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

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If only…

If only we had seen a pigeon. (we checked every silo and barn in seven counties) +1
If only the peregrine falcon flew into her nest. (They are nesting on the local power plant. One can see them almost every day but we stopped three times this weekend and they were a no-show) +1
If only we had better hearing. ( Birders with good ears and song identification skills have a distinct advantage.) +10
If only we could function on less than 6 hours of sleep. ( Getting into the field at 4:30am is just impossible for us). +10

Yes, If only we were 30 years younger and didn’t have to stop to pee a lot or get something to eat we might have seen over 100 birds. But instead, this past weekend, after 14,000 steps/6 miles walking, 360 miles driving, at 9 locations in 7 counties we saw 83 bird species for the Big Bay Birdathon. Sponsored by our local Audubon chapter, we have competed in 4 of the 6 birdathons and they have all been a challenge in one way or another. Last year the arthritis and bone spurs in my right knee hobbled our team which included my son. Too bad, since Nathan is a great asset with young eyes and ears. This year I had a new knee which worked great, so the walking and exercise was a plus. But there were just some things we couldn’t overcome or plan for. However that’s the nature of birding.

If only they would just stay put or be more predictable.

The Big Bay Birdathon is supposed to be a fun, friendly competition (it is) but also a fundraiser because we are asked to find pledges per bird or people who just pay a flat amount. We regularly come in last in bird numbers, (only missed not being last this year by one bird), however we usually come in first for pledge money. This year we repeated in the most pledge dollars netting over $300 for NE Wisconsin Audubon chapter.

After all is said and done, all the teams get together to share our numbers, get prizes ( bird feeders/bags of seed), eat pizza, drink beer and share our highlights:

•We came upon at least 10 or more Bobolinks zooming around Killsnake NWR.

•One team witnessed hundreds, maybe thousands of tree swallow and barn swallows coming into roost at the end of the day at Mack WR.

•Another team tried calling down a Barred Owl and was really surprised when it worked and he/she flew past.

• I also managed to get a shot of a Black-crowned Night Heron at Horicon Marsh. cool.

Black-crowned Night Heron

It’s a lot of fun…if only…..

 

 

Spring?

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.

We are Going to get Gas

Natural Gas. Not the natural gas from legumes and cruciferous vegetables but the kind that heats your house and cooks your food.

Ever since we moved out to the country, away from our local urban area, we have heated our home with propane. Well, to be honest, we heated with oil for a short time but quickly had that removed and contracted with the local propane company. A tank was installed in our yard and every 6 weeks or so the propane guy would show up and top off the tank. Prices varied from year to year but we didn’t have much choice. Natural gas didn’t come down our road because we didn’t have enough residents along our mile. And we weren’t interested in cutting and splitting wood and stoking a stove. We did have a small wood stove for a while but it super heated our living room while the rest of the house froze. Creosote build-up and chimney fires were always a worry.

Last year we had a super cold winter. Our locked in price on propane ran out and we had a few pretty high bills. So this year we prepaid at a locked in price for the full season to get a good price.  A month after we paid the money Wisconsin Public Service ( the local natural gas company) sent us a letter inquiring about our interest in natural gas. I guess we finally had enough people living on our road. Great timing!

Sure we were interested but what were the details? Were we going to take a big loss on the already purchased propane? When is this happening? Once we got the details it wasn’t as dire as we might have imagined. Still on propane this year, natural gas next spring. Whew! That saves some trouble and money.

Breaking ground

Breaking ground

But the pipe was getting laid this fall and two weeks ago it began. Pretty slick. Dig a hole, dig another hole further down the road feet (up to a 1/4 mile away), force a bore through the ground until you get to the next hole – attach the gas line to the bore and then pull the gas line back through the hole.  Not as much digging as I thought until – the bore is steerable and can maneuver around underground obstacles.…until they got to our house. Lots of rocks made it harder to just force the pipe through. So they dug a big hole and moved on down the road to lay the rest of the pipe on the other side of our neighbors house. Plan was to force the pipe from the other direction. Great idea until they hit the mother of all rocks. As the pipe went 6,7,8 feet down rather than forward, they gave up. So an actual trench had to be dug.

Conference: "Sheet! That's a big effing rock"

Conference: “Sheet! That’s a big effing rock”

Digging the trench.

Digging the trench.

 

Some of the "smaller" rocks

Some of the “smaller” rocks the size of watermelons, microwave ovens and ottomans

 

Trench and pipe

Trench and pipe

Well whatever they planned must have worked because yesterday they hauled away the big rocks, back-filled the trench leaving a hole open in the front of our house. Next week they’re supposed to dig another trench up to our house to make the service connection. Wonder if there is another big rock waiting for them?

We were left with a smaller hole and attractive orange tubs.

We were left with a smaller hole and attractive orange tubs.

Swift Watching

ALineOfSwifts

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

What a Difference a Day (or two) Makes

Winter. Snow. Bitter cold.

