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.
“‘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!
This week started out chilly with a killing frost. On Saturday Night the low reached 20° F which was enough to wilt the blooms on the Martha Washington geranium that has graced our front deck this summer. We also had heavy fog that night, and by the time the sun started to rise, heavy frost made it a glittering world. Most enchanting were the aspen leaves – lined with white spikes of frost.
Each day there are fewer leaves on the aspen trees – I’d guess we’re down 20-25% of the leaves left on the trees which dwindles more rapidly here at the tail end of the fall color season. At this point, I said goodbye to the summer plants and look forward to a world of white to come. We still have a bit of firewood to split and stack, but we’re almost ready on many fronts for the winter.
While we were up in Yellowstone, the robins and other summer birds must have taken off for their winter homes. The cold brought in most all of the usual suspects that make up our winter flock: Evening Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadees, Pygmy Nuthatches, Red Breasted Nuthatches and of course the White Breasted Nuthatches, Stellers Jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Cassin’s Finches, Pine Siskens and a new addition of a pair of Gray Jays. Today I’ll need to make a trip to get more birdseed – especially with the Jays and Nutcrackers and squirrels chomping away greedily at anything put out.
One curious item we’ve noticed and talked about here is the large number of Green Lacewings we’re seeing. TONS of them outside and inside. I’ve been looking up information on them and the adults are said to drink nectar. They might do that, but we’re seeing them also dining on the fruit flies – and years ago I watched this one during mid summer dine on aphids that were thick.
The aphids (or at least I think they’re aphids) have lined the aspen leaves for much of the summer, so that might account for the lacewing’s prolific numbers. Here’s a photo of some taken at the end of August – I found more even on the yellow leaves just before the frost. If you do know what these are, I sure would love to know.
Today may bring some rain and snow showers – either way, they’re calling for thunder and lightning. A day to bundle up and head out to enjoy the exercise from splitting and stacking wood. I’ve gotten much accomplished in the past few days, but my body is telling me it’s time to step away from the computer for a bit and get myself moving.
What’s up in your neck of the woods this week?
This post is shared on A Rural Journal where each Thursday a blog hop of Rural Thursday posts link up.
This has been an interesting week. Now that we’re on the verge of summer, there are a ton of things happening and things to observe. We’ve moved the trail cam and have started to pick up more activity, so reports from the trail cam should resume soon. I’m also now just going to list the phenology by week of the year. I’ve been going back and adding them in to my Project Life album as 6×12 layouts.
Deer & Predators
As I write this, three does are just outside the dog yard, working their way down the hill, or perhaps they’ll cross the road. One is obviously still very pregnant. We haven’t really seen them for a couple of weeks, but they came back around here mid week. That’s about the time a neighbor a couple of roads over reported seeing a mountain lion in their driveway one morning. Then another neighbor close to them said they saw it as well. And one of them also said they saw it at about 10:00 in the morning the next day (the photo above). Over by them they have a person who regularly feeds the deer (not something I personally condone for many reasons), and one of the unintended effects with that practice is that you bring in predators who may decide move in for a good while. It interrupts the natural movement of the animals.
The deer and predators shift around in what seems like a long, slow dance. When the deer disappear, we know a mountain lion or bear (or both) are probably around and have moved them along. In spring, this dance always seems to take on a slightly quicker pace. In a similar fashion, we have waves of smaller animals – the squirrels, chipmunks, ground squirrels and rabbits have increased in numbers the past couple of years, so we know they will bring in their predators – fox, bobcats, racoons, coyotes, etc. They’ll knock down the populations and the cycle will begin again. On the trail cam, we caught a young fox – so they’re out of their dens now and learning the ways of the fox world.
A couple of neighbors closer to us reported seeing a couple of different bears. One smaller one and the big guy. The big guy surprised one neighbor who looked out to see him on his deck, checking things out. This guy is so big that on all fours, he completely covered the view of his grill. I imagine this is our dumpster tipper. Instead of climbing into a dumpster, he simply tips them over and walks in. This is a big, and very people savvy bear. A few years back he tipped our dumpster when a neighbor who shares it with us brought his trash at before daylight on trash day. He came and found the dumpster on its back (basically empty – nothing had been put in other than non-food/smelly items), righted it and put his trash in. 2o minutes later, we found it on its back again and the neighbor’s trash taken out. We put it back in and righted it – it took two of us. So the bear was there watching and waiting, but hidden from view. Needless to say, we now only put the smelly stuff in after daylight.
