Thursday, February 26, 2009

Winter hangs on

Fortunately for us, today's Winter Storm Warning turned out to be less severe than originally predicted. We had a little "thunder snow" -- it's always kind of exciting to have thunder and lightning in a snowstorm. It was snowing really hard when we got off work, but by 3:00 the snow had just about finished and our grand total of snow piled up was less than 3 inches. What a relief that we didn't receive the 4-10 inches as originally predicted.

I got all the birdfeeders cleaned off and refilled and while we were eating supper, this big hungry cottontail showed up in the backyard while it was still light out. I almost never see them during the day, but I guess hunger overcame fear.

While I was washing the dishes I noticed three possums in the ground feeder tray outside the kitchen window. I grabbed my camera and headed downstairs to try and sneak out and take a picture of them, but when I went to open the door, I saw some deer were just coming into the backyard to see what sort of feast they could find in the birdfeeders. After they had cleaned out one ground feeder tray, they headed over to the feeder where there were still two possums eating. I was curious to see what was going to happen there.....and what do you think? I was amazed to see that the possums held their ground and wouldn't let the deer eat from that ground feeder tray! The deer looked kind of alarmed, and just from watching the possums defensive pose, I'm guessing there was a whole lot of hissing and growling going on! It was pretty interesting.

After a few minutes and more deer showed up, the possums finally gave up at that feeder and these five deer got the chance to clean up the remaining birdseed. Our neighbor across the road was just getting home from work and parked at his mailbox to grab his mail before driving into the garage, so that's what these deer were looking at (except for ADD Little Sister at the far right side). Right after I took this picture they all ran away.
Don't you just love the way their ears perk up when something alarms them? You can almost tell what they're thinking just by watching their ears.

Sorry the picture quality isn't better--I still need to work on my low-light picture taking skills. (In addition to the fact that this photo was taken through the kitchen window, I'm actually pleasantly surprised the picture turned out as good as it did.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Snowy Weekend

We were in a winter weather advisory from 6 PM Friday evening until noon on Saturday. The weather service said we could get anywhere from 2-5 inches of snow before it was all over. This time they were right! It actually did start snowing around 6 PM on Friday and there was about 2 inches when I put Sophie out in the middle of the night. Here's what we saw in the backyard on Saturday morning......

Back to winter! And I believe the official total at the Rochester Airport was 5.2 inches. Since we can see the airport from our house, I always use that as my official total too. At least it looked like that much snow piled up on my "stump" birdfeeder.

It took a little while to get all the snow cleared off my birdfeeders so I could re-fill them, but the birds were very happy and there was lots of activity at the feeders all day, so it was definitely a good day to stay home and watch all the action.

It was also a good day to try out my new toy--the Jerky Gun. (Sorry I didn't photograph the entire gadget, but envision a caulking gun and that's what this thing looks like. It works on the same principle--pump the handle and the plunger pushes the meat out of the nozzle.)

I finally remembered to thaw out several packages of ground venison. Then I added some seasonings and let it marinade overnight. I dug my food dehydrator out of the closet, filled the Jerky Gun and in less than an hour, I had a delicious batch of jerky drying.
This Jerky Gun is a pretty nifty item. The ground meat squirted neatly out of the nozzle, making nice, uniform pieces of jerky. The dehydrator instructions said the jerky would need to dry anywhere from 8-10 hours. I started it at 2 PM and by 10 PM, it was done. I didn't want it to be so dry that you had to wrestle with it to bite off a chunk, and after 8 hours, this jerky seemed to be just right.

Here's what the finished jerky looks like. I know, it looks disgusting, but it tastes delicious!

Today I picked up a couple more jerky seasoning packets (teriyaki and spicy/hot). The Jerky Gun also has a tube-shaped nozzle (to make jerky in a "Slim Jim" shape), so I think my next project is to make some spicy/hot jerky sticks. If they're too spicy for us, I'm sure Mr. Johnson's buddies at work will enjoy them.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday, Feb. 20th

I'm really digging having Fridays off and today was no exception. It's nice to sleep until 6 AM (instead of the usual 3:45) and today it was already getting pretty light outside by 6:30--another positive sign that spring is getting closer. I filled my coffee cup, popped a movie into the DVD player, and settled down for some serious knitting time. After ripping out the neck last night, I wanted to get my Big Lena Sveater finished this morning. Here's the finished sweater (I even got it washed this afternoon).
Now that it's done, I have to admit that I'm not totally thrilled with this sweater and especially with the way the neck turned out, but I'm going to reserve the final judgement until after it dries and I try it on and find out whether washing and blocking corrected the way this neckline lays down. I'm thinking I'll probably have to rip it out and re-knit it one more time. (And if I still don't like it, watch for it in my Etsy store!)

