Sunday, February 28, 2010

Last Day of February

The last day of February this year also coincides with the last day of the Winter Olympics and as I'm posting this I'm also watching the closing ceremonies. I hope you all enjoyed the Olympics as much as I did.

We enjoyed some amazingly beautiful sunny weather this weekend. When I was out in the backyard earlier this week, I noticed quite a few Mourning Dove tail feathers on one of my paths. My first thought was that the Cooper's Hawk had probably snatched one of the slower doves for dinner, or that one of those cats that's been roaming my backyard caught a dove.

Then late this morning I saw this poor, tail-less dove at one of my backyard birdfeeders. At least this dove didn't become anyone's dinner!

I always enjoy watching the Winter Olympics for the abundance of knitting inspiration and this year was no exception. (I loved those sweaters the Canadian athletes wore for the closing ceremonies!) Over the course of the weekend, I did manage to finish knitting that hat I showed you the pattern for the other day. Here it is.......
I am so not happy with the way this hat turned out! It's way too long -- even after I ripped out the final top part and re-knit it in stripes.
I like the way the center moose part turned out, but I know I will never wear this hat and it's going into my box of donation knitting for next winter.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Knitting Mission Accomplished!

This afternoon, I finished my last sock and hat for the Afghans for Afghans 2010 Youth Campaign. Here's my final tally: 3 hats, 4 pairs of socks, and 4 pairs of mittens. I got everything washed and right now they're all hanging on the drying rack with a fan blowing on them so they'll be dry enough to pack up and ship tomorrow (since they need to arrive in San Francisco by March 1st).

My reward for finishing this project is that I get to start a new project for the weekend -- this cool Winter Olympics hat will be for me! If you want to try one knitting one too, here's the pattern link.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Double Chocolate Cookies - A Recipe

Today was my regular Wednesday off. At 7 AM, the outside temp was -5 degrees so I decided it would be a good day to stay indoors for knitting, movie watching and cookie baking. Last week I found a recipe for Double Chocolate Cookies on the back of a bag of Crystal Sugar and decided to try that out today. I think these cookies turned out pretty darn good and if you're interested in trying out this recipe for yourself or your favorite "test subjects," I've written it down below.


1-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips
(obviously I used white chocolate chips)

Cream sugar and butter; beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in flour, cocoa and baking soda on low speed. Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 8 to 11 minutes or until set. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Monday, February 22, 2010

Baffled Bushytail

Hey, this is new! What's it say?

Wait a'm I s'posed to get to that birdseed???

I bought this new squirrel baffle last week and was thrilled to see that it actually worked to keep this fat little gray squirrel from getting to this birdfeeder by his usual route. I wonder how long it will take this squirrel to figure out that he can actually jump to this feeder from another branch or the tree trunk????

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Birds

I got this suet feeder last weekend at the Sax-Zim Bog birding festival. It's a little chunk of a cedar log with a hollow center. The Boy Scouts were selling them for $1 and if that's not a heckuva deal, I don't know what is! I stuffed it full of suet on Tuesday morning and hung it out on a hook off the deck. I've been keeping an eye on it but haven't noticed any activity at this new suet feeder until this morning. We were at the dining room table eating our breakfast pancakes and watched this little female Downy Woodpecker cautiously approach and then fly over to sample some suet.
It wasn't more than 10 minutes later and a male Downy showed up to try out the new feeder too.

Later in the morning we took of for another birding trip to the Mississippi. I'm still trying to check the Long-Tailed Duck off my list and was hoping that the ones that had been seen down there last weekend were still hanging around. Unfortunately, there were almost no ducks to be seen anywhere on the open channels of the Mississippi, but our disappointment was only temporary because once again there were plenty of Bald Eagles for our viewing pleasure. This one perched really nicely right at the edge of a scenic pull-out along Highway 61.

A little farther down the road we pulled out at Reads Landing where we had seen ducks and swans a few weeks ago. We saw only a small flock of mallards, but the swans were still there. We counted about 20.
Aren't they beautiful?

