Saturday, March 15, 2008

In a Fog?

Instead of speculating about what might be true, say, "I don't know!" Not knowing is a wonderful state to be in. There's room for endless possibilities, and anything can happen.

Being "in a fog" can have several meanings. You might be dazed, unsure of what's going on. You might not know what direction to take next. Or, as in my case today, you could literally be surrounded by cool, damp fog in the atmosphere. This morning's fog did not stop us from a birding trip with the Beckham Bird Club to Deam Lake in southern Indiana.

The fog narrowed our field of vision, so we focused on the birds nearer to hand, since we couldn't even see the other side of the lake. The birds didn't care about the view and sang loudly, so we found many of them by voice. The muted light did not make good bird photographs though. Small spider webs on the forest floor captured the moisture and shone white against the dark leaves. I didn't expect spiders to be up and about this early in the spring. Spring Harbinger, a small white flowered plant, is starting to bloom. The migrating birds are coming home.

I always have trouble finding small birds in a forest environment. Something moved? Only a leaf blowing. See that bird in the top of the tree? Is it a Crossbill? I'm sorry, I can't tell the birds from the pine cones at that distance. Sigh! Now I see a Nuthatch going down the tree, but by the time I find it in binoculars, and focus them in the right direction (more focused rather than more blurred), the bird has either moved to the other side of the tree or flown away altogether. And the fog in the sky has nothing to do with this! I like going out with the experts. Otherwise I would see very few of these little birds.

When birds sing, I have much better luck at finding them. All the birds seemed to be singing this morning, so I decided it would be fun to link to sound clips on the web. We found a Pine Warbler, not in a pine tree, but nicely posed is a small leafless tree. (Click the link to hear the song.) The Eastern Phoebes followed us as we walked around the park, perching on stumps or in the road itself, bobbing their tails. Large groups of Blue Jays called from the trees. One mimicked a Red Shouldered Hawk so well, I spun around to look for it! Leaves flew up, tossed by Eastern Towhees scratching in the debris with White Throated Sparrows and a Fox Sparrow. I tried to photograph the beautiful Towhees, but the camera could not focus correctly, they were so well camouflaged. Their orange feathers were the exact color of the fallen leaves. They advised us to "Drink your tea," and by this time in the walk, hot tea sounded pretty good. Two Wood Ducks landed in the lake, sounding like some hawk that I'd never heard before. The duck was familiar to me, but I'd never heard it making sounds. What a surprise!

Trees were down on every slope from recent windstorms. The aromatic scent of pine surrounded us where park maintenance cut the damaged trees down. Woodpeckers loved this area, and we saw and heard Red Bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers. Our last stop was next to an area devastated by tornado a few years ago, with dead trees standing on the hillside and logs stacked in piles in the parking lot. A large Pileated Woodpecker inspected the log pile, giving us our last treat for the morning.

The final count was 43 species, not including the Northern Harrier, Kestral, and a pair of Red Tailed Hawks we saw in the fields on the way to the park. Pretty good for a foggy morning!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Snowstorm in Kentucky

Is it Spring or is it Winter? If you don't like the weather in the Ohio Valley, just stick around and it will change. Last Saturday, it was definitely springlike, and a day or two later, it was in the mid-60's. Yesterday, it started snowing, and continued all night and all day today. The weather people are predicting 10 inches or so here in Louisville. I know, folks in Cleveland or Buffalo or Chicago would call this a light dusting, but this is more snow than we've had altogether in the last 4 years! The Ohio Valley tends to get bypassed, most of the time, with snow falling 20 miles north in Indiana, and only rain here. The good news is, this is Saturday, Bernheim is closed, and if the Falls of the Ohio State Park isn't closed, only the employees will be there. This is a great opportunity to stay home with no guilt, just doing laundry, cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen and enjoying a cup of coffee while watching it snow. Of course, I am taking pictures to commemorate the occasion!