On a happier note, there were lots of birdies in the backyard today. The first arrivals were the Common Redpolls--oodles of them! This oak tree in the backyard is a great stopover spot for them on their way to the thistle feeders on the deck.
These shots were taken before 8:00 this morning and the sun hadn't risen far enough to shine over the house, so they're not the best pictures, but I wanted to give you an idea of how many redpolls were hanging around.
It's amazing how much difference a little bit of snow makes. Last weekend, during the Great Backyard Bird Count, we had almost no snow on the ground and there were a lot less birds in the backyard than I saw this morning.

Lot of goldfinches at the feeders today too. Here's the last sunflower head from my garden last summer. I'm definitely going to be planting more sunflowers this summer. It's fun to see the birds eating seeds this way.

It's snowing right now and the weather service says we can expect anywhere from 3-5 inches before the snow is all done sometime tomorrow morning. Naturally, I'm not thrilled about more snow, but I am looking forward to seeing lots of birds at my backyard feeders for the weekend!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Can you stand any more possum stuff?

We had a little dusting of snow overnight and the temperature was just below freezing, so when I let Sophie out this morning, here's what I saw on the concrete patio:
It was still warm enough for the possums to be active overnight and this one visited the ground feeder tray I have outside the back door. I love the way its warm little feet melted through the snow on the patio to leave these perfect footprints.

I took the spotlight outside and saw their footprints all around the house, down the driveway and out into the street. Mr. Johnson confirmed that they had walked up the street because he saw the tracks when he took Sophie for their early morning walk. He said he could tell it was possums by how their long tail drag lines.

I hope the possums don't become a nuisance in the neighborhood. I know of a couple neighborhood jerks who would just love the chance to shoot these little critters--even though they're harmless.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Following a Dream

I had a meeting this morning with one of the people I support (work-wise) at IBM. He's a guy who's "in the know" about what's going on in our department and what options may be available for me and continued employment there. At this time, nothing's been finalized, so it's for sure that I need to start cleaning my desk out. As in any big business, the decision-making wheels turn pretty slow--especially when budgeting for additional personnel is being considered. He seemed fairly optimistic that he (and some others) would be able to convince the decision-makers to keep me on staff in a similar support capacity, but more than likely it will only be in a part-time situation.

On a totally unrelated note, last week I was talking to another person at IBM who I got to know through Mr. Johnson (after 30 years, Mr. Johnson knows almost everyone at the plant). Gary had seen my birding story on KTTC and wanted to talk about the birds at his place and also share with me that he was now finding great enjoyment spending time outdoors again as he's getting closer to retirement. For some reason, I happened to remember something about the Minnesota DNR's Master Naturalist Program and I sent Gary the link to those program listings this morning in an e-mail. And then the lightbulb went on over MY head! Sure enough, there's a class starting here in Rochester on March 18th. Ever since I heard about this program a couple years ago, I wanted to become part of it and now I'm going to!

My first class towards becoming a volunteer Minnesota Master Naturalist will be Big Woods, Big River.

Basing out of Rochester's Quarry Hill Nature Center and a surrounding 320 acre park- we will explore the Big Woods-Big Rivers biome here in southeast Minnesota. We will meet for eleven consecutive Wednesday evenings from 6:30 - 9 pm beginning March 18 (excluding April 1) and ending June 3, 2009. Required all day field trips on Saturdays (May 9 and May 30) will take us to regional state parks like Nerstrand Big Woods and out onto the Mississippi river. Field experiences will involve some hiking and canoeing with all basic equipment provided. Join us for some great adult comaradarie as we grow together as naturalists and inspire one another to become more involved as volunteers in support of our communities and the environment.

Sounds pretty cool, don't you think? I think I'm going to enjoy being a student again.

My other assignment for today is filling out my application to apply for part-time work in the seasonal garden center at my local Mills Fleet Farm store.

I guess the saying is true that when God closes a door, he also opens a window. I will be sad to close the door on a job I've enjoyed for over 3 years, but I'm excited about crawling through that window and following my dream.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Great Backyard Bird Count

I had too many other things going on yesterday to start my Great Backyard Bird Count, but today Mr. Johnson had to go into work for a few hours, so I made good use of that time by knitting on my Big Lena Sveater and watching birds from the dining room window. It was a beautiful morning, and I went out early and filled all the feeders with food and treats to optimize my birdwatching opportunities, and the birds didn't disappoint me! Here are some pictures from today that I hope you enjoy (don't forget, you can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them).

Mrs. Hairy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Crow (with a couple chunks of bread)

" didn't leave me any!!"

In addition to goldfinches, I also saw (and recorded) 1 Common Redpoll and 1 Pine Siskin

Dark-Eyed Junco

"Penny, wake up!! You're missing all the birdies!"

Bluejays were the first ones here this morning.

