Monday, February 21, 2011

The Great Backyard Bird Count

It's a happy day when we take time to savor the moment and reflect on the little beauties in plain sight.  That's what the Great Backyard Bird Count provides. This annual celebration and scientific contribution just ended on February 21st this year but that isn't the end of bird watching.  The Great Backyard Bird Count gives us permission to sit and reflect and to count the winged beauty right before our eyes.  On the other hand, any day can be a backyard bird count if you choose to delight in these winged creatures.

As I sit here in the kitchen there are quite a few birds flitting in and out of the feeders.  Of course there are the Carolina Chicadees with their high pitched peeps.  They are abundant here in the south.  

And then there are the Brown-headed Nuthatches that chide me as I go towards a feeder.  These little fellows are really quite gregarious and have lifted seeds from my fingers if I stand very still.  If you have pine woods near your house there is a great chance that you will see these little fellows creeping down the trees in search of food.

I'm sure you've all heard the voice of the Cardinal throughout the winter.  It's colors are brighter now as mating season approaches and it dresses in its best mating finery. He's here on the right, while she is here on the left.  Do you think she will pick him as a suitable partner?

The Pine warbler is still about with its golden chest that has little striations of brown to the left and right.  Notice the wing-bars...and the gold collar.  

When observing birds, it is important to look not only at the color of the bird but at the head; the eyes; the wings; and the tail. Do the eyes have white eye rings around them?  Do they have a dark band through the eye?  And do the wings have bars on them or not?  Is there a cleft in the tail or is it straight across?  Are there any bars on the tail?  That little Chicadee above has a black throat patch and a black hat.  Both the male and female of the Northern cardinal have a crest on its head - and the male has a black face mask around its eyes and beak.  Did you notice the way it sang?

For the novice it is important to focus on one bird at a time and familiarize yourself with it.    For example, take the Carolina Wren.  It has a spring song that goes tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle.  It is very common here in the south and will nest in your flowers just as well as your shrubs.  Last year my Mom had one nesting in her garage.  It flew in and out whenever the garage door was opened.  This little bird has a light eye band over the eye, not through the eye.  It's tail usually sticks up approaching a right angle to the body.  The top of the body is a rich burnt sienna while the underside is a lovely buff.  If you look at the wing feathers there are wing bars that are broken and that pattern can carry on the the tail of the bird.  Try finding one of these today.  They are here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rejoice and Beware! The Garlic Mustard is coming up!

Last week, while climbing around Kennesaw Mountain I noticed that the Garlic Mustard is on its way and for those of us with a hunger as well as a passion to keep Kennesaw Mountain healthy, dinner is fast approaching!

Last year, Kennesaw National Battlefield Park had a Garlic Mustard clean-up weekend which provided commraderie and fun for a lot of people.  This little pest turns up early in the season and is very invasive.  By the time it turns to seed sometime in May, it casts thousands of seeds into the environment.  Hardier than many of our native plants, it overtakes areas where you would normally find bloodroot, toothwort and many other native species. 

How to identify Garlic Mustard:

It has heavily veined, scalloped leaves, and the flower heads are little personal bouquets for gnomes.  Note in the picture to the right that these flowers come in a cluster and are comprised of 4 petals in the shape of a cross.  When a leaf is bruised it smells like garlic but don't just use this description to find a specimen.  Make sure to check other sources and people. 

To harvest/or remove Garlic Mustard: take out the entire plant including the roots
early in the season before it has a chance to flower. Young leaves
are best for pesto (and for salads or as a steamed green). Use only the
leaves for the recipe below. Remove the roots from the area you are clearing as
they will re-establish themselves if left in a pile on the ground.   Beware:  If you
pull up garlic mustard after it has flowered  it will still develop the
seedhead even after it is pulled from the ground so eating it is much more productive.


Having said all that, I hope the folks that cleaned up the mountain took their garlic mustard home for a lovely meal or two.  This beautiful but invasive plant is a delightful addition to a number of meals and is well suited to a variety of recipes.  Jennifer Chesworth of Centre Hall, Pennyslvania offers us a few possibilities.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) Pesto
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Pine Nuts or Walnuts
1/2 Cup finely grated Parmesan Cheese
Enough Garlic Mustard leaves to choke a horse (or to clear a forest floor)

Finely mince the walnuts and garlic mustard. An electric coffee grinder
works like a charm.

Add Oil and Cheese, serve with pasta or rice or other whole grain.  For
vegan pesto use Nutritional Yeast instead of Cheese.

Stir Fried Buds with Garlic Mustard and Mushrooms

Gather from an unsprayed area and wash well:
2 cups of 1/2" to 1" daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)buds
2 cups garlic mustard (alliaria petiolata)

other ingredients:
1 T. roasted sesame oil
1 T. sesame seeds
1 t. grated fresh ginger
1 cup mixed wild mushrooms (any kind will be good)

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil, sesame seeds, and ginger.  Lower
the heat to medium and add the mushrooms and daylily buds. Cover for 5
minutes. Uncover and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the garlic
mustard and stir until wilted and the mushrooms are done.... 3 - 5 minutes.

Note: This is a wonderful side dish. Add chicken or shrimp and serve over
wild rice for a main course. This is one dish that will change minds when
it comes to eating wild foods!

For a few more of Jennifer's recipes, go to:

Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What do I need for my wildflower expeditions?

