Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More Backyard Birds

It was pretty chilly this morning (about 9 degrees when I got home from work at 10:45), but the wind wasn't blowing too hard and the sun was shining, so all in all, it was a pretty decent morning. (I can always tell when I've finally adjusted to winter when I'm happy about a daytime high in the 20's!)

So I had just gotten home and let Sophie out the back door and was getting ready to fill the birdfeeders when I had a "holy crap" bird moment: A robin in the backyard! Some of you may already know that I'm hyper aware of bird calls and when I heard that robin's chirp, I said to myself, "Holy crap, that's a robin!" and then I saw it fly away from one of the apple trees. I know some really hardy robins spend their winters in Minnesota, but I've never seen them in my backyard on December 29th! I ran in the house for the camera, but the robin was already gone. Oh well, as long as I had the camera out, I decided to take some more backyard bird pictures to add to the ones that I've been saving for the last couple weeks and I'll inundate you with bird photos today.

I have a bunch of little house finches hanging around again (no purple finches though). This old stump is a great birdfeeder in the wintertime.

The American Tree Sparrows started showing up in the backyard about 10 days ago. They're so cute that I had to take pictures of 2 different ones!

I really like their little two-colored beaks and watching them hop backwards when they're looking for seeds! I'm always amazed by such tough little birds like these guys and the juncos who call Minnesota their "southern" home for the winter!

Since the snow, I'm starting to see more of the goldfinches back at my birdfeeders again too. No Pine Siskens or Common Redpolls yet though.

Last Sunday morning I was amazed to see a Common Grackle at the backyard feeder.

And then I was even MORE amazed to see two! There was still one here yesterday, but haven't seen any today. I'm really hoping they stay around at least through the weekend so I can count them for my Project FeederWatch and one of my birding buddies has a chance to count them on his New Year's Big Day bird count.

About a week before Christmas when we still had some mild weather, there was a flock of Cedar Waxwings in the backyard cleaning off my crabapple trees one morning. I was lucky enough to capture this shot of a pretty little juvenile Cedar Waxwing who landed on the deck railing on her way to the birdbath. It looks as though the bird is looking at me through the window, but I think she's actually scoping out the birdbath on the deck just below her. Regardless, I loved the fact that I can see one of the little red "waxy" red feather tips on her wing. Cedar Waxwings are one of my favorite birds!

I think I posted this picture for Christmas, but you'll see it here again just because it's one of the best cardinal pictures I've ever taken. It really looks fabulous as my desktop wallpaper too! We've got bunches of cardinals in the backyard again this winter. Late in the afternoon, it's not unusual to see up to 15 total at the different birdfeeders around the house!

Silly Corvids.......Suet is for woodpeckers!

Hope you're all enjoying winter and seeing some good birds in your backyard too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

More Backyard Tracks

I've had these pictures in my camera since the 18th and I'm glad to finally get the chance to get them into a blog post. We had some snow predicted around this time and I wanted to make sure I got these photos before the snow covered them up because for me they held some special significance. Can you tell what these tracks in the snow are?? If it helps at all, here's a hint: they're on the south side of a large evergreen.....
If you said to your monitor, "that looks like spots where 2 deer laid down," well, then you are absolutely correct!

You probably remember that I posted some photos a few weeks ago (before the snow) of where deer had bedded down in the backyard and flattened the grass. Ever since it snowed and we were still seeing deer in the backyard, I've been on the lookout for any evidence that they're still bedding down and I finally found these 2 spots the morning of the 18th when I was out filling birdfeeders.

Mr. Johnson said I would be able to easily notice where deer had bedded down because the snow would be melted all the way to the ground from their body heat. (I tried finding out what the body temperature of a white-tailed deer is, but couldn't find that specific information. We're thinking that it's probably at least 100 degrees. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know in the "Comments" section, OK?)

So here's a close-up look at the first spot. It looks like she had a good nap and then probably had a stretch and a pee once she got up (just like me after a nap!)

Here's the other spot. Isn't it just so neat the way you can see the impressions from where she had her legs tucked in underneath her? And then her little hoofprints from when she got up and walked away?

The more I see of these deer, the more fascinated I become with them. I really love the fact that they're right in the backyard where I have the opportunity to watch their activities and habits so closely.

When I was out searching for more deer bedding spots (which I didn't find, BTW), I did come across this well-used bunny trail that goes from under another evergreen to the dense dogwood thicket in the backyard. All the little birdies and critters love this thicket and it provides really good protection from predators -- especially hawks.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Wrap-Up

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Christmas celebration with family and/or friends. We made the journey down to my parent's home through heavy snow yesterday morning (thank goodness for that AWD Chevy Tahoe!) and arrived without any problems although we saw more than 1 car in the ditch along the way. Brother Dave wasn't able to make it from St. Paul due to the more blizzard-y conditions north of here and the fact that he's also come down with a nasty cold (hope you feel better soon Dave!) We picked up Mr. Johnson's mom on our way and my sissy, her friend Harriet, and her daughters and grandson also made it, so we had a good group around the dinner table.

