Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Goldfinch, Pausing

Goldfinches and other birds often land on the shepherd's crook that supports one of our feeders, but they don't usually stay long enough for me to get a photo. This goldfinch paused just long enough for me to capture the moment. I like the pensive look and the little pink feet.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Water Recedes

 Here are some photos taken yesterday and today from my usual observation spot on the east bank of the Cannon River near Fifth Street. Though the water has come down considerably, note the log stranded on the water-covered lowest step in the photo above.

 Monday the barriers were still up along the riverfront...

... and Ames Mill still seemed to be a ship afloat.

 Sand the waters left behind

 High-tide mark in the parking lot. We along this stretch of the river were lucky; much of the real damage occurred in the next two blocks to the north, where the river is constrained between retaining walls and buildings that come right to the river's edge. (Here's a story in the Star Tribune about the large fish left behind on that riverwalk!)

Debris on the Sesquicentennial Legacy Plaza

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Northfield Flood Photos, Saturday morning

Having missed out on being downtown yesterday, I did a little rubbernecking this morning by 5th and Water streets, Bridge Square, and the rodeo grounds and dog park area between Culver's and the pedestrian/bike bridge. The downtown bridges are still closed, and access to the riverbank area is blocked, with prominent National Guard and police presence, so there are no dramatic photos taken from the bridges or riverbank. You can see my Picasa album below.

Northfield Flood September 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Northfield Flood

This dramatic photo, showing the flooded River Walk on the east side of the Cannon River, is from the KYMN Radio Picasa Web Album updated at 10 a.m. More recent photos can be seen here.

Here is another album: Griff Wigley's photos from

And another: Rob Hardy's photos in the Flickr set.

I usually would be at work, just across the street/parking lot from the river on the far side of the bridge shown above. But I am at home with a fairly miserable cold, so I am missing most of the excitement.

This flooding follows a storm train that dumped 5-7 inches of rain on Northfield and up to 11 or more inches further south (from whence the river flows) Wednesday through Thursday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Northern Flicker

Here, spotted by the cats, who drew my attention to it as it hung around on a backyard line earlier today, is the bird that began my life as a birdwatcher -- the Northern Flicker. The year was 1990. (So it's probably safe to say that this is not, in fact, the actual bird.) We had moved to Northfield with a one-year-old a few months earlier, and I was living the life of an at-home mom (one who just months before had been working as an attorney in a Milwaukee high-rise), exploring the east side of town, meeting the women who would become my new best friends while hanging out at the Central Park playground, and pushing a stroller around downtown. Along Washington Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets if I recall correctly, I saw a bird on the ground that was totally new to me, as all but the most obvious birds were at that time. It had a dark necklace and a substantial beak, a spot of red on the head and a flash of yellow in the wings.

I was intrigued enough to go almost directly to Author's Ink, the bookstore then on Division Street, to buy my first field guide so I could identify it. (I bought the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region, which is not the most favored guide of more advanced birders, since it doesn't follow the typical classification system. But it is quite useful for the novice because it groups birds by general silhouette type and by ecosystem, and some may like it because it offers photographs of the birds, rather than illustrations. It still sits on my birding shelf, along with several others.) And that field guide told me that it was a Common Flicker (it is also and now probably more commonly called the Northern Flicker), and that it is the only woodpecker in North America that commonly feeds on the ground.

And I called my mother and told her about it, and she was excited because in California she was familiar with the red-shafted form and had never seen our eastern yellow-shafted flicker.

And that's when I became bird-sentient. It would be years later before I'd take up bird-watching in any more systematic way, but that's where it all began. And I'm still always excited to see a flicker -- they are handsome birds, and unmistakable once you get to know them.

Do you have a story about your "first bird"? I'd love to hear about it.

Note: From time to time, I am going to experiment with including links to in connection with books that I like or find occasion to comment upon. The first of these appears above. I warmly encourage anyone who is able to visit their local brick-and-mortar bookseller as a positive step toward supporting their local shopping economy. If, however, you should ever choose to buy a book from Amazon that you've found via a link from this site, I may in time see a few pennies from that sale. I thought I'd give it a try and see if anything ever comes of it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Birds Small and Large

I couldn't help contrasting these two photos: the dainty little goldfinch above and the hulking great blue jay below that stopped by for a brief munch. I don't normally think of blue jays as being all that big, but in comparison to the songbird this one looks huge.

