Birds and Blooms Blog

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Top Winter Birding Hotspots

Rob Ripma

Many birders long for spring and fall migration and forget that the winter months offer some incredible birding all throughout the United States! I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite winter birding hotspots that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Some of them will will allow you to experience a true northern winter feel while others will help you escape the cold and snow for a warmer climate.

1. Duluth, Minnesota – The famous Sax-Zim Bog outside of Duluth is a birding hotspot that is sure to give you that north woods winter feel while you see some very interesting bird species. If you can handle the snow and cold, you can expect to see several owl species including Great Gray and Snowy, a host of northern finches, Boreal Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, and many others! Yes, it might be cold but you might not even notice with all of the interesting birds around. OK, even the birds might not distract you from the freezing temperatures but you’ll still have fun! For more information about birding in this area, visit the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog website.

Snowy Owls are commonly found around the Duluth area.

Snowy Owls are commonly found around the Duluth area.

2. Rio Grande Valley, Texas – If you would rather escape the snow and cold, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas is the place for you! This part of the country offers you the opportunity to see several species that you won’t find anywhere else within the US including Altamira Oriole, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, and Red-billed Pigeon. In addition to the regularly occuring birds, the winter months are the best time to find rare birds in the Rio Grande Valley! Just this past week, a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat was found at Estero Llano Grande State Park. On some of my winter trips to the area, I’ve seen many rare birds including Rose-throated Becard, Golden-crowned Warbler, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and Tropical Parula. The World Birding Center webpage is a good place to start if you are looking for additional information.

Green Jays are one of the most sought after species for birders making their first trip to the Rio Grande Valley.

Green Jays are one of the most sought after species for birders making their first trip to the Rio Grande Valley.

3. South Florida – South Florida is another one of the birding hotspots that allows you to escape to a warmer climate. The region is loaded with great birding hotspots that cover a variety of habitats from beaches to the Everglades to the Florida Keys. If you love herons and egrets, this is definitely the place for you. Not only are there a good number of species, I’ve found that this area is the best spot to get great photos of them. In addition to the herons and egrets, the beaches of south Florida are a great place to look for many shorebird species that will provide you with some great identification practice! The Everglades are also a great place for birding and you could really spend days exploring Everglades National Park. If you continue south, you’ll end up in the Florida Keys which seems like a different world compared to the Everglades. Currently, there is a Key West Quail-Dove on Long Key which is a very rare bird in the US! To learn more about this area, the Tropical Audubon Society offers good information.

One of the many herons that you can find in south Florida is the Tricolored Heron.

One of the many herons that you can find in south Florida is the Tricolored Heron.

4. San Diego, California – I’ve always enjoyed birding in San Diego and the surrounding area. The weather is usually beautiful and there are many amazing birds to see. One of my favorite parts of birding in San Diego is that you can go from the ocean, up to the mountains, and then back down on the other side to the desert in one day. This allows you to see several different habitats and many different birds! You can learn more about birding in this area by visiting the San Diego Audubon Society.

One species that I always like to see when I'm in San Diego is the California Gnatcatcher. I photographed this one at the San Elijo Lagoon.

One species that I always like to see when I’m in San Diego is the California Gnatcatcher. I photographed this one at the San Elijo Lagoon.

5. Barnegat Light, New Jersey – This birding hotspot is a little different than the rest of the ones I’ve listed here. It’s along the East Coast and is famous for watching and photographing waterfowl. I made my first trip to this area last year and was blown away at the volume of waterfowl as well as how close you could get to them for photos. Some of the most sought after waterfowl species like, Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks and all three scoter species can be seen here. In addition to the waterfowl, keep an eye out for some of the alcid, such as Dovekie and Razorbill, Great Cormorant, Purple Sandpiper, and Northern Gannet. More great information about this location can be found on the New Jersey Audubon website.

Barnegat Light, New Jersey is the best place I've ever been for photographing Harlequin Ducks!

Barnegat Light, New Jersey is the best place I’ve ever been for photographing Harlequin Ducks!

Have you ever had the chance to visit any of these amazing birding hotspots?

Parsley Accents in the Flower Garden

Jill Staake

Though most of you are probably huddled under blankets inside right now, looking at your flower garden covered in a blanket of snow outside, January in Central Florida is a great time for planting. As I helped to install the mid-winter plantings at the butterfly garden where I work, I was reminded that parsley makes great filler in containers and flower gardens. The pretty green foliage adds texture that sets off your flowers, and the fresh scent is always welcome. Even better, parsley is one of the host plants for the Black Swallowtail butterfly, so you really can’t miss!

Parsley with Alyssum and Ageratum

This year, we mixed parsley with sweet alyssum and ageratum in our cinderblock wall planters, for a sweet green and white effect.

Parsley with Alyssum and Ageratum

In past years, I’ve added parsley to “all-in-one” butterfly planters, mixed with pink pentas and blue salvia.

Parsley Butterfly Planter

I’ve even seen it grown in large containers all on its own – this was at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival a few years back. I was surprised at just how striking this really was.

Parsley Planter

Parsley is very easy to grow. You’ll find two basic kinds available, often known as “curly parlsey” and “flat parsley”. Each of these adds their own texture, depending on the look you want to achieve. Parsley can take full sun to part shade, and does require regular watering. You can start it from seed – it’s a little slow to get going, but it loves cold weather, so start it early and be patient. (Get some great tips for starting parsley here.)

Parsley Eastern Black Swallowtail

Jill Staake Eastern Black Swallowtail eggs and newly hatched caterpillars on parsley.

In most parts of the country, growing parsley means attracting Black Swallowtail butterflies, because parsley is one of their host plants. Learn more about the Black Swallowtail and its life cycle here.

