Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dark Water in Winter

I'm endlessly fascinated by the relatively rare (in Minnesota) sight of unfrozen water in wintertime. The contrast to the snow on the banks makes the water look so dark and mysterious, and the bare trees are beautiful when reflected. My friend Adele and I went for a walk on Saturday and I captured these scenes.

In the first photo, you may be able to see a group of mallards at the back.

As my friend Adele and I looked down at this next bit of the creek on Saturday, it almost looked like a summertime scene where skimming insects leave constant dimples and ripples on the water -- but this was late January, so insects weren't a possibility. We soon realized that there was very fine drizzle, which we hadn't noticed until then, making the drop marks on the water.

This next one is a crop of the photo above. Click the photo to see the larger version showing the many overlapping ripple marks.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Watching Birds on Winter's Coldest Morning

It was about -15 F. when I spent some time watching birds at our feeders and in nearby trees this morning. Our coldest days tend to be cloud-free, so the light was good. Since I take many of my feeder photos through my living room window, I do some color correcting afterward to take away the dullness that the window and its glare can impart.

I love female cardinals. This one's red eyebrow is illuminated, matching her beautiful red bill. She's accompanied at the feeder by a goldfinch and, barely visible, a house finch.

This female white-breasted nuthatch caught my eye because, unusually, she was head-up on the trunk of our big maple tree, rather than upside down as one usually sees nuthatches. She's well-fluffed for maximum insulation from the cold.

This male house finch is also doing a puffball imitation to keep warm.

And this bright-eyed chickadee sat in the same position for quite a while. Was he or she miserable in the cold, or doing just fine? Our northern birds seem to handle the cold remarkably well, Here is a good overview from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology of some of the ways birds cope with severe cold, which include not only fluffing up those down feathers but eating as much as possible and sheltering from the wind.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Peace, Joy, and the Christmas Bird Count

This lovely male house finch, high in a tree above Sibley Swale, was beautifully illuminated during the Christmas Bird Count last Saturday. The morning was cold, cold -- with not much wind, but enough so that walking west made the eyes water and the face go numb.

During the count it helps to put a highly visible notice on one's vehicle explaining why you're driving slowly and peering through binoculars at people's houses (but really, at their bird feeders, trees, shrubs, and lawns).

It was good to once again do the count in the company of Dan Kahl, the caretaker and naturalist at Mount Olivet Retreat Center in Farmington. My husband Dave joined us for part of the morning as well, but unfortunately his one good eye was bothering him and he wasn't seeing well, so he bowed out about halfway through.

Our territory, as usual, covered a rural area east and south of Northfield as well as much of the south side of Northfield itself. We drove most of it but walked a bit of Sibley Swale, the Sibley School nature area, and the marshy area just west of the south end of Archibald Street.

This was our count for the morning -- 20 species, which is two more than last year:
  • 60 house sparrows
  • 40 European starlings
  • 32 American crows
  • 26 dark-eyed juncos
  • 14 blue jays
  • 14 mallards
  • 12 American goldfinches
  • 9 house finches
  • 7 pine siskins
  • 6 downy woodpeckers
  • 5 black-capped chickadees
  • 5 rock pigeons
  • 3 white-breasted nuthatches
  • 2 American tree sparrows
  • 2 mourning doves
  • 2 northern cardinals
  • 1 Canada goose
  • 1 red-tailed hawk
  • 1 ring-necked pheasant
  • 1 red-bellied woodpecker

Gene Bauer always does a meticulous job of organizing our regional Count, and it's so much fun to breakfast with all the other CBCers at Gene and Susan's house and return to report in and warm up over soup at lunchtime. Many thanks to them, as always.

To all: Wishing you peace and joy in this season of darkness and lights, and the restorative and transformative blessings of nature in the year ahead.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ever Seen the Top of a Red-bellied Woodpecker's Head?

The red-bellied woodpecker is always one of my favorite visitors -- so large and beautifully patterned. The dark eye in the pale, unstreaked cheek gives the bird a fresh-faced, approachable look.

This female comes to our feeders quite often these days.

The picture below shows how these birds use their tails for support, bracing themselves against a tree trunk or a bird feeder.

And here, below, is an unusual view -- at least for me. I've included this shot although it's otherwise not a good photograph, because it's interesting to see so clearly the straight line where the red cap meets gray in the female. The male's red cap extends all the way to the beak.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ice Forming on a Frigid Morning

Saturday was the Christmas Bird Count in our area, and wouldn't you know it would be the most frigid morning we've had this whole mild December -- only about 10 F. as we set out around 8:00. One bright side was seeing some fascinating ice formations along the creek near Dennison, where we always stop in hopes of seeing birds, but rarely see any even when there is open water. This time we saw a couple of goldfinches. 

Click on any of the photos below to see them larger. They were taken from quite some distance so they are not all crystal clear, but you can see what a variety of patterns and structures were to be seen.

I haven't studied ice formation much, but there is some basic background in this Britannica article

The only ducks we saw all morning were a group of 14 mallards splashing vigorously in a small area of open water in the middle of the pond south of Superior Drive. Man, that looks cold.