Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Last Night in the Yard

On a quick reconnoiter this morning to check the tracks in the yard I came upon this print in the snow among the rabbit tracks.

Still too grey--I know, but it gives an impression of what I saw.

Snow is not the little digital camera's forte. It has a "snow" setting" but still, as always, I had to mess with these images quite a bit to try to get them out of the neutral range--they are still too grey. Days like this I miss my old Asahi Pentax Spotmatic--fully manual, easy to get the right exposure. (I still have it, but it needs repairs I can't afford right now--and I'm hooked on the immediacy of the digital.)

From the side

Rabbit tracks run right through the print, so not the tracks of sucessfully captured prey I think. Not clear just what happened here--but I suspect that this is the mark of a great horned owl (GHOW).

This wing print was a few feet away.

As I finished taking a few shots I heard a terrible crow ruckus coming from the fields. Blue jays joined in. I started back to see if I could locate them, with owls on my mind. I could see the fuss centred on a bit of the near edge of the cedar bush. As I walked up the object of the harassment flushed and flew off in the direction of the far field. All I saw was big, brown, low-flying and flapping. Could it be that this was the very GHOW that had visited the yard last night?

The blue jays stayed in the cedar bush, and continued to call. The crows, 5 or 6 of them, took off in hot pursuit. The object of their chase apparently landed again beyond the edge of the far field. The winds were brisk--the temperature about -15C, and chasing birds across fields over snow and ice is a mug's game, so I stayed where I was to see if the bird would flush back into view. The fuss continued for a few more minutes, then all together the crows stopped calling and flew off. Had their quarry flown out of their area of concern too low for me to see it--or did the crows figure that they'd made their point, and could now go on with their day?

Sunday, February 26, 2006


In the early hours of Saturday morning snow began to fall--continuing into the afternoon, to a total of 15-20 cm.

At the edge of the far field.

It's cold and winds are brisk--but it's beautiful.

In the high open areas at the south end of the scrape the wind scours the snow.

When it warms up a little this afternoon I'll be going out to check tracks. All I saw yesterday were what I think were probably red squirrel tracks and tunnels in the first field.

The Bohemians are still around.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Who has seen the wind?

A victim of Friday's high winds.

Bev Wigney in the Blogosphere

I first got to know Bev Wigney's photography and nature stories from the Eastern Ontario Natural History Listserv. Her invertebrate images in particular have been a great resource for me--helping me identify stuff around here. See for example her Agriope aurantia photos referred to in my post, In the Yard, about this spider.

One of my favourite of her stories posted the listserv is the ongoing saga of a psycho red squirrel that's been visiting her yard for a couple of years now, terrorizing the other visitors.

Now Bev has a blog, Burning Silo, where you can read about the squirrel (and follow the links to photos and video), and more besides. Check it out.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Flash Freeze

We had a wild 24 hours of weather here. Snow Thursday (about 5 cm), then the temperature started to rise--pausing for a bout of freezing rain, then continuing to a rainy high of +5C Friday morning. Then the winds came up--a little snow, and plunging temperatures. Once again, we're surrounded by ice.

A flock of goldfinches (about 50), some of which are seen here, turn up whenever the temperature drops, or snow is in the air. I never see them anywhere else(except at the nieghbour's feeder). I wonder if the flock breaks up when the weather is good, or if they just go so far afield I don't run into them.

But the high pressure has brought fantastic late February sunshine. And yesterday I heard 2 mystery birds singing, and the white-breasted nuthatch singing as well (if you can call it that). I noticed this for the first time last year--the nuthatch sings very early in the season (pre-season you might say). I believe that the pair that visit the feeder regularly are on this territory year round, and so perhaps the early singing is to make sure that they keep it, perhaps because young nuthatches are on the move right now. Whatever the reason though, it's good to hear this portent of spring.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I and the Bird #17

The First Annual I and the Bird Festival is underway at WildBird on the Fly. This, the 17th edition of the carnival of the best of recent bird and birder blogging from around the net and around the world, is a collection of great posts from regular contributors as well as a number of very interesting newcomers. Check it out!

Arctic Dreams

If you've ever dreamed of living in the Arctic, or if you think that's just nuts, but find the place fascinating at a safe distance, if you haven't been to The House and Other Arctic Musings, by all means, go there! But then check in to The House's new project, a growing list of Nunavut Blogs reflecting life in the arctic from a diversity of perspectives.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bohemian Waxwing

This has been in many ways an extraordinary season. In the late fall, hearing reports of possible visits by a number of northern birds to my region I wrote of my desire to see a crossbill. (Now that it's February, check out the Ontario Field Ornithologists' winter finch forecast--see if it's panning out.) Crossbills were reported around Ottawa, a couple of hours to the northeast of Thomasburg, and sporadically elsewhere (and closer), but not here. Snowy owls have also been reported, and are still being reported in large numbers all around Ontario--no luck for me. (Though there is a place, Amherst Island, about an hour's drive away, where many have been seen--I could go down there, but what would be more interesting to me is if one came here.) I did get to see pine grosbeaks (see Winter Birds); evening grosbeaks hung around for a while, but the warm weather seems to have put them on the move; and we've had some pine siskins; and regular visits by a small flock of common redpolls. Another northern bird I started to hear about in the fall was the Bohemian waxwing. This made me nervous--too much like a bird I know, the cedar waxwing. I was afraid that I would miss a Bohemian. So I studied up on the differences, read a number of interesting posts (see for example this post at 10,000 Birds about the "wax" in waxwing, or this post at Words & Pictures about the winter return of the Bohemian, with a beautiful picture of same) about Bohemian waxwings, and then forgot all about it.

Not a great picture, but you can see the white on the wings,
the easiest to see field mark differentiating this bird from the cedar waxwing.