Red Rules! Cardinal and House Finch sharing the birdfeeder

Remember those giant mealworms? Chickadee loves 'em!

I took Sophie out for a walk to the far end of the yard, hoping to spot some other birds or maybe a Red-Tailed Hawk. Instead Sophie found this feral cat that's been hanging around the backyard. I let Sophie terrorize this cat for a few minutes and it finally took off running to the nether regions of the "back 40." I hope this cat learned a lesson and thinks twice about coming back!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm.......Tasty!!

I stopped at my local Wild Birds Unlimited store last Saturday to get some mealworms for my chickadees and wouldn't you know it, they had just sold the last worms on Friday. Crap! I finally have the chickadees coming back to the window feeder and I was almost to the end of the 100 worms my sissy had borrowed me a couple weeks ago. One of the store owners told me they were still having trouble getting mealworms--especially the large ones. I thought that problem from last summer was all over with, but apparently the mealworm shortages continue.

So anyway, after I got home, I headed to my favorite on-line mealworm store: New York Worms and decided to bite the bullet and purchase 1000 of these GIANT mealworms for my birdies. The package was waiting on the front step when we got home from work today and fortunately it was just warm enough that the worms hadn't frozen.

When I worked at WBU, I was the Goddess of Mealworms. We used to get our shipments in bulk and it was up to me to count out and weigh the 500's and 100's, feed them, and give them clean bedding. Believe it or not, I'm really not much of a "crawly bug" person, however mealworms aren't slimy like earthworms and once I got over the initial "oh yuck, I can't stand to touch worms" stage, I and the mealworms got along just fine. (Five years ago, this would NOT have been my hand holding this big gob of worms!)

My chickadees are going to be so happy when they see these big fat mealworms in their dish!

Don't Forget -- the Great Backyard Bird Count starts tomorrow!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Evening Cardinals

It felt like spring here today with a high of 47 degrees--not a record, but we still enjoyed it. The winds finally died down later in the afternoon and it was quite lovely outside. Nice enough that picking up about 25 lbs of dog poop didn't even seem like much of a chore!

As I was setting the table for supper, I happened to glance out the dining room window and noticed that my evening contingent of cardinals had arrived. Isn't this fantastic? There are only 10 cardinals in this picture, but a couple on the feeder hanging up above this area and several more at the ground feeder to the left.
I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing cardinals in my yard!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Fixes for My Fiber Addiction

One good thing about our cold Minnesota winters is that I can wear sweaters for at least 6 months. I haven't started or finished a sweater for myself in quite a while, so a couple weeks ago I rewarded myself by starting a new sweater (since I managed to finish 8 projects in January). This is called the Big Sven Sveater, but since it's for me, I'm calling it the "Big Lena Sveater!"

The nice thing about being an experienced knitter is that you can make revisions to the pattern. This sweater has a circular patterned yoke, but I decided to add an element of the yoke pattern at the bottom of the sleeves and body of the sweater also. As you probably know already, I really like doing two-colored knitting and the thought of all those rows of just one color till I got to the yoke was just more than I could bear. I really like this yarn--a nice heavy worsted weight wool from Canada. It's a little rough when you're knitting with it and sometimes I even come across a small piece of grass the sheep picked up out in the pasture. I used this yarn in a hat a while back and found that once I washed it, the yarn softens up really nicely. I'm making pretty fast progress on this sweater and hope to get it finished by the end of February, so stay tuned!

I completed a few more items for my Etsy store and hope to get them added to the inventory after supper tonight. Here are some wool half-mitts in a nice variegated colorway called "Rosewood."

How about this groovy granny square ensemble? Fortunately, I didn't throw all my old patterns away and when I went through the pattern box downstairs I found this awesome pattern that my mom bought for me when I first started crocheting. Remember years ago when Simplicity sold crochet and craft patterns? I checked the date on the envelope and it was from 1971 and the cost of the pattern was 85 cents! We picked out the pattern because it featured a granny square poncho and I recall making several of those for myself and friends. I really love this hat and probably will make several more (including one for myself!)
In case you're model's name is Larissa.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Friday Fun

I've got to use up my 4 days of PTO before my job is done at the end of February, so I'm slowly easing my way into unemployment by taking every Friday off, with yesterday being my first day off. Wow, what a fun day I had. It's great to be home with just me and the pets, doing whatever we want. I knitted and watched a movie (Transsiberian) in the morning with Sophie and Penny sitting next to me on the couch. I washed a bunch of clothes and hung them out on the line to dry.

I had a visit from my friendly neighborhood possum. Here, the possum tried out the mineral block that the deer have never touched.

