Thursday, January 31, 2008

Good Stuff

I lost another House Sparrow today, courtesy of the Cooper's Hawk. Hooray!
I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed the hawk under the evergreen tree. I sprinkle some seed on the ground there for birds and bunnies.

I could see lots of gray feathers floating around and worried that it might be a junco. But after the hawk flew away and my hounds were out for a bathroom break, I slipped on my snowboots to run out for a closer look. Once again there was enough of the head left to positively ID a House Sparrow (male).

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The great new combination monopod/walking stick that I purchased on eBay last week (my first eBay purchase, by the way) was delivered by UPS late yesterday afternoon. Richard recommended I try one of these to help me with more camera stability for my night-time pictures. I told him I didn't want to spend a whole lot of money and he was kind enough to send me the eBay link he used for the monopod he purchased. The "Buy Now" price was very reasonable and even with shipping, my total cost was less than $25!

It has a cushioned hand grip with a wrist strap, 3 telescoping sections (with locking tabs), and fits into a neat little 22-inch zippered carrying case. It's very lightweight aluminum (under 2 pounds, so that will make it very easy to carry along anywhere.

The other neat thing about it is that I can also use it for my spotting scope. My spotting scope came with this little table-top tripod which limits my viewing opportunities somewhat.
Now I can just attach my spotting scope to the monopod, which is going to give me a lot more flexibility and opportunities for using my spotting scope at home (in fact, I used it this afternoon to watch that Cooper's Hawk out my kitchen window).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Winter is Back

Looks like the weatherman was 100% correct in his forecast today and a full-blown winter storm is in progress. Yesterday at this time our temperature was about 43 degrees and it was sunny. You can see the current temp on my sidebar weather spot (and it's only going to get worse as they day goes on).

The bad thing about having someone else drive you to work is that you can't go home until they're ready to go home.

Here's the 10:30 a.m. traffic cam views of the roads we drive home on.

I don't know about you, but I think we should have left about an hour ago! Now if I could just convince my spousal unit of that.....

Watch for a post later today telling you we made it home safely....

UPDATE - We made it home from work without incident. Although the weather was still bad, it seemed like most of the sensible people had already gone home from work and the traffic was fairly light and we saw no accidents. It only took us about 7 minutes longer than usual from the time we left work till we drove through the snowdrift into our garage.

We're now in a blizzard warning until midnight. It seems like the snow has let up a little bit, but it's still blowing pretty hard. Here's a little video I took out the patio door. The flag across the highway is my wind gauge--you can barely see it through the snow, but it's whipped out pretty straight! I took the video with the door open so you could experience the sound of the wind blowing around the house and making all my chimes ring.

When I called Dad at lunchtime, he said they were getting sustained winds of 30 mph. Not sure what we've got going on here right now, but there have been some pretty good gusts rattling the house as I sit here posting this update.

There are lots of birdies here at feeders holding on for dear life to try and snatch a seed or two before the next gust blasts them back to shelter in the trees again. I sure am glad I have a nice warm house and don't have to try and survive outside.

And now for those of you who've had more then enough of winter, head on over to Mary's Corner of the World for some beautiful flowers and fruit trees in her sunny California backyard.

Friday, January 25, 2008

More Birds From Brother Phil

I got a phone call yesterday afternoon from my Brother Phil in California. He wanted to share a birding story with me. He said he looked out the window of his house and the field across the way was completely white with birds. After some searching through his field guide, he determined that they were probably Snow Geese, with some dark-colored juveniles and also Blue Morph adults mixed in.

He also noticed some of the white ones were smaller and we decided there were probably also some Ross's Geese in these huge flocks.

Brother Phil and his family live in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley (between Sacramento and Yuba City) in a rural, mostly agricultural area. The fields near his house are mostly flooded rice fields and that is very appealing for all of the waterfowl that spend their winters in north central California. While Phil and I were talking and he was watching these birds, he also noticed some Northern Pintails swimming around too (they're year-round residents in California).