After checking out the open water near the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, we crossed the bridge to Wisconsin and followed the river road south from Nelson. Again, there was a surprising lack of waterfowl on the river, but we did get a good look at some longbeards pecking some grit along the edge of the road.
It's only 2 months now until our spring turkey hunting season and I sure hope we see some nice birds like this when we're out there (I also hope the snow's gone by then too!)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another Snowy Saturday

It started snowing again sometime in the middle of last night and we continued to see light snow fall until about noon today. I know I'm not the only person in Minnesota who's getting really tired of the seemingly endless cold and snow we're experiencing this winter. At least the days are getting noticeably longer, plus hearing cardinals singing outside is another nice reminder that spring really isn't that far off.

The one good thing about this winter for me has been that I've had plenty of time for knitting. In the photo below you can see what I've gotten knitted so far this month for the Afghans for Afghans 2010 Youth Campaign. The green socks on the left are almost done as is the hat in the top center. When I bought that yarn I thought it was just about the ugliest color of yarn I had ever seen, but it's knitting up pretty neat into that hat. The socks just below it are knit of the same yarn and I thought it was interesting how the same variegated yarn ends up looking totally different when knitted into two different projects.
These projects have to arrive at the Afghans for Afghans headquarters in San Francisco by March 1st, so I'll have to be ready to ship the package by next Friday. I hope to be able to complete one more of each item this next week -- hat, socks and mittens. I'll post one more picture later in the week to show you the final outcome of my knitting efforts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sunday at the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival

Valentines Day (Sunday) was our final birding day at the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival. We were supposed to be at the Meadowlands Community Center by 6:30, so you can bet that we weren't looking forward to hearing that alarm go off at 4:30! After a short check-out delay while the hotel clerk tried to figure out our bill, we hit the road around 6:00 AM (already 15 minutes behind). But traffic was light, the sunrise was beautiful and while Lynne and I were solving the world's problems we actually missed our turnoff to Meadowlands! When we drove into a town neither of us recognized, Lynne pulled out her Garmin and we "recalculated" our way back -- YIKES, a 16 mile detour! Fortunately, there was plenty of coffee and donuts at the Community Center, so the rest of our birding party seemed more than happy to wait for us.

Our birding caravan was headed deep into the interior of the Sax-Zim Bog where we were hoping to see a Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Evening Grosbeak and if we were really lucky maybe a wolf or a moose!

All during the winter, there were a couple locations in the Bog where feeding stations had been set up with birdseed and a deer ribcage attached to a tree in order to attract birds for viewing and photographs. We found out early on Saturday morning that some of the local residents had complained about this and the DNR felt compelled to come and remove the deer rib cages. I'm not sure why they couldn't have waited just a couple more days until the festival was over, but then again, this isn't the first DNR decision that's left me scratching my head in disbelief. Anyhoo, when we got to that first feeding station we found that one of the local nature photographers had taken it upon himself to put out some birdseed and dogfood and also attach another ribcage to the tree, so festival participants who wanted to take pictures could do so. (He also told us that when he left that day, he would be removing the rib cage and taking it with him.)

There were several Gray Jays visiting the dogfood that had been sprinkled on the ground. Unfortunately, this was the best photo of a Gray Jay I managed to get. They're really pretty birds, so you might want to look in your field guide to get an idea of what they really look like!

Lots of different birds were enjoying the deer rib cage, but the clinging birds (like this Downy Woodpecker and Red-Breasted Nuthatch) seem to have a definite advantage when it comes to enjoying this feast!

The seeds on the ground were being gobbled up by Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and Chickadees. Here are a couple of Pine Siskins enjoying sunflower seeds.

During our tour of the bog, we also visited a couple of residences where the home owners had set up their bird feeding stations so people could stop by and watch the birds. Since I never see many Purple Finches at my feeders here in southern Minnesota, I was more than happy to take pictures of the Purple Finches I saw at these feeders. There seemed to be many more female finches than males, so I was particularly happy to get this photo of a handsome male.

A couple of female purple finches enjoying sunflower seeds.

