Friday, November 30, 2007

Winter Has Arrived

It's been pretty cold here all week and last night we received our first shovel-able snowfall. I think it was about an inch--just enough to cover the bird feeders so I had to sweep them off this morning before work.

The snowplows were out on the highways, but there really wasn't enough to plow there either, so they just dumped a lot of salt on the road to try and melt the snow instead. It always takes drivers around here a little bit of time to adjust to winter driving again and on our way into work, we saw lots of tire tracks where people had slid off the road.

Here's how things are looking in my backyard now with a little bit of snow on the ground.

This is the side yard (looking out the kitchen window). These are the trees where I usually see the Tufted Titmice--they like the fly-thru feeder hanging in the tree on the right.

It's definitely long-john weather--this is the thermometer on my deck around 3:30 PM (and the sun was shining on it!)

And since we all need practice on our winter driving skills, Mother Nature has decided to give Minnesotans a winter storm this weekend. On the map below, the white area designates all the counties that are in a Winter Storm Warning for tomorrow (Saturday).
This is a pretty darn big area and includes me in the south, Lynne and Birdchick in the Twin Cities, Marsha over in the west central area, and even Deb up north. Here in the south they're only predicting 4-8 inches of snow, due to the fact that some of our moisture may arrive as the dreaded "wintry mix" (sleet and freezing rain). Areas from the Twin Cities northward will be receiving just snow--and lots of it--up to 16 inches for the North Shore. Oh yeah, did I mention it was going to be windy too? Winds of 20-30 MPH are coming along with the snow. Should be an interesting weekend.

P.S. to Ruth: I believe this storm is moving to the northeast, so get your snow shovel ready!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Red-Tailed Hawk

Once again tonight, I have not had to worry about what I'm going to post on my blog, thanks to my brother. This time it was Brother Dave from St. Paul who saved me. When I opened my e-mail at work this morning, I found that Dave had sent me an e-mail with some photos of a red-tailed hawk taken by one of his co-workers at their workplace.

Look at this:

Background--Dave is an artist and works at Garven World Headquarters in Mendota Heights, MN (at the south end of the St. Paul). His co-worker who took these photos is Jessica Wahlberg, and here's the story from Dave's e-mail:

"My coworker Jess took the pictures right outside the side door here at Garven World Headquarters. She said the hawk was in one of the trees that border the parking lot, just watching the ground below. She said that all of a sudden, it just dove down & snagged the animal - it turned out to be a rabbit -and there was a bunch of rustling & then the rabbit started screaming. She said that it was hard to listen to because it went on for so long but that was when she decided to run in & get the digital camera that belongs to the art dept. She came back out & snapped a few shots, which is what I sent."

Dave and I had a little additional e-mail discussion about this and I mentioned that Jess must be a birder because most other people would be grossed out by seeing and hearing the hawk kill the bunny. Dave said that Jess did have an interest in birds (although not quite as obsessive as me--imagine that!) and she recognizes that this is all a part of nature's circle of life.

I really enjoyed seeing these pictures of a beautiful first year Red-Tailed Hawk. I love the way it's trying to mantle over the rabbit (in the photo below), but there seems to be too many sticks and branches in the way to allow the hawk to spread its wings more. I also like the way the feathers on its head are sticking up. It must have seen Jess standing there taking pictures....

Thanks so much Dave and Jess for sharing this story with me and allowing me to post it on my blog.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Too Tired Tonight

For some reason this week, I have no energy after 7 PM, so instead of falling asleep on the couch at 7:30, I'm forcing myself to stay awake at least till 8:00 and post something.

Thanks to Brother Phil in California, who sent me an e-mail with photos this afternoon, I don't even have to think about what to put in my blog tonight, because it's back to tundra swans again.
My brother took these photos in the recently flooded rice fields, near Beale AFB (north of Sacramento) in California.

He also told me in a phone call tonight that there are rice fields that have been flooded near where he lives in Robbins so he now sees the swans close to home too (in addition to Ibis and other waterfowl and wading shorebirds). He says he can hear the swans "talking" to each other when it's quiet at night. Wouldn't that be cool?

Thanks Phil for sending me these photos!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Old Fart

Today marks the birthday of my spousal unit who has finally reached the half-century mark. (Don't forget to send in for your AARP card, honey!) We had a family birthday party/pig-out at the local Pizza Ranch.

Happy Birthday Honey Bunny!

After dinner entertainment was provided by my spousal unit, my sister and I--who amused my sister's daughters with stories of bad things we did and trouble we got into when we were younger, with the grandparents nodding their heads and saying, "yup, she did that...."

Why is it that young people think these stories are so entertaining? Is it because we are such model citizens now that they think we weren't capable of doing bad (perhaps even illegal?) stuff in our younger days? At the time, backing into another car with the family vehicle or sleeping on the bathroom floor next to the "throne" after a night of partying didn't seem very funny, but my nieces think it's pretty hilarious and after 30 years, I can finally laugh about it too.

