Busy Birdy Afternoons

We have two very large windows that face out into a garden that has a wide variety of bird feeders. We have seed, suet, oranges and jelly plus a Hummingbird feeder with sugar nectar. We get a pretty good variety of birds. I was working at the table by these windows yesterday afternoon when I got the idea of documenting just who was visiting our little buffet. So I spent about two hours with my camera at the ready. Some pictures turned out very well, others ..eh. Because this was the afternoon, lighting wasn’t ideal and some birds that visited were too fast for my camera. But here are the ones I managed to catch, mostly regulars and one surprise. Click on pictures to see them larger.

Female & male Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

A variety of sparrows.

Starting upper left clockwise: Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I’ve put in three pictures because on the left is the male but only when he dipped his head could you see the ruby throat. If he faced into the sun it would have been brighter. The female is on the right.

A shy Red-bellied Woodpecker.

male and female American Goldfinches

The male Cardinal wouldn’t stay long enough for a picture but his lady friend did.

Starting Upper left clockwise: Red Winged Blackbird, Robin, Mourning Dove, Common Grackle

White-breasted Nuthatch

Male and female Downy Woodpeckers

A Pine Siskin who would only give me his backside.

Pine Siskin

Female and male Baltimore Orioles being photo-bombed by a House Finch.

And finally the surprise visitor of the day, a Catbird. These guys do not visit feeders but I guess he was wondering what all the excitement was about.So this is the variety of birds we saw in about a two hour time frame. And these are only the ones I actually was able to photograph. Those who wouldn’t pose: Male Cardinal, Blue Jay, Black Capped Chickadee, Hairy Woodpecker and an Orchard Oriole. Not in the yard but flying by were Canadian Geese and calling from the field across the road, Sandhill Cranes. So check your yard, your life list could easily get much longer.


Nature Notebook Moment with Chickadees

On Wednesday and Thursday this week we went on a birding trip up to Door County which is the long thin peninsula that sticks out on the Ne side of Wisconsin. We had planned this trip about a month ago thinking Spring would have sprung and the birds would have begun their migration. Not strongly but enough that we would see some new birds for the year. Then on April 14th and 15th, Wisconsin got hit with a Spring blizzard. Many birds who were already in town were struggling. Food sources were buried in snow and the wind and cold for that long of a period just didn’t help. We have had late snows in the past but even in March we say, Ah, it will all melt by tomorrow. Not this one. We had huge drifts that made it difficult even to get out the back door much less try to get to the bird feeders. In the days after, many reports of dead birds came in to the bird reporting sites, a lot of them robins. So when we headed north two days ago, we didn’t know what we would find.

We mostly birded from the car or stayed on main paths. Trails in the parks were really muddy or still had snow packed on them. Some of our best finds were in flooded fields. The farmer probably wasn’t happy but the birds were enjoying the new lakes. One high note on the trip was in Peninsula Park. Further into the park from the main entrance is a Nature Center. It is a small building where you can talk to a staff person about recent sightings or ask questions about other flora and fauna. That is, when it is staffed. Park funding being constantly cut, doesn’t allow for someone there most times. But there are feeders and a white board where people can record what they have seen in the park.

When we pulled in on Thursday there was no human on site but instead we were greeted by a gang of chickadees. There was a pair of cardinals in the tree and a red breasted nuthatch swooped through. But the chickadees seemed quite friendly and seemed to be hoping we had handouts. Curt found a large can of sunflower seeds around the back of the building and was going to try to call them in. ( We sort of had this idea planted by the Park staffer at the entrance who wanted to know if we were interested in feeding chickadees but we declined). Now it seemed like a good idea. So Curt put seed on his hat and in both his hands and sat on a bench. I went for the camera, just in case.Well it didn’t take very long and in came the chickadees.

Curt waiting for the Chickadees while a Cardinal curiously looks on.

I tried really hard to get shots but those little guys were fast. I managed to get them in each of his hands but even though they also landed on his hat my only shot was one taking off.

Left hand feeder

Right hand feeder

Chickadee taking off from his hat

Then it was my turn. Please ignore the dumb look on my face. I was trying to be as still as possible but still get to see the birds on my hand.

Perched on my thumb.

So cute!

