Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Western tanager update 4/29

It was back bright and early this morning, in the 15 degree frosty weather, and even came out to eat a few sunflower seeds on the ground! I was able to observe the size (much closer to a White throated sparrow than a goldfinch) and markings up close. He is beautiful!

Monday, April 28, 2008

MAJOR bird excitement here!

I just may have sighted a very unusual species for Minnesota! We were eating dinner, and I noticed a yellow bird sitting in a spruce tree about 50 feet away. Goldfinch, I thought, and continued eating. I looked up again about 5 minutes later, and the bird was still there. I noticed then that its face looked a bit red. Blushing goldfinch? Finally my curiosity got the better of me and I got up to get the binoculars. As soon as I got a close look, I knew this was no ordinary goldfinch, if it was even a goldfinch. No black on the forehead, instead the whole face was a scarlet red. The bird just did not look goldfinch-like either. For some reason, perhaps my early years of perusing and memorizing bird books, I thought, "tanager?" I flipped to the tanagers in Sibley's, and there it was--Western tanager!

I ran for The Hermit's 12x zoom camera, but when I got back the bird was gone. I paced around for a few minutes, then it came back! I hurriedly snapped a few photos, knowing they would be blurry because it was already after 7:00 and we didn't have any direct sunlight in the woods. But, anything would be better than nothing.

So, bird experts: Do these blurry photos say "Western tanager"? I'm thinking goldfinches don't have the black extending over the back, this bird is not as canary yellow as a goldfinch, and the male goldfinches around here are maybe 80-90% molted. There's also that yellow wingbar somewhat visible in the first photo, although I got a better look at it, that would distinguish this from a goldfinch.

This is so cool! According to the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union, there have only been two other confirmed sightings of Western tanagers in this county. Sightings are rare all across Minnesota, although there are more sightings in spring than in any other season. This also reminds me how incredibly serendipitous birding really is. Of course, it helps if you're paying attention.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

spring will come again

I got lucky this morning. I was walking out with my camera to get a picture of the flooded creek, and I heard the raucous call of sandhill cranes. They sounded like they were coming my way, so I whipped the camera out of my pocket, turned it on, and zoomed the lens to 4x. I had no time to think as the birds came in to view, I just hit the shutter button and hoped for the best. This is a crop from a bigger photo. The branch got in the way, but I actually like it.

Today I also saw/heard my first-of-year cowbird (big deal, huh? Really, they have a unique call.) and yellow rumped warblers! The spring peepers, chorus frogs and wood frogs have resumed singing, and the woodcock and snipe are displaying at twilight. Even though today's high temperature only hovered around 40, the sun was out and took away all of the snow in sunny areas.

I've been having new house thoughts lately. By this time next week, the roof may be done! I am now choosing exterior stain colors and tile for the floor where the wood stove will be. We had settled on a dark gray-blue ceramic tile a couple of years ago, but Menard's no longer carries it. Instead, The Hermit found something even better: slate tiles. They are roughly the same color we had chosen before, with some beautiful natural variation among them; no two are the same. And cut stone is a bit more environmentally friendly than ceramic tile, which takes a lot of processing. I have done tile before, for the floor underneath our wood stove in this house, so I'm in charge of this project. No hurry with it, but then again I want that in place before we move in. Which may be around the time school is out. Which isn't that far off!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

happy spring, v2

I don't even want to talk about it.

My seed potatoes and onion sets, which arrived this week, will have to wait to be planted.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

haircuts, Danish invasion, blogger rendezvous, and Emmylou Harris

Now how, you are wondering, will she fit these seemingly incongruous topics into one post? I don't know either, but I'll try!
Do you recognize these boys? If you do, let me know. And, if you see two boys with big brown eyes, but you wouldn't see the eyes because they are covered with hair, let me know. I'm missing them, and meanwhile these two intruders have invaded my house. I can't believe they consented to such extreme ear exposure. But, they are excited because now they look like (Minnesota Twin) Joe Mauer. Or have the same haircut anyway. and Madcap, if you happen to see this, that's your pillow on Starflower's bed. She has claimed it!

Askov, the second nearest town, has a very Danish heritage. The street signs still even have an excess of letters, with names like Jernbanegade. Apparently a songwriter/storyteller from Denmark heard about the town and was so fascinated with the idea of Danish immigrants settling in Minnesota that he wanted to write about it. But first he wanted to visit the town, so tonight we were treated to a free concert by Esben Langkniv. I was amazed as I pulled into the parking lot of the community center; it was full. Starflower and I (girls' night out) got to see and hear a wonderful evening of music and storytelling. Sometimes I think storytelling is a lost art, what with TV and the Internet and all that, and how could someone pull off a show with stories in English interspersed with songs in Danish? Esben Langkniv did it perfectly, engaging the audience with his true life humor.

