Wednesday, April 29, 2009
After a bit it hopped away -- lippety, lippety, not very fast* -- and then it was joined by another!
*Recognize the literary reference?
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Most were either Greater or Lesser Yellowlegs - it can be hard to tell the greater from the lesser, but they both generally give an impression of a speckled gray on top and a pale breast and underside - and, of course, they have yellow legs. The photo above makes me laugh: look at the bird on the right.
I like this one of two companionable yellowlegs, though the movement of their heads resulted in a little blurring.
Here one looks as if it is scratching itself, and perhaps it is. I am informed by my resident bird expert that what looks like a bent elbow on the bird on the left is actually its wrist; the elbow is higher up, as can be seen on the bird on the right.
This one has a fuzzy-headed appearance that I found endearing.
As I noted in my earlier post about the osprey, we never did see an avocet; they are rare indeed in this part of Minnesota. The shorebirds we did see are in migration and will be gone again within the next two or three weeks. The killdeer is the only bird of this type hangs around here for several months.
We did see a line of white pelicans on a sandbar far out across the lake, looking almost like a line of breaking waves, but they were too far away to get any decent shots, even through the spotting scope.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
We stopped first by the Hwy 56 bridge at the county line, where the Cannon River flows into the west end of the lake. This is a good area for shorebirds, as the water is shallow and there are mudflats and sandbars from which such birds can forage. As we looked east, our eyes were focused on an area beyond the tree in the foreground, where we could see shorebirds ("peeps") aplenty. Suddenly Dave gasped. He had finally noticed, at the top of the tree we'd been looking past, a bold, large spot of black and white that could only mean an osprey. If you click on the photo above, you'll be able to see it as we first noticed it.
We got the spotting scope pointed in the right direction (cars whizzing by at 55 mph just a few feet behind our backs), and I was able to get some decent-enough shots through the scope to capture the magnificence of this beautiful bird of prey.
Here in southeastern Minnesota we are at the edge of the osprey's summer breeding area and would generally see them in migration rather than nesting. A few years ago we drove up to the football field at Irondale High School in New Brighton, where ospreys were nesting on a lightpole. That was the first time I had seen ospreys, and they made quite an impression on me.
Look at the heft of the beak of this raptor, which eats fish almost exclusively. The wingspan can range from 59 to 71 inches (150-180 cm). It is an enormous bird, and its coloring is so unmistakeable. In flight, seen from below, both black and white show on the wings, which are held in a crooked, slightly arched position.
After a few minutes this osprey launched itself from the tree and disappeared toward the main body of the lake. We went on to see a lot of shorebirds on this outing, though no avocets, but this was an unexpected and fantastic start to the expedition.
Addendum: For some wonderful shots of an osprey fishing, visit the Birding in Maine blog.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The shiny, clean, new green of these vinca, or periwinkle, leaves and the soft purple of the flowers appear among last year's dead leaves and stems. Soon the new growth will cover the old.
While doing a little research on this plant, which is an attractive and useful vining ground cover, I came across this etymological tidbit on a page from a University of Vermont class on garden flowers:
...names from the Latin vincio meaning to bind, and later Middle English per wynke meaning same, referring to use in making wreaths which in Middle Ages were placed on heads of criminals on their way to execution; in Italy it was known as Fiore de morte being placed on bodies of dead infants; later and still occasionally today it is known as "Joy of the Ground."So there you have it.
I noticed my first bees of the season today - about eight small ones, hovering and zipping about, not by these periwinkles or the nearby daffodils, but over earth and grass.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Here, from northscaping.com, is a good description of winter burn and how to prevent it, which I wish I had read and absorbed in time to save this little tree. Sufficient watering in the fall and protection from drying winds and high sun while the ground was still frozen would have helped considerably. I've seen burlapped shrubs in local yards from time to time; now I know why.
This winter damage to evergreens is caused by a combination of winter sun and persistent cold, drying winds, which both draw upon the reserves of moisture in the needles. If the ground is still frozen and the plant cannot replenish this lost moisture, the result is death of the green tissues, and loss of the needles.The photo above and other examples of winter burn can be found at the Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory's website.
Winterburn doesn’t occur on the coldest days of winter, but rather in early spring, when the sun is already high in the sky, but the ground is still frozen. It tends to be most severe in years when snow lingers into March and April, reflecting the light of the sun up into the branches. The problem is made much worse when evergreens are planted along the south or west side of a white house, which reflects the sunlight onto the back of these plants, burning them from both sides.
There are a number of ways to prevent winterburn damage to evergreens. First, be sure to choose evergreens that are resistant to windburn and are adequately hardy for your area. Secondly, never plant evergreens right along side the south or west wall of a white house, unless you are in a really warm part of the North. Thirdly, plant tender evergreens in a location with some protection from winter winds. Finally, be sure to give your evergreens a good watering just before freeze-up in fall, to boost their moisture reserves. Other than these practices, a protective burlap shield supported on the south and west side of the evergreen by wooden or metal posts will block both the sun and the wind, and increase the plant’s chances of successfully making it through the early spring.
Friday, April 17, 2009
The warmth of the last couple of days took the daffodils in my south-facing front flower bed from just starting to show flower buds last weekend to open blooms this afternoon (the photo on the left was taken just a day or two ago). As I drove about town this afternoon I also noticed that suddenly many lawns, just starting to green up, are painted blue with naturalized Scilla siberica (Siberian squill).
In another flower bed the first of my species tulips had opened up completely, though I hadn't even noticed that flowers were forming. Smaller than this cropped photo might suggest, species tulips are low-growing, hardy bulbs with a flower that is more star-shaped than cup-shaped. They make good addition to rock gardens, though mine are just in a normal bed near our front door.
We're expecting some much-needed rain in the next couple of days and cooler temperatures than the high 60s and low 70s we've been enjoying this week.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
There have been several pairs of northern shovelers, easily recognizable even at a distance by their uniquely heavy bills and the big areas of green, white and rust on the male. The shot above isn't great, but it's the best I could get through the scope today since the ducks kept moving.
Here is a male hooded merganser -- again, not a perfect shot, but clearly showing the distinguishing features, including the very thin bill, the big white spot on the large black head, and the striking black and white stripes on the tawny body. I have been seeing a pair of these on the Cannon River in downtown Northfield all week, but this was the first time I'd managed a passable shot through the scope.
This was an unexpected shot. I'd been focused on this charming little pair of buffleheads when a shoveler splashed in for a landing right behind them. What a difference in size there is between them; the shoveler looks like a moose in comparison!
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
The photos below show the flock in flight over the waves. Click on the photos for better detail.