Maybe at the next family gathering we can share stories about the outdoor theater....then again, maybe not!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tundra Swan Trip-Part 2

When we first started seeing all of the swans in the river, we started looking for a spot to pull over on the highway, then finally saw the sign for the Scenic Overlook - 1/2 Mile Ahead on Left. I'm not sure who was responsible for this Brownsville Overlook (maybe the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources), but it was a really nice and newly completed viewing area with lots of parking spots and this informational signboard.

Here's some information on Tundra Swans by Stan Tekiela from his "Ducks & Geese of Minnesota Field Guide."

Tundra swans are the smallest and most numerous of our swans and they're called Tundra Swans because they nest on the open tundra of Alaska and northern Canada. Pairs form in the fall before migration, with bonds lasting many years, if not for life. They may have 4-5 babies and both parents take turns incubating the eggs. The parents lead the chicks to food and then the chicks copy the feeding behavior of the parents.

The chicks stay with the parents for a year and are distinguished from the adults by their gray plumage and pinkish bills. The juvenile in the photo below looks much grayer than juvenile in the above picture.

They tip forward in the water to feed and with the aid of their long neck, they're able to reach down and tear off aquatic plants from the bottom of the river or lake. The picture below shows only one "tipped-up" (at the left side of the picture).

According to Stan, we will only see them here in Minnesota during the fall migration. They will fly non-stop for 2-3 days from Alaska down to North Dakota and Minnesota. They gather in great numbers--up to thousands (see photos below!) in large lakes and rivers to rest and feed, often staying until the water freezes before continuing on their migratory journey. Then they fly another 2-3 days to wintering areas on the East Coast. In the spring, they will migrate north up the eastern seaboard, turning west across northern Canada to return to their spring and summer home.
We didn't drive any further south than this Brownsville overlook, so I'm not sure how much farther downriver these swans were, but it was amazing to see the sheer numbers of them in this approximately 1-mile stretch of Mississippi backwaters.

They were doing quite a bit of vocalizing and it was really neat to hear all of them calling to one another. We ended up standing outside and watching them for at least half an hour--until our lips started going numb from the wind and cold. We finally got back into the vehicle and turned on the heater so we could watch them a little more while we warmed up. We wondered if they all leave on the same day or if they take off in little groups until everyone is gone? Wouldn't it be amazing to be there if they all decided to take off the same day?

I'm glad my sissy was able to come along with me on this trip. It's going to be my second best birding adventure with her (our first and most memorable will always be the Great Gray Owl irruption trip we went on in February of 2005).

And now, as promised, here's the longer movie (20 seconds) of swans.

Thanks for coming along with me on this Tundra Swan trip--hope you had a good time. Someday I hope each of you will get a chance to see these magnificent birds in person. If you ever decide to take a trip to Minnesota in late November, I would be happy to be your host!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tundra Swan Trip-Part 1

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I didn't have to work very hard to talk my sissy into coming with me to see some swans down by the Mississippi. Since she's a little more familiar with that area than I am, I drove and she got to tell me where to go!!

Since we didn't find the swans until the very end of the trip, I'm going to do this post in 2 parts with the first part showing some of the interesting sites along the way and the second part (tomorrow) of just swans. Today's post includes a very short (4 second) movie of the swans--my first attempt at movies with my camera and also downloading it to Blogger. Tomorrow I hope to include a 20-second clip where you will get to see and hear more of the swans.

Naturally, no trip for us is worth starting out without copious amounts of snacks and mugs of hot beverages (not to mention a full tank of gas) from the local convenience store. While at the gas pump, right next to us the dog grooming lady pulled up with her adorable passengers. These 3 big doggies were so well-behaved....they each stayed in their appropriate seat while their "mom" was in the store paying for her gas. Amazing.....
That boxer in the front seat was so cute--I love their funny, squished-up faces.

Driving east, we traveled through the Whitewater Wildlife Management area, where the roads have only recently been repaired and re-opened from the August 2007 flood. We saw so many red-tailed hawks and bald eagles. This eagle sitting in a tree near the road was the only one I was able to get a picture of.
My sissy also spotted what appeared to be a large balde eagle nest in a tree off in the distance and when we put the spotting scope on it, we were able to see the bald eagle sitting atop the nest surveying his kingdom. Very cool.

When we got to the Weaver Bottoms backwater area, we found that most of the water already had a thin layer of ice on the top, so there was no waterfowl to be seen in that area. We crossed the Mississippi at Wabasha and ended up first in Nelson, Wisconsin where we had to stop for some cheese curds and so I could take a picture of this "larger-than-life" great blue heron for Mary.