The audience was predominantly elder Askovites, maybe even some who had grown up in a Danish speaking household. But as I entered the community center, I scanned the audience, looking for a particular woman and her family. In the back row I saw some children who looked vaguely familiar, and as the mother and I made eye contact she said "I know you!" It was Heidi, my blogging neighbor, and this was our first real life meeting. It was a pleasure! Although, meeting a blogger is kind of an awkward thing. I mean, you practically know each other already, what is there to converse about? :) For us introverts that poses a problem. But we had fun and enjoyed the show, and it was nice to meet Heidi and her beautiful family. Hope to meet up again soon!

So how, you may be asking yourself, does Emmylou fit in with all of this? She doesn't. But I had to drive Starflower home from piano lessons today, and I happened to be listening to a Steve Earle CD in the car. He did a duet with Emmylou Harris on one number, and towards the end of the song Starflower turned to me and asked, in all honesty and innocence, "Mom, is that you singing?" I, suddenly grinning from ear to ear, said no. "But she sure sounds like you!"

Am I dreaming? Do I really have a singing voice so angelic, like Emmylou's, that a recording of her could fool my own daughter? I could only hope as much. But I'll take this for all it's worth. Starflower, you have given me the biggest ego boost in a long time! :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Spring!

May I present to you...my ice free pond! The combination of heavy rain last night and steadily above-freezing temperatures finally took their toll on the thin ice. I seem to remember Starflower taking her first swim when there was still ice on the pond a year or so ago. Maybe this weekend...

The pond is full, with a good flow through the outlet culvert. A big change from last summer, although other local ponds and lakes are still a bit low.

I had a good close bird encounter today. I was with a couple coworkers, checking trap nets we set on a local lake for northern pike. We had a good day for northerns, with a total of 80 caught, but our catch of the day was....a live horned grebe. And it was mad! We got it out of the net, but it was pecking at us with its amazingly sharp bill. We let it go over the shallow water, and it scooted far away from our nets. A definite first of year for me, and maybe a lifer...I'll have to check. But definitely a lifetime experience.

And I think I identified one of the unidentified bird sounds I heard last night. I had heard something that was definitely thrush like, and after listening to the call of the Wood Thrush I can almost positively say that's what it was! A new yard bird for here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

finally...more progress on the house!

Our carpenter called yesterday and said he would be coming by to start work on the roof...today. We had known he would be by sometime in a week or so. The snow is finally gone from around the house, except for a small pile on the north side, so they can set up scaffolding.

Here's a nice looking detail that wasn't in the original plans. See the roof overhang, and the brackets? I think it's lovely! It just accents the roofline perfectly. And the brackets look like perfect phoebe nesting habitat as well. :)

I am enjoying the sounds of spring peepers and wood frogs, as well as our first spring thunderstorm tonight. Also, earlier as I was admiring the house I heard two bird sounds I haven't identified yet. My car thermometer read 80 degrees as I left the office this afternoon! Of course, I park next to a south facing wall that probably amplifies the heat, but it still read 74 at home.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What I really love

I don't want to go to work tomorrow. I probably will, but the thought of entering the daily grind for another week just makes me cringe. Even though I will most likely be going out in the field for the first time since last fall.

My work doesn't matter. Counting fish, stocking fish, measuring fish....it's a great job, but I only do it for the compensation and ultimately it takes me away from what I love.

So what do I love?

I love my kitchen. Even though it's only an 8 x 12 shed, I have what I need out there and I love creating meals and food for my family. If I had my way, I would give up my full time job and just cook.

I love my garden. The feel of the soil between my fingers today was just...euphoric. When I am out there, I am happy. I listen to the birds, smell the soil, and think of the harvests to come. I think maybe this world does have a future. I think of the future, an 80 year old woman coming out to tend the soil, maybe her daughter or son or grandchild with her, helping out and absorbing the knowledge the grandmother has about the garden and what can grow there. After all, she has tended this garden for over forty years now. :)

I went outside after all

Even though it was cloudy and gray outside in the morning, the temperature was a lot milder than yesterday and I could almost hear my garden calling to me. So I headed out there and by the time I was done I had weeded and prepared three beds and planted one. I would have done even more, but the soil in most of the beds was a bit too moist from yesterday's rain, and still pretty cold.
I planted some kale and spinach I had started indoors, as well as seeds of lettuce, Swiss chard, and an Asian stir fry mix. I seem to have lost my arugula seeds, otherwise that would have been planted as well. The rake and livestock panel are placed there deliberately to keep cats and other critters out of my newly planted bed. Once things sprout, I will have to devise a plan to keep cottontails and snowshoe hares out.

