By Phyllis Galowitz

It’s  lunchtime for me and for the birds, chipmunks and red squirrels. The bird feeders are empty and I’m not anxious to go out in the freezing rain to fill them.  Anyway, no one seems to mind, since a suet cage is hanging next to the feeder. They all love that, especially the woodpeckers, blue jays, chipmunks and nuthatches. I must remember to get more. It’s quite expensive. The one I put out yesterday is almost empty. However, when you think of it as a day’s entertainment, it’s not bad and I am thoroughly entertained.  I’m watching Chipmunk, who has just recently come out of hibernation, wind his lithe body over the top and down the side of the cage, where he is in position to leisurely eat his way from top to bottom of this delicacy of fat, seeds and berries. The birds don’t dare interfere. They wait patiently below, hoping some tasty morsel will fall. I run to get my camera to capture the gymnastics of this little creature, but, lo and behold, when I turn it on, I am informed, “battery lo”, so I can’t get the shot. Hopefully, he’ll be back and I will have charged the camera. (Moral of the story: keep your camera charged and ready.)

More and more spring birds are here and I’m busy looking up the ones I’ve forgotten how to identify, like the different sparrows. Is the one at my feeder now a hermit thrush or a fox sparrow? They’re similar except for the beak, which I didn’t get a good look at. The rain has turned to softly falling snow. Chipmunk has eaten his fill. A downy woodpecker and a nuthatch have taken his place.  I’ve filled the feeder and am waiting for the change of scene.

The next morning — the feeder is gone! The suet cage is gone—leaving only the hanger, dangling from the pole. Who did that dastardly thing!  Donning my Muck Boots, I trudge through my sopping backyard to search for the missing feeders, found not forty feet away, empty.  I refill them, making a mental note to buy more suet. (Moral of this story: bring the feeders in at night.) When the backyard dries, I’ll search for other missing feeders.

As you are reading this column, the ruby-throated hummingbirds will have made their journey and settled in and around Andes. Their feeders have been thoroughly scrubbed, filled with one part sugar to three parts water, which they love, and colorful, trumpet-shaped flowers will be nearby to attract them. I’m looking forward to their buzzing and hovering, and to another gardening season.

Yesterday was April 11th. The temperature rose to the 70s. It was tempting to start planting but I know, looking back at my garden journal for this day in previous years, that we will still have frost and possibly even snow. May brings lots of heavy rains and still cold nights; so don’t be in too much of a hurry to plant until the ground can be worked. Spinach, peas, lettuce and chard will probably be safe about the 1st of May. Pansies should be fine as well. Certainly, hold off until the first week in June for tomatoes!

Be prepared for the dandelion season. Take advantage of those young dandelion greens. Pick them before the blossoms come out and they’ll be tender enough, raw, for salads. I love them with just a splash of vinegar and olive oil and maybe some feta or Roquefort cheese, red onion and tomato. Mmm, delicious! If they’re too bitter for you, mix them with other greens. With the price of salad greens these days, dandelion greens, picked from your own garden (providing you haven’t used any sprays on the lawn) can be a real money saver. All parts of dandelions are not only edible but are very healthy and delicious. I also stir-fry the young greens in a small amount of olive oil and garlic, salt and pepper. Voila! A replacement for spinach. Of course, there’s dandelion wine, made from the blossoms and even dandelion tea (good for the liver) made from the root, so don’t ignore that gift of nature, which, before we moved to the Catskills, we didn’t dare show a single one of on our suburban lawns.  Now, even if you don’t like to eat them, what could be more beautiful than all those golden flowers!

This year, we seem to be a little behind schedule. I haven’t seen a goldfinch, in its summer splendor yet, but each day, something new appears and I’m waiting patiently. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, spectacular, in their bright red and russet, have returned to their usual spot in the evergreen bush behind my house. It’s amazing that they know the exact spot! Maybe they have a GPS! `~

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