In the middle of the day today I saw a biggish bird fly over our house from the front to the back. I thought, by the color and size, that it was a mourning dove - we have lots of those. But then my daughter called for me to look out the back window. There was a hawk there in one of the trees, quite close to the house - and the birdfeeders, which I'm sure were the attraction of that perch. It was, I believe, a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk. It could, perhaps, have been a broad-winged hawk - I wish I were better at hawk ids. Anyway - here is a through-the-window photo of the bird, just before it took off and flew out of sight.
sharpie (Accipiter striatus)
My afternoon walk was late today - after sunset, but before the light was all gone. There were some lovely clouds colored by the last few rays of light.
Yesterday we had loads of rain. NOAA says just over an inch, but it felt like more - I suppose because of all the snow melting along with the falling rain. Temps reached the high 50's around here, and my stream is really rushing. Today is still warm - in the 40's - and mostly sunny.
The other thing I noticed yesterday is that it was still not quite dark at 5pm, and on a rainy day! That is inspiring.
I've gotten interested in blue jays this winter, for no particular reason. I've always liked their color scheme, and they are such brash birds that it is hard not to notice them. I don't have any good photos of my own, but I'll bet that anyone who has spent much time east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. or southern Canada knows what a blue jay is. They are pretty smart birds, and are cousins of crows. And they certainly are pretty, in a showy kind of way.
You know those eggshells that don't compost very well? Blue jays will eat them in the wintertime. Just cook them, to kill any possible salmonella virus, and crush them up and sprinkle them on the snow. I stick them in the microwave for a minute or two (depending on how many shells I have), and hard-boiled egg shells are all ready to go.
In the Thornton Burgess books, Peter Rabbit thinks Sammy Jay looks like a little piece of sky that flew down to earth. Good reading, by the way, and more educational than one might think at first glance.
I had a small flock of red-wing blackbirds at my feeders this morning. I've never seen that before. I always think of spring as being on its way when I hear them calling in late winter, but here they are now. And I can definitely tell the upswing of the light in the mornings now. It's really winter, and spring will come in good time - enjoy the snow!
My yard is full of robins - a flock of them. Yes, a flock of American robins (Turdus migratorius). Their orange feathers show brightly on a gray wiinter day here. Robins don't migrate around here - well, they might move to a different location, but it is not a true migration. In the fall these birds join up in groups that are sometimes fairly large - safety in numbers, I suppose. They spend the winter hanging out, keeping warm and looking for food together. In the spring they'll pair off and start nesting.
That thing about the first robin of spring? It's a holdover from Europe, where the robins they have there are a different species (Erithacus rubecula) that does migrate to warmer places for the winter. To travellers far from a European home, their songs (Er vs. Ar) might seem vaguely similar, and they both have orange breast feathers. The American robin, however, is much larger than the European. Adding to the confusion, the European robin was once considered to be in the thrush family, but has now been re-categorized as an old-world flycatcher.
Nobody ever said classification was easy, and to my mind it is somewhat unnecessary. It might make the world easier to understand - a place for everything and everything in its place - but it doesn't always make sense; there are too many variables. And I highly doubt that any of the critters care what names we give them, as long as we give them space and respect.
birds I have seen at or near my feeders in the past two days:
My grandmother asked me the other day if my witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) was blooming yet. No, not yet, I told her. It's been very cold - it finally got above freezing today (34ºF). Here are a couple of shots of the witch hazel as it looked yesterday. In a few weeks the flower buds will pop into flowers. I wrote about witch hazel a couple of months ago, when the fall-blooming ones (Hamamelis virginiana) were in flower - the one in my yard is a late-winter bloomer.
And lest you think I am rushing spring, here is a picture of the ice on my teeny tiny waterfall...
The light today was just beautiful.
I did not have the camera with me this afternoon, but it wouldn't have mattered because I have not yet figured out how to photograph light. Of course, scientists are still working on a good definition of light.
Anyway, on my walk this afternoon the light was up in the tops of the trees, and the bare branches were making the most wonderful images against the blue sky. It is a sight to which I have a visceral response - my body and mind react in a way that makes me know that yes, I am alive, and glad to be able to enjoy this world all around me.
