Sunday, May 31, 2009

Weekend Update

I had my last Master Naturalist field trip yesterday (Saturday). We went down to the Mississippi near Kellogg, Minnesota. I took only one unremarkable photo of a leopard frog, so I decided not to include that here. Our class is almost done with the last class being held this coming Wednesday. It will be graduation night and we're having a potluck supper for the class. Also at this class, we will be presenting our "capstone projects" to the group. Capstone projects are a special nature-themed project we work on (individually or with other classmates) that's above and beyond any other projects we worked on during class and includes some of the knowledge and/or techniques we've learned since the class began in March. My project will be adding plantings (flowers and shrubs that will attract wildlife, bees, and butterflies) to an existing bird and bee garden at the Quarry Hill Nature Center. The funding for this project is coming from memorials from two individuals who have passed away recently and one of the families will be assisting with the planting on the day before Father's Day. My plant list hasn't been finalized yet, but I hope they will be pleased with the choices and design I come up with.

OK, here's what I found in the chickadee nest box this morning.......Woo-Hoo!! 5 Eggs!

I saw this Pine Siskin and one of its buddies on Friday when I got home from work. I just can't believe they're still hanging around and I was still hearing them this morning while hanging up laundry on the clothesline.

The woodpecker's suet log is a really busy place these days. It takes an entire 11 ounce suet cake to fill each one of the holes and that has been lasting only about 2 days!
I love seeing so many woodpeckers here--especially the hairy's. I hope they continue to stick around and also bring their little ones to this suet log.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Haz a Happy!

OK, so I know you're looking at the title of this post and then this first picture and thinking to yourself, "well, it's just a birdhouse Ruthie!" So I'll's not the birdhouse.......'s what's in the birdhouse that makes me happy. Do you know who made this nest???

I finally have a year-round pair of chickadees in my yard and all the $$$ I spend on those giant, live mealworms I put out for them is paying off with them finally deciding to nest in the little Gilbertson bluebird house right in the front yard. I'm keeping my fingers (and toes) crossed that this nest is successful and I will get to see baby chickadees coming for mealworms with their parents.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Garden Update

This afternoon I harvested the first produce from this year's vegetable garden -- a radish!
This is the first time I've planted radishes in the garden and I couldn't believe how beautiful the color on this little radish was. It tasted pretty good too.

Here's a look at my two raised bed gardens for this year. As you can see, I've gone back planting in rows again. The radish came from this bed -- down on the lower left side (radishes are sharing a row with leaf lettuce -- the bright green leaves at the lower right of the picture). There are also some volunteer strawberry plants that I discovered this spring while cleaning out this bed and I decided to leave them and see if they will produce any strawberries. In this bed, I've also planted cucumbers (pickling and eating), peas, green beans, carrots, beets, and onions. I got everything planted really early this year (late April) and have been fortunate that we've not had any late frosts this spring.

Here's my second raised bed (you might remember what a disaster it was last year when my dirt was delivered from the garden center). Earlier this spring my neighbor Scott brought over a little pickup load of compost for me and that was just enough to cover this bed and it's doing really nicely now. In here I've planted zucchini, winter squash, tomatoes (Roma, cherry, and regular ones for BLTs and canning), a couple of red pepper plants, a jalapeno pepper and cilantro for making salsa, and broccoli (that I'm trying to grow from seed).
In case you're wondering, the little plastic containers are "wind protectors" for a couple of really small pepper and tomato plants that I grew from seed.

I've got some garbage-can potatoes going this year again too. After last year's successful harvest, I added a fourth garbage can. I think I planted these on Easter Sunday and after a slow start, they are now doing very well.

This has nothing to do with the gardens, but here's one of the cute little hummingbirds that's visiting me this year. After getting a drink from the oriole feeder, she loves to sit on this little branch perch and fluffle up her feathers (that's what she's going here--see how her tail's fanned out and moving really fast?)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My New Favorite Place

Nestled deep in the southeast corner of Minnesota's deciduous forest biome, a birder's paradise called Beaver Creek Valley State Park can be found.
OK, so it's also a paradise for trout fishermen (& women), campers, hikers, and all types of nature lovers, but as a birder, I believe this is as close to Nirvana as I will get without going to West Virginia!

