Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Northern Flickers, Neighborhood Cats, and Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

Three Northern Flickers showed up in my garden this morning, foraging on the ground. Two males, and one female, I'm pretty sure.

The female has the plain brown head, the males have the red stripe on the side.

According to my book Birds of Washington State, "Flickers are partial to ants, which form a substantial part of their diet and serve as unwilling participants in flicker hygiene. After bathing in a dusty depression to remove oils and bacterial, a flicker will pick up ants and preen rigorously. Ants contain formic acid, which is lethal to small parasites on the skin and feathers. Many other birds use this method, but the Northern Flicker is the only one to eat ants in quantity."

Well, since I had ants in my kitchen twice last week, I say "Go, Flickers!" They didn't seem to be doing any sand bathing, but they were certainly chowing down.

Not long after I took these pictures, I heard them making what sounded like an alarm call, after which they flew up and clung to the bark on the Douglas firs. And, who comes strolling along but Chester, a neighbor's outdoor cat. Chester has been, I'm sure, the culprit in the destruction of my Nepeta 'Walker's Low', which has been chewed down to the nub.

Chester, looking not the least bit repentant

I don't mind, really. It's the nature of cats to hunt birds and if I'm going to plant Nepeta, I have to expect cats to interfere with it. They really have chewed it down, though.

But I think I may have come up with a solution that might save the Walker's Low. I was reading an article about cat deterrants, and it mentioned that cats DON'T like smelly plants like lavender and rosemary. So I went to Lowe's and bought some of both. But I didn't want just blue/lavender flowers there, so I thought, "Hmm, what else is smelly but has maybe yellow or orange flowers, that will make a nice contrast to all that blue? Marigolds, of course!"

So I now have a stinky bed, and I figure, if the Walker's Low doesn't bounce back, at least I will have something else in that bed with spiky lavender flowers.

Also, if it doesn't bounce back, I do have it flourishing in another bed, where they have left it alone, maybe because it is surrounded by lots of other plants. Hmmm......not many of them are stinky.

Here's what Walker's Low should look like.