The Goldfinch Farmers

I know you’ll enjoy this piece by Carolyn Kinne, retired Columbia Elementary teacher and Jock Kinne, retired wheat rancher and Wenatchee Naturalist. They enjoy their table-top home on Wenatchee Heights. This piece is full of their daily surprises out the window.

Goldfinch farmers, Carolyn & Jock Kinne at their Wenatchee Heights Home

Goldfinch farmers, Carolyn & Jock Kinne at their Wenatchee Heights home

The Goldfinch Farmer and Other Critters

We love it when our sunflowers bloom because it’s a signal to our animal population, “Food is on the way!” We particularly enjoy watching the goldfinches hanging upside down, munching away, usually the first birds to do so. This summer, the biggest goldfinch we’ve ever seen (aka Bubba) landed on one large flower and began tearing off the petals. The tearing continued, but not on every flower, just a few. The end result was those flowers plucked of petals began the seed ripening process earlier than the rest. How intelligent of Bubba!

Another surprise in this year’s garden was the popularity of the catnip bush. To be sure, our cats love cruising by for a fresh bite. However, one morning we noticed our local goldfinches feverishly plucking away at the flowers, with so many landing on the bush it looked like a Christmas tree with goldfinch ornaments. Our cat Ruby, with her tail out of joint, noticed the frenzy, but the herd of goldfinches weren’t interested in the leaves, only the newly-bloomed flowers.

Hummingbirds are also a source of entertainment at our home in the Wenatchee Heights. Yes, they dearly love the two feeders religiously kept filled with sugar water, no coloring needed nor recommended. Our bronze-colored Rufous was the biggest dude this year, threatening smaller hummers with needle-nose precision. We’ve also noticed Black-chinned, Anna’s, Calliope, vying for favorable positions on the feeder. One evening, there were six hummingbirds on one feeder, momentarily sipping in peace, each spot taken. Then, in a flurry, they were off in all directions! My, but they fly with such bravado and confidence! How DO they avoid running into each other? To supplement the feeders, we have been experimenting with plants that draw them. This year, favorites were penstemon, columbine, snapdragons, agastache, and occasionally a petunia.

It’s wonderful to see animals of all kinds thriving in our neck of the woods. Lots of quail babies this year, two very healthy looking coyotes, tons of birds that love the sunflower seeds and sprinklers, chipmunks, garter snakes, lizards, skinks, jack rabbits, and a ring-necked pheasant.

Earlier this year, we observed two red tailed hawks mating and subsequently tending a nearby nest. In spring, a pair of juveniles appeared; man, did they cry! One day we looked out just in time to see one juvenile with a freshly caught snake flying toward the ground. Quickly, the other hawk joined its sibling and they began fighting over the snake. As youngsters, they weren’t very adept at folding their wings down, so we watched a blur of wings and dust and beaks and a snake with a ringside seat. Very soon after that, one hawk left but the other continued to stay – and cry – until mid July. Was he missing the family unit or establishing his territory? We talked to him in our best red-tailed-hawk speak; yet the plaintive cries continued. As August approached, the cries became less and less. He still flies over our house, we still talk to him and tell him what a great job he’s doing.

Of course we have the not-so-fun critters as well, paper wasps and yellow jackets that love our yellow house, requiring climbing skills to remove plate-sized nests and tenacity to prevent them from taking over. Also, not so fond of the turkey vultures, kind of creepy the cocky way they fly so close to the house. And, by the way, how many garden hoses CAN gophers eat through each year? More than you think.

Birds remain the most frequent visitors, the finches, flycatchers, hawks, quail and songbirds.* So, a new birdbath had the potential to be a welcome addition to the dry landscape. Two weeks passed, no bird had touched it. Must be the fake birds poised on the rim, we speculated, scaring the birds away. First customer, the neighborhood chipmunk. Second customer, the neighbor’s dog. Finally, three weeks later, Mr. Spotted Towhee, the splashing machine, showed the neighborhood how it’s done.

Hopefully, we’ll continue to observe a healthy animal population – minus a few pests, of course.

*Birds observed: house finch, purple finch, goldfinch, western fly catcher, California quail, northern flicker, barn, cliff and tree swallows, red tail hawk, nuthatches, house and rock wrens, Swanson’s thrush, western and mountain bluebirds, western tanager, Bullock’s oriole, dark-eyed junco, European starling, killdeer, turkey vulture, hummingbirds, Brewers blackbird, western meadowlark, red wing blackbird, stellar jay, magpie, grosbeak, towhee, black capped chickadee.

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