Shortly after our lunch break, the snow flurries started and our bird sightings and visibility decreased with the increase of snow flakes.

We took advantage of a short break in the weather and had one of our trip leaders take a picture of Lynne and I with WildBird magazine so Lynne could submit it to Amy Hooper for the next issue.
Finally it was time for us to think about turning the car south and heading for home. We said good-bye and thanks to our trip leaders and all of the good people who worked so hard at making the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival another rousing success. I would strongly encourage anyone who's interested to plan on attending this festival someday (always the second weekend in February). We had a great time and I know you would too!

Here's the list of birds we saw during this festival.

For more stories and much bettter photos, please check out Lynne's blog also (just click on this link).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Saturday at the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival

Day 2 of the Sax-Zim Winter Birding Festival started early on Saturday morning where we were to meet our carpool partners in the EconoLodge parking lot at 7:00 AM. It was pretty cold, but the skies were clear as a bell and we were looking forward to predicted highs in the mid-20's for later in the day. I thought it was a particularly good sign to see these 2 Common Ravens atop a billboard right in the EconoLodge parking lot! This was the first of many ravens we saw on our Saturday birding adventure.

After picking up the final member of our Duluth birding group, the first stop for our caravan was the frozen Port of Duluth where we were hoping to spot a Snowy Owl. Being a landlubber from southeastern Minnesota, I loved seeing all the huge ships frozen in this bay for the winter. We never did see a Snowy Owl, but were excited to spot our first Northern Shrike of the day in this area.

Our next stop was over to Canal Park to try and spot some waterfowl--hopefully Barrow's Goldeneye or Long-Tailed Ducks. Unfortunately for us, a recent shift in the wind had blown the ice close in to shore, so there was no open water here (meaning no ducks either!) However I couldn't leave without getting this nice shot of the Duluth Lift Bridge. (It was the consensus of several members of our group that the reason the right end of the bridge was all covered up was because the bridge was being sandblasted and repainted.)

Here's a look at all the ice that had blown into the harbor plus a good look at the City of Duluth.

Our next destination was Two Harbors, but we did make a stop along the way where some open water was evident and managed to spot a few Common Goldeneyes, but pretty far from shore. At that distance, there was no way to determine if there was a Barrow's Goldeneye in the group (as you can see by this picture).

On our way up to Two Harbors, I did get to see what for me was the highlight of my trip: A Bald Eagle and several Common Ravens feasting on a road-killed deer right along Highway 61! Yes, for non-birders, this sounds really disgusting, but it was just so neat to get a quick, close-up look at a Bald Eagle on the ground and be able to appreciate the sheer size and beauty of this raptor. It turned out to be a really good day for spotting Bald Eagles and we had numerous sightings--mostly along Highway 61 and the Lake Superior shore.

Even though we hit all hot spots in Two Harbors where Bohemian Waxwings had been seen previously, we weren't able to spot any. A stop along the Lake Superior shore in Two Harbors also left us "duck-less," but I did have the chance to snap this postcard perfect photo. We definitely got more than our recommended daily allowance of Vitamin D from the sun on this beautiful Saturday.

Here's another close-up look at the ice along the shore and coating rocks on the bay here at Two Harbors.

We stopped for a tailgate lunch at Lester Park in Duluth where we were really surprised with a flyover by a couple of American Robins. It's always nice to hear their cheerful chirp in the middle of winter!

After lunch, our caravan headed east to the northlands favorite gull hotspot: the landfill in Superior, Wisconsin! There were plenty of gulls here and it was mesmerizing to watch them fly up from the landfill and soar around with the gorgeous blue sky as a backdrop. The majority of these gulls were Ring-Billed Gulls (they're the ones with the black wing tips in the photo below). However, we all got some good looks at several large Glaucous Gulls and a couple of smaller Iceland Gulls (lifer!)

It was finally time for us to head back to Duluth and we made one more stop down at the waterfront still hoping to see that Snowy Owl (which we didn't). However, we did all get a lucky and unexpected look at a Rough-Legged Hawk that was perched on one of the light poles along Highway 2 from Superior (sorry, no picture of that bird either!)

