Archive for the ‘birds’ Category

International Migratory Bird Day

May 13, 2012

Yesterday, Saturday May 12, was International Migratory Bird Day.  I celebrated by going birding with two friends at Mud Lake Wildlife Area in Columbia County, Wisconsin.  It was an outstanding site because the short access road rapidly transitions from wetland to forest to field.  We were there from approximately 6-8 AM.  The weather was clear, little to no wind, with temps in the low 60s.  It was perfect peak migration birding.

Without any further ado…

  • Brown Thrasher
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Red Wing Blackbird
  • Shiny Cowbird
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Little Green Heron
  • Mallard
  • Wood Duck
  • Canada Goose
  • Field Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Wood Thrush
  • Robin
  • Cardinal
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
  • Crow
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Red-Tailed Hawk
  • American Redstart
  • Black-Throated Green Warbler
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Tree Swallow
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker
  • House Wren

There might have been a few more, but that’s about the siae and shape of it.  We had such a good time, I think we’re heading back out next Saturday too!



April 7, 2012

Spring is getting to the point where so much is happening that it is almost impossible to keep track unless I make notes every day. Which I don’t. But, in the last two weeks, the swallows and herons and flickers have arrived so I guess we can call that the second or maybe third wave depending on how you count. The lilacs, cranberries, redbuds, and cherries are all at, nearing, or just past peak bloom. The Canada anemone is now a complete mat, the lawn grass is 5+ inches in areas, bleeding hearts have peaked, shooting stars are ready to launch, ferns are unfurling and, thankfully, the weather has cooled off with the last week returning to temps in the 50s during the daytime.

Unfortunately for some of the fruitcrop growers in the region, the early freakish spring warm allowed fruit trees and vines to flower and now, not surprisingly, we are facing frosts in low-lying areas in the earliest hours of the morning.

This could, of course, negatively impact harvests if the frost destroys a significant percent of the fruitcrop flowers. In the greater scheme of things, one dismal harvest will probably not affect much but if by 2030 this happens three out of five years, will any of the growers be able to stay in business? Are they already trying to grow varieties in which the actual flower is frost-hardy? Has anyone even developed cultivars in which the actual flower is frost-hardy?

Of course, by 2030, this might pale in comparison with other challenges we will all face but everything is connected. And despite the fact that the Upper Midwest faces less apparent risks from climate change than other parts of the country such as the Southeast, Southwest and Mountain West, it is hard to imagine what the secondary and tertiary impacts of these strange springs might be. And this is where current projections might fall apart. The frozen fruit flowers are an excellent case study. Currently, we all mostly perceive this as a case of cause and effect, or if-then, if we consider the origins of fruit at all. Plants flower and then we get fruit.

But what if this regularly gets decoupled? I guess it will or is, rather, forcing us to remember that the pathway from flower to fruit is not a simple linear system but rather a complex system that is impacted by many factors such as temperature, rainfall, humidity, disease, and pollinator availability. What other ecological processes do we rely on that could face regular failure in an age of climate change? What will we do when a bad year doesn’t mean a yield 8% below average but 80% below average?

Will we change our behavior so that we transfer our reliance to more resilient systems? For example, we could all eat more leafy, hardy, perennial greens rather than fruit. More sorrel, less cherries? Similarly, if our coldwater fisheries fail will we happily train our palates from trout to carp? Both of these examples seem unlikely but at least they are semi-replacable processes.

And if we have semi-replacable processes then logic would suggest that there are non-replaceable processes. And this is where it could get really scary. What if the trees don’t leaf out in springtime in a particular region? I have no idea how this might happen (shitload of tornados during a wet spring with a new, invasive exotic leaf fungus) but I am pretty certain that the more we destabilise the climate, the more we will see non-replaceable ecological processes fall apart and the more profound the impact on society.

Spring III

March 24, 2012

We’ve had another really warm week with records highs being set all over the Upper Midwest and Northeast.  I rode to work and back Wednesday and Thursday and Thursday afternoon got caught in a rainstorm but pedaled out of it somewhere between Cottage Grove and Madison as the cell was track straight North.

The plants are going nuts, loving this weather.  Even the plants along the North side of our house are emerging.  There, the shooting star has leafed but not bolted, the wild ginger’s leaves are pointing upwards but not yet unfurled, the columbines are now tight clusters of whorled leaves, and the twin leaf looks ready to flower.  In the front, the Canada anemone has formed a 60% mat and in the back the ostrich ferns are just starting to emerge.