Their little toes tickled, and every time they came in and out there was a little flutter sound. It was so great. The cardinal was also hovering nearby when I sat down but they don’t feed like the chickadees so I put some seed on the bench right next to me and waited. Sure enough, Mr. Cardinal saw this was for him. It was marvelous to see him up close. He stayed for a bit taking in 4-5 seeds unlike the chickadees who grab one and fly off. Curt watched him when he flew and said he was feeding seeds to the female. He came back again. So cool!

Me and my Cardinal friend

It was a great experience. We were so glad the park wasn’t crowded or that a family with 4 kids didn’t come storming up. We might have called in the chickadees, they seemed pretty conditioned. But I don’t think the cardinal would have come in. Hope your encounters with nature are as fun as this.

Eclipse Fever

We had this little event on Monday called The Great American Eclipse. When I first heard about it I wasn’t too excited because the path it was taking was either way West or South of where I live in the upper Midwest. But my son visited about a month ago and said, “Well you’ll get about 78% coverage.” That seemed more significant than I originally thought so I marked it on the calendar, noting the time of maximum coverage and waited for the day.

When August 21 arrived I still hadn’t decided how I going to do to view this celestial phenomenon. But as I started watching the coverage on TV and saw the first excited crowds in Idaho, I thought I should do some preparation, quickly. I hadn’t bought any glasses but I vaguely remembered something about making a viewer from a cereal box. I did recall as a kid there was an eclipse and we just poked a pin in a piece of paper but that seemed pretty minimal. So about a half an hour before the event would begin here I found a narrow box just a bit wider than a cereal box. Note: All my cereal boxes were full of cereal. I quickly googled instructions and slapped together a viewer. It worked.

Me w/ viewer (left) and what I could see (right)

Meanwhile Curt had come home and said he had read that using a colander or a strainer or something with holes would do the trick. We gathered our holey devices.

Ultimately the large colander worked the best. OooH! Aaaah!

One colander. Many eclipses!

We then remembered someone saying that during an eclipse the dappled light coming through the leaves of trees would turn into crescents. Sure enough! The left side of these pictures of the side of our house and our deck are the normal views, the right side is during the eclipse.

Can you see the crescents?

So without much advance preparation we had one good time last Monday even if we couldn’t experience the awe of a total eclipse. Though after what I saw on TV it might be worth driving to a nearby location for the next one full one, only seven years away.

This Great American Eclipse report brought to you by:

Mrs. and Mr. Science


It’s April. It snowed yesterday. My daffodils that are trying to bud have quickly tucked their heads in. Today the sky was gray and it rained  because luckily the temperature got up to 34, barely. Tonight it is expected to go down to 23. Can this be Spring?

Well the goldfinch guys think it is. They are quickly changing into their Spring plumage in order to woo the ladies. I will trust them and hope for the best.finches

It must be working, that Lady Cardinal looks interested.

Swift Watching


Picture credit: Jonestown, Texas Swiftfest

Right now a lot of birds are on the move since we are just beginning the fall migration. Chimney Swifts are no exception and they display a behavior which is fun to watch. Swifts look like little torpedos with fluttery wings, thus the nickname ‘flying cigars.’ Their wings move quite fast and the birds emit a high-pitched chattering while flying over your head. You probably have seen them and not known it because they tend to hang out with swallows. During migration, thousands of swifts roost together in chimneys, funneling into them at dusk.

To get a sense of how many are migrating, Audubon asks bird clubs and bird groups to conduct a count in their area. There is worry that the Swift population is diminishing because more chimneys are being capped or just removed because they are no longer in use. Our count was on August 8th and the chimney we watched became the overnight roost for 86 swifts. Other watchers got less than ten or none but a few got anywhere from 200-300.

This week one of our local birders reported seeing 2000 chimney swifts going into a large local chimney at the St. Norbert’s Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin. I had a dinner engagement on the evening following this report so I decided to drive over after dinner to see if the swifts were still around. They were. There was another birder there and between the two of us we counted at least 2500 chimney swifts.

The next night I said to Curt, “Let’s go find some swifts.” And this time I took the camera.

When we got to The Abbey the sky was full of birds. (note: click on the picture to get a larger view)

Swifts in the Sky

Swifts in the Sky (How many do you think are in this frame? The answer is at the end of this post)

They swirled in a clockwise direction. Around and around. The sun set at 7:33pm but they still kept flying. Then about 7:45pm they started dropping into the chimney.

