Sunday, November 30, 2008

Catching Up

Did you take advantage of "Black Friday" deals? I am definitely not a black Friday shopper and decided to go to work instead. I couldn't believe the numbers of people out that day and all parking spots appeared to be filled in the shopping centers I passed coming home from work. I did take advantage of one sale though and purchased (for myself) the 8-GB iPod Nano (boring black) in an e-mail offer on Friday morning and was such a good price I couldn't pass it up (free shipping too!) Now I just have to get my birdJam software and I'll be all set for birdJamming!

Since I have no other exciting things going on right now, I'll show you a few pictures that have been on my Compact Flash card for the last couple weeks.

We woke up to a winter wonderland this morning. There was about an inch of snow on the ground and it's still flurrying. I'm sure glad I went out yesterday afternoon and raked up a bunch of leaves that were still on the ground in the front yard.

This Common Grackle was hanging around my feeders last weekend--apparently he missed the memo that listed the final departure times for fall migration (and he doesn't look very happy about having to hang out with all the sparrows either!)

I have "double decker" possums in my yard this year! Whatever the deer don't eat from the ground feeders overnight, the possums usually clean up from the trays and under the other feeders. (Sorry this picture isn't very good--I was trying to hold the spotlight between my kness and snap the photo without shaking too much.)

There are lots of bluejays in my yard again now that winter is getting close. It's fun to watch them come to my stump feeder to collect the shelled peanuts in the seed blend I put out here. It's impossible for me to tell any of them apart, but apparently they know who belongs to which family and therefore, who will be allowed to dine together.

But woe to the bluejay who tries to get some seed when he's not allowed! I caught this one in mid-flight and look at the poor guy at the bottom of the picture.....patiently waiting to see when he will get his chance to eat!

I put a few nuts out for the squirrel again. Here's a fat little bushytail making off with a filbert.

And they still visit the grounding feeding tray for corn and sunflowers too. This squirrel looks like it's got a pretty luxurious fur coat to get through the winter.

Have a good week everyone!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving 2008

I hope you all enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your special folks. In spite of all that's been going on this year with the economy and everything else, I feel we are still the most privileged people in the world and also that we sometimes have a tendency to overlook this. So if you get a chance, think about everything you're really thankful for and put it in a "Top Ten" list, then print it out as a daily reminder. Here's my "Top Ten Things to be Thankful For" list.

1. My health

2. I have a job (with co-workers I like and get along with)

3. I have a warm house (and the mortgage is paid off)

4. Mr. Johnson (for sticking with me over 30 years!)

5. My family

6. The birds at my birdfeeders

7. Yarn

8. There's always food in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

9. My blogging friends

10. My pets

Thank you Lord, for all this bounty!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tundra Swans

Thanks to Troutbirder's post about his Thursday visit to the Mississippi to see Tundra Swans, I knew today would be a good day to call up my Sissy and take a drive down to see this event for ourselves. It was a nice day for a drive and we kept our eyes peeled for Snowy Owls along the interstate. No Snowy Owls were spotted, but we did see lots of Red-Tailed Hawks and even more Bald Eagles.

Once we got south of Brownsville, Minnesota, we started seeing the swans and other waterfowl where open water remained on the Mississippi. Many of them were just hanging out in the 38 degree water, but there were other groups constantly flying in and out of the area.

By late morning, the sun became hidden behind a heavy layer of clouds. It was windy and cold and the lighting for photos wasn't ideal, but I couldn't resist taking some pictures of this Tundra Swan family swimming close to the viewing platform.

You can see how windy it was -- messing up this swan's feathers as it swam around.

Here are the 3 kids swimming by themselves (yes, that's ice in the background!)

Near this group of swans was also a large group of mallards--some of them just sitting on the ice. Doesn't it just make you shiver looking at them?

There were Bald Eagles everywhere in this area too--soaring above the bluffs, sitting out on the ice, and just perched in the trees. I've never seen so many eagles in such a short amount of time. Here's a pair of juveniles sitting in a tree right along the highway. I was able to snap this picture quickly before they both flew away.