Dick filled the feeders yesterday, before there was much accumulation, so the neighborhood birds are "flocking" to our yard, along with the squirrels who live in the pine trees. The birds always scratch some extra seed on the ground for the squirrels. The heater in the bird bath is working fine, so water is available too. Our black cat shows no interest in going outside, as he usually does. Guess he knows he would NOT be invisible in this snow.

All the usual winter residents of my backyard are stopping by the feeders, including Mama and Papa Cardinal, House Finches, Juncos, White Throated and Song Sparrows. The Starlings are going after the suet, but a Mockingbird, who normally doesn't prefer sunflower seed, has decided one of the feeders is his and chases everyone else away if he catches them. Goldfinches are beginning to molt into their bright yellow colors. Chickadees, Nuthatches and Tufted Titmice come by now and then. A Carolina Wren perched in the bush outside my window for a while. The Downy Woodpecker hasn't made an appearance yet, but we'll see him later, I'm sure.

We have a plastic Great Horned Owl in the yard to scare away the chipmunks. Well, today he's a Snowy Great Horned Owl. Dick says he's as good a predator now as he is when it isn't snowing. In fact, he must be better now, since I haven't seen a chipmunk all morning! The little White Throated Sparrow usually blends into the leaves under the feeder, but today he's nicely visible against the white background. Tonight we will Spring Forward into Daylight Savings Time. Between the time change and the snow, I don't expect a crowd at church tomorrow, but we will start early and make the effort to be there. About 12:30, it stopped snowing and the sun actually came out. All the neighbors are shoveling sidewalks and driveways so we went out to do ours too. Maybe next time it snows, we'll pay someone else to do it for us. Tomorrow when my muscles all ache from this unusual exertion, I'll like that idea even more!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Migrating Sandhill Cranes

Even though the calendar says it's only March 1, it must really be spring. The Sandhill Cranes have arrived at Ewing Bottoms, near Brownstown, IN, and it's worth the trip to see them. Last November, none of the anticipated Cranes stopped here on their way south, due to the drought conditions, we were told. Well, there has been plenty of rain this winter, and the White River has already overflowed its banks and left standing water and mud in all the bottom land fields. Perfect conditions for the Sandhill Cranes attracted thousands of these gregarious birds with red foreheads, all calling back and forth as they circled the fields, landed for a visit and a snack with their friends, then took off for other fields.

The first thing I noticed was the noise! I can't decide which is the noisiest bird - Canada Geese, Snow Geese or these Sandhill Cranes. Actually, I don't want to be the judge in a battle of the noisy birds contest. They arrived in straggling V's wandering across the sky, looking for a likely landing field. Somehow they all managed to congregate in the middle of the muddy fields and spent the morning chatting with their friends and relatives. We dared not leave the road for fear of sinking up to our elbows in mud. It was a challenge to get photos close enough to tell what kind of gray birds these were from a distance. Since there were so many, plenty of opportunities for good shots presented themselves.

We hoped to see the Cranes dancing, but no luck on that. Their flying skills are incredible though, and they let down the landing gear when coming in, so it looks like they are dancing in the air itself as they descend over your head. The persistent calling may also warn the others that someone is coming to join them from above. We also saw five Bald Eagles, one of which was sitting on her nest of eggs near Medora, IN. A new nest is under construction, but the pair must have gone back to Home Depot for supplies, since we did not see either of them. Only one Harrier came by, but there were several Red Tail Hawks and Kestrals to be found. Northward bound ducks included a Hooded Merganser and some Red Headed ducks, Buffleheads, and Ring Necked ducks at a beautiful lake in a residential community. I wouldn't mind living in this neighborhood! The Horned Larks swooped by faster than I could follow. I did see one in the field, and if it hadn't moved, I would not have found it at all, they are so well camouflaged.

The Weather Channel predicts more cold and snowy weather coming, so we must believe that these early birds know what they are doing, and won't be hurt by inclement conditions. We couldn't help but wonder if the farmers hosting these large birds ever stopped to look at them in awe and appreciation. If nothing else, they must put their fingers in their ears in annoyance, trying to block out the raucous calling of the Cranes each time they stepped out their doors.