Shawnee News-Star Sunday Dec 31 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg Baby it's cold outside.   My Yuletide festivities took place in Tulsa.   Tulsa had snow still on the ground which made the atmosphere even more festive, although quite chilly.  Today is either the 6th or 7th day of Christmas, depending on differing interpretations of when Christmas actually [...]

Shawnee News-Star Sunday Dec 31 2017

Goldfinches on the thistle feeder with other birds.

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Baby it's cold outside.   My Yuletide festivities took place in Tulsa.   Tulsa had snow still on the ground which made the atmosphere even more festive, although quite chilly.  Today is either the 6th or 7th day of Christmas, depending on differing interpretations of when Christmas actually starts to the observance of the Wise Men's arrival on Epiphany.   I prefer to start the 12 days on December 26th and it ends on the twelfth day, January 6th, so we are half way through the holiday season.with Six Geese a-Laying.

Birds dominate the Twelve Days song, from a Partridge in a Pear Tree to 2 Turtle Doves, 3 French Hens, 4 Colly Birds (old term for blackbirds), 6 Geese and 7 Swans.  Some say the 5 Golden Rings actually refer to ringed pheasant or even 'goldspinks', the old term for goldfinches.     Speaking of goldfinches, the little birds have been occupying my thistle feeder for weeks.   All bird feeders have seen an influx of visitors, from cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, juncos, red-winged blackbirds to goldfinches swinging back and forth as they eat the thistle or 'Guizotia abysinnica' seeds inside the web stocking.   Goldfinches prefer thistle seeds and line their nests with thistle down.   During the winter they practically live on the thistle sock, but have competition from the house finches.   I have seen the occasional Chickadee, junco and downy woodpecker feast at the sock.

Nyger/Thistle seeds on the left to the walnut on the right

The thistle seed is actually Nyger (or Niger, Nyjer, Noog, Black, Inga or Ramtill) seed.   Not true thistle seed, Nyger seed comes from the African yellow daisy grown and imported from Southeast Asia.   The seed is heat-treated at 248 degrees F for 15 minutes to prevent germination and introduction of invasive plants such as dodder.   Nyger seeds in their native lands are processed for lighting and cooking oil, but have found their way into birdfeeders across the world.   Each tiny seed has a hull, and although the seeds seem to last a long time (and if properly stored stay good for one year without deterioration), the feeder should be emptied and refilled every few weeks if the bottom layer of seeds have remained undisturbed and uneaten.   Moldy seeds are a no-no for birds.   Nyger seeds are very similar to our native thistle seeds, 35% oil by weight and are an excellent food source for birds with smaller, sharply pointed bills that can crack the little seeds.

My birds are preparing for the 2018 winter Olympics in Korea.   Icebaths have replaced the birdbaths and tiny pairs of ice skates are now hanging off the lower branches.   Most nights the birdbath water freezes and the next morning the ice is bounced out replaced with fresh water.   Years ago my dad sawed a tire in half.   He kept one half and sliced the side so the tire could be easier manipulated as a protective guard around small trees.     The other half was mine which I kept intact so it could function as a flexible birdbath.   That tire keeps going season by season.   There have even been a few days when breaking ice was an on-going process.   When I see birds not bobbing down and up to swallow, but instead stand there shivering and pecking at the surface, or each other, it's time for action.   If they turn in unison and stare at the backdoor yelling loudly, I am too late.   But, that sound could also be coming from the squirrels now having issues with the more aggressive birds that want food.   Two of the red furry mammals hunker down on the ground below the feeders, fluffy tails tightly arched over their backs, and scarf up seeds.   The one acrobatic fox squirrel manages to either drop to the top of the feeder from the branch overhead or shimmies up the pole and hangs off the feeder eating away as the birds dart in and out with sunflower seeds

Hanging mushroom thistle feeder.

.  Higher in the trees flit colorful Cedar Waxwings.   Each wears a black Lone Ranger mask, has yellow tinged tail feathers and red dots on the wings.   The red patches look like sealing wax used on envelopes, which explains the waxwing part of the name.   The nomadic birds can form large flocks that temporarily occupy several trees.   They happily sing sweet high-pitched notes and, in winter, gobble berries of select shrubs and trees.  The waxwings are messy eaters and eliminators.   The sidewalk and paths need to frequently be swept.  Despite the organic decorations, having wild cedar waxwings come visit is a cool blessing.

If you want to have a mini-war erupt between botanists, bring up seeds and nuts.   Technically, a nut has a hard closed shell around the seed.   Seeds are encapsulated plant embryos protected by a hard or semi-hard covering.   Why not add into the fray the drupes.    Drupes are fruits with a 'fleshy' skin over a hull that encloses the seed.   Thus, walnuts, pecans and almonds can be called drupes, not nuts.   Peanuts are legumes, as are peas.   Niger seeds are nuts since they have hard thin shells around their seeds.   Sunflower seeds are not actually seeds but cypselae with double ovaries, but only one ovary will form a seed.   This confusing nomenclature (names and their definitions used in botany or other sciences) is nearly as troublesome as the use of common names.

I am in a quandary about the proper identification of the ingredients that go into my Silvia's fruitcake.    After Thanksgiving Silvia's Fruitcake ingredients are assembled prior to baking.   Usually nuts are cracked, but now I seem to be cracking fruits and seeds, except for the hazelnuts.   Five cups of nuts are in the fruitcake, but are these really nuts?  There are walnuts (drupes), pecans (drupes), almonds (drupes), hazelnuts (true nut), and Brazil nuts (actually seeds).   Hazelnut is the only real nut in my nut mix.   So, Silvia's fruitcake is truly a fruitcake even if I did not add the dried apricots, prunes, dates, orange zest, maraschino cherries and small amount of candied fruit.

Nuts and seeds for Sylvia's Fruitcake

No wonder I love Nutella, but how can I explain peanut butter?