Monday, March 31, 2008

Come to the Feeders my Pretties . . .

Thursday, March 27th I noticed there were suddenly no birds at the bird feeders at work. I quickly scanned the trees and spotted a coopers hawk. It was really neat to see the downy woodpeckers hiding on the back side of skinny little trees. They stayed still and pressed up to the tree directly opposite the side the hawk was on. They didn't move until he flew off. Earlier that day, I caught a glimpse of a purple finch at the feeders. I've been hearing them sing amongst the din of American goldfinch songs but hadn't seen one.

After a run to the grocery store on Sunday, March 30 I spotted a coopers hawk in my neighbor's tree. It is so nice to see some birds in my neighborhood. I've been seeing a coopers around every summer. I wonder if it is the same bird or just one moving through.

Monday there was a heavy wet spring snow and all the birds crowded at the feeders so I was able to get some shots with the camera. They aren't spectacular but the idea was to just get some shots this year of the birds I see. The driving snow made for less than spectacular shooting conditions.

The first thing I noticed when I looked out at the feeders was all the Juncos. These "snow birds" are still around so should we be surprised we have snow? This little guy is cute though a tad blurry through all the snow. There was a whole flock of juncos that had come in to the feeders from somewhere. Probably the side of the road. When the snow started to fall so quickly they needed food and their regular haunts were buried. I noticed a few birds mixed in with the juncos. It is not unusual for them to be in mixed flocks. Here's an American Tree Sparrow surrounded by Juncos looking around and wondering "Where'd all my peeps go?"

Here's a size comparison of the American Tree Sparrow and the Junco. At first glance though the snow I thought the American Tree Sparrow might be the first chipping sparrow of the year. All I could see was the red head. Nope. There's a soft breast spot and the coloration on the head (aside from the red cap) is all wrong.

Pretty much with the juncos (but being hassled a bit) was a lone Fox Sparrow (my first of the year.) He was doing his little hop-scratch technique at the bottom of this wooden post. This is really pushing the limits of this camera and the snow had picked up even more at this point. Can you spot the downy woodpecker in the photo?

I was taking these shots while watching for the school group's bus out the window. I stepped away for a few moments to talk to some volunteers and our site manager, Dave, asked if I had seen the Turkey out the window. What? I was just looking out there! Sure enough, this young Tom Turkey wanted a little snack.

Last but not least, I finally got a photo of the very elusive purple finch that has been coming to the feeders very infrequently the last week. He never stays long. This time, he spent the entire time on the back side of the feeder. In the photo he's just peeking around the side. I'll have to capture a better photo later. If I think this is bad, wait until I try to get shots of warblers! Maybe I'll just take shots of the ones the bird banders catch.

2008 Running Bird Species Tally

38 Purple Finch
39 Cooper's Hawk
40 Fox Sparrow

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Working the Sugar Bush (and a little birding)

March 25th was a good morning for telephone wire bird watching. On the two miles or so of County Rd. 7 (Square Lake Trail) that I travel in the morning, I spotted my first red-winged blackbird of the year as well as a mourning dove and an American Kestrel. Then, while sitting at my desk around 9:00 in the morning, I heard sandhill cranes out my window. I first heard sandhills on March 20th but hadn't seen them yet. I ran out to the deck and saw a pair of sandhill cranes heading west over the bog.
As red-shouldered hawks flew overhead and I could still hear sandhills, it was time to check the maple syrup progress. Sharp eyed observers will note that the photo above is NOT from this year as there is no snow on the ground. The sap saks look the same every year though. We had a good sap run finally on the 25th and 26th. At the end of the work day on the 25th we had about 60 gallons of sap ready to boil. Our storage container only holds 32 gallons so we had to store the rest in 6 gallon buckets. Today, the 26th, I could hear the sandhill cranes in the air as I lit the stove at 8:00 am. We started to boil our sap and we got through a lot but not all of it by the end of the day. Here I am adding sap from a 6 gallon bucket in the afternoon. We boil out in the open on a custom wood burning stove. We collected an additional 25 gallons of sap during the day and we had 15 left gallons left at the end of the day that we hadn't even gotten onto the stove. When we start tomorrow we'll have 40 gallons of sap (15+25) ready to boil plus whatever runs this evening!

The theoretical ratio of sap to syrup for red maples (which is what we use) is 40 to 1. If this holds true we'll get about two gallons of syrup from these two days alone. That doesn't sound like a lot when you consider we collected 85 gallons of sap but when you buy syrup in the store you often buy 16 oz bottles. There are eight sixteen ounce bottles in a gallon so we'll have 16 bottles of syrup from just two days worth of sap run. Not too shabby.