We continued southward to the Riecks Lake Park where my sissy has always seen swans in the past. The water there also had a thin layer of ice but there were 3 swans....who decided to fly away about the time we got out of the car. Oh well, that stop wasn't a total waste because right next to the parking lot was this really big tree that a beaver has been working on.

This tree is going to make one heckuva splash when it hits the water!

Onward to Alma, swans here either, but there were large flocks of seagulls flying around at the lock and dam. Can anyone tell me if they're catching fish? Or why do they like to hang around here where the water is all stirred up by the dam?

Driving through Fountain City, Wisconsin, I came across this sign for my friend Tom. We didn't stop to check out the establishment, but Mon@rch, if you ever get to southwestern Wisconsin, you'll want keep this place in mind....

We finally made our way from Wisconsin down to Brownsville, Minnesota, where our Audubon club had gone on a tundra swan field trip last Sunday. This was our last hope for seeing any swans and we drove quite a few miles without seeing anything. We decided to go just a little bit further before giving up and turning around for home and as we came around a bend and started heading down hill, we could see the backwaters were all covered with little white specks. Gulls or swans?? Sissy grabbed her binoculars and confirmed they were swans.....thousands of them!
Tune in tomorrow for "Tundra Swan Trip-Part 2."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Highlights

Well, it was a fun Thanksgiving day and our house was pretty busy all day. We were thankful the weather wasn't snowy--it was cloudy and there were light snow flurries all day, but nothing to ruin anyone's plans.

The red-bellied woodpecker stopped by my suet feeder for a Thanksgiving treat.

Sophie was more than happy to assist me with pre-washing dishes (she saw the camera but cleaning out the stuffing dish was more important than hiding from the camera).

Penny was reluctant to leave the placemat so I could put on the tablecloth and set the table for dinner (BTW--that's Rick's placemat, not mine!)

Ethan was there, wearing his special "Grandma's Little (drooly) Gobbler" bib.

Ethan also got to try his first taste of dill pickle (kinda like a big ol' dill-flavored nipple).

Daisy stayed under the table most of the day so she could pop up periodically next to someone who might give her a treat. I like this picture where Daisy popped up for a treat from my niece (looks like Ethan thinks he should be getting something too--upper right of photo).

Daisy also stopped by Grampy to see if he could provide her with any snacks.

After dinner, Grammy and Ethan decided to have a little rest under the blanket in the recliner.

It was a fun day with the family. I was exhausted and went to bed before 8:00 (geez, I must be getting old!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Gobble, Gobble

Here's my Top Ten List of the things I'm most thankful for this Thanksgiving (and every other day, as far as that goes):
  1. My health
  2. My spousal unit
  3. My family
  4. My pets
  5. Enough yarn and patterns to keep me knitting the rest of my natural life
  6. A job - an added benefit is that I enjoy it and work with some great people
  7. My high-speed internet connection
  8. My Netflix subscription
  9. My backyard wildlife habitat - which enables me to see all of the wonderful birds and wildlife up close and personal
  10. My blog and all the wonderful people I've met this year through blogging

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to everyone.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Amazon Package Arrived!

Remember my post the other day about bird and nature sound identification? Well, while I was researching information to include in that post, I spent quite a bit of time over at (not to be confused with the quite a bit of time I spent over there for the book cover meme).

Anywhoo, while over at Amazon I did decide to purchase a new copy of Lang Elliott's "Guide to Night Sounds" with an audio CD (my other one is a cassette--definitely not as user friendly as a CD).

The little companion guide is really neat, with very nice photographs and pencil illustrations. It's also nice because the CD stores conveniently in a little pocket inside the back cover. I'll be having some fun with this.

The other cool book I ordered is "Caterpillars in the Field and Garden."

Remember last summer when we were all finding caterpillars and butterflies? I had some good field guides to help me identify the butterflies, but was constantly being stumped on caterpillar ID.

Not anymore!! While this guide is just for the butterfly caterpillars, I believe it's still going to be an excellent reference book for next summer. The caterpillars are grouped by butterfly species and there are also range maps included so you can correctly identify the butterfly caterpillar for your specific geographic region. It also includes a few chrysalis photographs too. Good stuff.

Oh, and did I mention I also got free shipping? Thanks Amazon....I'll be back!

Not related to field guides at all, I took this funny picture of Daisy the other night. Sometimes she ends up in the goofiest positions. This time she kind of fell over after I got up from sitting next to her--I think she was still half asleep and just didn't have the energy to assume a more comfortable position.

"Please stop laughing at me Mom, 'cuz if you would'a stayed sitting here this wouldn't'a happened!"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Book Cover Meme

In the last week, I saw that both Susie and Meggie have done the posts about the "Book Cover Meme" where there is only one rule: Go to the advanced book search on Amazon, type your first name into the Title field, and post the most interesting/amusing cover that shows up. Susie and Meggie came up with really cute book covers.