Our day was far from over as we headed back to festival headquarters in Meadowlands where we were scheduled to board buses at 4 PM for an owl search into the Sax-Zim Bog.
Our bus headed down Owl Avenue. Unfortunately owls were conspicuously absent from the area and we saw only one Northern Hawk Owl perched at the top of a tree at the end of a distant fence row.
Even though we didn't get to see any owls, we were lucky enough to see several Ruffed Grouse perched in birch trees and feasting on catkins at the end of the branches. I've never had the chance to see this before and it was really fun to see these large birds try and balance out near the end of the branches and stretch to reach their favorite food.

We were treated to the sight of a beautiful northwoods sunset while riding the bus back to the Meadowlands Community Center. Saturday's excellent birding adventure ended with a delicious banquet, some knitting with friends, and an entertaining presentation from Al Batt, the evening's keynote speaker.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 1 - Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival

Hello from Duluth, Minnesota! This morning I caught the shuttle bus from Rochester to the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport where Lynne picked me up. It was the first time I had ridden the airport shuttle with another knitter! She was knitting up a pretty little pink scarf with a lovely angora/wool blend yarn.

This morning was really foggy, but the skies cleared up around 10 AM and it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. After lunch at Art's Cafe in Moose Lake, we were ready to head up to Hasty Brook. We arrived to find that Lynne's neighbor had the driveway all cleared out for us and the birds were there and waiting for the birdseed Lynne had brought along. Here's what I saw at Lynne's beautiful Hasty Brook retreat:

A sweet little Red-Breasted Nuthatch (one of my favorites!)

We were both thrilled to see these Snow Buntings fly by and then perch in a nearby birch snag. Can you see all three of them in this picture?

Pine Siskins were there too.....

Black-Capped Chickadees and Common Redpolls were also visiting the birdfeeders, but I wasn't quick enough to snap any photos of them.

Lastly, here are a couple views from the balcony of Lynne's Hasty Brook Retreat....

Isn't it beautiful? This is the second time I've been there and both visits have been during the winter. I hope I get a chance to visit again someday when everything isn't covered with snow! Thanks Lynne for sharing your beautiful Hasty Brook homestead with me!

Tomorrow morning we set off at 7:15 for our day-long birding tour of Duluth. Hopefully I'll have some good photos to share with you tomorrow night (and hopefully I'll be able to stay awake long enough to post them!) Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Practice Post

I'm calling this a practice post because it's the first post I've ever created using my Toshiba Netbook. This coming Friday morning, my best blogging friend Lynne and I are heading, not to Alaska, but to Duluth, Minnesota for the 3rd Annual Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival. I'm taking my netbook along with the hope that I'll have some time to do posts of all the great birds I'm anticipating seeing over the weekend (and also because I can't bear the thought of being "off-line" for 3 whole days!) I'm taking a shuttle bus from Rochester to the Minneapolis airport where Lynne will pick me up. Amazingly enough, the shuttle service offers free Wi-fi, so if I don't feel like pulling some knitting needles and yarn out of my backpack, I can always pull out my netbook and check out what my friends are doing on Facebook or get caught up on some of my blog reading. Should be an interesting trip.....

So anyway back to this practice post.....I was able to plug the USB cable of my little SanDisk CF Card Reader and use the Windows Live Photo Gallery software to edit the photos I took this afternoon. I think they turned out just as good as photos I normally edit in PhotoShop and the software is pretty similar.

If you haven't heard, we had a little snow the past couple days. Of course our almost 8 inches certainly can't compare with what the East Coast has had dumped on them, but it's still enough to close area schools and make our morning commute a bit more thrilling than usual.

Here's another view from the deck. There's still an awful lot of snow around here. We had a couple above freezing days a few weeks ago, but they really didn't do anything towards melting the snow at all. And as I'm writing this, I can hear Mr. Johnson firing up the snowblower and preparing to go out and open my paths to the backyard birdfeeders again.

