Sunday, March 2, 2008

Some Time Well Spent

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Johnson and I took a trip out to our deer hunting woods. He had put a block of "deer candy" out a couple weeks ago and wanted to find out whether the deer had found it yet. (In case you're wondering, deer candy is the brand name on a big mineral block enhanced with molasses and other stuff deer are supposed to like, plus it's supposed to help the bucks grow better antlers.)

It was a sunny day, but nowhere near the mid-30's temps predicted by the weatherman (a stiff breeze from the east felt pretty chilly blowing across the snow). I was interested in going along mostly because there are a pair of bald eagles that hang around down there and I wanted to see if I could find out if/where they're nesting. It's ideal habitat for the eagles, with high limestone bluffs and a river meandering through the bottom with some open water most of the winter. There are towering white pines along the bluff tops and also large deciduous trees on the rest of the hills.

When we finally found the deer candy, we found that no deer had yet partaken of the treat, so we moved it closer to their trail. I happened to look up and see a Bald Eagle soaring overhead. It headed to the top of a white pine, but I couldn't see if a nest was there. A few minutes later another eagle soared over and we knew it wasn't the same one because it had a feather missing from one of its wings. I stayed there a while to watch some more and it wasn't long till I saw both of the eagles soaring overhead and could even hear them vocalizing a little.

I couldn't get a good photo--I have yet to figure out how to take a good picture of a flying bird, but I did manage to capture a few seconds of video (hope you don't get motion sickness watching it!)

I watched long enough to see one of the eagles land in a tree across the valley. My monopod/walking stick came in really handy for taking this picture (not to mention helping me maneuver up and down the hillsides in deep snow).
Here are some interesting tracks I found in the snow.
I'm thinking raccoon, but 'coons generally hibernate around here in the cold weather and I thought these footprints were really big for a 'coon.
Anybody have an opinion on these tracks? We've seen some pretty huge 'coons in these woods before, and maybe the weather has been moderate enough to wake up some of those big daddies.

I never see a fungus covered tree without thinking of Jennifer! This was a really nice one.
Looks like a woodpecker has decided to excavate for a new home in this tree. I asked Mr. Johnson to put his big paw next to this freshly drilled hole so you could get an idea of how big it is. It's about 4" deep into the tree, but nothing's been chipped downward yet. This hole is only about 6 feet above the ground, so pretty easy to view, and I'll be curious to see if there's any more development when I visit this area next time.
Here's an interesting-looking tree. What do you suppose happened to cause this tree to grow this way? I'm thinking maybe when it was a much smaller tree another larger tree blew over onto it. Of course, there's no evidence of a blown-down tree near there anymore, so this crooked tree will remain a mystery.
It was getting late, so we decided to head for home. Along the way, Mr. Johnson spotted a couple of hen turkeys scratching around in some corn stubble where enough snow had melted away that they were able to find something to eat. One of the hens was pretty cautious and took off shortly after we stopped the car, but I got a good picture of this other one still searching for food. Those big feet can really scratch!

The discussion in the car was Mr. Johnson asking if I could hear her first I couldn't (concentrating on taking the movie), but then I listened closer and heard it (affirmative at the end). The hens are funny birds.....they will walk around in the woods just clucking softly to themselves as they dig and scratch for something to eat.

Hope you enjoyed this little trip to the woods without having to bundle up!

Here's an Update on the tracks: I got a couple of e-mails this morning from Richard and he was busy doing some homework for me. He sent me some links to look at for porcupine tracks: and Sure looks a lot like porcupine tracks to me. What do you think? I never even thought of a porcupine, but according to Stan Tekiela's Mammals of Minnesota field guide, Fillmore County (where I took these pictures) is at the western edge of the North American Porcupine's range and they are active all year round! Now I wish I had paid more attention to where these tracks led. You can bet that next time I'm down that way I'll definitely be searching for these tracks again to see if I can solve the mystery. Thanks Richard for your help!


Richard said...

Great pictures and even better movies. I really enjoyed being out yesterday. Just stayed out of the wind and let the sun warm me. Just reminded me of better days ahead.

Richard said...

Tracks..Just googled "raccoon tracks" and everything I saw showed a 5 toes pattern. I'm definitely not a track person so really interested in what others think they are.

April said...

I did enjoy it very much! A rich and stimulating day. I'm glad you saw some eagles, and your video is fantastic. I watched it several times. Thanks Ruthie.