The majority of my birding was done within 200 yds of the main picnic & parking area, but I knew I was in a great spot when I got out of my car at the park office and immediately heard a wood thrush singing in the woods to my right and a warbling vireo in the woods across the road!

Dewy spider web transforms an old rusty picnic table leg into something beautiful

While I was sitting at one of the picnic tables trying to identify even one bird song that I recognized from the chorus around me, I happened to notice this green heron strolling along a log on nearby Beaver Creek.

An Eastern Phoebe built her nest under the eaves of the shelter covering the trail map and announcement boards. Every time someone would come over to check the map, the poor little phoebe flew off her nest. I hope those babies hatch OK!

You would take this trail wouldn't you? I also heard a wood thrush singing in these woods, but I never got a glimpse of the bird.

The trails were pretty rustic--here's what the Hole-In-The Rock Trail looked like after a few hundred feet. Can you see it? I couldn't either and decided it was time to turn around and head back.

Before leaving I decided to walk down one more little trail that paralleled Beaver Creek, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Louisiana waterthrush. This trail was a little easier to follow, but had several wet spots necessitating the addition of boardwalks. With my history of clumsiness, I approached these somewhat slippery board walks with more than a little dread (fortunately, no wet feet this time though!)

Looks like Mr. Robin has found something delicious!

Jack-In-The Pulpit
My birding trip to Beaver Creek Valley State Park was brief (only 2 hours), but in this short time I was able to positively identify 30 birds (by sight and/or sound).

Wild Turkey = Green Heron
Red-Tailed Hawk = Mourning Dove
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird = Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Eastern Wood Pewee = Eastern Phoebe
Yellow-Throated Vireo = Warbling Vireo
Red-Eyed Vireo = American Crow
House Wren = Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush = American Robin
Gray Catbird = Cedar Waxwing
Great Crested Flycatcher = Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler = American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat = Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow = Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Red-Winged Blackbird = Brown-Headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole = Turkey Vulture

I didn't see the Cerulean Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, or Louisiana Waterthrush. All three of these birds nest in this park and would all be lifers for me. It's nice to know I have at least 3 more reasons for visiting this park again!

If any of you are planning a visit to southeastern Minnesota, be sure to allow some time for visiting Beaver Creek Valley State Park.

I leave you with this little video featuring the song of a Wood Thrush.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some Recent Bird Sightings

Well, after a couple of +90 degree days and some really fierce winds yesterday (with +50 mph gusts), our weather has returned to normal spring temps with much calmer breezes and a few intermittent rain showers today. The majority of our spring birds are back now and most of the warblers have moved on, as evidenced by my sightings last week in northern Minnesota.

I have a bunch of bird pictures on the compact flash card in my camera, so I figured tonight would be a good time to get them edited and in a blog post.

Here's a really bad picture of the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher I saw a few weeks ago when I was birding with my Sissy at Forestville State Park. This was a lifer for me. It was quite the sassy little bird and responded nicely to my birdJam.

On May 10th, I was really surprised to see a couple of Pine Siskins at one of my thistle seed tube feeders. These guys must be the stragglers on this migration. Last night at Master Naturalist class, one of my classmates told of seeing a Common Redpoll at his thistle seed feeder last Saturday. His description of the bird and also the fact that it was on his thistle feeder eating convinced me that he had certainly seen a Redpoll. I know we've had a cold and late spring, so I hope these little migrants make it back to the north country in time to start a new family.

I've had Baltimore Orioles in the backyard for a couple of weeks now, but during supper the other night, I looked out and spotted this Orchard Oriole who sat still long enough for me to take his picture. He is Bird #42 on my backyard list for 2009.

The suet log has been seeing almost non-stop woodpecker activity this week--from both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. Sometimes the Hairy's seem to forget that they have to access the log from the bottom of the cage while the Downy can just fly right through. This was a lucky shot--the Hairy's almost always chase the Downy's away as soon as they spot them trying to get to the suet log.

Last night at Master Naturalist class one of my classmates spotted this Eastern Kingbird. It was my FOY kingbird and I'm sorry I couldn't get a better focused picture of such a handsome bird.

