Thursday, February 26, 2009

gray jay

There is something I love about gray jays. Their buoyant, effortless flight, the way they glide in on silent wings, messengers from within the dark spruce bogs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Barefoot said it

I haven't been feeling particularly eloquent lately. I have been blaming it on the long Minnesota winter, but fellow Minnesotan Barefoot Gardener has blown that excuse right out of the water. Her latest blog post, Poetry in the Soul, is some of the best writing I have ever read. Anywhere.

Monday, February 23, 2009

the missing pictures

This is what happens when you leave a bottle of home brew out on the step overnight in 0 degree weather. I sure hate to waste good beer like that!

Common redpolls, ~8 AM

Common redpolls, ~3 PM and still eating.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday miscellany

I was going to post a really weird, funny picture of something that happened overnight, but my camera is not communicating well with the computer. So I'll leave you in suspense.

Some time today, 11:47 AM to be exact, Sand Creek Almanac had its 100,000th visitor. Hooray!

I am not a good outdoor Minnesotan. I spent the majority of the weekend indoors. I was going to go for a walk on the nicely crusted-over snow in our woods, but it was a bit windy and chilly and the walk just never materialized. I'm waiting for a sunny, calm 30 degree day for my outdoor fun.

Instead, I played banjo. I realized I was hitting a rut with that instrument, thinking I would maybe have to drive to the cities for a lesson, but today I went through my books and found a few songs I could maybe learn. I tried a few, and assigned myself two of them to learn within a week. I need to get back into the groove of practicing.

My bird feeders are being visited by about a hundred common redpolls, and I am going through an incredible amount of Nyjer seed every day. I had pictures of that too, but...oh well.

I'll try to get this camera thing resolved soon!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Northern hawk owls

The Sax Zim Bog is well known as the place to see northern owl species in Minnesota in winter. Even when there isn't a spectacular owl irruption like in the winter of 2004-2005, great gray owls and northern hawk owls are regularly seen around the bog. Mike Hendrickson, organizer of the Winter Bird Festival, has been posting maps of owl sightings in Minnesota this winter on his blog, Colder By The Lake. Many of these sightings are concentrated in and around the Sax Zim bog. I'm not sure if that's because there are in fact more owls there, or if it's because that's where people tend to go to look for owls. Northern Minnesota has extensive areas of coniferous forests and open lowlands, where these owls like to hang out, so I suspect there are many more owls in remote areas that go unseen by humans.

On a cold winter day, however, it is nice to ride around in a school bus and see birds from the road. Lynne and I spent Saturday riding around the bog, occasionally stopping at feeding stations. We saw white winged crossbills, pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks, a bald eagle, common and hoary redpolls (see Lynne's post for some great photos!), gray jays, black capped chickadees, and at last, my first-ever boreal chickadee.

We stopped by this abandoned farmstead when someone spotted a speck in a treetop across the field. Spotting scopes were set up, and after much discussion it was decided the speck was definitely northern hawk owl-shaped. In the meantime, we saw a northern shrike. I stayed in the bus because my feet were freezing...long story. When you're birding in northern Minnesota in winter, it is never a good idea to wear athletic shoes, even if you do have wool socks. But I sacrificed my warm boots to Calvin so his feet wouldn't freeze when his class went ice fishing on Friday. Good mom, right?

The bus didn't get a quarter mile down the road when someone spotted a northern hawk owl in a tree very close to the road!

I was happy to get such a good look at this one. Before last weekend, I had only seen a northern hawk owl once before, in 2005, and I didn't get to see it close up. On this trip I got good looks at three northern hawk owls, including one near Hasty Brook. The great gray owls were being more secretive; not a one was spotted during the festival, although some individuals were seen that week. Oh well, birding is never a sure thing!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

female pine grosbeak

The bright red males usually get all the attention, but isn't she pretty with her gray body and rusty head?

This photo was taken Saturday at a feeding station along Arkola Road in the Sax Zim bog.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sax Zim Festival, Part 1

After being sick for the majority of the week, I was starting to have doubts about whether I would be up for a whole weekend of birding. I was never officially diagnosed, but I think I had the flu which was trying to morph into pneumonia, until I found the magic pills on Thursday.

