Saturday, October 28, 2006

The woodpecker appears

Finally, I've gotten some photos of that woodpecker that comes to the suet feeder:

Not very clear, but you can see the red patch on the nape in the first one, and the second one is a little clearer. I've really got to get better at focusing. At any rate, I finally got this guy.

It's a very cold and very windy day today, and the sun is shining into partial cloud cover. Everything has a beautiful golden glow; this is my favorite time of the day. I took a few photos of the view out the back door:
The ducks--dozens of them--were really active this afternoon, circling the marsh, flying away, then coming back finally to settle in.
It's probably hard to see on the web, but when you look closely at the duck pair there, on the right side duck, you can see his little legs trailing behind him. It was really cute.

My inability to capture with a camera the things I see with my eyes frustrates me. I know the eyes are far better able to adjust and color the world than a lens ever could be, but I think that I might someday be a better photographer and capture images in a better fashion.

A puffed-up little sparrow lit on a fencepost, but when I tried to creep closer, he flew away.The sky is beautiful right now:

I really like this one, taken just left of the fast-setting sun:

I like the way mists cling to the mountains like puffs of smoke and then they rise into the sky:
Finally, a shot of one of my favorite things: the moon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Backyard photos, chilly fall day edition

I haven't posted any photos in a while, so I thought I'd go take some backyard photos of the marsh in the autumn.

We have an amazing number of white-crowned sparrows (updated ID thanks to Mike McDowell--I had "swallow"--what was I thinking?) here today. Here are a pair who let me get about eight feet away.

It's not a great photo, but I love the guy on the left's little expression and his profile. The birds really love that thicket (the one where we found the little Peeper) and I have thought about making a blind for myself and just setting up near it and snapping away. I like the red branches of this big woody-stemmed plant, though I don't know what it is.

Here are some other photos:
This is a sorry state of nasturtium unhappiness, I must say, though one flower refuses to give up! I don't know how he's surviving, but he must be huddling under the dead plants at night or something, because it's been very cold.

I don't know what kind of growth this is on an old stump in the yard. Here's another look at a more colorful specimen:For some reason I thought these were called "bracken" but that's actually a fern. So perhaps it's some form of lichen? I checked a lichen web site, and while I did find this little tidbit about a lichen that's used by golden plovers for nesting material, I didn't find any lichens that looked like this.

I saw a few ducks flying around over the marsh, their winter home.

It's hard to see but there's a duck flying above my head here (the black speck). I called this photo "lone duck sky" which sounds like a strange combination of an Asian and a Native American name. Perhaps I should make a sequel to Dances with Wolves?

Egg Hill, resplendent in its fall outfit

Here's some evidence of a woodpecker on this new suet cake I'm trying:
It's some sort of "red hot pepper" flavor, which according to the package was supposed to drive woodpeckers wild or something, but I haven't actually seen any birds on it yet. Still--someone's been pecking.

Now that's a lot of box elder bugs.

Here's a photo of the art studio/crazy uncle house/office/cottage I've been working on:

It used to look like this:
This is a view from another angle, but I had to show you the hideous faux brick tar-paper-siding stuff that used to be on it. We stripped that off, and later I was told by a friend that this siding had asbestos in it--uh oh. I guess it's too late to worry about that now. . . . At any rate, we've been redoing the windows and everything, just trying to make it look better than the eyesore it once was, and more like a little cottage or studio.

By this point, I was really getting cold, so I came inside to find Niblet doing a little reading:

He really loves his subscription to Vanity Fair. But then I've always suspected that he's one of those liberal weirdos who can't get enough of that Hollywood gossip.

(bunny experts: that glossy paper isn't bad for him, is it? He really loves it!)

"Hey, I haven't read that issue yet! Did you eat
the cover photo of that dreamy George Clooney?! Gees!"

Monday, October 23, 2006

Birds in Box Stores

This article came to me courtesy of Robyn Graboski, our local wildlife rehabber. Go swallows!

"Hi-tech Barn Swallows"
A couple of Minnesota Barn Swallows have raised the bar on the scale of "Swallow IQ." For the past four years, a pair of Barn Swallows has nested inside the lumberyard entryway at the Home Depot store in Maplewood, Minnesota. At least one pair has learned that if they fly a tight circle in front of the motion detector above the double doors at the entry to the Home Depot, the doors open. Each bird then flies one more loop as the doors open and swoops inside where the pair has built a nest atop a small pipe near the ceiling. When a bird is ready to leave, it flies a tight circle in front of the motion detector inside the doorway and the doors again open for Home Depot's small avian customers.