So being the naturally curious person that I am, I decided it would be fun to try this too and here's the book cover I thought was the best, since I like foxes and the little outfit she's wearing looks like something I might have worn in kindergarten or first grade.

And since the search revealed several pages of books featuring "Ruthie" somewhere in the title, here are some other interesting ones I found:

I really like the looks of the afghan on the cover of this one, so I'll maybe go back and put one of those in my shopping can never have too many pattern books!

But the most favorite item I found was this "I Love Ruthie" t-shirt (do you suppose I could get my spousal unit to wear one of these? It's a bargain at only $16.99 and actually comes in the XXL size that he wears)

So if you ever run out of ideas about what to post in your blog some day, try this fun little meme and see what book titles are available featuring your name.....just for kicks and giggles.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Identifying Birds by Sound & Sight

A couple weeks ago, Robin (Bumblebee) left a comment on one of my posts asking if I would share with her how I learned so much about recognizing the birds and their sounds. At the time, I told her I would send an e-mail, but then I thought to myself that it might be a good idea for a blog post in case anyone else might be interested in any of my ideas.

First of all, I want to assure you that I'm no "Science Chimp." I have very little scientific knowledge of the birds in my backyard or elsewhere. I am, however, fairly obsessive about watching and identifying birds. If I have a day off--especially during FeederWatch season--it wouldn't be unusual for me to sit in front of the window watching birds for 4 hours (or more!)

So anyway, back to the original intent of this post. When I worked at Wild Birds Unlimited, I became more knowledgable about the birds because it was important for my job. The store sold a good variety of field guides and audio CDs for bird identification and I purchased many of them for my own use plus, I could share recommendations with the customers. The first bird song CD I purchased was John Fieth's "Bird Song Ear Training Guide," and I would listen to this CD in the car during my daily commute. I really like this CD for a couple of reasons: First of all, there are mnemonics included with each bird call (i.e., common yellowthroat sounds like "witchety, witchety, witchety"). And secondly, the birds are grouped by species, so if you've at least seen the bird enough for a partial ID (i.e., sparrow, vireo, or warbler), you can go to that section of birds and listen to them in alphabetical order until you hear the song that identifies your bird.

Especially in the spring, I listen to this CD repeatedly because I learn best from repetition. Once I start feeling more confident, I hit the random button on my CD player and see how well I do without having the birds in order. Listening to this CD has really sharpened my ID skills....sometimes I can't always remember the name of the bird and have to review the CD, but if I can remember the mnemonic, it makes it easier. Some of the more unusual birds I've been able to identify by their call (thanks to this CD) are: Common Snipe, Dickcissel, Long-Eared Owl, Warbling Vireo, and Great Crested Flycatcher.

The other CD I've used is the companion to my Birds of Minnesota field guide (by Stan Tekiela). This CD is really helpful because Stan does the narration which includes information about the bird and habitat where you're mostly likely to find the bird, in addition to the actual bird call. The one thing I really like about this CD is that it also gives the sound of woodpeckers tapping on the trees. A lot of times when I'm out in the woods, I'll hear a woodpecker tapping but can't see it. This CD helped me to figure out that was a yellow-bellied sapsucker I heard tapping on a tree.

Because I spend a lot of time out in the woods, especially in the dark, I found a couple of other CDs that helped to identify what I was hearing out there. Now just so you know, it wasn't too many years ago that I was totally terrified to be out there by myself in the dark--and hearing lots of creepy noises. However, Lang Elliot has produced two excellent CDs that helped me overcome my fear of the dark: "Wild Sounds of the Northwoods" and "A Guide to Night Sounds."

Since there are obviously no woman-eating critters in the woods of Southeastern Minnesota, there was really nothing for me to be so scared of (and "get a grip, Ruthie, you're carrying a weapon!") After listening to these two CDs, and identifying what some of those sounds were I was hearing, I now walk into the woods with no fear. In fact, it's kind of neat to hear these night-time sounds and know which birds or animals are making them.

In my collection of field guides, I have 12 just for birds. The one I like best for general ID is Kenn Kaufman's focus guide to Birds of North America. I really like the photograph format used in this book. I also like Stan Tekiela's field guides. I have 7 different ones that he's written--not just birds, but for wildflowers, mammals, and trees, too. His bird field guides are neat because the birds are sorted by color and size (from smallest to largest) within each color category. He also has produced these field guides for birds of specific states, so I have one for Minnesota and also for California (when I go to visit my brother). Some of the other states include Virginia, the Carolinas, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia (they're available on or check at your local Wild Birds Unlimited).

So, there you go, Robin (Bumblebee)....this is probably more information than you were looking for, but aren't you glad I didn't try to put it all in an e-mail?