Saturday, November 9, 2013

Annual Pilgrimage to Crex Meadows

Last weekend, my sister, Holly the Pibble and I piled into the car for the annual visit to Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wisconsin to experience the Sandhill Crane migration.  I love Crex Meadows, it's one of my most favorite places in the world.  I could easily spend a couple days just driving around on all the roads through the wildlife area to see what's going on.  There are so many different types of habitat there, so you never know what you're going to see.  We were pretty excited to see these two adult Bald Eagles sitting on an Osprey nesting platform.

I did manage to get a photo of this pair in flight also.

There's a lot of water in the Crex Meadows wildlife area, from lakes to rivers and small streams and creeks.  This guarantees spectacular photo opportunities around almost every curve.....

The tamaracks were all displaying their golden fall colors.  It was neat to see them interspersed with the evergreens.  (Green & gold was appropriate for this adventure in Packer land!)

Holly is a very good traveler and loves any sort of new adventure.  She was happy the weather was warm enough to keep her head out the window.

Some parts of the wildlife area are quite boggy and this area of Wisconsin hadn't experienced a killing frost yet this fall, so I found these pretty fungi when Holly and I went off-road for a little walk.  Don't know what they are, but I thought they made a really pretty photo.

Pretty yellow leaves covered the roadway in this area sheltered from the strong winds.

And, of course we saw the sandhill cranes.  They are one of my favorite birds and I was thrilled to see this pair standing in an open field close to the road.

And there were plenty of flock flyovers also.  Such beautiful birds in flight.  I never get tired of watching them and even though this was a really quick and short trip, I'm glad we took the time to visit Crex Meadows again.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Holly the Pibble Rocks (& Walks!)

Next Saturday (May 4th) we're scheduled to participate in our second pet walk fundraiser for the shelter we got Holly from.  The theme  for this years' walk is "Rescue Rocks" and they've got a very cool t-shirt design to go commemorate the walk.  (I even found an awesome bandana for Holly to wear that coordinates nicely with the t-shirt design.) 

This post is to let you know about the walk and ask if any of you would like to help us reach our fundraising goal of $300 here's the link to our on-line fundraising page (click here).  We would sure appreciate your generosity if you're able to donate.  Plus for any donations of $10 or more Holly will send a special thank-you gift!

Holly also has her own Facebook page!  If you're on Facebook, you can become a fan and get regular updates on Holly who has a much more exciting life than I do! 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Checking out the Survey Route

To maintain my active volunteer Master Naturalist status, 8 hours of continuing education and 40 hours of volunteer activity must be logged for each calendar year.  Last week, my sister notified me of a Frog & Toad Survey project coming up this spring/summer and the Minnesota DNR was looking for volunteers to work on this project.  I was definitely interested and checked out their website to apply for a route.  Fortunately, there was a route available in rural Fillmore County, not too far from where I grew up.  I sent in my application and found out late last week that I had been accepted for this route.  Hooray!  Since the monitoring has to be done after dark and the roads are all mostly unmarked and in a totally rural area, my sissy thought it would be a good idea for us to check out the route in the daylight.  I agreed, mainly because this could also be turned into a birding trip!  Mom was supposed to go along with us, but wasn't feeling well today, so Mr. Johnson & Holly went instead. 

Here you go Mom -- a look at some of the sightings you missed.  We'll take the drive again someday soon when you're feeling better.....

There were still some winter birds hanging around.  We saw plenty of juncos and this nice horned lark who posed very nicely for us in the middle of the road.

A big surprise for me was finding the Minnesota Karst Preserve!  I had read about this cave and knew it was in Fillmore County, but had never taken the time to find it.  If you're a caver, or have any interest in caving at all, you will want to read the book "Opening Goliath" which takes place at this very site in Southeastern Minnesota.

While we were at the intersection of the Minnesota Karst Preserver and the turn to our next survey spot, Mr. Johnson spotted this large bird in the trees just ahead.  Could it be a Red-Tailed Hawk?

Yes, indeed!  Right on cue, this beautiful raptor made its distinctive "keeeyahh" call and took off from its perch so I started snapping pictures.  I especially love being able to capture these "in flight" shots!

There used to be a farmstead here, all that remains is the foundation of a barn and this windmill.

We drove through all types of habitat on this route -- tilled farmland, grasslands, and even some woods.  My observant sissy spotted this deer in the woods.  She's got good eyes, until this deer moved, it had blended in so well, I almost missed it.