The press report:
Keith Stomberg, a supervisor at the store, first noticed the birds nesting inside in the summer of 2001. He was fascinated by their apparent learned behavior and left them alone to raise their families. It was a good place for the swallows to raise their young because there were no predators or bad weather. The pair typically raised two broods each year. When the birds returned to nest in 2003, he contacted the staff of the Non game Wildlife Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Wildlife biologist Joan Galli observed the nesting swallows and was amazed to see how the birds had adapted to the unique setting in order to raise their families. "We typically think of the crow family and the parrot family as among the most intelligent of birds, " according to Galli, "but apparently the swallows have a few tricks of their own that help us appreciate how birds are constantly adapting to survive in novel human-created environments.

"Birds Opening the Coop" -- Kermit Pattison in The St. Paul Pioneer Press, 6/26/04:
Some barn swallows apparently have figured out how to operate motion detector doors at the Home Depot store in Maplewood in order to nest indoors safe from weather and predators.
Wildlife biologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are observing the birds as an unusual example of learned behavior and adaptation to the human environment.
"I thought this is so unusual that it needs to be recorded and put in the book of knowledge on barn swallows," said Keith Stomberg, the Home Depot employee who first noticed the phenomenon. "This takes deductive reasoning. The term 'bird brain' now has got to be modified."
Steve Kittelson, a DNR wildlife specialist, said it remains unclear to what degree the swallows have "learned" to trigger the motion sensors. Obviously, the birds have figured out that if they circle outside, much as they would instinctively do in front of a closed barn door, they will eventually get through. The question is whether they realize that their own presence actually triggers the door to open.
"It's very interesting and amazing to watch that they can make this work to their advantage," Kittelson said. "It certainly gives them a secure site for nesting. They've eliminated a lot of predators and weather elements. They even have air conditioning."
This year marks the fourth spring the swallows have taken up residence inside the giant home improvement retailer at 2360 White Bear Ave. Now there are at least a dozen nests inside various entrances, said store manager Gregg Barker.
"They'll operate all the doors," said Barker. "All of them do. To get inside, they'll flutter right underneath these sensors until it opens."
The cavernous store has become an attraction for birdwatchers.
"One lady, she stops in once a week just to check them out," said Barker. "I had a couple of groups of bird watchers who come and set up videos to tape them."
Stomberg said he first noticed the unusual behavior about three years ago while working at the contractor's desk near a set of automatic doors.
He said the swallows would flutter by the motion detectors until the door opened and even would do so as a courtesy for birds on the other side who wanted to get through.
"One of the assistant managers locked the door early," Stomberg recalled. "The barn swallows weren't done yet. They actually picked him and harassed him until he unlocked the door like, 'Hey! Unlock the door dummy, I'm not done feeding my kids!'"
Stomberg said he called the Department of Natural Resources last year. The DNR officials who came to investigate last spring initially were skeptical, he said, but then "picked their jaws up off the floor" as they watched the birds.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A sad day for freedom

Warning: If you don't feel like reading a political post, head over to another birdy blog for a while. (But come back tomorrow!)

I actually posted some thoughts on this new Military Commissions Act of 2006 that the president just signed into law on my more politically leaning blog, Impeachment and Other Dreams, but it bears noting on every blog, history book page, and scrap of paper in America that yesterday, the rights and freedoms guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution were taken away.

Basically, from now on, if the government chooses to label you an "enemy combatant" or as a person who's given "material aid" to terrorist groups, you will be disappeared. As in "made to go away for a very long time and it's not to summer camp either." You will not have the right to even question your imprisonment. You will not have the right to see the "evidence" the government has compiled to prove their "case."

I recently read the first three books of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, and I have to tell you that what is happening now sounds very much like what happened in Russia in the last century.

Last year, Bush supposedly said that the Constitution was "just a goddamned piece of paper." I guess the stupidest man ever to hold public office is finally right about something. Hope he's happy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Finally--a scope update

I'm sure you're wondering what's become of my homemade spotting scope. I haven't had much time to play with the scope or anything lately, what with my class, my job, and my work on the little cottage in the backyard. Here is an update, though there's very little news to relate.

