It’s been a mild winter…

…..on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Lots of rain with temperatures that have fluctuated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during the day, and the 20’s and 30’s during the overnight for the most part. But this mild pattern is about to change. Last night we had mild overnight temperature of 33°. Tonight’s temperatures will drop into the mid-teens. Nighttime temperatures will stay there or much lower for the rest of the month. Sigh. Winter has arrived.

So this morning, I had a job to do. Out came the burlap to protect two of my woody plants, the mahonias, that I consider borderline plants in my less sheltered garden sites. Officially we are zone 6 in Exeter, but I always plant for hardiness zone 5b as I learned while working at Rolling Green Nursery here in NH.

mahonia NH 2019

It’s a lovely winter blooming plant and they are beginning to develop terminal blooms on several stems. With temperatures dropping to single digits tomorrow night, I needed to protect those new blooms that are oh-so tiny.

mahonia bloom January 2019

Those blooms will open to beautiful, lemon-yellow clusters in late February or March and look like this photo (below) taken in my January gardens in Virginia. As an early blooming plant, these fragrant blooms are well-known for helping to feed those first bees that are searching for nectar in the spring.

honeybee on mahonia

After pollination, the fruits develop the most divine grape-like clusters of powder blue berries. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the plants long. My catbirds arrive from warmer climes and devour all before any other migrating bird has a chance!

mahonia berries in Virginia

Mahonia is closely related to the barberry, but the leaves are spiny and look more like a holly shrub. These slow-growing plants are planted in a shady mixed-shrub border that I am currently planning a big redesign. Not to worry… my mahonia shrubs stay just where they are as the jewels in the crown of this garden in New Hampshire.

Bird Migration

Fall has arrived and we’ve started feeding the birds again. Migrating visitors like this female rose-breasted grosbeak are passing through. We must not have the right habitat for summer habitation but we see males and females regularly on their northern and southern migration treks. This female has been with us for several days eating sunflower seeds and peanuts.

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The last two of our hummingbirds left just before the remanents of Hurricane Florence blew through. We’ve had one straggler at a single nectar feeder we keep out. We may get more!

hummingbird 2018

We see cardinals in the neighborhood all summer. They visit us in the spring when the serviceberry trees are producing sweet berries but dine elsewhere all summer. Adults and several juveniles are happy visitors again eating their favorites….. sunflower seeds and suet.

cardinal 2018

We had an abundant robin population this summer with one pair successfully nesting in our doublefile viburnum. (The cat that ate the last nesting of babies three years ago in this shrub has moved away with its owners. Yippee!) Most of our robins have migrated but others are stopping for viburnum berries. This shrub will soon be berry bare.

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Other berries in the yard that attract birds are the blue berries of our tall juniper that aren’t really berries at all. They’re the spherical fleshy cones that are eaten by cedar waxwings, robins and even turkeys last winter. Our many chipping sparrows used the tree to roost all summer. They have migrated but we expect the white-throated sparrows to arrive this fall and use the evergreen as shelter from the cold.

juniper berries 2018

And the favorite of the phoebe are the dark berries of the viburnum dentatum below. These shrubs had a growth spurt this summer with the July rains and the three shrubs are loaded with juicy black berries. It’s also a favorite food for the catbirds that disappear deep into the growth. All we can see is a quivering shrub until they fly out with a mouthful.

phoebe 2018

Phoebe

I think I’ll miss the catbirds the most when they go south. We had plenty of them to keep us entertained this summer. It’s amazing that we can tell several of them apart either from behavior, friendliness, or their ‘meow’ when they see us. There is one we call ‘Screamer’ who wails continuously and follows me around the yard. He (she?) raises the pitch when I appear with fresh mealworms. Spoiled….

catbird 2018

And so it’s goodbye to our summer feathered friends and welcome to all migrators and winter visitors at the feeders.