We talked a little bit about cameras and Phil said he did have a movie feature on his digital camera but he wasn't real certain of how it worked. I encouraged him to give it a try and send me any pictures and video he was able to get after we finished talking. Here's the 10-second video he shot. There is a lot of wind noise, but if you listen real close you can hear the geese calling. The ending is great where you see quite of the geese starting to fly away.

A couple of years ago when I went out to visit them in California, I bought myself the Birds of California Field Guide by Stan Tekiela and the Sibley Guide to Birds of Western North America. When Brother Phil calls me with bird sightings, I pull out my field guides and we try to figure out what he's seen. We determined yesterday that he's also seen the Oak Titmouse which he described to me as a "little gray bird that looked a lot like a junco, but with a crest on its head." He also told me he's feeding peanuts to Western Scrub Jays and Yellow-Billed Magpies in his yard! (I was having a major case of western bird envy right about then....)

Towards the end of the phone call, he shared with me the words that this birding sister has always dreamed of hearing: "you know, Ruthie, I can see myself getting into this birding thing." (sigh) Hopefully I'll be able to get out there for a visit next January or February and we can go birding together.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Books

I got myself 3 new bird-related books this past week:

Fifty Uncommon Birds of the Upper Midwest by Nancy Overcott (with watercolor illustrations by Dana Gardner). Nancy is a really nice lady and very knowledgeable about birds. I met and talked with her several times while I was working at Wild Birds Unlimited. The other neat thing about her books is that she lives in SE Minnesota and most of her stories reflect her birding experiences in the Fillmore County area where I also grew up. It's neat to read her stories about places and people I know. I haven't had a chance to sit down and read this book yet, but in glancing through it I saw she wrote about birding with John Hockema.

I know John, in fact, John and his brother Chris were the guys who helped positively ID the rare Clay-Colored Sparrow in my yard last winter. John is a really good birder and he's also the person who recommended A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors (another new book shown above). I've been using Hawks & Owls of the Great Lakes Region & Eastern North America (which is still a very good field guide, in my opinion), but the "Raptors" is much more comprehensive and has lots of photos of raptors: perched, flying, front & back, etc. to give me better chances at a positive ID.

My last book is Owls of the North by David Benson. This is a really neat little book featuring some of the most amazing pictures of owls you've ever seen. The other reason I got this book is that David Benson is the Friday night speaker at the Sax-Zim Bog Festival of the Birds that I'm registered for in February, and I'm taking this book along so I can have David sign it for me.

In fact, all of these new books are going along with me on the trip.....I think Lynne will enjoy reading them too (and Mom, I'll bring them down to your house after we get back from the trip!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Just Wednesday Stuff

The batteries are dying in my camera and I didn't realize there were no more in the drawer, so I can only get a few pictures at a time till I go shopping again on Friday. And to tell you the truth, there's really not much going on around here anyway.

We had some snow on Monday--about 6 inches of very fluffy stuff. Here's what I saw on the deck railing with I walked in from work Monday afternoon:

I actually saw 9 Mourning Doves in the backyard on Monday afternoon. I keep watching to see if there will be another Eurasian Collared Dove like I had in my yard a few years ago.
A pretty cool looking dove and rare for our area--especially in winter. I got to meet some new birders that year as they stopped by to see this unusual dove. It wasn't around very long (Cooper's hawk, I think).

Of course all my birdfeeders were pretty well covered with snow and the bird activity was quite frenzied. I've been putting a scoop of the WBU Frosty Feast that my sissy gave me for Christmas in my window feeder tray. The bluejays grab all the peanuts, but all the other birdies love the sunflower hearts and cranberry pieces that are left over.

I've seen this partially leucistic house finch around, but on Monday I was able to get a photo of him at the window feeder.

Likewise, this cute little American Tree Sparrow posed quite nicely.

