Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Praying Mantis To My Wondering Eyes Should Appear

We talked about the purple finch that visited the gardens in a friend's yard.  We talked about the goldfinch that flitted across the neighbor's garden and stopped at my bird feeder.

In another event, I was sitting idly thinking about all the weights of the mind that cloud a peaceful day.  I have excellent peripheral vision and movement of bugs and spiders catch my attention for no other reason but that they moved.  That day I was not aware of being watched ever so carefully by the tiniest of preying mantis that I had ever seen.  It had been a few years since I had spied a full grown mantis crawling up the side of my house.

Before the new owners tore it down, my neighbor and I shared a dead space between another neighbor's garage and our property lines.  Behind this garage grew a menagerie of vines that I'm not totally sure what they are.  For years I have bent them back and tried make them grow away from the fence that separates our yards.

I spoke to my neighbor about trying to cut them back together and he said he was trying to find a natural weed killer instead of using one that was on the market.  To make a long story short, I concocted a batch from one I had seen on Pinterest and sprayed the vines.  When I reported what I had done my neighbor told me he had not sprayed the vines because he had spied two preying mantis among the vines.  I felt horrible because I had literally killed their home.

To my relief, this little fellow came to visit me.  All is well with the world again because nature has proven to me that it's creatures do survive.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bird Feeding By Trial and Error Continued

The latest find is a Thrasher that didn't come to my feeder but I noticed a different bird on the street with a long curved beak and dark legs.  It was all brown and peaked my curiosity.

picture used to identify Thrasher
When I looked it up I found that it is a Thrasher.  It was just standing there defying me to do something as I gazed at it out of my car window.  It's beak was wide open in the cruel summer heat and it had two other companions of the same breed.  If I live long enough, maybe I'll get to identify more birds I don't recognize.

This past Winter I was disappointed that the birds did not come to the feeders.  I tried several types of feeders and finally bought some that make the birds cling to them while they peck at the seeds inside.  My neighbor told me that they are now afraid of the cats in the neighborhood that roam free.  I know this neighborhood is ferrel heaven and I see cats at all hours of the day and night instead of the one I used to see occasionally.

The birds with red heads that are about the size of a sparrow have been coming but none of the others.  About a month ago I saw the chicadees but they have not been back since.  The cardinals flew by last week and landed on the fence across they alley from my vantage point but have not stopped to eat their favorites.

A few years ago, I kept a monthly log of all the birds that visited my newly revived interest in the birds and bird feeding.  My deck had recently been completed and I had added some new hanging planters on each end.  Then the final step was to reinstall the double plant hanger in the middle.

New bird feeders early 2011 off my new deck.

Mistake #1:  I hung the feeders right off my deck.  I'm sure you can see the flurry this caused in the picture above.  There were birds on both feeders and waiting their turns on my freshly painted railing.

Mistake #2:  I bought huge bags of bird seeds and kept the feeders full at all times.  This attracted all types of birds.

I saw chickadees, wild canaries, mourning doves, sparrows (some of which were song bird types), starlings, grackles, robins, blue jays,

cardinals and finally one bird I couldn't identify that had white bands on the tips of its under wings and tail when it flew.  The biggest surprise was the red hawk that visited one morning and just sat there daring any of the smaller birds to descend.

Hawk on Fence across from my deck.

The above photo was taken from inside my house through a screen so it's not such a good photo but you can imagine my surprise seeing this fine specimen outside my windows observing my feeders. 

All was grand until I realized that I was a captive of my interest.  I was spending way too much on feed and the birds just kept coming and coming.  To top it off, my beautiful new deck was covered with little presents left behind by my little feathered friends.  Oh! and did I mention the pigeons?  Well, let me tell you; I had a flock all my own and my poor little buddies were being over run by them taking their food.

Fall and Winter Feeder Replacement

As a result I took down all the fancy feeders when Fall came and replaced them with a big rugged feeder.  I fed the little blighters a half full feeder at a time over the winter months.  This kept my friends coming back.

The double hanging rod (almost 10 years old) got weak and I had to remove it.  I was still getting presents from my little friends over the winter so I got smart.  Birds are used to foraging the ground for their food.  So I threw a cupful of feed into the middle of the alley and sat and watch my little friends to my heart's content.  I'm still getting the sparrows, starlings, grackles, and my best loved cardinals.  Best of all the cardinals are not just doing a fly in hop about and fly out this year.  They are actually picking and choosing what they want to take away with them.  So, I get to watch them a little longer and a little closer.  I have even seen the song birds that have the pointed tails that open up to have white bands under them when they fly.  Of course, the pigeons found the new digs but I guess they have to eat too.

At the end of last season I replaced my roll down blinds in preparation for the winter.  I bought the shortest bungie cords I could find and latched the bottom of the screen around the posts on the porch railing

The last thing I did was replace the hanging planters with my red bird feeder outside the corner of the porch where I could reach it from inside to fill it.

Last spring there was a new addition to the birds that come to the feeder.  This is the first time that the blue jays are came and walked underneath on the ground to get the seeds that the sparrows throw around with great abandon for the other birds to enjoy.  That is not the best though.  While I was sitting on the chair pictured in the picture above, I observed what I knew was a jay bird from its shape but it wasn't the brilliant blue that I'm  used to seeing.  After I looked through the ornithology sites, I was able to identify it as gray jaybird.  How neat is that, I found a new bird I had never seen before and learned about their habitats and peculiarities.

new location off the deck in a hidden corner
I now have canvas awnings on my porch.

