Saturday, March 27, 2010

hooded mergansers

These three sharp looking guys were cruising the pond this morning.

Friday, March 26, 2010

the day Sally dreams of all winter

The day the pond is free of ice, and Mom beckons, when she comes home from work, with the magic word: POND! It's enough to send Sally into a frenzy.

I also had to supervise some lawn tractor driving. Starflower and Calvin are getting pretty good at it. I have promised Mr. Attitude that I will give him lessons. When I'm ready.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

spring sightings

The pond is almost ice free. I would say totally but it's supposed to get pretty cold tonight so more ice will form. And the culvert under the driveway is still plugged by ice or something else. No more water has entered the equation, and there is not significant rain in the forecast, so I'm just hoping it thaws soon.

Today I finally spotted a pair of sandhill cranes flying, while I was commuting home. Kestrels have arrived, and northern harriers once again amaze me with their beautiful, effortless flight. And I saw the first turkey vulture soaring above the town of Sandstone today. Turkey vultures make me think of Lynne. Not that she's a "vulture" in the sense of the popular definition, far from it, she is a beautiful, fun, caring person who happens to have a personal affinity for the oft maligned turkey vulture. I like them too.

My lawn tractor arrived yesterday. I took it out for a spin, and I admit John Deeres are pretty nice. Calvin and Starflower have been taking turns driving it around the yard. I hope the enthusiasm continues once I assign them various tracts of land to keep mowed this summer!

At work, I have been practicing the Zen of fish net mending. It is really kind of fun once you learn how to do it right. Fun, that is, unless one is subjected to a radio station blaring '80s rock music, or political discussions between my coworkers. I forgot to bring my iPod today. I will definitely remember tomorrow.

Our blessedly warm March is turning colder for a few days. That will give me an excuse to not go running. I have not been feeling the running bug lately. Same with music. On one level it irritates me that I can't seem to rise beyond that, but on another level maybe I need to take it easy and approach it again in a few days. Whatever. I wish I, like the kids, had a week's spring break to look forward to after tomorrow. I'll take a couple days off if work doesn't heat up. If it's just net mending, it can wait.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

what a few stitches cost

Did you know a trip to the emergency room for stitches costs 700 dollars?

I got the bill for Starflower's recent incident the other day, and it nearly blew my mind. I knew we were talking at least a couple hundred bucks, but wow.

I was grateful for the bottom line: "Expected insurance coverage = 100%", although I knew better. We have not met our deductible for the year, so we will have to pay about $150. Still, I am more fortunate than a lot of folks in that my job provides health insurance.

While I think a lot needs to be done in the way of cost containment, personal responsibility, and defining why it is that people need to be on so many prescription medications anyway, I am glad this nation has finally taken a big step towards providing affordable health care for most, and guaranteeing that those who need it most will not lose it. After all, stitches happen, despite our best efforts at prevention. Although maybe next time I'll do them myself! (Taking them out myself saved us/insurance at least a $120 doctor visit.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Well, I guess I don't feel all that different. Better than I have in years, in a lot of ways. My forties have been a lot more fun that my thirties. I think wisdom finally comes around 40. Or so it was for me.

Guess what I got for my birthday? A LAWN TRACTOR!!! No, actually it wasn't my gift, we just happened to have bought it this morning. It will be delivered Wednesday. Even though we don't have any mowable grass yet, I can't wait!!! Our last one kicked the bucket over two years ago.

Monday, March 15, 2010

dude, where's my culvert?

I think I can say unequivocally that ice skating season is over. Actually this year we did not get out skating once. The ice formed, then enough snow fell before the ice was thick enough to support its weight so there was slush. Then slush froze into hard bumps that even the best Zamboni would not be able to resurface.

The ice has been retreating at a pace unusual for March. The weather lately has been a blessing for a winter weary soul (and a blessing for our heating bill, which could use a break). Yesterday and today above 60 degrees = unbelievable (but very likable). I think after the last few years we deserve a March like this.

This fast meltdown and runoff has posed a bit of a problem though, and it's not just the mud in the driveway, which may go away sooner than normal if this continues. The problem is, the pond is at record high water levels. That means that at some point, water is not flowing out of the pond.

This is a view directly below the pond outflow culvert. So water is flowing through that one fine. But there is another culvert, underneath our driveway. There is lots of water above the driveway, but little below. A-ha.

I decided to investigate this matter today instead of going for a run. The pond outflow runs north through the outflow culvert and the driveway culvert. This is an important fact: The driveway shades the outflow below it so that thawing happens more slowly. I entered the ditch north of the driveway, and at first could not even see any sign of a culvert. Then, as I examined more closely, I saw, just above the surface of an ice pack, a curved form that looked like the top of a culvert. I chipped out some ice with a heavy spud bar (ice chisel) and it did indeed appear to be the culvert I was looking for.

I continued to chip away at the ice, thinking perhaps I could break through. I could have broken through, with unlimited strength. The ice was still sturdy and unrelenting, and finally I gave up with the idea that I had speeded the process. Just a little.