My mom and niece prepared a delicious dinner for us with enough for everyone to have seconds (good thing I don't eat like that every day!) My niece Kathy wasn't quite as hungry as the rest of us and decided to turn her leftover pile of mashed potatoes into "Spud" the mashed potato snowman -- complete with toothpick arms, green bean smile, carrot nose, mustard seed eyes and a jaunty pecan beret!

Here's Boris (one of my parent's indoor kitties) searching for his Christmas present.

Boris never did find that missing box of kitty treats, so he retreated to Mr. Johnson's lap for some consolation pets. (Mr. Johnson is not a huge fan of cats and somehow cats always seem to sense this and deliberately search him out!)

It's the little guys that always seem to get the most at Christmas isn't it? Here's the huge pile of presents for Ethan (my niece's little boy who was 2 in August). He got lots of cool dump trucks, cars, backhoes, tools and other stuff that makes lots of noise.......my sister may have to think about building a toyroom addition on her house before too much longer!

And after getting up early this morning, I got the chance to start a new sweater for myself! (This is a present I give to myself each Christmas after completing all my other Christmas projects.) Watch for future posts on this one.......

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you, my dear blogging friends and followers. I hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

My Christmas projects are finished and I finally have a marginally faster internet speed, so I'm looking forward to getting back to blogging and visiting all the blogs I've missed for the past few weeks. See you soon!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yes Deer!

My hungry deer -- who usually don't arrive until well after dark for their daily corn -- showed up in the backyard late this afternoon, so I had the chance to take a few pictures while it was still a little bit light out.

Most of the deer we see are yearlings (fawns born this past spring). Sometimes their mom is with them and we think there are at least 2 family groups that visit the backyard.

Tonight we saw a total of 6 deer here at the same time. The little guys are much less cautious than their moms, but one thing's for sure.....they're all really hungry! I fill the birds' ground feeder trays with corn every evening and they're always cleaned out by morning! In fact, I've gotta make another run to Fleet Farm after work tomorrow for more corn.

They sure are a lot fluffier now with their heavy winter coats. I think they'll be safe here for the winter, as long as they stay on our side of the highway.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blood Donation #110

I'm fortunate to have a Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center at my place of employment, which makes it easy for me to take 45 minutes out of my workday and donate a unit of blood. The donor center also opens up early, so I was able to get one of the 6:30 appointments and here I am, with my 110th unit of A+ blood.
2 more donations to go for my 14 gallon pin!

I hope those of you that are healthy and able will take an hour out of your busy schedule to donate a unit of blood this holiday season. Even though I'll never meet any of the people that benefit from my unit of blood, it's a good feeling to know that I may have had a part in saving someone's life (or even several someone's!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Backyard Trails

While Mr. Johnson was at work Saturday morning, I had the chance to spend some quality time with our little green Toro snowblower making paths in the backyard. In some places the snow had drifted to at least 30 inches and I was getting tired of putting on my snow pants and big boots just to go out and fill the birdfeeders.

I've made these paths in previous winters and it turns out that in addition to making it easier for me to fill all the birdfeeders, it also makes it easier for Sophie to get out on her potty breaks. It also makes it really nice for my backyard critters -- mainly deer and bunnies -- to get to their food too. Here's the view right out the basement patio door.....believe it or not, there were actually deer hoofprints right up to the patio! I sprinkle a little birdseed on the patio for the juncos and the deer came sometime during the night and ate up all the remaining seed.

Here's the convergence of trails right outside the kitchen window. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see additional deer tracks out beyond the trails. We have a double row of white pines right there, so it's a good sheltered spot. I'm hoping sometime this winter the deer will take advantage of that shelter and use it as a bedding area.

I also made some trails for Mr. Johnson to place his targets for his daily archery practice. Naturally, the critters and Sophie are also taking advantage of these trails too.

One more view of a couple more trails. In the top right of this picture (behind that evergreen tree), I have another birdfeeder that's only visible from the basement patio. That's also the area where the deer usually enter or depart from the backyard.

I wish I would have thought of taking these pictures a little earlier in the day so I could show you all the hoofprints on these trails. We still have at least 6 deer visiting the yard -- much more regularly now since the snow has arrived.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Winter Stormy Day

We woke up this morning to LOTS of snow -- everywhere! Remember the suet-loving crow in yesterday's video. As I was making breakfast this morning, I managed to capture a few more photos of him successfully obtaining suet from the tiny suet feeder. Looks pretty awkward, doesn't it? Crows just don't have that clinging ability of woodpeckers! But this guy did manage to score a few chunks of suet for his efforts.

