Sunday, March 8, 2015

More Daylight!

Today is the first day of Daylight Savings Time which is something I often forget about over the long dreary winter. This day used to not mean much to me other than trying to remember to readjust every clock in the house. But now the first thing that comes to mind regarding DST is that very soon I will be able to sneak in a hike around the park after work! Though yesterday was the first day in a long time above freezing, much of the duck pond on the southwest corner of the park is still frozen over. It was fully sunny today with barely a cloud in the sky and so having a look at the Mallards is always fun. There were slightly more of them today in the water and on top of the ice but there was one drake that really stood out. No matter which direction he was facing, his head looked blue instead of the normal green! I thought for sure it had to be the angle but as I watched him, he really looked different from the others. Had there not been others around it might not have been so obvious but when he was side by side with the other drakes it was pretty apparent. I've never seen such a pretty Mallard before. And the hens seemed to know it too. I like that this photo kind of implies that he was being favored over the other "green heads" in the background. I'll have to keep an eye out for this guy in the future and see if he sticks around. I took quite a few photos later on but it wasn't until I was until the northwest side that I saw something of real interest. I heard a fairly loud chattering above me in the trees and when I looked up, a little face was peering out of a hole in the tree. It was a Flying Squirrel! I've only seen these at night before up in northern Minnesota, and never before in Palmer Lake Park! Right in front of me in broad daylight, the little Flying Squirrel came out of the hole and was immediately followed by a second one!I could hardly believe it. The first one proceeded to launch himself to the next tree over, about 6 or 7 feet away. I was surprised that he barely seemed to lose any altitude and almost appeared to be on a string. Their gliding abilities are truly amazing. He continued to leap from tree to tree, followed by the other one behind him. I hadn't really anticipated that behavior and I wasn't that fast on the draw with my camera. I did get a couple of bad photos of one crawling up one of the other trees but by now they were further away. I kind of chuckled to myself that maybe Daylight Savings Time had confused the Flying Squirrels as to what time it was seeing as how they're mostly nocturnal mammals. I'm assuming they're both living in the hole in the tree and it might be neat to see them nest here and have babies in the future. Not long after this I had two Red-tailed Hawks come soaring over the fields near 73rd Avenue. I positioned myself as steady as I could and snapped a bunch of shots because I have such a hard time getting birds in flight. Luckily they weren't moving all that fast but rather just kind of hovering and at least one photo turned out. It's rare when I can get a good look at Red-tailed Hawks so I was quite happy with this shot. Other birds spotted today included; Dark-eyed Junco, Great Horned Owl, Red-bellied Woopecker, Downy Woodpecker and House Finch.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Finally Above Freezing!

I heard on the news yesterday that March 6th, was our first day above freezing in 25 days! This winter has run it's course for most by now and I like many people, have rampant Spring Fever. It was already 31 or 32º by early morning but I decided to wait for things to warm up even more before going to the park. A friend of mine wanted to come walking with me today so we met around 10:30am. I knew we would probably spend more time talking and less time bird watching but I brought my camera just in case. You could hardly pay me not to take it along with me to an area where I might see birds. It was sunny with blue skies, but the strong wind actually made it feel much cooler. We did see a number of birds on our hike around the park and the ones seen most often were Black-capped Chickadees. This one posed ever so briefly for a photo against the clear blue sky. We also noticed a good amount of Northern Cardinals, an occasional Dark-eyed Junco and lots of Mallards flying overhead. The duck pond was virtually empty when we got there, making me think they all took off for the river instead. Near the bridge over Shingle Creek on the north side, a White-breasted Nuthatch paused for quite a while on the side of a large tree. I watched him look upward and blink a few times but other than that he appeared glued to the tree. This was one of about 5 WBNH's we saw today. Later we paused briefly to gaze at a nesting Great Horned Owl who was swaying back and forth in the strong wind. I took a few quick photos and when I got home to process them, I noticed something else in the nest with her. A second set of ears were there, only these were not Owl ears. It was in fact a rabbit that the male had likely brought in as a meal. There was no sign yet of any Owlets but it can be hard to tell sometimes until they are larger and crowding the nest. I hope it's not so breezy tomorrow.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Meteorological First Day of Spring