The Frosty Feast is a truly appealing blend for all the birds and I've seen birds at this window feeder who normally would never come this close to the house--including a female cardinal, red-breasted nuthatch, and even a junco. Pretty cool stuff....thanks again Sissy, for such a great Christmas gift.

With all the fresh new snow, there are all kinds of new tracks to see out in the yard. I noticed early this morning before work that the deer had finally come back overnight and there tracks were all over as they munched birdseed and corn from my tray feeders.

Out in the front yard I noticed some tracks from Mr. Ringneck.
He's an impressive fellow, isn't he?

The tail touched down first

Then a little skip as his entire body slid to a stop

And then his first step upon landing
(the snow is pretty deep and very soft, so even as he's walking, he can't lift his feet high enough and that's why you see the drag mark).

It's fun to figure out what stories the tracks in the snow have to tell you.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Top 10 Things To Do Indoors

Here's my list of Top 10 List of "Things To Do Indoors on a Sub-Zero January Day":

1. Polish some silver

2. Check for e-mail

3. Watch the birds

4. Wash some clothes

5. Shred those old tax papers

6. Watch a squirrel

7. Post a blog

8. Take a nap with the dog

9. Watch a movie

10. Keep the fireplace stoked

Hope you're keeping warm too!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Coldest Day of the Year

It's been forecasted and today's the day--our coldest day of the year. A high of about -5 degrees is predicted for today (the record for today is -32 degrees, so I'm happy we won't be breaking any records anyway). It's a beautiful sunny day which gives us a psychological boost when it's this cold. And as any good northern outdoorswoman will tell's not the cold, it's the windchill! Thankfully it's not very windy today, but we are still in a windchill advisory with windchills down in the -20 to -35 degree range. The key to staying warm in temps like this is layering and minimizing exposed skin. Thankfully I've got plenty of warm clothes, but I did see one incredibly stupid doofus at the grocery store last night wearing flip-flops and shorts! Let's hope his car didn't break down on the way home and he had to walk anywhere!

Even when it's this cold, the heated birdbath still works, so my little birdies can get a drink in the dry, cold conditions. They instinctively know that it's too cold for bathing today, but they do appreciate a nice drink.
I filled all my feeders and put out new suet for the woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees. I did find this evidence that one of my hawks will survive another few days, unfortunately it cost me a cardinal. Oh well, I still have many more cardinals than hawks and maybe next time the hawk will catch a slow sparrow instead.
This little downy found a sunny spot to enjoy a peanut feast before the bluejays arrived.
Looks like the pheasant has already stopped by this morning too.
And here's what I'll be enjoying for most of my day.....that is if I can get the dogs to move over enough on the couch for me to sit too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Living in the Country?

In my last post, Deb commented on how much light there was in my backyard at night. Even though we live outside the city limits, we are in the middle of area that's zoned "Commercial." Our property also runs right next to Highway 63 which is THE major north/south highway in and out of Rochester. We're also only about 1/2 mile from the Rochester International Airport. Since we built our house here in 1987, there has been a boom in commercial development all around us. Our subdivision hasn't been annexed into the city of Rochester yet, but the new subdivision built just north of us IS (with city water and sewer and cable TV). I believe it's only a matter of time before we become part of Rochester. The other development is that a frontage road is being planned so we will no longer be able to get directly on and off Highway 63 from our subdivision. And naturally, since our property runs right along the highway right-of-way, where do you think that frontage road is going to go?? Yup, right through my backyard wildlife habitat. We have heard that's going to happen around 2010 so I'm trying not to think about the devastating effects and whether I even want to be living here anymore to see that. Anyway that's another story for another day.

My original intent here was to show you what I see when I look out my living room window at night. This time of year everything's twice as bright outside because any available light reflects off the snow. The other night when I took the owl picture, there was also a low cloud ceiling and snow, so all of the lights on the ground were also reflecting off that.

