Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

In winter, looking out has its pleasures

Garden Muse

It's sunny and cold outside, and as I sit in my office at the computer, warm as toast, out of the corner of my eye I see big leaves falling. But I'm mistaken - when I turn to look out the picture window, I realize these are birds. Dozens of them fly in big drifts, swooping in on the garden.

At first they land on the lawn, and in the bright December sunlight I see that they're starlings, flecked with white spots. Pecking at the grass, they tug on worm after worm, feasting on the long slippery morsels as if they're slurping up a spaghetti dinner. One fat bird finds a big stash of worms and bobs his head up and down repeatedly, piercing the lawn with his sharp beak in a mad frenzy. These guys are my little thatchers, aerating the grass naturally.

When they're done with these appetizers, they're off to the next destination for their second course. All at once, the whole flock lifts off and flies to the grape arbor to snack on the last grapes.

To make sure the birds get enough fuel in winter, I put out a suet block in a rectangular cage-like holder that dangles just outside the dining room window. A dozen bush tits at a time will cover that block with their little gray and brown bodies, clinging to the gridded holder. Right side up, upside down and sideways, they peck at the fatty morsels laced with seeds. More birds wait their turn, perched on the arbor a few feet away. They're very cooperative and polite, no pushing or shoving, just flitting in and out of the feeding station with grace.

This view from the dining room window is the best cat TV in the house. Gray Webster and orange Kipper perch on the garden bench I've brought indoors, just for them - it stands between the dining room table and the window. With their rumps on the bench and their front paws clutching the windowsill, they're wild with excitement, clicking their jaws.

When the bush tits tire of the suet, they fly across the front yard's lawn to the big Rosa glauca studded with abundant red hips, and feed on the rose's fruit. There's plenty for all the little birds to share.

It's only when I spot a squirrel climbing the suet feeder that I spring into action and bang on the window. But he's too smart for me - aware he's safe on the other side of the glass, he keeps wolfing down the suet. I run to the door, and from the porch yell 'Get out, get out!' The squirrel bolts, while a startled passerby looks up to see me hollering. By the fear on his face, I can tell he's wondering if I'm chasing away a human intruder.

'It's just a squirrel,' I tell him, sheepishly, and retreat to the warm house. I ask myself why I'm so mad at the squirrel - he needs to eat too. But he takes such big bites! If I let him have his way, all the suet will disappear, and the poor birds will starve. On the other hand, I love watching the squirrels chase each other up and down the fat trunk of the sweet gum tree, race along the top of the fence, and leap from tree to tree.

Arguing with myself, running the same old broken record debate I've played out many times, I remind myself that I have plenty more suet blocks in the garage. Just get another one out tomorrow, I tell myself. Meanwhile enjoy the great indoors and whatever you can see from the windows! Binoculars at hand, I return to my office with a hot cup of peach black tea.

It's just too darn cold and windy outside - the leaves waiting on the lawn have turned crisp and papery, impossible to rake. I'm forced to be a lazy gardener, at least for today, and the best I can do is enjoy the views from the picture windows. The greenhouse effect of sun pouring in fools me into thinking it's warmed up outside, but a quick peek at the outdoor thermometer tells me it's barely 25 degrees out there.

I root around in the drawers and find some silk thermals that I plan to layer up in some day, maybe even tomorrow. But not yet; I'm too cozy inside, watching the birds, the eucalyptus trees swaying in the wind, and silver Senecio 'Sunshine' catching the winter light.

You can reach Barbara at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.