After my Sunday morning church in the garden, I walked around a little since I could finally do that without dodging snow piles. We still have a little bit of snow on the north sides of buildings, but most of the land is finally snow free. I came across this casualty of last weekend's winds, the top of a fairly big white pine (approximately 24" diameter trunk). The tree is still alive, and I would not be surprised if one of the top limbs started growing up instead of out and became the new crown of the tree.
When I saw the size of the limbs, I started thinking to myself...these would make some nice looking stairway and balcony railings! Then I looked at the fallen section of trunk and thought...I love half log stairs. Maybe for the new house we could...
While I was musing on natural on site building materials, someone opened the door and Sally came bursting out of the house. I thought she might like a visit to the pond, so we went out that way. Does she look happy or what in this photo? It's been way too long since she went for a swim. The pond still has a bit of ice that won't go away today, but maybe tomorrow.

new yard wildlife

This morning I looked out under the bird feeder and saw a rabbit sitting there. At least I thought it was a rabbit at first, but I noticed its fur was much lighter and more grayish than the usual Eastern cottontail rabbits. It was also a bit larger. Snowshoe hare!

I had seen snowshoe hare tracks in the snow years ago, and may have even seen one once in its full white winter coat, but this is the first one I have seen since we have been living here.

It was too dark for a photo. It's looking to be another gray, cloudy day here at Sand Creek, but the high temperature may reach 60.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The weather sucks...

A high of 38 in April, and gusty winds? I am holing up inside, and I refuse to come out until Nature offers me a sunny, calm 60 degree day.

I did have one happy for the day. I got a cluster of statements from our health insurance provider, and among them were two claims that had been reprocessed and OUR DEDUCTIBLE REMOVED. They tried to overcharge us on our deductible last year. I have been fighting with the insurance company for a couple of months on this, so I am happy this has been resolved and we will either get a credit or a check from our clinic.

I saw and heard my first of year song sparrow today. I didn't get out beyond the end of the driveway to see anything else. It was a "jammie pants" kind of day. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and warm, so I may be found out in the garden.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

First frogs!

Tonight I went out to the step to listen for woodcock. Fortunately I heard two distinct males peenting and twittering as they spiraled skyward. The winter storm apparently didn't affect them too badly. But then, another sound nearly drowned out the woodcock....frogs. Wood frogs. It is spring.

Also, turkey vultures and Eastern phoebes have made their appearance recently. And Wilson's snipe.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

time prevails

Life happens. On many different time scales. Sometimes, like this tree engulfing a "No Trespassing" sign, it happens so slowly we cannot perceive it with our immediate senses. Yet it happens.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Have you noticed that I have not been posting as much lately?

Probably, if my Site Meter is any indicator. I've been posting less, but you've been visiting less.

But it's not a blow to my ego, really. I've been focused on other things. Like our planetary crisis. I am sick of reading doomsday stuff about it, so lately I've been reading Bill McKibben's Deep Economy and Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest. They both kind of give the idea that yeah, we're in a crisis, but people are doing something about it! All I know is, I have to live the earth friendly life that works for me here, teach my children how to love the land, and that is the best I can do in my corner of the world.

That, and play music. Feel the music as it comes from many generations ago, the spirit of laughing and singing. I try to do fifteen minutes of practice a day on the banjo, my most challenging instrument. Sunday I even found a musical lick I called my own on guitar, and played a few chunes on flute.

Everyone engaged in playing music on their own, creating, is part of the rebellion.

There is so much more I have been thinking and feeling compelled to DO lately. It's all good, I believe it, and blogging about it may just be part of my mission here on Earth.

No, I'm not going freaky or something. I just think I may have found my sense of purpose.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The wind in the pines

My apologies to those of you on dialup. A still photo just doesn't capture the power of the wind today.

We are in the middle of a whopper of an April blizzard here. The wind is howling and the snow keeps falling. I can't tell how much we've had, because it's blowing around so much, but I shoveled a good 8 inches off the steps this morning. Of course, I stayed home. It just wasn't worth it to drive nearly 30 miles to work in these conditions, and school was canceled for the day. I found that out about 2 AM when I woke up and decided to check the school web site. I quietly told The Hermit, but as I was getting into bed I heard a delighted giggle from Calvin, who apparently had heard me.

