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!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival

Can you believe it's only 2 weeks until December 1st? I've been ignoring all those holiday ads on TV lately, but realized this morning after my every-other-Tuesday meeting at work that our next meeting will be in December. Yikes! where does the time go?

So what that really means is that we're that much closer to 2010 and the third annual Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival.......where you'll get the chance to see really cool birds like this Great Gray Owl!
(Photo taken by my Sissy!)

If you plan on attending this year's festival, you'll almost certainly see a Northern Hawk Owl as there are quite a number of them showing up in northern Minnesota already this year. (this is another photo taken by my Sissy)

The 2010 Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival will begin on Friday, February 12th and run through Sunday, February 14th. This year's festival will be limited to 150 participants and you can find out more information about the festival by clicking on this link.

I attended the first festival 2 years ago with my dear blogging friend Lynne (of Hasty Brook). Lynne and I had a great time at that festival and that was the only year I managed to check off EVERY woodpecker species on my Minnesota checklist when I saw the Black-Backed Woodpecker and this Three-Toed Woodpecker (both lifers!)

This year's program is a veritable "who's who" of well-known Minnesota birders including my friend John Hockema. The excellent selection of stops during the field trips will guarantee that you'll have a chance to see these beautiful (and declining) Evening Grosbeaks.

Not to mention Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and if you're really lucky, a Hoary Redpoll or two.

It looks like this year's festival is going to be the best yet. Great speakers, awesome meals, incredible birding, friends, and fun. Don't let the thought of February in Minnesota intimidate you......just dress in layers like us smart Minnesotans do (you won't be forced to stand outside all day anyway and the buses will be kept running for those folks who need a warm-up).

I'm hoping that I'll be able to attend the festival with Lynne again this year and you can help me -- just go to my Etsy shop in my sidebar link and make a purchase for yourself or a gift -- all purchases will help subsidize my trip to the 2010 Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival (hey, I'm not above a little shameless self-promotion to achieve my birding goals!)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Deer Hunting


Today I watched sunrise and sunset from my deerstand. If you've never done it, believe me it's something pretty special. I wasn't outside all day, but most of it. This morning I heard a pheasant cackling in the nearby corn field and a turkey gobbling from his roost in a tree directly behind me. It's pretty cool to be out in the woods and hear the bald eagles and pileated woodpeckers waking up and beginning another day. The only thing missing from this whole day was deer -- again!! I did not see a single deer from either of the stands I sat in this morning or afternoon. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that once the farmers start getting the corn picked my odds of arrowing a deer will increase dramatically.

Today also marked the final day of the first firearms deer season in Minnesota. Remember last week when I said I was going to stay out of the woods until firearms season was over? Well, I should have stuck to that promise. As we were packing up and walking out of the woods this afternoon, we heard some gunshots nearby. (Now keep in mind that it's legal to shoot 1/2 hour before sunrise and after sunset and our sunset tonight was around 4:45.) I heard the first couple shots just up the road right around 5 PM. Then around 5:10 as we were walking toward the road, we heard a shot from the road almost right in front of us. I stopped and then heard the slug breaking branches in the woods just off to our left. Stupid A-holes!! This is precisely why I hate gun season -- there was no way the guy shooting out by the road could even see what he was shooting at because of the thick woods there. It's also posted private property. When we got up to the road and almost back to the truck, we could see them parked in a field drive almost directly across from us. They decided it was time to leave as we got closer, but not before Mr. Johnson stopped them and told those 2 stupid jerks that he didn't appreciate listening to their lead flying through the woods we were walking out of. "Wasn't me man, we weren't even over there!" was the response. If there's one thing I can absolutely not tolerate, it's idiots walking around with loaded firearms!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Milestone Friday

I achieved a couple of milestones today. The 2 full birdseed bins shown below (100 lbs each) represent the first milestone: I finally broke the 1 ton barrier for birdseed purchases in 2009! My local birdseed supplier is having his annual sale, so I stopped on my way home from work and purchased 300 lbs (bringing my total birdseed purchases to a whopping 2200 lbs!)

You know how in my profile I say that I'm "forced to work to support my birdfeeding habit?" Well, this is what I'm referring to. I've saved all my receipts from the beginning of the year and recorded how many pounds I purchase at a time (never less than 50!) because I wanted to have a record of how serious this addiction really is. I probably won't total the $$$ I've spent (ignorance is bliss!), and I'm thinking there are probably other hobbies I could be spending way more money on, right?

Here's the other milestone -- my final "Pay It Forward" project (the Modern Quilt Wrap) is complete except for weaving in a few long yarn tails on the back side. I know I've been knitting on this project for at least a year and a half and I can say with genuine sincerity that I'm glad it's finally done because I was getting really tired of it! I know my recipient (Mama Pea) will be thrilled to find this package in her mailbox sometime next week!

Any milestones in your life lately that you want to report on?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More Evidence of Backyard Bambi's

Every night lately we've been seeing at least 5 deer in the backyard (a doe and 4 fawns). They've been munching apples and chowing down on corn. We can turn the backyard light on and even shine a spotlight on them and they just continue to go about their deer-y business. Last night during a Law & Order commercial break, Mr. Johnson went to the back door to see if there were any deer out there. He was gone a long time and when he finally came back, he whispered to me that there were deer laying down in the backyard. "Why is he whispering?" I wondered, and when I went with him to take a look I caught myself whispering too. Sure enough--there were at least 2 deer, just laying on the grass about 20-25 yards out the back door. We could only see the 2 with the spotlight, but when I checked the grass this morning, I found a couple more spots where the grass had been mashed down from them laying on it. Here's one of the spots.......

