Monday, February 14, 2005

Signs of spring

We got about 6" of new snow overnight, the wet, sticky kind that clings to branches. I woke up and thought "how beautiful!" about the same time my husband said "Damn!" It was a beautiful, although somewhat treacherous, drive to work.

Now to the signs of spring. Pussy willow buds are getting big! They should be completely budded out in a couple weeks.

It was about 45 degrees and sunny on Saturday, wonderful weather to be outdoors with the kids. We went skating on the pond, but the surface was starting to get mushy. I don't know if we'll get any more skating days after this snow.

I went back twice, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, to try to see the northern hawk owl with no luck. I did see eight great grays on my way to work this morning; one was in a tree near our house.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Northern hawk owl

I saw it this morning! Had to drop a car off at the garage in Bruno, so when we were done I persuaded my husband to drive a few miles up to Kerrick where one has been seen regularly. East of town there's a fantastic bog and some nice rolling farmland and mixed conifer/hardwood forest. We located the northern hawl owl in an open field; actually I must give credit to my husband for identifying it first by the way it flew. I didn't get a good close look but I got perhaps the once in a lifetime opportunity to see both a northern hawk owl and great gray owl at the same time! I'll probably go back there this afternoon when we pick up the car, now that I know where to look.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Eight great grays

Eight of them seen on the way home last night; two on the Hinckley road, four on the Askov road, and two right in front of my place!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Eleven!!! Eleven!!!

Eleven great gray owls on the way home, which totally blows my theory that they've gone further south. Four were on 61 north of Hinckley in the vicinity of the big curve towards Sandstone. The rest were along 30 east of Sandstone (the "churchy way" as Joey calls it, because we go by our small country church enroute) and north on 22. "Our owl" was there perched in a white pine near Sand Creek on the front part of our property, as usual. I also saw one ruffed grouse; grouse are low in number this winter due to the natural fluctuations in their population which seem to go in a seven year cycle. This grouse was so out in the open as to be obvious to me as I was driving along at about 55 mph, in a crabapple or other low shrubby tree eating buds or something.

55 mph is relative; these days I am driving a 1990 Honda Accord from Canada, with nearly 400,000 km on the odometer. I still have trouble converting mph to kmph, although they nicely include mph on the inside of the odometer in small numbers. I think I can drive about 85 kmph and be reasonably within the law here!

I need to brag about Joey (age 3) here; he actually spotted one owl that I would otherwise have missed. He knows how much his mommy get excited seeing owls, and he just wants to help.

Great gray owls are awesome!!!

"Our" owl had breakfast

This morning as I was driving out the driveway, "our" great gray owl was there again. I caught sight of it just as it was landing on a post. Just then I saw it transfer something from its talons to its beak! That got me thinking, the horse pasture probably attracts field mice because of all the spilled grain and seeds from the hay. So it's probably a good place for an owl to hunt for food, and that's why this one stays around here.

I saw two more great gray owls as I was driving to work. Joey (age 3) was in the back seat, and after we saw the second owl he said to me "We need to see a hawk owl!" I guess he's heard me say that a few too many times.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

another 5 owl day!

Just when I thought they were going away, along with them my luck...I saw 3 great gray owls along county road 32 east of Askov, where I've been lucky to see one lately. And then when I got home, I decided to drive north to the corner of our road, to see if I could see "our" owl, one that's been hanging around the vicinity of our property. Well not only did I see "our" owl, I saw another one, within a half mile! "Our" owl was on a willow at the outlet to the pond, then when it saw me it flew a couple times to various fence posts along the horse pasture, before flying to a small white pine across the pond. I think these owls are getting more savvy to cars, judging by the reactions to them. So this has me wondering, how much does pure chance have to do with bird sightings? It may be worth my time to record my daily sightings, as the "city birders" do not get this rare opportunity.

But I still have not seen my Northern Hawk Owl. argggghhh... but I will.

I did see a bald eagle today on the way to work, just about a mile west of my road along the main road. I'm so used to seeing grat gray owls now, at first I thought it was one. I always pause in awe every time I see an eagle, and think how fortunate I am to live in an area where I can see such wonders daily! I will never see an eagle, or a great gray owl, or for that matter even the smallest chickadee, and not thank the Great Spirit for the gift of such a sighting.