Late yesterday afternoon, when the light was starting to fade and I was making my way home from a walk across the fields, I saw a flock of birds fly overhead. The flight pattern was unusual, somewhat starling like. The flight calls were definitely not starling. They put me in mind of the cedar waxwing, but not much. The birds landed first on the top of a tree a field away--swirled to another, then out of sight. I stood and watched for a while--these were the first birds I'd seen on the walk aside from the ubiquitous chickadee, and I didn't want to go home without finding out what they were. A moment or two later they reappeared, flew over me and landed in a small red cedar (Juniperus virginiana--a juniper that grows up, not across) in the scrape (the area of the fields where topsoil is harvested, and near where I stood. I could only see one of them (there were about 15), and I walked slowly up, sighting the bird with my pocket binoculars (not great, but better than nothing) as I walked. I saw the crested profile of a waxwing, so cedar waxwing? But this bird didn't look right, aside from the crest, the profile was wrong--too heavy, too tall. Then I noticed the white markings on the wings. That combined with the flight call suggested that these were Bohemians. I was able to move up enough to see them pretty well--and after the one that stayed visible flew off and landed on a nearby deciduous tree I took the picture above, in spite of the bad light.

When I got home I confirmed the identification, and noticed that the images in the field guides make the cedar and bohemian waxwings look much more alike than they look in life. I suppose if I'd been in a hurry I might have left it at the first sight of the crest and misidentified the bird. But once I got a good look I could see that the bohemian is quite a different bird.

A cloud of words

This is nice--a cloud of Thomasburg Walks words, with some pretty, alliterative phrases. I like "singing small snow song" and "white wild winged winter."

First seen at Woodsong, then at A DC Birding Blog. A natural meme. John at A DC Birding Blog may be singing a small snow song himself this morning.

Go here to give the generator a try--you can get your results on a t-shirt.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Cedar Bush--A Portrait

Every picture I've ever taken of the cedar bush with a little digital camera is deceptive. It always looks like much more open than it is, in reality it is blocked by masses of small branches poised to take out an eye, and an everchanging array of fallen larger branches and trees. So it seemed a good subject to try out the Orton technique on. (Thanks to Cindy at Woodsong and Troutgrrrl at Science and Sarcasm for the suggestion and the links.)

In the original photo you can see snow on the branches of the trees. It was taken in December after a snowstorm.

Ortonizing made the green dominant, which in the case of this photo results in an image I find pleasing--and pretty far removed from the cedar bush's true nature. Here's a link to Cindy's post about this photoshop technique and where you can find out more about it.

Finch Food

I am beginning to realize that I'm paying much more attention to the winter birds--their comings and goings, their behaviours and their food choices--this year than ever before. I have a sense of the kinds of things to expect from my past, more casual observations, but no real idea of how often or when to expect things. And of course every winter is different--this winter in many ways more different than most.

Goldfinches like rudbeckia seeds. But how much do they like them and when? I've been expecting to see them on the seed heads all winter--then the other day, after the temperature dropped back to more seasonal and the finches came back to the yard, there they were, turning up black oil sunflower seeds and niger seeds for rudbeckia.

Why now? Why not before? Do the seeds need to freeze a bunch of times before they taste good? Is it merely a whim on the part of the birds? Does one rudbeckia-lover need to lead the charge? The flock, only a small part of which is pictured above, descended on the seed heads one day this past week. As far as I can tell (no tracks, no scattered seed) they haven't been back to them--preferring again the feeder fare.

Monday, February 06, 2006

False Spring

Last Thursday was Groundhog Day, and the famous prognosticators in Canada (foremost among them, perhaps, Wiarton Willie) did not see their shadows, hence an early spring. (This was not the case south of the border, as Troutgrrrl reports). When the groundhog see its shadow: six more weeks of winter. Now it took me many years to get it through my head that "six more weeks..." was not the forecast of an early spring. After all, winter ending in the middle of March sounded pretty good to me.

This year Groundhog Day fell in the midst of alarmingly warm weather. Saturday I went out to see what the trees and plants were thinking about the advent of spring. Many thought it was here.

Swelling leaf bud on a Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) Prickly ash, (Xanthoxylum americanum)

Species Poplar: budding catkin

Poplars flower early, but this is too early. Winter returned this week. Thomasburg fell in a narrow band between winter storms. We had some wind, some snow, but nothing like regions of Ontario to the west, north, and some parts east. Temperatures have fallen into more normal ranges, and are forecast to stay down all week. So what happens to the trees that jump the gun. Probably nothing terrible--but it does put them closer to the edge to spend the extra energy on budding twice. These particular trees don't normally suffer from the spring frosts we often get after the trees break dormancy in more average years, but a couple of hard frosts in the spring--or, as is also possible, a couple more false springs, would put them at risk.

Species moss

Moss is incredible stuff. Not only does it grow on rocks, but this growth in a warm spell is nothing for moss. Most summers we have some very dry periods during which all the moss in exposed areas dries right out. One day of rain and it greens up again, often flowering almost before my eyes.

So no worries about the moss. And the snow cover on the perrennial beds has persisted since the real snow of December. (I got out on snowshoes three times--more than last year (which was cold, but there was very little snow) but not nearly enough!) But a lot of things are going to be affected, one way or another, by this very weird winter.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I and the Bird #16

In the spirit of peace, love and birding, The Dharma Bums present I and the Bird #16: Birdstock. A festival of songs of birds and birding from all over the world, all welcome. Drop on by--your ticket is waiting for you.
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who I am
But life is for learning
Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

The next I and the Bird will be hosted by WildBird on the Fly, February 16, 2006 (deadline for submissions February 14). For more information visit I and the Bird.