Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weekly Recap

Well, even with my good intentions of trying to stay caught up with this blog and post more frequently, I just never found the time to get around to it this past week, so I'll give you the recap here in one big post.

Got my first 2012 life bird checked off the list: the Spotted Towhee that's been hanging around Austin, MN since October. I got in touch with the nice family whose backyard this bird visits regularly and they allowed Mr. Johnson and me to come and hang out in their sunroom on Saturday (when the bird was MIA) and again on Sunday (when the bird finally showed up again). I took a ton of pictures, but this was one of the best ones. Isn't this a handsome birdy? And I think it's amazing how well his colors camouflage him in this backyard setting. He spent a lot of time scratching around under these shrubs and would only come out momentarily, but thank goodness for the continuous shooting feature on my camera that enabled me to capture this photo
After seeing the towhee in Austin on Sunday morning, we turned around and raced back to Rochester to watch my niece Kathryn perform live on the 58th Annual Eagles Cancer Telethon. She did a splendid job singing "I Hope You Dance" in honor of her Grampy. The biggest disappointment was that she only sang one song. Kathy has a beautiful voice and we don't get a chance to hear her sing very often. Way to go Kathy!

Monday night was Holly's final test to pass the Intermediate Obedience class at PetSmart. Mr. Johnson's been working pretty hard with her on her sits and stays and all that practice paid off when she passed the class! She still gets pretty excited when she goes in to PetSmart, so the loose leash walking was what had me worried, but she did well on that portion of the test too and got her "diploma" and official graduation photo. Way to go Holly!
Winter has (finally!) officially arrived in Minnesota.We got several inches of snow this past week and the less welcome sub-zero temps to go along with it. But that did bring lots more activity at the birdfeeders and and fairly large flock of deer into the backyard on Friday nite for feasting on corn. Because the ground has been bare for so long, the deer were able to find food elsewhere and haven't been visiting us, so it was neat to see all of them once again.

I spent quite a few hours last week doing some therapeutic knitting. The stupid hard drive on my laptop at work died and I had to get a replacement installed. Unfortunately, not all the programs I used were recoverable and several significant queries that I need to run every day that are fairly vital to my job are still not working correctly, so my frustration level has been at about an 11 on a scale of 1-10. Grrrr! Hence the need for therapeutic knitting.

First project finished was this fluffly scarf. The yarn is a weird kind of mesh, and you actually just loop the meshes over each other on the knitting needles. I like how it turned out but I'm not sure how much I'll actually ever wear it because I really don't need any extra "fluffiness" on my front, plus it has a really annoying tendency to get snagged on my earrings and that's just not working for me. So this scarf will probably become a nice donation item for some worthy cause I support.
I ended up getting pretty heavily into "mitten mode" this week too with the purchase of the beautiful Cloisonee Mitten pattern on Ravelry. So I dug through my closet for some pretty colors and this was my first mitten attempt. Love it!
Of course, this pattern inspired me to "think outside the box" and so my second attempt was a glove -- a combination of two different patterns. I really liked this one too!
In my ongoing resolution to finish some old projects in January, I got one step closer to being able to wear these houndstooth mittens by (almost) finishing this one. I really need to get these done because they're super warm -- the stranding between the checks makes these mittens doubly thick (plus they're wool).
And finally, after languishing on the kitchen counter waiting to be washed and blocked, my Annis Shawl (a Knitty pattern) is also done! The yarn is a beautiful mohair/silk/nylon blend with a little tiny silver thread also woven in. These photos don't do it justice, but the fuzzy, sparkly yarn combined with the beads make this one of the most stunning shawls I have ever knitted.
I'm looking forward to an opportunity to wear this shawl somewhere and I'm sure it will be lovely and warm too.
Those "sticks" you see holding the edges of the shawl are called blocking wires. You put them through the stitches when the shawl is wet and then pin the shawl out to the shape you want it to be when it's dry.

So that's all for last week, I wonder what this next week will bring.......

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012 Wish List

Here's my wish list for Life Birds I'd like to see in 2012. I chose these birds specifically because I think they're attainable without having to travel great distances -- possibly without even leaving Minnesota!

I found a Golden-Winged Warbler last spring when I was volunteering for the BirdSafe monitoring project, but it was already dead, so I couldn't count that one. It would be much more satisfying to see one alive anyway. I also saw in our local paper this week that a Spotted Towhee has been hanging out in a backyard in Austin, MN (only 26 miles away) so a trip to Austin is on my agenda for this coming weekend. I'm hoping to be able to check off the Bohemian Waxwing and Long-Tailed Duck during the upcoming Sax-Zim Winter Birding festival.

I'll be posting periodic updates to this list as progress is made. This is a pretty ambitious list, but I do have an entire year to achieve my goal. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sax-Zim Winter Birding Festival

Have you checked your February birding schedule yet? How about a visit to northern Minnesota for the Sax-Zim Winter Birding Festival! February 17-19 are the dates and they'll be ready to welcome birders again.......
Need to check a Great Gray Owl off your life list? There's a pretty good chance you'll see one -- I took this photo in The Bog last winter.

How about a Snow Bunting or two? Pretty sure they'll be there for the festival also!

Ever seen one of these? Sometimes we see them in southern Minnesota, but you're guaranteed to see several Common Redpolls at this festival -- maybe even flocks of them at a feeding station with a Hoary Redpoll or two mixed in that flock.

There's still time to register for one of the "coolest" birding festivals in the U.S. I'll be there and I hope you can make it too!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dissecting an Owl Pellet

Happy New Year Everyone! I would like to say that one of my New Year's resolutions is to pay more attention to my blog again, but I'm not sure whether I can stick to that one. I'll make an attempt though now that a new year has begun. I still have bunches of photos from last summer saved in my camera that have never made it to the blog, so maybe I'll start with those. Even though this winter's been pretty mild so far, pictures of summer are always nice in the middle of January.

Today's post is about something else from last summer -- this owl pellet I found one day when we were out birding. It's been wrapped up in a paper napkin in the trunk of the car since last May. I was happy to still be able to find it in the trunk on New Year's Day, so I could take some photos of what this owl pellet consisted of. It looks pretty interesting just like this, doesn't it? You can't really tell from this picture, but it's actually a little bit smaller than a ping-pong ball.

Turning the pellet around, you can definitely see that there are some nice little rodent teeth. (I put on a glove because I remember hearing a horrible story a few years ago about some high school students that got sick after opening owl pellets, so I didn't want to tempt fate.)

I pulled the teeth out first because that was the biggest piece. What you do you think? I'm guessing maybe red squirrel or chipmunk based on the size of these teeth.

Lookit that! You can even see the little molars when I turn the jawbone over.

There were some other bigger pieces of bone in there, but no pieces that could be positively identifed as skull. The tail was pretty easy to identify though.

Here's another piece that looks kind of like a tiny little femur, doesn't it? And then there's the tail. I guess I should have had the tape measure out so I could have given you a better idea of exact size (fail!)

And here's the final showing of all the bony fragments and pieces that were inside the furry pellet.

I don't know that much about owl pellets, so I wondered whether all that fur was actually from the same animal that these bones belonged to? If it was a red squirrel or chipmunk, would the remaining fur all be this gray in color? Or does being inside an owl's stomach before being expelled change the color to gray? A mystery of nature that I can't unravel, but I was still excited about finding and opening this owl pellet.