Friday, June 24, 2011

Squirrel Antics

After many years living at this place, I finally have a few squirrels as regular visitors in the backyard. I really don't mind squirrels -- many of my birdfeeders are squirrel-proof so the squirrels mostly behave and eat at the ground feeder trays that I fill with corn for them. The squirrels do give me plenty of photo opportunities and lots of chuckles while watching them from my dining room window. Here are a bunch of pictures that I've been saving up for several months and am finally getting around to sharing them here on the blog.

Here is my fattest gray squirrel trying to figure out how to get the delicious, peanutty birdseed from my Yankee Tipper feeder.
The beauty of this feeder is that the lid is heavy aluminum and can't be chewed through -- all the while the vision of those peanuts is taunting this squirrel.

The large diameter and smoothness of the seed tube doesn't give the squirrel any chance to grab on and shimmy its way down to the seed ports.

I was waiting for the squirrel to drop down onto the tray so I could see the tray tip the squirrel off, but this guy evidently has experienced one of these feeders before and didn't even try to get down to the seed.

So the next stop was my woodpecker log filled with delicious peanutty suet -- only to encounter another disappointment with the cage protector. Can you believe how chubby this squirrel is?

I do let them drink as much water as they want though. ;-)

For entertainment value, this Squngee corn feeder has been a good addition to my backyard feeding station.

However, my squirrels are too lazy (or maybe too fat??) to jump up on the ears of corn once they eat past the point of where they can reach from a standing position.

Whoa!! Getting a little off-balance here!

Corn is OK, but peanuts are way better! Another trip to the deck for shelled peanuts.

Drat! Can't even chew through this metal feeder! (and I can't even imagine how awful that green plastic coating must taste)

This ambitious squirrel found easy access to the corn on the cob I put out for the bluejays to peck on. His bushy tail makes a good umbrella on this rainy day.

And if you're a squirrel not ambitious enough to leap to the corn cobs, it's pretty easy to pull them over from the feeder tray. This skinny squirrel is not a regular visitor -- probably because Fatty keeps chasing all the other squirrels away.

I have at least 2 red squirrels who visit regularly too. These little guys are my favorites. Even though they can be super naughty, I still think they're adorable.

Because of its smaller size, the red squirrel employs a totally different method for obtaining peanuts than the big gray squirrel has to use.

I'm amazed how this little guy can hang on with only its back feet and eat the peanuts with its front feet......and in the pouring rain too!

This looks like a squirrel bed and breakfast! Lazy bugger!

There were a few really snowy weeks last winter when the squirrels were absent from my backyard, but once it got closer to spring, they started to reappear. They seemed to be especially grateful for fresh water at my heated birdbath.

And even heavy snow couldn't deter this determined red squirrel from raiding the birdfeeder tray for its favorite snack -- black oil sunflower seeds.

The tree stump offers a good place to stop and snack on sunflower seeds in a snowstorm too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Good-Bye Dad

Last August, my dad was diagnosed with liver cancer (directly related to Dad's cigarette habit many years ago). At that time, he was given an indeterminate "weeks to months" to live. His oncologist then started him on an oral chemotherapy drug and Dad achieved remission in March of this year. At the end of April he developed a lesion and osteomyelitis on one of his toes and the toe was surgically amputated. He was sent home with Augmentin, but after a couple weeks he started experiencing some jaundice and fatigue symptoms. His health continued to decline and after numerous visits to Mayo Clinic, the doctors determined that Dad's diseased liver had been unable to cope with the Augmentin and they began trying to reverse this antibiotic side effect. Last Tuesday, Dad had gotten so weak that Mom had to bring him to the ER again. He was admitted to the hospital that day and again the doctors spent much time trying to figure out how to get his current condition reversed. Many things were tried, but without any success and this morning at 3:30 AM, Dad achieved his heavenly reward. Thankfully, we were able to be with him at the end to say our final good-byes.

I've known Dad for over 52 years, and being the first-born child, Dad also had to deal with me for the longest time of all his children. I'm sure when I was born, my dad sincerely hoped that someday I would become a doctor or maybe even a teacher like he was. No doubt the thought of his little girl becoming a tattooed biker or master naturalist never even entered his mind, but life always has a way of throwing in a few curve balls and Dad got the chance to experience all sorts of interesting things with his oldest child.

