Saturday, December 01, 2007

Foraging in a Snowstorm

The weatherman turned out to be right. There was at least four inches of snow on the ground this morning and it was still coming down and swirling until visibility was nil. Some birds look as if foraging in snow is a challenge but in the case of this Dark-eyed Junco he doesn't look the least bit troubled about the whole thing. In fact you can't even tell if he's dark eyed because he's standing on a mini-drift catching a short nap waiting until the squirrels move off the feeding area..

I swing the camera over toward the feeder and at first I can't even decide what I'm seeing. Ah, it's a squirrel torso with feet buried in snow. Now just what could he be doing? Not really a big surprise.

Chin ups maybe? Look at that innocent face as he strives to get his exercise. The other day I realized that the six resident squirrels just weren't very big on sharing. And to add insult to injury every other squirrel in the area is hold up in their nests having a semi-hibernation until the weather turns. Not my guys.

The Juncos have decided to head for the garden and feast on basil seeds. I particularly like the guy down left scrutinizing the snow for seed while attempting to pull his foot out of the snow.

And another position.

After nabbing a seed, he's back to the ground keeping an eye peeled for competition.

His brother is taking another approach, and is quite encrusted with snow.

It's the burrowing tactic.

The squirrel has moved on and the small birds move in. Who's the new guy on the feeder stand?

So that's where squirrel went. He must have smelled the peanut under the snow and to keep his relatives from getting it, he's climbed up the wire and made himself king of the mountain.

Oh, there's the new guy. It's a perky Tree Sparrow, the first of the winter. Why is the top of their beaks black and the bottom yellow? Something to do with Tree Sparrow allure? Who's that on the other side?

He moves round and it's the pox toed male House Finch. Still looking good and functioning well despite the poxy toe.

There's a sharp noise from the neighbor's yard and he pushes off the perch and into the air in no time at all.

Tree Sparrow looks around but he's not worried and just keeps chewing. The back of a Tree Sparrow has such a luscious pattern of colors and form

When he turns his head, it almost looks like the gray feathers on his head are of a different texture than the rufous ones. Check out those white tipped secondaries.

And better yet, check out those long sharp toenails. This bird hasn't been walking on many sidewalks.
As I said I'd noticed that the squirrels hadn't been sharing, but I'd also said, I wasn't going to run myself crazy about squirrels. When I was at the store the other day, I noticed a product called the Squirrely Gig. Supposedly a fun and entertaining device that poses a problem to be solved by squirrels. It gives them something to think about besides sunflower seeds. They can try to get the CORN!

I myself being somewhat mystified by the many bits required for set up and as it turns out exacerbated by missing hardware, Paul Anderson, husband of Marian my hawking buddie, decides he'll install it for me. Out into the sleet he goes and gets big points with me---I hope also from the squirrels who will soon have their "fun and entertaining" corn device and I know there will be big points from the birds who may not have to wait so long to get to the feeders.
By the time I realize I haven't taken a photo of the installed fun and entertaining corn twirler and need I say possibly squirrel twirler, it is dark, and sleeting ice on the snow and branches outside. Oh well I'll just go out on the step under the eaves and take a quick shot. I look out toward the picnic table once again to check for Fluffy the possum. I haven't seen Fluffy for ages I wonder how he's doing. I whip open the door and start to put my foot down. Whoa, there's something moving on the step! That's startling, I jerk back my foot and Fluffy who is taking off as fast as a possum can, toward the Spruce trees, is as startled as it am. Geez, I almost stomped Fluffy. Fluffy might have just jerked round and nabbed me in the ankle with all fifty of his sharp teeth.
You just never know do you Fluffy? All you were trying to do was shelter from the frozen rain under the eaves and eat some bird seed and all I wanted to do was take a picture. Sometimes no matter what you do, just living can cause problems.

The need for a Squirrely Gig is just one of many cases in point.
Donegal Browne

Friday, November 30, 2007


At 2:30 PM, the Red-breasted Nuthatch stopped by the bird bath, found it frozen, promptly flew over to the suet, had a bite, and then looked at me. Usually at the first sight of me he's gone in a flash, but today he just keeps staring and somehow I have a feeling he is telepathically communicating, "You know the water's frozen, right? Planning on doing anything about it? It better be soon, or else. Ever had a sunflower seed hatched into your eyebrow?"

