20 October, 2009

Lazy Birdwatching

The weather was lovely this past weekend. Lots of sunshine and highs in the low 50s F although a little windy. I took full advantage of my “lazy birder” setup and got many photos of bird activity around the feeders. The goldfinches nearly filled all available perches at the thistle seed feeder (see the 2 sets of tail feathers peaking out from behind the feeder?).

So I cut some of the coneflower seedheads from the front garden and wove their stems into the latticework of our trellis to see if any goldfinches would go to that instead of the feeder. At least one goldie seems to approve.

Down below the thistle seed feeder, a mourning dove scavenges the spilled seed.

Meanwhile over at the mixed seed feeder, a chipping sparrow or 2 chow down on the millet seed.

And 3 purple finches (only the males have the reddish coloring) visit the mixed seed feeder and the thistle seed feeder.

And finally a comparison of the relative sizes of the hairy woodpecker (top) and the downy woodpecker (bottom). Notice the solid tail feathers of the hairy and the barred tail feathers of the downy.

15 October, 2009

A Notion to Cook and a Peek at the Jungle

It must have been all the cool and wet weather that gave me a notion to cook (not that I don’t cook almost every day any how). On Sunday I started cooking about 10:00am and was still going at into the evening. It was very satisfying. So, what did I cook? I started with homemade sofrito. Sofrito is used as a component in Puerto Rican/Cuban dishes. It is pretty easy; basically you throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until it reaches the consistency you want. I like mine so you can see the separate colors of the ingredients, but you can’t tell what veg it came from. I used fresh local yellow and red tomatoes, lots of garlic cloves, poblano peppers, Serrano peppers (they had gotten semi-dried while languishing in the fridge), onion, fresh cilantro, and salt. The nice thing about sofrito is that you make a big batch and can freeze it in small plastic bags to use later. Most recipes call for about ¼ cup.
I started with the sofrito because I wanted to use it in black beans to serve along side or over rice. I sautéed a chopped onion, sweet red bell pepper, Mexican oregano (different from Italian oregano), and dried epazote leaves. I added that to a large saucepan with canned black beans that I had rinsed really well, and then cooked it up on the stove with ½ c sofrito and a can of squished up whole tomatoes. The final touch was to add dried roasted chipotle peppers to give it the flavor of roasted peppers. This made about 6 servings, so I froze 4 servings for later.

While all that was going on, I was chopping leeks for 2 other dishes: lentil soup and chicken-barley casserole. I caramelized the thinly sliced leeks and added crushed garlic cloves to the leeks destined for the soup. The soup was made from dried lentils simmered in chicken broth, leeks and garlic, fresh spinach, sautéed Porcini mushrooms, and Moroccan spices. Again, there was enough to freeze 6 servings plus have 2 later in the week.

Last and easiest of all was the chicken-barley casserole. I hadn’t cooked barley in at least 15 years, I think because it is hard to find in Minnesota. We finally found some at the organic food store that we like to go to. This was very simple, I put barely, chicken broth, chicken pieces, sautéed button mushrooms and leeks, into a casserole dish and baked it for about an hour. There were 9 servings from this recipe.

They all turned out to be very tasty.  Now, I have cooking out of my system - for a while at least …

Like a few other bloggers who have posted recently, I am having to dig into my rainy day file of photos. So here is a small selection of some jungle plant life from Belize. The first 3 shots are of a plant called Crepe Ginger (Cheilocostus speciosus). It is not a true ginger, but is in a family closely related to ginger. This plant, originally from Southeast Asia, is a non-native garden escapee and is pretty common along roadsides. It is pollinated by carpenter bees.

The part I find attractive is the spiral that its newest growth makes.

The flowers are impressive, too.  If you clikc to enlarge, you can see the ants that are attracted to nectar producing glands at the bases of the red bracts.

This last shot is of the sunlight streaming through a break in the canopy to illuminate the inflorescence of this epiphytic bromeliad. To me, this captures the essence of the jungle and takes me back every time I look at it.

13 October, 2009

Fall Birds Coming and Going

A few weeks a go I mentioned that I had cleared away some of the coneflowers.  I left most of them because the birds love the seeds.  This is what a coneflower seed head looks like after a Goldfinch has been at it.

American Goldfinches aren't too picky about what they will eat.  They eat  fromthe feeder that I fill with mixed seed and at the one with thistle (Nyger) seeds.  Here we see a goldfinch sharing the perch of the mixed seed feeder with a nuthatch.  

Their companionability didn't last too long, though ...
The goldfinches are the major customers at the thistle seed feeder.  They will be flying south for winter soon; we'll see them again in spring and all during next summer as they breed and raise their young.

The feeder above doesn't get quite as much business as MidMarsh John's feeder gets from his goldfinches (click here).  American goldfinches are a little smaller than the English ones and are also less colorful, especially in their winter wardrobe.  Here are a couple of pictures showing very toned-down gold.  But just wait until spring when they start to court and spark.

How many birds can you see below? 