This morning we all walked over to Olbrich gardens and saw flowering cherry trees and the crab apples look like they will be flowering within 2 weeks.  Annabel had a blast running around exploring and Zoey took a nap in the stroller.  Perfection!

I saw a Northern Flicker on the walk this morning and saw two turtles on a log in a pond at Olbrich.  Can you bask if it’s cloudy?

Spring II

March 14, 2012

It has been ridiculously warm this past week, with temps in the 70s.  I responded by biking to work on thursday and wearing shorts at the office.  Nature responded more dramatically.  The frogs across the street were calling wednesday evening and every evening since.  Mendota and Monona are free of ice.  Crocuses appeared sunday morning and lost most of their petals by this morning.  The chives were growing so fast I could see it through the kitchen window while washing dishes.  Song sparrows have appeared across the street and killdeer are all over the landscaping at work.  This morning the neighbors forsythia bloomed.  We seeded one of the beds with spinach and lettuce seeds last weekend and if this weather keeps up they could be sprouting right now….ok, two so far.  But that’s really fast.

Thursday’s riding thought….”Greatness occurs in garages at night.”  A reference to the Palo Alto garage that served as a workshop for Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard.  Also known as the birthplace of silicon valley. 

The HP Garage in Palo Alto

We’re not all going to found industry-altering companies, but we can all turn off the tv, go work on our own projects, on our own quiet benches.  Building something, creating something, solving something, writing something, painting something.  Reversing one trend, of Americans as consumers to Americans as creators.  And another trend of work as pointlessly collaborative dissonance to work as resolute, intense, silent engagement.


Spring 2012

March 10, 2012

“Winter” is over and spring has arrived. This was the 4th warmest US winter on record. I didn’t go skiing a single time this year which was a disappointment after the recent heavy snowfalls of the past few years.

In the last week Cranes, robins, red-winged blackbirds and eastern meadowlarks have returned. Lake Monona and Lake Mendota are still frozen but the little pond outside my window at work thawed this week and mallards began taking advantage of the open water immediately.

I rode the lemond to work on thursday and it felt great. Cool and clear, first of the year. I definitely need to get the brakes tuned, though. Way too much travel.

Out Like a Lamb

April 5, 2010

It’s the end of March / beginning of April and the weather has been mostly warm and dry with a few showers today.  The crocuses have peaked and the daffodils are in full bloom.  The chorus frogs are singing away and I just saw 2 bats fly over my head this last week one evening when I was out front talking to my neighbor Lenny.  The ice on the lake went out 2-3 weeks ago and last two weekends I saw several loons out there, resting on their way north.  Last week also saw the arrival of blue jays, goldfinches and tree swallows.

I planted peas back on March 14 and then, assuming the seeds weren’t viable or that the squirrels dig them up, planted one more at each stake.  Now it looks like the ground simply wasn’t warm enough as they all seem to be coming up.  I haven’t grown peas before and am excited to see how this turns out.  I sowed a variety that only grows 2 feet high but still requires support.  I purchased 3 foot ong pieces of bamboo and then sunk those into the ground in pairs bound at the top so they form upside-down V’s.  Since I am doing this in a 4’x4′ box, I only had room to erect 4  pairs of stakes.  Initially I sowed a pea on either side of each stake and then added a third just underneath.  I’ll probably have to thin these out so that only one or two plants is growing up each stake.  And there might not be an advantage to having two pea plants compete for the same stake if they just interfere with each other.

Yesterday I was out in the garage pulling nails when I noticed a few pale, pathetic looking plants trying to grow in some clay pots I have.  It turns out that these were sorrel plants that I started from seed in the pots last year.  I was completely negligent of these things and they dried out and wilted a number of times over the summer.  When winter arrived, I moved the frozen pots with the scrawny leaves into the garage.  There they sat dormant until recently when the warmth and the faintest amount of light triggered another hopeful attempt at a better life.  And their persistence has paid off as I transplanted them into the bed with the peas.

Of course, to make room, I had to pull out the tiny columbine seedlings that must have drifted over from the bed to the west of the pea bed.  These were moved to the north side of the garage which is a five foot strip of bark chips between my garage and a chain-link fenced-in dog-run/weed patch in Lenny’s backyard.  As nature hates a vacuum, I figured I should start planting things I like as a defensive move.  That’s how some hostas ended up there and why I will be seeding the dog-run with lavender hyssop, Agastache foeniculum.  Native to the eastern U.S., I’m actually only familiar with it in planted settings rather than in the wild.  A nearby coffee shop has a dense stand of it in the backyard.  It has a long bloom period and is very attractive to bees and hummingbirds.  I just found out my other neighbor’s backyard beehive didn’t survive the winter and he had to replace the bees.  Hopefully this will create a strong nectar source for the bees.  and then maybe I can get some honey!

