Sunday, January 31, 2010

Looking for Golden Eagles

We went for a drive this afternoon down to Houston County in a search for Golden Eagles. We probably got too late of a start in the day and never did see any Golden Eagles, but it was a nice afternoon for a drive and isn't this beautiful country?
Our trip wasn't disappointing because we did manage to see quite a few Bald Eagles and Red-Tailed Hawks. Houston County also hosts Minnesota's largest population of deer and wild turkeys and boy, did we see deer and turkeys!

Here's the first small flock of turkeys we saw close enough to the road to photograph. When you see large flocks of turkeys together this time of year, they're almost always hens with the surviving youngsters they hatched last spring. (Sometimes you will see small groups of tom turkeys together also, but none of these that we saw had beards, so we knew they're hens with first year offspring.)

I have no idea what they find to eat this time of year, but apparently there's enough seeds that they're able to scrounge from the ground to survive through the winter.

Coming around another curve in the road we saw this big flock crossing the road. You definitely wouldn't want to drive too fast on this road!

Since the mortality rate of turkey poults is pretty high, I'm going to guess that this might be two family groups that have flocked together for the winter. They really weren't in any hurry to get across and I don't think this is a very heavily traveled road.

It was getting late enough in the afternoon that the deer were starting to move around from their sunny afternoon napping spots. Can you see the deer in the picture below? (click on the picture to enlarge it) Mr. Johnson spotted it and thought maybe it was dead, so we backed up to check for sure.

A quick look through the binoculars revealed the deer was definitely alive, but I noticed that it appeared to have an injured hind leg (where the orange arrow is pointing). Sure enough, after we sat there a bit longer, the little deer got up. Its hind leg was completely broken right at the "elbow" and just flopped as the deer hopped up the hill.
We wondered what the survival chances were for this poor little deer. Does the injured leg finally fall off? Or does the deer eventually die from infection? I've seen an adult doe with an injured and completely useless hind leg but she had twin fawns with her, so obviously she had been able to survive with her leg injury. Deer are some of the toughest animals I've ever seen.

Here's a nice healthy looking deer we saw on another hillside. They've gotta be tough to be able to survive a Minnesota winter.

Here's another big group of deer we saw on the drive home. They were taking advantage of the bountiful food supplies left behind from this recently picked cornfield.
We'll definitely head back to this area soon in another search for Golden Eagles, and probably look for some real estate for sale too, because this is about as close to bowhunter's paradise as we've ever seen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sunny Tuesday

It was really nice to see the sun again today, unfortunately the clear skies brought us cold temperatures again, but if you could stay out of the wind, it wasn't too bad of a day outside. The birdies were also taking advantage of a nice day by visiting my bird feeders. Hey wait a minute.....what's that big dark blob in the middle of my birdfeeder??

A flick of the "zoom" button reveals that Mr. Bushy Tail has made himself at home in the bird feeder feasting on sunflower seeds and corn.
"Hey Sophie, wanna go outside and chase a squirrel?"

Penny enjoyed the sunny afternoon too. She loves this spot on the living room floor where she can bask in the sun and watch the birdies outside on the deck too.

And here's a look at some of the knitting projects I've completed so far this month of January. In this picture is the sweater I started right after Christmas, plus 3 hats, 2 dishcloths and 3 pairs of fingerless mittens. (Before the end of the month, I plan to finish three more projects that are really close to being done: a pair of fingerless mittens, a pair of socks, and 1 more dishcloth.)
Every year I start out with good intentions of keeping track of every project I start and finish each month. A few weeks ago, I made up worksheets for 12 months (that's the piece of paper you can see right below the sweater). Ideally, my plan is to complete more projects than I start (since I have 20+ unfinished projects stashed all over the house) and having them listed on a worksheet helps me track my progress. I usually do really good with recording my projects until about April or so and then once my indoor knitting time slacks off, all my good intentions go by the wayside. I'll let you know in a few months how my projects are going.....

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Frosty Morning

We had dense fog overnight. The results were beautiful frosty decorations on everything in the backyard. The winds were calm and the sun never came out completely, so none of the frosty crystals were disturbed. Here are some of the sights I captured in the backyard this morning.

Garden Art
The frost was really heavy on some branches.

Frosty pine needles

Staghorn Sumac seed heads

The frosty Weeping Willow reminded me of the "Tree of Souls" from "Avatar."