In another tree near an old cemetery, a Rough Legged Hawk was perched.  Of course it decided to fly away as soon as the car slowed down, but I still managed to snap a few photos -- here's the best one.

The end of our survey route was pretty close to Preston, so we stopped for an early supper at our favorite restaurant, The Branding Iron.  We had a really fun afternoon and were glad that we took the time to explore this route in the light of day because it's going to be a little tougher in the darkness of this totally rural area.  We thought our adventures were done for the day and my camera and binoculars were already stowed away in the trunk, but on our drive home, Mr. Johnson spotted something in the ditch.  We stopped the car so I could get the camera out and then turned around to see if I could get photos of this last and best sighting of the day.

There it is!  Can you see that big dark spot in the ditch?  A Turkey Vulture feasting on a dead deer!

Aw cool!  Of course, it didn't want to stick around with a car driving past slowly.

By this time I had my car window rolled down and I was halfway out the window snapping pictures as fast as my camera could go.

Because you see, it's not very often you get the chance to photograph a Turkey Vulture up close, and certainly not with the sunset shining through its wings!

I know some people think they're ugly and horrible birds, but I also know for a fact that there are many of us who think they're fascinating and beautiful birds. 

What an awesome way to end a very special birding adventure with my loved ones. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Late Winter Birding Drive

After what seemed to be a fairly mild winter earlier in the season, February and March have decided to make up for the winter snows and  weather we didn't receive in December & January.  The winter blues are really starting to set in so a couple weeks ago, we decided to take advantage of a sunny Sunday afternoon to go for a birding drive (with a stop at the yarn store, of course).  It's a good thing my favorite yarn store is in Winona & right on the Mississippi River as that gives us a good excuse to take my favorite birding drive through the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area for waterfowl viewing and then up the river road on the way home for eagle watching.  Here are some of the pictorial highlights from our Sunday afternoon drive......

A pair of Tundra Swans have spent the winter again in the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area. They were in exactly the same area as last winter.  Pretty cool!

There were some ducks in this little patch of open water also.  I was excited to see this Northern Pintail as it's been quite a few years since I've seen one.

Driving along the Whitewater River I saw these tracks along the riverbank.  I was thinking they were probably made by otters.  What do you think?

As we were driving past this one little patch of open water, I was scanning for waterfowl when something dark caught my eye in the ditch.  "Back up," I ordered Mr. Johnson.  As we were backing up, I got my camera ready and started snapping pictures as soon as we got past this little critter.  Once I got home and started editing the photos, I was able to ID this furry little creature as a Mink.  Woo-Hoo!  I've never seen one in the wild before and felt extremely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.

Farther down the road we spotted a large hawk perched in the top of a tree, thinking it was maybe another of the numerous red-tails we'd been seeing all afternoon, I got out of the car and started walking towards the tree with my camera ready for a possible flight shot.  The raptor didn't disappoint me.  I was even happier when I was reviewing my shots and found out this wasn't a red-tailed hawk at all, but a Rough-Legged Hawk who only visits Minnesota in the winter!

Down in Winona, there was a small patch of open water on one of their lakes going in to town.  We stopped there to see if there might be any interesting waterfowl besides the usual mallards and Giant Canada Geese and there was!  Here are several nice Canvasbacks, plus a Lesser Scaup.

I was really surprised to see a Coot hanging out with these ducks too.  Then I read a birding report later in the week indicating that some of these ducks are already starting their spring migration.  I'm glad they decided to hang out at this nice spot in Winona on the day of my visit!

There were even some pretty interesting looking mallards mixed with the regular ones.  Obvious there's been some duck hanky-panky going on here!

The mallard hen seemed pretty happy with her dapper looking, multi-colored mate.  And I was happy with how nicely they posed for my camera!

It was getting late in the afternoon and close to sundown by the time we finally started up the river road towards home, so the light wasn't the best for pictures anymore, but I did manage to get this one shot of an eagle fishing for its supper in the Mississippi.  There were so many eagles in this area, but most of them were hanging out on the ice at the far side of the open water, and beyond the adequate focus reach of my 300 mm camera lens.

Train tracks also run parallel to the river road, and we usually see at least one train.  This day's train was a long one and the engines were working pretty hard to get all the cars up this gradual incline. 

And of course, Holly had a great time.  Even though the temps were only in the 20s, we were going slow enough that she was able to have her head out the window.  She loves the wind in her face and being able to smell all the wild things outside.