It occurred to me that you might be wondering what you need to forage for wild foods successfully.  My answer to you is, not much.  As Green Deane ( and so many other enthusiasts of wild foods will attest, the first thing you need to do is know the plant

Plant identification is imperative and is relatively easy to do for the common plants. Start with what you know and research it.  For example: you know what a dandelion looks like. Maybe it is edible maybe it's not but, at least you recognize the dandelion. 
Your next step is to look it up. 

  1. Is it definately dandelion?  There are other yellow lawn flowers.  Always make a  positive identification!
  2. Is it edible?  Old wives tales do not work here.  Make sure to verify.
  3. How to prepare it?   This is the easiest step.  Find a recipe or invent one.
Reliable information can come in the form of internet information or books.  Regarding the internet, you want a reliable source, not just any internet source.  Most often I use those sources with .edu or .gov.  or .USDA.  There are some good sources on but you should definately know what you are talking about before believing everything that is available.   Green Deane does a great job educating his audience on youtube in a reliable manner.  Some of the others do not.  You  have to be picky.  When it comes to wild foods, absolute certainty is a must.  So always double check your resources before deciding to eat the greenery.

When it comes to books you really do need to invest in at least one field guide on southern wildflowers and one or two books on edible plants .  Books will tell you even more about the plant in question and supply you with additional pictures.  You can always take a book with you on your foraging adventure. 

Almost all plants have some form of flowers and, seeing as you are going to be examining flowers of the southeastern states selecting a book in this category is a great idea.  I always carry at least one reference on the trail because this hobby is a never ending learning trip.  Two of my favorites are:

Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains by Smith
Field Guide to Eastern Wildflowers from the National Audubon Society

After you have some books to facilitate plant identification, it is helpful to carry around plenty of brown paper lunch sacks.  They are readily recyclable and they allow you to separate your specimens for later identification.  Too, paper doesn't allow your plants to sweat.  And why is this important?  A sweating plant wilts; encourages insect eggs to hatch that might be on the leaves; and causes plants to start decomposing which is not very appetizing in the long run.  Hence, the brown paper bag routine for collecting.

I also like a magnifying glass and a camera.  Not everything is edible but nearly everything is beautiful.  One of my favorite pastimes is really looking into the soul of the plant...the blossom -- the leaf -- the stem -- the hair-like structures that encourage pollination...  I hate leaving anything unexplored for fear that something beautiful will be missed.  I have discovered that the eye of the camera provides me with another moment for joy.  It captures elements I did not see whilst standing there.  And, as I have my pictures on the computer, I use them as a screen saver so I can re-live all those lovely moments of peace and tranquility.

And yes, the dandelion is edible.  You can eat the washed leaves as a salad with a lovely bacon/vinegar dressing; in a mixed salad; or you can take the flower heads when they are yellow, dust them in a bit of flour and saute them in olive oil or bacon fat (depending upon your heart condition).  You can even make a coffee-like beverage from the roots.  Some call the dandelion natures most perfect vegetable.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wecome to Wild In Georgia

Well, spring is just around the corner, which means wildflowers, mushrooms, abundant opportunities to forage and fish.  How good can life get?!

I’ve been meaning to start this blog for many, many months but you know how time flies.  Other things take priority (like a new website*), and well, we just get behind a bit.  Nevertheless, I am now committed to write at least one edition of Wild in Georgia every week and keep you abreast of what is going on in the woods and hinterland.  I will cover edibles, discoveries, activities, and anything else related to wild Georgia. 

We’ve had a few days of perfectly gorgeous weather.  The temperatures have been in the 70’s and the sun has shone her heart out.  Of course, this isn’t normal for the beginning of February but I’ll take it.  Cold is not my forte’; nevertheless, nature continues regardless of the weather. 

Mouse-ear chickweed
This week I have noticed that the mouse-eared chickweed is coming up and that means soup.  What could be better with this fluctuating weather than a soup that contains the promise of springtime?  I love it, look forward to it, and am sad when the chickweed season ends. 

Chickweed can be found just about anywhere the soil was disturbed.  It grows in the lawn, in the flower pots, on the edge of the woods, and in the park.  Most folks think of it as a weed.  I think of it as gourmet eating.  A clump of it spreads out in a thousand directions so, to collect it, you encircle the center of the plant from underneath, slowly lifting so as to gather up the runners and then tear this handful from the base of the plant, leaving the root system for another season. 

And finally , if you are like me, you would now like a recipe for chickweed soup so here goes.  This one takes no time at all. 

Per person ingredients:

1 handful of chickweed – washed and chopped.  Flowers are okay.
½ tsp. diced onion
1½ C chicken stock
1 tsp. olive oil
  1. Put the olive oil in a soup pan and add the onions.
  2. Let the onions sweat for around 2 minutes to soften.
  3. Add the chicken stock and the chickweed.
  4. Bring to a simmer and wait 5 minutes until the chickweed is well cooked.
  5. With an emersion blender (stick blender) puree the contents of our soup pan into a fine green broth and serve.  Be careful  when you blend– the soup is hot and you don’t want it to splash back at you.
Optional:  Once the soup is pureed, you can add heavy cream and bring it back to the simmer and then serve.  This is like living in Paris!
So now that you have something to eat, I shall leave you to it and get back with you next week with yet another discovery. 

*Our new website, which is still under construction is:  Please visit to find our activity schedule.  Thanks.