Purple Coneflower seedhead

Scotch Pine

Highbush Cranberry holds its fruit all winter

A White Pine in the front yard

Silk Christmas flowers by the front door

The Pin Oaks are still holding most of their leaves

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Little Backyard Drama

I was sitting at the computer and checking my e-mail late this morning when I heard the loud and frantic calls of bluejays right outside the dining room window screaming "Danger" and "Hawk!" I grabbed my binoculars off the dining room table and crawled to the window (didn't want to frighten that hawk away if it was close to the house!) "Hmm, don't see see any hawks nearby," I sez to myself, "but those bluejays wouldn't make that much fuss for nothin'." So I grabbed my camera and headed downstairs for a more unobstructed view of the backyard and finally spotted the hawk. Can you see it?? (hint: look over towards the right side of the picture)
All the birds and critters love this wild thicket in my backyard, and it's a perfect spot for a hawk to perch and wait for some unsuspecting sparrow or junco to visit that tray feeder hanging nearby (far left side of picture).

Here's a closer zoom of the beautiful and patient Cooper's Hawk. It's a Project FeederWatch count day for me in the backyard and I'm always happy to be able to spot and count a Cooper's Hawk visiting my birdfeeders on FeederWatch day.

What a beautiful raptor. This photo through the double-pane glass patio door isn't as good as I would have liked, but when I was editing the photos, I was pleased to see that this bird's red eye showed up, so I could identify it as an adult.

Two weeks ago on FeederWatch count day, I counted 97 house sparrows, so this Cooper's Hawk is always welcome to help itself to as many house sparrows as possible!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A January Thaw!

It was beautiful and sunny in Minnesota today -- nice enough to cause puddles on my deck from the melting of snow and ice that's been accumulating for weeks.

And it's not just today that's nice......look at this forecast for the next week! By the looks of this forecast, maybe all the snow will be melted off my deck by the end of the weekend! Sure doesn't take much to make Minnesotans happy in the middle of winter does it?

And check out this great new pattern book I purchased today. One of my Etsy customers suggested I think about knitting some doggeh sweaters for my Etsy store, so I couldn't resist getting this book. Stay tuned for pictures of finished sweaters in a few weeks.......

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Sunday Trip to the Mississippi

The weather was pretty nice today, so we decided it would be a good day to take a drive down towards the Mississippi and see if we could spot some eagles and any other interesting birds. Here's the report of what we saw today. We drove up to Lake City and then headed south on Highway 61 (Minnesota's Gret River Road).
Fortunately, traffic wasn't too heavy this afternoon and there are several pull-outs along the highway where we can get some good looks at the river and birds. This is the Mississippi completely frozen over.

The hills on the other side of the river are Wisconsin and the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks run along both sides of the river.

There was one really large spot of open water right in front of one of the pull-outs, so I was able to get out and take some pictures. Here's an adult Bald Eagle perched in one of the trees along the river. There were lots of ducks swimming around in this open water too.

There were at least 10 eagles (both adults and sub-adults) flying around here, in addition to several other eagles we saw perched in trees and sitting on the edge of the ice.

It was fun watching the eagles swoop down close to the water over the ducks and the ducks disappearing under the water to stay out of the eagle's talons. I'm not sure whether the eagles really like to eat ducks or if they were just messin' with the ducks for some entertainment.

There were lots of different ducks out here, but they were quite a ways out there and it was just too cold for me to set up the spotting scope and spend much time trying to identify them. I could tell from the quacks that there were some mallards there. I also noticed some Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes.

While we were there a Canadian Pacific freight train came by pulling a bunch of tanker cars filled with what we thought was ethanol.

OK, time to get back in the truck to get warmed up and find some more birds. Our next stop was some open water down by Read's Landing where I spotted these swans. Holy crap, swans?

There were at least 8 of these swans in this area and I think they were Trumpeter Swans. What do you think?

We continued down to Wabasha where we crossed the bridge over to Wisconsin and headed south towards Alma and the open water at the lock & dam there. I was surprised to see swans in the open water at Alma too. Unfortunately, it was getting late in the afternoon and the sun was at the wrong angle for me to get any decent pictures. but I this these might be Tundra Swans. They were that grayish color similar to the juvenile Tundra Swans we saw on the Mississippi last November during their migration.

There were quite a few ducks in the water here too, but the light wasn't right for me to be able to identify any of them.

However, there were quite a few Bald Eagles in this area too. We saw at least 12 sitting on the ice at the edge of the open water in addition to a few soaring around.

