Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Goodbye 2008

I would like to offer to usher you out of 2008 (or bring you into 2009) on a quiet note with my first slideshow on this blog.

I wish all of you peace, health, happiness and prosperity in the new year.

Featured in this slideshow:

  • Photos from the Lake Hope Holiday Trail of Lights

  • Our "snow dogs," Emmett and Jupiter

  • various winter images taken near our house

Happy New Year - see you in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Words on a page

Today during my perusal of various blogs, I learned about wordle from Wren. It's a pretty cool online tool that generates word clouds from text you provide, or from a URL that you provide. As it says on the wordle site, "[t]he clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text."

I plugged in the URL of my blog, and this is what came back:

(Click on the images to see them full-size in the Wordle gallery)

These are just 2 versions of the same content. It's pretty fun. And geesh, I guess I use the word "little" a lot when I post on this blog! I never knew!

I think it could be neat to plug in some well-worn quotes for a different visual effect.

Thanks for sharing this, Wren! I encourage you all to give it a spin - I think you'll like it. Maybe plug in your life list or your last week's Project Feederwatch list? Just throwin' some ideas out there. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What I did on my Christmas Blogcation

Hello everyone, and a very warm welcome to some new Followers! Sorry I have been so absent lately. I've taken a little blog vacation. Our Christmas was very nice, with time spent traveling to see family and time spent at home.

Now that Christmas gifts have been given I can share some photos of all the cookies I made to share with my family.

Between the Yule Log for our office party and all the cookies, I was busy in the kitchen almost every day for the 2 weeks leading up to Christmas.

Shortbread cutouts.

Bundled shortbread cutouts, ready for gift giving.

These are mocha crackle cookies - the recipe made almost 5 dozen! There was a small legion of them cooling on the counter.

The mocha crackles were my second favorite of all that I made.

Hmm... what might this be?

Ohhh! Homemade Oreos! These were my favorite cookie of all that I made, but there were very few left over.

The Oreo recipe was courtesy of some of my gal pals at work. Thanks girls!

Can't forget the fudge! I made peanut butter, milk chocolate, and chocolate mint varieties.

I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season. I'm working on a holiday slideshow to share with you before the year is out.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Weird Weather

"Hey man, what's with the heat wave?"
Yes, the photo of this Downy Woodpecker is out of season (it's from May 2007), but so is our weather. I know the weather has been a bit crazy in various parts of the country, and we have been added to that mix. According to our thermometer the temperature got up to 80 degrees today here in our corner of southeast Ohio, and I think it had an effect on the birds. I saw VERY few birds today. Only 1 Goldfinch and only 3 Cardinals - very low numbers for my two most abundant species. And NO woodpeckers at all. Very strange, indeed. Perhaps it is only fair to expect such low numbers in such warm hot weather, since we always observe high numbers in cold, rotten weather.

A cold front is supposed to blow in tonight, so maybe things will be back to normal tomorrow. We'll see!
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Plume Zoom #3, answers revealed

Well, I think it was not a good idea to run a quiz during the holiday season since it did not get much participation. At any rate, I'll go ahead and post the answer.

I know this is a little out of season, but I thought it might make for a good stumper (and I was right about that).

It's a bebeh Carolina Wren!

Look at him... he's all like, "where do I go?!"

One of baby's parental units on a nearby tree.

Isn't he just the cutest? I love his little Don King-wannabe tufts of feathers.

Okay, here's a brief synopsis of the story behind this little darling. It's May 2007, and Dave and I are both outside doing stuff, when I hear this awful squawking coming from the Wren nest under our house. I mean, I've never heard Wrens squawk like this. I assumed there was a snake threatening to invade the nest or something. It took a minute for me to figure out that the parents were ever so gently kicking the nestlings out of their nest. I think this little one must have been the runt of the proverbial litter, because I didn't see him fly much. It's brothers and sisters took off after mommy and daddy as they lured them farther and farther away from the nest, but this baby actually hop-flew-hopped in the OPPOSITE direction. Dave did his part to shoo it back in the right direction, and I think I did my not-so-great part by stressing the little booger out. I was so excited at the prospect of seeing a nestling so close that I pretty much got right on top of it with my camera (thus the fantastic detail in the first photo). Not a smart thing to do, and hopefully I will have enough restraint and respect for the bird if I'm presented with such a situation again. Luckily, after some time, this little one got reunited with its family (at least as far as we could tell).

Unfortunately, there is a sad side to this story. The wren's nest under the house is very close to our dogs' pen, and they were also very interested in all the noise and excitement. So excited that they had to investigate the first baby bird that made it to the ground up close and in person. Needless to say, that baby did not make it. I debated whether or not to include this bit of information in the story, but nature's not always pretty to our eyes and sensibilities, so I thought I should disclose all the information. After the first baby met its untimely demise, we penned the dogs up until we felt sure all the little ones were far enough away to be out of the dogs' reach.
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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Solstice!

Welcome to winter everyone! In honor of the change of seasons I have switched out the photos that rotate through my header. They are as follows.

Happy Solstice!
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gone bakin'

Hi everyone. Sorry that I've been a bit absent over the last few days, both in posts and in commenting. The making of the Yule Log has turned out to be quite a project and has consumed my evenings more than I expected. BUT, the office party is tomorrow, and it will likely be devoured about 24 hours from now. Then it's on to making cookies! Hee hee.

