Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Robin

We spotted this robin during the Christmas Bird Count last Saturday. This is my Solstice/Hannukah/Christmas photo for 2011: warmest wishes to everyone, and thanks for reading Penelopedia.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Bird Count 2011

This was the view from the passenger seat at just after 8 o'clock this morning, as my little Christmas Bird Count group set off to spend the morning slowly driving the back roads southeast of Northfield, as well driving and walking the southeast section of town. We covered 29 miles by car and about half a mile on foot (mostly on the footpaths near Sibley Elementary School) in 3.5 hours. It was a pretty morning, with last night's dusting of snow still fresh on the fields and trees, but it was relatively slow morning for birding. While we had a few exciting moments, things were generally pretty quiet. We spotted or identified by sound approximately:
  • 80 European starlings in a single group
  • 51 house finches (about 40 in a single flock)
  • 50 mallards (flying overhead)
  • 26 American crows
  • 21 house sparrows
  • 17 black-capped chickadees
  • 9 mourning doves (7 in a small backyard tree visible from a footpath)
  • 7 blue jays 
  • 7 wild turkeys
  • 6 dark-eyed juncos
  • 5 American robins
  • 4 downy woodpeckers
  • 3 American goldfinches
  • 3 northern cardinals
  • 3 red-tailed hawks
  • 2 northern shrikes (one in town, near the ponds off Jefferson Parkway near Prairie St. -- an exciting "spot")
  • 1 red-bellied woodpecker
  • 1 white-breasted nuthatch
There were also a few pigeons, which are officially called rock pigeons these days. Numbers above are from memory and may be inexact, as we didn't keep our tally sheet after making our official report, but they are close.

Dan and Erika Tallman were the Northfield-area coordinators this year and hosted the pre-Count breakfast and the post-Count lunch. It's always fun to sit around the table with other bird-minded Northfielders, and some who come from elsewhere to participate because their home regions don't have a count.

We joined in the Christmas Bird Count the previous two years as well, and I blogged about both outings. In 2009 I saw my first horned larks and provided more general background about the Christmas Bird Count, and in 2010 I saw my first northern shrike and wrote about the frustration of unofficial turkeys -- turkeys that were on the wrong side of the road along our area boundary and so could not be officially counted.

The history and research value of the annual Christmas Bird Count (a project of the National Audubon Society and partners) were nicely described in an article that ran in the most recent Northfield News. Read it here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Squirrel Outside Looking In

At least one local squirrel that scavenges for seeds under our bird feeders has learned it can (apparently) be easier on the feet to run across the brick ledge outside our living room window than to hop through the snow. And it's learned to stop sometimes and take a look inside. I wonder what it thinks. I know more or less what our cats think: "Furry, pernicious, probably edible trespasser! High alert!" The squirrel seems remarkably unconcerned by their ready-to-pounce posture and frenzied tail-lashing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Belly in Red-bellied Woodpecker

As I've noted before, and as others have certainly also observed, red-bellied woodpeckers would doubtless be called red-headed woodpeckers if not for the red-all-over head of the extremely handsome bird that actually bears that name.The eponymous red belly of the former is not very red and not very easy to see, so it's hardly a good field mark. It does show a little, however, in this shot of a red-bellied woodpecker in our front-yard maple tree this morning.

Earlier posts I've written about red-bellied woodpeckers can be found here. It hasn't been a common bird for us in the past, but we have seen one two or three times since we started tracking our observations for this Project FeederWatch season, which started about a month ago.

Next Saturday we'll be participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count for the third time. In the past two years we've been assigned to areas to the east of Northfield as well as some in town. I'm looking forward to it. One slight hope is that in a morning out and about in the countryside we might see a snowy owl. Many snowy owls have been sighted in the northern U.S. in the past several weeks, signalling a major "irruption" year. They come south in search of food when their usual sources are scarce, and unfortunately a number of the birds that have been reported have been emaciated and some have been found dead. A Google map showing rough locations of snowy owl sightings is available here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

From Brown to White as December Arrives

Last weekend it was unseasonably mild and dry, as it had been through much of November this year, and the light snow cover of the previous week was gone. We went for a walk through the woods at the northern end of the Lower Arb (part of Carleton College's Cowling Arboretum). Signs alerted us that an archery hunt to manage the white-tailed deer population was in progress in the Arb and that other users should keep to the trails. That was slightly unnerving, but we saw no sign of hunting. Here's an Arb Talk article about the reasons for the annual archery hunt.

One section of the trail I mentally nicknamed Chickadee Woods for all the birds of that name we could hear and see around us, and further on there was a flock of American robins high in the bare trees. Though we usually think of robins as birds that go south for the winter, they will sometimes stay, often in large flocks, if food is available and snow cover not too heavy.

Dead tree stripped of most of its bark

This dead tree caught my eye, as it had lost its branches and most of its bark (above). When looking at the bare wood of the trunk, trails of insect larvae were visible (below).

Closeup of same tree with signs of insect activity

A cut section of fallen wood also captured our attention, as it was decorated with delicate layers of a pale fungus (below).

Log with fungi

Closer view - fungi look like oyster shells

Closer view

And even closer - how pretty and delicate

I don't know much about fungi. These appear to be a type of bracket, or shelf, fungus, a description which refers to the growth pattern but doesn't by itself closely identify the species. Judging by the shape and the concentric half-rings of varying color, these look as if they might have some relation to the so-called Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor). Perhaps someone more knowledgeable than I am will weigh in with an opinion.

By now, of course, they are covered by the 4.5 inches of fluffy snow we received yesterday -- the first substantial snowfall of the season here in the Northfield area. Below are a couple of photos of improbably tall caps of snow adhering to purple coneflower seedheads in our front flowerbed this morning.