Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eurasian Collared Dove!

OK, this is another pretty crappy picture (taken through the kitchen window screen), but I was thrilled to finally confirm that the big dove I had spotted when I got home from work this morning was, in fact, the Eurasian Collared Dove!
I spotted this really big, light colored dove trying to land near the ground feeder tray late this morning when I was making my sandwich at the kitchen sink, and then a noisy crow flew down and scared the dove away. Later on when I was filling the bird feeders, I saw this dove fly away with a bunch of mourning doves from one of my pine trees (where MODOs like to hang out). I knew right away it wasn't a MODO because of the squared tail with a white band across the bottom. I waited all afternoon and finally around 4:30 I happened to spot it on the ground again and that's when I got this picture. You can just barely see the black "collar" on its neck, but the dark primary wing feathers and squared tail are pretty obvious. Here's how my big Sibley's describes this bird: Much larger and heavier than Mourning Dove, with square tail; pale overall.

I had one of these show up in my backyard in March of 2006. That was a first confirmed sighting in Olmsted County in like forever, and now here's another one. For some of you folks in the southern and eastern US, I think this is probably a fairly common backyard bird, and I've heard their numbers are increasing even here in far southeast Minnesota, but they're still uncommon enough for people (like me) to get excited about.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The National Parks

Tonight is the premier of The National Parks: America's Best Idea on PBS. Finally, the night I've been waiting months for--ever since I saw the first preview of this new Ken Burns series way back in May.

We will begin the story in 1851 with tonight's episode. This series will run 6 episodes this week. Sorry Blogger and Facebook friends, but I'll be spending every night this week with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan. Want more information? Check out this PBS link.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Yard Birds

Yesterday was one of the birdiest days in the backyard that I've had the pleasure to enjoy in a long time. I got home from work and spent almost an hour wandering around with binoculars and camera. I even saw a couple of birds that I couldn't identify, but thanks to my good birding friend Hap in New Hope, he was able to positively ID these birds for me -- even with these fairly crappy photos I attached to his e-mail. While neither of them are lifers, both are first-time additions to my backyard list.

Hap identified this one as an Eastern Phoebe. I knew it was some sort of a flycatcher, and before it turned on the branch, I was able to note that it had a light yellow wash on its belly. It was a fairly large bird, in fact I first thought it was an Eastern Kingbird when I saw it land in the tree, but the tail was wrong. All spring and summer I hear phoebes singing in the woods up the street from our house, and they've probably been in my backyard before, but this time I was lucky enough to actually see one!

Farther out in the yard, I spotted this bird (about the size of a red-winged blackbird) in the top of an apple tree. At first the coloring reminded me of a female or juvenile Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (and they're still hanging around here). But after I looked at it closer, the beak and head were all wrong for a grosbeak. I scoured my field guides, finally decided it must be some sort of a sparrow, and included these photos in my e-mail to Hap. What do you think it is??
If you answered "Female Dickcissel," you would be correct!

Actually, I was pretty darn excited to know that I have finally had a Dickcissel visit my backyard, and here's why...... Several years ago, when I stopped mowing that 1-acre patch in the backyard, the reason I gave Mr. Johnson was that it would help save on gas and lawn mowing time, but my ulterior motive was to create a wild grassland area that might attract dickcissels and meadowlarks. To date, I have not seen either bird in the backyard, however some undeveloped industrial areas a few miles north of us have dickcissels hanging around all summer, so I guess my backyard might have been a quick stopover on fall migration.

Thanks again Hap! I'm so grateful for your help with identifying these 2 birds.

And on a totally unrelated note and for my Minnesota blog readers only, here's a link to a really cool mapping site (North Star Mapper) that I got last week from Margaret at the Minnesota DNR. She had sent me an e-mail asking for the "exact" location of where I'd seen the Loggerhead Shrike earlier this summer. I was able to use this site to give Margaret the specific X, Y, Latitude and Longitude coordinates of the bird's location for the DNR's records of this rare Minnesota bird. I was also able to use the site to get a good aerial look at my own backyard!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Window Collision

I saw this big smudge on my basement sliding glass door last week and when I looked a little bit closer I realized it was from a bird collision. I walked outside to check for a lifeless body on the patio, but could find no evidence of an injured bird, no feathers, no blood. Looks like a cardinal, don't you think? There are still quite a few juvenile cardinals hanging around the backyard and there's a feeder just above the patio where the cardinals like to eat. I'm wondering whether a surprise visit from the Cooper's hawk startled the birds at the feeder and this poor cardinal crashed into the window in its rush to escape.