Last week, this was the view of the beautiful blooming crabapple tree outside my dining room window. I really love this tree and I'm glad it's so close to the house because the birds really love it too. Needless to say, after the winds of the past couple days, all the lovely pink blossoms have blown away.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks are such gorgeous birds anyway, but doesn't he look even more lovely with the green grass and crabapple blossoms in the background? Knowing we will have sights like this in May is what sustains us through the 6 months of a dark and cold Minnesota winter!

And, last but not least, here's an underappreciated Mourning Dove patiently waiting for the mistress of the household to "fill the darn birdfeeder, please!"

I hope you're all enjoying spring and the wonderful sights and sounds that go along with it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Prayers Needed!

Brother Phil and his son Charlie celebrate Phil's recent birthday
Today my brother Phil entered Sutter Cancer Center to start an intensive chemotherapy regimen to prepare him for the autologous bone marrow transplant being performed to treat his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The chemo will last 4 days and he will be in the hospital for about 3 weeks. Charlie's only 7 and going to be missing his daddy pretty bad for the next few weeks!

As a Christian, I'm a firm believer in the power of prayer and I know that many of my blog readers and friends are also, so would you please keep Phil and his family in your prayers? Our families would appreciate it very much.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Completed Knitting Projects

I've finished a couple more knitting projects before the end of April, but just got them washed and blocked last week, so here are the pictures. Here's the Northern Lights Bohus cap again, but this time in shades of purple and pink. I really like this pattern and I'm looking forward to trying lots of different color combinations.

BTW, remember this original Northern Lights hat that I knitted and then donated as a silent auction item for the Master Naturalists conference? I got a nice e-mail 'thank you' Sunday evening from Karen, the woman who had the winning auction bid on this hat. It's always gratifying for me to know that one of my knitting projects is going to a good home! And with the cold and crappy days Mother Nature has been randomly giving us this spring, Karen will probably still have a chance to wear this hat before next winter!

I also finished the Snow Forest Lace Stole and here's how I had to block it on the living room floor. I usually block my shawls on the bed, but this one was too long: 24 X 66 inches.

I ordered a set of blocking wires from Knitpicks. I've been wanting some of these for a long time and figured trying to block out all the little points on this shawl edge would be a lot easier with blocking wires and it sure was! It was also much easier to get the measurements accurate and get the edges and corners nice and straight.

Here's another close-up picture so you can see how the pattern looks and how the blocking wires go through the knitted edge. It was so nice not to have to stick a pin in every single one of those points on the edging!
This entire shawl was worked from a chart, so I was able to easily calculate the total number of stitches: 61,008! (48,048 for the main part and 12,960 for the edging). I think I started this project either in October of November of last year. I'm glad it's finally done and I've already started another project.

Monday, May 18, 2009

2009 Minnesota Master Naturalist State Conference

There are going to be lots of photos in this post, so my apologies to those of you who are still dial-up users.

This past weekend the 2009 Minnesota Master Naturalist State Conference was held at the Audubon Center of the North Woods near Sandstone, MN, and I was in attendance from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening.

I had hoped to arrive by the 3:00 PM Friday afternoon birding trip, but I ended up leaving about an hour later than I had planned. Fortunately, for me, the birding trip was delayed until 4 PM. Unfortunately, it started raining (hard!) around 3:45 PM, so we birded from the front porch of the Audubon center. They had this HUGE hopper feeder right outside the front door and we were able to see quite a few cooperative birds right at this feeder (I didn't get shots of the red-breasted nuthatch and pine warbler that also visited the feeder this afternoon).
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak & White-Breasted Nuthatch

Under the eaves of the front porch a Cliff Swallow had crafted this fine gourd-shaped mud nest. In spite of all of us standing on the front porch, she did finally fly into her nest. The pale spot on her forehead was quite noticeable as she peeked out at us from the nest entrance.

"Please go away now, large've taken enough pictures!"

Here are some of my Master Naturalist classmates who also attended the conference (L to R): Kate, Linda, Joel and Barbara. Joel was in a previous class, but I already knew him from my Mayo days (plus he's one of Minnesota's "Top Gun Birders" -- to borrow one of Troutbirder's definitions).