Also out on the river channel was this large flock of waterfowl. We saw Common Goldeneys and Redheads; other birders nearby also identified Canvasbacks and Scaup. As we hiked down to the river, something scared them and huge groups of the ducks started to fly away. It was really neat to hear the sound their wings made as huge numbers of ducks flew into the air and to see all these ducks circling around over the water. I've never seen anything like it before.
At one of our stops this morning, I recognized Ecobirder with a group of birders. I hope he does a post about his visit to the Mississippi today since his camera and photography skills are superior to mine. (If you're not familiar with his blog, you'll want to click on the link above and check out his wonderful photos.)

Being something of a train enthusiast, I was also happy for the opportunity to see this freight train traveling south on these tracks that run along the Mississippi.

Here's something else I saw today that I never thought I'd see again......

And my sissy shared some good news with me today too--she's working on quitting smoking with the help of Chantix. In 3 months, she's gone from a pack a day to less than a pack a week. I am sooooo happy about that. Way to go Sissy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Miscellaneous Thursday

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on my starling trapping post. I believe that's the most comments I've ever gotten since I started blogging and I certainly enjoyed reading what you all had to say on this subject.

I've been busy this week working on some of the things on my "Projects to Be Completed by the End of November" list. I finished this prayer shawl last Sunday. This is one of my "Pay It Forward" projects. I hope to get it shipped off to the recipient this weekend.

Here are some "chemo caps" I knitted for Cari at the Undomestic blog.
I originally thought I was going to use some soft cashmere/merino blend yarn and then when I read the care instructions on the ball band label it said that hand washing was required. I don't know about you, but my handwashable wool items tend to just pile up in the laundry room before I get around to handwashing them. I figured if Cari wasn't feeling well the last thing she probably wants to do is handwashing her hats and if someone's coming in to help her with chores, they won't have to worry about them either. The brown hat on top is a machine washable wool/acrylic blend and the 2 hats on the bottom are 100% machine wash & dry acrylic (Soft Yarn by Red Heart). I have never used this yarn before and I loved knitting with it. I also loved trying out these 3 new patterns from Knitting Pattern Central.

I ordered some new knitting pattern books last week from Amazon and they arrived on Monday. I'll save these projects for January (after I get my Christmas projects finished up).

Fortunately, these knitting patterns have been fairly simple (good for multi-tasking), so I've also been watching The West. I really like all of the Ken Burns documentaries and The West is no exception. I tried getting it from NetFlix, but was only able to receive Part 1, so I checked with my local library and once again, they came to my rescue and were able to get Parts 2-9 for me on an interlibrary loan. Because these are a 7-day loan, I've been watching a couple parts each evening. Tonight after supper I'm heading back to the library to return Parts 5 & 6 and pick up Part 7 (which arrived yesterday at the library) and then I hope to finish watching the last 3 parts before Saturday.
Have any of you watched this series? What did you think of it? I'm learning a lot of things about the events that settled the West and changed the United States forever, but I have to say there are also a lot of things revealed in these stories that make me less than proud to be an American--especially in regards to how the Native Americans were dealt with.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Trapping Starlings

Warning: This post is all about trapping European Starlings. If you really like starlings or are totally against trapping and eliminating invasive, non-native bird species, STOP READING RIGHT NOW and go on to the next blog you usually read. I don't want any nasty comments from people who object to this practice. I realize I'm opening myself up to this by even putting this post on my blog, but if anyone else has a starling problem and is looking for advice or hints on how to trap starlings in their own backyard, this post may be helpful for you.

I want to start out by saying that it is not illegal to trap and kill starlings. Starlings (and house sparrows) are birds that are not native to the United States -- they were introduced from Europe back in the 1800's in New York City. Starlings and house sparrows are smart and adaptable to all environments and they're prolific breeders, so it didn't take long for them to populate the entire United States from coast to coast. Both breeds are cavity nesters which means that they live in bird houses, holes in trees excavated by woodpeckers and just about anywhere else they can find a hole or cavity to fly into--drain pipes, store signs, street lights, or attics in houses. Because of this, many of our native birds that nest in cavities (bluebirds, tree swallows, purple martins, woodpeckers, etc.) have experienced population declines due to the fierce competition for nesting sites from starlings and house sparrows. Starlings and house sparrows are very aggressive competitors for nesting sites and have been known to kill the native species -- even in the nest box! -- in order to take over and build a nest of their own (sometimes right on top of the birds they killed!)

