Monday, November 30, 2009

FeederWatch, week 3

This past weekend we had another blast of ridiculously, unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures in the mid-60's on Sunday, floated in on a stream of warm breezes coming out of the south. But oh what a difference a day makes! Today we had a stiff breeze cold enough to make my nose run, and I write this next to the first blaze of the month in the ol' wood stove.

But enough about the weather. What about the birds? Well, surely the two things go hand in hand. For example, the Eastern Towhees and Song Sparrows have been absent from our feeders so far this season, and I'm guessing that is in large part due to the mild weather. Mild weather has meant that lots of bugs are still out and about, thus extending the amount of time these birds can still rely on good "natural" food sources instead of resorting to the seed that we put out for them. These two species (Towhee and Song Sparrow) have made themselves known at our feeders in the past when daytime temps stayed well below 50 degrees, and even more so when snow fell - two conditions that have not been met so far on my FeederWatch days this year.

Other trend notes: Visiting Tufted Titmice are up from last year by a bird or two, and I'm consistently seeing 2 White-breasted Nuthatches each weekend (although I heard as many as 3 at once on several occasions), which has been a rarity in past years. Carolina Wren continues to show up weekly, always brightening my day with its spunky spirit and noisy chittering, chattering, and scolding.

One bird that was absent from the roll call last week was the Red-bellied Woodpecker. I searched high and low both days, and heard some calls far off in the woods, but it never showed up. This week, however, it was very active at the feeders, visiting both the peanut feeder and the suet feeder on numerous occasions. The Red-bellied has become quite adept at plucking whole peanuts from the feeder.

Sizing things up...

Looks like he picked a winner!

A closer view of this feeder beauty.

Tufted Titmice are by far the most frequent visitors to the peanut feeder. They use the little "tails" that are on a lot of the peanuts as a handle. Look at how it's using its toes in the right photo, getting a grip on the nut!


Here's a close-up of using a peanut "tail" as a handle. This little Tufty is in a precarious position, though. I've seen them hanging upside down like this with a nut in their beak, only to lose their grip and drop it. The comical thing about it is that they dive-bomb right down after the nut they just dropped!

Here's the tally of birds counted this past weekend (11/28-11/29):

Mourning Dove15
Red-bellied Woodpecker1
Downy Woodpecker2
Hairy Woodpecker1
Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee4
Tufted Titmouse5
White-breasted Nuthatch2
Carolina Wren1
White-throated Sparrow3
Dark-eyed Junco1
Northern Cardinal5
American Goldfinch10

Happy birding!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Evening symphony

Even though I am not a fan of the shorter days that accompany fall and winter, I do enjoy spending time outside at dusk during this time of year. It's a nice way to wrap up the day, and it really quiets my mind. As with the gold-hued light that shows itself at dawn and dusk during this season, there is a special quality to the sounds at this time of year. It's hard to explain, but the difference is tangible in my mind. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that there is less vegetation around to dampen the sound. In the spring, birders have the dawn chorus to look forward to. In the fall and winter, I look forward to the evening symphony.

The players in this pastoral symphony are few, but the lack of diversity is made up for by the richness of the sound. At dusk the Cardinals and White-throated Sparrows come out to play. The Cardinals announce their presence with heavy wing beats, and their vrit vrit call that reminds me so much of the sound of corduroy pant legs rubbing together. The sparrows sing out their high chip note, and make such a racket as they dart in and out of the brush and leaf piles on the ground. Polite dinner conversation among friends is how I like to think of it. At present, I still await the sweet callings of the Towhee, saying it's name and foraging among the leaf litter with it's odd but effective hop-back style of scratching the ground.

From time to time a Barred Owl will let out out a bellowing "WHOOOOOOawwwwl" from deep in the woods. I try to call it in with my meager imitation of the owl's signature song of "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you alllll," but my attempts are usually met with silence. I've got to figure out how to make my voice more resonant when I do that one.

If I'm lucky, a flock of Canada Geese sounds off in the distance, no doubt heading to a pond or plowed corn field in search of their evening meal. If I'm really lucky, the flock flies right overhead and I hear the whistle of their wings while they honk alternately amongst themselves.

The air is crisp and clean, and a breeze causes the rattling of dry beech leaves which cling so tenaciously to their branches. Nature's own version of wind chimes, perhaps? Off in the neighboring valleys, cows moo and dogs bark. The dull hum of traffic drones softly from the not-so-distant highway. The report of a shotgun echos from hilltop to hilltop, sometimes a signal of target practice, other times telling of a hunt in progress.

