This last weekend we had quite a good cold front move through. That must have been a signal of some sort because the winter flock returned Friday through Sunday. I first noticed the Evening Grosbeaks twittering away in the trees. Then a molting and very sorry-looking Steller’s Jay – I hope to get a shot of him – only a couple of top knot feathers. The Mountain chickadees and a couple of Cassin’s finches showed up on Sunday. The Clark’s Nutcrackers showed up with a couple of youngsters as well.
They all came to the feeder, looking for a meal. When one didn’t come, they headed to the shop wall to pick it clean of moths. So, in the mornings, I’m now giving them a small amount that I know they’ll eat up before the end of the day (want it empty at night to keep the bears from snooping around). There’s plenty of food for them to find, but I also want to let them know we’ll be here this winter, keeping it full for them.
Fun to have them back – as well as a few of the summer birds – a band-tailed pigeon sat on top of the feeder for quite some time this morning.
We also still have hummingbirds around – rufus and broad-tailed mainly – but it seems some may have left for warmer climates already – the cold front likely moving them along. The aspen trees are starting to show lighter leaves and a few yellow branches or spots here and there – mainly on the trees that are stressed for one reason or another.
Still July, but the weather is reminding us that fall is not all that far off. I’m looking forward to the monsoons leaving us in August or September so we can get some of the outside chores done for the year (wood for the winter, painting the house, etc.).
Since we know we’re moving – and likely this is our last summer here, I want to document some of my favorite things I’ve loved about living here.
Hummingbirds in the morning and evening
In summer, we keep a hummingbird feeder up 24/7 on the upper deck which is 3 stories up that hangs just outside our bedroom – too high for bears to even attempt reaching it. Not only is the view up there spectacular, but I thoroughly enjoy falling asleep to the zing of the hummingbirds and waking to them as well, though that only happens on the weekends since we’re up before the birds most days. Getting up early, though, also has the added benefit of watching the shadow of the Earth make its way across the sky.
Sipping coffee and watching the forest wake up is one of my favorite things.
Update: Just finished the layout and added it to the H section of my 2013 field journal. I actually just printed the words onto Bristol Cardstock (from Office Max) and printed out the photo on my Canon Selphy and glued it to the page. Punched the holes and added it to the Field Journal. Simple. Quick. Easy. Photo Journaling at its best.
It feels good to be home long enough to get a handle on where things are, phenology-wise. We arrived home from our trip to already be well into the monsoon season – and it’s been a good one so far. Beautiful crisp mornings give way to the warming of the day that builds clouds. They drop rain in the afternoon and evenings, cooling it down into the 50s for a good night’s sleep. If the pattern holds true to years past, the monsoons will let up sometime in August, giving us the warm days (and still cooler nights) where things will start to cure out.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the moths under the shop light each morning – not taking photos of everything, but getting a good sampling of which varieties show up. Usually the wall of the shop is pretty well covered each morning. But the other morning, we had hardly any. At first I thought it was just the rain overnight – and that had an impact, I’m sure, but the lack of them continued even after nights of no rain.
Then the other day while sitting on the deck reading, I found myself noticing a whole heap of birds around – all of them pretty much silent except for some bluebird fledgelings. Even the usual noisy Steller’s Jay was quietly working its way around a tree. I know they’re supposed to be silent while nesting, so maybe that’s at least his or her excuse. I noticed a host of Pygmy Nuthatches, chickadees and a few others including a Cordilleran Flycatcher (formerly known as a Western Flycatcher). The day before I saw a Western Tanager less than a quarter mile up the road from the house. Getting up early the next morning, I noticed the early birds catching the moths on the shop.
What brought in all these birds now? The hatching of the Spruce worm moths (reminder to self: write down that they hatched on week #29 of 2013).
Almost every spruce and fir tree around is full of them – but not quite as full as last year. Watching the birds feasting on them in all various stages has helped to knock down their numbers a bit. I’m sure we’ll still lose a few spruce trees to them, but others might make it through with the help of the birds.
We have a new bird that showed up last week at the feeders. The bright yellow bill caught my attention as did the stripes on the head. Turns out to be a White-crowned Sparrow. We usually don’t see many sparrows here, so this one has been rather unusual.
Reading up on them, they normally hang out by willows – none of which we have on the property, but just over the ridge in almost any direction is a creek full of them. Perhaps the spring snows has brought him to the feeders. Another source said they often crowd out Juncos from their nesting spots – and we have lots of juncos and places for them to nest.