Here's the view out my dining room window at 7:30 AM. Needless to say, the bluejays didn't get their peanuts this morning! I think this is actual snowfall as it's so close to the house I don't believe any drifting was possible.

Here's a look at another feeder and frozen birdbath on my deck railing. Some of this might have been due to drifting. The deck is on the southeast side of the house and last night's high winds blowing from the northwest covered most of our deck with a pretty huge snow drift.

Here's our snowfall totals from the local 6:00 PM weather report. Rochester Intn'l is the "official" reporting station and since we're only a couple miles from there, we use this as our result too. That seemed pretty accurate just based on what we were seeing in sheltered spots in the backyard too.

Despite the blizzard conditions, it was a pretty good day -- especially to get stuff done indoors. My wireless modem was delivered late yesterday afternoon, so I got that all hooked up today (thanks to the Qwest technical support team!) We also got this wonderful new toilet installed too! (Yes, Mom and Dad, it's one of the tall ones!)

The snowplow crews have been working overtime, so we should have a pretty easy time getting back to work tomorrow. It's going to be cold, but at least we won't have to shovel that and I've got plenty of mittens, hats and sweaters!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Clever Crow

We've got the fireplace blazing and we're all ready to spend the next 24 hours riding out this first major blizzard of the 2009-2010 winter season. It's been snowing since before 4 AM this morning and luckily for me, Mr. Johnson has plenty of vacation time still remaining, so he came home with me at 10:30 this morning so I wouldn't have to drive back to work and pick him up this afternoon in the heavier snow.

While I was getting our lunch ready, I enjoyed watching my crows in the backyard. Did you know crows liked suet? I really got a kick out of watching this crow desperately trying to acquire a bit of suet from this small hanging feeder. I love how he looks up at the suet and I can only imagine what thought processes are going on in his crow brain as he plots his strategy for obtaining a suet-y snack. Enjoy the show!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Finished fiber projects and other stuff

Here's my outside thermometer at 8:00 this morning.....yup, looks like winter has finally arrived and after the second warmest November on record, I don't believe there's a single person in Minnesota who's not complaining about our abrupt return to normal winter weather!

The good thing about this weather is that I'm not feeling the least bit guilty about parking my butt on the couch for hours and knitting my fingers to the bone! In fact this week has been one of my best in recent memory for getting a number of projects finished. Here's a nice afghan I got done on Monday. This is a great time of year to work on afghans because you can keep yourself (and the pets!) warm while the knitting progresses. (watch for this afghan to show up in my Etsy store soon!)

This is a crocheted afghan that I started at least 3 years ago. I decided it was high time I finished it because I finally have a recipient for this afghan. Next week it's going to my adopted son, Kerry, in the US Navy. I adopted Kerry in October through Soldiers' Angels. It's not a huge afghan, but I think there's not much room on a ship for personal belongings anyway. I hope he likes it!

Back-to-back episodes of "Law and Order" plus Netflix movies are great for getting knitting projects done too! This week I finished this cutest ever teddy bear vest for my great-nephew Ethan's Christmas present. I was amazed that I managed to save (and find!) this Leisure Arts pattern brochure that I originally purchased back in the 80's. I think if my sissy looked back in her old photo albums, she would probably find a picture of my niece (Ethan's mom) wearing a similar vest that I knitted for her when she was probably 5 or 6 years old.
Teddy Bear Vest - front view (I even found some googly-eye buttons in my stash)

Teddy Bear Vest - back view (isn't that a cute little stubby tail?)

Last Saturday I got a phone call from my local yarn shop owner about finishing a sweater for one of her customers. The poor woman has been working on this sweater for the past 5 years but is unable to do the finishing herself. Finishing this sweater will involve cutting the front open and cutting holes to insert the sleeves. Apparently I'm one of only a small number of people around here who knows how to do this anymore and it's not a job for a faint-hearted knitter! I quoted her an ungodly amount for finishing this sweater and she agreed to pay it. So my customer will get her sweater finished for Christmas.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Loves Me Some Bluejays

November 18th marked the official beginning of my Project Feederwatch season for 2009-2010. I didn't participate last year, but decided to try it again this year hoping that I might have more time to watch based on my part-time work schedule. Plus, the hours I record watching my birdfeeders count as "citizen science" credit to maintain my volunteer Master Naturalist status (so it's definitely a win-win all the way around!)

