Sunday, March 28, 2010

More Backyard Bunnies

I know that Eastern Cottontail Rabbits are supremely annoying to some people (like my neighbor who loves nothing better than shooting them with his .22, which is supremely annoying to me!) While I know they can (and have) cause some damage to trees and shrubs in my backyard, I enjoy watching them a lot more than trying to get rid of them. Shortly before dark last night, I was able to capture these shots of bunnies and birdies out the dining room window.

I love it when they stand up on their hind legs to see what's going on. I didn't know it at the time, but there was another bunny making its way over to this birdfeeder.

It's really fun to see how all of the backyard critters seems to tolerate each other's presence. Obviously, the robin had no interest in the corn, so these two have no competition problems with each other.

Likewise with Mrs. Cardinal.......Bunny was content to continue eating from the ground while the cardinal picked out a few last minute seeds from the tray before heading off to her roosting spot for the night.

Now you see the other bunny has finally arrived to munch on the corn and seed spilled out from the tray during the day by those piggy grackles. And still, Mrs. Cardinal isn't bothered by the presence of 2 bunnies!

"Beat it, Mrs. Cardinal! Bunny now rules this corn tray!"
I don't have any photos, but once in a while when the deer are in the backyard, a bunny will show up and try to challenge the deer at the corn tray. That's always fun to watch, especially when it's one of the younger deer. They're so curious about the bunnies and the bunny seems to know this.....I've seen them make a challenging run right up to the deer and then scoot away just as quickly. This sometimes will really startle the deer. I don't know if it's some kind of fun game that these bunnies engage in or if it's really meant to try and scare the deer away, but it's still pretty neat to witness when it happens.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hello Spring!

I heard and saw the first Eastern Bluebirds of spring in my backyard this morning. They're definitely a welcome sign of spring. So I decided to take a walk around the backyard to find some other signs of spring. Come on along and let me show you what I found.....

Tiny hyacinths blooming close to the house

Daffodils are up a few inches

Daylilies are coming up too, but it looks like these ones caught a little frostbite!

I love the brilliant color of these red-twig dogwoods!

I let my inner fire-bug out last Sunday morning and burned off some dead grass and weeds at the driveway edge (pink arrow) and in a wild patch of the front yard.

I'm hoping next week there might be a nice, calm day that would be
perfect for the fire-bug and her butane torch to burn off the dead stalks of the backyard wildflower garden.

I was looking for any signs of life on the trees and spotted these pretty sprouts on a maple branch

And since the bluebirds are back now, it looks like I'm going to have to become much more vigilant against those pesty house sparrows.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It Doesn't Take Much......

Ya know, it doesn't take much to get me a riled up some days......

Mr. Johnson's weekly edition of the Minnesota Outdoor News showed up in our mailbox today. I generally try to avoid posting about controversial subjects on my blog, but I've put colored boxes around the 2 headlines that bugged the shit out of me as I was reading and walking back from the mailbox.
Here's a link for you to click on if you'd like to read both of these articles.

I'm sure I'll get some comments I won't like for posting my opinions here in my blog, but I'm going to do it anyway (because I'm just so bugged by both of these decisions!) In the article about the sandhill crane season, I found this statement particularly interesting:
"They are plentiful and they are doing well," said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief, who will make the pitch to the councils next week. "We just think it's an opportunity that we should take advantage of for a fairly small cost."
Cost to who? The State of Minnesota or the Sandhill Cranes?? Give me a freakin' break!!

If this hunting season passes, Minnesota would become the first state of the northern Mississippi Flyway to allow hunting of these cranes (it's already allowed in every state of the Central Flyway except Nebraska). Maybe if it passes, the DNR should consider tacking on a short, lottery-only season for Tundra Swans too. Everyone know there's a ton of them migrating through the state in the fall, and think of all the extra revenue that would generate -- especially for non-resident permits! Hell, let's just shoot em all!

Farther down in the article Steve Cordts, the waterfowl specialist for the DNR says the following, "It's hard to say how much interest there would be in Minnesota in crane hunting." There are hunters in the state who travel elsewhere to hunt cranes, and he figures the number of hunters who participate might be in the hundreds. In defense of the cranes, Steve Cordts also says, "Cranes wise up pretty quickly to hunting pressure, so if we opened it and there was some interest, I would think they would wise up to it pretty quick." That's a profound statement, don't you think? Does that somehow justify selling bunches of licenses to shoot these cranes? Because after the first day of the season, they will just "wise up" and fly somewhere else? I'm sure that hundreds of years of migratory flight patterns aren't going to change because these birds will now be getting shot at. If that were the case, there would be no cranes to hunt in the Central Flyway either.