I spent my morning in the cook shed, as I usually do during snow days. I washed dishes while the bread machine worked on a whole wheat dough for the meatball calzones we had for lunch. There is corned beef in the slow cooker; I will add cabbage later for our dinner. Right now I am trying to decide which musical instrument to pick up first in my precious free time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

winter storm warning

6-10 inches of snow possible tonight. Blizzard warnings in the county to the north and gale warnings on Lake Superior.

When will it end?

The Hermit emailed me yesterday to tell me we were down to 25% in the large propane tank so he ordered 275 gallons, the minimum order. I emailed him back saying "I hope that lasts until spring comes!"

My ears tell me it's spring. I step out in the dim morning light to the sound of woodcocks and sandhill cranes and robins and Canada geese. The birding listservs are full of reports of new migrants arriving daily. But, once again, Spring is on hold.

Actually, the thought of blizzards and gale warnings on Lake Superior is strangely appealing to me. I wouldn't mind being holed up in a cozy cabin on the shore, with a warm wood stove and no reason to go outdoors, listening to the wind howl and the waves crash.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Spring looks like...

My garden, at long last revealed. I am entertaining ideas of starting to move some of that good horse pasture dirt tomorrow and start some greens in one bed. If it's dry enough.

The pond, with ice melting away from the edges.

What happened here? Hint: My shoes were very wet.

Pussy willows in all their fuzziness.

Today's new sightings include a meadowlark, probably Eastern just because I haven't heard Westerns sing around here. I heard a woodcock peenting at the break of dawn; I forgot to go outside at twilight to hear it again, but I know it was there. Have I mentioned red winged blackbirds yet? They are here. And I decided to go out to my car for something this morning when I was at work, and just as I got outside I heard the distinctive call of a flock of tundra swans! They were flying low, so I could see them well without binoculars, and they flew right over the office. Tundra swans are kind of hit or miss; you have to be at the right place at the right time. Calvin saw eight wood ducks on the creek this afternoon, and I happened to be close enough that I heard them enough to confirm they were wood ducks.

The temperature reached 60 today! I drove home with my windows open, hoping to hear some Western chorus frogs, but apparently they need another warm day or so to activate.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

This and that

Today's new bird sightings and/or hearings:

This morning I opened the door and was greeted to the call of sandhill cranes in a nearby swamp. Later I sighted a pair of them in a field on my route to work.

On my way to work I saw a flock of 8-10 hooded mergansers on Sand Creek a few miles from my house. On my way home I saw three of them on the big pool in the creek by my home. Male hooded mergansers are just amazing looking birds.

Also seen and/or heard: killdeers, red winged blackbirds, harriers, and one bluebird. The temperature soared into the mid fifties today. Spring is here.

In blogging related business, please go here and here for Thingfish23's amazing photos of the bird that got me started on a life of birding at age 6. And, just past the male painted bunting, I found this apology. Apparently, when he was doing some blog renovation he lost my link in his sidebar, and it was gone for a while. I had noticed I wasn't there, but thought oh well, it's his sidebar. But it really made my day to see that he actually posted an apology about inadvertently leaving me out! That is one classy blogger. I probably would have just put the link back in and hoped no one noticed...Can you tell I have this thing about being acknowledged? Anyway, thank you Thingfish23. If God Forbid I ever make it to south Florida, I hope we can meet up. (I was in Fort Myers Beach in 1985 for spring break, that's probably the closest I'll get.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Another thing you may knot know about me

Pun intended. I am KNOT dyslexic.

Which means, although I can tie my shoes and do a decent square knot (learned it in Girl Scouts) and even a couple half hitches (most of the time), I just cannot learn knots from diagrams in books, or if I do, I have a very short memory for them. Really. Even if I do a knot successfully five times in a row, I can walk away from work for fifteen minutes, and the next time I try to do the same knot it's a disaster.

Lately part of my job involves mending fish trap nets. I have been working on faith that, when one of my coworkers lifts that very net this fall, they won't exclaim "Deb must have done this one! Look at those stupid overdone knots!" And "why was this not patched instead of just stitched together haphazardly!"

I know none of my coworkers would say this. And the muskrats will continue to chew holes in the nets no matter how elaborately they are patched. But I just wish I could learn how to do more than a figure eight and a square knot. And remember how to do them, for more than a few minutes.

I am choosing to do the smaller mesh nets, which we use for walleye fingerling harvest, because instead of tying an elaborate web of knots in those, we simply stitch in a patch of mesh. That I can do. Don't ask me to weave a net.