Friday, November 30, 2012

Pine Grosbeaks Visit the Cabin!

While at the family cabin in Lakeshore, Minn., over Thanksgiving we had some new feathered visitors: Pine Grosbeaks!

In the six winters I've been at the cabin, we've not had them in the yard, let alone lined up on the railing enjoying oilers:


They're regular visitors up at "The Shack," but it's exciting to see them this far south. The flock was all first-year birds or females, nor red males in the dozen or so birds. This one could be a male on his way to his second year molt when he'll develop his bright red feathers (note the coloring developing on its chest):


This is most likely an adult female:


The Pine Grosbeaks are just a tad larger than the Evening Grosbeaks, making them the largest of the winter finches. And, like other winter finches, they're irruptive meaning that there are years when the head south in mass numbers and this is one of those years. I'm hoping we'll have them at our Afton home, outside the Twin Cities, this winter, too!

For lovely shots of the colorful male Pine Grosbeak, check out Scott's recent blog post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Juvenile E. Kingbird Hovering



Eastern Kingbirds catch their food on the wing and often hover while chasing prey and to glean bugs. Last August, this juvenile kingbird was doing a fairly good job of capturing insects. It would hover, dip into the tall grass, soar around, hover and dip back down into the grass. After watching it for awhile I think it was doing a combination of scaring up bugs to catch, by going into the grass, as well as gleaning bugs off the vegetation.

Monday, November 12, 2012

First Snow of Season

I awoke this morning to fluffy white flakes drifting by my bedroom window. Overall, maybe 1-2" of snow cover on the ground. Just enough to make it pretty outside.

Took a break from work this afternoon to enjoy the birds in snow. We have a couple White-throated Sparrows still hanging around. This one was tucked back in one of our brush piles  - could just barely see it through all the tall grass.


Juncos are plentiful and this one was munching away on seed heads from a wild aster right outside our living room window:


Throughout our acreage we leave several brush piles for the birds to use. They provide cover and roosting spots for the birds and are always busy places:


This junco has quite a bit of reddish brown on it. I got a better look while it took the time to scratch and preen:


So glad snow is here!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hiking Baxter SP: Chimney Pond

During our trip out east in October, we spent several days exploring Baxter State Park in Maine. It's a stunning park and has an incredible story behind its founding: organized and bought by a private citizen for Maine residents to enjoy a truly wild place. ("Legacy of a Lifetime" is a great read about the founding of the park.)

We spent our first full day in the park hiking up to Chimney pond, a tarn set in a cirque with stunning Mt. Katahdin in the background (off to the right, summit not shown here).


First, let me say the grueling hike was well worth it. Second, let me say that the hike was grueling not because it was 3.3 miles "straight up" as the park officials kept touting. Nor that it's an elevation gain of more than 4,000 feet. It's because there was basically no trail. Or, Mainers have a different idea of the word "trail" than we've experienced in hiking Arizona, Colorada and our home state of Minnesota. I don't expect, or even want, a paved or groomed path, but some semblance of a path would be nice.

This is a standard section of Chimney Pond trail:


It's not a trail. It's hiking in a rock-strewn steambed. The worst part? If you're under 5'5" like I am, you're continually clambering over rocks that are taller than your knees. This does not make for a pleasant seven mile hike, nor for a fun descent.

The scenery was spectacular though and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Well, maybe two heartbeats...

It was an overcast day when we set out and about two-thirds of the way up the trail it began to snow. Our first snow of the season!


You think the above photo is of a stream? Ha. Guess again. That'd be the TRAIL. I can't imagine the trail is open in the spring, it must just gush water.

We did, however, cross over many beautiful streams and waterfalls en route:



There's a campground at Chimney Pond, right before you come to the lake. It's where I saw my first-ever wild Pine Marten. I did quite the happy dance once I got over my shock of coming face to face with one of these amazing creatures. And no, I didn't take the time to get my camera out of the backpack - some moments are just meant to be enjoyed with all your senses.

While having a snack in one of the Appalachian-style lean-tos that was vacant, we chatted with a couple from Ohio who had hit Baxter on a spur-of-the-moment road trip. When they asked if we would take a photo, Dean suggested walking over to the lake for it. They stared at us. "There's a lake up here?" Seriously. We all got a good laugh out of that.

Here's Dean at the lake:


On the way up, Lower Basin lake had been engulfed in a cloud so we kept going. On the way back down, the clouds had lifted a bit and we snapped this photo right before heavy snow began falling:


Before crossing the final footbridge into Chimney Pond campground, we left behind the first snowman of the year:


By the time we passed it on the way down, someone had added black eyes and a red piece of yarn for a smiling mouth. Gotta love your fellow hikers!