We've gotten used to seeing lots of hoofprints and poop - the main evidence left behind from their visits. This birdfeeder is one of their favorite snack stops. See all the hoofprints in the dirt below? This feeder tray is right at the perfect height for a deer's mouth, so they can just stand there and munch till all the seed is gone.

In my little aspen grove, the small bucks have been leaving their antler rub marks on the small trees too.

I don't get too excited about little rubs like this because little trees = little bucks. Now if I were to find a 7 or 8 inch tree that's been worked by a buck, that would be pretty exciting. Perhaps even warrant the placement of a deer stand in the backyard!

Seen any deer in your backyard lately??

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Knitted Mitten Class

Yesterday (Saturday) was the first of two classes I'm teaching for learning to knit mittens using 4 double-pointed needles. The pattern we were using for this class would enable the knitter to make a mitten custom-sized for their hand and using any weight of yarn, consequently it was necessary to knit a gauge swatch before the students could even start their mitten. After asking the yarn shoppe owner to find out from the students whether they would need extra help with knitting a gauge swatch or using double-pointed needles, I volunteered to come to class an hour early to help the students who were also willing to come in early.

There was a total of 4 students and I was really pleased to see young Megan in the class (who had learned to knit from her mom). I think she was about the same age as I was when I learned to knit.

I can't remember how many years ago I learned to knit on double-pointed needles, but the ladies in this class did an excellent job learning something new. For any readers who are knitters, you may recall how awkward it was the first time you learned to handle 4 needles and knitting in a circle vs. knitting back and forth on 2 needles. It's not easy and you can probably sense that by the intense concentration my students are showing to their knitting project.

We didn't get quite as far as I'd hoped for the first class, but we'll start a half-hour early again next Saturday. My hope is that the students will be able to complete their first mitten next week and feel comfortable enough with their new knitting knowledge to go home and finish the second mitten on their own.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The View from My Deer Stand - Part 2

Spent another deerless afternoon in the woods today, but I'm not complaining because the outside temp was almost 60 degrees! Pretty unusual for early November and it got me to thinking about some previous deer hunting seasons where there was about a foot of snow on the ground and temps in the teens.

Here's the hill I walk down from the cornfield to get to today's deer stand. Pretty, isn't it? There are always lots of birds in this area because it's much more wooded than the stand I was sitting on yesterday.

This stand is a permanent stand (meaning we don't take it down every year). I built this stand myself 2 years ago. Are you impressed? I was. Mr. Johnson had chosen the tree and I was in charge of the design. I did my drawing of how I thought the stand should be built, took the measurements, and then cut all the wood at home. We carried all the pieces out to the woods and then I built the stand. Amazingly enough, all the pieces fit correctly and the stand turned out exactly as I had envisioned it. I love this stand! It's big enough to set up this little stool and today I was even able to curl up on the floor and take a little nap! (Nope, I'm definitely not a hardcore deer hunter, am I?)

The warm weather has brought out a new hatch of insects. I watched this little stink bug walking up one of the tree trunks.

Of course, there are always several of these pesty little bushy tails wreaking havoc in the woods. I'm always amazed at how much noise such a small animal can make. But on a slow deer hunting day, their antics are always amusing.
Have a good weekend everyone!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The View from My Deer Stand

Well, after a gentle nudge from my dear old Mom (who's experiencing some blog deprivation symptoms) I will be making an effort to become a little more proactive in my blog posts again.

Amazingly enough, I don't think I've even taken any photos in the last 2 weeks. I think that's the longest I've gone without taking a picture since I started this blog! Between work, deer hunting and knitting, it doesn't seem like I've had time to pay much attention to other stuff going on around here. Oh, there are plenty of birds -- flocks of cedar waxwings in the backyard -- but I've been negligent about carrying the camera along with me when I'm outside.

So this afternoon, while sitting on the deer stand, I realized here was a perfect photo opportunity right in front of me! So, here's a view from the deer stand I was sitting in this afternoon. Do you see any deer? Nope, I didn't either! That's because all you can see in almost any direction is corn, corn, and more corn, and that's where the deer are hiding out.
Minnesota's firearms deer opener is this Saturday (Nov. 7th). For as many years as we've been bowhunting, we always have at least one deer in the freezer by this time. This year has been a tough one as October brought us nearly record setting moisture in the forms of rain and snow. Needless to say, the farmers are the ones most negatively affected by this weather and the harvest has barely begun -- especially for corn.

Mr. Johnson is getting seriously frustrated by the lack of deer we've been seeing. Fortunately he has plenty of vacation time and he subscribes to the philosophy that "a bad day of hunting is better than a good day at work!" I, on the other hand, have no paid time off, so my hunting times are limited to afternoons and weekends (as long as the weather's nice).

I'll be staying out of the woods the next couple weekends because those gun hunters scare me and I'm looking forward to teaching a couple knitting classes -- mittens! Watch for a future blog post on that!