And sometimes, briefly, there is quiet and stillness. I breathe it in deeply, happy to be an audience of one to it all. And the cost of admission? Free.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Giving thanks

It still hasn't quite hit me that Thanksgiving is this Thursday! Wow, how time flies. Given that it is a holiday week, and there things to do, food to eat, and family to visit, I'll be taking time off from blogging for the rest of the week.

I am thankful for many things, some of which are my family, a wonderful husband, good friends, good health, my puppeh Emmett, natural beauty that surrounds me every day... I could go on and on. I wish a good Thanksgiving to you all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

FeederWatch, week 2

Wow, what wonderful weather we had this weekend: sunny both days, with highs in the lower 60s. Needless to say, it was perfect for spending time outside watching and counting birds. When the weather stays this nice this late into November, it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop. According to the forecast, that shoe will be set to drop right around Thanksgiving. I can hardly wait (she says, voice dripping with sarcasm). Although, looking back at my FeederWatch data from last year, we experienced several rebounds in temperature after Thanksgiving in 2008, including one weekend in December, right after Christmas, when the temperature rose above 68 degrees! (Feederwatch data offers snapshots of weather conditions, as well trends in bird populations!)

I saw a Pileated Woodpecker this morning, but he was far away and showed no interest in the feeder area, so I wasn't able to count him. I also heard a Red-Tailed Hawk off in the distance this afternoon, but since it didn't show up to hunt any of my feeder birds, it couldn't be counted, either. I suppose I also cannot count the Eastern Towhee that I dreamt about last night (does anyone else out there dream about birds?).

Carolina Wrens showed up again this weekend, much to my delight. Hopefully someday soon I'll get a picture of one. They love hanging around in our wood shed, coming over to sample suet or to ground feed every once in a while. This weekend they were singing about cheeseburgers: "CHEESEburger, CHEESEburger, CHESSEburger - CHEESE!"

Overall, the bird count this weekend was similar to last weekend. The Goldfinches increased in number a little bit, and they were their usual feisty selves, squawking and posturing at each other on the feeder.

The peanut feeder has been a huge hit so far this season. It usually gets emptied within 2 hours of being filled, mostly by hungry Tufted Titmice. It took the birds weeks to catch on to this feeder last year, but they took right to it when we put it out this fall.

The Mourning Dove numbers were also up a little bit from last week. When they aren't on the feeders, they're working seed on the ground. And when they're not eating, they sun themselves in the trees all around the house.

I know there are people out there who think MODOs are "junk" birds, but I think they are so beautiful.

What makes a beautiful, warm day spent counting birds even better? Having a furry companion to help you count, of course! You did some good counting, buddy.

The official tally for the weekend:
Mourning Dove - 15
American Goldfinch - 8
White-breasted Nuthatch - 2
Tufted Titmouse - 4
Chickadee - 3
Downy Woodpecker - 2
Hair Woodpecker - 1
Carolina Wren - 2
Dark-eyed Junco - 2
Northern Cardinal - 6

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

Most of the images that I showcase in this space are taken out "in the field." While that is no doubt my favorite place to take photos, and will undoubtedly remain my focus here on Heather of the Hills, I'm trying out some new photographic techniques over on my other blog, Photography of the Hills. That's my space for showing my more artistic side, whether it be concerning nature photography or food photography. I encourage you to take a look over there, if you haven't done so before (I realize several of you already follow both blogs, and I really appreciate that!). I've been doing some different stuff with seed heads recently, with more experiments planned in the near future.

Here's an image from my recent exploration of seed heads (as well as my first serious attempt at a triptych):

To see other similar work, just click on the link to Photography of the Hills listed up under my profile. Or click on the photo above. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More late fall color and texture

As promised in yesterday's post, here is the mystery flower that made itself known among the underbrush...

Aha! It's Bottle Gentian (or Closed Gentian). This autumn was the first time I have seen this plant in the wild, so I was very excited about this find. It grows very close to the ground, so it could easily be missed, despite its bold coloring. Let's review.

From the big picture down to the this tiny flower close to the ground. How did I find it? Luck? Good lighting? A keen eye? Or is it simply because I look at the ground a lot when I walk in the woods? All of these things contributed to my find, for sure.

Here are some other standouts from the same walk through the woods, most of which were more obvious than the cloistered Bottle Gentian.

Lady's Thumb

unknown species of ironweed

unknown species of aster

This is Virgin's Bower. I love this stuff for its fluffy seed heads. This is one plant that you can identify from far away because it is so distinct.

Here's another I love for its texture - Queen Anne's Lace. I brought this one into black and white because I wanted to emphasize that texture. This specimen looks particularly spider-like to me.

Hitchhikers on my jacket sleeve. This makes it very easy to understand how velcro was invented!

