Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring, Glorious Spring

There aren't enough words to describe my wonderful spring afternoon hike at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, in next door Oldham County, Kentucky. Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here goes...
This wildflower is called Twinleaf. I would have named it Lungleaf were the choice mine.

Yellow Trout Lilly - oops, they go to bed early, so I'll have to go back to get one wide awake.
Ah, yes. Here's one that is open. See the difference?

How about some Scrambled Eggs, aka Yellow Corydalis. I love the common names! They are so much fun.

Wood Poppy, not found in the woods this time, but in our backyard where my husband planted it last year. We are installing a babbling brook (technically a "pondless water feature") and will be searching for hardy Kentucky natives to plant around it.
And for the category of Most Tenacious Tree, the award goes to this.... Well, I'm not sure what sort of tree it is, except mostly dead. You can't stop a determined tree though. As long as one branch lives, the tree lives.
False Rue Anemone. I love trying to figure out how these plants, or birds for that matter, got their names. Sounds like some botanist thought this was the real Rue Anemone, and got called to task for misidentifying it. Isn't an anemone a sea creature? And Rue is French for street, right? Looked up the etymology and it says "wind flower" or "daughter of the wind."
Photos of wildflowers are like photos of birds in at least one respect - it's hard to tell how large or small the flower really is. Photographers like to take close ups to show as much detail as possible. You can't tell that this Sessile Trillium is less than 3 inches tall. I thought it was just budding, but Tavia Cathcart (direrctor of the nature preserve and author of a book on wildflowers) says it doesn't open as much as other trilliums, and won't get any larger.
The birds sang joyously in the trees. Above my head the Chickadees challenged each other, and I hummed "Dueling Chickadees," like dueling banjos. This pert little Titmouse came when I pished at him. Pete Dunne must be right. This guy was just very curious about what in the world I was up to.
Of course, the Bluebirds of Happiness swooped around the Mahan Mansion, softly twittering to each other. And how about the Meadowlark, singing from the top of a tree for a change...

This is much more fun than basketball, even if the University of Louisville is ranked #1 in the nation. Does that make me unpatriotic?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

House Hunting

Well, dear, what do you think of this place? Shall I tell the realtor we'll take it? Aren't you tired of looking?

The view isn't much, but I like the way it's decorated. Just right for Towhees.

Nope, just not enough landscaping. Meadowlarks like taller grass. Looks like someone mowed this place, so let's keep looking.

The neighbors seem nice, but I bet the water dries up later in the year.

As an overnight stop, it's OK, but we Blue Winged Teals would never raise a family this far south. Pack up the bags, and let's fly on.

Honey, I just can't wait till we find a more secluded spot than this!

This modern architecture just isn't for me....

I didn't see a sign that said "Bluebirds Only."

No matter where you live, spring is lovely, isn't it?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly - Woodcocks

Peent! Peent!

What in the world is that sound? Is it a frog? Some insect? A new electronic toy? No, it's the American Woodcock, aka "Timberdoodle," a shorebird that lives in the forest, has no visible neck, and can be very difficult to locate. The eyes are large, protruding and set back far on the head, giving the Woodcock 360 degree vision, a nice trick for someone who hunts for earthworms in the leaf litter. The dark eyes match the dark spots along the back, making it difficult to tell which end is the front. The long flexible beak is perfect for probing the soft ground for earthworms, and bears a strong resemblance to a twig.

We found this guy at Bernheim Forest, on a bird hike with none other than the famous Pete Dunne, of the Cape May Observatory. He spoke at the Beckham Bird Club's annual dinner the night before, and stayed over in Kentucky (a "life state" for him) for a little birding. While it sleeted outside, we had a seminar on pishing from the expert.

In addition to this marvelous camouflage, Woodcocks perform a little swaying dance as they creep through the leaves. Click here to see a video someone else caught of one. Cool, isn't it? Actually, Woodcocks are considered game birds and some people hunt them. Sorry, I just can't see the point of that.

Their mating flight is spectacular, or I suppose the females think it is, since I couldn't see any of it. A little after 8:00 last evening, a group of us gathered along the edges of a field for the big show. In a while, we heard "peent" from one area, followed by another "peent" on the other side of the field. Then the male takes off on his "sky dance", twittering as he spirals 200 - 300 feet into the air, then descending with a different sound. After taking a few bows, the dance starts over again. The female must have the night vision of an owl to be able to see him at all during this. I sure couldn't see anything. The display goes on for half an hour precisely, then stops until the next morning.

Retirement has added one more lifer to my list, the American Woodcock. Funny how the more you go out birding, the more birds, new and old, you actually see!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Suburban Ents

I see faces in lots of odd places. The tail lights of the car in front of me always look like some strange face. Since I am re-reading The Lord of the Rings (again) I am very aware of the trees we walk through. This is a suburban Ent, living incognito in a neighbor's yard. Non-believers think it's just a tree that has been pruned several times. I know better. I'm sure Swampy of Swamp Things recognizes this guy too, since she is married to Tree Beard, a most famous Ent!