Well, there, I've gotten that rant out of my system for today...... I don't think I'm even going to delve into the wolf de-listing issue, I'm sure my blood pressure is already sky high. I'm just going to sit back and see where this post goes in the blogosphere and see what types of comments it generates.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day, 2010

We both had a day off work today and once the fog cleared late in the morning, Mr. Johnson decided it would be a good day for us to take down the 3 remaining deer stands still up from last fall. It turned out to be a really nice afternoon for spending an enjoyable couple of hours in the woods. Taking down the tree stands is a job that Mr. Johnson could certainly do by himself, but I believe he enjoys having me accompany him for the insightful commentary and helpful advice I provide from the ground. In fact, after struggling to get the padlock open on this particular stand, he vacated the ladder and allowed me to remove this stand and ladder all by myself! (I can't remember for sure, but I believe the words, "do you just want to do it?" were uttered somewhere along the line.)
While hiking from stand to stand, I had plenty of time to walk around the woods and look for signs of spring. I even remembered to bring my camera along this time and there were plenty of photo ops along the way. We've had enough warm weather and rain the past few days, but the only real signs of green in the woods so far was lots of moss. It was so nice to see this moss growing that I couldn't resist getting right down on the ground to take a photo.

By looking close to the ground, I managed to spot some other interesting signs of spring too. Thanks to a Google search on "orange cup fungus" I found out this one is called Scarlet Cup Fungus (Sarcoscypha dudleyi). Isn't it neat looking? I almost missed spotting this. Although it looks really large in this picture, it was only about the size of my pinkie fingertip. It was attached to a little piece of wood about the size of my index finger.

I was keeping my eyes open for birds, deer and squirrels, but the only moving creature I did see was this one small earthworm.

Another special sighting was this small feather caught on the end of a branch. It was mostly white with dark gray on the top edge and very fluffy. It didn't look at all like a turkey feather, so I'm thinking it might have been from a Cooper's Hawk or some other raptor.

Here's an old treestand Mr. Johnson built many years ago that we don't use anymore. It looked to me like there was a corncob laying on top (arrow's pointing at it). That got me to wondering whether the squirrels or raccoons had been using this as a convenient dining table.

Fortunately there were still a couple steps in the tree that allowed me to climb up for a closer look. Aha! Just as I suspected! Now I'm wondering.....was it raccoons or squirrels dining up here? And if it was squirrels, how did they carry those corncobs up this tree? This "table" was at least 10 feet up in the tree.

Finally, the last stand and ladders were all down and loaded into the sled for transport back to the truck. All this equipment is pretty heavy, so it was quite a workout for Mr. Johnson hiking back to the truck. I dutifully followed along behind to keep an eye on the load, while humming "I'll never be your beast of burden" to myself. (yeah, cuz I'm just helpful that way!)

Here's probably the most unusual sight we saw this afternoon.....the farmer who rents this field was picking last year's corn today! Due to the wet and cold weather last October and November, so many of the farmers around here were unable to get their corn crop harvested and are making up for lost time this spring.

And on our drive home, we saw a couple of happy ducks enjoying a sunny afternoon in their little pond that's finally thawed out after our long winter.

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Some Miscellaneous Stuff

Our census form arrived in the mail today. Per the instructions in the cover letter, I completed the enclosed census form today! It will go out in tomorrow's mail. Glad that's finally will be interesting to see what the final results of this whole census program will be (or what kind of snafus will be revealed before the completion of the process!)

While I was getting supper ready I saw a small flock of birds fly past the kitchen window. It looked a bit like a flock of starlings, but when they landed in the oak tree, a quick look through the binoculars revealed Cedar Waxwings! One of my favorite birdies! And the first time I've seen them in my yard this year, so they're bird #24 on the 2010 backyard list.