Dad got to be a Norwegian with me for the years when I was knitting and selling at some of the Scandinavian festivals here in the upper Midwest. I even sewed him a "gen-yoo-ine Norvegian" vest so he could dress the part to work in my booth. He also bought and proudly wore his red cap that stated, "I'm not Norwegian, but I'm taking pills for it." In the photo below, we were at the Norway Day festival in Minnehaha Park. It was about 90 degrees that day and we were so happy to take that booth down and get into our air-conditioned car for the drive home!
I'm sure Dad also never expected his oldest daughter to become a slayer of wild animals, but he dutifully came out to admire my first deer kill on this horribly cold November day so many years ago.

At this festival in Fargo, North Dakota, Dad got the chance to meet a Viking! We should have gotten into the Viking re-enactments, because I think Dad would have made a pretty good Viking. I could definitely see that he would have enjoyed donning one of those helmets with horns on it and a pair of reindeer fur boots.

Dad was the beneficiary of several of my hand-knitted creations. He also willingly modeled sweaters that I was hired to knit for other people that were about the same size as Dad. (I think he would have liked to keep this particular sweater for himself!)

Since Mr. Johnson and I only ever had furry children, Dad learned to love his grand-dogs. Here's Grand-Dog Candy caught in the act of mooching from her "Grampy."

I got my love of nature from Mom and Dad. Even as a little child, I remember Mom and Dad always kept the bird feeders filled. When we moved to our new house in the early 70's, a much bigger yard gave them the chance to put out more bird feeders and we all got to see and learn about the new birds and wildlife that started visiting the backyard.

Dad was a Lutheran school teacher for over 53 years. That's how he met Mom -- at his first teaching position in Chicago. When my sissy was 10 days old, Dad & Mom packed up the family and moved to Minnesota where he was principal and taught for many years. He "officially" retired from teaching in 1997, but continued to work in an administrative capacity at "his" school right up until the last day of school this year.
I believe his greatest joy was in knowing how many students received a quality education while they were in his classroom and school. It was really gratifying to him when a former student would send a note or tell him personally how much they appreciated him as a teacher and what a positive influence he had on their lives.

Having never become a doctor or teacher or even completing any post-secondary education, I always felt that perhaps Dad might have been a bit disappointed in me. Until I got this greeting from him on my 50th birthday:

I don't think there's anything better for a child to know than that their parents love them and are proud of them. Thanks Dad, for everything you taught me during the 52 years of my life and for supporting me in all of the decisions I've made -- even the not-so-smart ones! I love you and I'll miss you very much!

Charles Raymond Kaun
May 24, 1933 - June 13, 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

In Search of the Blue Grosbeak

My mandatory 3-month layoff has finally wound down to the final 2 weeks and I'm taking advantage of these last remaining days to try and squeeze in a few more birding day trips. Yesterday's birding adventure took us clear across the southern part of Minnesota to Blue Mounds State Park just north of Luverne in search of the beautiful Blue Grosbeak.

One of the outstanding features of this park is a herd of bison in the park. Unfortunately we didn't see any of the buffalo, but we did see a couple of white-tailed deer.
I checked at the office when we arrived to see if there had been any sightings of the Blue Grosbeak lately and the woman behind the desk told me either on the paved path beyond the buffalo viewing deck or at the interpretive center (where I had seen a female Blue Grosbeak on a visit years ago). OK, well let's head up to the paved trail that was closest to see if the grosbeak was there.

I had my trusty birdJam along to review the Blue Grosbeak song and maybe with a little luck I'd get a look at a male defending his territory from the Blue Grosbeak in my iPod. No Blue Grosbeaks showed themselves as we walked along this path, but there were still plenty of other things to see. Do you like Dickcissels? There were lots of them singing nearby. This is one of my best Dickcissel photos ever......givin' me the big stinkeye!