Then Sophie saw the possum in the backyard and got pretty upset, so I let her out, knowing exactly what would happen. It's funny to see her reaction when the critter immediately "dies" and she doesn't have anything to chase.
I finally dragged Sophie back in the house and went back out to be sure the possum was OK. I think because it was a little chilly and windy, the possum took a bit longer to "wake up, " but within 5 minutes it was showing signs of life and it finally resurrected completely and scuttled away to the safety of the brush pile.
This poor little half-bald squirrel also showed up in the backyard yesterday. Does anyone know what might make them lose their hair like that? Can they even stay warm enough to survive the winter with only half their hair? I felt kinda sorry for this squirrel.
Here's something that I almost never see--2 male cardinals this close together. In a few more weeks, territory skirmishes will begin and I'm sure one of these males will be banished to a more distant part of the backyard.
I was happy to see this pretty little male Common Redpoll heading down to the nyjer feeder on my deck.
Later on in the afternoon, I happened to look out the kitchen window because I noticed some bird activity on the ground next to the "treestump" feeder I have out here. (I've been putting seed on top of the treestump all winter, but lots of it has blown off and the ground around the stump is covered with seed.) A closer look with the binoculars revealed lots of Common Redpolls! Check it out! They blend in really well with all the seed on the ground. This is what I saw on one side of the stump......
.....and here's what I saw on the other side (I added colored arrows to make it easier to spot them). I was amazed to see I had so many of these cute little birdies in my yard!
Now, I'm on the lookout for White-Winged Crossbills. They've been spotted in counties east and west of us, so I'm hoping some will be stopping by one of the pine-cone laden evergreens in the backyard soon.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Backyard Hike

Our weather service is predicting daily highs above the freezing mark for the next 7 days, so I took advantage of one of our last cold days yesterday to take a hike in the backyard and photograph some tracks in the snow before they disappear with the melting snow.

Do any of you have crows visiting your backyard feeders? The crows in our backyard spend quite a bit of time just walking around looking for tasty morsels on the ground. I think their footprints are really neat.

Here are some nice cottontail footprints. Usually I never see their back toes spread out like this.

Here are the footprints from a cat that's been hanging around our yard all winter. I am not happy about this and have found some evidence of birds this cat has killed.

On Tuesday night, when I went to put Sophie out around 11 PM, I turned on the backyard light and got to see a fox eating birdseed from the ground feeder tray. Unfortunately, both of the spotlights needed to be recharged, so I couldn't get a really good look at it, but I did find a whole bunch of fox footprints in the backyard. Here are just a couple.

The deer were back one of those warm nights last weekend too. That was the first time they had been here since the weather got really cold. Mr. Johnson saw quite a few deer tracks up the street where the woods provide more shelter for the deer. (I think one of the neighbors up there feeds them too.) Even if you didn't recognize the deer hoofprints, the "scatological" evidence gives them away!

I found something else interesting in an area of the yard I don't often visit in winter. Last fall I raked up some leaves and put them in bags for use on my gardens in the spring. I put the bags down along the edge of my aspen grove and figured they could just get covered with snow and then in the spring the leaves would be mostly decomposed and I could just dump them on the garden. After finding this yesterday, I realized that won't be working out for me this spring.
Here's where several of the leaf bags were buried. You can see that almost all of the bags have been torn open and there are leaves all over the place. It looks like the fox was there and dug down into the snow--one of the bags was actually dug completely out of the snow and the other one (by the fox tracks) was apparently torn open by the fox digging into it. I suppose mice and voles have no problem chewing through the plastic bags and finding nice warm leaf insulation to burrow into. I can't figure out what else it would be, but needless to say, I don't think I'm going to have much leaf compost to put on the garden this spring.

Here's where a bunch of bunny trails converge and head over into the neighbor's backyard. The bunnies love hiding under these nice, thick evergreen trees. Just to the left of the trees in this picture, the neighbor also has a small utility shed and I think the possum is living underneath there (along with all sorts of other critters -- judging by the number of tracks leading to that shed).

Sophie accompanied me on this backyard hike. There are so many good smells for a dog out in the backyard. In this picture, it looks like Sophie is "pointing." I think I just caught her in mid-stride, but you can certainly see the intensity and concentration as she's tracking through the snow. This is the acre of backyard that I've discontinued mowing, so I'm sure there are all sorts of wild scents here.

Here's another picture of Sophie--whatever she scented here was extremely interesting. I find it fascinating that dogs have such an amazing sense of smell. It's really fun to watch a scent hound at work.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed this little backyard hike from the warm comfort of your home and I'm glad you were able to come along with Sophie and me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why Do Cats Do This?

I was trying to get my checkbook balanced before supper, but as soon as I got up to heat up some vegetables in the microwave, Penny saw my empty chair and proceeded to park her extensive girth on my recently vacated work space.

Why is it that hours can go by and you never see the cat, but the minute you sit down at the table and try to get something done, she's right there?

Penny adores Mr. Johnson. I don't think he feels the same way about her--especially when he's trying to get some work done!