Archive for December, 2013

My 2013 Christmas Count

One of the places in our segment is called Flirt Hill (where we counted 17 Horned Larks, 2 Cooper's Hawks and others)

One of the places in our segment is called Flirt Hill (where we counted 17 Horned Larks, 2 Cooper’s Hawks and others)  It was a crystal wonderland.

The Christmas Bird Count began 114 years ago as a way to replace the Christmas tradition of going out to see how many birds each person could shoot.  Thankfully, the replacement activity took hold and now thousands of volunteers go out to count birds, making important contributions to the knowledge of population densities and migration trends.   The count areas are organized in 15 mile wide circles and each circle is divided into segments with a team of volunteers assigned to each segment.   My count covers an area of mixed woodlands, orchards and reservoirs in Easton, Connecticut.  I began on Sunday in the midst of an ice storm, hopping into the car at 4:15 a.m. to get to my circle segment to begin looking for owls.  Owling was a bust because of the continual passing of snowplows, with only one Screech Owl sighted.  We had at least 20 plows go by us, blocking out all possible owl calls.  We finished at dusk and all the volunteers in our circle met for a potluck dinner where we  compiled our data.   Our circle ended up with 102 species having been identified.  Our segment’s best bird was a Rusty Blackbird.  Their numbers have declined precipitously for unknown reasons.  Our count circle’s best bird was a Barrow’s Goldeneye, an unusual visitor this far south.  He was sighted by the youngest member of our count circle volunteers, who was elated by his find.  We also had a Baltimore Oriole, who should long ago have left for wintering grounds in the south. The most unusual bird in our segment was a Black Swan, native to Australia.  It must have escaped from someone’s waterfowl collection.  He fluffed his curly back feathers for me.  It was a crystalline day, beautiful and relatively mild (31º), a fun-filled day with good friends.

The Black Swan, a mystery bird.  Where did he come from?

The Black Swan, a mystery bird. Where did he come from?

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How to Make a Magnolia Leaf Wreath

The finished wreath.  I used a gold bow so it would show up against our green door.

The finished wreath. I used a gold bow so it would show up against our green door.

I am so lucky in my friends!  I have a friend who lives by the beach where the average temperature is just a little warmer than it is here only a mile away.  This tiny temperature difference is just enough so she can grow Magnolia Grandiflora here in Connecticut, at the northern edge of its range.  Each year at this time she has the trees trimmed and distributes the branches to local charities and friends for their holiday decorating.  I use my bounty to make magnolia leaf wreaths for the house.  Here’s how I do it:

Pick off leaves (I choose medium sized ones) and using wired floral picks, wind each stem with the wire.  After a few leaves you get the feel for it and can twirl the pick, winding it quickly and easily.  These picks are available in craft stores.

Pick off leaves (I choose medium sized ones) and using wired floral picks, wind each stem with the wire. After a few leaves you get the feel for it and can twirl the pick, winding it quickly and easily. These picks are available in craft stores.

I like to use a straw wreath form, also available in craft stores.  Wind up a dozen or so leaves before you begin.

I like to use a straw wreath form, also available in craft stores. Wind up a dozen or so leaves before you begin.

Start by sliding the picks into the form at an angle, inserting them diagonally across the curved surface and overlapping the leaves.

Start by sliding the picks into the form at an angle, inserting them diagonally across the curved surface and overlapping the leaves.

I like to have some of the leaves upside-down to give a color contrast by showing the velvety brown undersides of the leaves.

I like to have some of the leaves upside-down to give a color contrast by showing the velvety brown undersides of the leaves.

When you are finished (this took me a little over an hour to do) examine the wreath for places where the straw is showing through.  There's a little place at about 2:00 o'clock so I wrap one more leaf to cover that.

When you are finished (this took me a little over an hour to do) examine the wreath for places where the straw is showing through. There’s a little place at about 3:00 o’clock so I wrap one more leaf to cover that.

The finished product.  Add a bow and hang!

The finished product. Add a bow and hang!

 

 

 

 

 

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Dancing Ladies Makes an Unusual Centerpiece

Here's Dancing Ladies in her place of honor.

Here’s Dancing Ladies in her place of honor.

Usually I have a traditional centerpiece for my Thanksgiving table, a cone of fruit topped by a pineapple (Colonial symbol for hospitality) to be compatible with our old house, but this year time ran out and I found myself out of time and desperate.  One of my orchids, an oncidium called Dancing Ladies was just coming into bloom and was so pretty I just covered her slat basket with decorative paper, tied a ribbon around her and had the solution to my problems.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the change.

My usual "over the top" traditional centerpiece.

My usual “over the top” traditional centerpiece.

I also tried new pies this year, using the recipes from the food section of the New York Times. (Link is to all the Thanksgiving recipes they had, pies being at the end.) I think the pies looked terrific but I like my old recipes better.  I usually make Apple, Pumpkin (really Butternut Squash) and Mince, but when I brought in my green tomatoes and made green tomato mincemeat, it was so delicious that I made Mince Pie right then and we ate it all ourselves.  The Times recipe had a chocolate/pecan pie which I tried instead of Mince.  Others liked it but I found to be too rich.  The Pumpkin/Squash Pie recipe from the Times tasted almost exactly like my regular one and the Apple was delicious but I missed just the plain apple as it added dried cranberries.

Here are my pies, clockwise from top; Apple, Squash and Pecan.  I had fun with the crust.

Here are my pies, clockwise from top; Apple, Squash and Pecan. I had fun with the crust.

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