They're very enthusiastic singers -- I like to catch photos of them with their beak open and belting out a song (this would have been a perfect picture except for that stupid stick right in the way!)
Bobolinks were also present and singing their beautiful bubbly song. However, they're not quite as cooperative as Dickcissels when it comes to having their picture taken, so the best I managed to capture were these 2 quick shots as the Bobolink flew away.

Some kind folks have placed many of these nice Gilbertson Bluebird houses throughout the park. Although we didn't see or hear any Bluebirds, many of the boxes were occupied by Tree Swallows. I like Tree Swallows a lot. Plus they love to pose for the camera -- you don't even need the telephoto lens because they allow people to get really close.

Female Tree Swallow

Such a fun little bird whose stay here in Minnesota is all too short.

In the vegetation near the small lake, I spotted this pair of Eastern Kingbirds. I'm used to seeing these birds as individuals sitting on a fence or fence-post, so I'm guessing this is a mated pair getting ready to nest here along the riverbank.

We did hear lots of Yellow Warblers chirping along the trail and with the help of my birdJam, I was able to get a male to fly down and investigate the interloper in his territory. He sat just long enough for me to snap this photo through the shrubs.

Another outstanding geologic feature of Blue Mounds State Park is the pink quartzite rocks and boulders coming up out of the ground all over the park.

There was a small lake there with a swimming beach and just big enough for a leisurely Sunday afternoon canoe excursion with the family.

A family of Canada Geese was also out for a Sunday afternoon paddle around the lake.

I'm always amazed to see wildflowers growing right out of the rock!
And even more amazed when I see cactus growing in Minnesota! This is a Prickly Pear Cactus also seeming to grow right from the rock.

Isn't the lichen growing on these rocks beautiful too? I love the contrasting colors.

Having visited this park before, I knew that I would get my Western Meadowlark here and I wasn't disappointed. Even though it was 90 degrees, I made Mr. Johnson turn off the A/C so I could roll down the car windows and hear the Meadowlark song (one of the most beautiful birdsongs, in my opinion!) Then the Meadowlark posed obligingly atop a traffic sign so I could snap his photo through the windshield.
Quite the handsome bird, don't you think?

We headed up the hill to the Interpretive Center. This striking building was built right out of the quartzite cliff and was once the home of author Frederick Manfred. He later donated this home to Blue Mounds State Park.
There were some interesting exhibits about the birds, animals and geology of the park, including a buffalo hide that we could touch and a stuffed, full-sized buffalo (the little kids inside were loving that!) I did a quick walk-through, but I was definitely more interested in this Barn Swallow nest that was being constructed right outside the front door.

We took Miss Sophie along on this trip. The day ended up being a little bit warmer than had been predicted, so we tried to keep her cool since she's not able to take much heat anymore. This picnic table under a big ol' cottonwood tree provided a nice shady spot for Sophie and Mr. Johnson to take a break.

On a previous visit to this park, I saw a female Blue Grosbeak near the interpretive center, so I was really hoping to get the opportunity to see one here since we hadn't spotted any at the other end of the park. It was getting close to the time for us to start heading for home and I still hadn't seen one. I thought maybe I heard one singing in the trees behind me, but playing the birdJam in response hadn't yielded any results, so with a sad heart I started packing everything away to walk back to the car. Then all of a sudden, a bird flew out of nowhere and perched on this common mullein stalk about 15 yards ahead of us. "That's him!" I gasped. I swung the camera up and snapped 3 quick pictures before he flew away again. This was the best photo of those 3. I was SO happy to see this bird, and the male besides! He flew past a couple times more and then he was gone.

Walking back to the car, we also got the chance to see these Turkey Vultures perched in a dead tree down the hill. As I focused the camera, one vulture decided to fly away. It's not often that we humans get to look "down" on a Turkey Tulture in flight, so I was happy with this shot.

To commemorate my visit, I also purchased a new piece of "flair" for my binocular straps.

Since this little birding excursion ended up being a 400-mile round trip, I also took advantage of the driving time to get some knitting done. The cabled half-mitts were about two-thirds completed before the trip, so I finished them up and also got this cardinal dishcloth and baby gnome hat completed.