I was glad Lynne was driving for the weekend. The flu just kind of knocks you out, so even when you feel better it ain't all that great. She picked me up around 1 on Friday, and I got to give her a tour of our new living quarters, which she saw last year in a much more primitive state, when we were not living there. I suggested the scenic route to Duluth, and we had a good drive. Really, I get nervous around people but Lynne is definitely someone I can relax with and enjoy some good conversation.

We got to our motel across from the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth, checked in, then proceeded to Meadowlands some forty minutes away. We got there with plenty of time to check in, buy sweatshirts (I'm wearing mine right now; they are so comfortable!) and find good seats for the evening presentation. The speaker for the night was Larry Weber, a retired science teacher who does a weekly radio program for the morning show on KUMD, my favorite radio station.

Little did I know, with a strange twist of fate we got to sit with Larry during dinner! He is a fascinating person. One of the things I like about his radio show is, the colder it gets, the more enthusiastic he gets about nature. It is all genuine. He really does get up and go for a walk at 5 AM every day...and here in Minnesota, that's quite an accomplishment. His program was accompanied by old fashioned slides... no PowerPoint here!

The program was over about 8:30, and given the 45 minute drive to our motel, and the 6:30 bus boarding time the next day, we had no time to relax. We were about to go look for some serious birds in the morning.

Monday, February 16, 2009

test nuthatch

I'm just testing Picasa Web Albums here. I was frustrated to the point of shouting obscenities with the photo editing and sharing software provided by the makers of the two digital cameras we have, so I downloaded Picasa 3. So far, so good. Now maybe editing my Sax Zim photos will go more smoothly.

This picture was also taken to test my skills with the Kodak EasyShare Z760 before I took it to Sax Zim. I have mostly been using a Canon PowerShot A540 for the photos on this blog, but the zoom capabilities are limited. I don't know why I haven't used the Kodak more often. Oh yeah, the EasyShare software is a pain. I like the results I get with the camera though, so I think from now on it will be my default camera.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

back from the bog

Good birds. Good times. And yes, there just do happen to be deer rib cages hanging from trees every now and then. The gray jays and boreal chickadees like it.

More later. I just arrived home and had a wonderful salmon anniversary dinner with cheesecake and Merlot to top it off. That, and the fact that I had to wake up at 4:30 this morning (to see something absolutely amazing, and sort of out of season!), makes me kind of woozy.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I finally feel good this morning. Yesterday I cheated and took some penicillin that we had lying around here, and two hours later my fever was gone and I actually felt alive. If I had gone to the doctor I would probably have had to pay the $22 copay, $150 deductible, with no guarantee of getting anything more than advice to rest, drink fluids, etc.

It's a beautiful sunny day, and I'm off to Sax Zim in a few hours with Lynne! I hope to share a picture of a boreal chickadee, or gray jay, or northern hawk owl when I get back! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

still resting up...

Just a quick note to say I'm home again today, still not feeling quite right. I've been resting, drinking lots of fluids, and trying to let a fever run its course every now and then before I snuff it out with ibuprofen so I can sleep. I am determined, however, to be feeling better by tomorrow so I can make it to the Sax Zim Winter Birding Festival with Lynne of Hasty Brook!

I'm getting bored. I've watched nearly all the Cheers and Northern Exposure I can handle. I finally have the TV to myself, only to realize in hundreds of channels of satellite TV there is really nothing on. Well, except maybe Sponge Bob.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

You're up one day, the next you're down

That's the way that the world goes round
You're up one day, the next you're down
It's a half an inch of water and you think you're gonna drown
But that's the way that the world goes round

-John Prine

I was going to write last weekend about how amazingly good I felt physically. I went out running both Saturday and Sunday right after sunset, which I have decided is my favorite time to run, at least this time of year. I spent some time outdoors Sunday afternoon catching pitches for Calvin. I sat cross legged on my yoga mat, playing Irish tunes on flute. I felt positively giddy.

Then on Monday I started coughing and could not stop. Today, Wednesday, I still feel pretty miserable; in fact I should be in bed right now. Oh well, maybe something's trying to tell me I need some down time. I spent yesterday sleeping and watching Cheers and Northern Exposure DVD's on the laptop computer. I also watched the huge flock of redpolls at the feeder, and I think maybe, just maybe, I saw one hoary redpoll mixed in with the common ones. But how do you know when redpolls are constantly in motion, flying off into the trees at the least little cue?