There are at least four; 3 goldfinches and one female slate-colored Junco.  For brief periods in autumn and spring, these species overlap here in Minnesota as the goldfinches mass to migrate south and the juncos arrive to spend winter here.  We are not too far from the northern limit of the juncos' winter territory.  They breed all across northern Canada and Alaska.  Then they migrate south to Minnesota (and much farther, too) for the warmth; they must have some good insulation!  Below are a closer shot of the female and 2 shots of a male. 

This next bird, the ruby-crowned kinglet, is just passing through on its way to a more reasonable winter climate all across the souther states and into Mexico.  I may even be able to spot some in Belize when we go back in February!

This one is either a female that doesn't have the ruby crown or a male that is hiding his like they sometimes do.  They are both less than 4 inches long.  in this cold snap, they are all puffed up to stay warm.

The purple finches shown below are also just passing through to their winter grounds in the southeastern states.  They don't venture as far south as the kinglets do.  Only the males have the lovely redish head, back, and breast.  This one is probably a juevenile male.

I'll finish with this handsome chipmunk that scavenges seeds spilled from the feeders.  We usually have 4 or 5 of them around.  They gather up the seeds into their check pouches and then go hide them somewhere.  We find clumps of grasses, sunflowers, and other things growing in the oddest places; most recently in our potted plants that had been on the patio before we brought them indoors for winter.

11 October, 2009

A Few More Birds

I am trying the newest version of the editor for this blog.  I hope it let's me place the photos more easily than the old one.  Here we go ...

I believe the photo below requires no explanantion other than the birds are American Gold Finches in their drab winter clothing.

Now, can I put the next photo where I want it?

Yes, that part works OK.  Above is a female Downy Woodpecker.  She lacks the red head-patch of the male.

And now we have a Blue Jay.  Most people don't care too much for blue jays.  I really like them, though.  They are lovely to look at and really quite smart.  The family that has lived here for the past 16 years (probably longer, but that is how long I have lived here to observe them) have learned to call like a red-tailed hawk.  That scares all the little birds away and give the jays clear access to the feeders.  Pretty clever.

I hope that this new editor will allow my blog readers to click on images to enlarge them.  It was like that before we went to Belize, but while in Belize that changed.  I haven't been able to figure out how to reset that feature.  I have my fingers crossed ...

10 October, 2009

Changing Seasons

Soon after we returned from Belize, I was making a tour of the garden with the cats and camera in tow and saw many signs of the impending change of seasons. The bur oak trees in the front yard have a fine crop of acorns this year and the hazelnuts have fruits that are starting to turn a lovely orange-yellow color (below). On a more recent rainy Sunday morning, I spotted the Huechera that I planted in August. I like how the raindrops have been caught in the leaves.
Below is a photo showing the flaming colors of the maple tree in our back yard. This is always one of the first trees to change color.
The clematis, which didn’t do very well this year, had one last blossom (below). You can see the color of the maple tree in background.
Keith at Holdingmoments had a terrific post on English robins recently (http://holdingmoments.blogspot.com/2009/10/robin.html). American robins, which are much larger than the English robins, are thrushes and their red is only the breast. This robin youngster has lighter orange that hasn’t quite filled in all the way. In Georgia, where we lived before we moved here, robins were year-round residents. Here in Minnesota, the robins are seasonal and they have begun to migrate south. They will be a much welcomed herald for spring when they return. Last weekend, we had a male Downy Woodpecker make repeated visits to our bird feeder. He would be at the feeder for 3-4 minutes to accumulate a supply of seeds and then fly to the nearby hickory tree to insert seeds into crevices in the bark. I tried to get photos, but couldn’t get outside without scaring him away. So I was inspired to take apart the window that looks out to the feeders. This is a double paned window that has mini-blinds between the panes of glass. So I undid the clips that hold the inside piece of glass in place, removed the glass, unhooked the bottom of the blinds from the bottom of the window, slid the top of the blinds out of their slot, and removed them entirely. Then, while the window was apart, I washed the inner side of the outside pane, both sides of the inside pane of glass, went outside and washed the outside of the outer pane, and then re-assembled the window. Voila! Now I can be a very lazy birder. I can sit in my favorite chair with my feet on the ottoman and take pictures using my zoom lens. How lazy is that? I moved the thistle (Nyger) feeder to a position I can also see from my chair. The cats also have window-side seats from which they can watch the birds to their hearts content, or perhaps discontent, since they can only watch, not pounce! Here are some of the pictures I took last weekend after I changed the window. This little chickadee is one of the most chipper and cheerful birds we see here. They stay around all winter and can brighten a very dull day.

The nuthatches also stick around all year. They are only a little bigger than the chickadees. They almost always perch upside-down on tree trunks.

And last but not least, the inspiration for setting up the lazy birdwatcher's blind, is the downy wood pecker. It is the smallest woodpecker in these parts, only about 5 inches long. This one is a male, as you can tell from the red head patch.

It is very selective in what seeds it will take!

After it selects a mouthfull of seeds, it heads to the hickory tree to hide the seeds in the bark.

This view from the back shows the distinctive identifying features of the red head patch, a hint of barred-tail feathers, and white stripe on the back. It is like a small version of the hairy woodpecker, except the hairys don't have barred tails. A handsome little guy, don't you think?