23 January, 2010

January Rains

We are having an unusual rain in January.  Ordinarily, our January precipitation is in frozen form.  Today the temperatures are above freezing (by a degree or 2) and rain has been falling gently for several hours.  Of course it is falling on top of 15 or so inches of snow.  :-(  And the temps will soon dip back below freezing for a week or maybe even a month.   :-(   We will be left with 15 inches snow covered with an icy glaze and icy roads.  The icy roads will be dealt with by the city and county (they do a great job of keeping the roads and streets free of ice and snow).

We have had quite a bit of bird activity at the bird feeders today, although they are not feeding as franticly as they were when the temps were super cold a few weeks ago.  The red-bellied woodpeckers are some of my favorites.  We have at least a pair that live in the woods behind the house. 

The male and female look very similar, but the female has red only at the nape of her neck and a slightly paler red spot above her beak.  The male has red all the way to his beak.  They have beautiful black and white wings.

Before the snow fell, the male spent time on the patio using the spaces between the stones to hold the seeds as he tapped them open.

Now, you are probably asking yourself why this is called a "red-bellied" woodpecker when the red is on its head?  Good question.  The answer comes in 2 parts.  Part one is that there is another woodpecker with a better claim to the name red-headed.  The real red-headed woodpecker's entire head (in males and females) is a bright, glaring red.  The second part is, that if you look closely and the bird is cooperative, you can see a bit of red on its lower belly.
Take a close look at this male's belly.  You can just barely make out a little red just in front of its tail.  
Here is a slightly better view of the red on the lower belly of the female.

So there you have it; they were named red-bellied for a characteristic that is not visible more often than it is.  Never-the-less, they are handsome, easily recognized birds that add a bright spot to any birder's garden.

We have another woodpecker, the pileated, that we often hear up in the woods, but seldom see except as a large shape flying from tree to tree.  They are crow-sized with a wingspan of up to almost 2.5 ft.  One recent day, a male came to check out the feeders and spent a little time on a tree beside the house.  I actually had the good fortune to have my camera at hand to get the shots below of my favorite local woodpecker. 
Isn't he grand? You can tell it is a male because of the red whiskers at the base of its beak.

These woodpeckers were certainly the brightest spots in the gray January day.  I hope you found bright spots in your day too.

17 January, 2010

Icy Beauty

Last night we had another freezing fog that left everything covered with hoar frost.  I wasn't too keen to go outside to take pictures, because the day stayed gray and drab.  Later in the afternoon, though, the sun made an appearance and enticed me to go outside with my camera.  I wore my red wellies because the snow is still quite deep. 
The cats (Jazmin and Max) wanted to come out too.  You can just see them on the steps next to the sunroom at the left of the photo.  That was as far as they ventured.  The icicles are even longer than they were in one of my previous posts.

It was quite a chore to walk through the deep snow from the patio area on one side of the house to the wildflfower area on the other side.  I followed deer tracks whenever possible, but it was still hard work to break a human-sized trail. 
Here is a trail I made last week to put some feed out at the edge of woods for the wildlife when the temperatures were so brutally cold for a couple of weeks.
The snow came a few inches above the tops of my wellies.  The wildflower stalks and seed heads were sparkly and beautiful with their decoration of ice crystals. 
These 2 shots are of figwort (I think).

And these 2 are of some aggravating weed whose seeds grab hold of clothing and won't let go.  These crystals remind me of barbed wire.

I think most beautiful crystals were on the Black Hills Spruce trees, although from a distance they weren't very noticable.

A closer look reveals an intricate beauty.

10 January, 2010

Virtual Vacation

Today, as I was archiving and backing up my photographs, I was drawn to the files of photos from our trip to Belize in September 2009. All this cold weather in Europe, Great Britain, and North America has me seeking warmth from all sources, so join me over my next few posts as I revisit Belize.
First up is this bird on which I had a tough time making an ID. It is a large bird, perhaps just a wee bit smaller than a peregrine falcon, but not exactly a falcon shape. What other Belize birds are this size? Montezuma’s oropendula is larger, but with a similar silhouette. This silhouette is more pot-bellied, like a dove, but with a much longer tail. Too large for a cuckoo.
Believe it or not, this is a brown jay! Fully 16 inches long, it is the largest jay of which I am aware.

This particular individual is a first year jay with a yellow bill and prominent eye rings. The maturebrown jays lack eye rings and have dark bills.  I never positively identified a mature jay at our place, but I'm sure they were around.
Another warming image is the this photo of a canna lily growing in front of our cabana.  I like how the red of the blossom is echoed in the leaves.

I will leave you with this image of the our neighbors' palapa in the distance framed by the orchid in bloom on this tree.  The palapa is on the dock of the Steppingstones Resort (http://www.steppingstonesbelize.com/aboutss.php).  Now, just imagine yourself resting in the cool shade of the palapa, sheltered from the hot tropical sun ...  Yes, that's exactly what we have been wanting.