But complaints about the water situation had started long before the Nuthatch, way before.

10:35 AM The patio curtain was closed against the morning cold waiting for the sun to hit the glass. It's in the teens today, though we do have some sun. Not that it matters all that much because there's also a brisk wind. With the curtain closed, obviously I can't see the beasties. I pick up the camera just in case and tweak the curtain back just a little. Who should be staring at me from the picnic table--glowing, and it's not just the sun reflecting off Snowflake's chubby rather blinding white belly. From their postures I'd say there is some post-copulation after-glow going on here.

They both continue to stare at me. Then Snowflake looking into my eyes turns her head slowly away, takes a beat looking at the bird bath, then slowly turns back and locks eyes with me again.. Wow, I think, no, can't be. Is she trying to tell me she's thirsty? That may be a little far for squirrel mental capacity, but you never know. I look back at them. "You know if you guys hadn't been having squirrel sex on the picnic table again, you wouldn't be nearly as thirsty as you are now."

Unfazed they continue attempting to spur me on by boring their little beady squirrel eyes into me. It's really cold out there. And I mean really cold for those of us used to milder winters.

I'd cheated earlier and just poured warm water over the ice and then scurried back into the house with my teeth chattering. It was an epiphanal moment. Hello! The time has passed for the year, where you can just run out without a coat even for "just a minute" to fill the bird bath.

Okay, time to don the polar wear and get serious. But first the ice pick must be found. For whatever reason the ice takes a tight grip of this particular bird bath and you can't just tip it and dump the ice out. I dig around in the kitchen drawers. I know I've seen one. Ah ha! Got it.

Now the lined boots, the parka, scarf, hat, gloves, ice pick, bucket of hot water. Check.

Out I go, scurrying. (Hey, I don't have long underwear on after all.) Snowflake and her paramour head up a tree and then watch me avidly from the crotch. Yeah, yeah, fascinating. Jab, jab, jab, with the ice pick. Brush out the fragments. Continue jabbing until empty and fill with water. Brrrrrrrrr. Run for the house.

Feeling noble I peel off the extra layers, and store them tidily away.

1:18 PM I look out the window and there is a squirrel having a drink. Then I realize, as he skirts around the edge of the bowl without his left foot going deeper than his right, it's frozen again. He's not drinking. He's licking the ice where it is the most thin. Oh no. Well, he's pretty plump, it's probably not making him that cold.

Then he turns, it's One Eye III. Oh, man. I've realized that currently there are three squirrels that visit the yard with a problem in one eye. Okay, that's pathetic. I'm letting the visually challenged squirrel lick ice instead of giving him some water. He has enough problems already. I pull the outerwear out once again and I'm back into the boots, parka, scarf...
3:26 PM This is when the Red-breasted Nuthatch above, shows up at the suet and threatens me. The ice pick is now living at the back door as is my outerwear. I fill the bucket and make another run for it.

3:53 PM The male Finch looks me right in the eye while chewing his sunflower seed, "You know you didn't get all the ice out last time and now I can't get a drink."
"What do you mean, you can't get a drink?", I think towards him.
He thinks back, rather snottily in my opinion, "Just what I said, I can't get a drink."
And just why is that? Then I realize, ice crystals are just like any other, well except for the expansion, but that's another issue. Crystals grow and if you leave any crystals to cue the pattern in the liquid, it crystallizes much faster and this guy being little, he can't break through the hard crystals on the top of the water. And just how long has it been since I filled it last, anyway?

It's 3:54 PM and even the squirrel can't get through the top ice and he's having to lick. Fine. I'm getting rid of every bloody crystal this time. Where are the Blue Jays when you need them? At least I have everything standing ready at the back door and I don't have to dig it out again.

The wind ripples the water now but it won't for long. The temperature is dropping yet further. The weekend is supposed to bring a humdinger of a snowstorm. I knew it. The Geese and Sandhill Cranes have been flying over in droves for two days.