This week brought in more summer residents. I heard a Cordilleran Flycatcher for the first time – when we first moved into this house, a pair of them nested under the deck for nearly 12 years here having nested 3 year before we moved in – building a new layer on the nest they reused year after year. The last year they were here, one of them actually flew into the house, and I wondered if that would be the last year for them. It was. The ‘chir-up’ call signaled the beginning of summer for me – so when I heard it again this week, it made me smile. The same day I heard this, I also saw a swallow – but couldn’t tell if it was a Tree Swallow or Violet-Green Swallow. Both types have nested here on our property in the past successfully.
Also on that same day, a group of 6 or 7 Turkey Vultures flew low over the house, but going around to continue watching them they disappeared – so I assume they came in to roost somewhere nearby – probably no more than 1/2 mile away. We need to sit out and enjoy the evening sometime soon to see if we can find out where they’re roosting at night – since they often use the same spot each night.
The White Breasted Nuthatch babies are getting louder and louder – but still in the bird box. I thought for sure they’d fledge this last week, but the adults are feeding them on an average of about every 4 minutes or so. Yesterday I saw one of the adults start to hold an insect in the hole, then come out with it – and hold it barely inside so the babies could see it, then repeat and finally went in and fed them. The result is that the babies are now looking out the hole on occasion – so the fledging is just around the corner.
A pair of Brown Headed Cow Birds came in one morning to see if the White Breasted Nuthatch nest might be one where they could deposit an egg. They kept making an almost clucking noise as they watched intently. But upon seeing the feeding of the babies, they must have realized this they were too late to use these good parents to raise one of their young for them.
The Wild Iris started to bloom throughout the area this week. I saw the first ones mid week on a trip to town, and many quickly followed. Also, opening this week were the Showy Locoweed. The Leafy Cinque Foil is in bloom as are the small Asters, and Wall Flowers. I’m hoping we’ll have time this weekend to take a short drive to a wetter location that I keep an eye on to see what’s blooming there.
We’ve started to sneeze more – and a quick check shows that the Ponderosa Pine Trees are starting to send out their pollen. Not much yellow on things yet, but for the next few weeks I’ll have to increase my cleaning to keep it at a dull roar in the house as we don’t have air conditioning and usually need the windows open. Also the Aspen Trees did develop seeds this year – in abundance – and the cotton from them is starting to fly. The aspen leaves are deepening in color and are almost to full size and the tent worms/caterpillars are seen in branches throughout the area, though I haven’t seen any yet this year on our property.
The Lilac bush next to our home is in full bloom and I wasn’t surprised to see the first Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly as well as a few I’m not able to identify yet.
What’s happening in your neck of the woods? If you’ve made a post on your blog, please share the link in the comments. If not, I’d love to hear anything you’ve noticed.
We headed to Yellowstone last week which is why there wasn’t a Friday Phenology report. So there’s lots to talk about this week…
White Breasted Nuthatches: On the day we left last week, the baby White Breasted Nuthatches sounded stronger almost on an hourly basis. It seemed possible that we would return to find an empty nest, but they’re still there, obviously growing like crazy. The adults bring as many moths as fast as they possibly can. I need to watch to see if there are still three adults around or if it’s down to the breeding pair now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fledge this weekend. I’ve seen a few heads poking out to look at the world beyond the box, but I still have yet to hear the beating of wings inside there.
Hummingbirds: We mainly have Broad Tailed Hummingbirds up here – and they’re increasing in numbers on almost a daily basis now.
Downy Woodpeckers: They are deep into courtship now. The morning we left, two of them were flirting, checking out various trees and giving their “Queeka Queeka Queeka” call. Mike observed another pair in another part of the county the day before while he was out doing some field work. The books I have say they’ll usually nest successfully if they can agree on a tree in which to excavate a nest. So now is the time to get out and start looking for wood chips around the base of trees.
Mountain Chickadees: A few days before we left, we saw the pairs flirting like crazy and chasing each other through the trees. While taking photos of the tiny insects on the new aspen leaves, I watched a pair scour the leaves, obviously eating these tiny things. They would land on the thin branches and pick away at the leaves, move to the end of another branch and dine almost upside down. In the past, I’ve watched them build their nest using bits of moss from the garden, but I’ve yet to see them with any nest material. We brought back a couple more bird houses from my parents – they were hoping for bluebirds, but only get tree swallows, so gave us a couple of the boxes to add to the trees around here.
Immature Bald Eagles: While driving through North Park – around the Walden area – we saw more immature bald eagles hanging out near the road. That sparked a question for us. Are we seeing all these immature baldies near the roads because there are so many successful nests in that area, or do the immature ones hang out for easier meals – looking for roadkill? We haven’t seen an adult yet this spring in that area. Maybe it’s also just a coincidence.
Redwing Blackbirds: They were thick in North Park – pairing up and groups of them harassing ravens who came too close to their territory.