They dropped into the chimney.

They dropped into the chimney.

and dropped.

and dropped.

and dropped.

and dropped.

and dropped!

and dropped!

These pictures were taken in just the first minute. The birds continued to go into the chimney and in another minute or two the sky was empty. I think we once again had 2000 – 3000 birds. They will roost there overnight clinging to the vertical masonry. The next day will be spent foraging. They may roost again in this chimney or move on, eventually ending up in South America for the winter. It was a wonderful and amazing sight.

Swifts a bit closer up.

Swifts a bit closer up.

Answer.  We carefully counted 175 birds in just this small section of the sky

Finding Birds: Crex Meadows

While searching for promising birding sites Curt discovered Crex Meadows Wildlife Area which is about 2 hours north of Eau Claire* where my son lives. So this morning we picked up our son Nathan at 8:00 AM and headed out.crexAt 30,000 acres, Crex is one of the largest state owned wildlife areas in Wisconsin. The area is a combination of wetlands, prairie and woods so we were hoping for a wide variety of birds. As we got closer I started going through my directions and maps but once we got to Grantsburg, the town adjacent to Crex we saw this sign.followNice. But what goose? Well it was really geese and they were painted on the road every block or so, or at an intersection if you had to make a turn. Very clever. I put my map away.goose2This was also Global Bird Day so we were counting every bird we saw in order to submit it to Cornell Lab of Ornithology to be added to the cumulative world list. I’m sure we didn’t see anything unique but it was a lot of fun. For the day we found 48 species (pretty low over all), 34 of those were just at Crex, 11 were new to our yearly list. Some highlights were a common loon, eastern towhee, vesper sparrow, field sparrow, solitary sandpiper and a spotted sandpiper. Many of the birds we saw just wouldn’t pose for the camera. Here are few that did.

Horned grebe, female and male

Horned grebe, female and male

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

Green Heron

Green Heron

That’s all for today. Tomorrow onward to Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.

*unless otherwise indicated all towns, refuges and wildlife areas mentioned are in Wisconsin.

Finding Birds: Migration 2015

If reading about birds bores the heck out of you, the next four posts are going to put you to sleep. I’ll see you readers in about a week. For the rest of you, today we started a five day birding trip across Wisconsin from Green Bay to Eau Claire. From there we are visiting wildlife areas from Grantsburg, WI down to Wyalusing. Hopefully we will be seeing a lot of birds and some of them will pose for pictures.

Here are today’s highlights. First stop was Bergstrom Marsh off of highway 54 near Black Creek. This is a pretty big marsh where in the past we have seen ten different waterfowl at one time, short-eared owls and black terns. Today wasn’t that dramatic but we had some nice sightings.

First, goslings have hatched. We saw at least four different clutches with Mom and Dad guarding their every move. Even though I was in the car this gander is questioning my right to look at him and his.

"You looking at me?"

“You looking at me?”

Further into the marsh we came upon white pelicans. On the left a large group was flying over and then came in for a landing. Here is one hitting the water.landingOn the right, there was a group just swimming on the water. At first I couldn’t figure what was happening because I was just looking at them without my binoculars. Pelicans are pretty big so you can see them easily with the naked eye. But until I raised the binoculars I didn’t realize they were feeding. And on top of that, it was breezy and the wind was blowing their tale feathers as they raised their rumps into the air. So cool.

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

Finally the new bird we saw for our yearly list was one of the best, a yellow headed blackbird. They sit a long way off on the cattails so having a good zoom lens is a must. This was the best shot but I think you get the idea. Let’s hope the next couple of days are as successful.

A jewel in the marsh

A jewel in the marsh

Black Friday Purge

bugs3My son was home for Thanksgiving and on Friday it is always a mystery on what to do to occupy our time. He’s not ready to drive home, we don’t shop, we’ve played board games already and going to the movies is out because if the crazies aren’t shopping, they are going to the show. One of our theaters is next to a mall so parking is non-existent anyway.

So I suggested going through boxes of his old toys. He is 27 and hasn’t looked at them in years. Also he doesn’t have kids but would like to keep some of his old stuff, just in case, he gets married, has kids…I don’t know. I don’t ask.

He’s got a great Lego collection that any kid would love to have but that is sorted and boxed in the basement and off-limits! The stuff I was interested in sorting, donating or tossing was a lot of miscellaneous toys. I had found two shoeboxes under his bed that held a jumble of things so since he was game, we started there.