A female House Finch lands, and stares at the water as if she can't quite believe her eyes

The Junco, the low sunlight shining through his beak, does the same thing.

4:01 PM It's Doorstep on the wire checking for the Cooper's Hawk. She's going to want a drink. It's only been six minutes, the water should be okay if she comes down soon.

4:15 PM I can't believe it. The top is already ice. Her left foot is standing on it.

It's only been 20 minutes, maybe she can tap through. She tries. Then I see her sliding her beak and most likely trying to suck any stray drops up. Doves are capable of sucking water but not if there isn't any. She turns and looks at me.
Okay, I'll get you some. But you better stay around to drink it.
I don't have time to see if Doorstep does come back for her drink as I have to make a dive for the truck to get to the nursing home in time to feed my mother dinner. She's no longer capable of feeding herself. As I'm pulling out of the driveway, breathing white mist, I think, you know that $29.00 bird bath warmer I didn't buy at Farm & Fleet doesn't seem nearly as expensive as it did yesterday.
Donegal Browne

4 15

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why does she do it?

4:36:44 PM The Cooper's Hawk left the neighbor's antenna at 4:00PM. At 4:10PM Doorstep was still in a secure location low in the Maple tree near the trunk. Official sunset was at 4:25 PM and sometime during Civil Twilight Doorstep had moved down to the Bird Bath. I discovered her at 4:36PM. For whatever reason she goes to great lengths, or it seems, to be in that spot if at all possible each evening and leaves after dusk.

4:37:09 PM After the Cooper's Hawk left the antenna it appeared that the Crows were tracking him to the park. Doorstep who usually keeps and eye on the sunset and on whoever might be looking from the house has shifted her position on the bowl slightly from her usual.

4:37:33 PM She is very alert and focused toward the park.

4:37:33 PM She scans to the NW and her body is shifted at an angle from which, if she took off straight away, she would intersect with the Spruce trees that are not far.
4:38:02 PM Almost dusk, her feathers begin to fluff and she allows more focus away from the park.

4:38:29PM She's very hard to see from the house, dusk has arrived and she has completely fluffed her feathers to compensate for the drop in temperature. By 4:45PM she is gone to roost. What is it that pulls her here every evening? Why does she do it even when there is a hawk stalking the area?
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Where are the feeder birds? And the Hawk on the Antenna.

3:54PM A flock of Crows fly out in mass from the trees behind the trees across the street, vocalizing loudly. What is going on?
Except for one period of time today there have been absolutely no birds at the feeder and none at the water bowl. Though I heard them chirping very softly to each other from the evergreens. I filled the bath around noon.
2:40:39PM And not one bird appeared until after 2:00PM. Hours after the ice was dumped and the water poured in which is highly unusual. And when they did arrive, they arrived in larger simultaneous groups.
2:42PM Except the Red-bellied Woodpecker who flushed previous guests, had his quickest drink on record so far and then disappeared.
2:45PM They leap in to bathe. Junco vocalizes before plunging in.
2:46Pm Damn single species bathing we haven't got time to be picky.
3:53PM By 3:00PM they were all gone once again. Except for the four Mourning Doves perched in what I assume they believe to be safe perches amongst branches.

After hearing the Crows, I pulled on my shoes, grabbed the point and shoot camera, stuck it in my pocket, opened the back door and went out to investigate what might have happened that caused the Crows to burst into the sky. I walked around the house, turned the front corner, looked across the street, and holey, moley there's a hawk sitting on the antenna of the neighbor's roof. So the Cooper's Hawk is at least one thing that is keeping the feeder birds in the bushes, and likely what sent the Crows up as well.
I snap a long low light shot with the Cooper's and go into the house for magnification. He's not dumb and he's a country hawk so when I return after only a moment he's gone---but as three Crows are heading south in a hurry cawing, I'm assuming he went that way.
It's getting dark, but look carefully to the left of Santa and you'll see the antenna perpendicular and go further up to the cross bar where the Coop was sitting.