On a totally unrelated note, there has been lots of migration activity here in just the last few days, in fact I just looked out the dining room window and spotted a male American Redstart in the oak tree. (Yard bird #49 for 2009 and a first for the backyard too!) Anyway, when I take Sophie out for her night-time potty breaks, I can hear hundreds of little birdies peeping in the sky overhead, no matter what time of night: 8:30, 12:30, even 4:00 when we get up. It's so amazing that they can fly at night like that. So, while I'm getting ready for work, Mr. Johnson always takes Sophie for another walk and I asked him when he got back, "did you hear all those little birds peeping?" His response? "No." Then when I got to work this morning (at 5:15) I could still hear them while I was walking in from the parking lot. I asked one of the guys who was walking in at the same time, "can you hear those little birds peeping above us?" He looked at me really strangely and also responded, "no." Then I asked my office mate when she got in (of course she already thinks I'm pretty strange) and she laughed as she also said "no." So have any of you heard the little birds peeping at night?? I hope someone says yes because people are starting to look at me like I'm some kind of kook!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Woodson Art Museum & Birds In Art 2009

Boy where does the time go? I can't believe how fast last week went by. Now that bowhunting season has opened again, my free time has become even more limited. So before any more time goes by, I figured I'd better finish telling you about my and Lynne's last day in Wausau, Wisconsin.

Late Saturday afternoon, we drove over to the Woodson Art Museum just to make sure we were able to find it for the next day. It's a beautiful place, smack-dab in the middle of an historic residential neighborhood. We were able to do a quick run-through of the Birds in Art exhibit for the final 15 minutes the museum was open that day. Lots of good stuff there and we couldn't wait for Sunday when we'd have more time to enjoy the exhibit.

Sunday dawned sunny and warm once again. Our plan was to check out of the motel early and head over to the Woodson museum by around 11:00. Lynne had gotten in touch with Julie Z. via Facebook on Saturday night, so we planned to meet her at the museum around noon and spend some time with her before she was scheduled to speak at 1:00.

(Don't forget -- you can click on any of these pictures to enlarge them!)

The Woodson Art Museum is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens with lots of trees and even some wildlife. I spotted this cute little red squirrel having a snack.

The gardens also contained a variety of beautiful bronze sculptures. I'm sure most of you have probably seen that e-mail that contains pictures of horses a woman in California makes with driftwood? That's exactly what this horse sculpture looked like. We weren't supposed to touch the sculptures, but this one got the best of me.......I had to tap it with my finger to confirm that it really was bronze and not driftwood.
I liked this sculpture of a pair of wolves.

This fountain of a little child holding ducklings was pretty cute. If you look close at the base the child's standing on, you will see there are ducks there too.

I loved this towering sculpture of cranes. You can't tell from this picture but it was probably about 15 feet tall.

Close to the museum entrance was this sculpture of wood ducks. It reminded Lynne and me of some of the wood ducks we had seen during our Birders Who Blog, Tweet and Chirp outing a few weeks ago.

My favorite was this sculpture of wild turkeys. If I was rich, I would like a sculpture like this in my front yard!

Here's Lynne and me with Julie. What a warm welcome she gave us. It was fun to have a few minutes of her time as she gave us the "artist's tour" of the Birds in Art exhibit. It was really neat to hear some of the stories about her artist friends and their work. Julie's original art works were on display too, so she also shared some stories about her own art with us. We really enjoyed hearing her speak and seeing all her wonderful pictures. It's one thing to see and read the stories on her blog, but hearing her speak in person was really cool. She even gave us special recognition for coming to see her, knowing full well that Chet Baker would not be in attendance!
You can read Julie's blog posts about the Birds in Art 2009 exhibit at this link.

The museum didn't allow cameras into the exhibit hall, but we were able to purchase a beautifully printed catalog of all the artwork displayed in this year's exhibit. Because I'm no artist and can barely draw a stick man, I have a true admiration of artistic talent--especially my favorite theme, birds and wildlife. In closing, I want to share a few of my favorite pieces from the 2009 Birds in Art exhibit.

This is a bronze sculpture! I loved it especially since I once saw a pair of ring-necked pheasants fighting like this on the edge of a soybean field.

Late January Afternoon
Even though Cindy created this painting from turkeys spotted in her New Hampshire backyard, I've enjoyed seeing this same scene with real turkeys during a southeastern Minnesota winter.

Sowing Seeds
You're going to think I'm nuts, but I've let some of these thistle plants grow in my backyard for goldfinches and butterflies (the flowers are a favorite nectar source of tiger swallowtail butterflies). This scene looked so real I almost expected to see the goldfinch fly right out of it!

The Red, Red Robin
I first saw this large block of wood and when I walked around to the front, realized it depicted a corner of a gravestone with a robin perched on top--all carved of wood!