These gifts are what sustains me lately, as I am dealing with frustrating financial issues. I just want to live my simple life, not be bothered with such things, and all of a sudden I'm afraid to even open the mailbox! This too shall pass...repeat ad nauseum and on the way drink a few beers to numb the reality...This too shall pass...

Monday, February 07, 2005

What I've been reading

Maybe this should read: "What has been sitting on my nightstand or in my backpack while I try desperately to sneak in a page or two here and there". Reading, and having young kids, a job, and a marriage that needs attention, are not very compatible.

A Reasonable Life, Ferenc Mate. To tell the truth, I almost decided to put it down halfway through the preface. Too depressing, and too close to my own bleak observations of society today. But I persevered, and am getting more certain that I am on the way to living "a simpler, secure, more humane existence". Now if only society would take note.

Tales of Burning Love, Louise Erdrich. This is the only Erdrich novel that I had not read yet, and I'm about halfway through. So far I'm not disappointed, although intrigued and perplexed at times. What I really need is a complete guide to the characters in her novels; they are all interconnected and when a new character is introduced there is usually a connection to someone from another novel, although who or what I just can't remember.

Gardening for All Seasons, The New Alchemy Institute. Although somewhat dated, this is one of the few books I have seen that explores the possibilities of extended season gardening (Yes, I've read Eliot Coleman) and small scale aquaculture.

Where would I be without my local library?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Sunday afternoon blues

My owl luck seems to have been waning as of late. I think many of the owls I have been seeing in the last two weeks have moved on south. Granted, I'm still seeing 2-3 owls per day, which is more than I could hope for most years, but I've kinda grown accustomed to seeing the magnificent critters every mile or so along our road.

I did an official owl survey yesterday, through the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union. Drove a 35 mile route and counted owl sightings. I picked a route based on where I've seen owls before. We made it a family project, with my husband driving and the kids in the back seat. Vincent, age 7, was going to be the official GPS recorder until we found out the batteries were low. Damn! And no, we did not kick back a Gluek Honey Bock or two along the way...although I maintain that drinking while driving is entirely different than driving drunk, which I do not endorse in any way, shape or form. ; ) So how many owls did we see for our trouble? ONE! Along the same route where I saw twelve one day driving home! And still no Northern Hawk Owl. This winter is my big chance, but I guess it's all up to chance. If one happens to be hunting along the road where I am driving, it will be an entry on my life list; if not, so be it. That's the way it happened with the painted bunting two summers ago. THREE MILES from my house, I have a copy of a digital video to prove it, and did I mention that the painted bunting is the reason I'm so crazy about birds in the first place, but did I get to see it up close and personal? No.

But I have been privileged to watch a great gray owl today from mostly inside my own home! The first time I saw it, we were just sitting down to breakfast when I saw a cloud of redpolls and chickadees scatter from the bird feeder, followed by a huge wingspan swooping just over the feeder and off into the big white pines. Later I saw the same pair of wings silently flapping over to the clearing where we are building the new house and gardens. It perched for nearly an hour in an elm tree near the edge of the swamp, then changed perches once or twice before flying off into the tamaracks. I saw it later, perched on a tiny white pine near the side of the road. I did not see it take any prey, although I should walk over to the elm some time and look for pellets. The snow has a hard crust on top after a few days of temperatures above freezing, so I would imagine that would make hunting harder for them.

During the owl survey, well more likely after we had given up hope of breaking the record for most owls seen during a single survey period, we visited the home of Chris Brockman. He has built an Earth ship home that is completely off grid, not too far from my house. It is heated by a wood stove, which he hadn't operated for the last 3 days, and passive solar design with thermal mass from concrete and stone. The thing that I liked most was the smell of stone, of concrete, of earth, upon entering. It was not like a cement block basement at all, it was really cozy. And he had tomato plants in containers, in February, in Minnesota! So now I'm designing my combination greenhouse/garden shed/root cellar along the same lines.