and begging for bites of jelly from our feeders. The kids are also entertaining to watch as they try to learn how to land properly on the feeders, positioned appropriately for orange eating or jelly-slurping.

Fortunately for us all, we were able to get some video of our oriole family in all its captivating glory. Enjoy!

See you by those crowded feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 1, 2010

Squirrels, Birds, and Peppers... Oh My! (And Video)

Hi all,

First, here's a video...

Now... Thoughts...

  • Right off the bat, I'm reminded as to why I don't like digital zoom. Please forgive my blurriness...
  • Secondly, note the way the seed gets scattered... That may not be a terrible thing. The ground feeders have always been happy.
  • As you watch the video, you'll see the squirrel scale the very recently "Tony Chachere's-doused 4 X 4"... That speaks to a question raised by faithful reader Harry "Gipper" Morris (and I paraphrase...) "Is it true that hot pepper 'turns off' squirrels, but not birds?" Hmmm... Well, my over-priced $.02 says that it might work if hot pepper doesn't get in the way of an "urgent squirrel mission". That is, if the creatures are truly hungry/cold, they'll probably whir through whatever gets in their way short of steel... But here on Cape Cod, our approach is different... Why not just set up a feeder for the squirrels? They eat cheap seed, are fun to watch, and sadly, offer "feed" for predators. We really don't have a problem with squirrels.
  • Towards the end of the video, watch the way the birds fly upwards - stunning.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


Cornell Ornithology Laboratory: Inside Birding

Cornell Ornithology Laboratory: All About Birding

eBirdseed.com photo library

eBirdseed and misc. references

Other birding references

eBirdseed.com bird cam

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