Friday, January 27, 2012

It's a bird's world

 Outside my kitchen window I have my bird feeding station. The camera is always on the pantry shelf and I take an occasional look every now and then. Sometimes I end up staying for longer stretches, watching them come and go.

The downy woodpeckers are my most frequent visitors - two couples. But a couple of times I have been honored a visit by the Hairy woodpecker - larger and with longer beak.  If you compare with the (very wet) downy female in the next picture you can see the difference. Otherwise it can be hard to tell, they look very similar.

 Not all visitors are there for the seeds. This Cooper's hawk came by a rainy morning and sat right outside. By the suet feeder the small wet Downy sat veeeeery still, and survived unnoticed. I kept the memory of the hawk's eyes with me all day. (You can't see it in this picture, but Cooper's are easy to identify if you see their tail feathers with 3 distinct bands.)

A few days later it returned just briefly. You can only tell the sex by their size, females are larger, so it is hard to tell without seeing them both at the same time. I would not be surprised if this one is a female.

 Some visitors are a little less welcome than others. The starlings didn't show up until March last year so I felt that I had been able to nurture my little friends for a long time, but this year they have been around from the start. European starlings are aggressive towards other birds at the feeders and also when it comes to finding nest sites. When they're at the feeder they come in groups and don't leave until the food is gone.
 The redbellied woodpecker is a feisty big bird but was eventually bullied away by the starling and his flock.

 I decided to take down the suet feeders for a few days hoping that the starlings would move on. And it helped a bit. Next picture is of the redbellied woodpecker trying to eat from the regular feeder. Woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers to support them against a vertical tree trunk. He has to work harder to access the food from this feeder.

On a snowy day -or should I say The snowy day we had! - the juncos move in from the forest. They fluff up their feathers with air to keep warm. They only eat from the ground so I make sure to throw out some extra for them and the mourning doves.

I wasn't surprised to see the hawk again during the snowfall.

The white throated sparrow is another ground feeder that often comes in bad weather. There is one pair, seemingly very shy, usually only comes by in the morning. Their feather pattern is very intricate and pretty.
 I do love my little chickadees. I have seen up to 6 at the same time, they take orderly turns and seem territorial without aggression. I still haven't managed to get them to feed from my hand, but they are definitively the most courageous ones and often return to the refilled feeder even before I'm back inside.
The cardinals rarely make it over but I see them in the yard.

 I have a resident couple of nuthatches, eating both suet and seed.

When it snows, it also shines of goldfinches! Goldfinches don't appear to be too territorial, they easily share space and don't chase away any newcomers. As a contrast, I watched three male house finches fight each other so hard for space at the feeder that little or no eating was accomplished.
 I've also had time for one more tree climbing adventure, this time I was joined by my 
husband. My friend and climbing mentor Andrew Joslin helped us arrange for a birthday party together up in a white oak. Big thanks to both of these amazing guys for their willingness to make this happen!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A January weekend

When I signed up for the tree climbing workshop I thought I would probably like it, but didn't really anticipate that I'd get crazy about it. When the weather forecast for Saturday looked warm and the word spread that a climb would happen I got so excited I had almost trouble sleeping.

In the city of Milton, MA, lies a small unknown public wood with great oaks and beeches. Last time we were there we saw the beautiful deer family and a turkey flock. Yesterday we headed out there with a vague plan of making a traverse between two trees to swing on. The two great beeches on the photo above seemed a good distance from each other.

I love tree climbing, but I'm still at a point where I constantly need assistance from the others, which is really frustrating. At more than one moment I found myself staring at a rope or a piece of equipment trying desperate to remember what I was supposed to do with it, and I had to ask for help again and again. The good thing is that when I finally get self-sufficient at this there will be opportunities for me to give back, at one of many volunteer teaching sessions that my instructor gives.

Here three of us are on our way up, the fourth is holding the camera. Nancy on top, Paul in the middle and I am just getting started. I didn't set my own rope this time, I tried to throw a line a number of times but this tree was taller than anything I had done before. Andrew Joslin, my instructor, got lines up for me and Nancy, and then he used a slingshot to throw one for himself.

Here is my self portrait from about 60 ft up.

And here is Andrew's picture of Nancy and me and Paul in the other beech. Andrew has reached to the very top of the tree, perhaps as high as 90 ft. I am already on my second rope, higher set than the previous one.

Boston skyline from my 60ft perch.
 We saw two Cooper's hawks flying and vocalizing. A pack of coyotes howled not far away, and a flock of starlings in the marsh did that thing they do - Murmuration. The flock moves in quick waves as if it was one single body controled by one mind. This was a small flock, but I have seen movies of tens of thousands of European starlings, and it's an unforgettable sight.

Here is Andrew fiddling with one of his slingshots trying to get a line over to the next tree. In the end we realized it would probably get dark soon and we never climbed between the trees.  Not this time.

Dark fell eventually and while we got down, Paul was having trouble with a stuck rope in his tree.

The lights from I-93 
 Although not the same warm temperatures today, we decided to drive to an Audubon Sanctuary on the South shore of Boston, which promised both boardwalk by the shore and woods. I wasn't too impressed by the water front area and the boardwalk through the red maple swamp - it was so overrun by invasives and trash that it was difficult to enjoy. But the sumacs by the meadow had nice red seed heads and the alders had the little conelike seeds that I remember from my childhood.

In the woods area, an interesting deformation of a tree.

I know nothing about fungi. This was soft and floppy where I expected it to be hard. For some reason it looked good to eat.

Clubmoss, like little trees.


This massive oak fell in a recent storm and brought four other trees down with him. 

Emil climbing towards the light!

I've always loved trees and enjoyed looking at them, but as a tree climber I now look at them with renewed interest. This oak was full of poison ivy but the shape and height looks really good!

At home my Amaryllis is finally flowering, about two weeks after Christmas. Worth the wait though.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Close encounter

As I was walking to the store today I noticed a big bird flying in toward a low branch on a tree in the parking lot outside English High school. I walked over to the other side of the street and in right under the tree. Unfortunately I had only my cell phone and not my real camera (and the gray daylight outside was very bad for photography in the first place), but I've never been so close to a hawk before, close enough that I could say that we looked into each others eyes. Very intelligent hawk eyes, that was.

He was only 6-7 feet over head of me, and I was happy that it didn't fly away. Looking down on the ground I found the reason, a dead squirrel lying in the grass next to the pavement. My theory is that the hawk had previously killed the squirrel but had not had time to finish it, and now the hawk waited impatiently for me to get going so that he could finish his or her meal.

On the way back I looked under the tree. No sign of either squirrel or hawk.