And, amazingly enough, this silly squirrel still hasn't figured out how to get past the baffle.
I watched this squirrel run up and down the tree and out on branches several times. He would sit there on the branch and look over at the feeder, but he still hasn't figured out that he could leap from the branch to the feeder! Maybe the side opening on the feeder isn't large enough for this fat squirrel to confidently launch himself into -- or there's just so much seed on the ground that he can stuff himself without having to resort to any extreme measures to obtain food. I promise if I ever catch the squirrel in this feeder, photographs will appear on this blog!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some Finished Knitting Projects

Here are a couple of knitting projects I finished recently. First is the Brandywine Shawl designed by Rosemary Hill. I knitted it with 1 skein of Lana Grossa's Meilenweit Multiringel (a sock yarn). It's not a huge shawl -- more to just keep your shoulders warm or drape around your neck like a scarf. It was a pretty quick and easy shawl to knit. If you would like to try this pattern, you can purchase the pattern on-line by clicking this link. The pattern price is $6.50, and Rosemary is very generously donating $5.00 of the purchase price to Doctors Without Borders for Haiti earthquake relief. To date, Rosemary has sent over $7500 from sales of this pattern!
Here's a close-up look at the pattern. I'm donating this shawl to a silent auction for the Minnesota Master Naturalists annual meeting in May.

Next project is this Baltic mitten with a Twined Herringbone Edging on the cuff. I'm going to start teaching some more classes at my local yarn shop and this is one of the classes I'd like to teach, so I thought I'd better knit one up quick and take it in to show the owner and get her opinion on whether she thinks any knitters would be interested in taking this class.

It's feeling like spring here in Minnesota (finally!) Normally my knitting slows down a little bit this time of year, but I'm hoping with teaching more classes, I can keep my knitting mojo going through the summer.....I still have plenty of unfinished projects waiting for me!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Backyard Deer Have Returned

Just this past week since the snow really started melting, we've seen evidence (hoofprints in the mud & empty corn trays) that the deer have been overnight visitors in the backyard. Up until now, they haven't visited the backyard at all since all the snow started piling up at the end of December. Last night as we were finishing supper and just before it got completely dark, I was surprised to see a deer right outside the dining room window. As we watched, more of them wandered into the backyard until we had a total of 5 out there.
The weather was kind of crappy yesterday, so I never went outside to put more birdseed or corn in the trays. Fortunately, one of the trays was still pretty full and the deer were able to find enough to munch on to keep them in the backyard for almost a half hour.

There was another deer coming from the south and that's what these ones were watching for.

It looked to us like there were 2 adult does and 3 youngsters. This picture isn't very clear, but I think you can tell that the largest deer to the left is the doe and the two others with her are quite a bit smaller.

It was close to 7:00 and dark by the time I took these last 2 pictures. The deer hung around and nibbled on the highbush cranberries and did some more clean-up under the birdfeeders before finally departing for the night.

We did see a couple more in the backyard around 6:30 this morning, so it looks as though they may be going back to their spring and summer travel patterns. I know that it's definitely time to stock up on more corn, plus start thinking about a taller fence for the garden if these hungry critters decide to hang around again for the summer.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Look Who Else is Back!

Another spring migrant showed up in my backyard this afternoon. However, I can honestly say that I'm not nearly as excited about this spring arrival as I was about the robin and red-winged blackbird that arrived last weekend.

Common Grackle

When I used to work at Wild Birds Unlimited, we always had to chuckle when people new to birdfeeding would come in to the store and rave about the birds with beautiful, iridescent dark feathers that were showing up at their backyard birdfeeders. We always hated to discourage their enthusiasm......better to let them find out on their own what a nuisance and a mess these grackles can be for a few months. I guess I really shouldn't discriminate in my bird-friendly backyard, but I just wish the common grackle was a little less common!

Note to self: Remember to buy safflower next time I'm at the birdseed store.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Birding

Today was the first time in 95 days that our temperature topped 40 degrees. Even though it was mostly overcast, we decided to go for a drive and see if we could spot any good birds. Our first stop was the nearby reservoir to see if there was any open water yet maybe attracting some waterfowl. We got there only to find that the only open water was in the ice fishing holes drilled by these fishermen. I was amazed at the number of people fishing! We watched one guy drilling through the ice and it looked to be at least 16-18 inches thick yet! But the weatherman is predicting highs in the 40's all next week, so the end of the 2010 ice fishing season isn't far away.