I hung the newest feeder along the side rail nearest the house which is flat with a screened bottom and the bigger birds can land on it instead of wandering around the alley below the feeders.  I've seen blue jays, mourning doves, cardinals, starlings and purple martins.  Both seem to be attractive to many types of birds.  The second one is round with wire mesh which allows the birds to cling to it.  I've seen goldfinches, house finches, chicadees, and several types of sparrows.

I can now view my visiting friends from inside my window as do my cats.  The awnings give my porch more protection and the birds seem to have taken to the new spot.

I hope you enjoyed my little review of my bird feeding endeavors.  I will continue to feed them with the blinds rolled down to save my porch rails from the little presents my feather friends like to leave.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Managing Money Wisely

A few years ago I took a money management course in conjunction with refinancing my mortgage.  While they had some interesting things to tell me, through experience I had already put a lot of their tips into practice.

As background, I have been identity thefted and know how cumbersome it is to correct what someone else has attempted to do to your credit worthiness.  Luckily, in my case I caught it early because I put into effect one of the most important ways to use your money wisely.  That is to keep an almost obsessive compulsive check on all of your banking and credit accounts.

In my case, I keep an excel spreadsheet that outlines all of my income, bank accounts and monthly bills.  I check my bank balances every day online and match those against what payments I have scheduled or sent checks and what has cleared my account.  If there is a discrepancy, I make a note of it and check the same a few hours later.  If the discrepancy continues, I then contact the bank or vendor to question what has occurred and to make sure it was something that was legitimate.

On the spreadsheet, I have notated the date a bill is due and by color coding if I have scheduled the payment and with another color code if the bill has cleared my bank.  In another column, I keep track of what the bank shows as my balance and what payments have not yet cleared the bank.  This tells me how much money I have free to spend on other cash expenses such as food, prescriptions or gasoline for the car.

I had been in the habit of using my debit card for cash expenses and getting rewards for using that card.  Recently, my bank terminated the practice of giving rewards for using the debit card but are giving rewards for using my credit card with them.  As a result, I have started moving the cash that I had used to pay bills to my credit card by making payments in advance to cover certain bills.  This way, I am continuing to get the rewards for using my card.

Now here is a tip that I learned at the money management class.  I'm not totally in agreement with using this method but this is what they told me.  When you are paying your mortgage, you are delinquent if you don't pay them on the date the payment is due or prior to that date; but, it is prudent to hold off making that payment until just before the end of your grace period.  Like I said, I don't totally agree with this but as it was explained, this gives you more control over the usage of your money.  You do what you think is prudent.

I have paid off my mortgage due to an unexpected insurance claim.  Because I no longer have a mortgage, I am now able to pay down some of my credit cards with the money that was being used for that payment.

I have taken great care to make sure that my payments are on time and to some extent paid well in advance of my due dates.  This keeps the credit reporting agencies happy and really does have an impact on your credit score and worthiness.  The other toss of the coin, is that you should never owe more than 20% of your credit limit on any account.  It's the old adage, if it appears that you don't need the money, creditors are more apt to loan it to you in bigger abundance.

Another thing to watch is the type of credit cards you are holding.  Try to acquire cards that don't require an annual fee and have the lowest interest rate.  As you use your cards wisely and your credit score climbs, you will be offered cards with better rates.  If you decide to take the offer of a lower rate, pay off the card that has a larger interest rate but don't close the account.  By doing that, you have a larger amount of available credit and still only owe the original amount.

I took out a home equity line of credit that has a much smaller interest rate than any of my credit cards.  With the money, I paid off store cards with high interest rates and a couple of my credit card balances.  With this money, I now pay the monthly payment required by the bank towards my interest and make additional payments against the principal.  As I pay off the amounts I used to pay off each card, I then pay off an additional card with the next highest rate of interest again using that payment money to pay against the Line of Credit.

As you pay off your debts, take the money that you used to pay those bills and put a percentage away each month in an interest bearing account.  Be sure to notate what you are saving this money for so that you are less apt to go on a spending spree.  With the remaining percentage of the previous payment, pay down another creditor until it is paid off.  Each time you pay off a creditor your credit score gets a little better due to your income to credit ratio.

I have now put interest rates next to my creditors name on my spreadsheet.  When I am making a larger payment to pay down my credit card debt, I pay more on the ones that have the highest interest rates first.  On another note, I get invitations from banks every day for additional credit cards with transfer of balance offers.  Some of these also give rewards.  I have found that these normally carry higher interest rates and I shred everything that I get like that before discarding them.

It all boils down to knowing at all times what you have as assets and using them to your best advantage.

Monday, July 11, 2016

So That's A Purple Finch

As I grow old, I've been blessed with the visions wondrous wild life creatures.

At an annual picnic in Plum Borough, my friend who hosted the picnic had several bird feeders hung back away from the house above a wooded area.

Purple Finch
Of course, my attention was immediately drawn to the creatures that were feeding there.  I was thrilled when I saw a slightly red headed bird that I didn't recognize.

My friends had only recently moved into their new home which they had built for their retirement years.  They told me that they had only hung the feeders that weekend using the feed they had left over from their previous home.

These beautiful finches came immediately and have been feeding there ever since.  She also has hummingbirds but she attracts them with the hibiscus planters she has on her deck.

House Finch

In my yard I get House Finches at my feeders.  They have red feathers on their heads and breasts.  The rest of their feathers resemble sparrows.

This has been a wonderful summer for my love of bird feeding and watching.