Here's what's on the east side (my backyard) of Highway 63:

The new Sterling Truck 24 hours. Security lights around the entire building and tall parking lot perimeter security lights also. Lovely isn't it? When I was planting my trees, I never even thought to plant trees for obscuring the view this direction because there was a nice little hobby farm there with beautiful 100+ year old oak trees--all gone now for this! And if the lights aren't offensive enough, every time a semi truck pulls into the back for service (those are the service entrance doors on this side) they have to honk their horn and you guys all know how loud a semi horn is, don't you? Grrrr...... I hate this place! I fantasize about purchasing a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher from the internet and vaporizing them! (Hasta la Vista, Baby!)

Here's what I see on the other (west) side of the highway.

What's over here? Another semi-truck business, the city water tower (providing water for the airport, the commercial businesses and a residential subdivision to the north), and the thing that looks like flames is actually smoke coming from Mayo's medical waste incinerator that's catching the reflection from those ugly orangey-colored street lights in the parking lot of that facility. (Note to self: be sure to ask about a couple of bonus rockets with a pre-paid order.)

All of this is made more unbearable by the fact that traffic is almost non-stop on this highway. It used to be that when I put the dogs out in the middle of the night, I wouldn't see or hear a car, but that's a thing of the past. Amazingly enough, almost every day we have to wait for traffic before getting on the highway to go to work at 5:15 a.m!

I yearn for darkness and silence at night and this town's just getting way too big and too close for me. So, Deb, is there anything for sale in your neighborhood??

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Good Night

So just when I think I won't have anything to post on my blog, there's a last-minute development. I was getting ready to hit the sack and after I turn all the lights out I usually like to take one last look out the windows to see if there's any wildlife hanging around the backyard. Tonight it's snowing and with the overcast sky plus all the other security lighting of the businesses surrounding my neighborhood, it's pretty easy to see even at night.

I always scan the trees and power poles for owls and guess what I saw?

Sure looks like a Great Horned Owl to me, don't you think?

Welcome to my yard GHO--help yourself to a bunny or two.

Assistance Requested

I don't have a post of my own for tonight, but I did get a request from Richard asking me to send my readers over to his blog for assistance in identifying a bunch of sparrows. We both agree that these birds look like House Sparrows, but decided a few more opinion/votes couldn't hurt. So if you get a chance, click on Richard's name above for the link to his blog and post your vote in his comments section.

And while you're there, be sure to scroll down the page to enjoy the wonderful pictures Richard took of a fat gray squirrel napping in one of his backyard trees. If those photos don't make you smile, nothing will!

Have a good evening everyone and thanks for your help.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

I was over at Lisa's Greenbow Gardens blog this morning and learned about Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, which was started by Carol at the May Dreams Gardens blog. Although I consider myself a much better birder than gardener, these garden blogs are inspiration for me to continue to work on my gardening skills--if nothing else to improve the opportunities for birds and butterflies in my backyard.

Needless to say, there's nothing blooming in my backyard in the middle of January in Minnesota, but I do have a couple of pretty bloomers inside the house. It's interesting to note that both of these plants I'm about to show were given to me by my dad and they're quite old.

Here's my lovely Christmas cactus which actually bloomed at Christmas this year. It has a few blossoms left.

I have had this Christmas cactus since we got married and got our own place in 1979! I think Dad gave it to me as a little cutting and I've managed to keep it growing ever since. If I remember correctly, his plant may have been one that he got from his mom also (is that right, Dad?)

Here are some of the blossoms on my jade plant downstairs.

This is a huge jade plant and once the danger of frost is past, it lives outside in the backyard all summer.

The history of this plant is that Dad started it over 50 years ago in the classroom of his first teaching job in Chicago. I was amazed the first time I had it bloom after bringing it inside from its summer outdoors. I had no idea jade plants bloomed. I love this big jade plant (and so does my cat who tries to climb in the pot every fall when I bring it indoors).

