Today was the last day of November and again I'd planned only to walk from 73rd Avenue to the bridge and back. But surprisingly when I got to the bridge, I noticed a Mink heading straight down the frozen creek towards me. I hadn't even had a chance to adjust my camera settings yet and here the Mink kept coming closer and closer. I froze there in my tracks on the bridge and shot a bunch of photos on burst mode, but with the wrong focus mode I learned later. To my amazement the Mink continued hopping towards me. He paused one time to eye me up but then continued on right underneath the bridge I was standing on! Then I spotted him hop up underneath the new wooden bridge footings. He popped his head out quickly, I think to look at me and then went back underneath. I quickly backed off the bridge towards my side and jumped down underneath to find him sitting right there on the other end. I went to pull up my camera and he turned back the other way, now going back the exact same way he came down the creek. I shot more photos on burst mode, catching some neat photos of him in mid air, that were still unfortunately not quite focused well. Only minutes behind me on the trail was my friend and fellow birder Ron whom I quickly approached to tell of the Mink I'd just seen. Together we spotted the Mink again from the bridge and even a second one appear from an area of open water further down the creek. We decided to hike in for a closer look and ended up sitting on the grassy creek bank just like I'd done last week. We spotted them a few more times but didn't get such a good photo opportunity as I did when I first stepped onto the bridge. A few times we could see one making it's way along the edge of the creek, weaving in and out of the tall grass. Then all of a sudden without warning it would launch out across the ice and run for the other side. This was when they were in plain view but also running the fastest. At one point we noticed a big Crow fly in it and kind of "dive bombed" the Mink. We watched with binoculars and it appeared that the Mink was watching for the Crow to come back. As we inspected some of the area around the open water I noticed that there were obvious blood stains on the ice likely where the Mink have been eating fish. Then later as Ron and I hiked back, we spotted scat that had fish scales in it. The Mink sure have been active along the creek in recent weeks! Oh and as if this weren't fun enough, we also scared up a Great-horned Owl as we were first hiking down the creek to get closer to the Mink. This is the first Owl I've seen this season and it was a real treat to see on such a nice sunny day. After perching for just a short time the Owl took off again and flew almost right over where we'd seen the Mink. We wondered if he had been watching them too!
Sunday, November 24, 2013
After battling increasingly painful lower back pain for more than a year, I am fairly convinced that my long walks at PLP are detrimental to my condition. I was told only yesterday by my newest care provider to limit my walking to 30 minutes or less. So today I decided I would hike out only as far as the bridge from 73rd Ave. N. and maybe just sit for a while. In order to do so I had to dress extremely warm with the temps somewhere in the teens coupled with a nasty wind. Shingle Creek had only just barely frozen over as of yesterday –kind of a "flash freeze" due to the sudden drop in temperature on Saturday. It was as smooth as a skating rink but only maybe half an inch thick, trapping leaves and seeds in their place which reflected in the sun. I sat the base of a large Cottonwood tree on the sunny side which was also the windward side and watched out over the creek. I wondered if I might see a Mink, or even better the River Otter that had been reported by a friend of mine. After a long while of not seeing anything I decided to hike back along the creek bank. Almost as soon as I'd turned around I saw something brown and furry scurry across the ice quickly – a Mink! I waited for another long while and eventually it came back across to my side again. I was really far for a photo so I hiked up a bit further and waited again. Sure enough I saw him one more time but by the time I pulled my camera up I was sure I missed him. When I got home and looked closely I can just barely make out his rear end and tail poking out of the weeds, as indicated by the pink arrow. After giving it another long while and not seeing him again I decided to call it and hike back. I'd honestly not seen more than maybe 1 bird by this time and was thinking I wouldn't have any photos to post today. But on the very short hike back to my car I did end up seeing a few Robins, Chickadees and Juncos. One of the Juncos held very still for me long enough to get in close and I was pleasantly surprised with the photo I got. I was really happy to get such a nice shot of any bird today in the short distance I hiked. This one bird and photo meant the world to me today.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
After another brief dusting of snow on Friday afternoon, a wave of cold air has moved in. This morning it was brutally cold at just 5º above zero! To make things worse it was breezy and today was the first time I had to wear my camouflage hood that I can pull up over my face. I'm sure it was our coldest day since February but I was determined to get in a walk and hopefully see some birds. To my surprise I did see a few interesting things. First were a pair of Trumpeter Swans that flew right over me shortly after I left my vehicle. It's been a long time since I've seen Swans anywhere near the park. I thought they might land somewhere but since every last body of water was frozen solid this morning, they kept going on past. Not much longer I heard a Woodpecker call and guessed that it might be a Pileated. Then I wondered if it was a Flicker instead. But there high up in a tree was indeed a Pileated Woodpecker, the first one I've seen in some time. I went for a photo and sure enough it flew all the way across the baseball fields to the other side of the park. But as luck would have it I happened upon another (maybe the same) on the north side. This time it was right down near the ground at the base of a tree and I had an unobstructed view. It was fun to see this largest species of Woodpecker again. This was a female as indicated by the black stripe or "mustache" that runs parallel to the throat. On a male this stripe would be red, just like the red crown both sexes have. Some other birds I spotted today included; Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-capped Chickadee, Canada Goose, American Robin, American Tree Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, American Crow and also a couple of House Finches. The male Finch stayed put longer than the female as he was picking some dried seeds off the ends of the branches. These are such colorful birds, especially in the winter but I've yet to get a good photo of one. They're usually way up above me and my photo is from underneath just like this one. When I was only just yards from returning to my vehicle, I noticed another Downy Woodpecker in a tree but even lower than eye level. Sometimes when Woodpeckers are taking a keen interest in searching for food they will let you get quite close and boy did this one ever! As he hammered away on what looked like a grape vine branch, I crept closer and closer until I was literally just feet from him. Now I just had to get an unobstructed view which came a little harder. Eventually though I had many many photo opportunities and I clicked away with my camera on "continuous" shutter mode. One thing I noticed as I watched was that he would get the tip of his bill into a crevice and then twist his head left or right to sort of "bore" out the hole larger. I'm not sure but I think I even noticed a little worm or something that he fished out and quickly swallowed. In one of my many shots I was able to catch the split second where his tongue was either coming out or going in. I believe almost all Woodpeckers have extraordinarily long tongues to help them retrieve their food.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
The weather today was not much better than yesterday, but at least it wasn't raining anymore! I didn't head out for a walk until just after 2pm. Our temp was only a few degrees cooler but the wind has really picked up and could even be heard howling through the trees. I figured I wouldn't see much of anything today (at least for birds anyway) and that assumption was pretty accurate. It was one of those days where I knew I might have to veer off the main trail in order to find anything interesting. I did just that on the far north end where I discovered these bright orange fungi sprouting from a large dead tree without any bark left. Birds were scarce today and I even had a hard time hearing any due to the wind. Some that I saw were; Ring-billed Gull, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin and Dark-eyed Junco. I had some success in attracting the Junco's in closer by playing a recording of their sounds. During the latter half of my walk, the sky had begun to break up and show patches of blue here and there. By the time I was at my vehicle the sun was beaming down through these breaks and the sky was changing constantly. I took a few photos but none of them did justice to how neat the sky really looked.