I am not too concerned at this point. Most of the snow has melted, and the pond is as high as it is going to get. Unless, of course, we get a couple inches of rain in one night. Then maybe we would be faced with a driveway washed away, unable to drive anywhere, huge excavating bill to get things back to normal. Nope. Don't even want to go there.

Hopefully another day or two of this wonderful weather will resolve the problem.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Amazing Grace

The other day I had a rare moment alone in our acoustically wonderful house, and my flute was in my hands. The recorder was also nearby, so I turned it on and started playing an old favorite tune.

I think I played it better than I ever have.

I learned this version of "Amazing Grace" when I was a senior in college. The flute section played this in unison as part of our program for our band tour to Arizona and California. I have since played it many times at church services. I have played it at three funerals: my grandpa's, my great uncle's, and my mom's.

This is one of those tunes that just transcends everything.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

the hill run

I have been easing myself back into running for the last week or so, and it feels great to be out there on the thawing gravel road right around sunset. Today I took a turn from my usual run, which is relatively flat, and climbed up some 70 feet of glacial moraine terrain in the first half. 70 feet might not sound like much to you mountain dwellers, but it provided a challenging workout for me. And I was up to the challenge! 3.2 miles total, and I didn't think of checking the clock when I went out but it was well under an hour.

High temps in the 40's predicted all week, with lows above freezing and maybe rain tomorrow. Snow is disappearing fast, and mud is everywhere. Welcome Spring!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sunday night unwinding

I am recovering from another Sunday drive. The Hermit signed the boys up for a baseball clinic that meets for six Sunday afternoons...100 miles away from here in a suburb of Minneapolis. Furthermore, the boys need to provide their own catcher, and since The Hermit isn't quite up to squatting, kneeling, and everything else a catcher does, that would be me. They are receiving great instruction in the fundamentals of pitching. I am learning a lot too, and gaining a lot of respect for pitchers, and catchers. But when all is said and done, it eats up seven hours of a Sunday. Only two weeks left.

I want to thank everyone who contributed to I and the Bird 120, and everyone who came by to read it. It was fun putting the whole thing together, and I was able to reconnect with some old birding blogger friends and meet a few new ones.

I have my own budding young birder here. Mr. Attitude spotted three ruffed grouse in an aspen tree at twilight last night, and a short time later told me about a strange noise he heard in the woods. That noise just happened to be the saw-whet owl that's been calling for the last week! I showed him a picture of the owl in a bird book, then I presented him with a copy of a bird guide specifically written for kids. That book was a gift from a blogging friend, Cindy Mead, and unfortunately I don't have a link to her blog handy right now. Mr. Attitude sat right down and started reading. I would tell you of what he thought about the Roseate Spoonbill, but that is another post in itself, a post I hope to write this week!

Today on the way to baseball camp Mr. Attitude and I noticed several bald eagles and several red tailed hawks. We also saw a flock of crows mobbing a red tailed hawk.

I haven't had as much time for music as I would like, but in a rare moment when I had the house to myself I turned on the recorder and cranked out possibly the best version I have ever played on flute of an old favorite song. I will make it into a video so I can post it here.

Mud season is here. I can't complain about the weather, it's been sunny with highs in the 40's this last week, and it's expected to continue, but our driveway is becoming its annual mess. With a plan we have made, however, this will be the last year of impassable conditions on our driveway.

Our newest chickens have been stepping up egg production. It's nice to have three dozen fresh eggs in the fridge!

A week ago Saturday night, I was in the emergency room with Starflower as she got stitches above her right eyebrow. She and Mr. Attitude were messing around in Calvin's room, and next thing I knew she had hit her head. These things happen; now all three have had stitches and/or staples. Yesterday I took it upon myself to remove the stitches. It's not that difficult; convincing a kid that you know what you are doing (even when you don't) is the hardest part! That, and I could have used a pair of reading glasses. My eyes ain't what they used to be! But despite my visual shortcomings, everything turned out fine.

We now have a soprano saxophone player in the house. Calvin has played alto sax in the band for two and a half years, and out of the blue he started telling me he would like to try soprano sax. Cool! That has always been one of my favorite instruments. So I talked with the band director last week, and he just happened to have one available for Calvin to try out. He brought it home over the weekend, and I even got to have a little fun with it.

That's about all I can think of now. So many thoughts, so little time.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I and the Bird #120: March

Welcome to this week’s edition of I and the Bird. Since the name of my blog, Sand Creek Almanac, is a twist of the title of Aldo Leopold’s classic, A Sand County Almanac, and it is March, let us begin with Leopold’s musings on March:

One swallow does not make the summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring…a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.