Mountain High
These beautiful mountain bluebirds are carved from basswood and the juniper branch they're perched on is made of metal. This was the most amazing sculpture I've ever seen and the detail was unbelievable.

After working in an art gallery for several years, I acquired a much greater appreciation for art. During that time I was fortunate enough to meet Thomas Kinkade and see some of his original works of art. Limited edition prints are wonderful and my house is full of them, but there's really nothing like seeing an original work of art up close.

The 2009 Birds in Art Exhibit will be touring the United States until January of 2011. Shown below is a listing of future dates and venues for this exhibit. If you see that the exhibit is coming anywhere near you, I urge you to take some time and go see it.....I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Just in Time!

Just in time for tomorrow morning's bowhunting deer opener, my Go Girl arrived in today's mail.
I believe this may mark a turning point in the enjoyment of my morning mug of coffee AND participation in outdoor activities; plus no more risk of squatting too close to treacherous poison ivy or prickly gooseberry bushes in the woods. I wonder if they're thinking about making a camouflage version??

Monday, September 14, 2009

Saturday Adventures in Wausau

Saturday dawned clear and after making our own waffles at the motel's breakfast bar, Lynne and I were ready to hit the parks around Wausau for some birding adventures. Earlier last week I visited the Travel Wisconson website and printed out some birding information for the Wausau area. It's nice that they have put all that information on-line; it's a great resource for anyone traveling to Wisconsin!

Our first stop was Bluegill Bay, a really nice park right close to town. There were nice walking trails through mixed deciduous and evergreen woods. We saw lots of Cedar Waxwings, a couple of Eastern Phoebes, and some vireos that we weren't able to positively ID (but we were leaning towards Yellow Throated). I heard these Red Breasted Nuthatches long before I saw one. This is the first of these I've seen so far this year. I hope they show up at my feeders again this winter because I think they're such charming little birds!

As the name implied, there was a bay with bluegills in the park. We did see a few of the fish, but were much more excited by the herons we saw. There were several Green Herons present and they weren't at all shy.

There were also Great Blue Herons everywhere we looked! I was thrilled to see this one on the walking path (scratching its chin!)

I tried sneaking up on it, but this bird wasn't nearly as tolerant as the green herons, and took off the other direction when I got within about 30 yards.

Of course, the usual flock of mallards was hanging around, but I did remark to Lynne that it seemed strange we didn't see any Giant Canada Geese here (or anywhere else for that matter!)

And the action wasn't all in the trees or water. I spotted this little leopard frog while I was checking out some flowers at the edge of the river bank. Isn't their camouflage great? I would never have seen this little guy except that he hopped out of my way as I walked across the grass.

Most of the grass was mowed away from the paths, but at the edge of some evergreens, we found this blooming Orange Hawkweed bravely trying to establish itself. You can see how close it came to getting dug out too!

Right next to the parking lot I found these cute little pink flowers, but I can't remember for sure what they are. I've narrowed it down to 2 possibilities: something in the purslane family or one of the wild pinks. If anyone has a positive ID, be sure to leave a comment. Thanks!

Our next stop was Rib Mountain State Park, one of the highest elevations in Wisconsin. From this lookout point, we had a good view of the City of Wausau and we were even able to pick out the Super 8 we were staying at.

At the top of Rib Mountain, I had the chance to climb the 60-foot observation tower (and no, I wasn't able to get to the top without stopping to catch my breath!)

Check out these views! I thought the outside railing was a tad too low, so I stayed close to the interior of the top platform for these shots.

Lynne chose to enjoy the view from the ground and we played "camera duel" as I made my way back down. Hi Lynne!!

For any of you who have been lucky enough to meet Lynne in person, you know how friendly she is. And it's not just humans who are charmed by her.......
Lynne & Max

The granite boulder formations in this park were amazing!

I was fascinated with all the plants and ferns that were able to establish themselves and grow in the cracks of these rocks. (This picture has become the newest desktop wallpaper on my home computer!)

And even though it was close to 80 degrees in the middle of September, signs of fall were everywhere we looked.

Thanks for sharing our Saturday adventures in Wausau, Wisconsin. My next post will feature our visit to the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and the "Birds In Art" exhibit, where we got to spend a bit of time with Julie Zickefoose and hear her speak in person!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lynne Learns To Knit!

My best blogging friend Lynne and I got back from our excellent weekend adventure in Wausau, Wisconsin earlier this evening. I have bunches of pictures to edit and post from our trip and those will be appearing soon, but the most exciting thing I have to show and tell about our weekend together is that Lynne learned to knit!! Hooray, another knitting convert added to the fold!

Here's Lynne knitting her first row. Knitting isn't easy -- especially for beginners. Can you sense Lynne's apprehension in this photo?
"Are you sure this is right, Ruthie?"