The other day while cleaning up the bird feeder leavings from the ground below the deck, I came back from hauling yet another bushel full to the dumpster to find nearly 30 Juncos milling about in the freshly exposed dirt. We have lots of Juncos – many will stay and nest here under the juniper bushes or brush piles we have yet to dispose of. I’ve been watching them pair up and chase each other. And picking up trash that blew in from the renters next door in our valley, I had the chance to sit quietly and watch a pair check out the appropriateness of a juniper bush down there. A piece of trash was in there, so I quietly moved in, removed the piece and stepped back. They hardly even moved.
And, for the past few months, Mike and I (and the dogs) would hear an odd screeching noise. Just once. In various places in the house. Not a critter in the house, because there wasn’t any pitter patter of tiny feet on the other side of a wall or ceiling. It came at all times of the day and night. We debated what it might be – a bat? We listened to all sorts of bat sounds on the internet and that wasn’t it.
Then I checked the owl sounds. That was it. Which one, we’re not sure, but it was an alarm call. Only once – so just enough time for you to get ready to really pay attention again. Of course, now that we’ve identified the odd sound, we’ve not heard it again. It’s not surprising to hear an owl who’s found a good food source. The rabbits, birds and now chipmunks that are out and about would be just right for an owl. I’ve checked around the property for pellets, and found none…yet.
The Woodpeckers are drumming away each morning and pairs have been seen going from one tree to the other, checking it out, doing some test drills. And on that walk to pick up trash, I noticed a tree that’s not doing well. Turns out to be absolutely filled with neat, tidy rows of holes – sapsucker holes. I imagine we’ll lose that one this year, but will continue to watch for the sapsuckers on it.
Also saw the first robins back – splashing in a puddle in the driveway left by one of the spring snows. There were three of them. Hard to get photos of them as this batch isn’t habituated to humans. They’re skittish and spook even when standing far back from the front door where I took this photo with a zoom lens (photo’s also cropped). As soon as I lowered the lens, they bolted. sigh.
I love spring snows simply because they’re sort of magical – like this morning – you wake to a world covered in an inch of white and by afternoon, it’s soaked into the soil. Each inch like this leaves behind it a touch more green. It reminds me of some sort of mixed media effect that only shows after the initial application has disappeared.
We saw a bull elk not far from the house the other day, already starting to show the nubs of this year’s antlers. Mike is stopped some mornings to let the herd of 300-400 cross the road in front of him. It actually happened twice last week. They were on one of the old ranches in the area as we headed to dinner one night – many of them are starting to look a bit scruffy as they begin to shed their winter coats. The deer around here are doing the same.
I need to get out and check on the first plants around here again – after living here for nearly 20 years, I’ve found where the first flowers are usually found, which aspen trees send out their catkins first, etc. I really need to add in a map of the area with the locations on it to add to the phenology notebook.
Get outside to see what’s happening in your neck of the woods.
On Sunday, the 24th, the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches returned in the same numbers as before – around 100-125. The flock had split up, but then group after group descended on us for over an hour, much to the disgust of the other regulars who hung in the trees nearby, watching the crowd.
Part of the flock lifted and headed in the direction of another known feeder in the area. Those that stayed shared pretty well with the Evening grosbeaks, chickadees & nuthatches, as well as with the Downy woodpeckers. This continued for the bulk of the time before the rest came back in.
In checking up on these guys, it seems they’ll be heading north soon to nest in Canada and Alaska, so maybe they’re hitting all the feeders to load up for the journey. I’ve seen one today at the feeder, along with many (well 7 or 8) Red Crossbills, (who still have not shown up with fledgelings yet, but I suspect they are not far) and the other usual suspects at the feeder. But seeing one Rosy Finch means the rest are near here somewhere. Hope to see them crowding around again – you might, too, if you keep half an eye on our webcam.
About this time last year, we started to see a pair of Red Crossbills show up at the feeders regularly. They’re back again. Just the pair, sitting quietly to one side of the central feeder, politely eating away. They’ve been there for at least 15 minutes. I first saw a couple of males the day before I left for Cody back in mid-February. The pair(s) we have now – and perhaps the same pair(s) as last year – has been seen occasionally last week, and now at least once a day if not twice. My guess is that they’ve nested again and we very well could see babies showing up soon. Here’s my favorite photo sequence from last year of the pair – only four days later they brought the babies.
Yesterday while working on projects (that have somewhat collided on me) , a bird landed on the railing of the deck just in front of me. A ‘new to me’ bird, but I was fairly certain it was a Rosy Finch of some sort. The projects could wait for this. I looked out at the feeding station and there were tons of them! When they saw my movement they lifted to sit in a tree not far away. Not 100% sure of what I was seeing, I headed upstairs to get a better look and take a photo.