Lavender hyssop from Prairie Nursery.

As I was planting little bits of columbine along the dog-run fence, I couldn’t help but notice that the weeds in the dog-run were already getting thick.  A co-worker had confirmed to me that vinegar is an effective herbicide, especially early in the season.  He explained that the vinegar doesn’t poison the plant as most herbicides do.  Rather, it burns the leaves, leaving them wilted and unable to perform photosynthesis.  So I sprayed away this morning.  Dandelions, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard.  By the time I checked back this afternoon, the dandelions were already looking wilted.  I’ll keep this up every couple days until the seeds arrive in the mail.  with any luck, the hyssop will establish and bloom like mad.

Mud Season

March 12, 2010

This morning there were robins outside for the first time this year. Lots and lots of robins.  And at work I saw a great blue heron over the pond across the street and then heard a meadowlark outside the back door.  Both were firsts of the year.  Also saw five sandhill cranes from my office window.  It was warm and rainy.  The snow is mostly melted.  Everything is dirty and trashy.  Its hard to imagine how nice it will be soon.  Maybe we’ll have a long spring.  That would be pretty nice.

Winter Breaks

March 9, 2010

It’s still early March but things are changing.  The buds on the silver maples are swollen, the snow is melting and on Saturday I heard a lone crane calling as it passed over our house.  I can’t help but snap to attention when I hear a crane’s call.  Why? Aldo said it best.

“Our appreciation of the crane grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history.  His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene.  The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills.  When we hear his call we hear no mere bird.  We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.  He is the symbol of our untameable past, of that incredible sweep of millenia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”

I first got acquainted with cranes one summer I spent digging in a hill in far western Alaska.  All summer long, every day, a pair of cranes would fly over our heads, croaking, flapping wings impossibly slowly.  From that hillside we could see for miles around us but given the noise of the constant wind, all sounds were obscured except for the croak of the cranes.

This morning another harbinger spring had arrived, and clarified for me that red-wing blackbirds arrive before juncoes depart. 

And finally, a bucket of shit made it’s timely arrivel to my garden.  The spring planting season will be here soon and I was worried that there was a lot of material in my compost pile that hadn’t composted so, in hopes of turning the heat in the bin up a bit, I asked a coworker to provide me with a 5-gallon bucket chickenshit and cage litter.  He was eager to help and brought the lidded bucket in to work today.  I mixed the contents into the compost bin this afternoon and am eager to revisit the bin in a few weeks to begin extracting.  With any luck, this chickenshit will supercharge the composting process and the orange peels, coffee grounds, potato skins and bad apples will all return from whence they came.

It’s Hard to See a Squirrel when You’re Listening for a Bird

March 1, 2010

After spending the last two weeks walking Bandit along the railroad tracks behind Kenny’s house twice a day, I’ve to the conclusion that I did not hear a catbird during the Great Backyard Bird Count; rather, it a was squirrel.  Squirrels make all kinds of noises including some that sound weird and mewling.  Given that Kenny’s dad puts out about 50 pounds of bird seed every other day in the back yard, this seems like a more plausible explanation than identifying the only cat bird in the entire state.  So, the catbird is scratched off the list and I submitted the rest of the species to the GBBC today, the last day of entry.

As spring approaches, it is easy to get excited about the arrival dates of different birds.  I know that I feel a weight lift off my shoulders every spring the first time I hear a red-wing blackbird in the marsh across the railroad tracks or the croaking of sandhill cranes hundreds of feet overhead.  Their arrival signals winter’s departure. 

What usually goes unnoticed with the arrival of spring, though, is the departure of the dark-eyed juncoes.  As robins and red-wing blackbirds noisily announce their presence, the juncoes silently head north to Canada until they return with winter.

This year, however, I’m keeping track of not just when the red-wing blackbirds, robins, cranes, and herons arrive, but of when the juncoes leave.  Let the record show that they were here the last weekend in February.  I can all but guarantee they will be gone by the end of March and I can guarantee that red-wing blackbirds will have arrived by then.  But I don’t know if the juncoes leave before the blackbirds arrive or if the blackbirds show up and then, later, the juncoes leave.  In other words, does spring arrive before winter leaves or does winter leave in advance of spring’s arrival.

Maybe I’ll start an office pool.  mmmmm. Maybe not.