Sunday, January 4, 2015

FROM THE OLD YEAR TO THE NEW YEAR

EARLY ON IN THE NEW YEAR

And a bit from late in the old year, too

The transition from 2014 to 2015 was seamless.  The weather is relatively mild for a change ("mild" being no single digit temperatures yet) and in spite of the snow we've had already, we just had a couple days of rain.  2014 saw us out with snow and 2015 saw us in with rain and fog.  I'll take it!


HAPPY NEW YEAR!


This time of year there is a lot going on in the outdoors and plenty to look at and appreciate in our locale.  Winter is a time of sleep for many creatures and plants, but if you feed birds you know how active feeders can be.  

 We often get wild turkeys (I should say living vacuum cleaners) gleaning the seeds that fall from hanging feeders or hopping up on the table where I throw black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, and shelled corn.  They are HUGE birds!  I allow them some time to get a fair feeding then chase them.  Last year they got so accustomed to me running out the door shouting, "Git!  Go on!" and waving my arms that they hardly moved away; maybe they retreated 20 feet or so then came right back.

Wild turkeys were almost driven to extinction because they are such an excellent food source.  They've made a nice comeback, however, and are now living in every state except Alaska.  Yes, even Hawaii has wild turkeys.  They were introduced to the islands as early as 1788 and are now quite common.

Pretty much everyone knows what a wild turkey looks like, but surprisingly few see them in their wild habitat.  The guy below is a "Tom" (male) and he has a beard to prove it.  See the tuft of feathers that look like hair at the base of his neck?  That is the beard.  The father is no help whatsoever in raising the young.  The babies follow their mommy hen until they are old enough to strike out on their own in a group with other youngsters.  Turkeys are strong fliers but anecdotal experience tells me they prefer to run like the wind as long as that works.  They are wonderful birds.  

Read more here:  

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wild_Turkey/lifehistory

Turkey for dinner again????


Taking advantage of the local buffet luncheon

These are in their natural habitat.  They are so thorough when scratching to find food that the ground is bare when they're done.

I have a bunch of pictures of winter birds for a post a little later, but here are a couple for your enjoyment.


First is the White-throated Sparrow, a pretty small songbird with a bright white throat (DUH!)  There is a relatively small swath of North America where they don't occur, but they are a common sight in the majority of the USA and Canada.  Their song is described as sounding like "oh-sweet-canada".  These sparrows usually nest on the ground unless their first nest is destroyed by predators; then they will build higher up in a tree for a second try.  Although common, they are declining in numbers. 

Read more here:
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-throated_Sparrow/lifehistory

White-throated Sparrow showing the reason for it's name.

The bird below is a Dark-eyed Junco, sometimes called a snowbird because they appear as winter set in.  They are not to be confused with senior citizens who move to Florida!

 

Juncos are a kind of sparrow.  They are ground feeders but can be seen at feeders.  Ours are more often on the ground under the feeders cleaning up after the sloppy titmice and chickadees.

 Read more here:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/dark-eyed_junco/lifehistory

This is a male - dark gray with a white belly and pink bill.  Females are more brown, but color is variable and these birds in Oregon have tan on them.

There is a lot of brown in winter but it isn't all dull and dreary.  These graceful grasses grow by the road.  The seeds are long gone but the lovely seed heads remain.


Some ferns are evergreen, others die off until springtime, and some live in a kind of half-sleep until awakend by the warming sun and milder temperatures.

I LOVE CATTAILS!  They are a wetland plant that needs wet feet to thrive.  They grow up to 10 feet in height and can become overbearing if not kept in check.  They are a favorite home for Red-winged Blackbirds (see below the picture of cattails).

More info here:  http://www.cattails.info/

The male Red-winged Blackbird is jet black with bright red and yellow wing bars.  As much as we ohh and ahh over the males, I prefer the understate beauty of the females.

For more information on Red-winged Blackbirds, read this:

 http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/id

Female

Male

Let me introduce you to a greatly-respected scientist and blogger,

Charley Eiseman

described in his own words as

. . . a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.

His posts enthrall me.  Many of the things he studies we don't even have on our radar, like leaf miners, tier moths, leaf rollers.  His knowledge is deep and wide when it comes to the eggs, nests, tracks, plant galls, and more of insects and invertebrates.  If you  love learning about these strange and wonderful things that are born, live, mate, and die right under your nose without you being aware of them, read his blog.  

The most recent post is here:

https://bugtracks.wordpress.com/

Another of my favorite things in the whole world ever is milkweed!  There are many kinds of milkweed and it lives in a number of different habitats from almost arid to the edges of lakes and in marshes.  It does need sunshine to be really happy, and it smells delicious when blooming.  This is the food plant of the monarch butterfly (more on them in a later post) and it is in trouble.  Milkweed is dying off which is a terrible problem for not just the Monarchs but for insects of many kinds and the spiders and wasps that feed on them.  If you have a sunny place where you can plant milkweed, please do.


Here are some pictures I took in the fog this morning.  As the fog rolled in getting thicker and thicker, it was hugely symbolic to me of a way of life that is rapidly disappearing into the fog of "yesterday".  The small farmer is struggling to keep a place in our modern world.  Around us many farms are being preserved, which is good news.  The not-so-good news is many more are not.  I hope scenes like this remain with us for a long, long time. 






Wishing all of you a bountiful, productive, and marvelous 2015.