About Me

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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Old friends

I returned from a weekend away to learn that Scout, the sixteen-year-old Labrador retriever next door, had died during my absence. While he was ancient by big-dog standards, everyone in the neighborhood misses his good-natured doofusness. The bulldog puppy also living next door, while adorable as all bulldog puppies are, just isn't the same.
However: Stumpy the semi-tailless squirrel is still hanging around the back yard. This is a good thing.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Snow moon

I must confess that I had never heard the term "snow moon" until someone used it this month, so a trip to the Farmer's Almanac was in order. According to the online version of that venerable publication (http://www.farmersalmanac.com/full-moon-names/), the peoples of what is now the northeastern United States had names for each month's full moon. Given the frequent snowiness of February in our latitudes, this month's moon got credited with snow. Unfortunately, another name for it was "hunger moon" as not much food is left this late in the winter for hunter-gathers.

Whatever one calls it, last evening's moon was beautiful. (Apologies for the utility wire: they're frequent in our neighborhood.) 

Friday, February 22, 2013

I missed it (again)

The Great Backyard Bird Count has come and gone, and even though I was reminded that last weekend was the time, by the time I saw the reminder it was already Saturday evening (and dark). By the time I remembered the reminder on Sunday morning, I didn't have fifteen minutes to stand by the window as I was preparing a last-minute dessert to take to a potluck, and by the time I got home Sunday evening it was dark again.  Monday morning found me grading papers instead of looking at the window to count any dawn visitors, and by the time I got home it was dark (again).

Maybe next year. If I can figure out the new calendar management system at work.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Two weeks ago, Punxatawny Phil predicted the end of winter. Since then, we have had a day or two of fifty-degree weather, but 25-degree mornings are not spring. Thirty-degree afternoons are not spring. I am ready for spring. (Yes, I know it's only the middle of February, way too early for spring at this latitude.)

Luckily, today brought intermittent sun, and I had library books due, so off I went in search of signs of spring. We had the first snow crocus open last weekend,
but I was hoping for natives, so the library jaunt included a meander through the Parkersburg arboretum. Unfortunately, the only native

plant with visible green was Christmas fern, which was no real surprise. It looks as if folks in our part of the world will have to wait a while for spring color. 

Or maybe not. Looking out the plant window at home, I saw a quite colorful cardinal, who of course refused to hold still long enough to have his picture taken, but this lovely lady was showing off her stripes while nibbling on safflower seed.
And her companion, this handsome fellow, has quite enough color to help a person combat the winter blahs. Maybe we don't need to head south for the winter. (But I did read this morning that the hummingbirds and painted buntings are visiting yards in Miami right now.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mystery Bird

One thing that attracted us to our current neighborhood is its proximity to Johnson T. Janes Park, a city wildlife preserve not yet fully open to the public. The trails are being developed but are not yet ready for much human access, but the area wildlife seems happy. One of my regular walking routes takes me along a one-block street that runs between two preserved areas, and today brought some unusual wildlife.

There were of course the usual suspects--hordes of starlings, groups of robins, chickadees flitting everywhere--but what caught my eye was a swift-flying black and white bird larger than the mockingbird I at first thought it was. It vanished into the trees, so I wandered along the first few yards of a soon-to-be-opened trail, hoping to see it. Of course, I was immediately distracted by the interesting bark of a cluster of shagbark hickories and soon forgot the mystery bird. When movement caught my eye, it proved to be a handsome red-bellied woodpecker working its way up a tall snag. Not the mystery bird, but one I don't see every day.

Heading toward home, I heard an unfamiliar alarm call that proved to be a mockingbird. Then came an unmistakable sound: the Woody-the-Woodpecker laugh of a pileated woodpecker. Glancing up, I saw my mystery bird swooping across the street, and this time, the red crest was visible. I had my second sighting of a pileated woodpecker--and a few moments later, another, as a second elegant pileated winged from tree to tree.

A good day in the neighborhood.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Birding with the Nature Nuts

I spent most of today in the company of our local Master Naturalist training class, the Nature Nuts, learning about the birds of our area. Since one of the best ways to learn about birds is to see them, off we went on a bird-spotting trip led by enthusiastic members of the Mountwood Bird Club. I must confess that the 25-degree morning did dampen my enthusiasm a bit (and may have cut down on the attendance), but the sun was shining, the company was good, and the leader of our trip had packed two large containers of homemade biscotti. (I may need to join this birding club.)

Today's excursion brought four new-to-me birds, along with others both common and unusual. Hordes of ring-billed gulls swooped above and floated down the river as we watched them, dazzling white in the sunshine. Red-tailed hawks showed off their glorious white fronts nearly everywhere we went. Bluebirds flitted across the road as we drove past some local farms, near the spot where two white-crowned sparrows fed on the ground near some parked equipment.

There is something to be said for good equipment. The two large spotting scopes brought along by serious birders allowed us to see distant birds that were just blobs in my vintage binoculars. All brown ducks look like mallards to me, but the scope revealed a flock of mergansers (no hoods up, unfortunately) and a handsome male canvasback. My eyes could see a large nest high in a tree on a river island, and my binoculars picked out a definite white presence, but the scope allowed us an extended look at a pair of bald eagles already on the nest, and one of last spring's juveniles hanging out in the same tree. I had managed never to see a bald eagle in the wild in more than fifty years on this planet, and fifteen minutes from our house, saw three of them across from Aaron's Rent-to-Own in Vienna.

Sometimes, though, we didn't need the equipment to see the diversity around us. One of the most exciting birds of the day was a rose-breasted grosbeak, spotted in the brush next to us by nothing more sophisticated than a sharp human eye (not mine). Driving down a winding country road, our guide identified a tree sparrow by nothing more than a moment of song and a quick glance.  Movement on a finger of land jutting into the Muskingum River revealed a fat American coot dining on an unfortunate shad.

All this richness was revealed in a three-hour meander within twenty-five miles of our very ordinary neighborhood, most of which I would not have spotted on my own. There is just something to be said for learning from someone who has both knowledge of and love for the subject being taught.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snow day visitors

There's nothing like cold, snowy weather (well, except maybe for nesting season) for bringing activity to the feeders. Today, the fourth in a succession of snowy days, was no exception.
It was no surprise that squirrels visited the upturned birdbath we use as a pedestal feeder,
but the tactics squirrels use to get at supposedly squirrel-resistant feeders
are probably more entertaining.  

 For years, I coveted wrens, but today, we had several at the same time, at multiple feeders.
Then there are the ubiquitous starlings. Even confirmed starling-haters would probably have to admit that their winter plumage is striking. 
And their cranky behavior is amusing. Today there were hordes squabbling over sunflower seed (which they are not supposed to like) and apple slices. One bird managed to drive off its neighbors and had at least a minute of solitude to dig in the snow, behavior that I at least had never observed in starlings before.
The mystery was solved when an apple slice emerged from the snow.
The starling propensity for consuming more than their fair share of suet does not please me, but I do have to admit that starling butts are cute.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

What a difference a day makes

Okay, it was almost three days, but on the afternoon of January 29th, I was sitting on the porch in short sleeves. When I woke this morning, February 1, the wind chill was near zero.
It was so cold that I didn't want to open the front door in the icy pre-dawn haze, but since Mittsy wanted out on the porch to see what creatures might be visiting the back yard, I did venture onto the porch step to snap a picture of the snow-covered driveway. Someone had already tiptoed across the snow, but I didn't bother to go see who it was.
Winter has returned to the Valley, at least for the next few days.