Seeing Yellow

Goldfinches have been frequent visitors to our feeders recently (above, one is keeping company with two house finches). We've previously most often seen them hanging from our net-style thistleseed (nyger) feeder, and clinging atop dry coneflower heads, picking at the seeds. These slender seeds don't require much force to crack, and these finches have less substantial bills than you see on birds that tend to eat  larger seeds (think cardinal, or even house finch, by comparison).

But we've recently also seen them eating black oil sunflower seeds at our caged feeder (above), the big tubular Droll Yankee feeder, and the platform feeder (below), and now  I've learned that sunflower seeds are in fact very popular with goldfinches. I did not realize that. We just put up the thistle feeder for the first time last spring, and this is the first year we've had goldfinches with any regularity. I'm not sure why they didn't visit the sunflower feeders before. We wonder if it might have something to do with the fact that a week or so ago we baked quite a bit of our seed to disinfect it while doing a thorough cleaning of our feeders to prevent the spread of disease between birds. We had just filled the feeders a couple of days before, and didn't want to throw out that much seed, so we spread it on baking sheets and put in a 250 F. oven for an hour (and then scrubbed the baking sheets well!). Maybe baking made the seed more appealing. Anyway, it's fun to see the bright yellow birds amidst the reddish house finches at the larger feeders now. Before long they'll be transitioning to their olive-drab winter plumage.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Bookcase that Became a Blog

To accompany my latest blog redesign, I was moved to write a kind of "About This Blog" page for Penelopedia, called The Bookcase that Became a Blog. You can see it as a new tab at the top of the page.

Hawk Moth

Imagine my frustration when, upon seeing my first hawk moth right outside our front door recently, I had to resort to my inadequate phone camera to capture the moment. These moths are huge -- they can be mistaken for hummingbirds. Those are standard-sized bricks, so you can see how very substantial a creature this was, with a vividly striped, bulky body and handsomely marked wings. Read more about hawk moths, including the fact that they have tongues that can be more than a foot long, here.

Whoops, I Did It Again

... I played with my blog. It's only a few months since I changed the look, but I was never entirely happy with it. This look feels more "me." Let me know if anything doesn't look right...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

House Finch Conjunctivitis

This poor little house finch has been hanging around our feeder area for long periods of time. It doesn't fly well and doesn't startle when we come outside -- just sits quietly. I was able to get quite close to take these photos. It appears to have an eye infection that is well known in house finches.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the condition:
Infected birds have red, swollen, runny, or crusty eyes; in extreme cases the eyes become swollen shut or crusted over, and the birds become essentially blind.  Birds in this condition obviously have trouble feeding.  You might see them staying on the ground, under the feeder, trying to find seeds.  If the infected bird dies, it is usually not from the conjunctivitis itself, but rather from starvation, exposure, or predation as a result of not being able to see.
Although infected birds have swollen eyes, the disease is primarily a respiratory infection. It is caused by a unique strain of the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum, which is a common pathogen in domestic turkeys and chickens. The infection poses no known health threat to humans, and had not been reported in songbirds prior to this outbreak. Researchers at various institutions are currently trying to learn more about the transmission, genetics, and development of this disease.

Conjunctivitis was first noticed in House Finches during the winter of 1993-94 in Virginia and Maryland. The disease later spread to states along the East Coast, and has now been reported throughout most of eastern North America, as far north as Quebec, Canada, and as far south as Florida. It has also appeared in some species other than House Finches.

Advice from the Cornell Lab for people observing infected birds at their feeders:
  1. Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding.
  2. Clean your feeders on a regular basis with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) and be sure to remove any build-ups of dirt around the food openings. Allow your feeders to dry completely before rehanging them.
  3. Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
  4. If you see one or two diseased birds, take your feeder down immediately and clean it with a 10% bleach solution.
 I'm going to follow this advice!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

International Crane Foundation Visit

Two weeks ago, on the way back from delivering our college student to Ohio for her senior year, we stopped in Baraboo, Wisconsin, to visit the International Crane Foundation. This is the only place on earth where you can see all 15 species of crane -- majestic birds, some of which, like the Siberian Crane, are critically endangered because of loss of habitat and disruption of migration. Our time was limited and so we didn't see them all. Here are a few. I encourage you to follow the links to learn more about each.

Grey Crowned Crane (East and South Africa)

Side view of the Grey Crowned Crane

Brolga (Australia)

Sarus Crane (India) - Note that this bird, tallest of the cranes, is looking me right in the eye, if not down on me

Wattled Crane (Subsaharan Africa)

Siberian Crane - note the light yellow eye, so eerie against the pink of the face

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