09 January, 2010

Icicles and Mystery Tracks

Along with most of the Northern Hemisphere, we are in the grip of a very cold and snowy winter.  I rarely venture outside when it is this cold except to go to work or buy groceries.  And with the short days of winter, it is dark when we leave for work and dark when we get home.  On weekdays I very hurriedly run outside in the cold and dark to fill the birdfeeders and scatter seed on the ground.  Today I got to go out when it was light to fill the feeders.  Even though it is bitterly cold (-1F, -14C) today, I took my camera out to take a picture of the icicles that are hanging from the eaves of our sunroom.  I think the longest is at least 4 feet long.

While I was out I noticed these strange tracks that start and end out of nowhere.

Those are deer tracks along the righthand side, but I can't figure out what made the smaller tracks and how.  They start (or end?) a couple feet away from the deer tracks.

After running sort of straight for about 12 feet, they run in a crazy circle that looks almost like a peace symbol.  Some of the tracks in the circle are from multiple passes of the animal.

Then they just stop ...

I didn't see any blood, so it doesn't look like a bird of prey caught something, but that can't be ruled out either.  The tracks could have been made by a little gopher that surfaced on top of the snow and then continued along underneath the snow.  The snow is about 20 inches deep now.  As I was examining the photos, I saw in the one above at the bottom center what looks like a place where a bird landed or took off just behind the dead leaves.  If you look closely you can see the impression of wingtips in the snow.  I welcome your suggestions as to what may have transpired to leave these mystery tracks in the snow!

01 January, 2010

Ready or Not, Here is 2010!

As I sit here in the last hours of the first decade of the new millennium writing this post, I count myself incredibly fortunate. Here I am in my nice house with my wonderful husband and 2 cats enjoying a fire in the fireplace while the temps outside dip below O degrees F (that would be about -15 degrees C) outside. We just had a lovely (if I do say so myself) New Year’s Eve dinner of duck breast Diane (I created that based on steak Diane), roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts, accompanied by a sauvignon blanc (for me) and a Riesling (for Dennis). Dennis made our dessert of poached pear with a raspberry zabaglione accompanied by raspberry port. My heart aches for those without enough food to eat, those who are unprotected from the elements and from persons of ill-intent, and those without family and friends to be a part of their lives. (I don’t intend to use this blog as soap box, but I highly recommend donating to Heifer International as a means to help others. Here is their web address: http://www.heifer.org/.)

2009 was good to us for the most part, although we did lose our beloved cat, JD, right after Thanksgiving. Seeing the end of 2009 is bittersweet for me because 2009 is the last year of JD’s life; the finality of that is hard for me. I comfort my self with the knowledge that he lived a long, fine life and that I was able to be with him in his last days and minutes.

We were able to spend Christmas with part of my family at a State Park in Georgia, 4 generations were represented! We rented 3 cabins for the group and had a wonderful time. It was great to escape the snowy cold of Minnesota for a few days. We cooked a lot of good food, drank a lot of good beer (my brother brought enough beer from microbreweries near where he lives for us to have 2 separate beer tastings) and a lot of good wine. We played some silly games and just enjoyed each other’s company. I managed to take some bird photos, although, as you can see, the light was against me for many for them. 

Even though the lighting was bad, the eastern bluebird in the 2 shots below were just too cute to leave out.  Apologies to Chris P for using the word "cute"!   

During one of my walks, I heard a mighty rustling in the shrubby trees along the verge.  I snapped this shot showing a cedar waxwing diving down into the bottom left corner.  You can sort of see it if you squint your eyes ...

The large flock of cedar waxwings right next to the lake provided a better photo op.

Below is the edge of the sunset over the lake.

Below is a  series of winter photos taken around our garden over the past month or so.

This little white-breasted Nuthatch is one many that visit our feeder.

As is this male cardinal.

And Bluejay.

We have about 15 inches of snow on the ground now, and it will likely be here until spring.  Below are some bird and squirrel tracks that I got the morning after our biggest snowfall.

The snow sets the birds off nicely as they come to the feeders.  This crow is looking particularly handsome with his feathers all fluffed out.

This little slate-colored (also called dark-eyed) Junco seemed to be really feeling the cold wind and falling snow.

I thought this photo of the junco in the snow-covered coneflower seedheads that I wove into the lattice seemed to call out for an artistic sepia-toned treatment.

The bright colors of the male and more muted colors of the female cardinals standout against the white snow.

And, finally, 2 very seasonal looking photos to convey to the readers of this blog my best wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year and to express my thanks for visiting and leaving your comments. It always makes my day to see that someone has not only read my blog, but has left a comment too!

Cheers, Wilma