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday Miscellanea

Did you get a chance to watch the videos Mon@rch posted of his different bird feeders back in December? Here's the link in case you missed it or want to see it again

Watching those videos gave me a good turn my birdBATH stump

into a birdFEEDER stump

(it's a good thing there are more clever bird lovers out there than I am--until I read that Mon@rch blog posting, my birdbath had just been turned upside down on the stump till spring--what a waste that would have been all winter!)

My Sissy gave me two bags of Wild Birds Unlimited birdseed for Christmas and the scoop of "Frosty Feast" blend has been gobbled up every day on this stump feeder. The nice thing is that this stump is right outside my kitchen window--affording great viewing and picture opportunities. Here are a couple of regular visitors (the Frosty Feast blend contains LOTS of nuts!)

Thanks Mon@rch, for this great birdfeeder inspiration!

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Here's another sight I saw out my kitchen window late this afternoon:

Oodles of Cardinals! (with a couple of Tree Sparrows thrown in too)

I started sprinkling seed under the evergreen tree a few weeks ago for some of the groundfeeding birds who take advantage of a little more protection from my neigborhood Cooper's and Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

I remember a time not too many years ago when I would rejoice to see a pair of cardinals in my yard--maybe once a week. This winter I have more cardinals than ever before and they're here every day. I've counted as many as 13 for Project Feederwatch, and I'm thrilled!

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And lastly, here's a short little video I took last week of a couple of juncos on my thistle seed feeder. I didn't have my camera ready quick enough to capture the entire event, but it appeared to me that one junco was using this "bobbing" technique to intimidate the other junco and claim the feeder all for himself and as you'll see, it worked! Funny birds, those little juncos.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Answers to Bird Quiz

If you're curious about the answers to Friday's bird quiz, I've added them to that post. Once again, I want to thank all of you who participated in the quiz. I was curious today and did a little "self-quiz" by going through one of my field guides and writing down the names of birds I knew I would recognize on sight (or by call - in the case of owls). I would encourage any of you who might be interested to try this yourself.....I think you might be surprised by how many birds you actually do recognize--especially regional birds that are specific to your geographic location.

I also tried the Cornell quiz that Ruth posted in her comment. The link is here:

This was a fun quiz to take because it contained a variety of birds and also their calls. My shorebird ID skills are really weak and I only got the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs on this quiz because I knew their calls. I've never been very good at identifying these birds because I don't get enough opportunities to see them (on account of the fact that there are very few lakes in Olmsted County--even though Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes!).

Back on January 1st, Richard posted one of his new year's resolutions: to photograph and identify 5 new birds in 2008. I think this is a great resolution and one I'm going to work on also.

So here are the winners of the quiz who identified 21 or more of the birds correctly:
1. Dad
2. Larry (from The Brownstone Birding Blog)
3. Loribird (From the Wool Room blog)
4. Trixie (Trixie's View blog)
5. Ruth (Body, Soul and Spirit blog)

Richard got quite a few correct, but he later sent me an e-mail confessing that he didn't read the instructions correctly and checked his field guide for some of the answers (so I'll send him a consolation prize anyway for being honest).

P.S. to Larry and Loribird: I don't have your USPS mailing address, so if you'll e-mail me your address, I can get your prize mailed out in the next couple weeks. Thanks!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What is this Bird?

Holy Butcher Bird, that a Northern Shrike in RuthieJ's backyard?

We were on our way home from Rochester this morning and I saw this bird sitting in the top of one of my trees down in the "wild" part of my backyard. It was about the size of a bluejay, but no crest on the head and grayish looking all over. "Holy Crap, that looks like a shrike!" I exclaimed to the spousal unit.

Fortunately we were 1 minute from home and I was able to rush into the house and grab my camera and binoculars before running out through the backyard to try and ID this bird. So what do you think? Can you tell from this crappy photo whether it's a shrike or not? (I tried to get closer, but of course the bird noticed me and flew away.)

I've seen them occasionally around here in the winter and even had one in my yard about 6 years ago, but haven't seen one in the area since.