Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Housing Addition

Back in January, I bought this nice little, 2-chambered cedar bathouse on eBay. Now that I'm laid off for a few months, getting this bat house added to my backyard wildlife habitat was at the top of my "to do" list. Last week I bought a little can of water-based black paint and got the bat house painted. (Black keeps the house extra warm if the bats ever do move in and choose to use this house as a nursery colony.) See - 2 chambers! With nice rough wood that will make it easier for the bats to climb inside.

Instead of putting up a new pole, I decided to mount this bat house on the south-facing side of the tall bird-perching pole in the backyard. This pole is at the edge of my wildflower garden.
Yes, we still have a few snowbanks left in the yard!

Here I am attaching the bat house to the pole. I did it early this morning because the ground was still frozen and my ladder feet wouldn't sink into the mud yet.

New housing addition completed! Optimal mounting height is between 10-15 feet off the ground. I think it's probably around 11-12 feet high, but this is as high as I could achieve and still heed the "do not stand on or above this step" warning on my ladder.

I've never seen an abundance of bats in the backyard, but I'm hoping they might find this house and decide to take up residence. I'll keep you posted on whether any bats decide to move in. Does anyone have any ideas on how to attract them?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Waterfowl Afternoon

It was a beautiful, sunny day here in southeastern Minnesota -- perfect for a drive thru the Whitewater Valley IBA this afternoon in search of migrating waterfowl. Here are some photos of what we found today.......

Greater Scaup
A handsome bird with a pretty light blue bill

Common Merganser, Male

But wait, there's more!
Two more male mergansers were escorting this pretty female down the Whitewater River.
We saw some Hooded Mergansers also, but they were pretty flighty and I wasn't able to get any photos of them.

These gulls blended in well with the ice still remaining on the edge of this pond. (That's a goose nesting box platform in the background and a muskrat lodge in the foreground.)

Here's a Canada Goose with a much smaller partner. Does anyone have a thought on ID of the smaller goose? Looking at my big Sibley guide, I'm wondering whether it might be a Richardson's or Lesser Canada Goose?
A few miles farther down the road, we came to a large pond with lots of waterfowl. Close to the road I got this great shot of a beautiful Canvasback duck. With my binoculars, I could even see his pretty red eye. Even though you can barely see the dark rust color of his head, he has the "unique head shape with long black bill and flat forehead" as described in my big Sibley guide.
At the other side of the pond there were lots of different ducks. We saw more Canvasbacks and also some Ring-Necked Ducks and even a couple of Northern Shovelers.
Go ahead and click on these photos for an enlarged view of all the different ducks here.

And here was a Canada Goose already occupying her next box platform.

Hope you enjoyed our lovely Minnesota spring afternoon!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A "Spring" Day in Minnesota

Since this has been a winter for the record books here in Minnesota, I guess there's really no reason we should have expected spring to arrive on schedule. It's just hard to believe that today could have been so awful when just 2 days ago it was 50 degrees and sunny!

Thunderstorms with heavy rain yesterday and last night gave way to heavy snow for much of the morning. It's a good thing there are still a few crabapples left on some of my trees for my robins!

Lots of juncos still in the backyard although the birdseed I spread on the ground for them was covered by snow in a very short time. Fortunately, they were able to scratch and scrounge around enough to find it.

Little red squirrel took advantage of birdseed on top of this stump feeder. The snow doesn't seem to bother him at all.

Another little red squirrel discovered the full seed tray on my deck. I like how he uses his tail as a snow shield and also how his ears and whiskers collect and hold the snowflakes (click on the pic to enlarge it). They are little piggies, but still so cute & fun to watch.

Couldn't resist taking yet another cardinal photo. They're singing the spring songs, but still not actively asserting dominance for territorial rights in my backyard yet, so I'm still seeing a number of cardinals at the birdfeeders.

Here's a house finch, junco and goldfinch all taking advantage of the big birdfeeder. Just yesterday we noticed that grass in the backyard was actually starting to look a little greener!

It took a few attempts, but the downy woodpeckers finally remembered how to get inside the cage to the suet log. I had to put the cage back on the suet log because flocks of European starlings (who arrived back with the blackbirds and grackles) had picked this suet log clean. My starling trap has been getting a real workout this week (that's the topic for a future blog post.....)

Huge flocks of blackbirds arrived late last week. These are mostly common grackles and red-winged blackbirds, but I'm thinking there might be some rusty blackbirds and/or Brewer's blackbirds mixed in with these flocks too.

When we were out on a birding drive last Saturday afternoon, we got to hear and see some rusty blackbirds. They have a really distinctive song which I was able to identify with the help of my birdJam.

I don't know about you, but there's just something fundamentally wrong with seeing and hearing a spring/summer bird in this snowy landscape. (Maybe the birds think so too!) I'm pretty sure this is a first year male red-winged blackbird. Spots and wing bars are still visible, but it also looks like there might be a few of the red shoulder feathers appearing too.

And here's a really beautifully streaked female red-winged blackbird. The females are far less abundant at my backyard feeders, so I always consider it a rare privilege to see them -- especially this close!

The only nice thing about wintry weather this time of year is that we can be fairly certain it will be short-lived. Temps are are going to be pretty chilly for the next couple days, but highs in the 40s are predicted for the weekend. I've had my Nature's Window monitor turned on all day and am enjoying hearing all the spring bird songs even when it's just too nasty to spend much time outside.