I mean, just look at the "j" hooks on these burrs!

Thanks, as always, for coming along on a discovery walk with me. I'm not sure where we're going next, but I know it will be fun!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Finding the small in the big

As the days grow shorter, the color slowly drains away from all things living. I find I am now surrounded by muted tones, the truly earthen hues, so it seems only right that color terms like ash, ochre, umber and sienna come easily to my mind. BUT, I have photos from just one month ago showing some little bits of color that remained in a landscape that was slowly becoming blunt and dry. I will share some of those over the next few posts.

I am always delighted to find color at this time of year, and "find" is the key word here. It is there, I just have to have my eyes open to see it. For example, what color could I possibly hope to see here, in this virtual sea of green?

I was looking for something specific. I had seen it the day before, but didn't have my camera with me at the time. When I came back with my camera, I had to hunt a little to find it again. Here, I will give you an idea of where we are looking.

See anything yet? Me neither. Let's get in a little closer... I think I see a peep of something in there, but what is it?

We're a lot closer now, and the color is obvious. Do you know what it is?

The answer will be revealed tomorrow!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Project squirrel watch?

So this past weekend was the opening weekend of Project Feederwatch. I watched and counted birds, of course, but I took more pictures of squirrels than birds. Sometimes the squirrels are more cooperative, and hold still for longer periods of time (except for the constant motion of hands-to-seed-to-mouth - REPEAT!), and of course they are fluffy and cute. And they are ornery, to be sure, but also interesting to watch.

This one seemed to be on guard duty.

Sometimes the squirrels are "good" and they actually eat the corn that we put out for them:

But most of the time they are "naughty" and eat the bird seed. Such is life in the woods!

By the way, since it was the first weekend of Project Feederwatch, here is the list of birds I counted at the feeders this weekend (showing the highest number seen at one time for each speices):

Mourning Dove - 10
Northern Cardinal - 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1
Hairy Woodpecker - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 2
Tufted Titmouse - 5
Chickadee - 4
Carolina Wren - 1
White-breasted Nuthatch - 2
Goldfinch - 6
Dark-eyed Junco - 1

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?


Does he think that just because he's on the other side of the feeder that I can't see him? It's too bad you can't include squirrels in the count for Project Feederwatch!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Skies, time and community (SWF)

A landmark that we have visited during both of our trips to the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky is Natural Bridge. There are actually LOTS of natural bridges and arches scattered throughout the forest, but this is the one that gets to have that title with Capital Letters (not to mention its own state resort park). When we checked it out 5 years ago, we hiked up to see it from the lodge in the park. This time we came at it from the opposite side via the sky lift. No matter how you get there, the view from the top is breathtakingly beautiful.

You can see how gorgeous the weather was on this late October day.

Oh hey, it's the happy couple, sitting on the Natural Bridge. We celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary while we were on this trip!

Looking over at the Natural Bridge from across the valley.

Beginning the descent from Natural Bridge on the sky lift

Speaking of skies, it is not by mere coincidence that I post these sky photos today (nor is it just because it's Skywatch Friday time, but that's a good reason, too!). November 12th marks my first anniversary as a member of the Nature Blog Network, and it was a post showing images of a moon-lit November night sky that was my inaugural post as a member of said group. The NBN has been a great resource for me, but most importantly it has been a way to meet lots of great bloggers who share a similar passion for nature. To echo words that I have read on several other member blogger's pages, it was through the NBN that I found "my people." The Nature Blog Network is a wonderful community of people with diverse interests, held together by a common thread. I don't use Facebook, or Twitter, or Myspace, or any of the other online social media tools, and when I joined NBN, I didn't think of it as a social "tool" either. After all, I'm not the biggest socializer in the world! However, within this last year I have come to meet some pretty cool folks, both virtually and in person, and I have really come to value the community that has formed around my blog. I appreciate each and every one of you for taking the time to stop by! Many folks recommend that when writing a personal blog, you should "write for yourself," and "do it because you want to." Both of these are statements that I agree with, but it's icing on the cake when you discover that there are other folks out there who are willing to read what you have written and give you feedback and help to create interactions and conversations.

I would be remiss not to thank Mike, Wren, Nate and Seabrooke for all their hard work in keeping the Nature Blog Network up and running, and for making it an awesome haven on the 'net for nature lovers across the globe.

Wind-blown leaves in the air, as seen from our seat on the sky lift at Natural Bridge.

I would also be remiss not tip my hat to the folks over at Skywatch (Klaus, Sandy, Wren, Fishing Guy, Louise and Slyvia) for hosting links to great sky photos from the world over every week! Get yourself on over to Skywatch Friday to see another great community of folks!