Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The state of the garden

As my spring fever continues to rise, I decided to check out my garden--which I've conveniently been ignoring since the last time I picked a green pepper or some lettuce and spinach for salad, back in maybe September? I can't recall. Suffice it to say that I didn't really clean it up before the cold came. Here's the garden today:

I guess I was hoping the stuff would just die out and compost itself! Anyway, note the washed-out colors, except for the spinach that has somehow survived snowfalls and sub-freezing temps all winter:

I wonder if it's bitter or anything--I mean the new little leaves in the center. Maybe I should've tasted some.

At the risk of breaking my own heart with longing, here's a picture of the garden taken in June 2007:

Oh, my cries of angst! [back of hand on forehead, head tilted back dramatically] Springtime, come soon!


Back to the washed-out colors, I had the camera on automatic mode, but the photos were very washed out in the brightness of early evening. I'm a little disappointed that the pics weren't better, but I'm not all that sure it isn't the subject matter that just looks like that, washed out and brown and dull. I took these pics at about 5pm today. I do love that the days are getting longer now!

Speaking of crazy plants that are still green, look at this over-achieving herb garden pair:

Parsley in January! I thought about picking some for Nibble, but I'm worried it too might be bitter.

Lavender staying strong! It never got any bigger than this (it's maybe seven inches across) but it seems pretty hardy.

Meanwhile, in last year's tomato garden (which I actually did clear out, so I wouldn't get a million little volunteer tomatoes), the crazy daffodils are starting to sprout:

I remember they did the same thing last year and they were fine, so I'm not too worried. Must've been that single day (yesterday) when it got into the forties. "We're having a heatwave!"

If it weren't so cold (we're in the 20s and falling, with a lot of wind), I might consider cleaning up the big garden and putting all that stuff in the compost heap:

Yikes--that heap just might need to be turned....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A murder of crows

For some reason, a HUGE group of crows--we're talking upwards of 500--has been roosting in downtown State College, bringing with it a noisy racket and a LOT of poop. The sidewalks and newsstands are covered in bird poo, and the smell is getting pretty strong. Everyone is asking me what's happening, but I don't know. It's never happened before, in the five years we've been here.

I also noticed that they're getting big roosts of crows in Pittsburgh (thanks to our state listserv). Is this just a normal occurrence, or did Hollywood issue a casting call for a remake of The Birds?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Feeling a little spring

I was searching through some old photos and found some images that made my heart practically scream for springtime:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Take the Clawsie Quiz!

Clawsie: Evil genius
or just missundahztood?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Winter on the marsh

As it was a positively balmy 24 degrees this afternoon when I got home from work, I thought I'd take a little stroll on the marsh. I got out there a little after 5pm, but there wasn't much sunlight left. The sunset, however, was beautiful; here it is viewed through some teasel:

During the early summer, I saw several Virginia rails and a sora in this little wet area, which is now frozen solid:

I don't know whether they are still out there, as we're just above their northernmost winter range. They probably went south into Maryland or farther, though they could be hiding in those cattails. Who knows? I hope they're warm, wherever they are.

The sun was setting pretty quickly, and the temperature was dropping just as fast.

The full moon is out tonight, low in the eastern sky, which made for some nice photographs:

There were no birds visible out there, though I heard some sharp little tsips and chips coming from the reedy areas in the center of the marsh. I heard some occasional movement in the dry stalks of the plants, but I saw nothing. At one point, I think a little field mouse jumped just ahead of me and into a clump of dry grass, but I didn't relish the idea of seeing him any more clearly than the grayish blur I'd already seen, so I moved on.

No birds on the Long Pond, either, which has a skim of ice on it:

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd seen some ducks coming in for the evening around the time I was out there, and I did see one small flock of mallards fly near the marsh, but they disappeared quickly in the darkening sky. They may have landed on the creek behind the marsh.

By now it was getting pretty dark, so I headed home.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

At the feeders, and Winged Migration

While doing my weekly Project Feederwatch counts this morning, I got some decent photos at the feeders--typical visitors, but I had at least 30 birds out there at one point, which is a lot for my feeders.

As predicted, the American goldfinches are loving the new nyjer sock. Still no siskins yet, though, at least not that I've seen.
Note that I caught two of them in flight; I had put the setting on that little running man, "Sport," or whatever it's called. But the wings are still a little blurred. Maybe it was the low light. Still, that's better than I usually get!

