Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Walk While the Sun Shines

Gadwall male
In the winter, I just lose all interest in going outside on a cloudy, gloomy day. "Gloomy" is the key word. Go out for a walk when the sun is gone and the wind blows down my neck no matter how tightly a scarf is wrapped? No thanks. I'll just sit in my lounge chair wrapped in my favorite fuzzy blanket, reading a book or watching old movies. Of course, that also leads to excessive snacking, but that's what winter is about, right?
Mallards in head bobbing - courtship behavior
But the sun has been out this week, and the temps are up in the 40's and 50's - very pleasant weather for January - so I actually went for a walk along the Anchorage Trail this morning. It is paved, and I won't end up tracking a lot of mud home with me. All the little winter birds sang as they darted around unseen by me. It's always good practice to recognize them by sound alone. The ice on the lake was partially melted inviting several Gadwalls and a pair of Mallards to swim around. The Mallards were head bobbing at each other, then the male climbed on top of the female. Seems a little early for such behavior to me, but they know what they are doing. A pair of Kingfishers called to each other from the other side of the lake.
A flock of, say, 30 or so Canada Geese squabbled at each other while grazing in the nearby soybean field, then flew back to the lake. Some landed on the water with a splash, while others landed on the ice instead. All stood on the edge of the ice for a drink of cold water before hopping in for a little swim.
Hornet Nest
One tree had two hornet nests, with all the hornets safely inside, I hope. Don't they look like big skulls? In colder climes (according to National Geographic), hornet nests are abandoned in winter and only new, young queens (and their eggs) survive the season by finding protected areas under tree bark or even inside human dwellings. In the spring, such a queen will begin a new nest, and soon her young will become workers and take over the chores of the new hive—leaving the queen to tend to reproduction. She will produce more workers to expand the hive and then, before she dies, yield a breeding generation of new queens and males (drones) to restart the cycle of life.
Red-shouldered Hawk keeping warm
 As I headed back towards the car, I heard the repeated call of a Red-shouldered Hawk. I know they live around the trail, it's perfect habitat and I've seen them before. But lots of Blue Jays were out and about today, and they always mimic this hawk and I always fall for it. OK, let's walk in that direction and see if it really is a hawk or not. Yeah! There she sits on one foot, with the other curled up under her fluffed out feathers, trying to stay warm while keeping an eye below for something to eat.
Isn't she beautiful? Yes, indeed, I like taking walks when the sun shines!

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