I haven't had any outstanding birds show up at my feeders so far this year -- probably due to the fact that this November is going to go down in the record book as the second mildest since weather record keeping began for Rochester. The birds are still finding plenty of natural food, but I'm sure once we return to our normal Minnesota winter weather and get a couple inches of snow on the ground, the activity around my backyard birdfeeders will pick up.

But no matter what the weather, I can always count on my faithful, opportunistic, and hungry bluejays to put in an appearance. I got the tray stuck up on my dining room window again and was amazed to see that the bluejays found the peanuts literally within minutes of my filling it.

I know there are plenty of people who despise bluejays, but I am not one of them. I love their brilliant blue colors and the fact that they always seem to have something to say and usually in the loudest voice possible. I love that they have so many different calls and aren't afraid to scream a warning when the Cooper's Hawk comes soaring into the backyard -- probably saving countless lives of the smaller birdies hanging around my feeders.

My bluejays have never met a peanut they didn't like! But usually they have to go through almost all of the peanuts in the tray to decide which one they like best. The bluejays coming to my feeder usually take one peanut and fly away to cache it somewhere in the backyard--under an evergreen, in the garden, or just stuck down into the grass with a leaf covering it. I'm really not sure whether they have the ability to remember where they hide the peanuts, especially based on the number of whole peanuts I found last spring when I tilled up the garden!

I'm looking forward to my feederwatch season this year and especially the chance to just sit and watch bluejays. Yesterday morning there were several bluejay families convening in the trees outside the dining room window and I counted 14 at one time -- a new record for my backyard!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tundra Swans and MORE!

My apologies to any dial-up users -- this post is going to be very heavy on photos and videos.

For the last couple weeks or so, we've been hearing tundra swans flying over -- sometimes while on the deer stand and also real early in the morning when we get up for work. So earlier this week, we made plans to take a drive down to the Mississippi just south of Brownsville, MN to view this spectacle before they continue their migration to their final wintering grounds in the Chesapeake Bay. Usually my Sissy and I take this trip in November, but this year Mr. Johnson decided he'd like to go, so I gladly decided to let him drive (while I knitted, of course!)

I was really disappointed when I woke up early this morning to heavy fog and a dense fog advisory until 10 AM. Fortunately the fog wasn't quite as thick right down on the river as on the higher ridgetops.

Although the weather conditions weren't optimal, I did manage to get a few marginally good photos and videos. These swans are so beautiful in flight. Their wingspan is approximately 5 and a half feet.

Here's an adult with two of this year's hatchlings. Their grayish feathers and pinkish beaks distinguish them from the adults. These juveniles will stay with their parents for a year.

There seems to be plenty of things for them to eat on the bottom of this shallow part of the river. Watching these birds, we saw that most of them were able to just stick their heads under the water to find food, but the juvenile in the center of this picture must have been especially hungry because it was "tipped up" quite a bit of the time!

Preening seemed to be quite an important activity also.

I took quite a few short videos and "stitched" them together to make a couple of longer videos for your viewing enjoyment. Here's Part 1.......

Here's Part 2 of the video. In it you will hear Mr. Johnson ask me if they're protected to which I reply "yes" (don't ask my why I was whispering -- it's not like I was going to scare any birds away by talking out loud!) Anyway, that got me to thinking about whether they're hunted anywhere, so after doing a google search on "tundra swan hunting" I found that several western states do, in fact, allow hunting of tundra swans: Utah, Nevada, Montana, and a limited hunt in North Dakota. Fortunately, Minnesota and Wisconsin have not established any hunting seasons on these beautiful birds.

I was really surprised to see several small flocks of American White Pelicans hanging around in this area of the river also. For some reason, I thought that they would have all migrated through by now.

We drove up the road to check out a couple other viewing areas and I was able to capture this video of a small group of the pelicans "fishing" for their dinner.

There was plenty of other waterfowl in the area also. My duck ID skills are poor at best--when I saw this duck, my first thought was "Bufflehead." Then when I looked at the preview on my camera, I realized that looked more like a merganser beak, so checked my field guide again to confirm the ID of Male Hooded Merganser. This photo really doesn't do it justice, so if you have a field guide handy, look it up to see what a truly beautiful bird this is.

Here's another poor photo of some ducks I couldn't ID. Anybody have any thoughts on these? I'm thinking perhaps Green-Winged Teal or perhaps Gadwall (based on the black rump).

Here's another large group of different ducks. I think I saw a Ring-Necked Duck in the group (the big white ring around the tip of the bill helped with that ID). I think it looks like there are probably a couple of Canvasbacks in this group too.

In spite of the overcast skies and chilly temps, it turned out to be a wonderful day. The sounds and sights of all these swans and waterfowl was so awesome and my only disappointment was that we didn't have the luxury of spending the entire day down there watching them!