Saturday, December 21, 2013

How to Make Suet for Your Backyard Birds....

One of the best presents you can give your birds is a batch of homemade suet.  It’s easy to make and your birds will love it.  We make enough suet to last about three weeks and as I write these notes four great kiskadees, three green jays, two golden fronted woodpeckers and two titmice are flying back and forth between our suet stations.  We place the suet about seven feet high in two mesquite trees and the only thing to watch out for are ants that find suet as scrumptious as the birds.  Sprinkle a small amount of insecticide at the base of the trees to keep them free of marauding ants.

The process we use was concocted using several recipes available online and in a number of books.  Our recipe is tweaked to meet our needs. It calls for the following ingredients:
1 Cup Chunky Peanut Butter
2-3 Cups of Mixed Bird Seed (we use three cups)
3 Cups Yellow Corn Meal
2 Cups Bleached or Unbleached Flour
1 Cup Lard or Shortening

Place the lard and the peanut butter in a large pot.  Put the pot on the stove at medium heat.  Remove the pot from the heat when the lard and peanut butter are melted.

Now add the corn meal, flour and bird seed into the pot and stir until well blended.  Place the mixture into a container sized appropriately to fit your suet cage.  Be sure and spray the containers with non-stick cooking spray before you fill them with the suet mixture!

We use plastic containers saved from guacamole purchased at the grocery store or from store bought suet.  In other words, be on the lookout for suitable containers.

Now place your completed suet containers in the freezer or refrigerator to set.  This will take about an hour in the freezer.

Fit the frozen suet into a suet cage and then sit back and enjoy watching your birds gobble it up.

Okay, fellow birders.  Can you identify the birds pictured above? 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Chile Del Monte for Augmenting Bird Habitat....

This is a busy time of year but I still find a few minutes each day to roam the woods surrounding the cabin.  I planted Phragmites australis (carrizo) rhizomes around the gray water outlet to help keep the pond area clean as well as provide a steady supply of arrow shafts √† la Lipan Apache.  We’ll be putting in a second pond after the first of the year expressly for wildlife.  The birding has been phenomenal this fall and we spent a few minutes earlier today making a fresh batch of suet for the great kiskadees, green jays and golden fronted woodpeckers as well as a number of sparrow species and titmice that ravage our suet stations daily.

We’re lucky because chile del monte (chile pequin; chile petin), Capsicum annuum, grows wild around the house particularly in the granjeno/brasil/mesquite motts that make up this section of the South Texas desert also known as the Sand Sheet.  We live on the very edge of the desert so there’s a mix of classic Texas Brushland flora to the south of us and Sand Sheet flora to the north.  This makes for an interesting array of woody plants and herbaceous shrubs as well as a consortium of cacti within a few steps of my home.

I picked a few chiles the other day behind the house.  Mind you, chile del monte is hot but the mockingbirds don’t seem to mind.  Most plants get raided by the birds long before I spot them.  Look for the bright red dots in shaded areas within the motts.  Now if you live in town and the climate is sufficiently warm for chile del monte then you can have your own food source within reach.  If you’re a birder then you might consider adding chile del monte to your garden.  Unfortunately, chile del monte is susceptible to cold temperatures so that rules out planting in temperate climates.  Growing chile del monte is difficult unless you’ve got mockingbirds in your area.  But here’s how to grow this chile around your yard in abundance.  First you need some sort of fence or similar object where mockingbirds can perch.  Weed the area directly under your fence on both sides if possible and add a generous amount of potting soil.  Chile del monte is drought tolerant but requires shade and moderately moist soil.  Second you need a preliminary source of chile del monte.  Some grocery stores sell the chile so buy a large bag full and then place most of it in your bird feeders.  The mockingbirds will find the chile soon enough and gobble it up.  Then they will take a respite on your cedar fence or comparable platform nearby to digest their meal.  In order for chile del monte to sprout it must go through the gut of a mockingbird or at least that’s the easiest way to propagate the plant.  In no time you’ll have a line of chile plants growing along your fence or the back end of the dog house or behind the monkey bars or anyplace the birds can perch.  Now and then if you have a hankering for chile del monte you can go out and pick a couple or three and pop them in your mouth.  By the way, ice tea works well for quenching the fire.