Here's a beautiful White-crowned sparrow:
You can see some of the mealworms I got from NC Mealworms there in the tray. I haven't seen any bluebirds eating them but the worms always disappear, so someone's loving them!

Guess this cold snap and the snow have made life difficult for the little guys. Today the high was only supposed to be about 20 degrees, so I didn't take my walk. I'm hoping tomorrow might be a little more bearable, because I'd like to get out on the marsh and see what's happening out there. A couple of evenings this past week, I saw some ducks landing on the ponds. Maybe there will be more than just the usual mallards.

Speaking of which, we finally watched Winged Migration today--wow. It was really a beautiful movie, though I kept wishing they'd ID more of the birds they showed. That first bird they show--it's this beautiful songbird. It reminds me of a variegated thrush, but I don't even know where the bird was from. Anyone remember that bird? He had those big thrush eyes and a thrush-like body.

I also wished they'd showed some of our warblers, but when I mentioned that aloud--and you're not gonna believe this--Bird-Creeped-Out-Kat (oy--but I didn't want to steal Non-Birding from Sharon and Non-Birding Bill!)--anyway, BCOK said, "honey, do you really think they'd be able to find and follow a bunch of tiny warblers?"


A totally logical birdy point from The Kat! My jaw about dropped to the floor. That Kat--she's a keeper.

There was one horrifying scene in which they were showing these beautiful Canada geese in flight, with this nice music playing, and then BLAMMO! BLAMMO! hunters are shooting the geese out of the sky! Kat started screaming, and I just buried my face in my pillow. That was rough. The Kat said, "March of the Penguins was really sad, but at least no one was shooting at the penguins!"

So--I then watched the "Making of" portion, and I realized why they didn't follow any smaller birds: they actually raised all the birds they followed. Canada geese, Grey-lag geese, Bar-Nosed (or Bar-Headed? can't remember) Geese, African white pelicans, some different kinds of cranes--birds they figured would imprint on the people who raised them, and thus be easier to follow and film. I was a little disappointed, but then I guess they did do what they set out to do, which was film them migrating in the fall and the spring. I just wonder what they did with them when they were done filming. Were the birds released into the wild? They were with these birds 24/7, hugging them, feeding them, nurturing them--those birds wouldn't survive in the wild. Maybe they gave them to a zoo or something. Anyway, I envied their closeness to the birds (one pelican really loved being hugged), but I also felt sorry that the birds didn't really have normal lives. Still--they were pretty spoiled--well, except for those poor Canada geese that got shot! *sniffle*

Friday Night Nibble on a Saturday Night

Don’t you own a calendar?

Niblet's shocked, just shocked, that I would wait until Saturday to put up his weekly post.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Invasion of the starling hordes

Try as I might to dislike the invasive European starling, I just can't. I love starlings: their dark little shapes looking like big leaves in the trees during winter evenings, the huge flocks of them wheeling over fields in long thick tubular trails of birds, and the funny little sounds they make to one another as they watch me trudge from my car to the building each workday morning.

My bloggy hero DCup took this great shot of one such starling explosion. What a moody scene! Every time I see huge hordes of starlings like this, I say to no one in particular, "I guess they're doing a casting call for a remake of The Birds." I crack myself up.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Preview of coming attractions

Thanks to Santa's Christmas generosity, I'm currently reading Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher, and I'm just loving every word of it. There are so many fascinating, beautiful, and moving passages, especially when RTP talks about spring peepers. Oh, how it made me long for spring!

I'll probably be putting little excerpts up on the blog from time to time, not just to highlight some of these great passages but also the "high technology" of the time and the hilariously over-the-top Britishness of James Fisher. What a hoot it must have been to watch these two guys--driving around in RTP's station wagon, loaded down with stuff--especially when I compare their high-dollar trip with hitchhiker Kenn Kaufman's in Kingbird Highway.

If you haven't read Wild America (or Scott Weidensaul's modern-day follow-up, Return to Wild America, which is next on my list) or Kingbird Highway, jump on Amazon and get ya a good deal. It's worth it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ohio breeding bird atlas news

Look at these two sweet little baby birds, found on our recent trip to Ohio. This little fledgling's name is Allyssa:

Note the proud father helping with wing preening. The males of this species sometimes aid the females, contributing equally to the raising of the young. Of course, it just depends on the male; not all are so helpful.

