Monday, June 21, 2010

Backyard Deer (again!)

I hope you're not getting tired of seeing pictures of my backyard deer again! Last Monday afternoon (around 5:00), we spotted her bedded down under the white pines in an attempt to take shelter from the pouring rain. There's a nice layer of old white pine needles, so this must have been a pretty comfortable spot for her.

After I stepped outside to take a few pictures, she got annoyed enough to get up from her napping spot and grab a few mouthfuls of corn before heading to a more secluded spot of the backyard.

I had a nice little video of the deer walking right through the backyard to the ground feeder trays. I've been trying for 3 days to download it to this post and Blogger isn't cooperating, so I'm giving up on that.

I'm also happy to report that we've finally seen her fawn. Mr. Johnson was sitting out on the deck on Saturday night when Mrs. Whitetail trotted through the yard with one spotted little fawn following behind her. I wasn't able to get the camera out fast enough to capture any photos, but I did manage to get a glimpse of the little one too.

And finally, I wanted to let you all know that I'll be taking a break from blogging for a while and not sure when I'll be back. Hope everybody has a good summer!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Birding with John

Sunday, June 13th was a day I had been anticipating for quite some time as this was the day my local Audubon Society had scheduled for a birding trip with one of Minnesota's finest birders, John Hockema. John doesn't do very many local birding trips, so even though Sunday's forecast was for fog and possibly even rain, I knew I would still be at the designated rendezvous point by 7 AM. I had sent John an e-mail earlier last week with my request for a Henslow's Sparrow to add to my life list. His response was that there was a very good chance we could find a Henslow's and asking me whether I would also be interested in adding an Acadian Flycatcher to my life list (YES!)

By 7 AM, our small group of 9 intrepid birders had assembled and divided up into our little birding convoy. First stop: Bill Barnacle Forest Management Area, a beautiful tract of forest and prime bird/wildlife habitat. I knew it was going to be a good birding day when we got out of the cars and an Osprey was spotted flying over the parking lot!
Because of the drizzly weather, the birds weren't quite a vocal as they might be on a sunny morning, but they were still quite willing to respond to recorded calls that another birder provided. He called in a Wood Thrush and Scarlet Tanager for all of us to see. As we ventured further up the hill and deeper into the woods, John finally heard the call of the Acadian Flycatcher. (The sighting of this bird has been particularly exciting for local birders as the Acadian Flycatcher hasn't been documented in Olmsted County for many years, but was discovered just recently during the Breeding Bird Survey that another Audubon member is participating in.) We stopped on the trail and the recording of the Acadian Flycatcher was played to see if the bird could be drawn in for us to see and sure enough, it cooperated. We were all able to get great looks at the flycatcher (although it was too dark and the bird moved too quickly for me to get a photograph).

I enjoyed walking through this forest. Even though the birds weren't plentiful, there were still plenty of interesting plants and fungus to see along the way.
It's located far off the beaten path in rural Olmsted County, but hopefully I'll be able to find my way back there some day. I'm guessing this would be a fabulous place to bird during spring warbler migration!

Our next stop was Chester Woods Park, just east of Rochester. This is a great local park featuring easy hiking trails and excellent bird/wildlife habitat. Before we even got out of the parking lot, everyone got a nice look at a gorgeous rooster pheasant and an extremely cooperative Orchard Oriole. We headed over to the grasslands in search of the Henslow's Sparrow. Along the way we spotted this really nice Wild Lupine in bloom.

Little Wood Satyr butterfly
We continued walking around the grassland trail, but John's super-sensitive birding ears were not picking up the call of the Henslow's Sparrow. As we neared the forested edge of the trail, John thought he heard the call of a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. I pulled out my trusty BirdJam and played the call of the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo a few times. Then someone in our group spotted the bird in a small shrub nearby. Binoculars were raised and John quickly identified the bird as not the yellow-billed, but a Black-Billed Cuckoo! (woo-hoo, Lifer #2 for my day!)

We continued on the trail still hoping for the Henslow's Sparrow and finally, as we got almost to the end, John was able to pick out the small hiccupy tsillik call of a Henslow's. The bird was spotted far across the field, but John was able to find it in the spotting scope and we all got a pretty good look at this little sparrow whose population numbers are rapidly declining due to habitat loss. (Lifer #3!)

