Sunday, February 27, 2011

woodpecker central

The pileated woodpecker has to be one of my favorite bird species. And this winter I've been fortunate to see one at the suet feeder fairly often. While this isn't the best picture, you can tell this one is a female by the absence of red on her face. She really did a number on this suet cake just today; the picture was taken this morning, and now in the afternoon there is barely any left.

After Ms. Pileated left, I got a rare shot of a hairy and a downy woodpecker close to each other, taking turns gleaning from the remains of the suet cake. Yesterday afternoon when Mr. Attitude and I returned from our birding adventure, there were three downy woodpeckers and one hairy in this same tree at once!

Ms. Pileated has been busy around here. This is a dead white spruce that continues to provide wonderful habitat and food for woodpeckers and other birds. I am looking at it out the window right now as I write this at the computer, which is in the cabin. I have had the pleasure of watching a pileated woodpecker work on these holes throughout the winter, and yesterday The Hermit called me to tell me one was at it again. The long hole to the right is pretty deep, and I can't help but wonder if this will be a nest site this summer. If so, the location is perfect as I can get good views (and photos) from inside the cabin!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Birding the Bog with Mr. Attitude

 I had a couple of errands to do in Duluth today. Actually I was going to do one of them on Monday, my day off, but it was snowing pretty good that morning so I did not want to drive. I rescheduled my appointment at the Subaru dealership for today. Then Calvin's new iPhone went on the fritz yesterday, so I decided to, pardon the expression, kill two birds with one stone. But as long as I was driving that far, it was only about thirty more miles up the road to some of the best winter birding in Minnesota. And I had promised Mr. Attitude a special day.

We had not gone three miles from the house when we saw our first birds of the day: Two adult bald eagles! I had seen these eagles in the same location yesterday, and The Hermit has seen them. I'm wondering if there is a nest somewhere nearby; not that it's nesting season yet, but I have heard eagles are starting to return to their breeding grounds.

The car appointment was good in that I did not have to pay anything today, it was just for a strange noise that started right after I had my car serviced there last time. The noise turned out to be nothing major, although I noticed it is still there. On the other hand, I may be looking at replacing the catalytic converter in the near future. Ouch.

After a visit to the AT&T store, I ended up having to take Calvin's phone to the UPS store so it could be shipped to Apple to be replaced. I am shaking my head. Why can't AT&T and Apple get their act together so I can get a same day replacement? I could have, if there was an Apple store in Duluth, I was told, but the nearest one was in Minneapolis.

I was so ready for some quiet scenery and good birding after that. We stopped at Subway, and noticed a very vocal raven perched on top of a utility pole. Then we headed up Highway 53.

 The Sax Zim bog (named for two former town sites in the area) has an almost surreal quality to the landscape. Think the movie "Fargo", only more so.

 I couldn't resist taking this picture. Now this is Minnesota!

Our first stop was at a house with a feeder along County Road 7, where we saw a large flock of pine grosbeaks along with redpolls and black capped chickadees. The male pine grosbeaks are such an exquisite rosy red color.

Joe had the first raptor sighting of the day: a rough legged hawk! I usually see a few of them around in the winter, but I had not seen more than one or two this year.

We came to a recently bulldozed logging road that I had heard was a likely spot to see a black backed woodpecker. I drove in, and was surprised to see a congregation of vehicles at one spot. Some of them were birders, and some of them were locals cutting up recently felled tamaracks with chain saws. There were signs of black backed woodpecker activity everywhere, as bark was stripped from standing trees, but the birders were there to see this bird:

 Northern hawk owl! One of the very birds I had hoped to show Mr. Attitude! He was thrilled. My woefully inadequate camera could not capture a good shot, but I love this owl's sleek profile.

As we continued up the road, we saw a dark brown creature crossing the road ahead of us. From its size and shape, I think it was an otter, although it could have been a fisher. We were able to locate the tracks; they were spaced fairly far apart.

On the way down Admiral Road to a roadside feeder station, we were accosted by four domestic dogs who seemed determined to not let the car pass!

The Admiral Road feeders were bustling with activity. Pine grosbeaks (all female), redpolls, downy woodpeckers, black capped chickadees, and a couple of red squirrels were working the suet and seeds. Within a couple minutes, I was able to see another bird I was hoping for: a boreal chickadee! Most of the birds were not fazed by our presence. We got out of the car, and I was hoping to get a boreal chickadee picture. I did not get one, but I think this photo is far more precious:

Mr. Attitude was amazed that he could get so close to a pine grosbeak.

It was a big day for him, and an amazing day for me. Mr. Attitude is nine years old now, and of all my kids I think he shows the most affinity for nature. I was so glad I could share this day with him. He wants to go birding again next week! :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February thaw

Garrison Keillor had a great observation on "A Prairie Home Companion" yesterday. While I don't recall the exact wording, it went something like this:
It's a fact of human psychology. When you're someplace cold and the weather is warmer than what's expected, it always feels warmer than when you're someplace warm and it's colder than expected.
That would explain why I was sitting out on the deck in short sleeves yesterday drinking a Hop Ottin' and watching the afternoon sun disappear behind the pines. It was 35 degrees.