I listened to most of Obama's press conference the other night. All I can say is, I have a lot of respect for the man for taking on this enormous mess we're in. I just wish Congress would heed his pleas to end the bipartisan bickering! I heard one Republican congressman use the term "our side" to describe voting on the economic stimulus package. We're all in this together folks. There is no "us" and "them". We're not still in high school throwing a pep rally for the big game against "them". It's our country's future at stake, not the future of the Democratic or Republican or Green or Pink or Purple Party. Not that I agree with everything about the stimulus package, and I don't know enough about economics to know if it will work or not, but then again, does anyone?

I do like some of the things Obama is talking about, like making our buildings more energy efficient. I think it is insane to build any structure that is going to waste energy in its everyday functioning. But I felt it was ironic he was speaking in Elkhart, Indiana, the RV capitol of the USA. Is it really about getting back on track and fixing credit so Americans can start buying gas guzzling behemoths again? Where does the question "how much is enough?" enter the picture? Can we expect the economy to grow indefinitely, without eventually killing its host?

We need a paradigm shift here. And I don't think Obama, or any mere mortal, can single handedly accomplish that.

Just the ramblings of a sick woman here. Time for some more Northern Exposure.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dirty Snow Moon

I didn't see the full moon last night. I think the entire state of Minnesota was shrouded in thick rain clouds that kept the cold air out and sent intermittent downbursts of rain pushed by gusts of wind. This morning the snow level is down considerably, revealing all that was covered up and forgotten when the first layer of snow fell.

It was strange to hear the wind and rain on the roof last night. Both Starflower and Mr. Attitude were awakened by it and came to me for reassurance. After months of winter quiet, the wind and rain had the restless sound of a giant creature awakening. Spring is on its way.

I am staying home today. I could use the rest, and I figured my coworkers could use a day without me coughing and hacking in the same room.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

redpoll rescue

Just when I thought I had absolutely nothing to blog about, except for whining about the 24 hour flu bug that kept me in bed all day yesterday with Sally and Bloof--and you really didn't want to hear the details of that now did you?--something amazing happens.

It was time to leave for work and school with Mr. Attitude. He hasn't been too keen on waking up for the 6:50 bus lately, so I let him sleep in until 7:10 and drop him off on my way to work. Just as he was getting his socks on by the woodstove, I heard:

"Mom, there's a bird on the ground outside the window!"

I ran to take a look. There was indeed a common redpoll that looked like it had flown into the window. We haven't had too many bird/window collisions here; our feeders are far enough away from the patio door that birds tend not to mistake window reflections for open space.

I went outside to check on it. As I gently picked it up, it made a loud, complaining noise I've never heard from a redpoll. That was a good sign. Its neck, wings and legs looked like they were supposed to, and its eyes were open. It was just stunned, and it would probably be okay after resting up a bit.

My camera just happened to be in the car, a few steps away, and of course I thought: "Bloggable moment!"

I was amazed at how tiny this bird was; no more than a golf ball sized bit of feathers with wings, head and tail. I've seen huge flocks of common redpolls at the feeders lately, but never had the chance to examine one up close. This is a female; she does not have any pink on her breast like the males.

I could have left the bird by the seed tray in the first rays of morning sun and it may have been all right, but there was one problem. We have a few outdoor cats that hang around here, and one of them would likely have made a meal of a sluggish bird. Mr. Attitude and The Hermit insisted that they did not want that to happen, so I found a shoe box, lined it with some paper towels, and put the bird inside. Mr. Attitude carried the box on his lap on the way to school, all the while checking on it while I told him about redpolls. The little bird was alert and sitting up by the time we got to school.

When I got to work I found a spot near the edge of the parking lot where there were trees nearby. I set the box on the ground, opened it up, and the redpoll took one look and flew into the trees. More than likely there are a few flocks of redpolls at feeders in town here, and I hope this bird finds them. I think it will; these birds are wired to hang out in groups.

A redpoll by itself isn't really significant. Or is it? The great words of our times carry a message:

That which you do unto the least of these, you have done unto me. -Jesus

No act of kindness, however small, is ever forgotten. -Aesop

I am proud of Mr. Attitude for his kind heart.