It was almost noon, but John wasn't ready to quit birding yet. He knew of a spot where a Lark Sparrow had been seen recently, so the 4 of us remaining in the group headed over to an area of Rochester that used to be known as the 100 Acre Woods, but is currently being developed into a housing subdivision. After only a few minutes out of the car and walking in the grass, the Lark Sparrow flew up to the trees and we got a good look at it. John felt the bird was probably nesting nearby, but we were unable to locate a nest. I hope that area it was in doesn't get developed too soon and that grass stays unmowed for a while. This wasn't a lifer for me, but it was the first time I had seen it in Minnesota, so another good one to check off my Minnesota list!

We also got good looks at this Spotted Sandpiper in the same area. All the rain we've had lately filled up a little pond nearby that was perfect for the birds and dragonflies.

Also at this soon-to-be-developed spot was a large sandpile where a small colony of Bank Swallows was nesting. Unfortunately, some stupid yahoos had decided to climb this hill (on foot and with a bicycle) and as you can see from this picture, the center section of the sand hill collapsed, destroying several of the nesting burrows and actually killing one of the swallows (if you click to enlarge the picture, you can see the bird sticking out of the sand in the lower center part of the picture). While I was standing there taking this picture, a couple of swallows flew out of their undamaged holes on the left, but I'm not optimistic about their future in this neighborhood.
I finally headed for home around 12:30. But even the pouring rain wasn't able to dampen my happiness at being able to add 3 new birds to my life list in less than 5 hours. Thanks John for a leading us on this excellent birding adventure!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hummingbird Rescue

Such a busy, birdy time of year! I had to do a hummingbird rescue yesterday afternoon too. I was going to the house to get my camera to take pictures of the bluebird babies when I noticed the body of a poor little hummingbird laying on the back patio. I knew it must have hit the dining room window above. The poor little squirt was conscious, but obviously disoriented (as you can see by the tip of his little tongue sticking out the end of his beak). I carefully picked him up and gave him to Mr. Johnson to hold for a few seconds while I ran to fetch one of the nectar feeders and a box to put him in.
I took him carefully from Mr. Johnson and held him while I dipped his beak into the nectar, hoping he'd take a little sip and that would help to energize him.

Then it was back into Mr. Johnson's hand for a few more seconds while I lined the carboard box with a towel and placed the little hummingbird inside.
After that I just closed the lid and left him in the basement. Hopefully a few minutes in the dark and calm environment would revive him. And sure enough, it did. After less than 10 minutes, Mr. Johnson reported that there was some angry buzzing and bumps coming from inside the box. We took the box outside and carefully opened the lid........out buzzed this little hummingbird straight into the sky and apparently completely recovered from his window collision. YAY!! Another birdy saved!

They're such neat little birds and I'm so thankful that we came upon this little hummer at just the right time and were able to save his life. I'm also glad he didn't have any serious injuries that would have prevented him from being released again.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Baby Pictures!

Bluebird babies started hatching today! In the nestbox by the driveway, this hungry baby was already hatched at 7:15 this morning.

And in the nestbox at the far end of our backyard, Mr. & Mrs. Bluebird had 2 new little babies as of 3:00 this afternoon. Don't you just love their fuzzy feathers!

It will be a busy time for these bluebird parents and hopefully the rainy weather predicted for the next couple of days won't have any adverse affect on these new hatchlings. Maybe I'd better think about purchasing some mealworms to help these bluebird parents who will be busy trying to keep their hungry babies fed....

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Big Backyard Doe!

In just the last week, we've been seeing this big doe in the backyard at various times during the day and night. While I was doing yesterday's blog post, she showed up again around 8:30 PM to snack on some corn. Mr. Johnson just happened to be at the kitchen window at the right time and spotted her.

Isn't she pretty? This is a really big doe and after seeing her rear view as she was walking away, it was very evident that she has nursing fawns somewhere.

She walked through the backyard and stopped once more to munch on the leaves of some low-hanging branches on the apple trees.

Bye now Mrs. Deer. Hope you'll be bringing those babies by for a visit soon!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Backyard Birdnests

One of the neat things about having so many birds in the backyard is the opportunity to watch their activity -- especially nesting activities. I've found several active bird nests in the backyard and thought you might enjoy seeing some of them too.

Last weekend, I watched a robin picking up the grass mulch from my garden and flying over to a nearby crabapple tree. Sure enough, she was building a nice little nest conveniently at eye-level in that tree. Can you see her on the nest in the photo below?

Isn't this a beautiful nest? We've had a fair amount of rain this week, so she was able to build a sturdy mud layer in this nest and then line it with the grass mulch from my garden. Looks there will be only 3 eggs in this nest. I love that beautiful turquoise color!

