Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Bird Count

If I wrote for Wheel of Fortune on television, I would use this title in the Before and After category. I want to include our first Christmas Bird Count, but also want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, so here goes! As retirees, Dick and I don't get up before dawn very often now, but the Christmas Bird Count at Otter Creek Park started at 8 am. As one expects at Christmas, it was cold and overcast, but we layered up and thought we could take it. Otter Creek Park used to belong to the City of Louisville, even though it is located in Meade County not far from Ft. Knox. It hosts the YMCA's Camp Piomingo, an we drove there regularly when the kids were camp age, and Dick served on the board. Now the City no longer runs the park and it has been closed for almost two years. Apparently the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife people are going to take it on as a recreation area rather than a wildlife management area. Here's hoping they make a success of it. The park has a spectacular overlook on a large horseshoe bend in the Ohio River and is a favorite spot for many people. This is the 111th Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the Audubon Society, but the first for Dick and me. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action. Each group takes an area with a radius of 7.5 miles, resulting in 70-80 squares miles of potential territory to cover. Six of us took Otter Creek Park, and other friends from Beckham Bird Club headed out into the rest of the circle. Unlike our usual bird hikes, we counted individuals of each species as well as the different species. At first, things were very quiet and we saw few birds. I wonder if the chattering of our teeth scared them away! We drove down to the river and sighted 5 Black Scoters and a Bald Eagle. The Bluebirds hopped in the treetops eating mistletoe berries. Then the sun broke through the clouds and birds and birders both sang with joy for the warmth!
For the most part, we saw the birds one expects in a Kentucky winter outing - Juncos, Robins, Chickadees, Titmice, Gold Finches, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens, and murders of Crows. Last weekend other members of Beckham Bird Club found 90 species in their Jefferson County count. We got lucky with the Woodpeckers though, and saw almost all the Kentucky Woodpeckers except a Sapsucker, including Downy, Hairy, Flickers, and Red Bellied. Then we found six Red Headed Woodpeckers chasing each other around in the trees, something rather unusual for this part of the state. Dick and I had to leave around noon, and as we stood in the parking lot, I noticed a small bird hanging upside down in the pine cones. It turned out to be a Red Breasted Nuthatch, another bird not often found around here! We haven't received the total numbers or species list from Barbara yet. We saw some Turkeys as we drove out, and Barbara said she saw a Barred Owl too, so I look forward to the totals.
The Christmas Bird Count may become a new Christmas tradition for us. I've been thinking about those traditions during the last few weeks. Since our children are grown and moved out, our traditions have changed a bit. We still use the same old ornaments though, and I mean that in a good sense. Some are survivors of my childhood and bring back wonderful memories, but I won't say how old they are! Others were given to us as wedding gifts since we got married in late November, 37 years ago, and we cherish all of them. We will spend Christmas Day with our immediate family, and my brother and sister from Cincinnati will join us on Sunday. Family is important, and it seems harder to get together as we get older ourselves.
The cats are fascinated by all the hub-bub, of course. We are careful not to put down the tree skirt until it can be covered with boxes, since the cats think the tree and fancy skirt are just for them! Binx is giving his opinion of all the decorations, and moves from the mantle to the steps, to the back of the sofa to get just the right angle. Dick and I wish all of you a wonderful and safe Christmas Holiday and a birdy New Year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Good Day to Stay Home

One of the great things about retirement is staying home without guilt when the weather is bad. If you've been watching the Weather Channel today, you know that Louisville is covered with about half an inch of ice. The temperature is 32, not too bad, but it won't warm up substantially. It's a good day to stay in, drink hot coffee, and watch Christmas movies while wrapping gifts. I'm hoping the roads will clear by 3 p.m. when I have to go to the Raptor Center. It's like being a dairy farmer--you must take care of them no matter what. I bought some salt to leave there, and am crossing my fingers that someone has spread it before I arrive today!
When I went out to salt our own sidewalks, I decided to walk in the grass and flower gardens to reach the garage. The sidewalks were just tooooo treacherous to risk. Dick broke a rib last winter, and I don't want to go through that too.
The squirrels and birds are looking for seeds. They have faith in me.
The ice is beautiful though when it coats the branches and berries. As long as it doesn't bring down any tree limbs! And, thank goodness this is nowhere as bad as the last ice storm we had!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

First Snow of the Season

It's December 4, and a clipper system blows its way across the midsection of the country. The staff at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve plans for the annual Nature of Christmas in Goshen with their fingers crossed. On one hand, Kentuckians are not used to driving in snow, and are likely to just stay home if the weather is bad. On the other hand, snow will be beautiful for the Christmas event, and we are prepared. We make special arrangements for all the red berries to glow under the snowy branches. A few people will be brave enough to walk around and enjoy them. I will take lots of photos for both this blog and the Preserve's website.
Crafts people set up their booths inside the house this year. Last year people stood in line for hours for the free hot dogs, chili, coffee and hot chocolate. This year, there is a tent with a heater that allows people take off their coats as they sit down to eat. The grounds look like Christmas cards. Maybe we should try making Christmas cards or a calendar as a fund raiser next year.
Fluffed up Song Sparrows perch on the window sill of the nature center, then hop to the feeder for a quick bite. The snow is wet and makes terrific snow balls. It's a great day to attack dear old Dad.
Other neighborhood residents take advantage of the safe slopes to slide down the hill on saucers. Two girls sharing one have a hard time getting started, then they laugh as they spin in circles.
Buddy Freckles, the director's dog, stayed inside most of the day, but says that he loves playing in the snow. Entertainment included a handbell choir, followed by Santa and Mrs. Claus. As the crowds finally left at the end of the afternoon, one little boy came to ask a very important question. "Is that the real Santa?" he whispered. "What do you think?" I replied. With big glowing eyes he nodded his head. "Yes, he's the real one." "You are absolutely right. He is the real Santa Claus!" Anyone who will sit for and hour and a half, listening to the soft mumbles of children and acknowledging their wishes, is certainly the real Santa in my book! And he brought Mrs. Claus along to be sure everything was written down correctly.
I got a present too. Tavia's book about Bernheim Forest is now available for purchase, both at Bernheim, local book sellers, and online, and I got my copy on Saturday. 28 of my photos are featured, including two that fill entire pages! Sometimes I had to check the credit on a photo to see if it was Tavia's or mine, since I have many that are very much like hers in some instances. I started taking bird photos to help me remember what we saw on birding trips. I think they are pretty good, and tried submitting them in photo contests for a while. I never got recognized for them though, and gave up that effort. I don't really need recognition, but I must admit that I'm very excited about being published! Dick and I enjoyed remembering trips we made to Bernheim with his parents and our own young children. Today the landscaping is quite different than it was 25 or 30 years ago. We also looked at the pictures of friends who volunteer with Dick and our special friend Wren Smith, who taught us both in our Certified Interpretive Guide class. In fact, Tavia included a section on this opportunity. Whoo-Hoo! I'm published!!!