Yule log, mostly ready for presentation

Meringue mushroom, for decorating the Yule Log.

Mixed evergreen swag hanging at our mailbox, showing off some snow we got a few days ago.

I'll be back in a few days! Hope you all are doing well!
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Plume Zoom #3

Alright folks, this will be the last Plume Zoom post until after Christmas. If you're good, maybe the answer will be posted as an early Christmas present! ;)

Good luck, and see you in the comments.
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Feederwatch area

For those of you who come here mostly for the birds, I figure I better get a bird post up! Today you'll get an idea of what my bird watching area looks like. I happen to think it's a little unique.

A few weeks ago I shared some photos of the view of our feeders from inside the house.

Pretty standard "stand at the patio door/kitchen window and watch the birds" fare, right?

Well, our house is basically up on stilts, so looking straight out from the door/window does not give the fullest picture of what can possibly be seen, birdwise or otherwise.

When recording data for Project Feederwatch, one has to record information about the amount of effort made in counting. This is measured in time (Did you watch in the morning and/or the afternoon? How many hours, approximately, did you spend watching?); but I also have a personal "effort measuring tool" regarding how much I extended myself beyond just looking out the window. I don't have any units by which to record this measurement, other than the fact that I usually get higher counts on ground-feeding birds since I can't see the ground very well from the door/window.

I can get a better perspective by going upstairs to the second floor. From there I can get a much better view of our brush piles, where the sparrows and juncos love to hang out. The doves also like to roost down there for afternoon naps.

As you can see, we live among the trees, so the ground is covered with leaves and twigs and such, which makes it doubly difficult to see birds when there's no snow on the ground. Motion is the key to finding a Song Sparrow or White Throated Sparrow bopping around down in the brush.

This is also from upstairs.

Here's an alternate view of basically the same spot, only from the downstairs bathroom. The juncos really like to twitter about in this whole area, but especially under the thistle feeder.

This is another view from the downstairs bath, which can sometimes be a good spot for me to watch the skittish little Goldfinches without startling them.

When the weather is nice enough, or when I'm feeling up to braving the cold, I will extend my effort further and go outside on the deck and sit and watch for ground feeders. There's a landing just off to the left of this picture, and that's a great place for me to sit mostly unnoticed by the birds (unless the dogs rat me out, which they've been known to do).

In fact, I just came back inside from doing that exact thing, and counted 3 White Throated Sparrows that I otherwise never would have seen.

What kind of challenges do you face in your backyard birdwatching?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday arts and crafts

A few posts back I talked about being in the process of making holiday cards. I think enough time has passed since I mailed them that I can show them here now. Hopefully I won't be ruining the surprise for any friends and family at this point.

This Cardinal stamp, which I showed you previously,was a central part of the design. I was really happy that I happened to find a stamp with a bird on it.

I always have a hard time getting started. For example, I knew I wanted the Cardinal stamp to be a focal point in the overall design, but I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to achieve that. Somehow, though, it all manages to come together and I end up with something I'm pleased with.

Here's a page of stamped images, waiting to be cut. This is the first time I have employed an assembly line-style technique. It turned out to be pretty efficient.

Getting all of the different colors into each image from the one stamp required careful coloring of the stamp with colored markers.

The cutting came next. I used some fancy patterned scissors to get the wavy effect.

The tools of the trade.

A legion of completed cards.

And finally, the finished product.

The little swirly do-dads over on the left of the cards came to my mind when I was about a quarter of the way through the process. I decided the trim pieces along the side looked too boring just being blank, thus I added the do-dads.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Plume Zoom #2, answers revealed

Thanks again to all of you who participated in Plume Zoom #2. Lots of you got the answer correct - it was a female Purple Finch. I can totally understand the Pine Siskin guess, based on pictures I've seen of them, as well as the female House Finch. (NOTE: I've never seen Pine Siskin or House Finch in person - only in pictures.)

This girl had me running to my field guide, that's for sure. I knew I had seen and identified this bird once before, but once wasn't enough to reinforce the ID in my brain. In the midst of making out the identity of this lady, I wondered for a brief minute if it was a female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. I thought the overall size of the bird seemed too small, and the size of the beak was certainly too small, but you run through all kind of possibilties when you just aren't sure. Here's a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak for comparison.

The main identifying characteristic of the female Purple Finch is that pale eyebrow/eyestripe that several of you mentioned. Also the dark streak in the cheek area is a good identifier. By contrast, the female House Finch (not pictured here) has a much plainer face, with no striping.

Just for fun, here's a male Purple Finch. Descriptions of these birds often go something like "a finch that looks like it's been dipped in grape juice."

A cool fact about the Purple Finch, as supplied by the Cornell Lab's Bird Guide: "The Purple Finch feeds on flowers by crushing the base to get the nectar and leaving the upper flower undamaged. In a similar action, it often feeds on the seeds of fruits rather than the pulp." Also for my west coast readers, there is apparently a Pacific Coast form of the Purple Finch that has a different wing shape and duller colors than the more "widespread" form.

One of you mentioned the tufting of the feathers on the head as an identifier. While I wasn't able to find any information specifically about this phenomenon, it is true that just about all of the pictures that I have ever captured of female Purple Finches do show raised head feathers. If anyone out there knows anything about this, please chime in.
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