In the front yard, I have a wren house and a bluebird house. Both of these houses are currently occupied. I love this wren house because one side of the roof opens for easy monitoring. There are six eggs in this nest. This is one of 3 active house wren nests in the yard. I know wrens can sometimes be very territorial and destroy the eggs of other nesting birds, but to the best of my knowledge, my wrens have behaved so far.

The bluebirds have 4 eggs in this house. It's right next to the driveway and they don't take very kindly to my nest checks. These eggs should hatch sometime in the next few days.

There are 5 active Tree Swallow nests in the backyard too. Two pairs of Tree Swallows have made their nests in bluebird houses, so I can easily monitor their progress. Here's one of the nests with 4 eggs in it. I'm always amazed at the variety of feathers they're able to collect to line their nests. Looks like they even found a bluebird feather.

This female Tree Swallow wouldn't leave her nest, even after I opened the door. She moved to the back so I was able to see that she had 5 eggs. I quickly took the picture and closed up the door again so she could get back to incubating her eggs.

Earlier this year, I showed you the first active bluebird nest in the backyard. Unfortunately, I think a raccoon got the eggs from that nest box. A couple weeks ago, another pair of bluebirds decided to nest in the other house at this location. This time I decided to fabricate a raccoon baffle (from a stovepipe) to give my bluebirds the best chance at successfully raising a family. So far, this baffle is working.

Unlike the bluebirds in my front yard, these bluebirds have all-white eggs!
I'm so happy to have 2 nesting pairs of bluebirds in my yard this year. It's been quite a few years since this has happened, since my trees have grown up enough that the backyard isn't really ideal bluebird habitat anymore. I'm hoping this is another positive sign of bluebird population recovery here in Minnesota and that I've been able to contribute to that recovery in a small way.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Inchworm, I Love You!

Those of you of a certain age will certainly remember this Inchworm toy and song. On our Minnesota Master Naturalist field trip last Saturday, I had the chance to spend a few minutes of quality time with an inchworm. Needless to say, the inchworm song was running through my head during our encounter. Enjoy the movie!

To help you with your bird song ID, here's the list of what birds were singing during the video:

Eastern Wood Pewee

Great Crested Flycatcher

House Wren

Field Sparrow


American Goldfinch

Indigo Bunting

(I didn't list them in order of appearance so you will have a bit of a challenge!)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Furry Children

I haven't posted any stories about my furry children (AKA pets) lately, but found these pictures on my camera, so that will be a good topic for today's post.

Here's lazy old Sophie. It was bedtime, but she didn't want to budge from this comfortable spot on the couch for her last outside potty break of the evening. Since she hates the camera and will usually get up and run away whenever I turn it on, I decided to try taking her picture. Amazingly enough she laid there long enough for me to get this pretty good picture before she finally decided to get up.
Of the 3 German Shorthairs we've had over the years, Sophie's probably been the one most troubled with a variety of health issues. She's now 12 & 1/2 years old and slowing down quite a bit. A few weeks ago she had a tumor? or infection? lesion that broke open on her left hind leg. The fine needle aspirate that our vet collected and sent to the pathologist was inconclusive. There were a few infection and cancerous cells present, but nothing definitive. We treated Sophie with 30 days' worth of antibiotics and the leg cleared up pretty good. Sophie also has an abscessed tooth which the antibiotics were supposed to help too. Sophie's had a heart murmur for years and the vet also found on her visit that this heart murmur has gotten worse.......worse enough, in fact that we opted out of the regular distemper shot and heartworm medication because of Sophie's failing health. That was a very sad day for me......Sophie is my baby! We will continue to keep her as comfortable and happy as possible for her remaining days. As with our other dogs, the vet says we will know when it's time to make that sad last appointment, but I'm sure not looking forward to it.

This isn't a pet picture, but leading up to it. A couple years ago, I found this great little hassock at Wal-Mart. It was never actually used as a hassock, as it's the perfect spot for storing knitting projects. If I can move all the knitting crap off, the top lifts off to reveal more storage inside the hassock.

A couple weeks ago I was looking for a particular pattern book that I thought was inside this hassock. I took the lid off the hassock and set it on the floor, found the pattern I was looking for, and then got distracted with another project. A half-hour later I went back in the living room to find that Penny had made herself comfortable on the half-finished knitting projects inside! She looks pretty content, don't you think?
Cat + Yarn = Happiness!