2008 running Bird Tally

36 Red-winged Blackbird
37 Sandhill Crane

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pileated and Downy Size Comparison

I took this photo on 3/18/08 at work at the Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center. I especially like this shot because you can compare the size of the downy woodpecker and the pileated woodpecker. I'm slowly trying to photograph some of the birds I see this year. The ones that come to the feeders are easier than when the warbles show up. I may resort to shooting photos of birds we've banded instead of the birds I actually count on my list that I spot in the wild. This great photo of a pileated was one we caught while bird banding two years ago.

In other news, I've added to my bird list with the return of the raptors to the nature center. Saturday I saw a kettle of bald eagles right above the building at work while waiting for my afternoon group to show. Fellow naturalist Paul Smithson had heard Red-shouldered hawks on Friday said he had seen one Saturday morning. I didn't see one Saturday but did finally see one today. There were at least two flying around making quite a racket. Their calls were a welcome addition to the sounds of the forest. I saw them then I went out to check on the maple sap which is finally flowing. We collected about 10 gallons today. If all of the trees run at once we could in theory collect about 150 gallons in one day but that has never happened. Today was slow at 10 gallons but we're finally underway. Still no sign of the Phoebe. My prediction in the office pool is for the first phoebe to show up on Saturday.

On my way home I pulled out on to Norell Ave and headed south. About two miles from the center I saw a bird on a power line and slowed down. Sure enough it was the first American Kestrel I've seen this year. It was a beautiful male.

Here's the running bird tally for 2008. The great-horned owl is from last week. I stopped to see the one nesting near imation (35E and Hwy 5.)

33 Great-horned Owl
34 Red-shouldered Hawk
35 American Kestrel

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Morning Meal

When we arrived at work this morning the trees were covered in snow and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Our intern Jessie went out to fill the bird feeders and excitedly came back upstairs telling us she had spooked an owl. Yes, the owl is back. It really likes hanging out at the building. This isn't surprising as some animals got into the seed we keep under the deck and she had staked out a branch just above the deck. She's in the upper right in the above photo looking at the area under the deck where the seeds are stored and where a red squirrel was hiding out. We watched her from the windows in the lounge. Here we all are gathered at the window so you can see how close she really was. Click any photo for a larger view. After some time a red squirrel started dropping snow on the owls head. In this photo the owl is looking up at the squirrel. What happened next was too fast to catch with the camera. The owl flew up and chased the squirrel trying to pull it off the tree. The squirrel headed down and the owl chased it around the tree in the spiral. The squirrel got away and immediately after the chase the area was full of woodpeckers chirping loudly. It was thrilling to watch the chase and we're sure we'll be seeing more of this owl.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Red backed vole

I've been seeing this little guy since yesterday as he scurries from tunnel to tunnel near the bird feeders. The bounty of food must seem wonderful. He better watch out for the owl that's been hanging around though. He's smaller than a mouse and you can see his short tail in the photo. Not surprisingly, the red-backed vole has a red back.

Also today I noticed for the first time this year real numbers of Canada geese moving through. There was a pair standing on a frozen pond near the nature center looking around like, "Now what?"

Today I heard a male cardinal singing at work for the first time this year.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The birds of March

The March birds have arrived! Wednesday March 5th I noticed some birds on the side of Co. Road 7 very close to work. They looked bigger than sparrows or juncos. The weather was foul with snow and ice. I decided against slamming on my breaks. I took the same route home and luckily spotted the flock of birds. Part of the flock seemed to be snow buntings. They were hard to make out in the corn stubble and they were very shy but their bellies were very white and you could make out a dark bar running the length of the body on the wings. I had a feeling there was more to be seen as the birds I saw in the morning had a black necklace. At least I imagined I had seen that dark band in the glimpse of bird I saw though the snow at 40 mph. I'm getting pretty good at taking a mental snapshot of a bird as it flies across the road. Sure enough, some of the birds were braver and hanging out on the side of the road as I crept along on the shoulder, foot on the brake. I took a look through the binoculars and sure enough, Horned Larks. At one point I was close enough that I could see the yellow on their necks with my bare eyes. Sorry, no camera. I'm going to go ahead and make a prediction for the next four birds I will see. I'm thinking American Kestrel, Red-shouldered hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Sandhill Crane. Time will tell.

Running Tally for 2008
31 Snow Bunting
32 Horned Lark