And this little hatchling is Nathalia:

Here, we see evidence that other females of this species sometimes help in caring for the newly hatched young.

Aren't these just the cutest little birdies evah?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lifers in the Big Valley

I'm happy to say that the weather cooperated for my big trip to Big Valley, though the birds were a little sparse and shy. We had temps in the upper 30s/lower 40s, but the wind was biting. At least it was sunny. I did see two lifers--a pine siskin (in the backyard at the trip leader's house, not really in Big Valley):

and a horned lark, one of my goal-birds for the trip:

This was the best picture I got of a horned lark, but we saw a lot of them and I got to study them a bit and see their little horny eyelashes--cool. I just wish the birds out there had been a little more cooperative, like they are for Mary at Mary's View--they pose out in her yard, and they even come into her house sometimes! Oh well, I guess we can't all be bird-charmers, right, Mary?

We drove all over Big Valley, which is about thirty miles from my little village. I winced at the thought of my commitment to BIGBY, but I'm hoping to take a birding walk tomorrow to cover that. Anyway, we didn't see too many birds, though--only 30 species, and nothing to write home about other than the horned larks. We saw small flocks of them, and sometimes even just a couple of individuals; I'm told they're usually found in big flocks of a hundred or more. We didn't get that lucky, nor were these larks hanging around with any snow buntings (we checked every flock we saw).

To give you a little more local flavor, here's a little photo essay I put together to give you an idea of what I saw pretty much all morning:

We also drove by a property that our trip leader said was popular with woodpeckers, but what caught my eye was this sign on the property:


The other highlight of the trip was a stop at the famous Peachey's Market:

Note the pig on the sign; does he look a little funny to you? Let's take a closer look:

Look at that happy little guy and his...furry body? I didn't know pigs had coats, like a dog. Must be some weird Amish pig, or a very confused artist. I kept thinking about that line in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where Ron tells Hermione that her cat Crookshanks "looks like a pig with hair!" when he thinks that Crookshanks has eaten his rat, Scabbers.

Turns out that Peachey's is a lot like my Mennonite store down the road; the store itself is much smaller, but they do have a larger selection of candy and some really. rotten. coffee. (Imagine you re-used your coffee grounds a couple of times, then burned the whole pot for a few hours. Yeah. Mmmmm, right?)

They also had nyjer seed in bulk for only $1.59/lb (Burkholder's doesn't have that!), which is about fifty cents cheaper than it is at Wiscoy, my usual bird and bunny feed store. I got about four pounds, plus a sock feeder. The pine siskin I'd seen earlier was on a nyjer sock, so I'm hoping to attract some out here, though the trip leader's house in nearer to wooded areas than mine. Still--the goldfinches and house finches ought to go insane for it. Who knows? Maybe I'll even get a purple finch; they're still around this area, according to our local birding listserv.

Back to Peachey's. First, I got to see "scrapple" for the first time in my life:

Be glad the ingredients list is blurry, folks. I read it, and believe me: you don't want to know. Let's just say that if that furry pig knew, he wouldn't be smiling. They also had a (ahem) "vegetarian" version called "mush," which was cornmeal and some other scary ingredients. I didn't think Kat would forgive me if I bought any home, so I passed on that.

Here's some Amish-abilia:

Kinda creepy, no?

The money machine at Peachey's:

Who knew Mennonites had their own bank?

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the answer is yes:

They are buying deer hides now.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Night Nibble

Niblet is really loving his new Bunny Magic Dream House. Here he is at the drive-thru window, ordering some carrots from me (he's kinda got that whole process backwards, but could you say no to him?).

Cookies has already started chewing on the top of his Cottontail Cottage, but Nibble doesn't seem to mind--yet. He spends most of his naptime in his magic dream house these days, dreaming his magic bunny dreams: unending supplies of carrots, brocolli stems, and dried banana slices... Bullying and scaring Clawsie and the other kittehs... Getting his little ear-stub rubbed and scratched for hours on end... Ah, yes; Niblet's dreams are simple dreams. Would that we all had such small requirements from life.