Of course, Kentucky is nothing like Middle Earth, and I suspect that this Ent has become very "tree-ish" as Tree Beard would say. They don't walk or talk much any more. The look of surprise on his face may reflect the damage overall from the ice storm. He seems to be saying, "Oh, oh, oh my goodness!" These photos from nearby Deam Lake in Indiana show the cleanup still in progress. As we birded there on Sunday, we noticed that the number of species were down quite a bit. We found some beautiful Pine Warblers, and the Phoebe's followed us around announcing their presence all morning. We did not find many wrens, sparrows, towhees, or other birds we saw last year, and wondered if it was because of the destruction and noisy cleanup.

I hope all the other little guys will settle back in.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

De Crane, De Crane!

Imagine three different groups of birders, braving the severe weather warnings, shivering in the wind (since everyone expected warmer conditions), tracking each other from one lake to another at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. Suddenly, all binoculars point straight up as the smallest birder shouts, "De Cranes, De Cranes!" None of the Cranes actually land, but they squawk softly for several minutes, to the great enjoyment of the birders. I've been waiting months for an opportunity to use this line in a blog!

As in the old Fantasy Island television show, a cast of feathered characters are in the program today. Red Winged Blackbirds puff their feathers and sing Con-Ko-Ree at the top of their lungs, from every other reed along the marshes. Look at me, baby! I'm beautiful and I sing better than any other bird you will find today. Don't get in my way, dude! Con-ko-ree!

Today, all the lakes have melted, and the Canada Geese swim serenely, pairing off with a good looking partner. The White-fronted Geese are gone, as are the Mute Swans from last Tuesday. A mature Bald Eagle surveys the first lake on our route. A variety of ducks swim in pairs or small rafts on each lake, including Ruddy Duck, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Pintails, Bufflehead, Northern Shoveler, and others.

We especially enjoy some of the less common birds, including several lifers for Dick and me. A Turkey waits for us at the Visitor Center before lunch. Purple Finches (LIFER) stop for lunch at the Center too, jostling with White Throated and White Crowned Sparrows at the feeders. I finally get a chance to closely examine some Tree Sparrows, a Fox Sparrow, and Song Sparrows in full breeding plumage. I thought it was another kind of sparrow altogether! They don't look that bright and colorful later in the summer. A Rusty Blackbird (LIFER) joined the Red Headed Woodpecker. One Common Loon dived out of sight whenever we turned the scopes to it. Overall, we counted 63 species today, pretty good considering the unpleasant weather.

Happy Daylight Savings Time to all of you!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Laptop Cat

My laptop has become a territorial issue for the cats. One of them marks it with scent glands in his whiskers, and a few minutes later the other one comes up and rubs against it. Ever heard of anything like this?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Birding in the Real World Again

I'm retired now and can go birding whenever I want to. Whoopee! The Sandhill Cranes are at Ewing Bottoms in Brownstown, IN, and I missed the trip on Friday, so let's get in the car and drive up there. Yes, I'm somewhat of a wuss, and wait until the wind drops, hoping it would not be so cold. While driving north on the Interstate in the bright sunshine, I saw thousands of Cranes flying together going east. How beautiful! But, I wonder, will there be any left at the bottoms? Another 40 minutes and I found the answer...No, not a single crane!

This is the real world of birding, isn't it? The birds have decided to bring me back to reality. Expectations will not always be met. The bird you most want to see may not cooperate. Photos will not always turn out.

The birds on the frozen lake at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Reserve remind me of this truth. They cluster together on the middle of the ice, or in the one small liquid spot that is farthest away from where I am standing. The scope is fine in this situation. I can see the Canada Geese standing on one foot, head tucked under a wing, taking a snooze in the sun. Scattered among them are American Wigeon, Norther Shovelers, some Pintails, some absolutely gorgeous Wood Ducks, Black Ducks and shining Mute Swans. The Hooded Mergansers look great in the bins, but fly away as soon as they see me walking down the road to get closer photo. All part of the avian plan to bring me back to reality. By the way, my attempt at digiscoping was disastrous. All I could see in the camera screen was a reflection of my own face. I'm going to return that camera. I really want the new Nikon P-90 with a 24X zoom lens, but it hasn't been released yet. That will give me time to save some money up.

However, hope prevails, and sometimes things go right. I've seen this Heron in the same spot every time I go to Muscatatuck in winter. The large bird soaring in the distance is not a vulture, but the wished for juvenile Bald Eagle, YES! The Blue Birds serenade me as I scope the Geese looking for something NOT goose. Say, there's a big old gray goose, like Aunt Rhodie's old gray goose, the dead one. But this one isn't dead, it's swimming around with about a dozen or more of it's buddies. Large, gray, bright orange bill, and white on the forehead. Hmm, I wouldn't expect to find this many run away domestic geese in the wild. Sibley says that sounds like the Greater White-fronted Goose, marked with a green dot on the map for RARE! I email some friends at the Beckham Bird Club with the find. Maybe they will run up to confirm. The last surprise was a Horned Grebe, not the Pie Billed Grebe that I usually see. My ducking experience in Arizona has paid off, and I feel so much more comfortable identifying ducks than ever before.

When the birding slacks off, or even if it doesn't, I enjoy the landscape. How about this Indiana White Crocodile? Looks pretty vicious. I've never seen it in the summer.

The beavers aren't intimidated by anything, and continue to work away whatever the weather.

I admit, it feels funny not going to the office in the morning. Setting up a new activity schedule is my priority right now. Dick gave me the private tour at the YMCA, and I plan to start a yoga class tomorrow. Oommm.... Serenity, simplicity, stretching. Sounds like a good start.