Thursday, January 8, 2015

Snowy Goldfinches

Today's one of those beautiful snowy days where the snow is continually falling and blowing around. Our feeders are packed and I thought I'd take the opportunity to snap a couple goldfinch photos:

They remind me of my grandma. Seriously. She had this old fur coat that she used to bundle up in the winter and it was the exact tawny color of the goldfinches at this time of year. She was really petite, only 4'9", and she'd tuck her head down in it and shiver. Funny how some things just pull up memories...

There are a couple goldfinches that haven't quite lost all their "gold" yet:

Hope you and your backyard friends are having a great start to 2015!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Solar Eclipse Over Afton Farm Fields

Yesterday evening I drove down the road running south of us to watch the sun disappear on the horizon. I hadn't thought about it at the time, but digital cameras are great for watching eclipses. Just turn on your viewing screen and you're all set!

It was a beautiful sunset and incredibly cool to see the sun,with a bite taken out of the upper left corner, disappear from view over the farm fields.

Hope you all had a chance to watch the eclipse as well!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Back to Camp

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to take my annual fall camping getaway after this summer's "extended" trip. Thankfully I have a wonderful boss who said "sure, go ahead!"

My annual trip to the far northeast corner of Minnesota's Arrowhead is a much-needed recharge after a traditionally crazy spring/summer work schedule. All these photos are from my trip earlier this summer. This is a view of the west side of "my" campsite, looking west over the lake and my favorite reading spot.

In my last post I mentioned that my trip with my mom had several days added to it due to overly ambitious beavers. There is a single gravel road going in and out of the campground (and that's a very generous term, there are only three no-service sites on the lake) and beavers have apparently moved into the slough on the south side of the road, approximately 4 miles before you get to camp, building a new dam across the slough's main outlet.

Days of rain led to a swamped road that was impassable for my XC70 Volvo. The water was mid-thigh (yes, we made the trek out to the "Big Muddy" daily to wade it in hopes that the level was dropping). Since the campground's off-grid no one knew we were stuck until we miracuously picked up a data signal one day. No phone but data, go figure. I was able to text a friend who called my boss and my partner Dean to let them know why we weren't home before the signal disappeared. We never got it back.

In the meantime we enjoyed reading, playing cards, hiking, kayaking and watching the area wildlife. During one kayak a juvenile Bald Eagle plunged from a tree and opened its wings so close overhead I heard the deep "boof" of them snapping open. On another one we watched dozens of Cedar Waxwings lining the cove dive and swoop after hatching mayflies, snatching them just feet above the water, right over our heads.

This is looking west late in the day so the lighting isn't the greatest, but I love the feel of the image:

A lot of people don't realize how dense loon feathers are. And all throughout their bodies, not just on their underside. If you ever have a chance to hold a loon you'll be amazed at how much they feel like a plush toy. Here's a closer look so you can see the layers upon layers of feathers in the wings:

Birds included the Chestnut-sided Warblers that I mentioned in my earlier post and this nesting Mourning Warbler that fluttered about every time we hiked past its nest:

Mom was a trooper through it all and even gamely laughed when I suggested needing to eat tree bark if the water didn't drop. We started every morning by walking with our coffee to the huge rock outcropping that overlooks the lake, facing south for that much-needed morning warmth (nights were in the low 40s and we were tenting). Here's mom and my oldest dog, Panzer, enjoying the morning sun:

We saw beautiful wild flowers on our hikes and kayaks. The Blue Flag Irises were in bloom everywhere:

Four days later than expected, we finally made it through, white-knuckled with our foglamps underwater.  Thankfully the Volvo survived.

Once we were out of camp, we did a whirlwind tour of the sights I'd been hoping to gradually explore with mom. Portage Brook Falls is a hidden gem on the Arrowhead Trail. I've only run into other hikers there once in the seven years I've been visiting it.

On the way back we stopped off at Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior just in time to watch a massive fog bank roll in:

For the next couple weeks I'll be back up here with the dogs enjoying the area and hopefully not being stranded by beavers  (the DNR blows the beaver dams when they start undermining the roads). Poor Dean is still in his busy season but hopefully he'll be able to join me for a weekend. (hey, someone has to work!)

In the meantime I'll schedule some posts of other sights from the area so you can "vacation" with me. Looking forward to catching up with all of you when I return!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Chestnut-sided Warblers at Camp

While my mom was here visiting from Florida we headed north to my favorite camping spot, way up in the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead, just a few miles from Canada as the raven flies.

That trip, which was much longer than expected due to the single road being flooded by an overly ambitious beaver, is worthy of its own post, but for now I'll share images of a friendly Chestnut-sided Warbler that was just down the gravel road from our site.

Chestnut-sideds really are beautiful birds - they look handpainted to me.

There was a pair nesting in a clump of alders just off the road. We didn't look for the nest so as to not stress the birds, but we did enjoy watching them frantically flying back and forth as they collected bugs for their hungry youngsters.

I love their mustached face from the front:

After some time away I'm very happy to be reuniting with other bird lovers for Wild Bird Wednesday. Be sure to check out their posts, too!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Racket-tailed Emerald

I just submitted my first record to Odanata Central. (for someone who doesn't keep any type of "life list" this is a pretty big step!)

This female Racket-tailed Emerald is pretty common but as far as I can tell only three other records have been submitted for Cook County, Minnesota and they are museum specimens from 1970. We found this one while hiking during a July camping trip in the Grand Portage State Forest.

Overall, Racket-tailed Emeralds are found throughout the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada and frequent lakes and boggy areas. The ID points on this one are the slightly bisected yellow band and a clear forewing triangle (no cross-vein). They land more frequently than other emeralds which, according to one of my reference books, "makes them the most easily-photographed Emerald."