But the coolest thing we saw here was when we started looking at the trees on the other side of the river and saw that there were Bald Eagles perched in a number of trees. I counted 11 Bald Eagles perched in this one tree!
This reminds me of eagle pictures I've seen from Alaska....we were so amazed to see so many Bald Eagles here in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bird Adaptations Class

Since the new year started and it's not as busy at work anymore, I have switched back to my 4-day-a-week schedule. It was sure nice to sleep in a little longer this morning! Plus I was able to add some time to my Master Naturalist volunteer hours log by participating as an assistant in the Bird Adaptations Class held for Rochester public school 3rd graders. I got to Quarry Hill Nature Center around 9:15 to meet with Carrie (the class leader) and find out what my duties would be with this class. Shortly before the class was due to start, Carrie got a phone call from the school saying there wouldn't be any students this morning as no arrangements for transport to Quarry Hill had been made with the bus company. Oh well, that's the way it goes sometimes.... However, as long as the mist net was up and one of the other naturalists at Quarry Hill was doing bird banding this morning, we decided to continue catching some birds. I was thankful that Carrie had time to work with me as I definitely need more experience getting birds out of the mist net.

We caught a really good variety of birds this morning. Here's a little White-Breasted Nuthatch I was able to release from the net myself. Experienced bird banders are probably cringing as they see the grip I have on this poor little nuthatch, and that's exactly why I really need to get more experience at the nets. I love working with the birds though because it's such an amazing experience to hold these tiny feathered creatures in my hand.

Here's Carrie holding the female Cardinal she retrieved from the net. Mrs. Cardinal was extremely verbal in voicing her displeasure while being removed from the net. Fortunately, Carrie's a very experienced bird bander and was able to avoid any abuse from Mrs. Cardinal's strong beak. Isn't she a beautiful bird though?

We also caught a male Hairy Woodpecker in the net. This is the first time I've ever been able to see one of these guys up close. His head feathers look a little ruffled and I'm not sure if that's from having the net removed from his head or just his annoyance at being held by Carrie.

And last of all, I decided to have a little fun with the stuff Great Horned Owl that was on display as part of the Bird Adaptations Class. Check out that wingspan! It looked really intimidating to me just standing there and holding it......can you imagine what a cottontail thinks as it sees this owl swooping down toward it?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Attention Great Horned Owls!

Welcome to Ruthie's Backyard Bunny Buffet!

Featuring delicious, fresh, corn-fed cottontail nightly from dusk 'til dawn!

Serv-Urself -- No Waiting!

Bring Your Friends -- All Owls Welcome!

(this post is just for fun and not intended to offend any bunny lovers!)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Resolution for the new year

I finally had a chance to get caught up on some of my blog reading today and was particularly interested in the post my friend Deb had concerning her philosophy on New Year's resolutions. This year Deb has resolved to do something joyful every day and for her that involves playing a musical instrument. As I was thinking about something joyful I could do every day, I decided that spending some time knitting was definitely a resolution I wouldn't have any trouble keeping. And in that spirit, here's an update on the sweater I first showed you in my December 26th post. As you can see, I made a major color revision, but I like it much better now. Both sleeves have been completed and about 6 inches of the body. Progress will be a bit slower now until I get to the colorwork on the yoke, but it will be some mindless knitting to work on during my daily commute. My goal will be to have this sweater completed in time to wear to the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival in February.

This sweater pattern is called "Shades of Grey" and is from a Patons pattern book called Weekend Retreat, published in 1998. As you can see my sweater is in shades of brown, and even though this pattern book was published over 10 years ago, I still love all the sweaters in it and am looking forward to trying some of the other patterns someday.

Since so many of you (including myself) wondered why the Great Horned Owl only ate the head of that bunny in my backyard, I decided to consult with the best raptor experts I know: Susan K Williams and Dave Dorsey. (That's the coolest thing about blogging and Facebook -- I have almost immediate access to experts who have the answers to my most vexing bird and nature questions.) Anyway, according to my experts, when an owl kills prey that's too large for it to carry away, it will eat part of the prey first. And apparently owls will eat the head first in an effort to get at the chest cavity of the prey. If food supplies are plentiful, the owl will just eat what it wants and leave the rest behind. In leaner times, the owl will take the remaining prey and cache it for a future meal. Dave told me that when the Snowy Owl or Great Horned Owl at his Alaska Bird Treatment & Learning Center eat only the head they're eating too good and it's time to cut back a little. So now we know! Thanks Susan and Dave for your help!