Saturday, January 10, 2015

Dawn Juncos Sitting on the Ground

This morning I looked out of the window next to the front door before going out to get our newspaper, and saw three dark-eyed juncos on our front walk where I had scattered some seed the day before. The sun was just coming up, and I was a little surprised to see the juncos there before full light. I was even more surprised when I realized they were not eating, but just sitting still. 


I don't think I've ever seen them just sitting on the ground like that before. The temperature was about 0 F, which is warmer than it has been for the past several mornings, but still exceedingly cold. The first two photos here were taken through the window and reflect the pinkish light of the rising sun.


Because I didn't want to disturb them if they were conserving energy by hunkering down, I waited a few minutes until seeing that two of them had left and the one remaining was eating. I then stepped out to get the paper and turned toward the pink eastern sky. It was a beautiful sunrise.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year 2015



This is a downy woodpecker, taken last winter. I like the light and the seemingly heart-shaped red spot.

First birds of 2015 have included a red-bellied woodpecker and a chickadee singing its sweet spring song: Fee-bee, fee-bee. The heart lifts! The darkest days of the winter are behind us.

Happy new year to one and all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Bird Count 2014: Quiet

Participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count has become a tradition I look forward to eagerly. It's a chance to devote half a day, or more, to looking for birds and documenting the number of each species we see, as well as our time spent and mileage covered by car and on foot, to aid in interpreting the numbers reported. I've also written here about the Christmas Bird Counts of 2009, 20102011, and 2013. As in the past, we were assigned to a rural area east and south of Northfield, as well as a good portion of Northfield's east side.

Relatively mild at about 30-32 F. all morning, it was also gray and chillingly damp, though thankfully not windy. Ponds were frozen, while creeks were open. The mantra of the day for our group of four turned out to be, "Boy, it's really quiet out there." While we saw some decent action at a few homesteads that had well-stocked feeders, we came up dry at many others, including those at my own house. It wasn't always literally quiet, as we had an ample number of crows cawing raucously, but there were a lot of places that seemed unexpectedly bird-free.

Open water at the creek west of Dennison -- but no birds

The photo above is taken from the highway bridge just west of Dennison. Every year I get my hopes up for this creek, which often offers open water and seems so inviting from a human perspective, but once again there was nothing to see.

Here are our results for the morning. Occasionally birds (mostly chickadees and nuthatches) were identified by sound though not seen.

  • 2 Canada geese
  • 55 mallards, seen in many small groups overhead, flying with their characteristic rapid wingbeats, and in a large congregation on the open creek in the golf course
  • 1 ring-necked pheasant. Pheasant numbers are down so much in the last few years that this was now considered a lucky sighting.
  • 1 sharp-shinned hawk seen flying through woods (I missed seeing this. Darn!)
  • 1 red-tailed hawk
  • 19 rock pigeons (your standard barnyard or urban pigeon) on silos
  • 5 mourning doves
  • 1 red-bellied woodpecker
  • 5 downy woodpeckers
  • 1 hairy woodpecker
  • 12 blue jays
  • 52 American crows
  • 14 black-capped chickadees
  • 7 white-breasted nuthatches
  • 43 dark-eyed juncos, including a flock of 35 seen on the west edge of the Sibley School natural area
  • 5 northern cardinals
  • 39 house finches, the majority of them in one large group at a rural homestead with plenty of large trees and well-stocked feeders
  • 22 house sparrows, mostly in one large group at the pond west of Archibald Street and just north of Jefferson Parkway; we first caught sight of a few of them on top of and going into a wood duck box. 
This total of 18 species is the same as our total in 2011 (the last count I can find detailed notes for). Species seen then that we did not see yesterday included the European starling, wild turkey, American robin, American goldfinch, and northern shrike. Species seen yesterday that we did not see in 2011 included Canada goose, ring-necked pheasant, sharp-shinned hawk, rock pigeon, and hairy woodpecker. I always hope to see snow buntings or horned larks for the CBC, but there were none to be seen yesterday, nor (ambitious hope) a snowy owl, for which there have been sightings in Rice County in the past week or so.

Non-avian sightings included plenty of squirrels and, notably, a mink that was being eyed warily by a pair of mallards on Spring Creek on the east edge of Northfield.

I was happy to see several new participants at our Northfield-based count, including my longtime friend Mary, who came along in our group, as well as the now-familiar friends who are faithful to this effort. Thanks as always to Gene Bauer for organizing the bird count for the Northfield area, Gene and his wife Susan for their hospitality for the pre-count breakfast and post-count lunch, and the other bird enthusiasts, both experienced and developing, who showed up and helped make it a fun day of comradery and citizen science.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Leaf-fall and Autumn Birdwatching

We have a large, beautiful maple tree in front of our house, which makes a nice staging point for birds coming to our feeders. In the summer, we may hear the birds in the tree, but we don't see them until they leave the thick leafy cover. In the fall, for a week or two the tree is gloriously golden-pink, and then, of course, the leaves fall. My sadness at losing the color is never long-lived, because as the leaves drop, the birds become visible in the tree once more and I know we have entered one of our most satisfying birdwatching seasons. Our summer birds have departed, the goldfinches have put on their winter plumage, the dark-eyed juncos have arrived for the season, and we are ready to hunker down by the living room window, camera and binoculars at hand, to see what we will see.

Our maple on October 17

Downy Woodpecker with backdrop of golden leaves, October 17

What we lose in leafy loveliness, we'll gain in bird visibility.
October 24

Winter-plumage American Goldfinch

This female Red-bellied Woodpecker has become a regular visitor
to the peanut feeder as the light starts to fade each recent evening. When she
leaves the feeder, I can see her moving higher and higher in the maple tree.

The coiled whole-peanut feeder caught some falling leaves.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October in the Arb

I've been resting a troublesome foot and so it has been weeks since I've taken a good walk in the Arb (the Carleton College Cowling Arboretum). Today I could not stay away, and so I walked gently for two and half miles through the eastern side of the Lower Arb. While the trees are more spectacular in town, where there are many brilliant maples, autumn in the Arb has its own mellow beauty -- the beauty of dried grasses and hard or fluffy seed pods, of shimmering milkweed floss, of rusty oaks and burgundy sumac and the sparkle of low sun skimming across the prairie.