I'm still happy that I got a nice photograph of one before it darted off after one of the millions of blackflies that were swarming around us!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Juvenile Green Heron

Today I released two rehabilitated juvenile Green Herons that had been raised in the WRC Avian Nursery. They flew to a tree on an island and eyeballed the people who had gathered to watch the release. Very nice of them. So many people go their entire lives without seeing these small, somewhat elusive herons. Live well young herons!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Yellow Warblers at the Cabin

Just a quick post before I hit the road, returning to the Twin Cities after a fun-filled weekend with friends and family.

I was thrilled to find more than four different pairs of Yellow Warblers flitting through the birch, oak and pine trees at the cabin. Looked as if there were several fledglings with them as well. Very fun to see!

Hope you're all having a great summer and enjoying the nature that surrounds you.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Juvenile House Wren Study

Who doesn't love baby birds? They're amazingly cute and very, very hungry.

Right off our stoop is a nest of House Wrens. They've been growing louder and louder for the past two weeks and started poking their heads out a few days ago. I've been hoping to get photos and today they obliged.

The parent wrens, who must be absolutely exhausted by now, are attempting to lure the baby wrens out of the house by moving farther and farther away while holding food.

The baby wrens beg and beg until the parent wren capitulates and comes to the perch to feed them.

Hopefully I'll be around when they fledge. Wishing you a wonderful baby bird season!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snowy Cardinal

I was amazed at the colors in this when I saw it onscreen. You know how you snap a photo, think "oh, this might be good" but really don't know until you open it up? I had no idea it captured the "glowing" aspect of the cardinal - was so excited when I saw this. No filters, no nothing, just sheer luck.

I took this in the evening during a heavy snow a couple weeks ago. The cardinals were sheltering in our large white pine that's just yards from a feeding station. The branch this one is sitting on sticks out farther than the rest, so it gave a nice brightness in the forefront with the background being in shadow. You can almost feel the silent denseness of the fresh snow in it.

Hope all of you have at least one "wow" moment this snowy winter (even those of you battling the snow down south!).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

White-tailed Deer

Bird feeders attract more than birds! One of my favorite visitors are the White-tailed Deer that frequent our yard.

These images were taken up at the family cabin in Lakeshore, Minn. I love how the setting sun creates a nice soft glow in the background with the birch trees. It's even coloring the deer's fur on her neck.

I found the shot below pretty interesting. It was taken five minutes after the first shot, from a different angle. The setting sun actually has created a bit of an orange halo along the top and right side of her head. The funny thing? The sun is setting to her left, not her right as it appears, and there's nothing really for it to reflect from on the right side - other than the snow. Pretty neat!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cooper's Hawk Profile

One of my favorite images of the juvenile Cooper's Hawk who has been hanging out in our yard. I love the soft diffusion of light that the white pine boughs create in the background.

I'm away on my northwoods camping trip. Unplugged, off grid, just enjoying nature  :-)  Thank you for visiting my blog - I'll reply to comments when I return in a few weeks!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dragonfly and Dahlia

A favorite "summer" image of a female White-faced Meadowhawk in my garden.

I'm up north, unplugged and enjoying nature. Thanks for visiting while I'm gone! I look forward to catching up with you and your blog in early October.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not Your Usual Yard Birds

I always love migration. You just never know what's going to pop up in the yard. First, I should say that "yard" for us means roughly a half acre of grass, the rest is one acre of in-process prairie restoration and 3.5 acres of mixed hardwoods and pines. It makes for fabulous bird watching.

We had two visitors this week within 15 minutes of each other that had me running for my camera.

When I caught a glimpse of the first bird my initial thought was "Curve-billed Thrasher??? WHAT?" Trust me, there's a good explanation for why I'd pop a bird from the American Southwest into Minnesota. We've raised one in our Avian Nursery at WRC. Yep. It caught a ride on a trailer hitch for nearly 600 miles before the people found it. It's hopping a ride back to Arizona tomorrow so it's been on my mind lately. But that's a whole different story... the point of this is that the curved bill is what caught my attention through the apple tree:

Turns out it's a juvenile Yellow-billed Cuckoo. (not a Curve-billed Thrasher... go figure!)

The second cool bird was this Blue-headed Vireo:

From a front view you can get a better look at its signature "spectacles:"

While Blue-headed Vireos nest up north in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, the Yellow-billed Cuckoos nest in my area. But I've never seen one in our yard before.

You can tell it's a juvenile by its bright yellow orbital ring. The ring will begin greying next spring. Here's a closer look at its eye:

Note the cuckoo is actually panting. We've had an extremely hot run of weather and are in the middle of drought. Both birds came down to bird baths that we have in our yard. Water is an equally important draw as bird feeders. Without water I probably never would've had these birds come so close to the house.

While the cuckoo has a long migration ahead of it (all the way down to South America) the vireo will actually stay in North and Central America for the winter.

Both birds glean insects from tree branches. A great reason to keep a pesticide-free habitat!

Check out other neat migration birds and photos from all over the world via Wild Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flamenco: Cooper's Style

Every year we have Cooper's Hawks nest in our east pine trees. And every year they mercilessly pick off our birds at the bird feeders.

A juvenile has been hanging out in the yard  for nearly a month and the other day I took the opportunity to spend time photographing it.

What did I learn from this? Apparently Cooper Hawks know how to do the Flamenco. Or at least this one does.

A little stretching first:

Limber up that neck:

Warm up those legs:

Flamenco Right!

and Flamenco Left!

Crouch down

and full leg extension!

 And a final, humble bow:

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Head over to Stewart's page for Wild Bird Wednesday to enjoy other fun and beautiful bird posts. (and feel free to kick up your heels on the way over...)