– Aldo Leopold, essay “March” from A Sand County Almanac, 1949, Oxford University Press

Here in Minnesota, USA, March is a month of limbo. The calendar says winter is over, but we know spring won’t arrive until at least mid April, when our 10,000+ lakes finally emerge from a covering of ice. A warm sunny day is as much a possibility as a blizzard or a cold frosty night. We may peel off a layer or two of clothing, but we don’t pack away the long underwear…yet. (We’re saving it for the first Twins baseball game in their new outdoor ballpark!)

Perhaps it is because I was born on the day of the vernal equinox, but I find March to be the most hopeful month of the year. I listen for the first joyful honking of Canada geese. I eagerly anticipate the first sighting of a male red winged blackbird staking out his marshy territory. Although robins overwinter in some scattered areas, my first March sighting of a robin is a cause for celebration. The pair of sandhill cranes that nest in the shrubby wetland by Sand Creek near my house raucously announce their arrival in the latter part of the month. Just the other night I was thrilled to hear the call of a northern saw-whet owl. The cycle of life continues.

Bird bloggers seem to embody this spirit of March hopefulness year round. Whether they travel great distances to enjoy seeing new species, or delight in the drama in their own back yards, birders are aware and open to the wonder that is always present in life. I am pleased to present another fine collection of bird blogging!

In the Backyard

Jayne has the privilege to see a raptor in her backyard regularly, and she shows how the red shouldered hawk got its name!

Amber's Texas bird lounge took on a wintery look, attracting many visitors!

Another Texan, Kay, shows that if you build it (or fill up your feeders and baths) they will come!

There are two lessons to be learned from The Geek In Question: 1) Sometimes a bird will wait while you run inside to get your camera, and 2) Your mother in law can wait--photos like these are worth it!

March means it's time for spring cleaning, and even Carolina chickadees are getting into the spirit! Thanks Alan!

The Grizzled but still Incorrigible Scribe Himself (perhaps the longest Blogger handle ever) lives and writes by a river in Ohio. He is a newcomer to I and the Bird, and I introduce you to him via his observations of great blue herons fishing-Wow! Can they EAT!

Close to Home

RuthieJ, a fellow Minnesotan who knits, birds, and writes about it at Nature Knitter, takes us on a Sunday drive by the Mississippi River.

JSK had an opportunity to zero in and identify some ring necked ducks on a local river.

Of course, when your home is an RV, everywhere is close to home! Dawn's latest home is in Arizona where she went on a quest for a rare visitor.

And, was anyone in the USA and Canada NOT watching the final Olympic hockey game? Wanderin' Weeta and I were perhaps the only two. She found a great opportunity for an uncrowded beach walk.

Travels with Birders

Aimophila Adventures goes to Kootenai Lake, and the owl he found is way too cute.

Laura escaped this year's brutal New Jersey winter temporarily for sunny Florida.

Carrie went on an owl prowl in Canada, and let me tell you, this is one of those blogging moments when the telling of the tale is as sweet as the destination!

Mike Bergin, while in Ecuador, got up close and personal with some antpittas. What's an antpitta? I've learned so much from hosting this carnival!

The Horned Guan. It's a bird that requires tremendous physical exertion, careful planning, and a lot of luck to see. Nate gave it his best.

Birds in the News

It seems this ivory billed woodpecker thing won't go away, even after five years. Grrlscientist wonders about this "faith based birding", and asks if we shouldn't maybe spend our time and money on birds that are proven to still exist.

We know corvids are intelligent birds, but is there a limit to their problem solving ability? And do the corvids really care? John at A DC Birding Blog reports on the latest research.

Birds Up Close- Photos and observations

What's a shikra? Otherwise known as the little banded goshawk, it is a beautiful bird that looks a lot like the northern goshawk I sometimes see here. Thomas at Nature Magnified, of Karimannoor, India, gives us the details.

I don't think I've ever had a bird give me the evil eye, but it sounds like the yellow eyed junco would do it. BEWARE! Alison of IBIS tells us how to ID this bird of high altitudes.

Pileated woodpeckers. I love 'em. And by my unofficial poll, they are the most-often mentioned species in this IATB edition. Adrian at Voyages Around My Camera gives a good account of these giants of the woodpecker family.

Kestrels are another sign of spring where I live. Thanks to Moe of for showing one in its striking beauty.

I used to listen to Marsh Wrens singing at night at a house I lived in that to a marsh. I never knew they built such elaborate nests! Thank you Larry for the details and photos.

Birds in Dreams

Yes. I do dream about birds sometimes. And sometimes I can't remember if it was a dream or reality. Our dreams reflect aspects of our lives. So what do these dream birds represent?

Birds and Life

Sometimes an everyday walk can provide extraordinary moments. Often birds provide the gateway to those moments. Have I mentioned pileated woodpeckers already? They cannot be mentioned enough. Robin never fails to notice these wonderful moments in nature.

A beautiful tribute to an eagle that stole Vicki's, and no doubt many others' hearts. Fly free, Spirit.

Looking towards the future, a mom writes about birds, feathering the nest, and the little milestones of childhood.

Thanks to all for being out there and sharing it with everyone! Next edition is at Birder's Lounge!