That’s the ‘second favorite tree’ of birds that visit us. It had mistletoe which causes the twisting of the branches into ‘witches brooms’ but a porcupine that visited here awhile back ate a good chunk of the mistletoe, that left the branches a bit bare and a bit more healthy – that was in late 2004 (had to check the scrapbook pages I did then about it – you can see them here and here). The bare branches make this a favorite tree for many birds.
Then I headed back to the main floor because they were all returning to the feeders and I knew I could get a few more shots to ID them better.
Then a delivery truck drove in the driveway to drop off a package and spooked them. They rose and there were MANY more on the ground I didn’t know were there – the deck shielding them from my view. At least 50, likely about 70. As they flew I couldn’t get them all in the shot with the lens I had on.
They did come back a second time and there were even more – at least 75 and perhaps even 100. This group swooped back and forth a few times in a stunning display. Not sure if they’ll return today, but it would be fun if they did!
“‘May all your hours be sunny’ is another way of saying ‘May you perish in the drought.’”
~Edwin Way Teale from his book, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm
It’s dry. This last week we’ve seen humidity some days in the single digits. It’s warm. Most days lately reach well into the 50s. I cannot stress enough how much I despise brown winters. As the sun rises lower into the sky each day, it becomes more and more uncomfortable to be outside and facing south. Blinds are pulled. On the days we’ve had clouds, the blinds are open and my eyes relax.
The volunteer pansies are still blooming in the window box beside the window where I sit. Blooms freeze overnight, but invariably by afternoon, more appear. I probably need to give them a bit of water along with the rest of the garden that’s been neglected for too long.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a regular morning flock of about 20-30 Evening Grosbeaks show up on a daily basis. That number has at least doubled. While outside this morning, the sound of them cracking open the black oil sunflower seeds and letting the shells drop to the ground sounded almost like rain. The Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches are definitely getting comfortable with us. While filling the bird bath with water this morning, one of the Mountain Chickadees kept flying in, landing, and flying off, just inches from me. The Pygmy Nuthatches almost need to be brushed off before I can fill the feeders at times. All of them, though, ascend in a group to the safety of the tree near the feeders at the first audible ‘quark’ from a Raven.
We also had a visit from a lone Red-Winged Blackbird. Normally they don’t come over the ridge that separates our road from the next one which has a stream. I haven’t really checked the stream water level recently, but I imagine it’s down. Perhaps he just joined the Grosbeaks to see where they went. He did visit the birdbath as well. Kind of unusual for them to still be hanging around up here at the end of November (photo taken the 27th through double paned windows, so not the greatest, but enough to ID and document).
In my last Friday Phenology report I mentioned about how the Evening Grosebeaks eat the spruce worms. Between the Grosbeaks, Chickadees and Nuthatches, I’ve noticed when it gets warm (and the feeders have been drained for the day), they move to the trees and mainly work on the branch tips. Mainly spruces and firs – the ones that were absolutely covered in spruce moths this last summer. An infected tree usually will have a few tips that grow curled in the spring.
But the Blue Spruce next to the house has many branch tips that look like this:
So do the Douglas Fir trees:
Obviously they are finding food there. It will be interesting to see how those branches grow next spring. I image without the needles, if we do get the week or two of deep freeze in January or February, those brand buds may not have the protection they need to make it through.
The trail cam this week was fairly active – showing the deer are still in rut.
Get out there and learn and explore. Watch your world and look into the things you find interesting. You don’t want to end up not knowing enough like this. It’s just amazing how the deer cross our road in about the same spot all the time without a deer crossing sign!
It’s been a bit since I’ve done a Friday Phenology post, and yesterday while on a walk with the dogs, I realized why. We’re in between. It’s like a big waiting period. Waiting for snow. One of the many reasons we live out here is because we love snow. I can handle the deepest of white winters with ease, but give me a brown one with glaringly sunny days and I honestly get grumpy. While moving some slash from trees that had to have branches cut, I noticed one of the aspen branches actually had a bit of fuzz peeking out from one of the leaf buds – has it really been that warm? I brought that one in to practice sketching – still working on the composition of that one, but there’s a drawing in that branch.
Each day on our walks – might as well do something with it so very warm – the dogs and I are watched by a raven or two. I’m guessing it’s a pair that has their nest in the area. How they know that we’re out and about is beyond me. But they’re always patrolling. Their “quarks” are a common sound. If we’re where they expect us, they fly over once, but if we’re in an unusual location, they circle lower for a closer look. Curious Corvids.
