Sunday, August 16, 2015

Monarch on the Joe-Pye Weed

It was a sweet sight to observe a monarch butterfly on some pollinator-friendly, native Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium) in our garden today -- the first confirmed monarch sighting here in several years. We have quite a few milkweed plants, although they are not growing where there is enough sun for them to produce flowers. These photos were taken through my living room window on an overcast day.

Monday, May 25, 2015

From the Archives: Dandelion Clocks Aglow

This post was originally published June 6, 2008, when my son was eight. I've been noticing again how dandelion seedheads catch the light and have a magical appeal -- if you're open to it!

On a recent evening walk, I found the glow of dandelion seedheads, or "clocks," illuminated by the setting sun, quite magical. My son, like many children, loves to blow the dandelion clocks. Adults, on the other hand, tend to consider dandelion clocks an eyesore and shudder at the thought of those countless seed parachutes wafting over their lawns. I remember my mother teaching my brother and me to "tell the time" by counting the blows it took until the seeds were all blown away. There is still something compelling about those weightless, silky orbs, if we take the time to notice.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bluebird in Soft Focus on a Gray Day

I sometimes forget what a difference good light makes to the clarity of a photo. But the flip side of that can be the tender, even painterly, softness to shots taken on an overcast day. Here is a male bluebird perching on a marker post in the Upper Arb at Carleton College, with a stand of leafing-out trees some distance behind.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

2015 Bluebird Trail

Dave and I are a month or so into our fourth year of monitoring blueboxes in the Northfield area. This year, in addition to the two trails we've been covering in previous years (one currently with 12 boxes along rural roads south of Northfield and the other with five boxes near Randolph), we've taken on (at least for this year) another existing trail in the Carleton Arboretum that has 9 pairs of boxes over about a two-mile walking trail.

This trail uses a different type of nestbox than we're used to -- the modified Gilwood rather than the Gilbertson PVC style -- so that's been a learning curve. (See a comparison of box styles.) Both are mounted on conduit poles for good predator deterrence. (Please don't mount bluebird boxes on wooden fence posts and other areas where cats, raccoons, snakes and other predators can easily access a buffet of eggs and nestlings. If you have older-style boxes mounted in that way, you'd be doing a good deed by replacing them with newer pole-mounted boxes. If you're in our area and would like help replacing older boxes, message me and I'll be glad to help make that happen.)

The Gilwood has a front-opening door which is probably less alarming to a bird that happens to be sitting on eggs during a box check than the action of detaching the PVC box from its roof as you do to check inside the Gilbertson boxes. However, Dave and I aren't very tall, and even after lowering most of the boxes we find we need to use a small mirror on a wand (available at auto supply stores) to see the contents of the nests. Photography of box contents would be difficult indeed.

As of this week we have quite a few bluebird eggs, more nests that don't have eggs yet, and also much nesting activity by tree swallows. This morning as we walked the new trail I was able to get some nice photos of both bluebirds and tree swallows -- sometimes in the same shot.

Click any of the photos to see them larger.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sandhill Cranes, Platte River - with video

For millions of years, cranes have migrated through what is now south central Nebraska on their way to breeding grounds in the north. I was honored to witness the spectacle of sandhill cranes gathering on the Platte River in late March. At sunset the cranes fly in by the thousands from the fields to roost on the river overnight; at dawn they rise in groups both small and large, and disperse to glean grain from the late-winter fields. Some half a million cranes pass through there, in the vicinity of Kearney, Nebraska, from late February to early April each year. The sight and primordial sound of hundreds or thousands of cranes, with the backdrop of some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises I have ever seen, will long stay with me. So will the moment when a clamorous group we were watching, at some signal undetectable by us, went completely silent. A few breathless moments passed -- and then they lifted en masse into the sky.

Turn up the volume on the video to hear the cranes.