Sandhill Cranes: We saw, and heard, Sandhill Cranes flying over the Upper Geyser Basin while we were in Yellowstone, and also saw a pair that seem to be nesting farther south at the Sweetwater Ice Slough in Wyoming.
The trail cam still just seems to pick up house cats for the most part – and it looks like we may have a new teenager around. But one set of shots show a very pregnant doe walking by. Last year, when we could finally see that the deer were obviously pregnant, the fawns dropped no more than a week later.
The trail cam also picked up rabbits hopping about. I’m still surprised that we haven’t seen a fox or other critter that might thin that population out a bit.
A neighbor called us to let us know he saw the BIG black bear on his deck while we were gone – we had mentioned the ‘dumpster tipper’ to him before, and told him it was a big bear, but he was still amazed at the size. This is likely the same bear who – a few years back – would wait early on trash day for people to put the trash in the dumpster and rather than climb in, he simply pushed the dumpster over and walked in. The neighbor said that while on all four feet, he was taller than his grill. He also said he saw a smaller one moving through his property.
The Showy Locoweed is starting to bloom here – and is lining the roads in places. Also, the Leafy Cinquefoil is starting to bloom, as are the small Asters – that still need to be identified. I picked up a small sketchbook that I need to get out and use to get these plants sketched out for future reference – so I hope to have sketches to share soon. It’s ever so much easier to have a sketch and possibly photos to use in the evenings to identify exactly which varieties are blooming. I hope to also get out and get a good list of “What’s Blooming” on a more regular basis this year.
The various pine trees are getting ready to pollinate and turn the decks – and everything else – yellow. We’re both allergic to it here – and are grateful for the rain that knocks it down to the ground rather quickly. One of my jobs this week is to head out and check the various types of trees here on the property to see which ones are at what stage – it’s not something I’ve tracked before, but would like to add to the yearly checklist.
What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Leave a comment and feel free to link to a blog post you might have. I love hearing what’s happening in other corners of the country/world as well.
This week didn’t see me outside a whole lot as I had many deadlines to meet (or shift) that meant I was sitting here at the computer for a larger chunk of time than normal, but even busy, I managed to make a few observations. Some days I only headed out for 5 minutes or so, but that’s enough time to find something happening.
The nights are slowly getting warmer and we often can have the window open at least part of the night – and the other night I put my head close to the screen and listened carefully – and heard them. Frogs. Western Chorus Frogs. They’re in some ponds over one ridge from us, but their sounds echo all the way up to the bedroom window on these first warm nights. I’m always amazed at how much volume they can produce out of their tiny bodies. Those and the crickets singing are some of the sweetest night sounds of the spring.
Mike headed to some work up by Leadville for a couple of days and also heard these loud frogs up there. Also, the guys out that way said they’ve been seeing Moose in the upper Eagle valley on a fairly regular basis. We have a few moose that have showed up this far south before – a couple of years back, a neighbor of ours saw the three that stopped traffic on Highway 24 just outside of Divide. I would be nice to have them show up around here more often – a nice compliment to the ecosystem here, I would think.
The White Breasted Nuthatches are still at work with the babies. However, I did see one of them yesterday evening sweeping something along the side of the birdhouse – but it finished before I could get the binoculars out to take a closer look. I read somewhere that they ‘sweep’ their home’s entry with nasty smelling beetles to keep predators at bay. I wondered if that was what it was doing. They still often beat me to the moths under the shop light in the mornings – or we’re out there at the same time. They show almost zero fear of me at this point and often come within inches of me as I quickly work to document who landed there overnight…and I suppose who will be their breakfast as soon as I leave. I do look on the bark of the tree next to the shop light for bugs where they start their breakfast foraging and haven’t yet seen anything, but they invariably come up with a few tidbits that my eyes missed. I’ll keep looking, though, as that’s the only way to train myself to see better.
Robins are out hopping along the ground many mornings, pausing to listen, then snagging whatever they do find on the ground to eat. I suspect they’re nesting again somewhere in the small valley or draw down on the shop side of our property, but I have yet to find a nest.
The carpenter ants are out and about and found often on the new aspen leaves which most of the aspens are now wearing – I’m amazed at how many insects can be found here in the spring.
The chipmunks are THICK as are the rabbits. One morning this week I counted 9 rabbits hopping about – well, it may have been the same one nine times, but seeing them that often means we’ve got to have predators find this cache sometime soon.
The deer move through every few days – it’s a group of 7 or 8 does and the largest, the ‘matriarch,’ is definitely looking pregnant as are a couple of others. We are looking at various places to move the trail cam to be more likely to catch them as we still are only getting domestic house cats who prowl the area for chipmunks and ground squirrels.