Of course, I was basking in the afterglow of some outdoor physical activity, brought on by the warm sunny weather. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon I had the urge to go running. I had not been running in oh, several months or so, at least since school started in September. Why? I don't really know. Lack of time I'm sure had something to do with it, but also lack of motivation. I wish I could explain the lack of motivation part. Running always feels incredibly good to me, and it has done great things for my body over the last three years. But for some reason, last summer and fall I wasn't really into it. Oh well. There's always a chance for a new beginning.

I only ran up to the corner and back, about 1.2 miles. I was going to go farther, but my rational brain told me that probably was not a good idea considering the above paragraph. So I went that far, and it felt just right. Pretty good, as a matter of fact. So good that when I got back I saw the big step ladder, and the shovel, and the foot and a half of snow on the cabin roof, and thought it would be a good time to get some of that snow weight off of there, before ice dams and leakage and all that good stuff set in. I went up, and actually had a good time. The part of the roof that needed shoveling is not steep at all, hence the need to shovel, so I was not worried about falling. Calvin joined me, which was a good thing because there was a LOT of snow up there, more than one person could comfortably handle. We got the job done in the afternoon sunlight and relative warmth, and it was nice being up on the roof, enjoying the view.

After the roof was done, I rewarded myself with the Hop Ottin' IPA, from Anderson Valley Brewing Company in California (just up the road from that nice beach where the photo in the last post was taken). But I swear it wasn't the beer, even though it probably had something to do with it, but for the longest time that afternoon I felt better than I had in  LONG time. My whole body just felt warm and tingling and alive. That feeling lasted into the evening when at last I stepped inside, sat in front of the wood stove with another beverage, and listened to "A Prairie Home Companion" broadcasting live from Bemidji, MN, which is even more of an icebox than here.

Of course, payback is hell. Today I'm hurting in places I haven't hurt in a long time. I am so anxious to continue my running, to feel the way I felt yesterday, but as the earth thaws and the sunlight returns I know the time to do that will return also. Yesterday was just an appetizer.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A sunny scene for today

Navarro River Redwoods State Park, California, 2002

 This picture has been hanging in my office cubicle for a long time, and today I decided it would be good to scan it before it faded. Calvin and Starflower were 5 and 3 at the time. Mr. Attitude was less than a year old.

Calvin, by the way, won the school spelling bee Monday night! He gets a cash prize of $50, plus the chance to compete in the regional spelling bee in a couple of weeks. In his usual style, he didn't do much to prepare for the competition; he just told me afterwards "Spelling is easy!" He must get it from me. :)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Now where was I?

It's depressing, really. I was looking at my blog posts from last year, about this time, and they sound too familiar. For someone who prides myself in personal growth, this year has been a bust. I'm right back where I started.

I even missed my sixth blogiversary, which happened on January 21st. But I can be excused, maybe, for not thinking of my own milestones that weekend. On Sunday morning, the 23rd, I nonchalantly checked my Facebook page on my iPhone, and found some devastating news. Jim, a friend from nearly the start of this blog, had passed away. It literally knocked the breath out of me.

When I started blogging, I never imagined that I could develop friendships that transcend place. And when I thought I had reached that level, I thought "oh no. you've never met them IN PERSON. You don't know what they're really like."

So why did I find myself feeling like I had the wind knocked out of me, crying uncontrollably, feeling such a loss for some old hippie from California who happened to have a blog, and who happened to write very well, and who happened to share my passion for good folk music and good beer? Because I felt as close to Jim as I have to any friend I have "in real life". And sometimes I question whether I have any close friends "in real life". Jim and I shared music and beer through the mail, and his comments on this blog were always warm and friendly and thoughtful. I felt Jim's love for his family, his rage against a world gone wrong, but yet his appreciation for all that was good with the world. I really wish I could have made it out to Big Bear Lake, CA and shared a couple of homebrewed beers and a few tunes with him.

Didn't see that coming. Tomorrow is not a guarantee for any of us.

So where was I? In the middle of a Minnesota winter, which hasn't been too terrible around here. I happen to live in a small area which has managed to dodge the bullet from all the major snowstorms that have happened to the north and south of here. We had one or two nights of -20 degree weather, which if I remember from my first year of blogging, isn't that bad.

Most of my time is spent going to work, and then going to basketball games or picking Calvin and Starflower up from practice. I am so proud of them. Calvin, 8th grade, has found his social niche through sports and band, and Starflower, only in 6th grade, has shown amazing dedication to becoming a volleyball and basketball player. I look back at my junior high career and think wow...these kids sure didn't get their social skills from me!

Now if I could only figure out a way to spend less money on auto maintenance. A series of oil leaks in the Subaru, followed by a blown tire today. Sigh. That tire was only two months old! Either logging debris or bad stuff in the road sand.

Sorry this is so disconnected. It's just my state of mind these days...but maybe if I wrote more, it would get better. It's worth a try.