I then cross the street and stand in front of the hawk house in an attempt at perspective. Of course as I can't sit on the antenna, I'm not sure if the hawk can see over the evergreens or not, but he no doubt can see birds flying in and out of the yard. The Mourning Doves positions now make more sense. They are either low in branches or sitting higher but then most likely they're view-obscured from the hawk by the Spruce trees. If they were to fly out, the Cooper's Hawk would see them and could be after them like a shot so sitting tight must make the most sense. Some of the Juncos who were in the brush pile waited until I was in the backyard to make a break for the backyard spruces.
Suddenly I heard the Crows again. This time from the north. I see three turning in flight at the end of the block to the west with either a larger Crow in front of them or the Cooper's winging through bare branches. I short cut across the street and head for the park. Then down the path to the north. One crow is sitting on a power pole looking east. A second crow flies towards him. The first comes off the pole cawing and heads towards the antenna. The second lands on the pole for a few seconds, then he's off as well, following the first. The third, who was some way behind, doesn't make the pole stop but heads over the roof of the house across the street.
And just what did the switch on the pole mean? Just another question to be answered perhaps another day.
Donegal Browne

Birds with Red Patches and a Mystery Lump in a Tree

Mr. Red-bellied Woodpecker was back today. He sat for a few moments on the edge of the iced over bird bath and looked up. Marian Anderson, my partner in the Owl Who Wasn't escapade had called early and said that the Sandhill Cranes were migrating through. She'd gone outside and it sounded like they were on a branch over her head they were so loud but of course they were high in the sky flapping by. Perhaps they're even higher now and Mr. Red-belly can see them and I can't.

Yesterday V after V of Canada Geese passed over. It's been cold enough north of here for long enough that some of the open water has begun to ice over. With that, a good breeze, and a prediction for snow in northern Wisconsin it seems the Sandhills and the Geese have decided to go while the going is good.

Enough with the staring at the sky, Mr. R-b leans over, shows his red patch to the sky, and gives some hefty taps at the edge of the ice, bringing water from underneath the frozen top to the surface. When he leaves, actually even before he leaves it turns out, the small birds make a dash for the liquid. I'll remove the ice and fill it again when he leaves. Then I focus on his back. Now what would that blend with for camouflage? Light through leaves dappling on bark?

That's when I notice the checkerboard on his side. The common wisdom taught to visual artists is that there are no true straight lines in nature. And these aren't true straight lines but they are the closest I've seen growing on a bird's back certainly.

And later when I'm out, I hear them too. Yes, the Sandhill Cranes are moving back through on their way to their wintering grounds. They have the second red head patch for the day.

More red on the head but this is more rose. The House Finches try out the new feeder. All that sanitizing of the wooden one was taking it's toll. Then it's off to see my mom at the nursing home. On the way back, just as I turn onto County Road M, I do a double take. I've just gone past a dark Red-tail with a heavy belly band sitting on a wooden fence post a few feet from the road.. And I mean a short wooden fence post. The kind the Bluebirds prefer. I stop. He's still there. I get out the stuff. Still have a Red-tail. I push the camera on button, nothing. Bird's still on the post. By the time I push three times with frozen fingers it does come on but of course he took off when I wasn't looking.

Therefore I got a photograph of this Bluebird preferred and now Red-tail preferred wooden fence post.
Okay, what do the Red-tails usually do when they blow me off. They cruise over to the tree row on the far side of the back forty, and thumb their beaks at me. I'll just peruse the tree row and see if I can spot him.

Not a Red-tail, but a red male Cardinal. They do show up so nicely in winter.

Then I scan the trees on the side of the field. What is that?

I pull in closer. I've still no idea. It's not a wasp's nest. It isn't hanging right. An animal? Some sort of weird tree disease? Fungi? Wait, it does look like on the right that there are three dots that might be claws. Foot pads? Is that an ear? A raccoon? Any ideas?

Stunning sunset this evening with the fleeting shapes of birds flapping across the sky now and again.

And last but not least, a link to a NYTimes article on rare Piping Plovers, from the astute, Karen Anne Kolling, grand link finder.

2000 doesn't sound like very many to me, especially since their nesting areas are so vulnerable.
Karen Anne Kolling