Hope you're enjoying some spring birds in your backyard!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Choosing your battles

Do you ever see the little red squirrels in your backyard? I had a couple that were regular visitors last summer and now that the weather's gotten a little milder around here, at least one has started showing up again. I usually sprinkle a little bit of birdseed on the ground for my ground-feeding birdies and the squirrels always are quick to take advantage of this readily available bounty. But hey, look who else likes it too! Look out little red squirrel!
I was anxious to see what was going to happen here once the crow arrived. My red squirrels are quite selfish and usually quick to chase off any other hungry visitors -- especially the much larger gray squirrels.

Here you see though, the crow prevailed. I think the crow was maybe looking forward to more of an argument from Little Red, but it wasn't going to happen this morning.......

.......and Little Red quickly moved over to the next closest birdseed pile on the ground, alongside some smaller and more aggreeable companions.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Red-Tailed Hawk

Several weeks ago, Mr. Johnson found this dead Red-Tailed Hawk alongside the road on one of his daily walks. After I got home from work, he drove me out there so I could look at it to give a positive ID and see if I could figure out how it died.

I really like Red-Tailed Hawks and I was fascinated to be able to hold and observe this bird up close, although it was also very sad because the world has now lost another of these beautiful raptors.

Because of the dark streaking across the belly and absence of the red coloring on the underside of the tail feathers, I'm going to say this was a first year bird. There were no obvious signs of any trauma that might have contributed to this bird's death. I did notice that it smelled a bit like a skunk -- not strongly, but the aroma was definitely there. Do Red-Tailed Hawks eat skunks? Could it have eaten a skunk that someone had poisoned? I guess we'll never know....

Look at that sharp, hooked beak! Perfect for tearing apart a tasty mouse or some other small mammal.

Here's another look at it without my fat fingers in the way. I'm always amazed at how large their eyes are too. (Addendum: I neglected to say in the original post that when we brought this bird home you could see that its eyes were yellow - it's been wrapped up in a bag and frozen outside for about 5 weeks and the eyes have gone dark now.) Seeing them up close helps you understand how they have such excellent vision to spot a tiny mouse on the ground from the top of a utility pole or tree branch.
Here's a close-up look at the tail that gives this bird its name. Such pretty plumage.......

Look at these talons! I couldn't believe how long and sharp they were!

Here's another look at it with my finger for comparison. Their feet are really huge. Last summer I was lucky enough to spot a Red-Tailed Hawk on the ground that was in the process of catching a snake. I was able to pull over and watch the hawk dance around on the snake until it was able to grasp the snake securely with its feet and talons and then fly away with the snake. I guessed the snake to be about 2-3 feet long. It was a sight I'll never forget. After seeing this hawk's feet up close, it helped me appreciate more how they're able to capture and subdue their prey.

The bird was still frozen, but I was able to stretch its wing out a little bit. My Sibley guide says they have a wingspan of 49 inches. It's hard to tell from here, but when you see them soaring in the sky, you can definitely appreciate their size and beauty.

If this hawk hadn't smelled of skunk, I would have been sorely tempted to do something illegal with it (like wrap it up and store it in the back of my deep freeze). But instead, I wrapped it up in a brown bag and laid it to rest far underneath one of the large evergreen trees in my backyard, where it will eventually return back to the earth.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Woodpecker Comparison Study

I have lots of woodpeckers in the backyard this winter. Downys are the most numerous -- last weekend I saw 6 poking around the branches in the oak tree outside the dining room window. I've been taking pictures of all my woodpecker friends who visit the suet log hanging on my deck. I hope you enjoy these photos showing the difference in size and color of my backyard woodpeckers.

Here's a female Downy. She's compacted her body to the smallest size because she's hiding from a Cooper's Hawk visiting the backyard. I can always tell when a hawk is here because the woodpecker doesn't even attempt to eat any suet -- motionless as a statue!

Here's another Downy woodpecker at full size.

They love this suet log and seem to prefer the holes in the center of the log because those are always cleaned out first.

Here's a male Hairy Woodpecker on the suet log. You can definitely see how much larger they are than the Downys -- especially when you can use an object like this suet log as a basis for comparison. I was lucky to catch this woodpecker in a blink!

Here's the female Hairy Woodpecker.

Going up a little more in size, here's the Red-Bellied Woodpecker. This one's a male. We've had a solitary female visiting the backyard feeders all winter long and just within the last couple weeks this male has also now started showing up. I hope they will pair up and stick around for a while.

And lastly, here's my queen woodpecker -- the Pileated! I've been waiting weeks for her to visit the backyard again and she finally showed up last week and wouldn't you know it, the suet log was empty! At least I managed to get this photo of her before she flew back to the other suet feeder. Isn't it cool how she's almost as big as this suet log? What an impressive bird! I don't think I'll ever get over the amazement of seeing her in my backyard.

This has nothing to do with woodpeckers, but I thought you might enjoy seeing this little flock of cardinals who come to feed at twilight. It won't be many more weeks until the cardinals start establishing their territories. Then these cardinals won't be tolerating each other's presence under the bird feeder and I'll have to wait for next winter to see this many together again.