Friday, December 6, 2013

An Inexpensive Arrow Quiver....

I’ve seen arrow quivers made from old cowboy boots, woven river cane (Phragmites and Arundo) and willow branches, brain-tanned deer hide, cowhide, PVC pipe, and canvas.  Some arrow quivers are short affairs about 15-inches long while others are up to 30 inches.  I’ve experimented with varying lengths and while the shorter quivers enable one to extract an arrow with less fuss, the longer quivers offer more protection in thick or briary habitats.  I live in what some people call “The Thorn Forest” so I prefer longer quivers.  Regardless, the arrow quiver is the cumbersome part of the bow and arrow duo.  Some bow hunters use a quiver that attaches to the bow and those are quite handy.  Years ago when I hunted with fiberglass recurves I always used a bow-limb attached quiver but since going au naturel (“Sin artificio ni mezcla o elaboraci√≥n.”) I’ve opted for traditional over-the-shoulder or across-the-back quivers.  Mind you, when I hunt (I’m more of a target shooter these days) I lean several arrows against a branch or nearby bush so I can easily reach them if needed.

A week ago I decided to make a new quiver.  I used a remnant piece of upholstery leather placed inside out, an inexpensive rawhide dog chew, some 1/8 inch wide rawhide thread I’d made from deer skin and a shaft made from granjeno (gran-hen-no) known scientifically as (Celtis pallida).  I dyed the leather and rawhide with a concoction made from dried cranberries, alcohol, and the roots and bark of colima (Zanthoxylum fagara).  By the way, I’m still experimenting with the formula.

Upholstery and dog chew rawhide

In case you’re interested the arrows in the quiver were made from Phragmites australis berlandieri.  Phragmites was used by a number of Indian groups to make their arrows.  Spanish explorers noted on several occasions that the Indians in what is  now known as northeastern Tamaulipas, Mexico and South and Southwest Texas made their arrows with phragmites.  NOTE: I will be posting an article about the current controversies surrounding phragmites and why both government agencies and environmental groups are “shooting the messenger” instead of dealing with the real underlying ecological problems.  Please keep an eye out for that article.

Close up of the granjeno shaft.

I fletched the arrows with commercial turkey feathers.  I painted the white turkey feathers with a compound I’ve been experimenting with that more-or-less make them look like feathers from the genus Buteo.  The experiment has been only partially successful and thus disappointing because the dye either fades quickly or simply rubs off in my hands.  You’ll note that I used plastic nocks on my arrows.  Those nocks are inexpensive and far less susceptible to damage and they work for me.  I’ve also made nocks directly into the phragmites and by inserting small pieces of wood into the cane as was done by some Indian tribes.

Rawhide broadpoint shield at the base of the quiver.

The quiver measures 28 inches in length.  The dog chew rawhide was allowed to soak in water for an hour then carefully unraveled.  I wrapped the dog chew rawhide around the base of the quiver; it’s the cranberry red portion in the photographs.  When dry the rawhide becomes stiff and hard and thus serves to protect the bowyer from being punctured by razor-sharp broadheads.  The granjeno shaft keeps the quiver from collapsing when empty.  The rawhide thread was placed on dry and then wetted with my homemade dye.  Like the rawhide shield at the base of the quiver, the rawhide thread became quite stiff when dry.  The quiver weighs but a few ounces.  I prefer my hunting quivers to hold no more than about six or seven arrows.  In the places I hunt there is no need to carry more arrows.  Folks, if you miss with the first shot your chances of getting a second shot range from zero to practically nonexistent so in truth the only reason to carry more than a couple of arrows is in case you need to shoot several “finishers” into your quarry.  The biggest mistake I’ve seen novice bow hunters make is stationing themselves too far from the spot where they expect to see game when they do not have the skills to consistently make that shot.  So learn to shoot first and then learn to get close.  Otherwise you’re being imprudent and callous.  Besides, all true hunters view killing as the tragic side of acquiring food.  “Sport hunters” be damned and that sort of thing for they are neither hunters nor true woodsmen.