DIY Garden: 3 Easy Ways to Preserve Lemons

Do you cook with or use lemons around your house?  I do.  In fact, there are so many ways that I use lemons from making household citrus cleaner from its peels, natural air fresheners and of course, I am always using lemon juice or zest when I cook.

Where I live, lemons are plentiful during the winter months and I am often at a loss on how to use them all.  But come summer, I wish that I had lemons again instead of having to head out to the store to buy them.

Lemon Harvest

In warm winter areas, it’s not unusual to be gifted with lemons from friends and neighbors.  This bunch of lemons came from our veterinarian, who also happens to be our neighbor – (I didn’t mention to him that we already had a lemon tree).  So with all of these lemons, I decided to preserve them so that I would be able to use them throughout the rest of the year, once they had disappeared from the trees.

Here are 3 easy ways to preserve lemons whether you grow them yourself, receive them as gifts or buy them at the store:

Preserve whole lemons by freezing them

1. Freeze whole lemons. Did you know that you can freeze an entire lemon? This is an especially handy tip when you have too many lemons at once or if you have bought lemons and haven’t had time to use them right away. Simply place whole lemons in a plastic freezer bag and make sure to squeeze out all the air before freezing. When you are ready to use them, they will be somewhat ‘mushy’, but can still be zested and/or juiced. Place them in the microwave to help thaw them out or in a bowl of water for 15 minutes.

How to freeze whole zested lemons

You can also freeze whole, zested lemons, but be sure to cover them with foil first, to help keep them from drying out. This is a great tip when you need lemon zest, but not the juice right away.

DIY Freeze Lemon Zest

2. Freeze the lemon zest.  How often do you find yourself needing lemon zest for a favorite recipe.  Wouldn’t it be nice to simply reach into your freezer and grab a pinch or two of lemon zest?  Simply zest your lemon and place the zest in a plastic freezer bag.  The zest will keep its flavor for over a year!  Whenever you need it, take some out and add it directly to your dish.


3. Freeze lemon juice into ice cubes.  Lemon juice is used in all sorts of ways including in desserts, lemonade and savory dishes as well.  I freeze lemon juice in ice cube trays and then store them in plastic freezer bags.  They are the perfect size and easy to melt in the microwave.

*All of these freezing tips can be used for other types of citrus including grapefruit, limes and oranges.  So, make the most of your citrus, whether you harvest it or buy it at the supermarket with these helpful DIY garden tips!


Looking for Winter Finches

Rob Ripma

While in Toledo yesterday, I followed a tip from a friend and went looking for winter finches at a local park. Several winter finches had been seen here but one in particular got me very excited, a Hoary Redpoll! This bird would be a lifer (a bird I’ve never seen before)!

When my wife and I arrived at the park, we found two photographers looking at the Hoary Redpoll! It’s always awesome when the bird you want to see is so cooperative! Although Hoary Redpolls can be hard to identify, this individual has been in a flock with two Common Redpolls which makes the differences really stand out. You can see all of the recent reports of Hoary Redpoll on eBird.

You can see how this Hoary Redpoll has clean white undertail coverts.

You can see how this Hoary Redpoll has clean white undertail coverts.

In this shot, you can see the very small bill that helps to identify this as a Hoary rather than a Common Redpoll.

In this shot, you can see the very small bill that helps to identify this as a Hoary rather than a Common Redpoll.

Have you had any winter finches at your feeder?

Simple Valentine’s Day Wreath Craft

Jill Staake

A few weeks ago, when all the Christmas decorations were put away and the last of the glitter finally swept from the floor (I hope), I decided I wanted a few seasonal decorations to dress up the house just a little. It seemed too early for Valentine’s Day, but I wanted something along those lines to decorate my front door. Artificial silk flowers aren’t really my thing, but I took a spin through the floral section of my local craft store anyway. There, I discovered some fun flowers made of wood, of all things, and decided to design a simple wreath craft that I could use to showcase them.

Valentine's Day Wreath Craft

Simple Valentine’s Day Wreath Craft Materials

  • Heart-shaped grapevine wreath
  • Dried eucalyptus bunch, burgandy
  • Pink wooden flowers, 2 stems with 3 flowers each (I found these at Jo-Ann Fabric)
  • Brown wire (Regular green floral wire won’t blend properly for this wreath craft – find brown or copper wire in the jewelry section instead)
  • 24 inches of ivory ribbon
  • Wire snips
Valentine's Day Wreath Craft

These wooden flowers are sold three-to-a-stem in the floral section of Jo-Ann’s craft stores.

Simple Valentine’s Day Wreath Craft Assembly

  • Snip short lengths of eucalyptus stems and arrange around wreath as desired. Tuck stems into grapevine where possible, and use brown wire to secure as needed.
  • Trim each of the six flowers, leaving about 2 inches of stem attached to each flower. Arrange flowers as desired, tucking stems into grapevine and securing with brown wire as needed.
  • Hang wreath from ribbon loop as shown.

Valentine's Day Wreath Craft

I have this wreath hanging on the back of my front door, and I love that every time I enter the house, I get whiff of the spicy eucalyptus welcoming me home. This wreath craft is seasonal without being too cutesy – perfect for my style!

Looking for more home decor ideas? Check out the DIY Projects for the Home page here on Birds & Blooms.

In Search of a Painted Bunting

Painted Buntings make just about every birder’s life list. My quest to see one was easier than I thought – once I looked in the right place.

Gomphrena in the Flower Garden

Gomphrena, also called Globe Amaranth, is an easy-to-grow annual for any flower garden and makes a great addition to dried bouquets.

Looking for Secretive Owls

Several owl species such as Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet can be very secretive and difficult to find.

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