We were tired of it. Just when you got a normal temp day (for us that was the upper 20’s) Bam! the next day it was high of 10 with a wind chill of -20. End of February, early March might produce snow but the bitter cold was just tiring. We even had a frozen water pipe this year. Then, just when we were at the end of our patience, the trend broke. We were promised normal March temps, 30’s, which turned into 40’s, which almost got to 50 today. When these “warm” days were announced I decided to take some pictures to record the change. It didn’t take long. Below is the change from Friday to Sunday. I took my pictures at 5:15 pm each day, with Daylight Saving Time intervening.The first sequence is the large field across the road from our house. The second sequence is the front of our house.

Friday,March 6, 5:15 pm, CDT

Friday, March 6, 5:15 pm, CDT

Saturday, March 7, 5:15 pm, CDT

Saturday, March 7, 5:15 pm, CDT

Sunday, March 8, 5:15pm, Central DST

Sunday, March 8, 5:15pm, Central DST

 

Mar. 6,7,8 - 5:15 pm

Mar. 6,7,8 – 5:15 pm

Granted we haven’t had snow like Boston, which is pretty weird since this is Wisconsin, so the snow melt has gently seeped into the ground. No floods. One year though we did have huge amounts of snow and that field across the way became a pond. It was a little later into Spring and that water attracted migrating birds. We had our own viewing station from the comfort of our home. This year it looks like a hike in the woods will be required.

So cheer up points east of us, the warmer weather is on its way.

Pole Sitting

Typical sighting. Can you find the Snowy owl? Answer at end of post.

Typical sighting. Can you find the Snowy owl? Answer at end of post.

This year the birding reports from organizations like Audubon, Wisconsin Society of Ornithology and Cornell Lab of Ornithology have all said this is going to be a good year for sighting Snowy owls. We have been out scouting for owls in our area and found one about a week ago. He/she was really far out sitting in a field but once we got him/her in our binoculars, we confirmed it as a Snowy. But too far for our camera lens. We dutifully reported the bird on ibird and Wiscbird where other birders post their sightings. Great sources for locating interesting birds.

When we opened Wiscbird this morning, we read that a local birder had seen three Snowys over by the airport. Well we were about to head out to our winter farmer’s market so why not try for some owls when we were done shopping?

Well we didn’t get one owl….we got two!!!

First one was a white bump on a fence post.

firstsnowyAs we edged closer he dropped down into the field but fortunately flew back up so I could get a better shot (below) which I have cropped and sharpened here. Good binoculars can give you a good look like this. And I say “him” because this owl is very white whereas the females are more streaky on their breast.firstsnowy2Once we had this guy we continued on since three had been spotted in this general area. We scanned the fields and then turned down a dead end road. As we turned I asked my husband to check the white lump on top of a telephone pole about a 1/4 mile away from us. His first call was it looked like an insulator. What I was seeing looked awfully big, even from this distance, to be an insulator. So he checked again. This time he realized he was looking at the wrong pole. Yep! another Snowy. We turned around and scooted closer.snowy2Here he was, perched on the pole and looking straight at us. This picture is cropped so you can see him better. However, we decided to slowly get closer. He never moved so this next picture is not cropped just straightened a bit since I was shooting straight up and out of the passenger side window of the car. Sweet!

snowy

Snowy Owl, Pine Tree Rd., Hobart, WI

Looks like it is going to be a good year for owls. If you are interested in a map of current sightings of owls in the upper Midwest click here.

findme

The New Monday Morning View Out My Window

Everything got finished up on Saturday. The workmen are gone. I could sleep in without someone banging on my walls at 7AM.  Ah heaven. And now the view I have been sharing with you, lo these many weeks, has changed. Well the view technically is the same its the glass and the frame around the picture that’s different. Remember the first view I showed you? bedrm windIt was a pretty gray day, made more gray because the seal on this window was gone and pockets of moisture inside made everything a bit fuzzier. Well we ditched the casement window in favor of an awning style ( better ventilation) and now…ta da! This is the new view.

New window

New window

Yes there is that bar across the lower part but in normal light it is a warm brown and looks great. The view is clear. Really clear. I love it. And of course the lush greens of summer don’t hurt either. So thanks for taking this little journey with me, I’m going to go look out my window.

Monday Morning View out my Window while I write more of Paris Food

I’m writing more food stories, promise. But while I’m working on those here is the latest view from my Monday morning window. Fields are getting green, trees are all leafed out. And way in the distance is Green Bay…as in the water.This may be the last window for awhile. Once a month may be more dramatic. Watch for food in a day or two.

window9

Monday Morning View Out My Window #7

I have a crappy cold and the last thing I was thinking this morning was, “rise and shine, take a picture out your window for the blog series.” Why the heck did I start a blog series anyway? I’m sick, boo. But then there was my Sweetie, pushing up the shade and asking me if I shoot vertically or horizontally. I raised my stuffy head from the pillow and said, “horizontal, get the tree in and don’t forget the pipe.” Then my head went back down.

Later when I looked at the picture, I knew it wouldn’t be the same but boy, damn close. He did pretty good from my vague directions. I also thought it was nice of him to get the shot when I was barely lucky enough to remember what day it was.windowAnd the other reason he rushed up to get the shot at this precise time? Can you see those tiny black dots out in the field? Even enlarged you might miss them so I’ve done it for you.

turkeyTurkeys! In ten minutes they were gone. So Curt, thanks for the shot.