Wild Backyard Bird Count (2/19/11) and HH Update..

Big blog entry today!! 😉

Lots to talk about. First, the Great Backyard Bird Count is underway for a few days. You can find links, if you care to participate, by visiting either eBird.org or AllAboutBirds.org. This is a great way to contribute to those studying bird habits, habitats, breeding, and migrations among many other things bird related. Second, my hoop house went through it’s first night with the milk jugs in it, and I will report about that, too. So, kind of a double whammy of blog entries.

Ok, the birds. I haven’t done an official count in quite some time because I’ve been busy with other things, and nothing has really changed near the feeders. No new sightings, nothing really exciting to report. However, I have been looking forward to participating in the GBBC (Great Backyard Bird Count) for over a year because I missed last year’s count. The count runs this weekend for four days. Just go count birds for at least 15 minutes and submit a checklist. If you have a feeder in your yard, great. If you hike a trail, great. If you just sit on your deck, great. They really don’t care….they just want data for specific locations. The people in charge are trying to leverage volunteers to help them get an accurate idea of the bird population across the country and world. On either site I linked above, there are some cool things to play with to help you either identify birds or see where they live at different times of year. Set aside half an hour and poke around. You should be impressed. It is the main reason my kids are getting into birds with me. They play with the sounds and try to look up what they’ve just seen in the yard. It’s turned into very productive computer time. And, you know what that’s like today if you’re a parent of a younger kid. On to the count…

2/19/2011…8am…42F…cloudy…no new sightings

3 American Goldfinch, 6 House Finch, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 3 Dark-eyed Junco, 1 Downy Woodpecker, 5 Mourning Dove, 31 Canadian Geese (anything I see goes into the GBBC and these flew overhead as I have a quarry about a quarter mile from my house), 3 Common Grackle, 4 European Starling, 1 Cooper’s Hawk (carrying either a mouse or bird in it’s mouth flying overhead), 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 2 Northern Cardinal (both male and starting to get territorial again this week), 2 Black-capped Chickadee, 4 Eurasian Tree Sparrow, 1 Blue Jay, 1 Purple Finch (female).

Good turn out this morning. Katelyn will do the afternoon count today for the website. But, I bet I win…lol. The numbers are simply better in the mornings. And, she’s a sleeper these days. For example, here is yesterday afternoon’s count, too…..1 Downy, 1 Purple Finch, 2 Chickadees, 2 Doves, 1 Grackle, 4 Mallards flew over. That was it. 15 minutes and that was it. What a difference the mornings make!

As for the hoop house, I have really be struggling with frustration lately. I have no experience to base this on, but I thought it would hold heat better than it does. I had seen videos of people using them in the winter and such, and thought I could just pop one in and be virtually ready for planting because it would protect me from frosts. I felt that if it got to 85-100 degrees inside, surely it wouldn’t cool off to below freezing overnight. Well, the first two days I watched it immediately return to the air temperature once the sun went down. I starting wondering what the heck is the point of even doing this if I get it super hot and it just cools back down in a matter of minutes?

But, I did more research to rememdy the issue. I don’t have promising news, but I will go over the structure’s setup.

I used 10 foot PVC sections from a hardware store. I have placed them every two feet along my garden. I just placed one end in the ground against one side of my garden and doubled the pipe over so it formed an arch and stuck it in the ground opposite itself. I bracketed the pipe in place with metal bands I bought at the same store. I formed a ridge/spine by taking another of the 10 foot sections of PVC and lashed it into place with twine. It doesn’t have to be super tight…just enough to keep the spine from sliding. I, then, draped plastic sheeting/dropcloth over the hoops and it looks like a covered wagon. (Pics are on my Flickr to the side here and I believe have been posted in a recent blog update, too.) The plastic was 3.5mm thick, but it really didn’t hold heat. I read most people used 6mm plastic. I went out the next day and bought some. I did notice it held up in breezy conditions much better, but didn’t retain heat any better.

The next step was to add gallon milk jugs filled with water. The concept is the water jugs will absorb heat during the day and slowly give it off at night…keeping temps up under the plastic. Last night was the first test run. I was discouraged at sundown when the air temp and hoophouse temp were the same. However, this morning, I just went outside and the air was 42, but the hoophouse was 46. That ain’t bad! I may finally be getting somewhere. I spray painted the milk jugs black to help absorb more heat, too. Once I get a full day of sunshine, we should see what I have accomplished…if anything.

One other thing, I have been keeping the hoophouse covered during the day, no matter the temps, for testing purposes. If the air temps get above 50 degress with sunshine, I will likely have to open the house for the day. It can get really hot inside and my lettuce, spinach, and broccoli can’t handle that kind of heat. But, the trick is to spring-clamp the ends. All I will do is unclamp the ends and let the breeze blow right through. On hotter days, I will roll the sides up, too. After all danger of frost passes, around late April, I will take the plastic off for good and store it for autumn.

The result in keeping things covered throughout the day is my soil is heating up quickly. I was just breaking ice chunks in the dirt on Monday, and I measured 46 degrees at a depth of 6 inches yesterday afternoon. If I were more confident in the heat holding properties, I could feasibly put plants outside right now. How’s that for an early start to the gardening season?

Keep Chuggin’

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