Here's a close-up......look at her go!

We spent most of Saturday outside hiking around the local parks, watching birds, taking pictures, talking and laughing. We also visited a wonderful arts & crafts festival being held at Marathon Park near our motel. In spite of our busy day, Lynne was more than ready to get back to the adventures of knit and purl. So we decided to grab an early supper and head back to our room, ready to spend the remainder of the evening knitting. We finally called it quits around 10 PM when both of us were yawning more than yakking, but I promised to teach her how to bind off first thing this morning.

And here's Lynne with her newly completed yellow rectangle! Now that's the face of a proud and happy Knitter!

Before we left our motel, Lynne cast on stitches for a green dishcloth that I know she's going to finish very soon. Way to go Lynne!! Thanks for a fun weekend and for being such an outstanding knitting student. On our next trip, maybe you can teach me hardanger, OK?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Beautiful Monarch

This is the second-to-the-last monarch butterfly that hatched this morning in my ranch. I tagged and released her this afternoon, but she was kind enough to pose for this lovely photo before flying away.

I have one more monarch that will hatch tomorrow and that will be the conclusion of a super successful season for my monarch ranch -- a grand total of 23 monarch butterflies raised, tagged and released in my backyard to begin their long journey to Mexico.

I will probably shed a few tears as I send the final butterfly on its way......it will be hard saying goodbye to the last of my "monarch children" and facing the fact that the final days of summer 2009 have arrived.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saturday Morning Bird Walk

It was a gorgeous morning for a bird walk today. This was the first time I was a co-leader on one of these hikes and it was a lot of fun. The group was small -- only 6 of us total (4 adults and 2 junior birders).

As we headed down one of the paths into the woods, Bill (our other leader) spotted this cool deer skull laying on the ground.

I brought my iPod with the BirdJam and that proved to be pretty popular with junior birder Jay. A little farther into our walk he asked me if he could look at my iPod again after admitting to me that he "sometimes gets kinda bored on these walks." He had a good time playing the games. (I didn't even know there were games on this iPod!) Here brother Mikey wants his turn too.

It wasn't a really birdy day, although we did spot a few migrating warblers, a couple red-eyed vireos, and the usual goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches, bluejays, and cardinals. The thing I was most excited about was when we spotted this tiny baby snapping turtle on the walking path. Isn't it cute?? We let Jay pick it up and move it to the edge of the pond.

We also spotted these 2 turtles sunbathing on a log in the pond.

So let me share my impression of this bird walk with you and then ask you a couple questions. Our local Audubon chapter has these bird walks the first Saturday of every month and everyone is invited. On the few I've been on, it's generally a good mix of people and birding skills and people are encouraged to bring children along, although the kids generally don't get a lot out of them. On this walk, Mikey was probably a little too young, but both of the boys were well-behaved and listened to their mom. They did sometimes run ahead and get excited (with loud verbal exclamations) when they saw a squirrel or chipmunk run across the path. Naturally this would scare the birds, but the one other adult woman in the group kept telling them to be quiet and not run because it would scare the birds. I was a little put off by this and I can't imagine what Mikey and Jay's mom must have thought. I didn't quite know what to make of the situation, but I didn't say anything.

Now what do you think? If you were going on a bird hike but found out there would be kids, would that change your mind about going? If you knew it was a bird hike advertised for the general public and birders of all skill levels were welcome, would it make a difference to you if you knew really novice birders would be participating? And that some people would be lagging behind and that we weren't out there trying specifically to get some new lifers for some hardcore birders in the group?

As a participant (not a leader) on these walks previously, I come expecting to see some birds and just spend a couple hours outside watching birds. The majority of the participants have been less experienced birders than I am, so I'm always happy to see some people who want to increase their birding and nature knowledge. If I wanted to do some hardcore birding, I know it usually can't be done with a group like this and would find an alternate birding event for the more intense birding experience.

I'm just thinking that the other lady in our group seemed somewhat annoyed by having the kids along. Maybe she just doesn't like kids or whatever. I know kids running and yelling would scare birds, but heck, you're outside and there's this nice path to run on, so what's the harm? I think even if the kids spent at least 10 minutes looking through their binoculars and seeing a bluejay or a squirrel, that's hopefully going to be a little thing that sticks in their mind and arouses their curiosity enough to make them want to come along for a future trip. I seem to remember when I was a youngster my mom dragging us kids outside for hikes, and sometimes yeah, it was "kinda boring" but I don't think any of us would have the interest in nature that we have today if Mom had just let us sit at home and watch TV all day.

Anyhoo, I guess I'm kinda rambling here, but I'm glad Mikey and Jay's mom brought them along this morning and I hope we'll get a chance to see them on future Saturday morning bird walks.