Last night something was on the deck sniffing at the trash can we’ve used for birdseed over the winter. I forgot to bring it in overnight last night and Taylor woke me up around 1 AM to let me know she was hearing something. By the time we got downstairs, whatever it was had left, but the dogs spent a good minute or so sniffing the deck and trash can. It was likely the raccoon as the lid was still on. I guess it’s time to wash that one out and move it to the shop and shift to something else for the feed that I still put out 1/2 C or so at a time. A few Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskens, the nuthatches (of all varieties) and the Clark’s Nutcracker usually come in the morning and eat most of it and finish it off throughout the day.
It’s bear season, and a neighbor of ours reported that a bear opened his garage door and got into their trash stored there. So, they’ll need to lock the garage door from now on as that one jackpot will remain in the bear’s memory for a long time. We’re back on ‘bear time’ for the trash here – we have a dumpster, but won’t put anything that smells in until a couple of hours before the trash truck is due.
As for the flowers, the first of the pasque flowers that have so far survived the deer are going to seed, looking very much like Dr. Seuss’ tuftula trees. The cacti are all in full bloom as are the Kinnikinnik flowers, but the candy tuft is fading. I spotted my first ‘Pussy Toes’ in bloom this morning and have seen quite a few wild strawberry blossoms around this week – saw the first ones last Sunday or Monday.
That’s the nature news from this neck of the Colorado woods – what’s happening where you are? Not sure, head out and see!
Share a comment or link to what your observations!
This post also shared with the Rural Thursday Blog Hop.
Their tiny fists appear unnoticed, matching the brown or hiding under the white. But slowly that fist begins to shove up out of the ground and releases its grip to reveal a perfect egg shaped, furry delight that often arrives around Easter, or at least in the Easter Season. It too, has lessons to teach.
Up here in the mountains of the west, this is the first certain sign of spring.
A Gift held up by a multi-fingered hand.
In a way, it seems to be a paschal mystery of its own.
Early flowers to sustain the early insects. Beautifully designed to withstand the frosts and snows of spring with a coat of fine, white hairs. Their season continues for a few weeks, not all of them blooming at once to assure a good supply of food for those early flies and insects that always accompany it, and who survive by their own specially endowed means.
nourishing those who choose to come to drink.
And closes again – hunkering down to protect itself against weather or nightfall.
This post also shared with A Rural Thursday
I’ve been quiet this week here – mainly because my main external disc drive hiccuped. Just once, but it was enough to set me into backup mode. So, this week I’ve been letting the computer slowly crunch it’s way through multiple terrabytes of photos and documents and copying them to the new drive. I’ve almost got that done and will then recopy it to yet another drive for storage as soon as I weed through and delete more of the ‘I’m never going to use this’ photos.
A reader of this blog asked me yesterday (thanks, Vic!) if I had found the identification of this lovely little gem I found last July and regretted not sketching it because of the tangle of greenery here, it’s impossible to 100% identify which leaves go with the flowers. But all this sorting and copying let me find the other photos I took of the same plant in yet another near-timberline moist forest. That plant was all on it’s own making it easier to identify. Turns out this is Jacob’s Ladder – supposedly a skunk-like smelling plant, but neither of these had an odor. I have an alpine flower book that I think shows this is the Subalpine variety (Polemonium pulcherrimum var. delicatum) – and mentions nothing about an odor.
I’m starting to look forward to spring and summer – but also am ready to gladly welcome any snows yet to come. I’m not yet ready to let go of the winter pace that’s so much more reasonable than summer.
Today I added another note to the Phenology page – went outside early to check the trail cam (n.o.t.h.i.n.g. – again). The black-capped chickadees were singing their 2-note spring song – continually. I listened for a good five minutes, working to locate them, and found one. We’ve had two showing up at the bird feeders pretty much on a daily basis, though I don’t always see both at once. Just another step toward spring.
This last spring, I purchased a gorgeous hanging basket filled with FOUR Martha Washington geraniums at Walmart. It was obvious it needed a larger place to grow throughout the summer and I transplanted it into a 2 ft high (ish) pot and set it outside – where they deer trimmed it. It was moved to inside the fence on the deck. And there it grew and thrived throughout the summer. I love Martha Washington geraniums and one or two almost always make it into my garden each year. I even started a sketch of it – took a ton of photos for sketching reference to keep me going on sketches through the winter.
It recovered nicely from the pruning the deer gave it and by August was amazingly gorgeous. As colder temperatures arrived, I moved the whole thing inside – not able to let it freeze just when it had recovered so well. And now, I’ve decided to try and overwinter it – and possibly take some cuttings from it. I’ve been reading the gardening series over at Seeking Abundance and think I’m ready to give this a try.
Wish me luck…