I don't feel that on a city street, though I expect that there are those who do. While I enjoy cities for the cultural activities they offer - theater, museums, etc. - I would be suffocated if I lived there. I need fresh air and sunshine, and to see the plants growing and the animals' signs. Every day there is something interesting to see.
This morning, when I was filling the birdfeeders, I noticed a set of tracks in the snow. They crossed the lawn and went along the house foundation where there is less snow. I followed them and they disappeared under the front deck. I suspect that the critter rested there for a while and then left via the walkway, which was shovelled. I did not see any more of those prints, so maybe it (I think it was probably a fisher) went all the way out the driveway, leaving no more tracks.
Behind my house, near some of the birdfeeders, I saw a few feathers and some spots of blood. I'm sure some poor little bird met its demise at the claws of a carnivorous hunter. I looked around, but couldn't find any evidence either to the kind of bird (just a few gray feathers remained) or the hunter (no visible footprints or wing marks).
These are the kinds of stories that intrigue me. I will never know exactly what happened, but it has given me a little bit of insight into the world around me - into the creatures with whom I share my world.
But even for those who live in urban areas, there is usually some vestige of "nature" not too far away. Maybe it is a pond, or a park, or just a big old tree that has survived the paving. And most places have wildlife - mice certainly, and raccoons and deer, and lots of kinds of birds.
Here's an article that should get anybody out - it's not that hard!
We have lots, and I mean LOTS, of dark-eyed juncos around our place. The form of Junco hyemalis that hangs out in our region is the slate-colored. I just learned today that juncos are sparrows. I guess I never really thought about it before - they are one of those birds that I don't ever remember not knowing. They hop around on the ground below our feeders, picking up bits of seed that have fallen. I rarely see them on the feeder perches. They are quiet little birds, without the particularly distinctive call of a chickadee or a nuthatch, and without the bright plumage of a cardinal or a blue jay. I'm always reminded that winter is coming when I start seeing them foraging around our yard in the fall.
As seed-eaters, they are naturally interested in pine cones, and with a light dusting of snow, they make the most adorable little footprints. Here is a story of a junco - or maybe more than one - and a snack.
How great is this? Before dawn today I went for a walk and saw the waning gibbous moon heading for the western horizon. At mid-morning, until noon, I walked in a swamp and surrounding uplands with several friends. And this afternoon, as the sun was heading toward the western horizon, I was out on my cross-country skis. It was a beautiful sunny day, and there were loads of tracks to be seen. There is nothing like fresh air and sunshine to make a body feel alive!
rodent tracks and burrow
more rodent tracks (mouse?)
squirrel tracks at the base of a tree
Mother Nature - the world's greatest artist
Notice how the light is different in the two recent shots of Round Meadow. We are clearly still in a low-sun phase of the year - a consequence of living at a somewhat northern latitude. I have a friend who lives in Sweden - far north of Stockholm - and I think I would hate those days with almost no sunlight. I suppose one gets used to it, but still.... I also have a cousin who lives in Costa Rica - at this time of year I wouldn't mind the nearly endless sunlight that they get there. BUT we really get the best of both worlds here - four seasons, reasonable temperatures, and endlessly changing scenery. I've always lived in the northeastern U.S. and while I sometimes feel rather provincial, I also love it here and don't really want to live anywhere else. I still have so much to learn about the flora and fauna of this area that I'm not ready to move on yet.
Here's a picture that I took - it was with an unfamiliar camera and through a window, so it didn't come out very well, but I liked the image of the titmouse. So I played around with the photo editing, and I think it looks kind of cool - like a painting instead of a photo. It makes me think about how impressionist paintings can make you know exactly what you are looking at, even if the details of the painting are somewhat abstract. This picture is sort of like that - taking a true image, and making it representative.
I'm feeding my neighbors' pets while they are away. They have wild turkeys in their yard frequently - I saw two roosting when I was up there in the evening the other day. Today I did not see turkeys, but it snowed a little last night, and this is what I saw...
How cool is that?!
(I think I don't have turkeys at my place because we are too wooded. These neighbors live near an open meadow. We occasionally have them pass through, but they don't stay for long down here.)