And speaking of Corvids, we changed the bird seed in the feeders to just the black oil sunflower seeds – previously we had the nut and berry mix that also had the sunflower seeds. After this switch, the Gray Jays, Steller’s Jays and Clark’s Nutcrackers spent a couple of days emptying the one feeder in search of peanuts, tossing all the seed on the ground, much to the Junco’s delight. Then they left. Didn’t see them for most of this last week. But then yesterday they were back, accepting the change, and politely filling their gullets and no longer spreading seed on the ground to pick out nuts.
The change in seed also brought in more Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Siskins. Evening Grosbeaks are the bird of the year, and there was a recent article over on the ABA Blog about them that said they feed on the spruce worms. That makes perfect sense since the spruce bud worms were thriving this year. If they eat them as well, I’m happy to keep buying black oil sunflower seeds to keep them in the area. The Birds of Colorado book says they also have been seen gorging themselves so much on aphids that the juice stained the feathers around their beaks. We’ve had them here in the area for three years now, successfully nesting each year and it’s good to know they’re also protecting the trees and plants. Nature has a way of fixing things to keep a balance.
The ABA Blog post also mentioned that “they” are now thinking the dead Lodgepole forest is due to human activity. ???? Maybe lack of activity – the forest service hasn’t done control burns as much as they did in the past. People talk about ‘bringing it back to what it used to be’ – well, when exactly? When the native Americans would set fires to burn out their enemy’s territory fairly regularly? When the settlers had nearly clearcut many areas? You can’t ‘go back’ – you can only move forward. A more solid and logical report we saw said what we were thinking, that the drought years have caused a lot of stress on the trees which allows the beetles to thrive. Without much control burning, we’ve watched the beetle kill march it’s way south for about a decade or more now. And the officials are just now noticing and wanting to ‘fix’ the problem? All I can say is they’re a little late to the party.
The trail cam this week picked up deer, rabbits and a fox. At some point I want to compile the times the deer are seen and see how regular they are or aren’t. But for now, here’s this week’s capture slideshow:
The Field Journaling .com trail cam captures for the week.
Finally, a bit of blatent self-promotion: the Field Journaling notebooks (Craft Version) are in my shop over at Etsy. They make the perfect home for phenology notes, nature journals, or to house scrapbooking December Daily or other mini-album projects. I certainly appreciate any support to help keep things rolling here.
Well, it’s not Friday, but this is the report that should have gone up last Friday…
I’m now checking the trail cam each Thursday simply due to simplifying my routines more. I had great expectations for the trail cam stash this week, but when I opened it up, it said it was on Set #4. That meant only 15 images – or it was only triggered three times. On it I found two sets (10 photos) of Cat, the cat and one single image of a fox exiting stage left. The four remaining images of this set were blank. Well, no need to create a video for you – here’s the only wildlife shot:
The birds, though, are at the feeders pretty much constantly. The larger birds come first – competing for the peanuts – one Steller’s Jay in particular will hop around looking at the feeder until I come out and fill it with something. Other mornings if I get to it before I see birds, a Clark’s Nutcracker must be close enough to see, as it’s there almost the moment I shut the door. Through the week I’ve seen:
- Steller’s Jays
- Clark’s Nutcrackers
- Pygmy Nuthatches
- Mountain Chickadee
- Hairy Woodpeckers
- Downy Woodpeckers
- Cassin’s Finches
- Dark Eyed Juncos (I think all varieties are represented now)
- Evening Grosbeaks
- Red Breasted Nuthatches
- White Breasted Nuthatches
- Pine Siskins
- Black Capped Chickadees
- Gray Jays
That’s pretty much the same list that made up the daily visitors here most every day last winter. Oh, and an occasional squirrel or two – it seems the squirrel population has dropped in the past few weeks – maybe the young dispersed? Or were someone’s dinner. I’m still seeing rabbits even though the trail cam didn’t pick up any this week.
The aspen trees are, for all intensive purposes, ready for winter. Maybe 1-2% of the trees in the area have leaves still – those are the ones usually in some small protected pocket. The mornings are chilly enough now for a fire to take off that chill, but it needs to go out early or we cook. Even without a fire at all yesterday (time to get the chimney swept), we had the window open for the first part of last night since the daytime temps reached into the upper 60s and we forgot to open it up earlier.
There’s a slight – very slight – chance for snow this next week for us and we’re both looking forward to any and all we get.