Because I have nesting bluebirds in my yard in the summer and I'm still trying to attract purple martins, house sparrows and starlings are not welcome in my yard. I try to be tolerant of the starlings--especially in summertime because I know they eat alot of insects in the ground. Because I don't keep suet out in the summer, the starlings generally don't bother my birdfeeders at all. However, the single starling that showed up at my suet feeder the other day has now turned into a flock of 15-20 and that's beyond my limit of tolerance!

So I got my trap out of the garage this morning, set it on a board and baited it with suet (outside the trap and also inside). I believe that starlings are incapable of resisting suet or anything else with corn and/or peanuts in it. Here's a look at the baited trap.

I have strategically placed it right below the suet feeder they have been using in the tree. Sometimes if they drop a chunk of suet from above, they will fly down to find it--this is a good way to catch them also.

To be a responsible starling trapper, it is imperative that you monitor the trap to make sure you don't catch anything other than starlings. (Also, if you have to go away for awhile, please be sure to close the trap doors, or put the trap away.) Sophie is happy to assist me with the starling trap monitoring. She alerts me by barking if any birds go into the trap.

Sometimes starlings will also approach the trap from the ground as they're moving across the yard in search of food (this is why it's good to have the trap on a board--gives them easier access to the suet bait you've put outside the trap). I believe we have an adult and some juveniles in this picture.

OK, just hop inside please!


Now I put Sophie to work. She's excited to have a bird in the trap and quickly runs outside to bark at it until I get there and remove the bird from the trap. I hold the bird and Sophie quickly dispatches it with one or two chomps of her strong jaws. Gross? Yes, somewhat, but it's a much quicker dispatch than when I used to have to wring the bird's neck.

Starlings are amazingly intelligent. The trap will work for probably only a day or two at this location. Then I'll have to move it underneath a different suet feeder if I want to continue trapping these birds. In a few days (or weeks - depending on how long I have the trap out), the size of the starling flock has decreased and they have figured out my yard is not the ideal place for them to be and they move elsewhere.

You may think I'm cruel and uncaring person for killing these birds, but I've seen the results of what they can do to our native cavity nesters. Finding an entire nest of baby tree swallows pecked to death in their birdhouse was enough to convince me that trapping and elimination measures were going to start taking place in my backyard.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wet Birds....and everything else!

The temp was about 42 degrees when we got home from work today and it was pouring rain.

I commented to Mr. Johnson that I was going to have lots of messy birdfeeders to clean up once the weather dried out again. In spite of the nasty weather, I was happy to see several Pine Siskins getting thistle seed from the feeders on my deck. (notice that mess I mentioned earlier?)

This is definitely not a happy face!

Suet Feeder Fun

Sometimes when people find out I'm a "birder" they will ask me what my favorite bird is. I always have a hard time with that one and my usual response is, "well, it would be easier to tell you what my least favorite bird is......."
(I'm not as nice as Mary, it's time to get the starling trap out again!)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What season is it anyway??

The seasonal transitions are always tough to get used to, but be glad you're not a dandelion in Minnesota! Our record warmth of 10 days ago convinced some of the dandelions that it was spring and time to start blooming again. Then snow and cold over the weekend destroyed any spring fantasies we might have been entertaining. When I was filling birdfeeders this afternoon, I noticed one hardy little dandelion stilling holding its tiny head up high--perhaps delighted with the fact that the most of the nearby snow had melted off today.
I'm still having a hard time getting used to snow on green grass too!