For the purposes of this blog, I had decided –out of instinct– to make generalized cut-off points at the beginning or end of various months to indicate the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Little did I know at the time but this is a real method of demarcating the seasons and is called "meteorological reckoning." In this scenario today March 1st would be the 1st day of Spring. I chose this method because I thought it seemed to fit much better with the arrival, departure and general behavior of the birds in our region. For example the Hermit Thrush typically arrives back in Minnesota while there is still snow on the ground. But I wouldn't call a Hermit Thrush a "winter bird." Even hearty Warblers like the Yellow-rumped Warbler can begin arriving earlier than the official first day of Spring. My two favorite sayings and generalization about birds are; a) Birds don't read field guides, and b) Birds don't read calendars! I've come to find both of these very true. So there's my explanation for that. Now on to my hike around the park today! The first thing I stopped to take a photo of was a male Great Horned Owl that was perched surprisingly close to the trail. He was obviously tending to his nesting mate and is the same one I've been seeing frequently. It was nice to see him in such good light for a change. As I walked I noticed that many of the dried up Oak leaves still clinging to their trees from last season are now starting to drop. One more sure sign of the changing season. Later I made a brief trek into the woods and scared up a flock of a dozen or so Mourning Doves. You'll know Mourning Doves immediately because their wings make an unmistakeable noise when they first burst into flight. I stepped further quietly hoping to find one still perched and noticed this one between a small gap in the thick branches. I know for certain that Mourning Doves stay the entire winter in the Palmer Lake Park area. If you would draw a horizontal line across the bottom 1/3 of the state, this is roughly their year-round territory. Shortly after I could hear a Northern Cardinal singing loudly and continuously. Indeed I have heard Cardinals "call" and maybe even "sing" for brief periods this winter, but this was noticeably different in that it was continuous and cheerful. It seemed so out of place that it made me stop to think when the last time I'd witnessed a Cardinal doing so. Likely not since springtime. How could one not feel joy at such a sight? Other birds spotted today included; Dark-eyed Junco, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker and lots of Black-capped Chickadees.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Last Day of February 2015

The original title for this post was going to be "where are all the birds?" as it was an unusually quiet day at the park for wildlife. Though there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun is at a much higher angle now, you wouldn't know by the temperatures that March starts tomorrow! Our high for today was around 18 or 19º and it's still windy enough to feel much lower. I heard on the news this evening that we haven't been above 30º in over 3 weeks! I'd barely seen or photographed any birds until I got to the north side. Even the duck pond was nearly empty save for about 10 Mallards huddled up under the eroding bank. My best birds of the day were probably a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers calling loudly back and forth. This one is the female with her red crown stopping halfway up her head as opposed to the male who's red crown goes all the way up to his beak. I'd hiked into the woods a little ways to find the Woodpeckers and to my surprise I scared up a Great Horned Owl. This would have been the male who is tending to his nesting mate. I thought I was far enough away from the nest to bump into him but apparently not. I didn't see where he landed again until I'd walked a ways past the nest in the other direction. Then I noticed him again right from the paved trail. His eyes were glowing yellow even though the sun was more or less behind him. Near the end of my walk I finally started seeing a few other birds including Northern Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Robins, Black-capped Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers. The Downy's seemed completely oblivious to my presence today and had I wanted to, I could have reached out and touched more than one of them. They were so close to me that I had to back up in order to get them in my viewfinder. I watched them for quite a while as the hammered away at various twigs and vines looking for a tasty morsel. Being so close I really got a new appreciation for just how small of birds they are. This was my favorite photo of them all mostly because of the blue sky behind the bird.