I was keeping my eyes open for newly arrived spring migrants including grackles, red-winged blackbirds, or maybe even a bluebird. We didn't see any of those birds, but we did have to slow down for this early season possum trotting across the road.

There were horned larks everywhere! For me, these are the most difficult birds to photograph. They are so flighty and will take off if the car comes within 100 yards of them. I managed to photograph this one after Mr. Johnson stopped the car and we waited for the flock to land on the road behind us. (The birds were still quite a ways back, so this photo isn't the greatest, and even though you can't see the "horns" of this lark, you can still see its black facemask.)

We turned another corner next to a plowed cornfield where most of the snow had already melted. Something interesting caught my eye in this field. Can you see it?
"Stop, stop, stop the car!" I ordered my driver. My window was down and I was trying to get my camera ready to take a photo. I could tell this bird wasn't a pheasant, but I had no idea what it was. I took a couple quick photos and then got my binoculars on it again to see any other field marks to help in the ID. Fortunately, on this trip, I remembered to bring my big Sibley guide along and after seeing the orange face and throat, plus the rufous barring on the chest, I was able to ID this bird as a Gray Partridge. Way cool! There were actually 2 of these birds in the field here and although it wasn't a life bird for me, it's been years since we've seen them in SE Minnesota.

A lot of the streams and rivers are starting to melt and these Canada geese were enjoying the shallow water and the chance to pick at grass on the riverbank.

On our way home, we spotted a huge flock of turkeys walking up this driveway. These birds all looked pretty healthy after this long winter.
It appeared that all of these turkeys were hens, and since we can only take toms during the spring turkey hunting season, the size of this flock shouldn't be affected by the upcoming spring hunt. In fact, with this many hens around, the future of wild turkeys in SE Minnesota looks pretty good!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Happy Blog Birthday!

Happy Birthday to the Nature Knitter Blog -- 3 years old today!

In honor of this special event, we shall eat chocolate cake!

Many thanks to all of you, my followers, fans, family and friends for spending a little bit of time with me and my blog. I've enjoyed sharing my stories and pictures with you for the last 3 years. It's been an amazing adventure and I've been blessed to meet so many new friends who share my love of birds, nature, and knitting. Looking forward to (at least) 3 more years and especially the chance to meet more of you in person.

Blogger Life List 2007 - 2010
Lynne (Hasty Brook)
Richard (At the Water)
Laura H (Somewhere in NJ)
Penny (Penelopedia)
Virginia (Bees in the City)
Heidi (MMATM Blog)
Hap from New Hope (who's not a blogger, but a long-time
follower I was privileged to meet last summer!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wednesday, March 3rd

Another Wednesday off today, and I needed to run some errands and purchase more birdseed. Fortunately I remembered to bring my camera along to take some photos of the eagles up the road. They're not always there, but today as I drove past I was happy to see that one of them was perched in the tree. Hopefully it would still be there after I finished my first 2 errands. And it was! I drove down the frontage road to try and get a better vantage point for photos and the cooperative eagle never moved. And here's why.......the nest! Because I've seen both eagles in the vicinity of this nest, I'm optimistic that they will be adding to this nest and using it for the third year in a row to raise their family. I'm looking forward to getting more looks at these eagles and their nest until the trees leaf out. The really neat thing about these eagles is that they're living right along the main highway into Rochester, so lots of people have gotten the chance to watch them over the past couple years.

I also made a stop at Michael's craft store this morning to look at some picture framing materials. A few weeks ago, I ordered some prints made of my "frosty morning" photos from Snapfish and they've been laying on my counter waiting for me to frame them and give as gifts. I spent quite a bit of time wandering the framing aisles of the store in search of what I wanted (with only 1 brief detour over to the yarn section!)

After getting home, it was time to see how much I remembered from long-ago days as a "picture framing specialist" in a local art gallery.

My skills were a bit rusty, but I was surprised to notice that some of the techniques used came back almost automatically. While I was assembling this picture, I recalled some of the fond memories I still have of that job and the good times shared with some of the best co-workers I've ever had the privilege to work with. It's always neat to visit someone's house or a business in Rochester and find a piece of art hanging on the wall that I can remember making the frame for or putting the picture together. I hope my gift recipient feels the same happiness when he unwraps this picture I made for him!