Trixie said...

What a nice walk! I have no idea what those tracks are, but I am curious. Let us know what you find out.

Beth said...

What a nice walk--I really like that you and your husband enjoyed it together. I like couples being interested in things together.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

ruthie, what a wonderful walk about you had. I like to see porcupines. They are such interesting looking creatures. I hope you get to see one.

nina said...

A porcupine?!
That would be a treat!!
I've been having fun tracking this winter, too--if the snow's there, might as well make good use of it, right?

The bald eagle is fantastic--very lucky you!!

Mary said...

Ruthie, I'm so tickled that you and Mr. Johnson had a nice day and saw so much! A porcupine???? You had better get back there, girl.

Bald eagle, clucking hens, porcupines...what a lucky day.

Thanks for sharing the videos. I loved them.


mon@rch said...

Such a wonderful day to be out enjoying nature! I glad you returned to this site and love your videos that you captured! The turkey video is my fave and love hearing you guys whisper! Its funny because I use that same Mammals of Minnesota book! Isn't it good? Porcupine does seem very reasonable for sure!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Richard,
Thanks again for your help on the animal tracks. I see that winter's back now (snowing & blowing), but it sure was nice to think about spring for one day anyway.

Hi April,
I'm glad you enjoyed the video. I keep watching it over and over too. It's just so fantastic to see those eagles fly, isn't it?

Hi Trixie,
It was nice once we got into the woods and out of the wind. The sun always makes you think it's warmer than it really is though.

Hi Beth,
There's always so much to see once we get out there and we end up spending about twice as long as we originally plan. But that's OK because time spent outdoors is never wasted as far as I'm concerned.

Hi Lisa,
This may be my year of the porcupine. First I saw that one up north a couple weeks ago and now I wonder if I'll get to see one down south here too! It would definitely be a blog-worthy story if I do!

Hi Nina,
I guess that's one good thing about the snow is seeing all the tracks and figuring out the stories that go along with them.
Next time, I'll try to find an area with less branches overhead for better eagle photo ops!

Hi Mare,
It was a fun trip. We should have left earlier in the afternoon though. I tried to get a picture of some deer too, but they bounded away as soon as we stopped the car.
I'm glad you enjoyed the videos--it's really fun for me to be able to share some of my sightings and stories with everyone.

Hi Mon@rch,
There are lots of turkeys in this area, but I'm still amazed when I see them so close.
I use Stan's field guides a lot and I also have a copy of the Stokes' Animal Behavior and Behavior which comes in handy for times like this too.

Jayne said...

What a fun day you and Mr. Johnson had! Porcupine Now there's one guy you wouldn't want to surprise too much!

Marsha said...

What a nice tour of your day in the woods. It was fun to "go along" via the blog :-)

Possible porcupine cool is that?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking us along to the woods again, it was nice walking [like the yellow book let your fingers do the walking]. The eagle pics were so nice just soaring around. Glad Richard helped you out on those tracks, porcupine, cool! It is so much fun going to the woods via your blog.
Curtis J has a lot of turkeys in his bottom land along the river, about 40+. Someday you can check them out.

Owlman said...

Trips like these really make the winter bearable (no pun intended ;-) I managed to see a Red Fox hunting during my owl prowl last Thursday which was awesome. You really had a busy walk with all your wildlife and birds - thanks for sharing!

me and my camera said...

I have an old book that shows the tracks of animals, birds and other creatures: its titled... "Who Went There?", by Carroll Colby, 1953; and your picture does looks similar to the front paw of a porcupine; apparently most rodents have four toes on their front paw and five on their hind paw... so my vote would be for porcupine tracks too.. Great videos; I love them both, a beautiful eagle flight. Nice walk!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Jayne,
I think porcupines move pretty slow, but I know both of us would have been pretty surprised if we had met out there in the woods!

Hi Marsha,
That's what I like about blogging.... we can all share our trips with each other (like when we got to go along with you to see the swans in Monticello!)

Hi Mom,
We never got as far as Curtis J's place (the roads weren't that good & we had the car). It was cool to watch the eagles. You'll have to ask around uptown and see if anyone's ever seen porcupines around your area.

Hi Owlman,
I saw some tracks out in the cornfield that might have been from a fox, but I didn't know for sure. A fox is definitely a bonus sighting (an owl would have been too).

Hi M&MC,
I'm glad you could come along for my hike in the woods. Thanks also for your help on the animal tracks.