Many thanks to the Busy Bunny, the exclusive source for all of Niblet's pre-fab housing.

Big Valley birding

Not THAT Big Valley...

I'm going on a field trip to the other Big Valley, here in Central PA, with some State College Bird Club folks tomorrow morning. I've never birded in that area, so I'm really excited. Birdy atlasing pal Roana will be along, as will her parents and some other very experienced local birders.

Anyway--back to the birding. The Big Valley is an area south-southwest of my usual territory. Sadly, this trip will involve a bit of driving, so it won't count for my Bigby list. Still--it'll be neat to go to a new area with people who've been there before and know all the good spots.
Here's a little map to give you an idea of where we'll be:
The red dot is where I live; the circled area is where we're going tomorrow. There are a lot of Amish fields, wooded areas, and other great habitats (or so I've heard), so I'm hoping to see a few lifers like horned larks, snow buntings, and more. I'm hoping I'll get some pics, but I'm not sure whether the weather will allow it; we're getting some pretty hard rain, but I'm hoping it'll clear up later today/tonight. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
By the way, my favorite Barkley brother was Jarrod, which made me the oddball--everyone else liked Heath (Lee Majors, pre-bionic) or Nick (Peter Breck--whatever happened to him?). And I was deathly afraid of Victoria Barkley (the fiery and independent Barbara Stanwyck). I also loved Audra (pre-Dynasty Linda Evans); probably I had a little girl-crush on her.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sometimes, fiction IS stranger than fact

My bloggy pal Splotchy recently shared some bird-related artwork that everyone should see. It's like that raptor-wolf fight pic that was circulating a while back, only oh-so-much-more believable.

Check it out. I don't know about you, but both those birds are lifers for me.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Goals - I haz dem

I don't support outdoor kittehs, but this was a pretty cute lol kitteh, and a good lead-in to my goals for the new year.

1. Bird more often, even if it's just going out on the marsh--which is linked VERY closely to #2.
2. Get up earlier on weekdays so I can bird or exercise before work. Normally, I get up around 7:20, shower and dress, and leave the house as close to 8 as possible. It's always a harried drive to drop Kat off at school and then get to work somewhere close to on time. (okay, I'm usually at least ten minutes late. I admit it. But I have a cool boss.) This year, I'd like to get up earlier so I can spend a little time filling and watching my backyard feeders, or maybe even exercising. God knows I can stand to shed some weight. Which leads me to...
3. Eat better and do actual exercise. I own all these exercise videos and stuff, and I never do them. I need to lose about twenty or thirty pounds this year, so I'm counting on all of you to hassle me about exercising. I've cut out sodas and a lot of the junk I used to eat, but unless I start moving this old body, it's not going to make a bit of difference.
4. Keep up with my commitment to my Bigby year, taking at least one long birding walk per week.
5. Read other books besides Harry Potter. I read A LOT, but I tend to re-read my favorites most of the time, because I love them. I've probably read Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows at least ten times each, and that's just ridiculous. I would like to read some of the other books I got for Christmas instead of just lazing around with Harry and Hermione and Ron.

I have a few others, but I won't bore you with those "be a better and more thoughtful partner" ones. That's just too mushy!

So--I thank you in advance for yelling at me about exercising. I was in the best shape of my life back when I had a pal in the air force who yelled at me constantly. Perhaps I should've been a G.I.Jane. ...Or not.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Niblet's new neighborhood

Niblet's Cottontail Cottage was starting to look a little more like a condemned building, so Santa brought him some new digs!
Here are some "before" shots. Note the top edges--Cookies loves to hop up onto the third floor and chew on the cardboard:

The inside didn't look much better:
Wow. The poor little guy was living in a hovel.
Curb appeal to the rescue!
Here we are, swinging hammers and hauling 2x4s, building a new home for my little Son, Moon, and Stars:
Niblet: You're doing it wrong! Me: Oh yeah? YOU try folding these crazy tabs!

Finally--Niblet's new neighborhood came together! His new Cottontail Cottage:

His new "Magic Dream Cottage"--the street address is 24 Carrot Lane!:

Here's Nibble, hangin' in his new 'hood:

Of course, the kitties had to check it out too; here's Kisses, trying to wheeze on Nibble's gig:

Hey, get out of my magic dream house! Those are MY magic dreams you're having in there!