Remember that I ended up with a huge objective lens, 80mm in diameter. Right now, I'm trying to figure out how to go from my 1-1/4-inch eyepiece/image-erecting prism to that giant diameter. Before, I had just kept the smaller diameter tube from when I had the crazy non-color-corrected objective (remember the full-bore horror show?), then added a big adapter for the big objective. However, I had a big problem with vignetting, which Astronomy Boy reminded me meant that somewhere, my focal path was being interrupted. I figure it was somewhere in the barrel/eyepiece.

So I need to go get a bigger barrel (a little over 3 inches), then figure out how I'm going to bring that down in diameter to accommodate the prism and eyepiece. Perhaps something like this? (excuse the horrible MS Paint drawing you're about to see--I wish I had access to Adobe Illustrator or even PhotoShop, so I could create some decent graphics)

So--basically, I'm wondering if I can find some sort of adapter that sizes down in one step between a 3-inch-ish PVC pipe and a 1-1/4-inch pipe. I also have to find a pipe that's only slightly smaller than the 3" pipe in order to create the two-piece sliding barrel that will enable me to focus. This will require some hard time at the hardware store, playing around with all those crazy adapters and pipes and things.

I'm hoping to get down to the hardware store this weekend. Wish me luck, and if you have any suggestions at all--bring 'em on! I could use all the help I can get.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bald eagle sighting

Yesterday, as I stood out in the backyard surveying my handiwork on the little cottage, I looked up and saw a real-live bald eagle flying over the treetops across the road. I've seen two bald eagles before, but both were in captivity at raptor centers. This was the first time I'd ever seen one in nature before, and it was unmistakeable--the brown large body, the white head and neck. It was a real treat for me, and another lifebird to add. (I don't count the birds I've seen in cages.)

I just wish I'd had my camera.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The little peeper

A couple of weeks ago while we were outside working on the art studio/crazy uncle house/cottage, we kept hearing this little sound--mew mew mew mew mew mew--like a baby catbird calling its mother. We heard the sound for a few days in a row but couldn't find the source. It was coming from the marsh, but we couldn't see anything.

Finally, last Saturday, I found the source; it wasn't a bird at all. It was a little kitten! He was tiny, all alone, and meowing his little head off. Well of course when I tried to approach him he ran off into a thicket of multiflora rose. There was no getting him out of there, so I just put some food by the fence.

Next day, what do I find curled up asleep on the compost pile? The little kitten. We thought at first he might be dead, but he was alive. He let me pick him up and we brought him in and called our local PAWS and left them a message. Obviously, with our FIV+ babies, we couldn't have him around.

We quarantined him in Em's room and fed him some food and milk. Poor little guy--so small that his tail is still doing that little kitten shaky thing. Here's a picture of the boy:

He's very tiny:

He kept up that little "mew mew mew," and because we found him where the spring peepers usually live, I began to call him Peeper. Kat wanted to call him Catbird, but then shortened that to Birdie.

Needless to say, the other cats were not amused. Both of them wanted to know just what was making that noise and why it wouldn't go away. Clawsie got so vexed that she took to swatting at Kisses any time she heard little Peeper/Birdie making noise. Poor Kisses--Clawsie can be a cruel sister.

At any rate, we got him to PAWS, where he tested negative for FIV, FLV, and all the other bad things kitties can get. He had a little case of worms, but they took care of that quickly. He's now at a good foster home with a little playmate his age (about four weeks), waiting for a permanent home to find him.

Now that he's left us, I miss him. If he'd had FIV, we would've adopted him ourselves, but there was no way we could bring a healthy cat in. The risk would be too great for him and for our babies. But I'm glad we got to save him. We still haven't seen any potential mother-cats around, so we really have no idea where he came from. The marsh, I guess.

Little catbird.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Houston, we have a monarch!

What's this?

Finally, on Day 30, our little caterpillar has become what he was born to be: a monarch.

He spent a few minutes trying out his little nectar sucker thing.
Look at the bluish tint of his right front leg in the sunlight.

He has a very hairy little body.

After a while, he managed to make it over to the railing of the front steps.

He's still out there, getting ready to fly.

This process of making it over to the railing took at least four hours. Is that normal? It's gotten rather cold tonight, so I'm a little worried about him. I'm glad he finally made it out of the ashtray.

I wish him all the best. Maybe he'll fly down past my parents' house in Harlingen, on his way to Mexico.

Adios, amigo. Que te vaya bien.