I see by my ticker at the top of this blog that there's only a few days until the first day of spring.  Hard to believe it this year, especially with the 20+ inches of snow we've already received in March and much more predicted for the next week.  I'll be very happy when spring weather and birds finally arrive this year!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Holly The Donor Dog

If you're a regular reader of my blog posts, you all probably know that being a blood donor is a pretty big deal for me.  I'm hoping to get my 16 gallon pin with my upcoming donation on Valentine's Day.  Every 2 months, Mr Johnson and I have a "date nite" at Mayo Clinic's Blood Donor Center.  Their donor center is open evenings the 2nd Thursday of every month, so we plan for an evening out with a good meal at a restaurant and then go to donate a unit of blood from each of us.  Our dessert that nite is the free cookies at the donor center! 

So in keeping with the spirit of being a blood donor family, I decided (after reading some stories about blood donor dogs) to contact the local emergency vet clinic to see if they were looking for blood donor dogs and whether we could have Holly tested as a donor.

One of the articles I had read mentioned that bigger dogs, like boxers and German shepherds, were generally good candidates for being donor dogs and more likely to be positive as universal donors.  Since Holly supposedly is a boxer mix (according to the information we received from the shelter), I thought I would volunteer her services as a potential donor dog.

Several weeks after the initial phone call, one of the vets from the Affiliated Emergency Vet Clinic in Rochester called me back and asked for more information on Holly and to schedule her to come in for some blood tests to see if she would be a compatible donor. 

I wasn't able to accompany Holly back to the blood drawing area, but asked one of the technicians to take photos with my camera.  I'm always so proud of Holly and how well-behaved she is at the vet and around people she's never met before.  When the vet tech took hold of Holly's leash to go back for the blood draw, Holly just went right along with her -- without even a backwards "help, save me!" glance to me & her dad.

Holly is an exemplary patient!  No squirming or fidgeting and never any worries about having to muzzle her either.  I could hear the vet techs through the door and they were just adoring her.  I'm sure Holly just loved all the attention!

So after a couple weeks (and right before Holly's birthday celebration on January 1st), we got the report we were hoping for.  Holly's blood type was DEA1-Negative, DEA4-Positive, DEA7-Negative.  The interpretation of that is as follows: 
DEA4-Positive only (negative for all other canine RBC antigens) is IDEAL.  Universal Blood Donor (can received blood only from dogs of the same blood type)

So Holly's now at the top of the emergency vet clinic's blood donor list!  They were happy at the clinic to finally have a donor dog in the Rochester area with the ability to get the clinic within minutes should an emergency situation arise where a dog needed blood immediately.  Prior to this, one of the techs would have to make a 2-hour round trip drive to the Twin Cities when blood for a transfusion was needed.  And I was happy that Holly has the chance to be a blood donor hero and help save the life of someone else's beloved doggie.  I think we are very lucky to have adopted this sweet pitbull mix from the shelter, don't you?


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Let's Eat

My friend Lynne gave me this little round mesh birdfeeder a few years ago.  It's designed to feed black oil sunflower seeds, but I fill it with cardinal mix (containing sunflower seeds -- shelled & whole, safflower seeds, and shelled peanuts).  All of the birdies love this feeder and to alleviate the mess of shells on the patio below, I added a tray feeder beneath to help catch the mess, plus it give the birds another place for dining.  I have this feeder hanging right outside the dining room window so I can enjoy the view of the amazing variety of birds the feeder attracts.

 Red-Bellied Woodpecker (male)

Pine Siskins really love it!

Pine Siskin & Cardinal

Black-Capped Chickadee & Downy Woodpecker

Female Cardinal & House Sparrows


More Goldfinches

Stereo Chickadees

Thanks for this feeder Lynne!  My birds and I really enjoy it!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Winter Visitors

This past Tuesday was a beautiful and sunny mid-January day -- especially when you think of how awful January in Minnesota could be (and has been in the past).  While I had Holly out in the backyard for her potty break, I heard the unmistakable call of Cedar Waxwings.  Looking around I saw this small flock perched in the top of one of my crabapple trees.  I was thankful to see that they stuck around long enough for me to grab my camera and even continued posing while I walked around the yard to take advantage of the last afternoon sunshine and capture a photo of them in the best light.  I love Cedar Waxwings and what a treat to see them in the middle of winter!