If you click on this picture to enlarge it, there in the center you can see only the tiniest remainder of the backyard dog statue above the snow. I'm guessing there's probably at least 18" on snow piled up there in the backyard now.

And here's a pretty decent drift that always grows on the garage roof when the wind blows from the northwest. It was a really light and fluffy snow, so it didn't take much wind to create a snow sculpture like this. (It also didn't take much effort with the shovel to remove it either!)

So, it looks like I'm all set to do some blog posts from the northwoods. I've already checked the Duluth forecast for the weekend and it sounds like we should have some pretty decent weather with daytime highs in the 20's and mostly sunny skies. Sounds like perfect birding weather to me! Maybe I'll even get a chance to see that Varied Thrush that Lynne's seen near Hasty Brook. Be sure to check back here this weekend for photos and stories of another excellent birding adventure......

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Calling All Fiber Friends!

Have you heard of "Afghans for Afghans?" I know some of my knitting/blogging friends have been making blankets and sweaters for this worthy cause, but I have never participated, up until now......

On Facebook, I am a "fan" of Lion Brand Yarns. Yesterday, they posted an update asking for contributions for the Afghans for Afghans - Youth Campaign 2010. You can learn more about it by clicking on this link. Hats, mittens, afghans, sweaters, and vests are needed for children in Afghanistan. So here's a call to all my fiber friends: Can you help? We have only until March 1st, but I'm sure anything you can knit or crochet between now and then will be greatly appreciated. I already have sock and mitten patterns picked out and an abundant supply of wool yarn to choose from, so I'm off to start knitting.

Stay tuned for updates and photos of completed projects!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

FeederWatch Wednesday

It was great to be off work today. Last fall, when I signed up for Project Feederwatch, my plan was to watch my feeders on Wednesdays and Thursdays when I was home by myself so I wouldn't have to interrupt any weekend activities. Today was a really nice day for birdies in the backyard: sunny with very little wind, although it was still a bit chilly (see below).

It was a day that even the cardinals approved of by singing their beautiful "what cheer" song throughout the morning. I stood out in the cold with the hopes that I might be able to capture a video of the cardinal's spring-y call, but they weren't that cooperative for me (even when I tried "singing" back to them with my trusty birdJam!). So instead of singing cardinals video, I had to satisfy myself (and this blog post) with photos of some of the visitors at my birdfeeders on this FeederWatch Wednesday.

Mammals don't count for Project FeederWatch purposes, but I couldn't resist this cute pose of this chubby little bushytail. I have a total of 3 coming at different times now to feast on corn and sunflower seeds.

Quite a few mourning doves are still hanging around this winter too. Poor Mrs. Cardinal doesn't have a chance with 3 hungry doves monopolizing this small tray feeder.

House sparrows are still the most numerous feeder bird every count day. They descend in huge flocks and disappear just as quickly, making it almost impossible to get an accurate count. I think there are at least 30 in this photo.

Two American Crows showed up for the count today also. Their feathers are so beautiful and sleek and while they prefer the dog food I sometimes put out in the tray feeders, this one seems to be OK with feasting on corn and sunflower seeds instead.

I love the little juncos! They so scrappy and fun to watch. They especially like white proso millet and are more than happy to scratch around for their favorite seed on any flat surface, including this old tree stump that doubles as a bird feeder.

There's cracked corn in this birdseed mix I put on the stump feeder too, so a hungry mourning dove isn't about to pass by the feast either!

Here's a cute shot of a "one-legged" junco perched in the crabapple tree right outside the dining window. On chilly Minnesota mornings, it's sure nice to have a built-in "down" jacket to warm up your little birdie toes!

I've been putting a hull-less seed blend in the window feeder (in addition to peanuts for the bluejays) and this sometimes attracts birds that I normally wouldn't see this close to the house. These little goldfinches love the sunflower hearts that are in this seed blend. As you can see, there is still no evidence of any bright yellow summer plumage yet. Oh well, it's nice to dream of spring anyway......