I wasn't sure of the use of "hardy" vs. "hearty," so decided to check the dictionary before posting. Since "hardy" came first alphabetically, here's what I found:

har-dy adj: able to withstand adverse conditions

I'm going to paste this little dandelion's picture in my dictionary next to the definition--if this doesn't depict hardy, I don't know what does!! (I know to some they are just ugly weeds to seek out and destroy, but I really like my dandelions!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Accent Quiz

I found this little quiz on Red's blog today and, no surprise, here's how my results turned out:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Northeast
The Midland
The South
North Central
The West
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

And yes, I do call carbonated beverages "pop" but I want to go on record saying that people from Chicago have a totally different accent than people from Minnesota or Wisconsin (and I think all Minnesotans reading this will agree with me!)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Goldfinch Sunday

Today was gray and cold again with light snow flurries for most of the morning. Since I got so many chores done yesterday, I got to spend a little more time knitting and birdwatching. I was amazed at all the little goldfinches spending time at my feeders. I think there are almost as many goldfinches in the backyard as there are juncos! They are such a cute little bird, don't you think?

They love the thistle seed in my tube feeders. I found this big branch broken off one of my trees a few weeks ago and replaced the smaller branch I used to have by these feeders. Now there's more space for goldfinches awaiting a turn at the feeders. Look at all those finches! And these are only two of the feeders.......the activity at all the feeders was continuous for the entire day.

The birdbath was a popular spot this morning too. I added some hot water to this frozen birdbath and for about a half hour the birds were able to get a few sips of fresh water. I have a heated birdbath on the deck too, but for some reason the birds seem to prefer this basin attached to the deck railing.

Here's a seed feeder out in the front yard. The goldfinches spend a lot of time here too--it's a sunflower seed blend, but they love it just as much (the house finches do too!)

Did you know goldfinches like shelled peanuts? I'm not sure if this goldfinch landed here by mistake, but it appeared to be trying to peck a peanut from this feeder.

Remember my Noro yarn from Friday's post? Well here's how it's turning out in the shawl pattern I chose. Isn't that neat? The color bands will get thinner as the shawl gets larger, but I really like these colors. The main pattern design is a 16-row repeat and the chart is very easy to follow. Oh yeah, I finished the baby afghan this morning too!

Hope you all have a good week!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Just Bluejays

Because shotgun deer season opened today and I didn't get a license for that season this year, I got to stay home on a Saturday for the first time in weeks. The house was in desperate need of a thorough cleaning, but before embarking on that adventure, I spent some time watching my bluejays. I know a lot of people don't like bluejays, but I enjoy them and their antics immensely. For all their boldness and the fact that they're one of the largest feeder birds in my backyard, my bluejays are quite shy around humans and I always feel fortunate to be able to capture some photos of them from the warmth and comfort of my dining room. So today's post is going to be a celebration of the bluejay.

Here's one of the sunflowers I grew in my garden last summer. I noticed that something had been eating the seeds, but didn't know till this morning that it was the bluejay.

It takes a little bit of effort for the bluejay to get these seeds. It looks like they've already eaten the most accessible seeds, I wonder if they will be able to get to those at the bottom center portion of the seed head?

I got a chance to wash some windows last week and while it was still warm I also put up my window feeders for the winter. Since it as so snowy and damp this morning, instead of going outside in my jammies to fill birdfeeders, I just opened the window and threw some peanuts in the tray. It didn't take the bluejays long to discover those peanuts! Obviously, some of these bluejays have been here before!

Looks like this guy has some tail feather issues.

Usually they fly away with the peanut, but sometimes they just fly over to the crabapple tree and open the peanut there. That also accounts for the huge number of peanut shells I have to rake up every spring from under this same crabapple tree.

This jay has snow on his beak--I wonder if that's from burying a peanut he picked up on a previous trip?

Sometimes they will try to fit two peanuts in their beak, but usually they fly away with just one.

Did you happen to notice on all of these pictures that their crest is down flat on their head? Does anyone know why that is? I'll have to watch my other feeders and see if they always keep their crest down while feeding.

Did I say "just bluejays?" Well, I lied.......during a break in the bluejay feeding frenzy, Mr. Downy Woodpecker got a chance to stop by and try to grab a peanut also.

And lastly, for your viewing pleasure, here's a little video I shot this morning too. Enjoy........