Three piles:
1.) Geez, this might be collectible or too good to give away – keep
2.) Has some play left in it – donate
3.) Crap that no one wants – toss   w/ sub-heading – recycle

I was really happy that the toss and donate pile was actually growing. It didn’t take us long to get through those two so I suggested we look at the additional boxes in the back of his closet. On we went. It was slow going because of all his reminiscing. It was also amazing to me that he knew where every little part went or what set it originally was from, even if that set, toy, game…no longer existed in this house anymore. Tiny missiles, lone little soldiers, fins, legs, helmets, game markers…my son with the steel trap mind remembered it all. So there we were getting through 4,5,6,7 boxes of stuff when we came upon the …insect collection.collectionThese were real insects. But they had died of natural causes (we presume) and were found by my son, who saved them. I know you’ve seen neatly organized insect collections in probably a museum. All are laid out and displayed with a pin attaching them to the board they are exhibited on. Those insects were captured alive and put into a “killing jar.” Those insects were then relaxed and dehydrated and pinned. A delicate and tedious process but you have a very nice “mount” in the end. Nathan never killed insects. If he found them alive in the house, he captured them and released them. Live insects outside were left alone. But finding one already dead, well that was different. The problem was these guys usually didn’t die peacefully and were found in contorted positions. These little bodies weren’t going to be “relaxed” and pinned to a board.

Is that your head over there?

Is that your head over there?

Some were missing parts, all were in some state of rigor. And many had recently met their maker so they weren’t all nice and dehydrated. I remember one especially fat beetle who smelled pretty bad. What to do?

Old smelly

Old smelly

Enter my husband, with the solution.

Curt buys a lot of stuff at garage sales and flea markets and one such purchase was a wonderful collection of glass jars. He gave a bunch of these to Nathan. Thus, the dearly departed could be viewed and not smelled because these jars had nice tight lids. They sat on a shelf in his room and were added to, as deaths occurred. Later, once Nathan had moved out, I put them in a box in his closet and forgot about them.

Butterfly, Bees and ??

Butterfly, Bees and ??

We had fun looking at this old collection, but in the end, they weren’t worth keeping. Nathan discarded the bugs, outside in the snow. Their little husks, no longer smelly, fluttered away.  The little glass jars were washed and scrubbed and went back with my son who plans on storing spices in them. They will still look nice and smell a lot better.


The Punks are Absolutely Done

No kids at home anymore. No grandkids on the near horizon. But at Halloween I still like to turn pumpkins into Jack-o-Lanterns. This year I wasn’t so sure I was going to get it done since I had surgery on Oct 15 and I was told by my doctor to, “Take it Easy!! No lifting!!” A couple of days before my date with the doctor, our neighbor, who had grown pumpkins in his garden this year, asked me if I wanted a few. Great, I said. So he and his daughter drove over with pumpkins on his trailer and told me I could have as many as I liked. Not to be greedy, I chose four.

In the back of my mind was the thought that I might not be able to wrangle these guys around this year but when I mentioned my habit of putting the Jack-o-Lanterns across the road, his daughter smiled and nodded. Well of course I had to do it.

I was good, I took it easy. I had Curt put the pumpkins up on the table and once the cutting was done, he put them outside. About a week after Halloween the punks went across the road. Here are the Punks fresh from Halloween.

Fresh Punks

Fresh Punks

Then Curt cleaned up the garden and we had some extra squash so the some of the gang got hats.

Punks w/ squash

Punks w/ squash

Everybody was holding up pretty good. Mainly because we had a couple of weeks of a nasty cold snap. Normal highs: 40. Our highs: 22. It even snowed. But the freezing cold weather kept the Punks upright and smiling.

Frozen Punks

Frozen Punks

This weekend disaster hit. Well it was great for us. Mid 40’s. Heck, we were looking for our shorts and flip-flops. (Seriously I saw someone dressed like that…well, yes it was a college student). However when it gets that warm anything that is frozen will thaw especially pumpkins and this was the sight that greeted me this morning.

Oh noooo!

Oh noooo!

Hats had fallen as well as faces. The punk on the left really did a face plant.

It is raining now which is going to really help these guys along but I’m putting my money on the tall one to hang in there till Christmas.