This is the main conference room at the Audubon Center. As you can see, our group had it pretty much filled up. I loved all the windows around this room and especially the six stained-glass windows up towards the top of the wall (click to enlarge the picture).

I was excited when I first got the conference schedule to see that Ann Bancroft was going to be a keynote speaker on Friday night at our conference.
Ann told us stories of growing up in Minnesota and being inspired by her mom, of her polar expeditions, and most importantly of her never-ending goal to educate and inspire all people (and especially girls and women) to pursue their dreams in life--no matter how big or small. Talk about female superpowers!! If you ever get the chance to hear Ann speak, please do so, I guarantee you won't be disappointed. And the really neat thing is that she's not full of herself at all--just a genuinely nice and gracious person!

After our rainy Friday, Saturday morning dawned windy and cold. However, that didn't stop us hardy Minnesotans from getting outside before breakfast for the 7 AM bird hike.
There wasn't much bird activity this chilly morning, but I did get my first Ovenbird and Chestnut-Sided Warbler of the year. (When I was heading back to my next class session after breakfast, I did actually spot a few snow flurries in the air! I was really thankful I hadn't forgotten to pack my wool long johns!)

My morning classes were "Rain Barrels and Rain Gardens" and "Aquatic Plant Survey." Deb (Sand Creek Almanac) was one of presenters of the aquatic plant survey class. Here'a an "action shot" of Deb showing some of the participants what types of aquatic vegetation can be found during a lake survey (the plants are on the edge of the boat behind the person in the blue jacket).

I was happy to see Deb again and after class we were able to spend a little bit of time together enjoying lunch and catching up on some things going on outside the "blog world."

The Audubon Center of the North Woods provides quite a bit of its own power. They have a geothermal heating system, their own wind turbine, and these solar array panels (that move to follow the direction of the sun). We were happy that the sun did decide to come out late Saturday morning and even though it was still chilly, the sun made it much more bearable.

Our Saturday afternoon consisted of a field trip to Moose Lake, Minnesota (about 20 miles north of Sandstone. There we visited the Moose Lake Historical Society and 1918 Fire Museum (located in the old railroad depot).

We learned a little bit about the 1918 fire in our Master Naturalist class. More people lost their lives as a result of this fire than the famous Hinckly fire and when someone asked the gentleman at the museum why we never heard much about the Moose Lake fire, he told us that it was overshadowed by the WWI headlines of that time period.

This map in the museum shows the areas affected by that huge 1918 fire--all the way to the shore of Lake Superior north of Duluth!

After the museum, we also visited the Blacklock Galleries in downtown Moose Lake (no photos) and then headed out to the Moose Lake Agate and Geological Center at Moose Lake State Park.

I thought this Minnesota state map created of native stone and embedded in the floor of the Moose Lake State Park headquarters building was pretty neat.

After learning more about agates and agate hunting, we boarded the bus one more time to head out to a nearby quarry to search for our own agate treasures.

As you can see, it really turned out to be a pretty nice afternoon and everyone was pretty excited to get out into the quarry and become "rock hounds" for an hour or so.

I'm not much of a rock hound, so I used my time to enjoy the scenery and watch for birds. I always like seeing the birch trees of the north woods--we have very few of these lovely trees in southern Minnesota.

While I was wandering the woods at the edge of the quarry, I heard some frogs singing, so I decided to follow a little trail into the woods and see if I could find where the frogs were singing from. I came upon this pretty little pond (a vernal pool?) and was happy to see quite a bit of bird activity.

A shy Yellow Warbler

Palm Warbler (there were several of these guys around the pond)

On the way back to bus, I even managed to find myself a nice-sized little agate!

We were all loaded back on the bus and ready to head back for supper, but not before Amy (our trip leader) got the DNR van stuck in some loose gravel at the quarry. All of her passengers climbed out of the van and some of the guys from our bus headed over to Amy's rescue.


The conference did have sessions schedule for Sunday morning also, but I opted to depart on Saturday night after supper. This is just such a busy time of year for me and even though I'm only working part-time, I wanted to be able to have Sunday to catch up on some of my chores at home before the work week started again (I even managed to find time to give myself a much-needed haircut on Sunday morning!)

Have a good week everyone!